Art & Culture
June 9, 2008

A Blight on the Weather

Yeah, it’s been bad.  Vancouver in June.

But what a loss for the World Triathlon, held this last weekend on the beaches and streets of the West End. 

I’m sure the organizers were aware of the variable nature of our climate, but they clearly weren’t prepared for the cold. 

It was a great race, especially exciting for spectators who could literally see some of the world’s best athletes mere inches away during the run.

Except, of course, there weren’t a lot of spectators.

And what a shame for both the athletes and the city.  This event could have been spectacular, given the setting, the event and the lead-in to the Olympics.  Watching the cyclists come over the hill on a closed-off Davie Street, seeing Denman filled with uniformed teams of every race, rooting for our competitors in action – just hints of what could have been  a transforming event for Vancouver.

I just hope this won’t discourage the World Triathlon from coming back.

 

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November 27, 2007

My column in Business in Vancouver last week:

Vancouver culture now meeting newcomers halfway

In Vancouver today, there’s a lot of hapa happening. In Japanese, “hapa” means leaf. In Hawaiian, half. It also means people of mixed racial ancestry.
But hapa culture is bigger than that. If you live or work in Vancouver, it includes you. Because living in Vancouver means everyone is unavoidably involved in a dialogue of ethnicity. When a city is roughly half Caucasian and half Asian, within which there’s great diversity, it becomes a different kind of place.
And it’s happened fast. Within a generation, from the early 1970s through the 1990s, Vancouver and Richmond changed complexion, by and large without a lot of fuss. When tensions flared, we worked our way through them, thanks to good leadership – in particular by former lieutenant-governor David Lam. Of course, it’s been a time of prosperity, and our kids, most of whom went to public schools, were taught tolerance and shared more or less the same popular culture. Then they started pairing up, engaging in that sincerest form of integration, the sharing of genes.
Justin Ault, 37, is hapa. In fact, he and his wife, Lea, also Japanese-Caucasian, opened a restaurant called Hapa Izakaya – the first one on Robson in the West End, the latest on Yew in Kitsilano. The staff is young, exuberant and pretty darn good looking. Some have come recently from Japan, others are many-generation Canadians. The crowd varies noticeably from night to night, but around the tables it would appear that class, age and culture trump race, colour and nationality.
The assimilation going on inside Hapa Izakaya also happens outside. On Robson and Seymour Streets, students fill the sidewalks, where the huge ESL population mixes with each other and the locals. Downtown is their campus; West End highrises are their dorms. Through sheer number they add another layer of change – which, come to think of it, has been the traditional role of Robson Street. Once known as Robsonstrasse when it was a reflection of post-war European migration, now the lower village offers Koreans, Japanese and Chinese the taste of home and keeps downtown alive – youthful, safe and hapa.

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October 23, 2007

 The Times of London got their hands on the proposed transport plan for the 2012 Olympics:

Olympics chiefs set to ban all car travel
The team organising the London Olympics in 2012 is adopting the most aggressive anticar policy ever applied to a major event in an attempt to deliver a permanent shift in people’s travel habits. The eight million spectators will be banned from travelling by car and forced to take public transport, walk or cycle….
All spectators travelling to an event in London will receive a free all-zones travelcard. Those from outside London will be able to buy discounted, flat-rate rail tickets from any station to the capital.
In an interview with The Times, Hugh Sumner, the ODA transport director, said: “We have a very aggressive programme to make it the greenest games in modern times. We want to leave both a hard legacy in terms of infrastructure and a living legacy in the way people think about transport and about how they travel to sports and cultural events.”

Vancouver’s legacy (in addition to the Canada Line) is just the opposite: a major commitment to highway construction to ensure that you will be able to drive – at least to and through the region.
Downtown, however?  I can’t imagine that anyone will be able to use Expo Boulevard since it actually runs under B.C. Place.  And rumour has it that Robson Street will be closed off to vehicles from the stadium to Denman Street. 
But what happens afterwards?  Do we just return the streets to the cars, pretending that nothing has or will change to our happy-motoring nirvana? 
In truth, things are changing already.  The number of vehicles coming to the downtown peninsula continues to decline:

What this chart shows is that the number of vehicles entering the central business district has declined by 7 percent over the last ten years, even as the number of trips by all modes has increased by 22 percent.
That’s so counter-intuitive, given the growth on the peninsula, that people don’t really appreciate the change.  It’s also the reason why we’ve been able to remove so much lane space for the construction of new buildings and the Canada Line on Granville and Davie without gridlock catastrophe.
The downward slope in that chart is likely to continue, particularly given the change from cars to transit that will occur with the opening of the Canada Line. 
Just as Expo introduced Vancouver to the pleasures of urbanity when properly done, so will the Olympics offer another opportunity to change the use of our public spaces after the games are over.  It’s another way we can take advantage of the investment in both the celebration and the investment. In fact, if Council doesn’t plan now to reallocate road space in the post-Olympic period, it will lose a critical moment of opportunity – and the real benefit that comes with our billion-dollar subway.
Even better, it won’t be embarrassed when London shows how it should have been done.

