Redevelopment of Market Square
Since the Market Square debate began, I have taken a back seat. However, I have had an idea for the Square for some time – a plan that would accommodate the concerns of everyone involved. During the Canada Day weekend, I was informed of the July 2 meeting and immediately produced sketches illustrating my approach to the development.
At the July 2 meeting, I realized that the design being presented was not necessarily the final design and, based on the presentations, might not be the right design for the Square. So I also spoke to the group. This report includes the points I made at the meeting as well as others that clarify the drawings that I submitted to the Clerk after my presentation.
Stratford’s 1993 Official Plan notes, ”Efforts will be made to protect and preserve the distinctive architectural character of Market Square and to create a more people-friendly environment as well as a public gathering place for civic events and activities.”
Efforts to revitalize Market Square have continued since then.
The key question is, what or where is Market Square? When I asked Lutsen Reidstra whether the image on the “stratfordmarketsquare.ca” brochure was the front of City Hall (not facing Market Square) or the back of City Hall (facing Market Square), he said, “Yes and no.”
It was the front of City Hall, and it was facing Market Square because Market Square includes the triangle-shaped land in front of City Hall as well as the land City Hall is on and the land behind City Hall. The street serving the area used for the transit centre and the row of parking is Brunswick, and the name of the street with the buildings that border the south edge of Market Square is Market Place.
During the July 2 meeting, some presentations said that this land was deeded to the City with the condition that it would be used as a market and implied that the law required it to be a market. I am sure that debate happened in 1902, and there is probably a record of it, from when the City decided to move the market from the new City Hall and Market Square to the new market building on Waterloo between Albert and Brunswick.
I am sure Donald McDonald, the surveyor who deeded the land to the City, if he were still alive at the time, would have accepted the relocation of the market. We would have to review the minutes of the Council during that time to be certain about how the decision was made and whether anyone objected to it. As we are aware, since that time the City has invested many dollars to construct the new market building at the recreation complex.
Another point that was implied as part of the conditions of deeding the land to the City was that Market Square was to be used as a gathering place for the citizens of Stratford. As City Hall with Council chambers, which were also in the original City Hall, it was a gathering place for the citizens of Stratford to voice their opinions to City Council to make municipal decisions.
In 1952, Market Square truly became a gathering place when the municipal bus system began gathering the people of Stratford and bringing them to the back of City Hall. With that development, Market Square has been the place for Stratford residents to gather – at least for those who take the bus – for the last 62 years, which is half the time Market Square has existed.
In 2002, a Transit Study recommended that location for a permanent transit terminal. Although I have not read the study, it makes sense in that it is central and the buses are not parked in front of anybody’s store but are located between all the stores in the core. I am sure if the owners of any shopping mall were granted the opportunity to have their mall as the main terminus of all the municipal bus routes, they would consider it a marketing advantage. Which retail operators would not want to have all the passengers on the bus pass their stores. They would appreciate the public exposure along with the possibility of destination and lay-over passengers browsing and possibly buying the products in the stores.
HYBRID DIESEL ELECTRIC BUSES
At the July 2 meeting, the principal reason people mentioned for not wanting the buses in the core was not the location but the noise and smell and, some say, traffic congestion during certain hours. We are entering a period of history where clean air and low emissions are priorities, and hybrid diesel electric buses are being used in cities across North America. These vehicles operate on quiet, clean electricity at low speed traveling into the core and are quiet when parked. No smell and no noise. At medium speeds, they are both diesel- and electric-driven and, at high speeds, principally diesel-driven. The other less costly option is to purchase diesel buses that are less noisy and provide maintenance so they continue their quiet operation.
Buses bring bustle, regardless of who the passengers are, whether they are teenagers on their way to high school or just hanging around downtown or someone intending to shop or use the services provided by the merchants and businesses of downtown Stratford. People milling around the core or in a store, whether they are browsing or buying, bring activity that encourages others to participate. An empty shop is discouraging to most shoppers. Shoppers who see no activity in a store sometimes think that the store doesn’t have much to offer. Therefore, any activity is good, regardless of how it is achieved.
