Nature & Public Spaces
April 29, 2007

New Yaletown Park: Taking It Hard

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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April 15, 2007

The art may be coming down (see below), but something far more controversial will be going up:

…the Squamish Nation (intends) to erect 13 10′ by 36.5′ billboards near the exits of three of the bridges leading in and out of downtown Vancouver. Because the base of each sign will be planted firmly on reserve land, strict municipal sign laws won’t apply. That means the billboards, which will rotate and glow 24 hours a day, will be bigger, brighter and more visible than anything else in the district.

 As The Tyee reports here, they won’t be going up without protest:

Organizers for a group called Citizens for Responsible Outdoor Advertising (CROA) plan to suspend a giant jet-black sign from a crane looming over the north exit to the bridge sometime in the next two weeks. If all goes as planned, the sign will bear a single boldface word: SEX….
“We must display in an unquestionable, unequivocal way that we don’t want these signs,” Wayne Hunter, the man behind CROA, said Thursday.

Thanks to PT reader Lorin Gaertner, here’s a  story in the International Herald Tribune on Sao Paulo – a city going in the opposite direction:

Come the new year, this city of 11 million, overwhelmed by what the authorities call visual pollution, plans to press the “delete all” button and offer its residents unimpeded views of their surroundings.

Sao Paulo before:

That was back in December.  Now that the rule in effect, Tony de Marco has documented the sight of a city stripped bare of commercial visuals. 

You can see more results here.

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What happens when one of the finest classical musicians in the world, playing some of the most elegant music ever written on one of the most valuable violins ever made, performs anonymously at a Washington, D.C. Metro stop?
 
The violinist: Joshua Bell.  The set-up: Washington Post.  The results: here

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Rick Balfour’s proposal for a forum at Jericho in Point Grey provoked the expected reaction: here.  But it also drew reaction from Joe Thompson.

Joe is a truly civic-minded Vancouverite.  (If there’s a public meeting or debate, chances are, you’ll see Joe.)
As a resident of CityGate, at the east end of False Creek, Joe has come up with a vision for an amphiteatre tucked into the park next to Science World.

 The semi-circle of tiered seating, focused on a shared event is a classic form.
There is a curve of hill here in town which seems to me to be calling out for seating to an audience’s engagement. It is beside Science World. A landscaping berm in Creekside Park, in Vancouver, has an open curve facing towards the building’s north-east wall. It is about a dozen feet high (~3.5 metres), and about 50 feet wide (~15 metres). Terraced with seating it would hold about 50 to 80 people.

Lots more at Joe’s website here.

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I have to agree with Stuart Lefeaux, the long-time superintendent of Stanley Park, about the consequences of the December windstorm: “The end result is that Stanley Park will be much more interesting than before.”
Though retired in 1979, Lefeaux saw the results of Hurricane Freda in 1962. In this article in the Courier, he told of what followed:

“The storm opened up quite a swath behind the Hollow Tree and we made that into a picnic area,” he says. “The biggest result though was that we were able to build the children’s zoo and miniature railway in an area cleared by the blowdown.”
The storm also cleared the way for the development of the Prospect Point picnic area and created viewpoints and vistas towards the ocean and North Shore.

Given the news coverage, many people probably believe the damage to be worse than it was, that Stanley Park was affected throughout its thousand acres. But save for a few areas of blowdown, it looks pretty much the same at casual glance. Where the microbursts roared through – Cathedral Trail, Prospect Point – the damage is dramatic. From Prospect Point to the Hollow Tree, the seaward slopes down to the Merilees Trail have been decimated.

But the extent of the blowdown is limited. Result: the view through to English Bay has been opened up, and is, as Lefeaux suggests, much more interesting.

Though I doubt the Parks Board would put it this way, the outpouring of grief and generosity is going to lever a lot of opportunity to make capital improvements, particularly slope stabilization, that would be otherwise unaffordable but will also change the park in some ways.  Stanley Park has added another layer of history to its landscape, and more diversity for those of us who experience it.
Here, by the way, is the New York Times story – Its Wild Heart Broken, a City, Like Its Eagles, Rebuilds.

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At the corner of Barclay and Denman Streets in the West End, on a small rectangular lot next to King George High School, there are four benches.  Rusty red, flaked and nicked, they look as uncomfortable as the stone walls they butt up against and as worn as the ground they stand on.   But there’s something bright and new on every one: a big brass plaque with an official-looking crest, and some words.
 
The crest, it turns out, is of King George High School, and my assumption is that these are gifts from the grads.
The advice:
  
“Take time to meander in your quest.”

“Slow down.  You move too fast.”
So if you actually stop to read the two plaques, then in the first case, you have, and in the second, you don’t.

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If you like Google Earth, you’ll love VirtualCity – a pedestrian view of Toronto (or at least a good portion of the central city).  This beta version allows you to see streetscapes lot by lot, image by image, with a very user-friendly interface.  Check it out.  If you’re knowledgeable about TO, expect to spend some time.
 

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