The pendulum swings, as we engage in fractious debate about how we change Vancouver’s Arbutus Corridor from an unused 9-km railroad into a multi-use treasure for future generations. So far, the “we love gravel, let’s not change much of anything” crowd has won the day.

Mark Battersby, a Kitsilano resident who protested the paving, said his group was mainly against the project because it was proceeding without consultation. He is concerned that plants like blackberry bushes were being cut back and the berries made inaccessible, and that cyclists would go too fast on the paved path. [Thanks to Metronews.ca for the quote]

But now come other voices, that start to represent more of the citizens of Vancouver. And it gives a glimpse of the difficulty faced by City staff and elected officials when planning things.  There are plenty of competing interests, and none of them has a veto.

Since the City fought for decades, all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, to make sure we got a 42-acre transportation corridor for all its citizens, how do we do this?  Does it make sense to simply rip out the rails and then leave things as they are, or should we find a way to let all potential users of this transportation corridor have a chance to see what it is, and envision how they’d like it to be?

Here’s a compelling voice:  SG Peters’ blog, in an open letter to Council called “The Public Part of Public Space”.  The author writes from the point of view of accessibility, with wit and precision. How, wonders the author, can the broad public assess the Arbutus Corridor’s potential unless everyone can actually use it. How can the design incorporate ideas and issues involved in getting to it, onto it and riding it for someone excluded due to accessibility challenges?  You could say the same about many other points of view, for that matter.

I am going to assume Mr. Battersby did not mean to suggest otherwise but, just to be certain we are all clear – my rights as a human being should supersede those of a berry bush. . . .

. . .  But this isn’t really a plant problem; it is a people problem, presented under the guise of being a nature problem.

It comes down to how you imagine public space, which in turn comes down to who you include in the word public.

If you do not see me as having the same right to access public space as anyone else then you can come up with any number of reasonable-sounding excuses for excluding me. If you believe I have the same rights as you do, then you may get creative about how to improve a space but you will not suggest sacrificing accessibility to do so. . . .

. . .  And while I think railway lines can be quite beautiful, I don’t think they qualify as a nature preserve, particularly when running through the centre of one of Canada’s largest cities . . .

. . .  Sentimentality aside, we are talking about making an area already developed by humans of a previous era more useful and accessible to people in this era.

Of course aesthetics and berry bushes are important concerns, the question is where they sit in the hierarchy of considerations.

The same can be said for many potential corridor users from the broad public.  Those who walk, run or ride; those who move quickly, those who don’t; those who want to sit and enjoy the views and the passing parade; those who want rails, those who don’t; those who have places to be and errands to run; and yes, those who want to pick berries or garden.

And I’m sure I’ve missed some group or another — but let’s not presume a veto-toting hierarchy based on organized yelling and exclusionary thinking.  Let’s let everyone try out the Corridor, and then let’s design something wonderful for future generations through many decades to come.