3 Notes

Vancouver Summer Spaces: 2014 Edition

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Photo: VPSN

Last summer, I highlighted the new (some temporary) public spaces that popped up in the city. Here are this year’s new public spaces in Vancouver. Enjoy them while the weather allows.

Urban Reef 

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Each summer, the 500 block of Robson Street (between Howe and Hornby Streets) transforms into a pedestrian plaza featuring a unique seating installation. This summer, it has become an “urban reef” - a series of sections that morph into one another to create a dynamic wave-like form. It was the winning submission as part of the “Robson Redux" design-build competition, selected among 78 entries from as far away as Spain, Japan, and the United States. Urban Reef is a temporary installation from July 1 through Labour Day long weekend (September 1).

Vancouver latest “French Quarter” Parklet
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Photo: Chris Bruntlett

Occupying two parking spaces at the corner of Main Street and 21st Avenue, Vancouver’s latest parklet features relaxing greenery and seating - —and soon will include North America’s first “bike bar”, where locals can sit at a table without getting off their bikes. The project was supported and funded by the adjacent cafe, Chocolaterie de la Nouvelle France, as well as a Kickstarter campaign.

Bute Street Plaza- Davie Village

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Photo: West End Games Night

Bute Street Plaza is considered the ‘Heart of Davie Village’. Located next to the West End’s now famous rainbow crosswalks, this half block of Bute Street has been transformed into a local hangout after introducing several colourful picnic tables.  The City of Vancouver and City Studio are currently working on the Living at Bute Project , which will explore  future possibilities of the Bute Street plaza. With this project, the aim is to bring an inviting “living room” style environment out onto the streets. There is currently a West End Games Night hosted there every Thursday from 5-9pm.

Keys to the Street

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Photo by Jennifer Gauthier

A huge success when it launched last year, Keys to the Streets is back, bringing free, playable pianos to many Vancouver public spaces. Led by a student organization called City Studio, the pianos are available to play from July 1 to August 23, 2014, at eight locations:

  • Creekside Community Centre on the False Creek Seawall.
  • Robson Park at the corner of St. George Street and Kingsway.
  • Spyglass Dock, 1800 Spyglass Place.
  • Strathcona Park, 898 Prior Street
  • Chinatown 188 E Pender
  • Canada Place, 999 Canada Place
  • Stanley Park at the Vancouver Aquarium, 845 Avison Way
  • Lot 19901 West Hastings Street (at Hornby)

Each piano has been deployed outdoors with a rain cover, bench, and a community stewarding organization that will take care of the piano for the duration of the program. When the program ends in August, these pianos are donated to their stewarding organizations.

Point Grey Road

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Photo: Pricetags

A more controversial new public space is Point Grey Road, one of Vancouver’s wealthiest streets that recently closed to vehicle traffic in order to accommodate those on two wheels or feet: cyclists, walkers, runners, strollers, etc.  The road meanders past Vancouver’s wealthiest households and connects to Spanish Banks, Jericho Beach and continues all the way to the University of British Columbia.

6 Notes

Cycling Gets “Chic” for Everyone

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"We live in a cities where cycling is still seen as complicated, dangerous, and political. We want to counter that messaging and prove that it is a fun, safe, enjoyable way to experience your city."

Chris Bruntlett is not your typical cyclist. For him, riding a bike is more than just a mode of transport, it is an enjoyable, healthy way of living for his entire family. In fact, he’d rather you not refer to him as a cyclist at all.

"I am no more an avid cyclist than I am an avid walker or avid eater. I am someone who often uses a bicycle, simply because it is the most civilized, efficient, enjoyable, and economical way to get around my city.”

In the summer of 2010, Chris, his wife Melissa and their two young children, decided to sell the family car and move to a multi-modal commute - relying on public transit, walking and a lot of cycling. 

