Urban planner Cynthia Nikitin on how to build great public spaces
Cynthia Nikitin, the vice president for downtowns with Project for Public Spaces, graced the Mendel Art Gallery March 2. Nikitin was in town as part of the University of Saskatchewan department of urban planning and resources’s brand new Planner in Residence program. Her free public lecture focused on enhancing the city through green spaces.
The Kinsmen Park is one of the city’s target areas, including the Mendel Gallery building, since the gallery is moving to the River Landing Pavilion.
“Great cities are increasingly known for their great parks and public spaces,” said Nikitin. She’s seen first hand how a park can transform a city — she’s been doing this for 19 years.
She described the process of creating a successful green space as being like the stone soup allegory. You know, the story where someone says they want to make stone soup, and put a stone in a boiling pot of water.
“That first person says, ”˜Know what would be really great? Carrots,’ so someone brings in carrots”¦ People just contribute to this to make something great.”
As a planner, she works to be that person with a stone.
“We facilitate and translate the sharing of ideas,” said Nikitin. Often, groups involved in community revitalization vary from museums to corporate entities.
To give Saskatoon’s parks direction, she suggested simply examining how people would like to use a space. Finding one person interested in teaching something, from yoga to painting, could help focus the creation of a new park area.
She cited the example of a park in upper Houston she worked on. The green space was near a farmer’s market tucked into an inconvenient location, so they moved the farmer’s market into a pavilion in the park. However, the market only ran twice a week, so they included an upper level for classrooms for community members to use throughout the week. Next, they integrated the concept of urban agriculture intoÂ a seasonal restaurant.
“You just start triangulating uses. It just starts building,” Nikitin emphasized. She cautioned, however, that it was important to focus on the specifics of community contributions.
“If someone feels unsafe, is that because of poor lighting?”¦ Is it because of the eight lane road nearby?” A great downtown will identify the specific problem, and create “a concept plan that’s not pie in the sky,” she said.
A space like Saskatoon’s downtown would benefit from the synergic relationship between industry and community. Between arts groups and business, as long as the community voice is heard and translated correctly, the downtown park could inject the core with new energy.
This article first appeared in The Sheaf - The University of Saskatchewan Newspaper Since 1912.