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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February 3, 2008

Everyone (at least who reads this blog) knows Portland has a dynamic urban culture.  Naturally, there’s an online site – Portland Spaces – that brings together sources and ideas.  And within that, they have the Burnside Blog.
Here’s a taste.

Urban Uprising: The Buildings

Take your average residential lot in Portland (That’d be 5,000 square feet), build a house that fills the space from corner-to-corner, stack it on top of itself 22 times, add some nice details, and you’ll have something that resembles this tower (West Burnside at 13th Avenue) being developed and designed by Skylab. Proposed for a site just behind the Crystal Ballroom, it’s skinny, it’s sexy – and in this market, very speculative – but I hope to God it gets built.

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As James Kunstler would observe (see below), you can tell a lot about a civilization by the quality of the “public realm” – the spaces jointly shared by every citizen.  As opposed to the privileges of “the consumer,” who has no repsonsibilities for the commonwealth except, of course, to consume it.
Here’s a particularly nice addition to the public realm at Yaletown Park:

These steps, gracefully proportioned and substantially built (with a glass balustrade!), do nothing more than connect the pedestrian right-of-way between the hard-edged Yaletown Park at Nelson Street  and an allee that runs through the complex of towers to the north and joins up with Smithe Street. 
In fact, these steps may not even be on public land.  Chances are, they’re owned and maintained by strata corporation, with a convenant allowing for continual public access. 
The point is: this is public, it is well done, and it says, as Kunstler would commend, that this is a place worth caring about.

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January 25, 2008

Kudos to Anthony Perl and my colleagues at SFU Urban Studies for bringing in James Kunstler (author of “The Long Emergency”) as their first Fellow. That meant he had a week to tour the region, speak to students, staff, politicians and the public in a variety of settings (from the Carnegie to the Vancouver Club in one day).
Those familiar with his writings and blog wouldn’t be surprised to find that what were once fringe opinions, bluntly expressed, are now almost mainstream. The world is moving his way. Some senior developers in this city, after the Vancouver Club presentation, said they found his analysis bleak but not out of line with their own observations.
If you missed Kunstler this week, despair not: you can hear him in full flight at the TED site (Technology, Entertainment, Design) here.

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Every urban-design and architecture critic I read has a highly cultivated cynicism. Christopher Hume, he of the Toronto Star, is always good for an articulate scathing of TO.
But his recent column on the competition results for a new park at the foot of Jarvis Street on the lakeshore is almost optimistic:

Ah, the waterfront, the waterfront. Does one dare believe in what it could be; or does one succumb to the cynicism of the day?
The latter may be tempting, but it’s too easy. Besides, there is reason for optimism, especially when one sees the final-round proposals for the Jarvis St. Slip. Chosen through an invitational design competition, the three schemes are so good, each one should be built. That’s unlikely, of course, but one can always hope.

This is interesting for two reasons: the results of the competition really are rather good. Check ’em out – and remember them for the SFU City Program discussion on the state of Vancouver’s architecture and urban design on February 1. Details here.
Secondly, there’s a video with the story on the Star’s website:

This is, of course, the best way to ‘read’ a visual story – and something newspapers are increasingly adopting for their online versions.
Two questions: why not more competitions in Vancouver for our urban design, and why not more videos in our newspapers?

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November 26, 2007

Once again, Chicago leads the way:

Chicago has decided to retrofit its alleys with environmentally sustainable road-building materials under its Green Alley initiative… In a green alley, water is allowed to penetrate the soil through the pavement itself, which consists of the relatively new but little-used technology of permeable concrete or porous asphalt. Then the water, filtered through stone beds under the permeable surface layer, recharges the underground water table instead of ending up as polluted runoff in rivers and streams.

Story here.

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