Archives for posts with tag: public space

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!

This photo was taken a few weeks ago before one of the ‘Celebration of Light’ fireworks nights, here in Vancouver. As you can see, the crowds get pretty extreme, even hours before the fireworks start. I often wander what tourists think who happen to be in town but don’t know about the fireworks. Do they just think, ‘wow this is busy’!

English Bay is, of course, an example of one of Vancouver’s well used public spaces. It’s a meeting place, a hang out place and is used for events through the (summer) months of the year.

No, I’m not refering to myself. Brent Toderian is the Director of Planning at the City of Vancouver. He has wriiten a very interesting blog post on Planetizen.  He talks about the road closures and other transportation measures for the Olympics as the largest ‘traffic trial’ ever. There are even suggestions out there that some of the changes should be made permanent.  Brent briefly outlines some of the increases in sustainable transport that have been seen, in terms of numbers. For example, one day saw 250,000 people use the new Canada Line. Well over the 100,000 estimated. Perhaps his most emotive comments though are concerned with the ‘transformed public realm’. The atmosphere, the celebration, the reclaiming of the streets and the city centre by their residents are all significant changes. Will they last? Brent is certain that a permanent change will follow, perhaps the most significant legecy of the games in fact.

The article quotes some media reaction which includes my favorite quote from the post:

The reason that downtown Vancouver has come to such vibrant life isn’t because of the Olympics per se. It’s because thousands of local residents have reclaimed their city centre as public social space.

It’s my favorite not because I necessarily agree with it, but because whether or not this statement turns out to be true or not has significant implications on the public realm legecy that Brent talks about.

I recommend reading the full article, which you can do by clicking here.

Robson Street and has never been so busy. The City has been closing the street to traffic and there are just so many people there. It has become the most popular place to go and hang out in the City. From talking to people and from my own experience though, most people are not going there to line up for hours for a particular exhibit or event (five hours in line for the Canadian Mint anyone?!). Most are going to ‘take in the atmosphere’. What does that mean for urban planners and designers who try to understand why people are drawn to certain places?

My suggestion is that people are drawn to people. This of course is not a new idea, but the Olympics have brought it into perspective in Vancouver. People are seeking a communal experience, a sense of community. The high density centre of Vancouver usually means residents walk the streets as relative strangers to each other, not meeting (or even wanting to meet) anyone they know. This time though, people want to experience something as a community. I think it’s more than a communal experience though, people are also drawn to being part of a common identity, in this case Canadian. If in doubt about this, just ask The Bay. I have never seen so many people wearing the same ‘uniform’ outside of a sporting venue. In fact, it is a great visual example of community through common identity.

As urban planners and designers, the best we can do is accommodate these events when they happen, through temporary street closures or similar. Robson Street and Robson Square would not usually be described as great squares or meeting places. However, right now, they’re doing an amazing job. The French have an expression – joie de vivre (joy of living). Robson Street is currently the definition of it. And it is wonderful.