Last week I wrote about the international poll on walkability which found North American cities lacking. Those cities have not thought through the importance of people being able to access schools, shops and services within a three kilometre radius of dwellings. They have also not embraced that housing people at density means having access to nearby public spaces, squares and parks and making the whole experience “lively”.
In Metro Vancouver, parks are planned like they are for 1960’s. It’s kind of intended that Moms and Dads have vehicles that can whisk kids to washrooms and restaurants. We don’t put picnic tables in all parks, and we don’t install washrooms in many.
In a place that is attempting to house families at higher density, we also have to provide safe,comfortable and convenient access to useable, year round park spaces. And that’s not the half-century old “soccer field in the park concept.” We simply need to reboot what we think open public space is, and centre a new definition of park space as something that is accessible to everyone, and useable twelve months of the year.
In the 21st century we are not a city of public washrooms nor do we provide covered outdoor public spaces during inclement weather. There’s lots of talk about this being an equity issue, and it seems odd that these basic amenities are not provided.
But remember the pre Covid pandemic reality was that there were other indoor spaces available that were public, like libraries and community centres. The closure of libraries during Covid was a tremendous loss to citizens, but especially to the homeless and disenfranchised. The library was a place that everyone had access to and had equity. With the Covid closures these important places where people could rely on for washrooms, reading, and getting out of the elements were instantly erased.
The Georgia Straight’s Stanley Woodvine is a homeless writer that keenly and cogently expresses that there should be universal access to covered public spaces and public washrooms. There’s also a need for electrical outlets to be conveniently located to charge cell phones and other devices. (The average cell phone uses 25 cents of electricity annually.)
Mr. Woodvine feels that covered public spaces were not created in parks to stop homeless from congregating. I think the reason is less sophisticated ~I don’t believe that it was on the Parks Board’s radar for cost and liability reasons.
Sunset Park in the 400 block of East 51st Avenue did have a shelter installed, but it was for Tai Chi and for picnic tables. The Covid pandemic and the increasing density of the city means that outdoor space needs to be more user-friendly nimble and practical during inclement weather. That’s where ingenuity needs to step in.
There’s already been some initiatives like the Vancouver Public Space Network’s Life Between Umbrellas project which reimagined what covered outdoor space could look like. The CBC News reported on Sara Bynoe’s project where she is creating an inventory of outdoor public spaces in Vancouver.
But what is really needed is the flexibility and nimbleness to quickly assess, design and implement a variety of shelters for public spaces and parks that can welcome citizens wanting to be outdoors, regardless of the weather.
Duke of Data Andy Yan from Simon Fraser University sends on this article by Alex Wittenberg in CityLab that references the City of Baltimore’s “Design for Distancing Ideas Guidebook”. You can download this document here.
This is a collaboration of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the Baltimore Development Corporation, and the city’s nonprofit Neighborhood Design Center . There are ten plans for creating temporary, low-cost spaces that
“permit physically distant social interaction in urban environments such as streets, alleys, vacant land and parking lots. The selected concepts were drawn from a pool of 162 submissions from architecture and design firms; the plans were conceived around the needs of Baltimore’s neighborhoods, but could be adapted to cities anywhere.”
Here’s the best part:
“These ten designs, which cost between $5,000 to $100,000 to install, are to be built across Baltimore in 17 neighbourhoods with the City kicking in a $1.5 million dollar investment. Most neighbourhoods chosen are ones that have suffered from “chronic disinvestment” .
As Keshia Pollack Porter, a professor of health policy at Johns Hopkins who consulted on the project concludes
“Can we have spaces that are actually great opportunities for people to gather and gather safely?”
Baltimore is about to find out.
When will Vancouver step up?
Images: PXhere.com, CityLab