City parklets foster campus-community partnership

From left to right, Simon Petepiece, Tori Hamatani, Mitchell Gray and Trevor Whitten (not pictured) designed a parklet that will be located at 49 Beechwood Avenue in Vanier. (Justin Tang Photo)

When Carleton Architecture Prof. Johan Voordouw learned about the city’s plan to repurpose on-street parking spots into outdoor patios, parklets and vending stalls, he called up city councillors to see how he could get his students involved.

While his soon-to-be-graduates have the skills to design innovative spaces, they don’t often have the funds to bring their creations to life.

That changed last month when the Quartier Vanier Business Improvement Association voted to fund a street side parklet called Water Garden designed by fourth-year architecture students Tori Hamatani, Trevor Whitten, Mitchell Gray and Simon Petepiece.

The small outdoor seating area, which will be located at 49 Beechwood Avenue in Vanier, is part of the City of Ottawa’s new Streetside Spots project, which will revamp up to 25 city parking spots into seasonal public spaces.

From April to October, the parklets will occupy no more than one parking space in a 50 kilometre an hour zone where on-street parking is allowed at all times.

“From a community engagement standpoint, it’s a wonderful opportunity,” says Voordouw, who teaches the students in his fourth-year design-build studio.

By the end of the project, the students will have designed, gained city approval for and built the structure themselves. A second group of Voordouw’s students — Jason Surkan, Ben Cottrill and Alex Marttinen — are creating a parklet called Nuk for the Glebe neighbourhood.

Not only is it an opportunity for hands-on experience outside the classroom, but it’s fostering new partnerships between Carleton’s Azrieli School of Architecture and Ottawa neighbourhoods.

“When you’re designing something, you like what you’re doing, because that’s why you’re doing it,” Whitten says. “But it’s really validating when you are able to communicate those ideas and express what you’re trying to do to the community.”

Petepiece says the students tried to absorb the community’s feedback when they presented their design at the BIA’s annual general meeting in January. They wanted to make sure the parklet reflected the spirit of Vanier.

“The steeple of (Saint-Charles) Church is a very iconic landmark people kind of rally around,” Petepiece says of the neighbourhood. “The parklet faces in this direction so it has a view to the steeple of the church.”

“We thought it would be nice to relate it back to the site and the community,” he says.

Water Garden will also collect rainwater to hydrate live plants inside the parklet, while its small roof is designed to provide visitors with some relief during the summer heat.

Gray hopes the parklet project brings awareness about the resources Carleton can offer to the community and that it paves the way for more campus-community relationships.

For Hamatani, it’s been an opportunity to step outside her university “bubble” and work with the people who will benefit from her ideas.

“It’s exciting. It’s new,” she says. “It’s a big project, so it’ll be nice to see this all come together after the semester.”

While Voordouw’s design-build studio is a hit with students, he’s always looking for fresh opportunities to expand their learning.

“And I think that these opportunities that are presenting themselves are ones that might actually engage a broader community,” he says.

You can look for Water Garden and Nuk on Ottawa streets this spring.

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