Falling Water

Falling Water

Incorporating public art into public spaces isn’t anything new. Hell, in the 16th Century during the Renaissance, artists were basically celebrities. They received massive commissions to produce pieces of art that enhanced public spaces. Now although the themes and styles have evolved; I mean Copenhagen basically has a statue dedicated to a military, royal or historic figure on every street corner. Public art has been a staple of solid public spaces throughout history.

The Edmonton context

Today, in a post-industrial world (at least in North America), art in public spaces is getting its own Renaissance. The City of Edmonton has been allocating 1% of its capital budget towards public art since 1991. Anyone who’s lived in Edmonton knows (and has an opinion) about the chrome balls stacked on the side of the Whitemud Freeway. Developers are even coming late to the party and installing public art into their developments with relative success. Being in the development industry, I can honestly say that the reasons for doing it miss the mark (people will pay more for houses with a public art installation nearby, rather than supporting and promoting local art and design), but regardless of the place in which their hearts are located, it’s nice to see.

Victoria Promenade

The 101 Avenue Promenade (officially called the Victoria Promenade), is a fantastic little pedestrian path the city of Edmonton built to enhance the Oliver neighbourhood. The Promenade is on a quiet residential street that overlooks the Victoria Golf Course and the river valley. It’s a boardwalk of sorts, featuring a number of lookouts and educational information about events and people famous to Edmonton. But that’s not all (read in infomercial host voice and level of enthusiasm). The Promenade’s path is wide enough to be multi-modal, and is part of a larger pedestrian network that connects two of Edmonton’s cooler projects; the Funicular and Blatchford.

high aerial - landmarks

It achieves this through the creation of a pedestrian pathway that used to be a rail corridor. How cool is that? There seems to be a few of these around town.

context map of rail and former rail lines

I like Google Earth for things like this. Here it shows the evolution taking place as pedestrians overtake the train through this corridor.

Both the Funicular and Blatchford deserve their own posts, so I won’t talk about them at length. However, I am going to say if you don’t know about them you can read about them here and here.

Where was I?

Art with function

Right, so you know what kind of public art I think is the best? Functional. For me it’s more than just staring at art and silently pretending to understand it. That makes me too insecure to enjoy it, since I’m wondering if I’m smart enough to comprehend the message (I’m not). I’d rather get engaged in some other tactile way. Along the Promenade there are four lookouts, each placed at the end of a street and featuring an art installation. They are represented by yellow dots in the image below. Three of them have educational pieces, with statues and writeups about the history of that particular location, view and figure.

3D Plan - highlight

If I may sidebar one more time, how great is it that you can review stretches of road on Google? The Promenade has four 5-star reviews, with this post it’s probably approaching ‘trending’ status.

the Victoria Promenade, facing east

Here is one of the installations, statues of historical Edmontonians and information on the historic neighbourhood of Oliver:

educational reading material along guardrails as public art

Personal Opinion

By placing art installations that require getting close to enjoy, people walking by are enticed to stop, check it out and enjoy the views. Too often pedestrian paths are too linear and have long sections between rest points. On top of that, the rest points often just feature a bench and not much else. It doesn’t give people a reason to stop and sit; thereby eliminating the usefulness of the rest point. Put up something that makes people stop, in my opinion. Now we’re talking about really utilizing the space to the best of its intentions.

Falling Water

The best installation of the bunch though is the lookout on the furthest east side of the Promenade. It’s a busy intersection, as cars are moving past it going in and out of downtown. Pedestrian activity is high with connections to the river valley and downtown converging on this point. This is where the following piece of art is located.

falling water as public art

I bet you expected more, I can almost see it on your face.

Pretty simple, right? But it’s a perfect fit for that spot, beyond the obvious fun it presents on a hot summer day. Falling water is noisy. It naturally attracts people to it – you can hear it before you see it in some circumstances. It gets people onto the Promenade to check it out. Secondly, it blocks the noise coming from vehicular traffic and people talking. When standing next to it you almost forget you’re next to a busy street. You can have private conversations while being near it without worrying about other people hearing you. Lastly, the sound of falling water is therapeutic.

As far as public art goes, in terms of location and function, this is in the perfect spot.


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