Nature & Public Spaces
March 18, 2019

“Life Between the Umbrellas” Competition for Vancouver’s Rainy Public Spaces

The City of Vancouver Engineering Department’s  Viva Program is partnering with the Vancouver Public Space Network (VPSN ) on a new public space competition called “Life Between the Umbrellas: Public Space in a Rainy City”. 

In a city with five months of rain how do you modify road space and public spaces to encourage public life? How do you invite people to slow down, enjoy the space, and connect with other people?

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It’s open.

Hudson Yards, the self-proclaimed “largest private real-estate development in North America” (maybe the world!), has been on my list of urban must-sees.  How convenient for it to have opened one week before I arrive with the hottest ticket in town: a reservation to climb ‘Vessel’ – the public-art centrepiece.

Whatever you call Heatherwick Studio’s Vessel—the wastebasket, the egg-crate, the Escher-brought-to-life, the basketball net, the Great Doner Kebab—it is the opposite of those examples. Not temporary, not cuddly, not delicate. It looks just like its renderings except possibly more perfect.

I had mentally assigned it an outer cladding of weathering steel; with everything else so smooth and shiny, surely Vessel would have an industrial flavor? But no—Heatherwick Studio leaned into the fractal nature of its design, and the cladding, copper-colored steel, has a mirror finish like Anish Kapoor’s Bean in Chicago’s Millennium Park, welcoming our irresistible impulse to selfie. As we assembled on the plaza below it, the underside of the upper tiers crisply reflected us as ants in bright orange safety vests.

The comment above is from Alexandra Lange, the architecture critic for Curbed.  Unlike the New York Times review of Hudson Yards, which was snarky and dismissive, Lange provides some good insights on the nature of such megaprojects (worth comparing to our own undertakings in the last two decades, as well as in Toronto).  Here are excerpts from here review: At Hudson Yards, the future isn’t now.

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It’s not a park, and, at least for buses, not very royal.  Nor for their riders, waiting in the rain:


This is the stop for all West Van buses heading east, north and south.  It’s really a slightly enlarged bus stop serving as a transit exchange, except without sidewalk capacity, real-time signage, adequate seating and overhead protection.  Forget any prospect of a washroom.

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Wednesday, April 10, 2019 | 4:00 PM
SFU’s Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue – Room 320
580 West Hastings Street

How does the rise of populism shape debates about climate and energy in Canada? Can left visions of ecological populism combat disinformation and challenge the forces of extractive populism?

Populism has become an increasingly prominent force in Canadian political life, with significant implications for how the public engages with the intersecting politics of climate change and energy.

Free: Tickets here.


7:00 PM, April 11, 2019
Alice MacKay Room
Vancouver Public Library
Tickets: $10 – $20, on sale now


Is social media a tool that informs and unites us, or is it responsible for deeper divisions and a more polarized society? Are misinformation, digital propaganda, algorithmic biases, and campaign hacking scandals determining the results of our elections? Do unintended flaws in the platforms and sluggish regulation undermine our democratic process?

Simply put, is social media destroying our democracy? Four expert debaters will engage in civil discourse and give you their best arguments before you cast a vote and decide the winner. Don’t miss this engaging, informative, and entertaining night!

Get Tickets Now



7:00 PM, APRIL 12, 2019
Free: registration required

While we would like to blame Donald Trump for the rise of the extreme right in Canada, there are a host of endogenous factors that have rendered Canada vulnerable to this trend. Our own breed of right-wing populism pre-dates the election of Trump and takes a peculiar yet also menacing form, ranging from political and media narratives that vilify newcomers and Muslims to social media platforms that breed fear and anxiety through purposive campaigns of misinformation.

In this free lecture, Dr. Barbara Perry, the Director of the Centre on Hate, Bias, and Extremism will explain the resurgence of right-wing extremism in Canada and propose strategies to challenge the current expression of hate fueled by the movement.

Register Today


.Thursday, April 18, 2019 | 12:30 PM
SFU’s Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue – Room 320
580 West Hastings Street

Over the last decade, narratives surrounding climate, housing, drug, and transportation policies have taken centre stage in our news cycle and the collective conscious of Greater Vancouverites. Discourse about these complex issues has become highly polarized and clouded with misinformation.


Visit the 2019 Community Summit website to see all events taking place as part of Confronting the Disinformation Age.

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Last year Tom Durning sent us this image of Jesus and Colonel Sanders having a conversation over a coffee in an undisclosed coffee bar.

As we stated at the time we did not know whether this was for a film or was just a regular meeting.

The weather must have warmed up, as Tom has now sent us this new image of this unlikely pair conversing while strolling  down the street. No word if urbanism and walkability were being discussed.

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Once again, New York City is taking public art literally one step further in the design of the public art piece “The Vessel” by artist Thomas Heatherwick.

This is the first public art installation at Hudson Yards, the old working dock and shipbuilding site on the west side of Manhattan. By square foot, Hudson Yards is the largest private real estate development in the United States, with 16 planned buildings. Total cost of this megaproject is $25 billion.

The Vessel is fifteen stories high and as Amy Pitt observes in in, “The piece is made from 154 interconnected staircases, and is intended to be used by the public—for climbing, running (though probably not too fast), and, most likely, for providing the backdrop for selfies and Instagram photos.”

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If you haven’t already been enjoying the television programming on BC’s public funded Knowledge Network, I have a reason for urban aficionados to tune in.

Among the great docs Knowledge features, one of note for PT readers is Waterfront Cities of the World, a Gemini award-winning program of ports from Marseille to Cape Town, and Vancouver to Dakar, produced by Quebec’s DBcom Media.

So what’s the best episode?  There are many great cities profiled, and the show’s format is superb, but for planners, architects, and urban designers in Metro Vancouver, I would start with the episode of Hamburg (Season 3, Episode 8), where the massive HafenCity redevelopment is profiled.

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It is the opposite of “build it and they will come”-removing the Seattle Alaska Way viaduct has connected the city in a way not seen in decades and  there has been a flush of new real estate interest in the area. Projects that were built before the viaducts were removed now will enjoy unimpeded vistas of the Bay and mountains, plus a shore side park space that has yet to be realized.

As Seattle Times Mike Rosenberg reports “The transformation of an area marked by furniture stores, parking garages and century-old buildings has already begun. In all, about two dozen major projects have launched within a quarter-mile of the doomed section of the viaduct in the past five years, with more on the way.”

Of course many of the projects would have proceeded because of the location in Seattle’s downtown, but viaduct removal appears to be responsible for rising values. As Rosenberg writes “assessed values of commercial property within a quarter-mile of the viaduct have soared 59 percent since 2011, while commercial properties in the rest of the city are up 38 percent in that span, according to an analysis of data from the King County Assessor’s Office.” 

Median building sales prices have increased, as well as rents for office buildings and apartments. Rosenberg calculates that since 2011 a total of $7 billion dollars in property sales occurred within 400 meters of the viaduct, $3 billion dollars more than the cost of taking the viaduct down.

But  the viaducts are being replaced by a controversial tunnel for vehicular traffic, as well as an at grade road up to  eight lanes wide.

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