Art & Culture
April 9, 2020

A World Redesigned: The Face Mask

Ian Young, Vancouver columnist with the South China Morning Post, wrote a widely circulated piece which credited some of B.C.’s success at flattening the Covid curve to the early actions of the Chinese community.

Virologist Dr Jason Kindrachuk, Canada research chair in new and re-emerging viruses at the University of Manitoba, attributed BC’s “phenomenal” results to … the early behaviour of BC’s sizeable Chinese community …

“What you have in BC is a Chinese community that was seeing the impacts across Asia [and] had been through Sars … and there may have been a grass roots movement in that community to start with the physical distancing,” said Kindrachuk.  …

The local Chinese community was also an early adopter of face masks, which Canada’s chief medical officer Dr Theresa Tam only this week acknowledged as a way for the general public to help prevent the spread of Covid-19. “In Asian communities there is more comfort and a relationship with these things [masks] in public …

Ah, the mask.

Kindrachuk: (The BC Chinese community’s reaction to the outbreak at its early stages) “needs to be examined as we try to work out what things helped in different communities that we can all think about whether to adopt as time goes on.”

Will the mask now be another indicator of ‘West Pacific’ – a culture that combines habits and traditions in a blend of the new normal?

Until recently, whenever I saw someone wearing a mask over their mouth, I assumed they had been brought up in Asia.  An indicator of the immigrant, still wearing local dress, taking a precaution from a more-crowded culture.  I don’t see it that way anymore.

Of course, it will be appropriately redesigned:

Billie Eilish at the Grammy Awards, in January, wearing a Gucci face mask. Photo: AFP

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At PT we’re thinking about how the world is being reshaped by the impact of Covid19.  While there may never be a post-pandemic-free world (there never really was; we just didn’t want to think about it), we are going to adapt.  But how and to what? 

Already the ideas are flowing – an example from the New York Times on the office:

Those in the midst of planning suggest that the post-pandemic office might look radically different:

  • There may be limits on the number of people allowed in an elevator.
  • New technology could provide access to rooms and elevators without employees having to touch a handle or press a button.  Sensor-activated controls may also increase, reducing the number of surfaces that need to be touched in an office and allowing workers to use elevators and open doors with the wave of a hand.
  • Chairs on casters will permit people to roll seats a safe distance from colleagues.
  • Interest has surged in new materials such as those that mimic sharkskin, to which microscopic organisms have difficulty adhering.
  • Some old metals may experience a revival. Copper and its alloys — including brass and bronze — have been shown to be essentially self-sanitizing, able to kill bacteria and, early studies suggest, perhaps even the coronavirus plaguing the planet.
  • The ability to work from home at least a few days a week — long sought by many American workers — may be here to stay. “A big light bulb went off during this pandemic,” said Anita Kamouri, vice president at Iometrics, a workplace services firm. Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics, expects more than 25 percent of employees to continue working from home multiple days a week, up from fewer than 4 percent who did so before the pandemic. “I don’t think that genie is going back into the bottle,” she said.
  • If companies do allow more of their employees to log in from home, some may consider reducing their office footprint, which could have significant ramifications for commercial real estate. But if the amount of space devoted to employee workstations and other functions increases, demand for space could balance out.  There will be a higher value around spaces where we come together.
  • Lounges, cafes and other gathering spaces that sprang up to make collaborative work easier may become even more important if employees do more work from home and commute in for meetings.
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In this case, good riddance:

You won’t see these naked ‘beg buttons’ in Sydney at the moment.  Nor in Brisbane nor Melbourne.  They’ve been covered with signs to inform pedestrians that they’ve been automated – like these on the North Shore:

As Brent Toderian notes: “They’re called ‘beg buttons’ as a pejorative because they put pedestrians in the position of having to beg for access to the other side of the street. It suggests the pedestrian is in a secondary, at best, position – an afterthought.”

The buttons also present practical problems. They can be difficult or impossible to access for people with mobility challenges. They can be easy to miss, and even after the button has been pushed, it often takes a full cycle of the light before the “walk” sign lights up, leaving the pedestrian to wait in the elements.

