Nature & Public Spaces
July 31, 2007

Thoughtful Gesture

In Coquitlam, at the corner of Pinetree and Guildford Ways – perhaps one of the widest intersections in the region – they’re building a bench.  But it’s not for pedestrians who’ve managed the trek across the road.  It’s for skateboarders, on their way to the bowl behind the arts centre.  Nice.

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Matt Smith of the SF Weekly writes about a rather nasty ballot initiative to increase the amount of parking in San Francisco:

On its face, The Fisher Initiative would seem benign: “What’s wrong with more parking?” Fisher’s political consultant asked, rhetorically, when I spoke with him a couple of weeks ago. But this measure’s awfulness is in its details. It’s being promoted as a way to make driving around the city a more attractive transport option. But its most notable effect will be to make housing more expensive so parking can be cheaper — that’s backwards. And just as it will help drive more low- and middle-income people from San Francisco, the Fisher Initiative will make life less pleasant for people of all incomes who already live here.

What makes this story interesting is not just its content but its treatment.  You can find the traditional text-based column here.  But SF Weekly has also done an illustrated version in slideshow format for the web which is really quite extraordinary.

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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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Call for Contributors
Spring 2007

Are you fascinated by cities?
Love city infrastructure?
Hate the commercialization of public space?
Have suggestions on how to improve transit, wish there were more community gardens, or want to critique the design of existing public spaces?
Do you like to draw, write, blog, or take photographs?

If so, re:place magazine would like your contribution.
re:place is a emerging magazine dedicated to public space and urbanism in Vancouver and the GVRD. We are a non-profit organization made up of urban enthusiasts dedicated to the holistic discussion of urban issues. Our goals are to educate citizens about the workings of the public realm, to encourage interaction and engagement in cities, and to explore the ever-changing dynamic of Greater Vancouver.
re:place will provide a forum for discussion in two formats: web and print. The first print issue is scheduled to be published in fall 2007 while we intend the website to go live within in the upcoming summer.
re:place is looking for contributors who share an interest in urbanism and the public realm. We need writers, photographers, illustrators and bloggers.

If you are interested in contributing articles (short or feature), photographs, illustrations, or if you would like to be a blogger, please send an email to Please include a bit of information about yourself, what public space issues are you particularly interested in, and how you would like to contribute.

If you have a story idea to pitch, please send us a brief outline of your piece and a sample of your writing.
The re:place editorial staff will review all submissions and will contact you shortly thereafter in order to confirm whether the idea fits within the scope of our upcoming print issue or web dialogue.
If your piece is chosen for inclusion, you will be required to submit a manuscript draft (please see our submission guidelines) and we will work with you to create the final article. However, all final editorial decisions are to be made by the editor.
We look forward to hearing from you!
re:place Magazine

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A few weeks ago, a delegation from Atlanta came to visit. Atlanta LINK – 117 leaders in business and government – had a chance to listen to the usual suspects and, more importantly, just walk around.
Here’s what the reporter accompanying them saw:

In Vancouver, civic leaders see a livable city
By Maria Saporta
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 05/28/07
Vancouver, British Columbia — To metro Atlantans, congestion is a dirty word.
But when a delegation of 117 regional leaders recently visited this Canadian city, they were introduced to a whole new concept.
Congestion is our friend,” said Larry Beasley, former city planning director for Vancouver, who has been recognized worldwide as helping create a new urban model. “Density is good.”
Metro leaders were exposed to a vastly different approach to growth and development during the 11th annual LINK trip, organized by the Atlanta Regional Commission, short for “Leadership, Innovation, Networking, Knowledge.”
Vancouver’s strategy of density and transit is a stark contrast to the Atlanta region’s road-oriented sprawl.

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May 13, 2007

Almost without notice, there’s been a change in attitude towards engineering infrastructure in the city.  No longer does urban plumbing have to be utlitarian.  Latest example: the pumphouse for the emergency salt-water pumping system (that will hopefully provide a secure supply of water when the Big One shakes things up).
Here’s what you’ll see under the north side of the Granville Bridge along the Seaside bike route:

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If the Cheonggyecheon – the daylighted stream that runs through Seoul – was (a) in an English-speaking country or (b) could be pronounced easily in English, everyone reading this blog would likely know of it.   I’d say that it’s the most extraordinary public space created anywhere in the world in this still-young century.
Here are some shots taken by Hye-Yeon Park, an associate at the San Francisco architectural firm of Field Paoli.

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The new open space at Nelson and Mainland – now in the heart of new Yaletown  – is almost complete.  And already it’s generating hard opinions.

It’s a stretch to call it a park.  There’s hardly a living plant in the place.  The surface is either concrete or granite block, right up to the slender trunks of a handful of trees. 
And just in case you miss the point, they’ve added blocks of stone that aren’t too far removed from Jersey barriers.
The separation between the park and busy Nelson Street consists of angled, louvred black-metal screens, as harsh as a portcullis.

But, honestly, I haven’t decided whether I like it or not.  No doubt the rationale behind the park justifies all this hard-surface as appropriate to the Yaletown industrial history and aesthetic.
And it might work.  There’s a very good chance it will be one of the more interesting people-watching places in the neighbourhood, and perhaps even a performance space, spontaneously generated.
One thing for sure: everyone will have an opinion.

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Larry Beasley was speaking at a forum – “Framing a Capital City” – at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C.  Here’s the Washington Post:

Larry Beasley, a former planning director for Vancouver, B.C., brought this nugget of Canadian wisdom: “The whole world is going mad about security,” which has become, in terms of architecture and planning, the most important force shaping our cities. He lamented the return of above-ground parking garages (to prevent a car bomb from taking out a building placed above underground parking) and the use of huge setbacks (they create dead zones in the urban fabric). Cities that are finally reflecting the virtues of density, mixed-use development and walkable spaces are being shoved in the wrong direction by security-mad bureaucrats.
When Beasley advised the assembled crowd (a mix of students, planners, activists and scholars) that it was time to just say no to more needlessly complex, anti-democratic, isolating, intimidating layers of security, the audience broke out into spontaneous applause. It was a hometown crowd.

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