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Chris and his family

As the Bruntletts began to wholly embrace life on two wheels, they felt the need to normalize the image of cycling in Vancouver. They began to share stories of their experience and raise awareness of local cycling issues by writing articles in the Vancouver bloggosphere. This eventually led to Chris joining forces with David Phu, founder of Vancouver Cycle Chic, a photo blog documenting Vancouver’s stylish people on bikes (the Cycle Chic manifesto is: “Dress for the destination, not the journey”).The website is part of the Cycle Chic Republic — a group of cycling photo blogs around the world that began with Copenhagen Cycle Chic.

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5 Notes

The Baby-Friendly City

imagePhoto: Cascadia Kids

Since having a baby, I have been experiencing my city through a new lens. Before parenthood, I could move through the city relatively freely on my own schedule, with my two feet to move me around.

Now I have a mini companion who needs to nurse every 2-3 hours, frequently soils his pants and mostly travels in a stroller that I haul in and out of stores, onto buses and into public washrooms. This makes getting around my neighbourhood a challenge.

Much has been written about how to create a family-friendly city (i.e have lots of parks,family programs, build larger condos etc.). But, I don’t yet have a kid, I have a baby whose needs are somewhat different than those of an older child. As a result, I am learning that cities aren’t as baby-friendly as they could be.

As I was writing this article, results of the 2013 US census revealed that the strongest population shift toward big cities in the past year has been among the stroller set. It’s time that cities paid more attention to the needs of young families. I am only three months into motherhood, but here are some suggestions for the baby-friendly city.

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4 Notes

50,000 Voices Under One Tent

Inside Talking Transition: New York City’s biggest public engagement project

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Photo: Konstantin Sergeyev

Leave it to New York City to come up with new ways to use a tent. No longer just an outdoor shelter for camping, social events and festivals, the Big Apple recently used one to host its largest ever public engagement exercise, Talking Transition.

Last week, I was invited by the Broadbent Institute to a luncheon with guest speaker Andrea Batista Schlesinger, a deputy director at the Open Society Foundations. She shared lessons from the Society’s Talking Transition program, a massive project centred around building a tent that became a public gathering place to collect ideas from over 50,000 people. The initiative occurred during a pivotal moment when New York City transitioned to a new mayor. 

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4 Notes

How to Throw a Block Party in Vancouver

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Lunch Meet - VPSN block party held in 2012

Summer is the perfect time to get outside and get to know your neighbours. The Vancouver Public Space Network published this excellent guide to throwing a block party in Vancouver (original article here). For more details, visit this City of Vancouver Block Party info page.

Summertime is here! Celebrate the best of the season with some neighbourly fun ‐ plan a block party and bring your street together for some impromptu festivities. The City of Vancouver has a waived permit fees and provides barricades and basic insurance – which makes the process easier than ever. Pick a weekend and transform your street block from road space to vibrant community space.

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9 Notes

Public Spaces Around the World: The ‘Urban Living Room’

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Photos c/o ID Eddy

As a new This City Life feature, I will be profileing a fun, urban public space project each month. This week, I came across Eddy Kaijser, a Rotterdam-based urban designer, who contacted me through the blog. His most recent work, the “Urban Living Room" is a pop-up installation that brings the cozy warmth of the home living room into the city. 

The Urban Living Room consists of your typical living room furnishings: a sofa, chairs, coffee table, dresser and lamp, as well as common objects used in everyday life like a teapot, newspaper rack, plant and even a campfire -  all painted in electric blue. The Living Room’s contemporary furniture was created by leading Dutch designers Dirk van der Kooij, Roderick Vos for Linteloo, Ben Oostrum en Jan Melis. 

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3 Notes

Vancouver celebrates highest voter turnout…..

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…for a vote on the city’s official bird for 2015. This honour was bestowed on the Black-capped Chickadee. With 39 percent of the vote, this tiny, adorable songbird beat out worthy competitors which included the Varied Thrush, Anna’s Hummingbird and the Northern Flicker - in second, third and fourth place respectively (The Pacific Wren and the Pileated Woodpecker garnered only one per cent of the votes each). As official City Bird, the Black-capped Chickadee will be featured in promotional materials for Bird Week in 2015.

