Slow Streets AI, Coming Soon!

Cities invest billions of dollars in their streets, but are they maximizing the return on public investment from their streets? Are cities designing streets in a way that maximizes the health, safety, economic development and quality of life potential for their citizens? Most cities evaluate street designs based primarily on how quickly you can move the most vehicles through them. To evaluate the success of street designs in this manner fails to accurately capture the full impact of the design and the potential socio-economic benefits and impacts they provide.

What if you could measure how happy or disgruntled a street or public space design was making people? What if you could track how quickly people were walking because of a street design? What if we told you that you could now do that?

Slow Streets is excited to announce the unveiling of Slow Streets AI, a revolutionary and cutting edge new way to evaluate street and public space designs!

Slow Streets AI White Paper 2018-01-26

Slow Streets conducts behavioural observations of various street designs using artificial intelligence software which tracks and counts people and provides details such as their emotions, whether people were wearing glasses, had facial hair and their attributes such as age and gender. This provides data of how people actually travel and behave.

What are the impacts when you remove a curbside parking lane and replace it with a 60 km/hr curbside HOV lane? What are the impacts when you set back the retail buildings from the sidewalk with parking lots? What are the impacts when you lower the speed limit, provide protected bike lanes or parklets? People’s behaviours follow the street design and it has a direct impact on the social, economic and environmental success of cities. These are all scenarios that can be evaluated with Slow Streets AI.

Stay tuned! Over the next few weeks Slow Streets will unveil the capabilities of Slow Streets AI through a series of posts.

What makes a great market? Lessons from around the world

By Darren Proulx

Through my travels I have been able to visit, experience and observe numerous markets. A few basic elements for successful markets can be distilled despite observing markets in a wide range of cultures including Asian, Eastern European, Western European, North American and Latin American cities, affluent or impoverished neighbourhoods and warm or cold climates.

Design: Scale and Context

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
London’s Camden Locks Market, very cozy!

A smaller market with less space will always seem fuller with fewer people, hence more attractive. For most people there is nothing more unappealing than an empty space. The goal should be quality over quantity, wait for the demand to build and then you can expand the market. The city of Edmonton market started on only 104 St., it has now expanded to take up a second street on 102 Ave. every Saturday.

The best markets are located right within the the urban fabric, sandwiched between human scaled buildings (2-5 storeys tall). This serves to frame the market creating an environment that is rich in details and comfortable. This also helps reinforce keeping a sense of smaller scale. The immediate walls of the surrounding buildings frame the market and make it feel smaller. Markets can be linear along a street or inhabit a space such as a plaza.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Bangkok’s riveting Chinese Market can often be overwhelming for all senses, however it still applies the same principles that make great markets.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Even this market in Thailand that is interrupted by regular trains follows the basic rules of all great markets.

 

The following are a list of great street markets lined with fine grain retail that I have had the opportunity to visit: Edmonton’s 104 Street Market, Amsterdam’s Ten KateMarkt, Berlin’s Turkish Market (Türkischer Markt), London’s Columbia Road Flower Market, Chiang Mai’s Sunday Night Market, Street Market in Villazon, Bolivia, Bangkok’s Chinese Market, Madrid’s Rastro Flea Market, Buenos Aires Feria de San Pedro Telmo Sunday Market, Delft Saturday Flea Market

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The walkway of the Camden Locks Market offers a rest from the hustle in London

The market should also be designed to give people the choice how much they want to be involved in the actual market. Some people may choose to sit back on the sidelines and people watch, others will want to be moving through the market perusing the offerings. Therefore it is important to provide the opportunity and space to step away from the market to sit, relax and enjoy their spoils but still be near the fun. This also means providing seating (both unofficial or official) nearby in the form of ledges, stairs, patios, movable chairs and benches.

Activities: Retail and Food

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
London Columbia Road Flower Market with fine grain retail stores behind.

Since a market is a form of public space it should follow the same guidelines for creating successful public space as outlined by the Project for Public Spaces, including the principle of encouraging at least 10 activities. Therefore when designing a market, surround it with many small businesses such as retail stores, restaurants and bars to make it even more successful. This adds a layer of detail to engage and give people more things to do. Since most markets often run only 1 day a week, anchoring the market with permanent brick and mortar businesses will also help create an identity for the place when the market is not there. Not only will the market create spill over revenue for these businesses but they will create more activities and an even more interesting place.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
While this open Market in Zagreb may be bustling with activity while the market is open, the space becomes empty and unwelcoming because of the lack of businesses surrounding it.

While not always necessary, but the market should offer products that cater to local residents. It is the continued use by local people that build up demand and identity. You will never forget some of the burliest English men shouting “Clematis for a fiver” at the top of their lungs.

berlin-turkish-market

While the market can focus on selling art, crafts or plants, for best results food vendors should be allowed either in the market or in nearby restaurants or grocery stores. Food is an essential experience of the human existence, we depend on it. Having it around will attract locals and visitors alike and improve the positive experience of the market.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
London’s Borough takes advantage of the left over space from the elevated rail above to provide protection from the elements.

It is also possible to have interior markets, while this will add to the infrastructure costs it provides protection from the elements. Alternatively you could also utilize the left over space to provide space away from the elements such as London’s Borough Market under the train tracks.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Madrid’s Mercado de San Miguel

With interior markets it helps to line the exterior walls with windows and retail businesses but ensure that the windows are permeable to allow people to see all of the fun going inside and draw them in. The worst thing you could do is line the windows with shelving for storage. The following are some of the great interior markets I have visited: Florence’s Central Market, Budapest’s Great Market Hall, Madrid’s Mercado de San Miguel, Copenhagen’s Torvehallerne and numerous enclosed markets in Seville.

