Nature & Public Spaces
July 8, 2019

The Genius of Central Park

What did Frederick Law Olmsted, the landscape architect of New York’s Central Park, imagine his design, the Greensward, might look like in the future?

Here is the design that won the competition in 1858:

Here is the view from the blue arrow on the map …

… looking like it might have been done by a 18th-century landscape painter, in the mid-20th century, taken on a phone camera by Len Sobo last week.

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With thanks to Scot Bathgate~this is not Metro Vancouver’s first rodeo with the canal idea. An early iteration of False Creek north included lagoons, and Expo 86 architect Bruno Freschi floated the canal concept with a connection from False Creek along Carrall towards Burrard Inlet. But these waterworks were suggestions for a mega development and a world’s fair. Both of these were also never built.

But this week in Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum actually told folks at a Business Association conference that  “water-filled canals could be constructed on a street with less traffic volumes, and that the idea first came to him when he visited Qatar”.

He also stated that he had already spoken to his city’s engineering department about the potential design. As the Daily Hive reports  CEO of the Downtown Surrey Business Improvement Area Elizabeth Model diplomatically responded “Mayor McCallum has an interesting concept and as I have travelled so much and seen cities being built with canals… I understand his ideas but it really depends on the ease and functionality.”

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There is a  loophole enabling developers not to pay the full cost of property tax on undeveloped property in Vancouver. A developer can purchase a piece of land in the city and instead of immediately establishing a timetable for development can leave the land fallow for temporary community gardens or parks.  As Dan Fumano in this article dryly observes, the taxation on these temporary developer owned community gardens have been a “perennial” issue.

This loophole has been flying below the radar for quite some time. In 2017 Kerry Gold in BCBusiness  noted that  15 properties were converted from class 6, or commercial, to class 8—community garden or public park use. While developers cite the high value of holding land and the length of time it takes to get development permits as reasons to allow the low tax rate for community gardens, Simon Fraser University’s  Duke of Data Andy Yan has another take.

We are rewarding land hoarding and subsidizing it through these community gardens. We are losing tax money to subsidize this thing that looks good—and all we’re getting in return are really expensive taxpayer-subsidized tomatoes. They are the most expensive tomatoes in North America.”

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Inspire Jericho speaker series brought in talented landscape architect and thinker Margie Ruddick  who authored the very popular landscape book “Wild By Design.”

Ms. Ruddick is a champion of  “wild” landscapes, creating ecologically sensitive places with a strong sense of balance, rhythm and design. One of her New York City landscapes is Queen’s Plaza, located next to Queens Boulevard, the former  “boulevard of death” . New York City has undertaken design work to make Queens Boulevard more pedestrian and cycling friendly, and Ms. Ruddick created a park below a tangle of elevated railway tracks at the plaza. And it is ingenious~realizing that there was not a budget for installed irrigation,  Ms. Ruddick installed wetlands that create a cooler micro-climate, and slightly raised the elevation to lessen the impact of the screeching trains overhead. That elevation resulted in a 25 percent reduction in train noise. Chunky curbs and pavers by artist Michael Singer delight in providing an allegory to the web of railroad tracks and provide detail to the  pathways.

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Let’s just say it (because the Park Board doesn’t want to have to): Its de facto policy towards cycling is ‘To, Not Through’.  ‘We’ll accommodate bikes going to our facilities, but we don’t want to build cycling routes to enable them to cycle through our parks on the way to somewhere else or to reach key destinations in our parks.”

Hence: no separate cycling paths through Kits or Jericho parks.  Let the City build bikeways around them.

They don’t even want to accommodate cyclists going to their facilities if they can avoid it.

Like this one:

This is Kitsilano Pool.  It has about a half dozen asphalt paths leading to its entrance.  This is what they look like if you’re on a bike:

Or counting the little no-bike logos from space:

The paths all lead here:

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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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Sandy James’s post on Cornelia Oberlander – “the First Lady of Canadian Landscape Design” – is so apropos at this time of year, when her legacy, particularly Robson Square, literally blossoms.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that the look of Vancouver is captured in her works.

She’s still active, still provocative.  In the film “City Dreamers” in which she’s featured, she says she’s not in favour of daylighting streams that have been previously culverted – as is proposed, for instance, for Brewery Creek through False Creek Flats.  Too many unexpected consequences, says the voice of experience.

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In the good news/bad news department, the City of Vancouver has announced a “Request for Expression of Interest (RFEOI) “on a proposed master plan for four iconic west end parks, their beaches, and the adjacent street networks. Noting that there is an expectation of 18,000 more residents in the West End by 2040 and the fact that this area is heavily frequented by tourists, the City is looking at a refreshing rethink of this place that is so loved by locals.

That heavily used parks that are older are being considered for a facelift is great, with enhancements being proposed for Morton Park, better connections for cyclists to the seawall, better readable open space, and an emphasis on biodiversity and festival space.

The Vancouver Aquatic Centre built in 1976 is over forty years old and is due for an overhaul. It would benefit from a redesign that tied it into Sunset Park. The RFEOI also wants to explore climate change and sea rise, and  do work differently. Noting that these lands are on the unceded territory of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations, any proposal must include meaningful engagement with the Nations. This could be very exciting to have placemaking and marking from the indigenous perspective, and explore culturally and historically the use and importance of this site.

The bad news was it appeared that some City Councillors and Parks Commissioners were unaware of this city proposal and initiative, which follows city policy to improve and manage public amenities and improve active transportation connections.

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