In a lead up to the vote, each bird appropriately had a Twitter account where they could tweet their case and amass of following of passionate bird-loving supporters. 

In total, this online poll received more than 700,000 votes. This is about four times more votes than the 144,823 ballots tallied in the last actual Vancouver civic election.

It makes you wonder why we still can’t vote online in civic elections (however, in the city bird competition there was no limit to how many times you could vote). Sure, there are challenges with voter identification, but imagine if we could make civic elections as fun and easy to participate in as   Vancouver’s official bird vote.

Many would say that civic politics is for the birds, but perhaps its time we got as passionate about electing our mayor and local representatives (this November) as we do about choosing our favourite bird.

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Photo: CBC

5 Notes

Happy Mother’s Day

Today is a special Mother’s Day for me, as it is my first one as a Mom. I got the gift of brunch and uninterrupted sleep from my husband (who took on last night’s feedings with a bottle) and Baby Vallen gave me his first big smile (he may have let out some farts afterwards, but I swear the smile was not purely gas-related). Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms, grandmothers, and stepmothers our there. Being a parent really is one of the best, most challenging and rewarding roles there is.

Trying to blog has been pretty difficult with a newborn, but I plan to start again once I get more time between feedings (soon!).

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4 Notes

This City Life’s Newest Addition

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I am excited to share the news that I gave birth to my son, Vallen Robert Neve on April 3rd, 2014 at 5:30am. I am enjoying my time getting to know this little guy, so blogging will be lighter for the next month.

1 Notes

Vancouver’s Third Biennale Launches in April

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In 2006, a large sculpture of an upside down church, entitled Device to Root Out Evil, was erected on Vancouver’s Coal Harbour seawall as part of the city’s Public Art Biennale.

The piece by Dennis Oppenheimer was challenging, though-provoking and stirred debate (Vancouver Sun religion columnist Douglas Todd wrote a good article about it here). Some Vancouverite’s objected to its message, which was interpreted to be about the futility of religion’s attempts to root out evil. Some thought it blocked the view. Others loved it. Eventually in 2008, the Vancouver’s Public Parks Committee voted to take it down and it moved to Calgary, Alberta.

Device to Root Out Evil ultimately demonstrated that public art can provoke dialogue and challenge our beliefs (another powerful and controversial piece of public art was recently unveiled by Issac Cordal in Berlin called Politicians Discussing Global Warming). Or, public art can just be fun and whimsical, inviting people to come together, sit down and enjoy a public space.

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Issac Cordal’s Politicians Discussing Global Warming

Vancouver is launching its third Biennale next month, Every other year, the celebration brings massive works of public art to locations throughout Vancouver and surrounding communities. In April, about 20 public art sculptures will be installed throughout parks and open spaces in Vancouver and another 10 in New Westminster, North Vancouver and Squamish. 92 international artists and 12 Canadian artists will be participating in the event. According to the Vancouver Biennale website:

The curatorial theme of the exhibition is Open Borders / Crossroads Vancouver. Unique in the world for its natural beauty, Vancouver becomes the international hub where artists from all nations, cultural backgrounds, political histories and artistic disciplines gather to celebrate art in public space. Together we inspire creativity, transform thinking and find our interconnectedness as global citizens through art.

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10 Notes

Rewilding a City: The Vancouver Example

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As a young, modern city nestled between the North Shore mountains and surrounded by the Pacific Ocean, it’s not hard to imagine Vancouver’s wild roots.

Even today, black bears still roam people’s backyards on the city’s North Shore, bald eagles nest around the University of British Columbia and whales have been spotted in False Creek on several occasions in the last few years - just last weekend, 100 dolphins and 15 orcas were spotted in Howe Sound.

According to author  J.B. MacKinnon, “Vancouver is known for its connection to nature — a unique quality in a major urban centre. Despite this, our city has dramatically transformed the natural environment.”

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3 Notes

Vancouver Public Space Network Launches New Website

I’ve been volunteering with the Vancouver Public Space Network for two years now and am excited to share some good news about a project I’ve been working on - the launch of our new website!

