Archives for the month of: October, 2010

Ellen Dunham-Jones spoke on Next Generation Urbanism on Tuesday evening as part of the SFU City Program, here in Vancouver. She is a new urbanist and member of the Congress For New Urbanism. She co-authored Retrofitting Suburbia. She spoke on many things and I thought it was a thought provoking presentation that was nicely balanced between being theoretical and conceptual, as well as practical and realist. Her main topic was critiquing a new upstart which is challenging new urbanism. This new movement is called Ecological Urbanism. According to Dunham-Jones, while new urbanists like to plan through good design, ecological urbanists don’t. They prefer to set something in motion and see what happens. Kind of more ecology in the city, but it also seems to be more lower density suburbia where, although surrounded by hills and other natural landscapes, most people would still have to drive everywhere. Being a new urbanist, unsurprisingly, she is fairly critical of ecological urbanism, although she did acknowledge that new urbanists can learn something from the less planned, more spontaneous places that seem to be so popular. I asked a question at the end, suggesting Vancouver’s own Granville Island was a good example of this. She hadn’t heard of Granville Island, but I hope she has time to check it out during her stay. Now I don’t know for sure whether Granville Island was unplanned or whether it just appears that way. But Dunham-Jones didn’t seem to think that mattered. The fact that it feels different and looks different, in a good way, is enough.

She also mentioned that post recession, we will have to find cheaper ways of doing things. People may become less consumer focused out of necessity. Will there be a new emphasis on seeking happiness? I thought it interesting that she thinks that as a result we’ll have to find alternatives to retail to enliven our public spaces.

As part of this, she mentioned some small scale examples of temporary things people have done to enliven public spaces. Examples included Parking Day, Build a Better Block, Pop Up City and, one I especially liked the sound of, Pie Day.

And I won a book. ‘Historical Atlas of Vancouver and the Lower Fraser Valley‘ by Derek Hayes. It has a lot of old maps in it – I like it already. Thanks to Gordon Price and the City Program for that. All I did was stand up when asked who had a blog!

I’m not sure, but this article in the Vancouver Sun by columnist Daphne Bramham makes the case for greater thought to be given to pedestrians by City Council. She highlights infrastructure issues such narrow sidewalks and inadequate pedestrian crossings  as well as statistical data such as pedestrian accident statistics and the fact that we’re an aging population. ‘In the future there will be more walkers with walkers’.

A couple of things recently have brought my attention to the fact that pedestrians are perhaps becoming overlooked in the development of our cities. I know this sounds crazy, but bear with me. They are being overlooked, often, in favour of cyclists. At a recent Gaining Ground workshop that I attended there seemed to be a consensus that while bicycle advocacy was well advanced in some areas (and rightly so) and has achieved some notable victories (Vancouver’s downtown bike lanes for example) there is no one flying the flag for pedestrians.

The City of Vancouver has a Bicycle Advisory Committee which is consulted on major development proposals and capital projects to ensure that cyclists needs have been taken into account. In addition, there is the Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition who are the leading cycling advocates in the area and then there is, of course, Critical Mass. All of these bodies do great work (although I sometimes have doubts about critical mass). The point is not that bicycle advocacy has gone too far, but that pedestrian advocacy has, erh… well, not really started yet. The best example in Vancouver of this imbalance  is pedestrian’s losing the eastern sidewalk on the Burrard Bridge to cyclists. Road space should have been taken away from cars, not pedestrians!

I am not the only one to think that pedestrians need a flag waver, and not just in Vancouver. I recently read  Dom Nozzi’s latest blog entry which is on this very subject and he’s located all the way down in Florida. In Vancouver specifically, an SFU professor agrees that a pedestrian advocate is needed. The best Vancouver has at the moment is probably the Vancouver Public Space Network. They do some great work. However, their interest is far larger than just pedestrians. Other cities that Vancouver likes to compare itself against, such as Portland OR have a Pedestrian Advisory Committee. And it was formed in 2000! In case you’re wondering what a body such as this would do, Portland’s Mission Statement reads:

The mission of the City of Portland Pedestrian Advisory Committee is to act as advocates for pedestrians by:

  • Reviewing new projects that effect pedestrians to ensure they meet City of Portland Pedestrian Design Guide standards;
  • Advocating for safe access for pedestrians;
  • Supporting education, outreach, and advocacy of pedestrian issues; and
  • Developing policy and plans to better meet the needs of pedestrians.

So, why isn’t there one in Vancouver? Perhaps it’s because we’re all pedestrians, so we all assume someone else is doing something about it. Or perhaps it’s because everyone assumes pedestrians are doing just fine – give them a sidewalk or a cross walk and that should do it! The example of the Burrard Bridge road space reallocation shows that it doesn’t just happen by itself.  It’s time Vancouver had its own Pedestrian Advisory Committee.

If you look at the Blog on a computer, rather than on a smartphone or through the RRS feed, you’ll notice I’ve refreshed the style and look of the blog. I wanted to make the content clearer and generally clean things up. Hope you like it.