We have a few in Vancouver too, though a lot have been removed over the years as the growth in pedestrian traffic has made them an unnecessary irritant.  But they’re everywhere in Australia – notably in some of the highest ped-traffic areas in the country.  Hopefully many will be simply be removed.

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From a guide sent to members from the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club:

The Vancouver Parks Board is permitting visitors to Stanley Park only on foot or on bicycles, with some limited access for its stakeholders to maintain their facilities. RVYC members and tradesmen will have vehicle access, provided their vehicles display the appropriate parking decal and are entering the facilities for essential purposes only.  …

If you do not have a decal, you may walk or cycle into the park to receive one.


Umm, essential purposes?

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Dianna reports in:

The first hour of the first day of the first (?) closing of Stanley Park to cars.

It turns out that riding in Stanley Park when cars are banned is very much like riding in Stanley Park on any sunny weekday afternoon – lots of cyclists, almost all lycra-wearing roadies. It’s important to shoulder check before switching lanes because of lots of other cyclists, not cars.

I saw exactly one casual rider on the seawall, and I cut her some slack because she was wearing headphones and maybe hadn’t heard the news.

Ever been tempted to pause in the middle of Stanley Park Road to take a photograph? This is your moment.

I’ve always wanted to ride the wrong way around the park, and this could be the time to do that, but with a BIG warning to be aware of cyclists flying along the roads.

Oh, and if anyone has lost a red bandana it’s in the middle of the right lane just past Prospect Point.


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The City is now moving on reallocating road space for safe movement of walkers and cyclists:

Oddly, the City is calling this announcement “temporary road closures”.  Um, no.  The roads aren’t closed; they’re being reallocated for the safe use by more users.  Closing a road to vehicles doesn’t mean the road itself is closed.

But hey, good move, City.  Definitely necessary to provide more space to cyclists heading to Stanley Park along Beach this weekend, and to take pressure off the seawall.

But don’t stop there.  Here again is the list of possibilities from HUB Cycling’s Jeff Leigh:


  1. Beach from Thurlow to Stanley Park to relieve pressure on the seawall paths and to provide access to Stanley Park


  1. Nelson and Smithe from Richards to Thurlow to connect the West End To False Creek
  2. Cambie Bridge northbound to ease congestion on the MUP
  3. Quebec near Terminal, in both directions, to ease congestion in front of Science World
  4. Pine from 1st to 7th to connect the Arbutus Greenway to 1st
  5. 1st from Creekside to Cypress, to connect the Arbutus Greenway and link the Seaside Greenway via the 1st Ave bypass, avoiding the tight spot at the end of Creekside
  6. Main St, to replace the unsafe shared lanes (sharrows) from 14th north
  7. Pender or preferably Hastings from Burrard to Cardero, to ease congestion on the Seawall path
  8. Georgia from Cardero to the Causeway, to ease congestion on the Seawall path (Georgia Gateway project)
  9. Adanac overpass at Cassiar, a known trouble spot since the removal of calming related to the Fortis gas pipeline construction
  10. Pacific at the Granville loops, a dangerous intersection
  11. the Granville bridge, to ease congestion on the narrow sidewalks
  12. parallel routes to the Arbutus Greenway, to ease congestion.
  13. Ontario, from 16th to 1st
  14. Expo Blvd in front of Costco (room to queue candidate) where the painted bike lane is often blocked with vehicles, pushing bikes on to the sidewalk.


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A comprehensive, informed and doable strategy from the Vancouver Public Space Network.  PT especially likes No. 3.

Here in Vancouver there is a critical need for the City of Vancouver … to show leadership in the reallocation of street right-of-way for pedestrians and cyclists in order to keep residents and workers safe.