The Vancouver Public Space Network is a volunteer-driven grassroots organization with over 1500 members dedicated to protecting and enhancing public space for the benefit of all Vancouverites. Through our diverse working groups, we engage in advocacy, outreach, and education across a broad range of public space issues - and we work on some pretty cool public space projects too.

The new site, which includes our popular blog, is a great place to find out about the latest public space events and issues, as well as learn how to get involved in local public space projects. Check us out at www.vancouverpublicspace.ca

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65 Notes

Lessons in More Engaging Citizen Engagement

By Brent Toderian and Jillian Glover

With cities seeking to involve diverse voices in city-making to get beyond “the usual suspects,” Vancouver urbanists Brent Toderian and Jillian Glover examine how cities in their region are finding new ways to increase civic participation.

Originally published on The Planetizen

Credit / West End Mural

As more people choose to live in cities, local governments find themselves facing increasingly complex issues in city-making. Demands for affordable housing and public transit, tensions around gentrification and density, even connecting the dots between city planning and climate change, are just some of the more high-profile critical conversations our cities need. Solutions can come from many places, but smart cities realize that engaging the broad public in the city-making process leads to better answers and a deeper public ownership of our future.

Faced with this knowledge, cities are struggling to develop new and innovative community engagement methods, including those that embrace new technologies, social media, and collaborative design methods, to better bring the public into conversations on the future of city life. Let’s face it—not all of our engagement in recent decades has been very engaging!

This article’s authors have looked across Metro Vancouver (a region known internationally for its public consultation) for recent best practices and lessons in better community engagement. While some new methods are bringing key services online, others are as simple as changing the location of council meetings or getting people walking and talking in their neighbourhoods. All of these lessons involve moving beyond traditional consultation practices that cities have relied on for decades.

Although lessons can come in many forms, and these don’t necessarily represent the “best,” here are ten lessons from Metro Vancouver that we found particularly worth sharing.

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35 Notes

Is Vancouver the First City with a Plan to Tackle Citizen Engagement?

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Photo: Vancouverish

People are not voting in civic elections; staring at their cell phones to avoid smiling and greeting each other; retreating to their homes and the internet instead of engaging in city life.

Civic disengagement and anti-social behaviour affect cities around the world, yet few actually come together with a strategy to deal with the issue. Vancouver may be the first.

In January 2013, the City of Vancouver set up an Engaged City Task Force - a select group of people chosen to develop a strategy that would address citizen engagement in response to low voter turnout, as well as a study released by the Vancouver Foundation that found that many citizens, particularly younger adults and people living in condos, feel less connected to their community. 

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3 Notes

Humans of New York

If you are looking for a website that perfectly captures humanity and city life, follow Humans of New York. Started in November 2010 by photographer Brandon Stanton, over 6,000 portraits have been gathered thus far. According to Brandon:

I began Humans of New York in the summer of 2010. HONY resulted from an idea that I had to construct a photographic census of New York City. I thought it would be really cool to create an exhaustive catalogue of the city’s inhabitants, so I set out to photograph 10,000 New Yorkers and plot their photos on a map. I worked for several months with this goal in mind. But somewhere along the way, HONY began to take on a much different character. I started collecting quotes and short stories from the people I met, and began including these snippets alongside the photographs. Taken together, these portraits and captions became the subject of a vibrant blog, which over the past two years has gained a large daily following. With nearly one million collective followers on Facebook and Tumblr, HONY now provides a worldwide audience with glimpses into the lives of strangers in New York City.

Every day, I check the site and fall in love with the faces, emotions and wisdom captured in his photos of New Yorkers.

"I was 35 when I met her. I was starting to think that there wasn’t anybody out there for me."

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“When my husband was dying, I said: ‘Moe, how am I supposed to live without you?’ He told me: ‘Take the love you have for me and spread it around.’”

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All you need is love.

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"It can be difficult dating a man who loves attention."