I was passing through the Surrey Central Skytrain Station the other day when I noticed something a little unusual. Underneath the escalators near the bus loop, there is a park bench and a lamp. This would be normal enough, except that it is all enclosed by a high, wrought iron fence.
The juxtaposition is a little strange – you are simultaneously invited into this welcoming space while emphatically being told to keep out. Now, why the park bench and lamp are so precious as to be in need of protection was not immediately evident to me. There was no obvious indication of a gateway to Narnia, or anything…
This got me thinking of how we use space in and around many of our Skytrain Stations. It seems that the goal is to move people through – no loitering. This makes sense from a transportation point of view, but not necessarily from a community planning point of view. We have unintentionally created spaces that are largely empty and, for many people, a little intimidating outside of peak commuting times.
Jane Jacobs advocated for mixed use urban spaces, and for densification as a means to create critical mass capable of sustaining vibrant communities. The area around the Broadway and Commercial Skytrain Stations come closest to this ideal in my mind. With the mixed use space (commercial, office and, nearby, residential) it has achieved somewhat of a town square feel. Diverse people hang out, shop, or go for coffee in and around that corner at all hours (excellent for people watching, let me tell you). A sense of safety is maintained by what Jacob’s called “eyes upon the street”.
Contrast this with most of the other Skytrain Stations on any given evening. They are largely abandoned aside from some rather shady looking folks and, rightly or wrongly, they instill a sense of anxiety. It’s true that urban development does not happen overnight, but we may want to pay closer heed to Jacob’s recommendations by creating more welcoming, multi-use spaces as these transit hubs evolve over time.