Nature & Public Spaces
August 17, 2006

Home Again

Great vacation time in Montreal and Vermont. 
For a perspective on public spaces in Montreal, check out the latest Price Tags – Issue 87 – which you can download on my web site (www.pricetags.ca) or click directly from here:
http://pricetags.ca/pricetags/pricetags87.pdf
Usually I have to wait for the next issue of PT to provide feedback.  Now I can do it on this blog.
As you’ll see, I wrote some positive comments about Parc Emilie-Gamelin (also known as Place Berri) based on the activity I saw there. 


Here’s another perspective from PT reader Dan Freeman:

I’m afraid I’m going to have to disagree with your laudatory description of Place Berri in downtown Montreal (Jan Gehl’s book “New City Spaces” makes the same mistake, in my opinion)

While it has some strengths, it is a problematic public space. Based on my experience/observation of this square (most recently in July) it has far too much unprogrammed open space. There are no activities, cafes or vendors here that could draw people to this space in the heart of the city. There is also very limited comfortable and practical seating. Not enough is in the shade, and there isn’t much that would encourage conversations between people – just the usual benches and ledges around some of the edges.
As a result, most of the space is largely empty (except for the odd skateboarders in the blank plaza), and its edges are usually populated by the city’s homeless population who set up camp in the shade and sleep/lounge throughout the day. While they are certainly as entitled to using public space as all other citizens (and in fact the homeless likely depend on it more than most), their overwhelming presence discourages many others who live/work/study downtown from hanging out there. We need to create public spaces which are inclusive and provide places for multiple communities to feel comfortable on a daily basis.
I won’t deny that Place Berri is a fantastic place for public events/concerts/gatherings/protests. It most definitely is. And Vancouver desperately needs such a space. My (exceptionally controversial) suggestion: rebuild much of Robson Square to create a public plaza across the street from the VAG. Don’t tell the architects though, they LOVE this Erickson work, ignoring its failings as a piece of the urban infrastructure.
But I digress. The problem with Place Berri is that it fails ‘the rest of the time’. Public spaces should be designed and programmed for major events, but need to work first and foremost as great every day places.
Thanks once again for the amazing photos and ideas you share through PriceTags. It’s truly an exceptionally generous contribution to the city’s urban dialogue.

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A perfect day, really: sunny but not too hot. The beaches and bikeways are packed, and people seem in the mood to dance the day away. In some cases literally.

On Granville Island, a tuxedoed busker serenades the crowd with French ballads. A young couple finds just the right tempo to dance to his songs, and because they’re good, because they can really dance, their performance enchants the surrounding audience. They, however, only have eyes for each other as they dance among the pigeons and the children, perfectly in step and, you’d guess, in love. If it wasn’t all happening spontaneously, it would seem way too hokey. But it isn’t, of course. It’s a Sunday afternoon on Granville Island.

Not too far away, on Kits Beach, another kind of dance. I’m not really sure who they were or what they do, but here’s the scene:

In amongst the beautiful bodies, seated in a circle, half-dressed in white, chanting to the beat of some oddly shaped instruments, these young people from a myriad of races watch two of their own engage in what seems to be a highly choreographed version of martial arts. “Dance fighting,” says one of the observers.

Whatever it is (something Brazilian, perhaps), it’s perfect for Kits Beach.

Oh man, I love this city in the sunshine.

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