Print Edition: May 8, 2013
Public spaces in cities serve people in a number of ways. From providing a place for recreation, congregation or simply a place for relaxation and enjoyment, public spaces are essential to the life and vitality of the city and its dwellers. Used correctly, these spaces can work to enhance the culture and economic wellbeing of the surrounding area. Abbotsford seems to lack these sorts of locations.
The city of Abbotsford does boast of a number of places for recreation. Mill Lake is a great place for anyone including all ages and socio-economic backgrounds. You can cycle, boat, fish or picnic with the family. The International Friendship Garden is a neatly tucked away space near the Clearbrook Library; it serves as a quiet and refreshing place to relax. Throughout the city of Abbotsford, there are a number of nature trails to remind dwellers nature is close by.
However, Abbotsford is a city best travelled by car, not by foot. Public transportation in Abbotsford, while least likely to be the worst in the country, is still quite draconian. As a result, public spaces are few and far apart. How likely is it for an employee to enjoy their lunch in a plaza of sorts? Where exactly is the town square? Where may someone enjoy a coffee without the obstructing view of an expansive parking lot? There are roughly 140,000 Abbotsford residents, yet from how expansive the city is, you think more people might actually live here. Despite Abbotsford being confined by surrounding farmland and its picturesque mountains, this city continues to build outward. There seems to be little effort on the behalf of the city to slow suburban development. Intensification of these efforts is needed if public places are to thrive.
The core of Abbotsford is the historic downtown district. While the efforts that have been made to revitalize the downtown cannot be overlooked, there is still much more that can be done. There exist an abundance of underdeveloped properties that permeate the downtown and it would be a great place to consider the possibility of constructing public spaces.
The downtown already serves as the location for a number of festivals. For example, throughout every summer weekend, there is the Abbotsford Farmers Market. As of right now, it takes place on a confined and squished parking lot at Trinity Western Church. Now, if there was a plaza, the Abbotsford Farmers Market could be a little more out in the open and more accessible; everyone from consumers to businesses would benefit. It might seem like a radical idea, but converting Montrose or Essendene Avenue into a pedestrian walkway might actually benefit the downtown in a number of ways. An increase in pedestrian traffic can’t hurt.
Of course, the biggest obstacle is the financing. It is important to consider the overall returns that these public spaces may generate over the long term. It should also be considered that the cost would pale in comparison to a huge undertaking that was the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre, which has struggled to yield returns of any sort to the city of Abbotsford. Let’s go, Heat!
The decision of where to place public spaces can be tricky business. There are many people who would argue that public spaces have the potential to attract the worst kinds of people. There certainly are numerous examples throughout North America to back up that claim. It must be considered though, that if constructed within a mixed-use setting of commercial and residential buildings, these spaces can be well-utilized to benefit the city and its dwellers.