In downtown Stratford, merchants believe, “If they cannot park in front of my store, they will not go into my store.” However, at the mall, we do not park in front of any one store. Offering that convenience is truly a privilege to both the customer and the shopkeeper, something the mall cannot offer its customers. This aspect of downtown is more people-friendly than walking 100 feet (11 parking spaces) just to get into a big-box store. Market Square as a parking lot has been providing this convenience to shopkeepers since 1902.
USE OF A SQUARE
Efforts to revitalize Market Square, once completed, should function with little effort. In other words, if the Square is not used by lingerers, it will still be used by travelers to cross it. This is very important in the winter because few people will linger very long in bad weather. The travelers need a reason to go through the Square in all seasons: from point A to point B, from parking to a store, from the buses to a store, from parking to City Hall, or from store to store.
People need to be able to walk through the Square without crossing streets and passing between parked cars. The Square should be set up so that people can walk through it from any point from any direction. An unused Square is like an empty store, discouraging to users and a place where people don’t want to be.
A design objective for the competition was “a proposal that responds to the site’s context.” The site’s context would include the perimeter heritage buildings and the Queen of the Square, City Hall. Another objective is “to understand, acknowledge and celebrate the site’s cultural heritage and create new relationships between past and future.” Cultural heritage reflects on what took place in and around City Hall and the buildings that surround it in the past and present. Any future development should allow for those events to continue. A further objective is “to create a clear focus on the Square, perhaps through a water feature or some other element.” The presence of City Hall is the prime focus of the Square because all buildings on the Square face it.
Other objectives include “an active, people-oriented space that will accommodate civic events, public activities, shopping, eating, dining, gathering and meeting; integrate an important transfer point for the transit system; retain on street perimeter parking for Wellington, Downie and Market Square retailers in addition to maximizing parking on the Square where possible; provide opportunities for seating and tables, landscape design that includes both trees and gardens, street lighting and a potential site for a cafe; give priority to pedestrian safety and barrier free accessibility, with no ambiguity between pedestrian and traffic realms; deal with the realm between public and surrounding commercial spaces and their interface.”
CREATE A SQUARE IN FRONT OF CITY HALL
Three of the objectives directly include City Hall; therefore, any development of the Square should address it and use it as the focus. This can be achieved by having the Square at the front of City Hall, because the front is technically part of Market Square. Placing the Square in front maintains the objectives to “integrate an important transfer point for the transit system” and to “retain on-street, perimeter parking.” These functions have existed at the rear of City Hall for the last 62 years and the last 112 years, respectively.
To make the square larger than just the triangle of land of Market Square in front of City Hall, and to address the objective of “no ambiguity between pedestrian and traffic realms,” we need to close Downie and Wellington streets from Albert to Brunswick. Adding Downie and Wellington Streets to the Square increases the area to about 2,900 square metres (31,000 square feet), including the wings beside City Hall. Excluding the wings, the area is about 1,990 square metres (21,400 square feet). The area behind City Hall between Downie and Wellington Streets is about 3,500 square metres (37,600 square feet).
Closing the section of streets beside City Hall prevents vehicles from travelling beside the pedestrians using the Square. Pedestrian access between parking and the Square would be at the front, where Downie meets Albert, and at the Downie and Wellington wings of the Square. This allows the Square to be “an active, people-oriented space” as the pedestrians walk from their vehicles, without crossing a street, through the Square to up to 60 stores and entrances on the Square and those on adjacent streets, including Festival Square and the stores in the former Woolco building on Albert. This pedestrian path connects the Square through the pedestrian mall to the Erie Street parking lot. By crossing one street, Albert, people move from the Square to all the shops and entrances in the block bounded by Albert, Downie, Ontario and Waterloo streets.
This street crossing would be emphasised by surfacing it with materials similar to the Square and providing the pedestrians crossing with the right of way. This surface treatment would also be placed on the pedestrian crossings of the streets leading to the Square. The locations would include where pedestrians cross Downie at Ontario, cross Albert at Waterloo, cross Brunswick at Waterloo, cross Downie at George, and cross Wellington at St. Patrick. This surface treatment would be an indication to drivers that they are entering a pedestrian zone where the pedestrian has the right of way.
