VOTE: Advocates To Propose Keeping Pop Up Park in Place All Summer

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The creators of the Pop Up Park downtown will apply to keep the gathering space set up continuously from Memorial Day to Labor Day—a move they expect will further boost its usability and visibility while creating an opportunity to upgrade to sturdier furniture.

The Pop Up Park on a recent weekend. It's open Friday evening through Sunday evening, all summer long, on South Avenue between Morse Court and Elm Street. Credit: Terry Dinan

The Pop Up Park on a recent weekend. It’s open Friday evening through Sunday evening, all summer long, on South Avenue between Morse Court and Elm Street. Credit: Terry Dinan

Launched on a test basis in the summer of 2012 and evolving each successive year into a more regular fixture, the “park” occupies the final block of South Avenue. It includes tables, chairs, a water fountain and often special set-ups from local musicians, businesses, nonprofits and community groups that create family-friendly entertainment and activities.

Last summer saw the Pop Up Park set up each Friday and broken down again late Sunday so that the block reverts to accommodate motor vehicle traffic for the workweek. It “brings people into the downtown area in a recreational manner,” said Keith Simpson, a longtime New Canaan resident who owns a landscape architectural design firm and serves on the Pop Up Park Committee.

“And there isn’t another park downtown anywhere, so having people enjoy the town more than just as a pedestrian going from shop to shop is an important additional dimension,” Simpson said.

And if the Pop Up Park is allowed to remain in place continuously through the whole summer, including weekdays, its very predictability for locals will bring new benefits, Simpson said.

“Once it’s in and up and running, and known that it is there, then people will not be wondering whether it will be put up Friday night or Saturday morning or how late on Sunday it will be taken down. It will be known that it is there and people will be far more likely to use it, so I anticipate a really good strong use of it once it is in place.”

The committee will propose the continuous presence of the Pop Up Park through this summer to the Police Commission at its March 18 meeting.

Reached by NewCanaanite.com and asked what sort of criteria the Police Commission would apply in making its decision, Chairman Stuart Sawabini said the group never has been fielded a request “to permanently close a road, essentially, so I don’t know that there is a lot of precedent with respect to this.”

“Certainly I think that first concerns would be pedestrian safety and traffic flow, and parking—though the actual number of spaces that the Pop Up Park occupies it’s not a very large number as I recall, maybe three or four cars and one large vehicle. It’s not a large number of spaces, but we are so shy on parking spaces that we don’t want to lose any if we can avoid it.”

Asked for his view on the Pop Up Park and its effect on pedestrian and motor vehicle safety, parking and traffic flow, Police Chief Leon Krolikowski said it’s been “a great success on many levels.”

“We have not identified any traffic safety issues or deficiencies,” Krolikowski said. “Often traffic in the area moves more efficiently when the park is set up. We believe having the park set up more frequently will be of benefit to the town.”

Pop Up Park Committee member and local Realtor Kelly Kraus looks out directly on the park from her desk at Barbara Cleary’s Realty Guild, and she said that when it’s running “you will find young parents with toddlers, 16-year-old boys and 80-year-old grandmothers all enjoying the space at the exact same time.”

New Canaanites gather around three flat-screen televisions before the start of the second half. Credit: Alex Hutchins

New Canaanites gather around three flat-screen televisions before the start of the second half. Credit: Alex Hutchins

Kraus said she notices particular young families that made it a point all summer to walk into town for the Pop Up Park to hang out there with their dog most of the day, and that she received a lot of positive feedback after the “World Cup Weekend” where big-screen TVs were wheeled out to watch the U.S. side compete in Brazil.

“It’s just nice to have a space to have those kinds of spontaneous events right in the downtown area, I think that’s really important,” Kraus said.

An advantage to having the park in place continuously through the summer is that it will be easier for motorists traveling up Elm Street to remember they can’t turn left onto South Avenue if it’s a fixture, rather than an on-again, off-again amenity.

In addition, the tables and chairs used for the park aren’t as attractive and sturdy as they might be if being light enough to carry around weren’t a requirement, Kraus said.

“The other thing is, I am a volunteer and I helped, but quite honestly if we decide the Pop Up Park is a valuable thing—and I think for the most part, people think that it is—we cannot keep asking [committee members] Tucker Murphy and Jeff Holland to spend the man hours that they spend putting that thing up and down,” she said. “It is work-intensive and in all kinds of weather and it just is a lot of hard work. Thank god for Jeff and Tucker, but we cannot expect them to keep doing it on a regular basis.”

Hitting this tipping point is one reason why the committee turned to town officials last month for some guidance on how the Pop Up Park should be handled now that it’s taken baby steps toward a more frequent presence in the summer.

Asked about what feedback she’s received from locals on the Pop Up Park, Murphy said she’s heard overwhelmingly that they want it back. Dozens of businesses and organizations already are trying to book time for when they can use it, Murphy said.

