COVID Place making
June 2, 2020

Fast Changes in North Van City

North Van City Councillor Tony Valente was apparently very pleased with his Council’s last meeting, according to his hashtag:  #bestcouncilmeetingever. Two reports, especially, drew his praise: the first  on Open Streets, the second on public drinking.  By dealing with the reports immediately, Council sped past every muni in the region.

On May 25, 2020, Council directed staff to develop “an action plan for advancing the reallocation of road space …”   Two day’s later an action plan was on their agenda – with this proposal for an Open-Street Network.

The overall name is “Open Streets” (nothing ‘closed’ here) with green Trails, Neighbourhood (or slow streets) and Destination Streets (closer to flow streets.)  For $150,000, the 12 kilometres in the system will by priorized for action:

Clearly staff were ready to go, meaning they were confident of council approval. When things happen this seamlessly and this fast, it’s a sign of well-coordinated relationship among Council and Staff.

Assuming the same efficiency, with cities across Metro laying out their own open streets and patios, by the end of the summer the region will have gone through the fastest, biggest and furthest experiment in street reallocation in its history.

And that wasn’t all.

On May 11, Council had directed staff to come back with a process to expand temporary patios into public spaces, and report back on the feasibility of “the consumption of liquor in certain public spaces for safe, informal public dining.”  Given the abuse of alcohol in the rough-and-tumble North Van of the past, this is quite an evolution. Of course “it relies on people adopting, using and managing the public place with regard to physical distancing and respectful consumption of liquor.”  A challenge when the last word overcomes the first.

So, a qualified thank you, virus, for giving us the rationale to do what we’ve only talked about before.  Now we have crises, collapses and uncertainties for justification.  Here’s the one CNV staff used:

Just as the coronavirus fallout threatens to cause economic uncertainty, it also may cause a collapse in social contact among our residents. Utilizing public places is a central part of moving forward and getting people out of their residence, which in turn will support local businesses.

In the next few weeks, in North Vancouver City and elsewhere in the region, we may see the emergence of a street culture we haven’t ever seen before: places of conviviality for people who live nearby.  Few visitors, no tourists, just the people who live here.

We’re going to find out who we really are.

 

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PT: With respect to the future of urban transportation, we are in a fragile moment: the pandemic has resulted in some very bad consequences (a crash in transit use), some good trends (a growth in cycling) and some dangerous possibilities (Motordom Redux).

In the next few months, local government in particular will have to decide whether the temporary responses (like slow streets and flow lanes) become permanent, whether past commitments (like the Granville Bridge greenway) will be sustained, or whether it will all be swept away in a wave of single-occupancy vehicles and an attempt to accommodate their demands.

A survey Mustel Group conducted for the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade showed that 36 per cent of respondents in Metro Vancouver said they plan to increase their car use or ownership because of the pandemic.

These trends and choices are, like the pandemic itself, a global condition, as described in The Economist (registration required):

Cycling is one industry that probably won’t need any bail-outs.

Where statistics are available, they show huge rises in bicycle use across Europe and America. In Switzerland, the number of kilometres cycled since early March has risen by 175% (and fallen by 11% for trams). In Philadelphia cycling is up by 151%; usage of New York’s bike-share scheme rose by 67% in March, year-on-year. Even in Copenhagen, the two-wheel capital of the world, Jens Rubin, of Omnium Bikes, says his shop has been “busier than ever”; sales doubled in April and May compared with the same months in 2019. In March sales of bikes in America increased by about 50% year-on-year, according to NPD, a market-research firm.  …

Western governments are seizing on cycling’s big moment to try to make such temporary measures permanent. Because social distancing is likely to endure for months, or even years, public transport won’t return to normal soon; it may never do so. So the bike will remain an essential tool in many countries’ strategies to taper their lockdowns. As the French environment minister, Elisabeth Borne, put it, “the bicycle is the little queen of deconfinement” …

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Say “corner store in the West End” … and the romantic among us think of this:

Most aren’t really ‘corner stores’ of course – more remnants of an age prior to ‘Euclidian’ zoning when the owner of a house with a front yard could build a storefront to the sidewalk and open for business, providing, as Sandy describes below, “a place where locals can buy milk, cheese, some staples and hear the local goings on and gossip.”

