Art & Culture
August 5, 2019

A Living Legacy~Pat Davis & Vancouver’s 100 Block of West 10th Avenue

John Davis Jr. with Pat Davis

It seems only fitting on this civic holiday which is called “British Columbia Day” in this province that we celebrate the remarkable Davis family and Pat Davis who passed away last week.  Over a period of five decades the Davis Family stewarded a group of Edwardian and Victorian  houses on Mount Pleasant’s  100 block of West Tenth Avenue just east of city hall, restoring them. At the time in the late 70’s and early 80’s renovating old houses and fitting them with rental units was not the thing to do. The Davis family fought pressure to turn their houses into a cash crop of three-story walk-ups  on their street, and proudly display a plaque indicating that their restoration work was done with no governmental assistance of any kind.

But more than maintaining a group of heritage houses that described the rhythm and feel of an earlier Vancouver,  the Davis family extended their interest and stewardship to the street. In the summer a painted bicycle leans on a tree near the sidewalk with the bicycle basket full of flowers~in season there is a wheelbarrow to delight passersby full of  blooming plants. An adirondack chair perches near the sidewalk. And every morning, one of the Davis family was out sweeping the sidewalk and ensuring that no garbage was on the boulevards or the street.

As author and artist Michael Kluckner notes the Davis Family’s stewardship profoundly altered the way city planning was managed in Mount Pleasant. As one of the oldest areas of the city with existing Victorian houses, zoning was developed to maintain the exterior form and add rental units within the form. The first laneway houses in the city, called “carriage houses” were designed for laneway access and to increase density on the lots. And when it came time for a transportation management plan, residents threw out the City engineer’s recommendations and designed their own. That plan is still being used today.

John Davis Senior passed away in the 1980’s but his wife Pat and his sons John and Geoff maintained the houses and managed the rentals. Michael Kluckner in an earlier Price Tags post described the Davis Family as being strongly in the tradition of social and community common sense.

They championed street lighting for Tenth Avenue, with the street’s residents  choosing (and partially paying for) a heritage type of lighting standard. The City’s engineer at the time thought that the residents of Tenth Avenue would never pick a light standard that they would have to pay for . The City’s engineer was wrong.

Pat Davis also single handedly changed the way that street trees were trimmed by B.C. Hydro. When I was working in the planning department I received a call from B.C. Hydro indicating that trimming work on the Tenth Avenue large street trees had to be halted due an intervention from Mrs. Pat Davis. Pat was horrified that hydro crews were cutting back street trees down to their joins (called “crotch dropping”) to ensure that hydro wiring was not compromised. A spritely senior, Pat Davis had taken the car keys away from  B.C. Hydro personnel  and refused to give them back until the hydro crew agreed to leave.

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If you are not in Vancouver this summer, it is understandable if  you think the photo above is staged. It is not. Photographer and past Price Tags editor Ken Ohrn was walking along English Bay in the evening with his wife Sylvia, who is an accomplished artist. Ken handed his cell phone to a “stranger” to take this photo.

Ken was asked if he found out who the “stranger” was that took this shot which is absolutely iconic and contains all the elements of our summers. There’s English Bay, the freighters in the background, a marvellously complex sky, people on the beach, a touch of the mountains, and the pathway into Stanley Park.  And of course ice cream from one of the many local vendors in the area.

While Vancouverites will tell you that the rainy season goes from January to December, the summer does have a unique appeal  with waterfront accessibility unlike other major cities in Canada. The  beaches are public, with the City’s Greenways policy designed to link up all the shoreline for walking and biking.

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Research has shown that walking is good for your physical and mental health, and building cities and spaces that are connected and walkable provide increased opportunities for social interaction. Transportation expert Jeff Tumlin has a TEDx Talk on Sex, Neuroscience and the City pointing out how vital these links are.

NPR.com’s Paul Nicolaus explored current research on every day interaction on the street.  Elizabeth Dunn and Gillian Sandstrom from the University of British Columbia studied the impact of customers talking to staff in coffee shops, with half of the people asked to interact with staff, and half not to interact. They found that those that had limited interaction with the coffee shop staff  increased their general mood and increased happiness.

“The same researchers found that these seemingly trivial encounters with the minor characters in our lives — the random guy at the dog park or the barista at our local coffee shop — can affect feelings of happiness and human connection on a typical day.”

Studies also found that when walking brief eye contact “increased people’s sense of inclusion and belonging”,  and can trigger the neural release of the peptide hormone oxytocin, called the “cuddle chemical” in Jeff Tumlin’s TEDx talk.

No one likes feeling invisible when someone walks past. The Germans even have a term for it — wie Luft behandeln, which means “to be looked at as though air.” And while people may not necessarily want to talk to everyone they meet on the street or in the coffee shop,  psychologists have ascertained that even brief eye contact increases the sense of inclusion and belonging.