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Of all the differences between Seattle and Vancouver, one thing is increasingly apparent: there are not many places to go for a stroll in Seattle.
I mean what the Italians call the passeggiata – the evening stroll, a slow walk, to see, to be seen, to eat ice cream.
We’re in Seattle for a weekend, arriving by train and without a car.  With a day-long transit pass (only $2.50!) and taxi fare, it’s quite possible to get around.  We choose a restaurant in Belltown (the Flying Fish – you won’t be disappointed) and then head out for a walk to work off the wine.  And while there are places nearby, nothing is really connected.  Yes, the Scuplture Park and a bit of seawall.  The Bell Street Pier and the waterfront.  The streets, of course, filled with activity.
But Seattle doesn’t link up.  It doesn’t loop around.  There’s nowhere, really, that says here is the place to stroll, and we place you, the pedestrian, as our highest priority.
The same with the parks: nice, but small.  And nothing in the way of a major commitment to a great regional open space.  No seawall.
That’s very deliberately Seattle.  They’ve voted down that kind of thing for over a century: no to a civic centre, no to the Seattle Commons, no to anything that looks as though downtown might get favoured treatment over the neighbourhoods.  It continues still: there’s yet another initiative for the ballot that would completely hamstring the legislature in the event they might want to raise taxes.  The City cannot get it together to tear down the Alaska Way Viaduct to open up its waterfront.  The same old stories, up for another round.
Seattle is now more clearly paying the price for its penury.  At a time when the design and quality of the public realm is a factor that cities must have to effectively compete, Seattle comes in second.  They lost Boeing to Chicago, the city of Millennium Park.  And while that great public space – a golden link in a chain of green – can hardly be credited as the reason why Boeing made the move, it serves nicely as the symbol.
Well, at least Seattle has its more modest version of Millennium Park, the new Olympic Sculpture Park: largely the consequence of private vision, and certainly private money.  I’ve visited it three times now,  and I’ll go again, probably every time I visit downtown.   The art is good – or at least good enough (particularly the Richard Serra) – the plantings change with the season, and the views are spectacular.  Always something to see in a different light.
Best of all, it’s where the people are.  All different kinds, walking, strolling, enjoying the place, the art and each other.
It’s about the only place Seattle has.

The park just planted, last December:

And now abloom:

Richard Serra:
 

In truth, the park now has a seawall very much in the Vancouver style, with a separated bike path that connects up to the waterfront walkway to the north.  It’s a very good beginning.

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April 13, 2007

I can’t believe that the Jaquar is coming down already!  John Henry’s brilliant red sculpture has dominated the entrance to the city since September 2005 (it’s on the current cover of Price Tags).  But it’s coming down next Wednesday.
You can join the wake, see the de-installation and hear the results of the ‘legacy puchases’ which, according to the Biennale release, will ‘hopefully’ be permanently installed.
The wake is on Wednesday, April 18th at 10:15 am in Devonian Park (Denman and Georgia).

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I saw the Fred Herzog show at the VAG last night – and I wasn’t alone.  The place was packed, full of under-30s.  Like those of us old enough to remember some of the places captured by Herzog’s camera, they were amazed at the compositional quality and play of colour in his prints. 
The younger ones came, I think, to gain into insight into a Vancouver they never had the chance to see.   (Though that sentiment shouldn’t be overdone: so much of what Herzog physically saw from the 1950s to the 70s is still here.  One West End shot has most of the elements remaining: the B.C. Electric building, the houses of Mole Hill, the streetcar apartment building.  But like the shots of Hastings Street in the Downtown East Side, the people, the mood, the social reality – all irretrievably changed.)
What makes Herzog so important, with a status that goes well beyond Vancouver, is his use of colour.  No other photographer of the street was using colour stock back in the 1950s; it was considered too garish, too associated with advertising.  Herzog’s collection, until recently, was almost entirely on slides, since prints didn’t give the quality he desired when enlarged.  Now digital imaging allows what you see on the walls of the gallery.
Or in books:

(A mixed bag of essays, but worth the trip.)
Herzog documents the Vancouver we were – and many will lament the loss.  Don’t.  We’re not that different, just evolved.  There is no clean break from the city that Herzog saw.  Like it, he is still with us, still walking the same streets for the same purposes.  
Even racially, Herzog captured the early days of the city we have become:    
Some of his works, like Jackpot, look as though Jeff Wall had set them up.  Some are immortal: perfect moments from the 1950s.  They certainly deserve life beyond the gallery walls.  Suggestion: create bus-shelter scale posters and mount them on the streets on which they were taken.   Or, like in Montreal, build an outdoor gallery, perhaps on the sidewalks of Georgia Street or on the old Larwell Park site (between Hamilton and Beatty), perhaps the home of the new Art Gallery, certainly the location of the Olympic gathering place in 2010.

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Architect Rick Balfour comes up with more audacious ideas before breakfast than most of us have in a year. (He led the “Outside the Box” workshop at the Affordability by Design conference, results here.)
 And another:

Says Rick:

Looking at the land form on Jericho,-could we need a classical amphitheatre like Epidavras in Greece; big enough for 15 000 people, overlooking the beach, bay and mountains.
Forget rain, we can deal with that later, but the urban form and the invitation to meet and on the stuffy west side. I think we need it.  Even first nations might say, good idea, count the area in our contribution.
– we must add a west coast touch related to the Talking Stick
Like the Greeks, I think there are some natural forms on that hill to make it work. It can be used for all the festivals already in vogue and a whole lot more.  When not in use, like in Greece, the children play in it, old folks have tea parties.
 We do not have enough things to leave as ruins.
And for those that say we could build another 200 condos … we need more civic spaces in the city.
 
I also know why these classical spaces are frowned upon and not built in our society, but that is another chapter.

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