Energizing a Community Through Programmable Space Design


Energizing a Community Through Programmable Space Design

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

When walking by a community park or a public plaza space, people may not give much thought to how these places were conceived or the range of activities held there. Some folks take these public spaces for granted. And while their presence may not always be appreciated, their absence would definitely be noticeable.

No matter how big or small, parks and open space areas able to host a variety of programs create a big impact within our cities to bring people together while promoting community interaction. Communities rely on public spaces to be adaptable to host events and gatherings of all shapes and sizes, which is why designing with flexibility at top of mind is such a priority.

One such example is the new Broadway Square in Downtown Fargo, North Dakota. Despite being the largest city in the state, Downtown really lacked a central community gathering space. The Fargo Park District worked with Confluence to create a dynamic new plaza space to foster public use. The space includes an outdoor bandshell for live performances, interactive water features, and a flexible event lawn space that converts to an ice-skating rink in the winter. Since opening in late 2020, the Square has become a mainstay for the Fargo community and hosts programmed events nearly every day of the week.


Similarly, the densely populated Wrigleyville neighborhood just north of Downtown Chicago did not have a public open space that could flexibly accommodate a wide variety of community activities. Confluence collaborated with a multi-disciplinary team to transform a modest parking area adjacent to Wrigley Field (the Chicago Cubs’ stadium) into a new public space for use by local residents and as a game-day attraction. The Park at Wrigley, now referred to as Gallagher Way, is a 50,000 square-foot outdoor plaza space connecting a public street to the existing stadium.

This flexible space serves as a natural location for pre- and post-game activities yet was also designed for use as a welcoming park space that enhances the surrounding neighborhood. Our team’s versatile design allows this park to be programmed for year-round activities including yoga classes, a farmer’s market, fitness programs, outdoor movie nights, kids’ activities, live music, and more.

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It's no surprise to us that highly programmable spaces like these have become iconic and beloved community destinations. As our team crafted ideas for consideration in the 2021 National Design Competition for a new master plan for Falls Park in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, one of our top goals was to create several engaging multi-functional spaces to encourage year-round use by the community. Our winning design proposal establishes a blueprint for strengthening the integration of Falls Park into the Downtown context while also promoting the area to continue serving as the cultural, civic, retail, and economic heart of Sioux Falls. As envisioned, this park will continue to host numerous planned community festivals and events while also enhancing the daily lives of current and future generations.

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Through crafting public space projects like these across the country, our team understands what works. We believe in designing for flexibility and year-round use, and in taking the time needed to engage with and understand each community’s unique needs. Establishing public events and seasonal traditions serve a useful purpose in connecting and uniting a community. Creating dynamic and adaptable gathering spaces that reflect an authentic sense of place can truly enhance each community’s quality of life.