31 October 2008

Cliffside Slips

Mason White and Lola Sheppard: Lateral Architecture
The urban street traditionally united three physical roles: that of circulation, that of public space and that of built frontage and address.
— Stephen Marshall1

typological studies of traditional streets have tended to focus on the dimensional and qualitative characteristics of good street-making: the width of vehicular lanes and sidewalks, the presence of trees, benches, lighting and so forth. In such studies, the temporal and programmatic aspect of the street is typically overlooked. With the advent of the modern city, the street was reconceived as infrastructure in service of efficient mobility, effectively liberating road form from city block form and divorcing the street from its role as a programmatically charged, public realm. This phenomenon has reached its greatest impact in the sprawling margins of cities.

Cliffside Slips is a project that attempts to re-integrate mobility and the public realm through a reprogramming of streetscape infrastructure. The project centres on the crosswalk as a space capable of re-appropriation and new occupation. Like the sidewalk, the crosswalk has the potential to serve as an extension of the public realm. Akin to connective tissue, it invites a continuous urbanism across connecting thoroughfares.
Cliffside Slips is a proposal that will reconnect a neighbourhood and stimulate a retail zone bisected by Kingston Road, a six-lane arterial. The proposal uses a range of connections to stitch together a community that is divided physically, socially and economically. The retail and urban conditions of the road are asymmetrical; the buildings on the north side establish a recognizable main street form, while on the south side buildings are set back from the street in a strip mall typology. The six-lane main street presents more than a physical separation, it reinforces a psychological barrier between the north and south neighbourhoods reducing connectivity and discouraging urban vitality.

Urban Marina
The Kingston Road proposal takes cues from the fleeting informal urbanism occurring at the nearby marina beyond the Cliffside Village bluff. Cliffside Slips produces a new infrastructure / urbanism hybrid. The intention is to create a main street that translates the idea of docking, bridging, anchoring, and temporary occupation to incrementally convert the suburban strip in Cliffside into an urban marina of roving activity and vitality. Cliffside Slips uses an inventory of existing urban infrastructure elements that includes pocket parks, crosswalks, medians and temporary parking lot occupations to connect both sides of the street into a dense public space.
Pocket Parks
Pocket parks, places to rest or play, act as attractors along the street. The pocket parks, which could be rented or purchased by the City or the Business Improvement Area, take advantage of open lots or derelict properties in the area, adding value to the adjacent properties and the rest of the street. The program for the parks would relate to the adjacent businesses and arrangements for shared public-private space could promote activities such as outdoor cafes, playgrounds and other activities. Pocket parks are often extensions of the crossing slips and act as an urban attractor.
Crossing Slips & Medians
The crossing slips and medians act as the connective tissue of the village. Slips merge crosswalks and pocket parks, and are inserted along Kingston Road at intermittent locations. The use of slips slows traffic, encourages pedestrian fluidity between the two sides and makes a series of places each with a distinct identity. Depending on local conditions, these slips project differently; some connect to pocket parks while others connect across parking lots to the strip malls on the south side.. The crossing slips act as progenitors for anchoring temporary events within the large parking lots in underused times.

The existing median, currently an inaccessible island in a sea of infrastructure, is expanded to become a resting point and to serve as a linear green buffer, providing a more intimate scale of street, both on the north and south side. The median also accommodates the proposed streetcar along Kingston in the future, incorporating transit shelters and rest points.

Dockings are temporary urban infrastructures that bring street life to the parking lots of the strip malls on the south side of the street when they are not being used. These urban insertions allow for larger, temporal programs such as markets, outdoor cinemas and festivals. These would serve as early catalysts for the project, attracting people and extending the retail life of the surrounding shops.

Incremental Urbanism
Cliffside Slips is an incremental project not a master plan. The project recognises that it is economically and logistically more feasible, in the short-term, to transform the public space of the street, particularly through program and temporal interventions, than it is to change the physical configuration of the built fabric. The crossings, slips, parks and occupations can be produced over time as the economy and culture of the neighbourhood changes and develops.

Public space is defined not solely by built form, but equally by program, event and infrastructure. Appropriating existing street infrastructure such as the cross-walk, the median and the parking lot, allows a shift away from the purely pragmatic function of movement control to suggest new ways of occupying the public realm.

1 Stephen Marshall. Streets and Patterns: The Structure of Urban Geometry. Abingdon, New York: Spon, 2005.

Sheppard, Lola and Mason White. 'Cliffside Steps' On Site review, no. 19 Spring/Summer 2008
©Lateral Architecture and On Site review

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