Design & Development
August 15, 2019

Trees at High Summer

As we pass high summer into the glory days of fall (the first leaves are changing, perhaps from a bit of drought), it’s time again for an observation I make every year:

Did Vancouver seem as lush and forested on its streets a year ago as it does now?  Same answer, too: Nope.  Things grow fast here (it’s almost a rain forest), and the additional growth from spring is tangible enough to make a difference in perception – especially if seen only intermittently.

Where, for instance, is this – where the trees now branch over a highway-wide corridor?  Only a decade or so ago, they seemed only samplings.*

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City of North Vancouver Councillor Tony Valente has been involved with The Shipyards development for at least ten years as a community member, leader, and now a City Councillor.  I asked Tony to tell the story of his involvement and how The Shipyards Commons came to be.  He begins with referring to the “bloodlessly named” Lot 5 that was his motivation for engaging with local government back in 2009.

I was one of a group of neighbours in Lower Lonsdale (LoLo) who petitioned the City to get moving on the North Van central waterfront following the failure of the National Maritime Project.   The petition was, sadly, promptly filed by City Council following my delegation and presentation.

It wasn’t over, of course. The petition connected me with other neighbours, including the owner of the Cafe for Contemporary Art (Tyler Russell who has continued to spread culture across our province) – where we held our own guerrilla consultation, discussing elements of what could be on Lot 5. That turned into a non-profit society – the North Van Urban Forum – which brought together a diverse group of community members to transparently and openly engage in ideas for developing our public realm.

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John Davis Jr. with Pat Davis

It seems only fitting on this civic holiday which is called “British Columbia Day” in this province that we celebrate the remarkable Davis family and Pat Davis who passed away last week.  Over a period of five decades the Davis Family stewarded a group of Edwardian and Victorian  houses on Mount Pleasant’s  100 block of West Tenth Avenue just east of city hall, restoring them. At the time in the late 70’s and early 80’s renovating old houses and fitting them with rental units was not the thing to do. The Davis family fought pressure to turn their houses into a cash crop of three-story walk-ups  on their street, and proudly display a plaque indicating that their restoration work was done with no governmental assistance of any kind.

But more than maintaining a group of heritage houses that described the rhythm and feel of an earlier Vancouver,  the Davis family extended their interest and stewardship to the street. In the summer a painted bicycle leans on a tree near the sidewalk with the bicycle basket full of flowers~in season there is a wheelbarrow to delight passersby full of  blooming plants. An adirondack chair perches near the sidewalk. And every morning, one of the Davis family was out sweeping the sidewalk and ensuring that no garbage was on the boulevards or the street.

As author and artist Michael Kluckner notes the Davis Family’s stewardship profoundly altered the way city planning was managed in Mount Pleasant. As one of the oldest areas of the city with existing Victorian houses, zoning was developed to maintain the exterior form and add rental units within the form. The first laneway houses in the city, called “carriage houses” were designed for laneway access and to increase density on the lots. And when it came time for a transportation management plan, residents threw out the City engineer’s recommendations and designed their own. That plan is still being used today.

John Davis Senior passed away in the 1980’s but his wife Pat and his sons John and Geoff maintained the houses and managed the rentals. Michael Kluckner in an earlier Price Tags post described the Davis Family as being strongly in the tradition of social and community common sense.

They championed street lighting for Tenth Avenue, with the street’s residents  choosing (and partially paying for) a heritage type of lighting standard. The City’s engineer at the time thought that the residents of Tenth Avenue would never pick a light standard that they would have to pay for . The City’s engineer was wrong.

Pat Davis also single handedly changed the way that street trees were trimmed by B.C. Hydro. When I was working in the planning department I received a call from B.C. Hydro indicating that trimming work on the Tenth Avenue large street trees had to be halted due an intervention from Mrs. Pat Davis. Pat was horrified that hydro crews were cutting back street trees down to their joins (called “crotch dropping”) to ensure that hydro wiring was not compromised. A spritely senior, Pat Davis had taken the car keys away from  B.C. Hydro personnel  and refused to give them back until the hydro crew agreed to leave.

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The Pride Flag – one of the great graphics of our times.

Its simplicity, those particular colours, its inclusive meaning – no wonder the Pride Flag is so immediately recognizable and embraced by so many peoples for what has become a global summer festival.  Variations will evolve to distinguish the nuances of its subcultures, to be raised more as political statements – but the rainbow Pride Flag is a keeper that keeps on spreading.

Its graphic power especially allows it to escape from the constraints of the flag format.  Think crosswalks.  And as artists and designers have appropriated its colours for more creative presentations, cities around the world have became outdoor galleries of splashy public pride-art.  Sometimes just for association, sometimes for marketing, always for expression.

Here are some fine examples from Tel Aviv when it celebrated Pride for a week this June.  (One gets the sense that the bold use of the colours is also a statement of secularity by its citizens.)

