June 13, 2020

Eating on the Street: The Patio Expands

Until a few years ago, space beyond the curb was for parking, picking stuff up, getting on a bus and dropping stuff off.

Curb space was for accessibility by vehicle.   Very valuable space.

So logically, there was no place for uses that reduced accessibility – especially when the intent was just the opposite, to get people to linger.

Photo by Cal

Because of the pandemic, we’ve quickly made space for Non-Motordom users who need more space.   But now there is less parking and vehicle accessibility.

Is that a fair trade-off?  Only if there’s no alternative for those with no alternative.

And there is: the space beyond the patio.  As part of a slow street, double-parking and double-sitting is the expected way.  If on slow streets, pedestrians can walk down the middle of the street, cars can stop and linger for a bit too.

This way of thinking about a street violates the understanding we have had of Motordom, where the vehicle retains dominance.  Those who wish to maintain Motordom are using marginalization – ableism, ageism – as a defense, assuming that the needs of seniors and the disabled can only be respected with the full apparatus of a 20th-century road system.

Where the space beyond the curb is for cars.  And that’s so not so.

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In Grey Days and Grey Ways, PT asked why grey seems to be Vancouver’s default colour.  Lots of great comments, ending with this by Sam De Groot:

… in this town in particular, like other places that have grey climates, architects really do need to come out and embrace a bit of colour. Nordic countries, Slavic countries and traditional Newfoundland have colourful towns for the very reason that we need them, it livens the place up when the weather conspires to deaden.came in:

From the Nordic to Sub-tropical climes – notably those in Australia, like Brisbane – architects play with colour.

With respect to a place like Brisbane and its use of colour in urban design and architecture, I’ve been there before:


Here’s some examples from my most recent trip in March (the last month of the pre-covid world we’re in), starting in Brisbane.


Queensland is subtropical, and March is still in summer.  But note that these images are taken on cloudy days in a light similar to ours.




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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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What will fill this:

Since we’re never going back to the pre-Covid world anytime soon, will we still have large conferences, or even small ones?  Why have conventions in attractive places, meant as much for socializing as exchanging?  Why deliberately bring people together to learn and bond, to show off their public faces, to see who fate might introduce them to? With splashes of alcohol, rich food and entertainment.

Well, actually, those reasons seem pretty persuasive.

Gatherings need to be special, even an extraordinary experience, and they have to be something that can only be experienced through being there, together with others.  That means they must appeal to all five senses: deliberate listening, constant conversation, light gluttony and human contact.  A time for show and tell and feel.

Zoom or Skype don’t do all that, because it’s not what they’re for.  Electronic communication since the telegraph has been about more efficient ways to share information, and now there are skilled generations who don’t need to be physically together just to exchange data or ideas, no matter how complex.  The tools are getting really good.  But they don’t substitute for light romance.

A conference to be special – to justify the expense and risk – also needs a ‘name.’  Someone on the billing.  Whether for a concert  or event, the personality needs to pull in the otherwise risk-adverse with enough celebrity status, polished presentation and performance, and something worth saying, in a setting that can’t be replicated on a screen.  Otherwise, it’s just a Zoom.


Thoughts from Jude Crasta in conversation.


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Hastings Street, 1945 from the Vancouver Archives.

Diana Sampson provides some wonderful images from the archives on the Facebook group Nostalgic/Sentimental Pictures of Vancouver. This photo of Hastings Street must have been taken after the end of World War Two as there is toilet paper streaming on the street. That was rationed during the war.

You can see the road striping showing where vehicles are to park,  the tram tracks and the granite insets abutting the street curb. There’s a few things  unusual in this photo.  The stationer’s sign projects directly across the city sidewalk. And the pedestrians are walking on the left side of the sidewalk instead of bearing to the usual right.


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Here’s a classic from the BBC archives well worth a watch and a chuckle. When Trinity School opened in London in 1961 it was built on slum clearances. Instead of a “Victorian” design, the school was built in a series of “hyperbolic paraboloids” and was the “Sixties’ School” with all that new modernity purportedly promised.

One of the three architects responsible for the design meets with a few of the 1,200 girls who gently but firmly tell the architect what is wrong with his design, and politely make suggestions on how he might mitigate the errors.

This is absolute gold as the architect firstly displays a bit of annoyance with the questions, admits to one mistake, and then snips back on one obvious design error “I think you are exaggerating” and ” you will get used to it”.

I am sure architect Peter Chamberlin (he was also responsible for London’s  brutalist Barbican Estates) thought these “girls” who would  now be in their seventies today were going to give accolades for his design.

But no, the students  comment on the slippy brick stairs  (“a lady has already had an accident”), windows so high in classrooms you can’t see out, and blackboards that are located in corners where students can’t see them. There are windows that a child can fall out of  (the architect admits to that) and a girder at the foot  of a staircase which is a hazard when the student body rushes down the stairs. The architect is sure that’s not a problem, but the student says “well we’ve had one accident already”.

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