Back in October, PT declared the new roof decks on top of the Vancouver Central Library “Best new public space in Vancouver”.  Spaces, actually, since the two top floors provide meeting rooms, quiet reading areas, displays, a theatre and three wonderful outdoor decks, along with gardens and amazing views.  But it is missing one key thing.


Without that caffeinated attraction, there’s less incentive to take elevators for a casual meeting or get-away.  Great public spaces do require some kind of programming or attraction to generate the ‘pull of other people’ – the sense that this is a good place to hang because other people are doing so too.

Otherwise there’s a sense of loneliness.


There’s a catch-22 here of course: not enough people to justify a coffee bar, no coffee bar to attract more people. The economics would be hard to justify.  Perhaps a very slick stand-alone espresso machine might do the job.  Let’s ask Starbucks for a contribution for the greater good.


Addendum:  Michael Gordon added a comment to the first post on the Library Square roof that’s worth reprinting here:

I think among the key ingredients of a good public space are:

  •  a relaxed balance between gathering, socializing and movement
  •  movable tables and chairs
  •  sunshine and ideally a warm microclimate being protected from wind
  •  easy access to food
  •  people
  •  parents feel comfortable leading go of a toddler’s hand  and letting them wander a bit (need to be careful about folks on wheels riding through gathering spaces)

It seems that the Library roof has all of the above – except for  “easy access to food.”  Perhaps, though, the fact that it requires an elevator trip to get there is sufficient discouragement.


Another addendum: Dianna notes that there’s a small, elegant Blue Bottle coffee bar on the roof at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. 





  1. I agree, Gord! For having such a central location and amazing views, that space should be MUCH more activated. I hope they can find creative ways (or, like you said, generous corporate support) to make it happen! 🙂

  2. Great idea but no Starbucks please, enough with corporate blandness in this city. Lets support a local startup, maybe the library offers a popup cart space to help get someone and their brand off the ground.

    1. Starbucks pays benefits for those working 20+ hours a week and has a tuition reimbursement program for students, something quaint little start-ups cannot do. Pretty important in this expensive city.

  3. Aren’t there coffee shops in the atrium?

    A coffee shop up top with lower foot traffic is sure to fail
    (and taxpayers shouldn’t subsidize people too lazy to walk up with a cup of coffee).

  4. I’d qualify the space with the note – “you can’t be all things to all people”.

    If you’re wanting to make a particular public space “perfect”, then I suggest focusing on one that isn’t subject to office hours (i.e. access through the library), such as the recently renovated north plaza of the VAG, the closed Robson St. Plaza or the sunken Robson plaza (which would meet the wandering kid requirement).

  5. Books and coffee? Coffee and books? Are you kidding?

    Actually …. no! It’s a great idea. Take Foyle’s Books in London. They have a full cafe in almost every store. We visited Foyle’s on Charing Cross Road and had a nice lunch in their 5th floor cafe. A wonderful, civilized experience given that London’s established bookstores are second to none. It’s a popular place. The large windows on the back wall of the cafe look west over Soho, and almost into the entry to Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club two streets away. (Mozart lived across Frith Street for a couple of years from what is now Ronnie’s.)

    As for the VPL Main Branch, I can see potential for a glassed-in year-round cafe or at least a nice coffee place on the roof garden level.

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