Diamonds in the Rough
How can cities get creative with overlooked spaces?
In the early 20th century, road and rail transportation shaped the city, often brutally, by bisecting neighbourhoods with elevated highway structures, leaving dark, dispirited spaces underneath. In increasingly dense cities, these previously uninhabitable spaces are being reconsidered due to one important virtue: they are unused.
So far, these spaces have been part of an underworld, intervened upon by guerilla artists and skateboarders. Whether it is a temporary folly, an interactive light installation, or a permanent community theatre, a new set of urban activists have taken creative inhabitation a step further.
Cities are beginning to recognize the potential of these areas on a wider scale. Through the Bajo Puentes (“Under the Bridge”) program, Mexico City has transformed four zones under elevated highways into commercial and public spaces and have another twenty in the works. In Toronto, Underpass Park transformed derelict and unused space beneath a series of overpasses into a unique community park. The Design Trust in New York and the Under Bridge Action group in Hong Kong are exploring similar programs.
In 2011 the City of Vancouver put out an open competition titled Re:Connect that posited conceptual designs for the area occupied by the Georgia viaduct. While the demolition of the viaduct is possible, the debate reflects a larger shift in consciousness by raising the question: Is there a ‘liveable’ life under the bridge?
[Top Image: Underpass Park, Toronto.]