Sparks Street Mall — SOUTH (part i)

I was delighted to see the more proactive role taken by the Ottawa Sparks Street Mall for the New Year’s Eve celebrations. While I cannot say whether the crowds justified the event, or if it broke even, it was valiant marketing and so necessary to revitalize this mall.

It made me think of another urban mall I visited in the fall: Burlington VT’s Church Street Marketplace. I don’t know when it was inaugurated  but I suspect the late sixties or seventies, and it appeared to have the original brick pavement:


Most of the centre area of the mall is left open, presumably for emergency vehicles. As is typical in such designs, pedestrians tend to cluster along the storefront perimeter except for those who are “through traffic” which favour the emptier middle. Sparks Street follows the same model, although the version before our current layout favoured a more sinuous, wonerf-type layout whereby vehicular traffic winded it way amongst planters and street furniture that spread all over the street. The current model, for both Sparks and Burlington, sometimes makes the empty middle seem an indicator of non-success.

The Burlington mall has several groups of buildings along the sides with uniform rain and snow canopies. These are much less obtrusive than the ones tried out in Ottawa on Rideau Street in the 80’s, which through mission-creep ended up enclosed on the sides, heated, sprinklered, and eventually became dingy places bestrewn with winos and beggars.



The mall prohibits bike riding *, but does provide some racks.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALarge rocks are set into the brick pavers. Notice the Church at the end, which gives the mall its name. Here’s an earlier picture:



The mall has 86 stores, and an adjacent indoor mall parallel to the street has 49 shops, including a Macy’s dept store. The outdoor mall claims to be 90% occupied; the indoor mall seemed slightly less. In 2008 the American Planning Assoc declared the Church Street Marketplace one of America’s great public spaces.

I thought it interesting how well their pavement and infrastructure had aged. They hadn’t felt it necessary to tear out and reinstall the pavements and planters several times over the decades, as Sparks Street has.

Sparks has numerous public benches, albeit arranged in a curiously old-fashioned and stodgy linear fashion. Signs this past fall indicated they are buying more or replacing the current ones with similar heavy-duty park benches.  No sign of NYC’s Broadway approach of festooning the area with individual moveable chairs, which has been a boon to NYC and is highly recommended by Jan Gehl and others. In Burlington, I don’t recall seeing ANY benches.

And the fountains – reminiscent of the Sparks Street type from the 80’s (not the since-abandonned bubling pavement version of the 90’s designed to facilitate vehicle movement) had side walls crafted to prevent sitting. Nonetheless, the Burlington fountains offered refreshing sounds, some play amusement sorely lacking on Sparks today, and made me yearn for the old fountains that used to adorn Sparks, particularly the coloured mosaic fountain that used to be at Kent Street.


* I have posted previously on the possible revitalization of Sparks by installing a bi-directional bike lane winding down the middle, so I won’t bore you again.


next: more on Burlington Marketplace.


5 thoughts on “Sparks Street Mall — SOUTH (part i)

  1. Boulder, Colorado features the excellent Pearl St. pedestrian mall, four blocks long, plenty of shops and fooderies, not all of them top-end. Ample areas for socializing, buskers, kid-play, public art. Adjacent vehicled streets are likewise animated. Mind you, Boulder’s climate is a bit more conducive to outdoor activity than Ottawa’s (and presumably Burlington’s), but the City itself, long a liberal oasis, seems a good deal more enlightened about civic matters than hereabouts.

  2. Thanks for the lead, I will check it out next time I am in boulder, which is not currently on my “schedule” but is on my “wish list”. In a previous post I wrote about the third avenue mall (?) in santa monica as revitalized by frank gehry. I will however be visiting another american succesful ped mall later this winter and will get some pic for future posts. thanks for reading.

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