When I first moved to the West End in 1978, there was such a place literally down the lane – empty now – operated by a Korean immigrant family whose daughter I watched start to turn into a teenager.  (Perhaps now writing a novel or screenplay on the west-coast version of Kim’s Convenience.)

No wonder we feel so romantic about them, though many of those that remain are really coffee shops, able to survive on the caffeine mark-up and artisanal sundries.

For places that never had such conversions in their post-war history – starting with ’50s suburbs like Oakridge – corner stores of this kind are not allowed today, and there are reasons.  A new structure would have to be built, and it would require rezoning, raising two problematic challenges: parking and the impacts, perceived or otherwise, real or mistaken, on the present neighbours.  Ask the opinion of someone who would live in their single-family home next door to a design-controlled, limited-service, locally serving commercial establishment without parking, and then wonder whether the proposal would survive the public consultation process.

In reality, of course, there are still corner stores.  They’re very viable, selling diary, staples and many flimsy packages of fat, sugar and salt in all their processed variations, and they look like this:

They may be the only places, under 20,000 square feet, that can meet the ‘popsicle test’ – where your kids can go out by themselves to a store safely to purchase a popsicle and return home before it melts.

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Remember the corner store in your neighbourhood?

Coming out of the pandemic is the need to access goods right in your neighbourhood. The local corner store used to fill this role, with shopkeepers knowing everyone in the neighbourhood, and providing a place where locals can buy milk, cheese, some staples and hear the local goings on and gossip.

In an article written last Fall by Jesse Johnston with the CBC there were 226 business licences for Vancouver convenience stores in 2018, 86 less than ten years ago. Many used to be run by new immigrants as a way to learn the language and to work independently in a new place. But rising property taxes and the fact that residential zoning does not allow the use of corner stores as an outright use makes it difficult for these family owned convenience stores to continue.

Corner grocery stores are existing non conforming uses in residential areas. Stop running a corner store in the premises for six months, and a new lessee cannot receive permission to reopen the store, no matter how compelling the case.

But as civic historian and former City of Vancouver staffer John Atkin observes, corner stores are “community meeting places”  where people can gather. Quebec Street’s Federal Store is an example of a convenience store that has remorphed into a cafe, as has Keefer Street’s Wilder Snail which also provides fresh baking and groceries.

Vancouver still has some of the localized neighbourhood market fabric in existence on the west side at Mackenzie Street and 33rd Avenue an on the east side at Nanaimo and Charles.  These are grandfathered in businesses from a time fifty years ago when the car was king, and driving  to shop at big malls with plentiful parking was a “thing”.

This returning trend  of neighbourhood level  convenience shopping that can be accessed by walking or by bike is described in this article by Architect Toon Dreessen who talks about the “popsicle test”. Can your kid go out by themself to a store safely to purchase a popsicle and return home before it melts? “And is there even a corner store for them to shop at?”

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As Vancouver enters the recovery phase in the pandemic and starts opening up commercial businesses, it is important for locals to get out and patronize them. Chains and franchises will have broader support, but the independent shops will be relying on locals to make the difference.

Last week Randy Shore in the Vancouver Sun wrote about the challenges for shop owners on Jim Deva plaza, Bute Street at Davie. With  store fronts having articulated facades it was a perfect place for homeless folks to camp out in while the stores were closed. One shop owner found several people camped “in her entryway smoking meth and using heroin”.

Their calls to the Business Improvement Area helped carve out an approach for the business to open and to provide a level of safety and security for customers.  While the Provincial government has assisted to find accommodation for over two hundred people who had been living in Openheimer Park, there have simply been more vacant storefronts in the west end available to provide  refuge for homeless people.

Tyee writer Stanley Woodvine has been detailing how challenging it is for homeless people on the street during the pandemic. Think of it~there are no libraries or public commmunity centres  to sit in to warm up or read the newspaper, nowhere to check a computer terminal. Most public washrooms are closed,  and there’s no places to wash hands or fill a water bottle.

