A few days ago, I was eating Pakistani food and chatting with a friend about downtown Provo. My friend suggested that Provo shut down Center Street to cars and turn it into a pedestrian mall. I countered that while I previously liked this idea, I subsequently rejected it as I learned more about the many failed examples. Provo, in particular, seems to lack the demand and density to make this idea work, which is something I wrote about here.
But wouldn’t it be cool if we could have our cake and eat it too?
In other words, wouldn’t it be cool if we could see if a pedestrian mall would work without spending the millions of dollars needed to actually build it? Or, if we could slowly roll it out?
And though I’m specifically talking about Provo, the same goes for just about anywhere; in general, it’d be nice to incrementally and gradually create pedestrian zones.
As it turns out, we can do all of those things with “pop-up” urbanism.
The idea behind “pop-up” urbanism is that it deploys quick and cheap buildings to transform a space. The best local example of this is Granary Row in Salt Lake City, which created retail, a music venue and a biergarten in the middle of a street. Something similar could work in many locations in Provo and other Wasatch Front cities.
But during a recent trip to Vancouver, I saw an even more relevant example:
In this example, vendors, tables, and other programming have been added to an existing street. The underlying infrastructure — the pavement, the sidewalk, the lane markers, etc. — all remains unchanged.
This strategy has several benefits. For starters, it’s really cheap. Whereas ripping out a street and creating a traditional “pedestrian mall” costs millions and takes time, this only requires minimal funds for benches and a few hours of set up time.
A pop-up mall also allows a city to hedge its bets; if it fails, nothing is lost. The benches and other additions can be removed and reused, and the street can be returned to its original form overnight.
In Vancouver’s case, the pop-up idea is clearly working. In downtown Provo’s case, as well as elsewhere in Utah, it might be a useful, incremental idea that could be deployed strategically and temporarily as demand slowly grows.