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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.
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.”
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.