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Kitchener's Flexible, Pedestrian-First Streetscape

Three-foot tall stainless steel, removable bollards, engineered and supplied by Blockaides, Inc., along King Street in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada have the "Kitchener Downtown" logo chemically etched into the stainless steel surface at the top of each bollard. The bollards in front of City Hall Plaza are illuminated by LEDs. Unit pavers (Unilock) on King Street include banding pavers ("Midnight Sky") and field pavers ("Winter Marvel"). This contemporary look complements City Hall's modern architecture and King Street's 20th century heritage buildings, creating an expansive and continuous European-style pedestrian corridor.
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Playworld Teak Warehouse

IBI Group was retained by the city of Kitchener, Ontario, Canada in January 2007 to redesign the core streets in the downtown district. The project aim was to define an urban design framework to guide the physical renewal and public realm improvements in the city's central district. The streetscape master plan involved reconfiguring King Street, widening sidewalks and improving accessibility, with upgrades to the design and surface treatment of major and minor intersections. The area directly in front of Kitchener City Hall is designed as a special civic area that can be easily "closed" and used for special events. The objectives of the master plan included supporting pedestrians, mixed uses and setting the tone for a more vibrant, successful and desirable place for the residents, business owners and visitors to live, operate a business, work and recreate. The plan is based on the principle that an investment in a high-quality public realm is a catalyst for private sector investment, intensification and renewal of the downtown core.

The night scene on King Street is illuminated in triplicate. The street pole lighting is augumented by 120-volt metal halide recessed lighting (Gardo Lighting) in the planter walls, and street tree uplighting (B-K Lighting, Sierra series).

Successful Solutions for Healthy, Child-Friendly Communities
Many livable cities began as small towns with a focus on the downtown main street, the economic engine of the town. For many decades, such towns grew into diversified and sprawling communities, with the economic engine relocating to the malls and the suburbs.

The challenge has been to vitalize the downtown and restart its economic engine. As the 21 Century dawned, downtown Kitchener was suffering from lack of business renewal, upstarts and the necessary vibrancy and activity required in a downtown setting. Kitchener's "main street" had the typical "speaker's corner," i.e., the main intersection of two downtown streets where, historically, people gathered to socialize, conduct business, or to discuss the topics of the day.

A flexible parking design was created by incorporating removable bollards, which allows maximizing on-street parking during the colder months and closing streets to make room for special outdoor events in the warmer months, or to make more room for the retailers and expanded seating for the outdoor cafes and restaurants.

Fast forward to modern day, mid-sized Kitchener, which is thriving with new businesses, educational institutions and a vibrant and active youth, yet the downtown main street and speaker's corner have not kept pace.
The city, working closely with the landscape architect and design consultant team, saw this as an opportunity to engage the public, the downtown business community and the youth of the city and revitalize the downtown as a major destination.

The role of the downtown was downplayed to the youth. The message was clearly that it was not a place to "hang out" after dark. The city fathers believed it was too urban an environment for children to understand and was not a positive neighborhood and community destination.

Sustainable storm water management is incorporated in the streetscape by infiltration planter beds (with custom granite-clad seat walls) to collect and filter storm water before it enters the sewer system. Wet-tolerant species of trees, and ornamental grasses were specified. New, wider sidewalks and gently sloping, lowered curbs ("semi-mountable") improve pedestrian accessibility and allow the street to be programmed for major events. A continuous flat surface (flush curbs) at City Hall Plaza better accommodates special events.

The new message was "business first." The downtown businesses had certain needs and desires and had to be listened to keep the downtown alive. As a reinvestment in infrastructure, the streetscapes and major public squares were an area that, as public infrastructure, could revitalize the downtown businesses.

The streetscape design includes such innovative technologies as continuous tree trenches to provide adequate soil volumes that promote healthier growth of the new trees. Hackberry, Maidenhair, Shademaster honeylocust, Capital ornamental pear, London plane, burr oak and Homestead elm are the arbors in the continuous tree trenches. Each tree is protected by a stainless steel tree guard (Green Leaf). Tree Canada awarded the project a "Green Streets Canada" for doubling the tree canopy on King Street.