The street closures create a loss of 28 parking spaces; however, the existing 72 spaces in Market Square remain. Although there is a loss, the objective to “retain on-street, perimeter parking for Wellington, Downie and Market Square retailers in addition to maximizing parking on the Square where possible” may be achieved by changing the on-street parking from parallel to perpendicular on Downie, Albert and Brunswick streets located south of Ontario, west of Waterloo and north of George. Perpendicular parking uses less space and can be entered from the parking aisle from either direction. The spaces would be located so people can walk from their car to the Square without crossing a street, thus providing “pedestrian safety and-barrier free accessibility.” The spaces would be located in front of stores on the west side of Downie from the entrance of Festival Square to Albert, the pedestrian path where Downie and Albert meet, with more parking on the south side of Albert from Downie to Waterloo and, on the north side of Brunswick between Waterloo and Downie. Although users would have to walk across Brunswick, perpendicular spaces would be located on the east side of Downie between the Avon Theatre and Brunswick. At the Avon Theatre, there would be a drop-off area, and the sidewalk would be wider to provide more-generous space for the use of its patrons during intermission and before and after performances.
Closing part of Downie and Wellington will change the way traffic moves through the core. Those who want to use the core will use these streets to get to parking. Those going through the core on Downie to go to George Street or farther will now have to use Waterloo or Erie and St. Patrick. Because Albert, Brunswick and Downie streets have become primarily parking lots, the traffic lights on Waterloo at Albert and Brunswick may be eliminated, as well as the light at Downie and Ontario. With this shift in traffic around the core, traffic lights may be required at other intersections, such as Douro at Downie and Waterloo.
BUS ROUTE ADJUSTMENT
The closure of Downie and Wellington will also affect the bus routes that use these streets to arrive at and depart from the core. Like the cars, buses with north, west and east routes will have to use Erie and Waterloo streets through Wellington, St. Patrick and George to reach Ontario and Huron. The hybrid diesel electric buses will arrive quietly on electric mode at the transit terminal through Brunswick and Downie streets, and all will leave quietly on electric mode through Wellington Street.
The Square is enclosed, or wrapped, by City Hall and the buildings around it, and it is an adequate size that will accommodate “civic events, public activities, shopping, eating, dining, gathering and meeting.” A potential site for a cafe could be the more-enclosed space or the wings on the east and west sides between City Hall and the buildings across the street from it. This would also be the location for market tents so customers can interact with merchants in the buildings as well as in tents. Service vehicles supporting the tent activity if not next to the tents could be parked at the edges of the Square.
At this time, when the space behind City Hall is used for major events, Wellington Street is closed from Downie to St. Patrick to provide additional space. With this plan, if additional space is required for a major event, then we might close and use the spaces behind City Hall. There is only one major event when additional event space is required, and that is Canada Day. Once the Square is developed, other groups, including service clubs, should be encouraged to use the Square for their community events.
With the front of City Hall as the backdrop, events could take place on staging erected over the steps of City Hall, with the staging stored under the landing when not in use. The Tourism Office is in a perfect location because it is open to the Square and it can function as promoter and base of operations for events that take place on the Square. This office can also manage access to the Square for event or service vehicles that supply stores that are on the Square. Most supplies would be received at the rear of the stores or dollied up from service vehicles parked at the front or the wings of the Square.
TREES, LIGHTING & LANDSCAPING
The details in the design of the elements of the Square are important. The details should consider not only art but also the durability and maintenance required for such elements and features to survive all seasons and all circumstances.
Many town squares have the façade of buildings illuminated at night, and the lighting of the City Hall clock tower is a good first step. Subtle illumination of the buildings in and adjacent to the Square should be encouraged. Lighting similar to the Parlour, that has a fine wash of light over key architectural features, is preferable to the garish light on the walls of Festival Square.
