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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Off to Vermont for a week to do a little cycling, then up to Montreal for the end of the Out Games.  I’ll keep in touch.
Glad to see that the blog is generating some buzz.  Pete McMartin responded to the jab below with a few of his own.  Check it out – and add your own.

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July 26, 2006

First night of the fireworks at English Bay.  Just us and a quarter million of our neighbours. 
 
I’m not sure why photographers try to capture fireworks, or sunsets.  The result is always going to be a little disappointing, since you’re turning something that generates light into something that reflects it.  So we get a little arty instead.
But here’s something you might not have seen if you don’t stick around after the crowds have dispersed.  Down on Beach Avenue by the Aquatic Centre, there’s a convoy of sanitation trucks waiting to move into action, preceded by a phalanx of motorcycle cops, their lights ablaze.
  As the parade gets underway, there are cheers from the balconies above; people applaud from the curbs.  Someone even has a trumpet.   This must be a thrill for guys in the Engineering Department.  Talk about respect.
 
And for boys, who are genetically programmed to get off on trucks, the engineering parade must be a bigger blast than the fireworks. 

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Seattle-ite Patrick McGrath asked the following question in a comment to the “Density Game” below:

Are high rises the best way to move people into the urban core? How do they compare to 3-5 story apartment blocks in terms of their affordability and population density?

Well, Patrick … it depends.
As the post notes, the density for highrise and lowrise can be exactly the same. In fact, the highrise could be less dense – assuming we’re comparing floor area, not population. For instance, a 20-storey building with floorplates that are 5,000 square feet in area on a lot that is 25,000 square feet has (I simplify) a Floor Space Ratio (FSR) of 4. A five-storey building that almost covers the site would likely have an FSR of around 4.5. The lower building would be denser.

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Just over two years ago, when I was first started Price Tags, Khenko was on the cover of No. 28. Khenko is Coast Salish for the Great Blue Heron – in this case, the wired version.

Artist Doug Taylor had a vision for a work of art that would celebrate the bird’s return to False Creek: sail-covered blades to capture the wind and move the gears that in turn would raise and lower the wings of the heron. He had a model too:

Now it’s not just a model. Khenko is flying. The sculpture was raised last Friday.
You can see the sail-blades from Granville Island. In fact Khenko is visible from many points along the Creek, since it’s placed at the southern-most point of George Wainborn Park, on the north shore of False Creek, just east of the Granville Bridge.

Back in 2004 I wrote: “This is going to be amazing.”
It is.

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