Pedestrians First
There was no question for the need for downtown parking, but it was equally important for a positive, safe and generous pedestrian environment. "Pedestrian first" means creating walkable spaces with safe seating areas that make the downtown experience a more pleasurable one. The flexible parking solution now provides parking in the winter and pedestrian plazas and patios in the summer, an ideal solution for business and the community.

The stormwater infiltration planters sport feather, reed, maiden and fountain grasses, plus custom black granite clad seat walls (see below). Cast iron decorative catch basins ("Oblio," Iron Age Grate) siphon water to the planters.

Culture First
There is a significant history and culture to the way the downtown was originally designed and used. Revitalizing these spaces involved reallocating the zones for pedestrian movement for retail, for spillout shopping and for patios. The culture of the downtown was retained and celebrated, while creating new opportunities for bringing people, in particular the youth, back to the downtown.

The streetscape site seating is attractive Jarrah wood (Eucalyptus marginata) with cast aluminum supports and end arms (Neoliviano model, Santa & Cole, Landscape Forms).

Environment First
The environmental values put into these streetscapes and public spaces reflect how the city waters trees, how it recycles storm water, the plant materials it chooses and the stormwater infiltration techniques use. These practices send a message to the youth. It tells them the importance of the environment even in an urban setting.

Kitchener's Speakers' Corner is a major community square that introduces the revitalized main street and celebrates the social and cultural values of the community. It has always been a meeting place, however, over time the space was overgrown, had became a hangout, which was undesirable for the public and, in particular, for the children in the community. The design response was to use CPTED (crime prevention through environmental design) techniques to make Speakers' Corner an important meeting place for the community.

Public art representative of community values is integrated throughout the design. At Speaker's Corner, the message is "speak up and speak out," a message repeated through engraved walls and on the reflective stainless steel column and within a tile mosaic graphic on the ground. The city held a national public art competition and ultimately chose Allan Harding MacKay as the public artist.

There are benches and other seating to encourage the locals and visitors to sit and view the diversity of people in the community.

Speakers' Corner has been recreated into a human-scale space, with a focus on "eyes on the street," arriving at a safe, open, diverse urban setting.

The incorporation of public art is representative of community values and integrated throughout the design. It sends a message to young people that the arts are important for a community, that it is essential to "speak up and speak out," to express oneself and that various opinions should be heard. This message is repeated through engraved walls throughout the landscape of Speakers' Corner on a major reflective stainless steel column and within a tile mosaic on the ground plain. This exhibit is an inviting space for everyone, but also helps younger people in the community understand more about their history, culture and the start of the revitalization of downtown.

"Oval" series (Lumec), named for the shape of the housing, is made of die cast aluminum. The luminaire lamps use 70-watt metal halides, but this model (SOL1) also incorporates a LED column atop the pole in a satin acrylic finish. Kitchener encourages keeping the streetscape clean with highly visible garbage trash and recycling receptacles (Molok) for the modern city environment. These units are 2000 mm tall (6.5 feet tall). Yes, really, but that's including the one meter of the unit that is subterranean.

This project represents a commitment on behalf of the designers and the municipality to revitalize the downtown with a focus on the pedestrians. It has created a healthier, more child-friendly environment and a place of interest that sparks the imagination and has successfully restarted the engine of the downtown. Balancing the needs of the businesses, the pedestrians, the culture and the environment, the space has been reallocated to a fresh start for the next century.


The bollards have been removed for a "classic" car show so as not to deter the pedestrian flow. Note the 70 mm high custom rolled curb, part of the flexible parking, continuous sidewalk design and "shared street" design.


Kitchener is situated in Southwestern Ontario, Canada in the Waterloo region, within the Saint Lawrence lowlands. It is the largest city (pop. 204,668) in the Grand River watershed. Kitchener is built upon land "given" to the Iroquois nation (Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca tribes) by the British in 1784 as a kind of thank you gift for their assistance during the American Revolution. Kitchener, once called the Town of Berlin for its predominantly German immigrant population, holds the largest Bavarian festival (Oktoberfest) outside of Germany. Kitchener now enjoys a resurgence of urban vitality. It's attracting satellite university campuses to the downtown and new digital media companies, thanks to its close proximity to Waterloo.


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December 12, 2019, 8:16 pm PDT

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