Art & Culture
October 2, 2006

Urban Design in Action

Problem: a couple of badly sited Hydro boxes in front of Elsie Roy School near the Roundhouse. 
Scot Hein, head of the Urban Design Studio at City Hall, along with his assistant Phil Scott, came up with an elegant solution.  How about a screen made up of images drawn by the students themselves, of themselves?

Other problem: no money.  But they got the buy-in from principal Isabel Grant and, better yet, School Board shop manager Walter Adolph, who fabricated the screen in house.

The Concord project is often criticized for having a relentless sterility, albeit a very well designed sterility.  Here’s a fine example of how time and personal touches take care of that. 

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What happened to car alarms?
I may be totally wrong on this – especially since we moved to a quieter part of the West End – but I don’t think I’m hearing as many car alarms going off.  Particularly at night.  I asked a few others about this, and they concurred.
Maybe it was because car owners realized the alarms were being ignored, or reset their sensitivity, or replaced them with bars on the steering wheel, or I’m going deaf.   Whatever.  But thank you, thank you.

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September 30, 2006

Woodwards, a homegrown department store, was once the anchor of the Downtown East Side.
When it closed, it took the economic vitality of the neighbourhood with it.  After years of controversy, a new plan was agreed finally to.  Details here.

But it required the demolition of additions to the original store, seen below in the right middle with the wooden supports. 

Saturday morning, September 30, 8:32 am, marked the end of the old Woodwards.

 $1.49 Day RIP.

There’s now an open space Vancouver has never seen before – and won’t for long. 

UPDATE: Yun Lam Li has just posted a video of the demolition on his website here.  It’s part of what will eventually be “The Reincarnation of W” – a project that began in July and will end with the completion of the building in 2009.   It’s already very Koyaanisqatsi – and still gives a jolt when the blasts go off.

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September 29, 2006

What happened to the buskers?  A few years ago, Robson Street was awash in musicians, and not just on weekends.  Some were pretty good, others a waste of sidewalk space.  Now it’s unusual to head a good sax riff on Granville.  Where did they go?

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September 25, 2006

In my case, the Vancouver-Portland love-affair is literal. I married an Oregonian. But lots of Portlanders and Vancouverites have a platonic relationship, particularly planners, politicians and those interested in urban development.

A busload of admirers from down south showed up a few weeks ago, organized by Metro, the regional government of the Portland area, accompanied by a few reporters. Their stories are now coming in – and you can read this one from the Portland Tribune on the web. Here’s an excerpt:

People drew different lessons from the journey.

Halfway through the trip, Metro planner Marc Guichard stood on the rooftop patio of an eight-story condo tower, complete with putting green and birdhouses, and looked down on an exquisitely landscaped courtyard. Ten years in his field had worn him down, but “I feel revitalized,” he said.

Later, as the bus rolled through suburban Vancouver, Portland developer Bradley Malsin said the Canadian city, with its difficulty keeping jobs downtown, shows that Portland should place more emphasis on supporting jobs-oriented development, especially given the softening of the condo market in Portland.

“I think the residential market is a dangerous one,” he said.

“I saw lots of very cool ways to re-create a downtown that still feels like a community … and gets people out of their cars walking around,” Milwaukie city councilor Carlotta Collette said following the trip. She then turned downright giddy: “I’m charged!”

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September 22, 2006

It used to be that new information on climate change came in every month or so. Now it’s daily, and it’s getting more prominent coverage, as illustrated in the Sun with this close-to-home story on the work of SFU earth-sciences grad Johannes Koch who has been documenting the retreating glaciers of Garibaldi:

 Lots of newspapers ran this lovely, scary map of the Arctic:
“This situation is unlike anything observed in previous record low-ice seasons,” said Mark Drinkwater, of the European Space Agency’s Oceans/Ice Unit. “It is highly imaginable that a ship could have passed from Spitzbergen or Northern Siberia through what is normally pack ice to reach the North Pole without difficulty.”
Ah, good news: soon it will be possible to start drilling for oil and gas, and shipping year-round through the Northwest Passage.
I’m reminded of that 2002 New Yorker cartoon:

(CEO gives a speech at a board meeting): “And so, while the end-of-the-world scenario will be rife with unimaginable horrors, we believe that the pre-end period will be filled with unprecedented opportunities for profit.”

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September 21, 2006

Back in 1989, in my second term on City Council, I vividly remember the week when James Hansen spoke before the U.S. Senate on climate change. Hansen, now Director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, could speak with authority, and he did: global warming was real, it was happening, and for the sake of the planet and civilization, it was time to respond. Here was Science speaking to Power.

Even as a novice politician, I realized that regardless of the urgency, change would come slowly: our economy was based on fossil fuels, and we measured our prosperity by increasing the rate of consumption. But given, as the saying goes, that the economy is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the environment, the public would accept the need for change if properly prepared.

City Council accepted my argument that we as a municipality should start that preparation, and established what became known as the Clouds of Change Task Force. I expected that within a decade, real change in attitude and behaviour would be evident.

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I had read about this before, but didn’t really appreciate it until I saw this picture:

According to Toronto’s Spacing Wire:

In Seoul, South Korea, they managed to both dismantle an elevated expressway that cut through the city, and unearth the Cheonggyecheon, a river buried beneath it.

Just last year, Seoul’s municipal government spent $360 million to have the stream uncovered. Walking along the river now is like being in a real life version of one of those urban planning student’s thesis projects …

The Cheonggyecheon is now lined with walkways, art, historical plaques, and tall grasses. It’s sits below street level in a concrete ravine, with busy roadways on either side. It’s 5.8 kilometers long and at night it’s packed with people. Kids actually swim in it (apparently it’s kept that clean), and adults wade or sit along its edge with their feet in the water.


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