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Activating Mission: Seating to make 4 Street accessible for more than customers

Take a walk in Mission and the first that comes to mind likely wouldn’t be a lack of seating.

Yet for Mission Resident and landscape architect Julian Warring, that is precisely what comes to mind.

“There’s really nowhere to sit in Mission along 4 Street. There’s a few benches here and there, but they’re mostly bus benches,” said Warring.

What he has proposed is a pilot program to begin adding seating to the district. Thanks to grant funding from the Calgary Foundation in partnership with the Federation of Calgary Communities, and the Cliff Bungalow-Mission Community Association.

Movable tables and chairs, along with a splash of colour, are planned for the empty public space at the corner of 4 Street SW and 20 Avenue.

“For this specific site, we’re going to look at doing nine chairs and three tables. We’re going to reach out to the community to get input on different colours that they would want to see on those tables and chairs,” he said.

There will be a public engagement session set for April 28, from 6–8 p.m. at the Cliff Bungalow-Mission Community Association at 2201 Cliff Street SW.

Proposed costs for the project range from between $1,000 to more than $10,000. That’s depending on the number of furniture pieces sought by community members. The tables and chairs used at the proposed pilot site could also be re-used at other locations in Mission.

Adding space to the public realm

It was not having anywhere to sit outside last year that sparked the idea to improve access to public spaces in Mission.

“This whole project kind of came about, because I was going to get a coffee last year in March, and it was a nice day and I wanted to sit outside, and we still weren’t able to eat inside and the patio was full,” said Warring.

“I realized that I just had to go home.”

He said after that he began noticing a number of locations that seating could be added to along 4 Street SW.

The initial pilot program location is going to be done in a partnership with the City of Calgary roads department. Other proposed sites would require partnerships with local businesses and land owners.

In a walk of the district with LiveWire Calgary, Warring pointed out several different locations that could be further enhanced by greater public accessibility. Although, said Warring, the ideal would be to start off with three or four locations.

What many of the locations have in common is that they are south facing. That offers warm and sunny places for people to congregate—and are largely empty.

The 21 Avenue SW and 4 Street strip mall has a coffee shop and restaurants offering take-out, but no where outside to sit. A long stretch of grass and dirt between the parking lot and road was one location Warring identified for seating.

Another possibility is the south facing empty space next to Masters Gallery. It's a site that Warring said had the right kind of sunlight for enjoyment during any season. The site would also encourage users of the space to engage with and enjoy art.

Non-commercial space benefits commerce, safety

"A lot of the public space in Mission is dedicated to patios, which is really important for our businesses. Especially when they weren't able to have indoor dining," said Warring.

"But what that does, there's probably a lot of individuals who might not be able to afford to get a coffee to go, or a sandwich to stay to sit in the public realm," he said.

Providing more public non-commercial seating would be a way of creating equitable access to the community. It would also create more welcoming and accessible spaces for people who do want to spend money.

In a case study on the pedestrianization of Copenhagen, Denmark, it was found that the pedestrian volumes increased by 35 percent after the first year in 1968. And from 1968 to 1996, there was a 400 per cent increase in stopping and staying activities, leading to higher commercial gains for businesses.

Warring said that benefits could come from a variety of different types of public space activations. Not just from the addition of seating.

"I think there's probably a decent amount of reflection that people might get from from seeing those types of spaces. And the more we reflect, and have a collective feel on where we can activate and be outside, the better," he said.

Activated public spaces, said Warring, allow people to connect with one another.

"It provides those passive interactions that people have been missing out on, and those moments where you can have a quick interaction with a stranger. Or, you can strike up a conversation with someone who's sitting in the same area," he said.

He said that it would also make Mission a safer community. Having more people spending time on the streets and taking pride in their spaces results in less socially undesirable behaviour.

"I think the biggest benefit to the public would be that social interaction and that social connectivity that we all crave and want," he said.

Pilot program to be monitored over summer for success

In the short term, the plan is to install the seating and tables at the 4 Street SW and 20 Avenue SW location. They'll monitor the usage over the summertime. The seating would then be used at other locations in Mission to gather data public space use.

Warring also said they would also be looking at if the spaces would provide interconnections between Lindsay Park, and pedestrian use from the downtown, and Mount Royal.

"And ideally in the long term, what we'd be able to do is kind of identify a public seating–furniture family that could be live on 4 Street that would be permanent along the street in different areas," he said.

They also plan to employ volunteers to speak to users of the seating during various times of day. They'll also count the number of users under differing conditions like the weather or group activities.

As for a threshold for success, Warring said that would depend on use.

"I think if anyone is sitting on it and using it, I would call that a success," he said.

"Obviously, the more the better."