One way to frame the questions now facing the Pop Up Park’s future, Murphy said, is: “Is it really more important for us to keep that intersection viable for motor vehicles, or do we see value in having it at certain times of the year be a community gathering spot?”

Murphy said that even though it technically isn’t needed, she would want support for a summer-long Pop Up Park from the Planning & Zoning Commission as well as the Police Commission.

11 thoughts on “VOTE: Advocates To Propose Keeping Pop Up Park in Place All Summer

  1. I have visited New Canaan’s pop up park during the summer and would return just for that – oh and lunch at Rosie’s!

  2. I applaud Tucker Murphy, Laura Budd, Jeff Holland and Marty Skrelunas for going above and beyond to make our downtown village a destination via the Pop-Up Park and other initiatives. It should be permanent – and then we can showcase more retailers, restaurants, organizations and residents. Yes, it is annoying to deal with traffic at Elm and Park and the people who wrongly take spaces rather than using commuter lots – but these are easily fixable and do not outweigh the value of having a place to linger and learn in the center of New Canaan. Walkability raises property values. In this digital age, people are craving opportunities to interract with each other. And the Pop-Up Park gives us another reason to be proud to live here. (On a sidenote, I wish our traffic calming committee would revisit the idea of shifting the direction of traffic on Elm. It would make it harder for shoplifters to get away and solve the traffic nightmare near the train station, one of our worst intersections for pedestrians and drivers alike.

  3. I urge Police Chief Krolikowski and the Police Commission to slow down and study this. As Chairman Sawabini said, there is not much precedent to closing down a section of road. But I can assure you that if we were to propose doing that, we’d do traffic studies, probably hire an engineer, count cars, look at the safety of where cars are being rerouted—why aren’t we doing that?

    Here is what they need to look at: for those of us on the south side of town who make town our destination, our main access to Elm Street is where the Pop Up Park is. We will either have to take Morse Court to Main Street, which we all know is a very tough left, as you have to creep out beyond the parked cars (and over the pedestrian crosswalk) to see both ways. Another other choice will be going right on Cherry to the library intersection, but unless you install a green arrow there, no one will choose that because it’s near-impossible to make a left there, usually one or two cars make it per green light. Third choice is going down Maple St and turning left onto Main, another terrible left turn, again, where you have to creep out over one pedestrian walkway, trying to see traffic around parked cars, while also trying to watch pedestrians crossing the Main Street walkway. I implore those who are making this decision to look closely at the left turns off Maple Street and off Morse Court, go and drive them at various times of the day. And know that all South Ave. traffic will be rerouted to those intersections. There are many elderly people living along South Avenue who will now be forced into those turns. I am not elderly, and I do my best to avoid those intersections. Also, traffic at base of Elm will increase, right where 3 crosswalks converge, so that will get more perilous for pedestrians as well. This is so very important to study this, especially in light of all the pedestrian accidents over the past few years.

    One more point that study would likely spot: there is a loading zone by Sallea Antiques, used all day long by delivery vans/UPS/etc., which will be lost; a permanent Pop Up Park will put those trucks right onto Elm Street, creating even more pedestrian hazards and congestion.

    This decision is feeling rushed. Let’s slow it down before creating more downtown congestion than we already have. That part of South Avenue is an important (and safe) access for those of us south side of town.

    The Pop Up Park on summer weekends is a wonderful idea. But it doesn’t necessarily follow that it means it should be permanent this summer. Please look closely at this before deciding. Thank you!

    • JC: Thank you for posting this comment. Because your comment is very reasoned and appropriate for this type of conversation, I approved it though the email associated with your username bounced back to me as “undeliverable” and you are not using either a first or last name. For serious discussion, I do request that readers who post comments use at least a full first or last name if not both—for example “M Dinan” or “Michael D”—and I would ask that you please email me at editor@newcanaanite.com so that I can update your username along those lines. Thank you.

  4. I think the Pop-up-Park is a really wonderful and special idea, and commend the Chamber’s work on this. In my opinion, it is best for designated times, and special events like the World Cup, complete with music and special appearances from our Town Representatives. These events can be listed in the paper in advance, so people can plan to come or re-route their driving in advance.

    I think if it is left up all summer, it will lose that excitement. There are times where it will not be used, and people will perceive a non-bustling pop-up-park as more of an inconvenience rather than something special. And it would be certainly be unfortunate if it had the unintended consequence of dissuading shoppers from coming into town when that is really the ultimate goal. More formal feedback should be gathered for sure.

  5. Jumping from a weekend event to an all summer event could be viewed as somewhat drastic by people who need to drive through the area and I do feel that the excitement of others might start lingering in due course. In my view, if the pop up park is there for 2 weeks, the duration of a nice, long vacation, families can look at it as the perfect time of summer to spend in town, and even plan their summer activities/second/third vacations around it.

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