The Square is the Center of City-wide Placemaking Campaign

Mississauga's new Celebration Square opened 5 years to the day after City Council approved PPS' Master Plan

This square will do what we’ve struggled to do over the years, develop a citywide spirit” -Mayor Hazel McCallion

The city of Mississauga, Ontario is one of Canada’s most diverse and quickly growing cities. Debt-free since 1978, Mississauga also has one of the longest-serving and most popular mayors in the country.  Yet despite this diversity and stability, the city has continued to struggle to cultivate a sense of place that would bring people downtown.

And that’s part of what makes yesterdays’ grand opening of Celebration Square so exciting: the Square is the first step in creating a great destination that shows off the best of Mississauga and draws residents to enjoy their city center.

Missisauga’s Celebration Square is part of what we see as a wonderful trend toward the the Re-Emergence of the Public Square.  Instead of turning to big infrastructure investments to catalyze new life downtown, cities are turning to public squares and plazas with strong programming to stimulate investment.

PPS is proud to have helped develop the community’s programmatic vision for Mississauga’s new Celebration Square as part of a city-wide Placemaking campaign and capacity building effort.  Yesterday’s opening was exactly 5 years after the City Council voted to approve PPS’ master plan, “Building Mississauga Around Places:  A Vision for City Centre Park and Open Spaces in the 21st Century.

Building a Vision for the Heart of Mississauga

From the intense involvement of more than 1500 Mississauga citizens in several rounds of community workshops and visioning sessions, it was clear everyone wanted their new Square to become the heart of the city- a place full of events that give people a reason to come enjoy their downtown. Just months after the initial workshops, citizens and local organizations came together to undertake a series of experiments and short-term actions (that we now call “Lighter, Quicker Cheaper” strategies) to implement many of the ideas that the community came up with. They created an ambitious summer schedule of programs and events that ranged from Farmers markets to Vintage Car Club Thursdays- and put public seating and tables out in the square right away.

That vision has really translated into the Square’s current programming:  check out this calendar of amazing events coming up this summer in Celebration Square.  The Mississauga City Council has even started to hold its meetings in the square!  And there are big plans for Canada Day 2011: this year’s festivities in Celebration Square include performances by These Kids Wear Crowns, pop artist Fefe Dobson and the chart-topping Shawn Desman. The square will also feature fireworks, an aerial cirque show and and unique art, dance and music fusion performances in the amphitheater.

Right after the initial visioning process, Mississauga tested lighter, quicker, cheaper programming like this Canada Day celebration to inform the current design.

The plans for Celebration Square were just one part of a comprehensive City of the Future Campaign, where we led training sessions for city staff, a Power of 10 plan for the whole city and a detailed concept plan for the city center.  Many of the ideas that emerged from these processes are reflected in Mississauga’s comprehensive Downtown 21 Plan.

How the Placemaking Process Created a New Square for Mississauga

As the City of Mississauga explains, Celebration Square came about as a “… result of extensive public engagement conducted in 2005 and 2006 by the City’s Community Services department, in collaboration with Project for Public Spaces (PPS) of New York City, using the principles of “Placemaking” — turning public spaces into vital community places. Community stakeholders, including citizens, arts and sports groups and businesses were consulted to develop a Vision Concept Plan for public space surrounding the Civic Centre. As a result of public meetings, workshops and web-based reviews of draft plans, the final document, “Building Mississauga around Places: A Vision for City Centre Parks and Open Spaces in the 21st Century,” was completed in January 2007.”

Placemaking has Paid Off in Mississauga’s Celebration Square

Bruce Carr, Director, Strategic Community Initiatives for the City of Mississauga wrote to PPS to update us about the positive changes that the Placemaking process brought to Celebration Square- and the new investments the square has catalyzed:

“The excitement [PPS] helped create in the community resulted in the Federal and Provincial governments partnering with us to invest $43 million in the complete reconstruction of the Square… It is spectacular. Don’t worry we have taken your advice and have also invested substantial dollars into the programming of Celebration Square. As you recommended it is being operated as an outdoor community centre.

I am totally amazed at how the seeds (and petunias) we planted, with your help, just a few years ago have grown into what in just a few short years will be something that will be cherished and enjoyed for generations to come.

Without PPS’s help and guidance we would not have had our new and beautiful Celebration Square. The people and especially the children of Mississauga will forever be in your debt. The events planned for this summer are going to be out of this world. I can hardly wait!”

As the Globe and Mail reports, “the centrepiece of the square is a stage flanked by JumboTrons, to be used for concerts and other events. A long trellis on one side will provide shade for vendors during festivals and markets. On the upper level, closer to City Hall, is a shallow reflecting pool with water jets. In the winter, it will serve as a skating rink.”

We are grateful to Bruce Carr and Randy Jameson for being the leaders locally that saw this project all the way through and were open to new ideas throughout.  As is the case with most great projects there is always a local leader that seeds the effort and breaks down the barriers for it to get traction. In this case it was PPS friend and collaborator Guillermo Penalosa who played this crucial role as the original visionary and catalyst (we often refer this role as that of the Zealous Nut). He brought many leaders from Mississauga to our training courses in New York and then worked with us to design and lead this city campaign and center city master plan, which remains a model for our highest impact work in cities.

Read more of the enthusiastic press coverage of Placemaking Celebration Square:
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