Nature & Public Spaces
March 22, 2013

"Are you not sure that you do not support this project? Yes or No?”

This may be one big inside joke – but for any landscape architect, particularly those working at the municipal level, you’ll probably get them all.
It’s a take-off on the Iron Chef competitions – by (and between) Ted Uhlrich, Manager of Parks Planning for the City of Surrey (the Challenger), and Tiina Mack, the Manager of Park Development for the Vancouver Park Board (the Iron LA)
You’ll find it in the current issue of Sitelines, on pages 14 and 15 of the pdf.
Here’s a taste:
This is definitely a battle of up-and-comer vs. established veteran: Surrey vs. Vancouver –Studio Stadium style!

The Chair reveals the secret ingredient: Public Process!

What a challenge, Vancouver with its AAA, “aged for 28 days” neighbourhoods and very “tangy” community groups.  Surrey with its “retropolitan” highway oriented dining offset by a multitude of cultural cuisines from every corner of the world. …

In a move that is either incredibly bold or insane, the Challenger attempts building the project without a public meeting. The public goes crazy! His only explanation to the camera, “The funding from the Province was only available until the end of March and I have forty more projects to complete by the end of next week.” He throws out the work to date and starts from the beginning.

Meanwhile on the Iron LA’s side of the studio, an intense community focus group led by a pricy independent facilitator is in full swing. Community members keep repeating, “We are the crème de la crème,” but are politely ushered to the sidelines; despite the facilitator’s best efforts, this meeting ends in a stalemate and the project is temporarily delayed.

The Challenger has reengaged the public and is seeing some benefits, unfortunately the discussion gets sidetracked by concerns about the number of parking spots residents have for their home and the fact there are ten portables at the local school that opened ten months ago. He resorts to a cleverly worded feedback form: “Are you not sure that you do not support this project? Yes or No?”

More of that here – on pp 14-15.

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Street works for greenways – notably for the new Comox-Helmcken route – make what seem to be small changes in the fabric of the city – and yet we end up with a whole new outfit. The planners have designed an active wardrobe for Comox Street and the construction crews are currently cutting the cloth:
From this:

To this:

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Here’s the pattern:

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But there are clearly changes to the cut.  The plan calls for parking to removed on this block of Comox, but instead they’re incising the north boulevard to retain some spots while still providing room for the separated bike path:

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It’s at the intersections where the greatest differences are evident – where the pedestrians, given the new narrowness of the street, will comfortably have the right-of-way.

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Part 1 here.  Plans for Comox Greenway here.

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Not the shoot of the crocus in the dirt or the bud of the cherry on the branch.  I mean the asphalt in the road of the greenway to come:

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This stretch of the Comox-Helmcken Greenway is under construction, soon to look like this:

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Sorry for the pathetic little pic; that’s the size the City posts here, with more details on the project.

These three blocks of Comox west of Denman were part of one of the first greenways in North America when constructed with special pavers, furniture and tree lighting back in the early 1970s.  The story of this traffic calming project – maybe the first of its kind in North America – is worthy of retelling.  Which I’ll do in a subsequent post.

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Down on Coal Harbour Green … Art!

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Above, a few examples from  “Blooming Britain” –  by Julie Henry and Debbie Bragg.

This is an installation as part of Wild New Territories,  a series of exhibitions, outdoor works, performances and workshops co-curated by Ron den Daas and Kathy Kenny.

It’s also a case where the context changes the intent of the art – at least as I interpreted it.

The formal description:

This series of prints depict amateur gardeners in postindustrial regions around the UK. An inquiry into the dynamics between public display and the gardeners’ social standing, the gardens function as blank canvases for people’s stories and imagery.

For me it was the contrast between two high-rise, high-density environments: one in which the British gardeners had claimed their own space in these post-war projects and literally cultivated an expression of their individuality, and the other, at Coal Harbour (no individual gardens here) where an icy formality expressed the affluence of the condo-owners and the collective responsibility of the Park Board.

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Even though Adam Fitch is working up in Thompson-Nicola, he’s keeping his hand in when it comes to Lower Mainland issues.  Notably, on the op-ed page of the Vancouver Sun today:

The most appropriate solution (for rapid-transit to UBC), with due consideration for costs, regional transit priorities (i.e. Surrey, etc.) and time frame (10 years from now to build the subway at a minimum) is to build a mainly street-level light rail along the CPR corridor, the Arbutus corridor, and West 16th Avenue to UBC. Compare this route with a Broadway subway on cost, construction time and capacity, and it prevails.

And in my email box, with this proposal to elevate Robson Square:

 
  • A simple circular plaza, elevated over Robson Street – a large new space for gathering and temporary installations
  • Accessed by stairs and spiral ramps, contains numerous glass panels to minimize shading
  • Allows buses to pass through on Robson Street.
  • Provides shade and weather protection on Robson Street.
  • Enables pedestrian bridges over Hornby Street and Howe Street, to connect to adjacent buildings – Sears/Nordstroms, for example
  • An iconic piece of architecture.

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[Oh look over there: Isn’t that Cornelia Oberlander reaching for a pitchfork?)

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First, go here: a view of Delancy Street South in New York City, next to the Williamsburg Bridge.  (If you get the aerial shot, click to go to streetview.)

And then go further up the street by following the white line, placing the little oval at “Williamsburg” with your mouse and clicking.  Or just click your way north up Delancy Street until the seasons change.

If your browser experience was like mine, the transition, from gray to green, will speak for itself.  Use your mouse to swivel around, and see where you came from, now brightened by the foliage of spring.

These blocks – or at least the surface parking lots – are where Manhattan planners think density could go, to avoid disturbing already-developed parts of the city.  You can see the parking lots more clearly here – which makes one realize how few such undeveloped places there are in this part of the city.  For a full list of other potential sites, go to the article mentioned below: Everybody Inhale, top of the second page.

In other words, thriving inner cities are getting down to the last open spaces left – typically surface parking lots and brownfield sites – as well as boosting densities to accommodate the numbers their research tells them are coming.

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