 

Embrace Commerce to Unleash the Full Potential of Public Spaces

By Darren Proulx

Edmonton Dr. Wilbert McIntyre Park Empty
An empty plaza near Edmonton’s popular Whyte Ave

It may have happened to you, one day you may have passed by a public space with distinguished, clean and polished design and landscaping but it is empty except for a handful of people. On other days it may be full of energy and people but only when there is programming like a festival or concert. While programming is a great way to give back to your citizens, cities should focus on making plazas great destinations at all times.

PPS Placemaking Chart
The Place Diagram is one of the tools PPS has developed to help communities evaluate places. The inner ring represents a place’s key attributes, the middle ring its intangible qualities, and the outer ring its measurable data. (Source: http://www.pps.org/reference/what_is_placemaking/)

 

When a place is designed correctly you will know, there will be people in it.  Project for Public Spaces offers a great rule of thumb for inviting people into a space, the Power of 10. Design public spaces to offer at least 10 activities for people to attract different to the space for different reasons at different times of the day. This can include things like water features for people to interact with. People are also a natural invitation for other people, most people like to be around other people even if it is to just sit quietly and people watch. When you design public spaces around accommodating large events like the new Art Gallery in Vancouver and Churchill Square in Edmonton, when there is no programming to invite people the space feels out of scale, empty and uninviting. With public spaces, scale plays a big role in their success, smaller spaces feel more vibrant and full with less people.

Edmonton Legislature grounds public space water fountains

Cities do a great job activating public spaces with water features and meandering paths.

Most cities do a good job at introducing the water features, seating, greenery, nice views and paths. However the most critical element that will tie them all together often remains elusive. Commerce. Commerce in the form of food and beverages is often best since everyone needs to eat and drink which invites them to stay in the space while they consume it, especially if there is a patio or movable chairs. Patios, where people can eat and drink, naturally attract people, which will in turn attract more people. However other commerce such as retail will also do the trick, but not as well.

This was first identified by Jane Jacobs in The Life and Death of Great American Cities. Jacobs’ astute observations led her to conclude that parks should be immediately surrounded by buildings of fine grain retail shops that open up towards the park. While Jacobs at the time may not have had the hard data to back this up, but this has since recently been confirmed. A City Observatory study found that surrounding a park or plaza with fine grain retail businesses will indeed increase the number of people using the space. “As we showed with our recent Storefront Index (which measures the number and concentration of customer-facing retail and service businesses in cities), the difference between an under-utilized park and an activated one is substantially explained by the presence and density of adjacent storefronts.”

Since stores tend to attract people, the benefits of storefronts include improving safety,  having people around adds eyes on the street which deters crime and makes other feel a space is inviting and safe.  Commerce around and in parks also create jobs and support the local economy. Having a cafe on public land is also a new revenue source for governments on what would have otherwise been a sunken cost.

Think about your favourite cafe. Do you use it as a meeting point, have you ever gotten the inspiration for a great idea, have you laughed or met new people. Our private establishments can bring a wealth of social benefits and done well they can extend this to our public spaces.

The following are examples of great public spaces around the world that have integrated commerce effectively to produce vibrancy.

Copenhagen’s Numerous Public Spaces

Copenhagen is renowned internationally as one of the leaders in creating great public spaces, and sure enough in every space you will find either a cafe or a perimeter of ground floor retail. For more information on Copenhagen’s place making continue to this article.

Director’s Park – Portland

Portland’s Director’s Park is one of the best examples of a well designed public space. The space is activated with many activities that include a wonderful splash park, movable chairs, games but most critically the space is surrounded by buildings with ground floor retail. In addition to the ground floor retail surrounding the plaza, there is also a cafe that anchors and spills out into the space.

Portland Pioneer square

Portland’s Pioneer Square utilizes a cafe (seen off in the distance) to help anchor this vibrant space.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Portland’s Pioneer Square utilizes a cafe (seen off in the distance) to help anchor the space.

Madison Square Park – New York City

The Shake Shack in New York city compliments Madison Square Park in New York City nicely. The activities from the Shake Shack spread out into the park as people enjoy their spoils.

Memorial Park – Calgary

Calgary’s memorial park is another great example of a public space done well. It does a good job creating ten activities with a splash park, movable tables and chairs. However it is the Boxwood Cafe that anchors one corner of the space which serves to really tie it together and draw people into the space.

 

Plaza Del Teatro Vs Plaza Santa Domingo – Quito

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Quito’s Plaza Santo Domingo consistently fails to fill its over sized plaza. The buildings that wrap the plaza offer little to interact with other than to look at.

One of my favourite examples are these almost identical plazas from Quito (the capital of Ecuador). On the one hand you have a space that was consistently empty. In another nearby plaza musicians were commonly playing which resulted in people gathering around to listen. However when you look at the rest of the plaza it is wrapped by fine grain retail and restaurants.

Streets are public spaces that naturally do this well, their problem is often the reverse they have the people attracting commerce but often also the loud noises and little space that cities mistakenly sacrificed for the sake of moving cars through quickly which contributes little to the local economy.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
London street that attracts people

While it may take considerable effort, planning and capital to install a permanent cafe, quicker, faster and cost effective solutions already exist. Changing the bylaws and permitting food carts and trucks can add the commerce element for little expense on the city’s behalf, yet the results will be immensely rewarding.

power of temporary retail food truck olympic village vancouver
The power of temporary. Despite the cold and rainy day and an empty plaza at the plaza in Olympic Village, this food truck was enough of invitation for this handful of people to brave the cold and wet.