31 October 2008

Jiewa Park, Yellowknife

land of shadowsWayne Guy
Walking through the downtowns of most North-American cities can be characterised by tall buildings coming directly to the sidewalk creating hostile thoroughfares with little reprieve for the pedestrian to loiter, relax or enjoy. Yellowknife is much the same in this regard having adopted the worst aspects of urbanism though on a diminutive scale.
The Wall, a project completed by Guy Architects, seeks to arrest, nurture and invite citizens to loiter, sit down and take it all in. This runs counter to the culture that predominates in the City of Yellowknife in which loitering is seen undesirable, bad for business and practiced only by less fortunate souls in the community. It is indeed the predominant hostility of the urban environment that typically provides only parking lots and back alleys to meet and share, that characterises the predominate failure of the city. As such areas are marginalised, they require additional policing and monitoring as they become prone to vandalism. It is the premise of this project that if you create comfortable places for people to spend some time with good exposure to sun and view, it promotes congregation. With more people from a wider cross section of society, the group is self-policing and in this urban living room individuals get to know both their community and each other a little better.
The new park is a triangular niche on the north-west side of Franklin Avenue, Yellowknife’s main street. It faces directly south with a north wall serving as a wind break and a climbable screen to the adjacent basketball courts.
Benches sit around a one-foot by one-foot concrete tile mosaic chessboard, part of a games area. The wall’s staggered, geometric lattice pattern has an immediate and beneficial effect: the sculpted forms play with light during the course of the day, marking the passage time and conveying images and pattern which have myriad meanings for those in the park. The wall reminds some of crosses, others, a line of Inukshuks. These wide cultural interpretations marks it as an effective piece of urban art, a sculptural piece which provides an animated backdrop for thinking, for participating in community life, for loitering.
Since The Wall and the adjacent plaza have been opened, street people have begun to use the park, as have a growing number from the community at large. In this new milieu pluralism, tolerance and understanding is nurtured as citizens of all ilks can now share a common experience. It is a sanctuary of inclusiveness, a gesture of generosity in a predominantly selfish environment where the private thoroughfares of malls dominate public streets.
At the end of the day, for most days of the year, it is collective public experiences which mark the success of an urban environment. The more of these we have, the greater the city. The Wall has been Yellowknife’s first baby step to claim the street back from the strictly utilitarian movement of vehicles to a place which contributes to the identity and image of a city.

Guy, Wayne. 'Land of Shadows: Jiewa Park, Yellowknife' On Site review, no. 19 Spring/Summer 2008
©Wayne Guy and On Site review

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