Disclaimer: The author of this article works with Prize Foundation and ReForm Shreveport, organizations this article is about. It was written in partnership with content sharing from ReForm Shreveport.
What are “Human-Scaled” Public Spaces?
One of the core principles ReForm Shreveport (an organization that works to find effective and meaningful solutions to improve Shreveport’s built environment) promotes is the prioritization of public spaces for people over vehicular transportation. Streets with little traffic do not need to be wide, parking can be removed or relocated into structures allowing people to re-occupy the ground level of public spaces as humans have done for millennia.
A popup “parklet” (or mini-park) is a perfect way to demonstrate the concept that when people feel welcomed into common spaces with seating, business, and amenities, they will take to those areas like fish to water. Ancient cities around the world are centered around squares and markets which focus on pedestrian needs and promoting personal connection with others. These are the places we go to visit on vacation – so why aren’t we building them at home? It is in our nature to congregate in public squares and share spaces together, and to show this in a practical way is key to helping people put into words what it is they feel in their bones.
How ReForm Built the Park
Prize Foundation, creators of the Louisiana Film, Music, and Food Prizes, gave ReForm the resources to take over the 500 block of Louisiana Avenue during its annual Prize Fest. To start, the parklet was pre-visualized using Sketchup which provided a three-dimensional game plan to organize the resources and volunteers in the short time period that was available Wednesday night before the festival to execute the setup of the park. The plan would intentionally reduce the number of parking spaces and take away one lane of travel which would then be turned into a small public park complete with festoon lighting, lounge seating, benches, picnic tables, shade, greenery, vendor tents, and games.
In the preceding months, Shreveport Police, Fire, and Emergency Medical Services were consulted as a part of the City of Shreveport’s Events Taskforce to provide an opportunity for feedback regarding public safety concerns, and signatures were acquired from adjacent businesses to block part of the street. Ideally, to illustrate the usefulness of the space, a project like this would not close down the entire street, just the section begin used. However, SPD was not ready to commit to a pedestrian area in a space meant for vehicular traffic, but the team moved forward opting to take small victories over perfect execution.
Next, four vendors – Taqueria La Michoacana, Counter Culture Frozen Yogurt, Day Old Blues Records, and Golden Threaded Clothing were selected with the assistance of The Agora Borealis as high-quality small businesses that compliment the existing retail and restaurant spaces adjacent on Texas Street. The food trucks were provided with on-site power to reduce the noise associated with generators. Caddo Career Center woodshop students helped produce a large tic-tac-toe game. Great Raft Brewing supplied an oversized version of cornhole using bean bag chairs. Shreveport Downtown Development Authority cleaned up the sidewalks, filled holes, and provided park benches. Shreveport Public Assembly and Recreation (SPAR) brought out picnic tables. Bike Shreveport brought out a bike rack for holding bikes. Garrison’s Home and Garden provided flowers and small plants. The parklet was open during the festival from Thursday, October 4 through Saturday, October 6th.
This was a team effort. The Prize Parklet saw hundreds of guests throughout the three days of operation. Guests gave verbal feedback about how they wish downtown Shreveport had a courtyard or square with similar amenities year-round. While Shreveport has broken ground on Common Park on the west side of downtown, it’s still too far for many to walk on their lunch break and won’t be completed until mid-2019. We would like to see a local business or the city to invest a small sum in tables, shade, and space for the public to gather in or adjacent to the Central Business District similar to what we presented during Prize Fest.
Ultimately, the approach of human-scaled and social gathering place thinking could be useful in a number of areas around town, including and especially west Shreveport where sidewalks are unsafe and vehicles are prioritized over pedestrians even adjacent schools, libraries, parks, and other areas that should be focused on people.
Shreveport’s built environment needs to be re-imagined from the ground up. Investments need to be made. The parklet, as fun as it was for a weekend, cannot be the end of the line for thinking about making our city more equitable, accessible, and high quality for everyone.