The treatment of the paving surface of other town squares is finished with a paving material of something other than plain concrete or asphalt. Most have introduced a natural stone paver, but this can create problems in the winter if it is not detailed properly to prevent frost heave. Improper material selection could result in the deterioration of the paver. To reduce cost, an alternate is coloured stamped concrete. Using this on the main pedestrian paths that will have regular snow removal and the placing of the stone pavers in the open areas may provide a practical solution with an artistic impression.
Most squares have a water feature in front of the principal building of the square. Typically, it is a feature that cannot be moved. To maintain the proposed multiple-use aspect of the Square, it has to be easily covered with a surface that complements the pavers of the Square when the Square is set up for other uses as well as the off-season. If there is a water feature, it will likely be on a greater scale but similar to the one in front of the entrance of the Stratford Festival.
In addition to the “opportunities for seating and tables, landscape design that includes both trees and gardens, street lighting” around City Hall and the revised parking areas along Downie, Albert and Brunswick streets, including the cross walks and the Albert Street parking lot, this opportunity can also be provided in the portion of Market Square behind City Hall. With some loss of parking spaces, by changing the angle of the parking in the Market Place lots from 60 degrees to 45 degrees, the road width can decrease to create a wider boulevard between the north and south parking lots as well as the transit platform at the rear of City Hall to provide such amenities. A boulevard that possibly manages the level change between the two parking areas and the introduction of shade trees and benches will divide and lessen the mass of this parking area.
This tree-lined boulevard will also lessen the visual impact of the buses on the Market Place businesses. The decreased parking width could also add space at the rear of City Hall to make it less-congested for passengers moving between busses. This would provide space to develop planters and benches in the insets along the rear wall for people to sit, as well as to camouflage building services and frame the south entrance. The surface of the platform itself should be treated with a surface other than asphalt so it appears more pleasant than a roadway when the buses are not there and visually reduces the apparent width of this street.
Most of this plan can be implemented temporarily without any change to infrastructure. Permanent changes would be largely surface treatment, permanent landscaping features, and the development of the City Hall steps.
This plan is set up to allow for the plan to be completed in a temporary form at little cost so it can be evaluated on its merits and on whether it is achieving the desired goals. The changes to street parking as proposed are set up so they can occur between the existing curbs. Existing traffic lines would have to be ground or blacked out and new lines painted. Traffic lights could be covered to investigate the possibility of deleting some as suggested. Precast planters can be strategically placed to block off the proposed street closures. A creative but temporary landscape design can be introduced. Even pavers could be painted on the streets that are closed as part of the Square and to identify crosswalks to give the visual effect of what it would be like if the surface were replaced with the real thing. For cost control, the proposed development of the City Hall steps and the widening of the Market Square parking boulevard would not take place as part of the evaluation process.
DESIGN OBJECTIVES ACHIEVED
Placing the Square in front of City Hall achieves all the design objectives of the 2005 design competition – Market Square has been developed with a minimal loss of parking, and trees and amenities have been added to all parts of the Square while allowing the transit operation to remain where it is located.
The goal of this plan was to allow the opportunity to set up and evaluate a plan to ensure it would work without committing major funds to do it. The question is, does the City want the development of the Square to be temporary with a year of evaluation, or can it make a commitment to do it now? New York City had a temporary setup before it permanently redeveloped the intersections on Broadway. Timing for the work on Market Square allows it to be set up and evaluated in 2015 with the allocation of the Wal-Mart funds and Federal Sesquicentennial funds to make it shovel-ready for construction in 2016.
PLANT DESIGN CRITIQUE
If the City commits to this plan, the cost to modify infrastructure and relocate the transit system so it can be developed is more expensive than the development of the design itself. Comments on the design include many items. It has been almost nine years since it was proposed. If it had been the right design, there would have been only acceptance on how well it worked. The advantage of time since the design was initiated is we have had the opportunity to work with the plan before it is built.
Although the plan listed in the design objectives to “integrate an important transfer point for the transit system” and “retain on-street, perimeter parking for Wellington, Downie and Market Square retailers in addition to maximizing parking on the Square where possible,” both of these points were ignored. The design appeared to be more a work of art than a functional space.