There’s a similar situation causing friction between business owners and homeless people occurring in the 500 and 600 blocks of Evans Avenue which is close to the railway terminal.  Evans Avenue runs parallel to Terminal Avenue near the East 1st Avenue overpass.

There’s a mix of industrial and business offices across from a grassy hill that abuts the railroad yards. No  water access  or latrines exist on that grassy knoll which is private land.  The  homeless people camping on it have no services of any kind.  Neighbouring businesses have experienced altercations and break ins, with one large business having to keep vehicles inside the warehouse instead of the parking lot during the day to stop metal theft. Their garbage bins are commandeered  to provide privacy screens for latrine use, and the businesses’  front entrance ways shelter drug users.

 

That area falls outside the Downtown Eastside Local Area Plan and is not in the subarea for the Strathcona Business Improvement Area. While the business owners did call the City of Vancouver inspectors several times because of defecation, garbage, and female staff being accosted, there was never a resolution. On the weekend a 24 foot motor home burnt up  on the street , taking the Fire Department one hour to douse.

 

It’s clear that the City’s post pandemic plan does need to include what Councillor Pete Fry calls “intertwined” issues “such as homelessness, public safety and business recovery.” 

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The striping is on the asphalt like a new suit of well-cut clothes: It makes the Richards Bike Lane look smart.  This is the street engineer as designer and tailor.

 

What’s different about this one over Dunsmiur and Hornby?

Trees.

 

Imagine cycling on the Hornby Bike Lane past Robson Square … two rows of trees to one side, a gothic frame for the sidewalk.

 

Now imagine cycling with trees on both sides.

Voila, Richards.

 

 

 

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From Jeff Leigh of HUB, with photos by Clark.

Construction continues on Richards Street, with the new protected bi-directional bike lanes.  These lanes replace the painted lanes that were one way, and will provide valuable connections to our downtown cycling network.

Construction is underway from Cordova to Nelson.  This summer City crews will shift to the southern end of Richards and complete the improvements through to Pacific Boulevard..

Details here.

The planter boxes for the new street trees. (There are 100 trees planned.)

PT: Planning and construction for Richards did not take decades obviously, but the route to get to this point goes back to the 1970s when, after lobbying and advocacy by many of our two-wheeled pioneers, the first vision was developed by the cycling advisory committee and then approved by Council in the early 1980s.  From there, it took decades more to approve funding in capital plans, to develop specific work plans, to evolve ever more advanced designs (particularly the separated bi-directional routes pioneered on Dunsmuir Street), and to commit to a completely integrated network not only through downtown but across the city and region. That may take decades more.

But as the Beach Flow Way and the new Slow Streets show, it’s possible to advance a decades-long vision in a matter of months.  They, however, are temporary and experimental.  When you start pouring concrete, it’s best to have done the detail work only possible by building on the work of generations past.

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America Walks presents a new webinar  on walkability and public art.

Promoting walking in communities with noticeable disinvestment can be difficult. Public art is one way to lend to the revitalization of a neighborhood and invite people to be part of the process. This webinar will feature ways public art has been used to embrace the culture and history of a community while promoting engaging, walkable spaces. This webinar is intended for those just starting out on the walking path as well as those interested in learning more about the topic.

Presenters:

Ophelia Chambliss is a muralist, artist, educator in York, Pennsylvania who creates custom murals and public art pieces. She specializes in murals that project a message, serve a purpose, create community, and are a reflection of her client’s mission and objectives.

 

Karla Osete is an Artist in Residence at LaLinea Art Studio, Controller at CanAm Pepper Company, Mountain Bike Coach for the National Interscholastic Cycling Association and Former Vice President of 0S3 Movement. She was a 2017 Walking College fellow, has a master’s degree in Business Administration, bachelor’s in accounting and associate degree in Art and Dance.

Melissa Johnson, Cultural Recreation Manager, has been with the Town of Matthews Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resource Department since August 2017. She manages the Matthews Community Center and the McDowell Arts Center, oversees summer camps and all programs at these facilities, and oversees public art for the Town of Matthews.

 

Date:  Wednesday June 10, 2020

Time: 11am PST

You can register by clicking on this link.

Images: Walkscore

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