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Number One on Heritage Vancouver’s Top 10 Watch List site for 2019 is Mount Pleasant, one of Vancouver’s original neighbourhoods – an area under threat of losing its valuable heritage qualities.

Intersected by the commercial high streets of Broadway, Main and Kingsway, the old Mount Pleasant village (the “Heritage Heart”) has been the hub of the neighbourhood ever since it first developed in the 1880s. Pedestrian-friendly and human-scale streetscapes are lined with independent stores and restaurants that lend this commercial area of Mount Pleasant a welcoming, interesting and vibrant village atmosphere.

Many of the heritage buildings from the neighbourhood’s streetcar era still exist, alongside others from the early and mid-twentieth century.  They continue to provide affordable housing, artist studios and commercial spaces for a wide variety of community groups and local businesses.

The area is a complete neighbourhood and is clearly distinct from the rest of the city. However, the forthcoming subway, new transit station at Main and Broadway and accompanying development may put this in jeopardy.

 

Sunday, August 18

10:30 am – 12:30 pm

Cost: $10 for Heritage Vancouver members, $15 for non-members.  Tickets here.

Meet at the NE corner of 13th and Quebec Street.

Tour Lead is Christine Hagemoen

 

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[Update: Do read Geoff’s comment at the end of this post.  Powerful and provocative.]

 

SFU Vancouver – the downtown campus – is now 30 years old since SFU came down from the mountain.  It’s what President Andrew Petter says helps make SFU the engaged university.

Engagement is the particular work of the Centre for Dialogue, Public Square, City Conversations and the City Program – all of which had events happening on Thursday, and two of which featured Mary Rowe, the speaker for this year’s Warren Gill Lecture.  They certainly engaged me, with more questions than I had a chance to ask.  Here are some.

INEQUALITY AND DIVERSITY

When considering the rural-urban divide in Canada, Mary began with two points that are pretty much taken as self-evident in academia: diversity is good, inequality is bad.  Policies for healthy cities should encourage the former and reduce the latter.

But what if inequality is a measure of diversity?

Since a diverse city is one in which there are many different kinds of people and pursuits, do those differences of equality become magnified with greater diversity? In fact, is increasing inequality how we know the city is more diverse?

Let’s say public policies were effective at reducing inequality by redistributing benefits, by building the infrastructure, physical and cultural, to build a stronger middle class.  Isn’t the result a more homogenous city, perhaps less likely to generate the cultural and economic energy we associate with places like New York in the 1970s, London in the 1800s, Florence in the 1500s?  Does equality mean boring and less diverse?

 

MAKING CHOICES IN A CLIMATE EMERGENCY

At noon, at City Conversations the topic was the climate emergency, with Councillor Christine Boyle (who introduced the climate emergency motion at council and is interviewed here on PriceTalks); Atiya Jaffar, digital campaigner for 350.org;  and New Westminster Councillor Nadine Nakagawa.

I had three ‘tough questions’, with the opportunity to ask only one – itself somewhat facetious:

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Fifty-two years ago today Expo 67 opened on two man-made islands in Montreal. The 20th century was about World’s Fairs, and this fair with the theme “Man and His World” attracted fifty million visits in its six month run. At the time Canada’s population was only 20 million people.

Several notable buildings were constructed including Buckminster Fuller and Shoji Sadao’s geodesic dome for the United States pavilion, and Moshe Safdie’s iconic “Habitat” as an example of prefabricated concrete dwelling construction.

Visitors had “passports” and obtained stamps at various pavilions. In many ways this event put Canada on the international map. The legacies of the Fair were classic 20th century achievements that included transportation infrastructure:  Montreal’s Decarie autoroute was built, as well as the Hippolyte-Lafontaine bridge and tunnel.

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Kudos to TransLink, for making some space for Indigenous art that doesn’t shy away from engaging people on social and even political themes.

Marianne Nicolson is a member of the Musgamakw Dzawada’enuxw of the Kwakwaka’wakw Nations, an artist, and the creator of “The Sea Captain”, the new public installation at the recently upgraded Surrey Central Skytrain.

As she explains in the following short video, she’s interested in interactions between peoples, particularly related to colonial encounters, and bringing something different to the public realm.

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An American named Bill Heine moved  to Oxford Great Britain and ran two cinemas. This gentleman had studied law before turning to running movie houses.

But in 1986 Mr. Heine had a Big Idea and commissioned a fibreglass shark which he craned to the top of his house. The timing of his installation of a headless shark on the roof of his 1860 British townhouse was the  “41st anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki.” The piece was created by artist John Buckley.

The shark weighs 400 pounds and is 25 feet from its headless body to its tail.  As this web page on the Hedlington Shark attests  the placing of such a large object on the roof of a pretty ordinary residence sprung the local Oxford city council to action.

First city council said the shark had to go because it was a dangerous hazard. But when the shark installation was inspected, it was carefully installed and was safe. Then Council used Section 22 of the Town and Country Planning Act that had no provision for the placement of large things like sharks on roofs within the municipality.

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