Vancouver is relatively unimaginative in its use of Pride regalia – mostly flags, banners, a bit of paint.  So allow me to make a recommendation:

City of Vancouver, have a contest to decorate these trucks, Pride-style:

I get why you use them as giant metal bollards, to close off streets and prevent a terrorist event as happened in Toronto.  But it makes the events they’re protecting seem like they’re in construction zones.

Commission some transformative ideas.  Give some grants to make them happen. Let the artists and designers demonstrate their cleverness and creativity, using these lumbering canvases, to make them part of our festivals, parades and gatherings – not just a cheap, dumb solution to a policing problem.

Show some Pride.

 

 

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If you are not in Vancouver this summer, it is understandable if  you think the photo above is staged. It is not. Photographer and past Price Tags editor Ken Ohrn was walking along English Bay in the evening with his wife Sylvia, who is an accomplished artist. Ken handed his cell phone to a “stranger” to take this photo.

Ken was asked if he found out who the “stranger” was that took this shot which is absolutely iconic and contains all the elements of our summers. There’s English Bay, the freighters in the background, a marvellously complex sky, people on the beach, a touch of the mountains, and the pathway into Stanley Park.  And of course ice cream from one of the many local vendors in the area.

While Vancouverites will tell you that the rainy season goes from January to December, the summer does have a unique appeal  with waterfront accessibility unlike other major cities in Canada. The  beaches are public, with the City’s Greenways policy designed to link up all the shoreline for walking and biking.

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Research has shown that walking is good for your physical and mental health, and building cities and spaces that are connected and walkable provide increased opportunities for social interaction. Transportation expert Jeff Tumlin has a TEDx Talk on Sex, Neuroscience and the City pointing out how vital these links are.

NPR.com’s Paul Nicolaus explored current research on every day interaction on the street.  Elizabeth Dunn and Gillian Sandstrom from the University of British Columbia studied the impact of customers talking to staff in coffee shops, with half of the people asked to interact with staff, and half not to interact. They found that those that had limited interaction with the coffee shop staff  increased their general mood and increased happiness.

“The same researchers found that these seemingly trivial encounters with the minor characters in our lives — the random guy at the dog park or the barista at our local coffee shop — can affect feelings of happiness and human connection on a typical day.”

Studies also found that when walking brief eye contact “increased people’s sense of inclusion and belonging”,  and can trigger the neural release of the peptide hormone oxytocin, called the “cuddle chemical” in Jeff Tumlin’s TEDx talk.

No one likes feeling invisible when someone walks past. The Germans even have a term for it — wie Luft behandeln, which means “to be looked at as though air.” And while people may not necessarily want to talk to everyone they meet on the street or in the coffee shop,  psychologists have ascertained that even brief eye contact increases the sense of inclusion and belonging.

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The Shipyards has been launched.   It’s just east of Lonsdale at the North Vancouver waterfront – a mixed-use commercial development at the centre of the City of North Vancouver’s Central Waterfront  

The commercial offerings (the restaurants, the boutiques, the Cap U extension) are still to come.  Nearly complete, however, is a great new public space that will serve not just Lower Lonsdale (LoLo) but the whole North Shore.

The Shipyards replaces the bloodlessly named Lot 5 in the plan below.  The green-coloured Commons’ fulfils almost exactly the vision that informed the project from the beginning.  The Commons is a covered year-round public space big enough, at 12,000 square feet, to accommodate major events while still providing a flexible intimacy needed to give sparkle to what mayor Linda Buchanan calls ‘the jewel in the crown.’

The design is by Dialog, among whose principals, Norm Hotson and Joost Bakker, were the architects of Granville Island.  This space is not just what’s on the floor and at first level.  There is also the spectacle of the walls and ceiling: a cathedral-like industrial legacy above, a retractable roof extension over the water park alongside, with galleries surrounding the space to the east and south.  There’s constant animation around, over and above, with people looking down, up and across.  Irresistibly moving around to capture views and Instagrammable moments both front and back.  It’s dynamism in three dimensions.

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A few more comparisons with the West End.

Here’s a West End minipark:

And one in the White City:

Here’s what it’s like trying to find a parking spot at night in the White City:

It’s way worse than the West End: the closest space from the image above was at least a kilometre away.  In the West End, it’s not as bad if you have a permit sticker – but didn’t see any residents-only parking in TLV.

Rico, in the post below, says that he prefers the West End: ” … to me the difference is not building form but tree cover along the sidewalks.”  And the West End certainly has some of the best street trees in the city:

But even in subtropical Tel Aviv, especially in the northern part of the White City, the streets are heavily treed:

While the White City is not as heavily landscaped and parked as the ‘Garden City’ planner Patrick Geddes intended, it still stacks up well against even as green a city as Vancouver.

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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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