On the condition that additional details are presented within the next few weeks, officials on Wednesday unanimously approved a proposal to keep the Pop Up Park downtown in place through the summer.
Overseen by a volunteer committee since it launched on a test basis three years ago, the Pop Up Park on the last block of South Avenue will run for three straight weekends starting May 30, then remain in place from the end of school (June 19) to Labor Day (Sept. 7), following a 3-0 vote by the Police Commission.
Commissioners called the Pop Up Park a successful and well-run effort whose next logical step—and for the volunteers who have spent time and effort setting it up and breaking it down every weekend these past two summers, only viable step—is to try it on a semi-permanent basis.
“I have not heard really much grumbling at all,” Commission Chairman Stuart Sawabini said at the group’s regular monthly meeting, held in the Training Room at the New Canaan Police Department. “Certainly the positives appear to outweigh the negatives by a maybe 10-1 ratio, so that to me is very good news.”
Sawabini called for members of the Pop Up Park Committee to flesh out an operations plan, identify individuals responsible for activities and present a formal agreement with the Department of Public Works, stating that its workers would help with cleanup efforts while on their normal routes downtown.
Betsy Wilson, a Realtor with Barbara Cleary’s Realty Guild who is a member of the Pop Up Park Committee, presented the group’s request to the Police Commission. By closing the final block of South Avenue to motor vehicle traffic, the park makes the intersection safer for pedestrians, and those who use the park are good about picking up after themselves and not littering, Wilson said. In addition, the venerable Kiwanis Club of New Canaan has offered to donate a public access defibrillator for the park, Wilson said.
Wilson also addressed some concerns that had been raised about the park. Though motor vehicle traffic cannot get through to the middle of Elm Street directly from South Avenue, the park also “keeps thru-traffic on the outside areas of town,” Wilson said.
Though three parking spaces on the east side of the block are lost when the park is in place, Wilson noted that many people walk or ride their bikes to town knowing that the Pop Up Park is there as a destination, freeing up more spaces. She added that the summer weeks from the time school is out through Labor Day, and especially the month of August, are a slow time in downtown New Canaan, and plenty of parking is available.
A loading zone on the west side of South Avenue just before Elm Street also is lost when the Pop Up Park is in place, but that loading zone could be relocated to the area directly in front of the Mobil station, or else along the top of Morse Court, Wilson said.
“Overall, we are really excited,” Wilson said of the prospect that the park could remain in place through the summer.
She added: “This is it, this is the moment for the Pop Up Park, whether it lives or dies.”
It will live.
The park—which has seen businesses and organizations “adopt” the space for entire weekends, bringing music, themes and family-friendly activities—also is in line with principles outlined in the recently updated Plan of Conservation and Development, said Tucker Murphy, a committee member who serves as executive director of the New Canaan Chamber of Commerce. Answering a question from Sawabini, Murphy also said that both nonprofits and businesses are invited to take advantage of the Pop Up Park, as both types of organizations promote New Canaan in unique ways.
Residents spoke in favor of keeping the Pop Up Park in place, including Ben Skrelunas, a South School third-grader.
Known as the “number one fan” of the park, Skrelunas said he helps set it up and break it down, and count money collected in the fountain, which he then hands over to the committee.
“The reason I like ti most is that I can ride my bike there,” Skrelunas said.
Barbara Cleary said watching the Pop Up Park can be like seeing a living, breathing Norman Rockwell painting, with multiple generations interacting among themselves and with each other.
“You see a grandfather playing miniature golf with a six-year-old grandson and moms with baby carriages and then the teens are playing badminton—I get fascinated with all the different scenes,” Cleary said.
She added that although the school system is the leading reason that prospective residents end up buying homes in New Canaan, the “charming village center is really high on the list” and that insofar as it enhances the downtown as a unique destination, the Pop Up Park has great appeal for “in-town” homebuyers.