Creating an amphitheatre was the reason given for the base concept of the plan to tilt or slope the grade from three sides, with the maximum slope from the north and south sides just at the point where people do not need a handrail to descend it, on the verge of not being barrier-free. This contradicts the design objective to “give priority to pedestrian safety and barrier-free accessibility.” The slope is a one foot fall for every 20 feet of distance. For a market merchant with a seven-foot-long table, each table would be four inches lower than the table before it. A further inconvenience is the legs of tables would have to be propped so they could be level.
In addition to barrier-free issues, the stepped stage on the Downie Street end did not consider the backdrop of traffic on the street and visibility of the bank and pedestrians and cars in the background. A natural ice rink in the valley of the sloped Square could not be developed or last as an ice surface without ice-making equipment and maintenance. With the river on the edge of the core, we have an opportunity to have a natural rink.
Another design concept is the grove of sycamore trees occupying about 40% of the area of the Square, an area greater than the footprint of City Hall, with trees that can grow as high as City Hall or twice the height of most buildings on the Square, at 65 feet at 20 years to a maximum of 100 feet. With this area unavailable because of trees and the slope of the Square, if major events are to take place in the core, they would have to take place in front of City Hall. This is also an extreme attempt to provide shading in this area of the city. Smaller trees throughout the core would provide more shading to all areas.
Although this area may be a nice place to sit and read a book, there are many other areas in Stratford where this activity can be enjoyed. There are many other issues with this plan besides that it achieves only some of the design objectives. This plan does not work.
INFORMATION REQUIRED, DESIGN & APPROACH FOR DEVELOPMENT AND REVIEW
For any design to work, it has to be checked to ensure all decisions used to define the design are based on sound reasoning and facts. Additional information is required to ensure the front of City Hall concept is the right plan for a Square in the core. Most of this information can be acquired from City staff or their consultants. We are a city of artisans and have citizens with skills and talent to create a world-class development. The artists, landscapers, pavers, lighting designers, engineers and architects should have the opportunity to participate in the design and construction of this civic landmark. The people who participate in it will own it, and ownership is important if it is going to be used.
TRAFFIC & PARKING
By the closure of the streets, this plan affects traffic movement through and around the Core. Although Erie and Waterloo seem likely to manage this offset, it should be reviewed by a traffic engineer. The traffic engineer will also be able to determine whether traffic lights can be removed from certain intersections and whether additional traffic lights are required at other intersections. The traffic engineer can also determine whether the change in the parking layout from parallel to perpendicular actually provides the additional spaces and ease of parking projected and what increase in width of the Market Place parking boulevard is achieved by adjusting the angle of the angled parking.
TREES, LIGHTING & LANDSCAPING
This plan introduces significant site design and detailing. Landscape designers along with the Engineering Department will be required if there is a need to develop a method to manage the slope of the Market Place parking lot at the boulevard. A tree supplier could work with Community Service Forestry to select a species of tree and determine what caliper size to use so they are not destroyed by vandals before they mature. An electrical engineer and paving contractor could work with Festival Hydro to research methods to provide electricity in the surface of the Square which are easily concealed when not in use for events. The paving contractors and landscapers could assist the Engineering Department to determine the type of paving to be used to surface the Square. If it is decided to have a water feature in the Square, landscapers and pool contractors could participate and assist in the development of it with detailing that allows it to be covered by seating during events and the off-season.
STEPS & STAGING
A consultant will be required to develop portable staging to be placed over the City Hall steps. This consultant would collaborate with groups that would regularly use the stage and co-ordinate this with the consultant retained to design a set of steps that do not fail, as well as developing the space below to store the staging or other equipment that will be used in, or for maintenance of, the Square.
Information is required to determine the cost and time to integrate hybrid diesel electric buses and how passengers use the transit centre with respect to destination, lay-over or transfer only. The bus route planners will also have to be consulted to ensure they can make the system work as suggested with the proposed street closures.
Before another RFP is issued for the design of the Square, a facilitator will be necessary to communicate, manage and co-ordinate all parties involved to ensure all ideas are considered, reviewed and addressed to develop a phased plan and then determine the best method to implement it.
If you have any questions or wish to have a meeting or speak with me directly, please call.