There are four distinct and inter-related areas activities … focused on providing safe routes for:

  1. Accessing Daily Needs in commercial areas by strategically widening sidewalks in key locations;
  2. Commuting to/from places of work via active transportation modes (i.e. for workers in essential services such as grocery stores, pharmacies, healthcare offices, other critical employment areas); (i.e. shops, healthcare offices, other critical employment areas);
  3. Maintaining Physical and Mental Health – By providing additional space on the Seawall, Greenways, bike routes, neighbourhood designated pedestrian routes, and other pathways – to enable residents across the city to walk and bike for well-being;
  4. Address Neighbourhood and Mobility-based Equity Considerations – by prioritizing areas where these interventions will support residents and workers that are most at risk.

To support the response to COVID-19, we put together a set of recommended approaches to Creating Safe and Open Streets for Walking and Biking in Vancouver.  Click here:


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Excerpts from Jarrett Walker’s perspective on the importance of transit in a time of pandemic.  Full essay here from Citylab. 

In response to this emergency, major agencies are doing their best not to cut service much. … Based on my informal discussions with many agencies, the service cuts seem to be in the range of 10% to 40% at this point, far less than the roughly 70% drop in ridership.

Why are agencies behaving this way? Because they are not businesses. And if there’s one thing we must learn from this moment, it’s that we have to stop talking about transit as though ridership is its only purpose, and its primary measure of success.

Right now, essential services have to keep going. It’s not just the hospital, the grocery store, and basic utilities.  It’s the entire supply chain that keeps those places stocked, running, and secure. Almost all of these jobs are low-wage. The people using transit now are working in hospitals that are saving lives. They are creating, shipping and selling urgently needed supplies. They are keeping grocery stores functioning, so we can eat.

In transit conversations we often talk about meeting the needs of people who depend on transit. This makes transit sound like something we’re doing for them. But in fact, those people are providing services that we all depend on, so by serving those lower income riders, we’re all serving ourselves.

The goal of transit, right now, is neither competing for riders nor providing a social service for those in need. It is helping prevent the collapse of civilization. …

… even for those with the fewest options, the term dependent has allowed us to imagine helpless people in need of our rescue, rather than people that we depend on to keep things running. Everyone who lives in a city, or invests in one, or lives by selling to urban populations is transit dependent in this sense.

Meanwhile, if we all drive cars out of a feeling of personal safety, we’ll quickly restore the congestion that strangles our cities, the emissions that poison us and our planet, and the appalling rates of traffic carnage that we are expected to tolerate. Once again, we’ll need incentives, such as market-based road pricing, to make transit attractive enough so that there’s room for everyone to move around the city. That will mean more ridership, but again, ridership isn’t exactly the point. The point is the functioning of the city, which again, all of us depend on.

Let’s look beyond ridership or “transit dependence” and instead measure all the ways that transit makes urban civilization possible. In big cities, transit is an essential service, like police and water, without which nothing else is possible. Maybe that’s how we should measure its results.

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The Park Board is going to make better and safer use of the space it owns in Stanley Park:

Here’s the consequence:

Closing Stanley Park’s roads will reduce the daily number of people in the park and open up space for cyclists and pedestrians from the neighbourhood.

It won’t be just from “the neighbourhood.”  Expect Vancouverites (and those from the North Shore) to use the bikeway and greenway network to access Stanley Park too.  Indeed, recreational athletes already do.

Next step: the City can likewise reallocate road space to take pressure off the most popular (and too crowded) greenway paths.

Here’s a list of opportunities as compiled from Jeff Leigh with HUB Cycling.

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The current cover of the New Yorker, titled “Lifeline.”

Here’s my version – an image taken on March 17, 8 pm, on Swanston Street in Melbourne:

This courier – equipped with bike (maybe electric), smart phone and custom backpack – was one of many on the main street of Melbourne’s CBD that night.  It’s easy to understand why they’ve become a vital link between restaurants that can provide only takeout and customers sequestered at home.  They too are front-line workers, and their bicycles declared essential.

I have a hunch that, like our use of online communication, their employment will expand, their vehicles will innovate, their uses proliferate, and afterwards they will become an expanded part of the local economies of our newly reconsidered cities.

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