1 Notes

Hot Pink Paper Campaign Aims to Make Cities Work for Women and Girls

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Hot Pink Paper Launch at Vancouver City Hall

When considering who represents the marginalized in cities, we are arguably more likely to think of senior citizens, people with disabilities - even cyclists - before women and girls.

In preparation for November’s civic election, an organization called Women Transforming Cities is raising awareness of issues for women and girls living in cities - and dressing them up in the most feminine of colours - with its Hot Pink Paper Campaign.

"Women and girls are angry that they work for cities but cities aren’t working for women and girls. Key issues include alienation of young women, lack of electoral representation, and the need for adequately paying jobs," says Co-Chair of Women Transforming Cities and former Vancouver City Councillor Ellen Woodsworth.

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5 Notes

On the Road in America’s National Parks and Forests (and Other Vacation Observations)

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Me and my dad in Hood River Valley, OR (had a quick day together here while both enroute to my sister’s Vegas wedding)

My family and I just spent a week on a road trip to Hood River, Oregon, and the Columbia Gorge, Washington. We then flew to Las Vegas for my sister’s wedding and did a side trip to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Since I missed a blog post last week, here some quick observations and photos from my trip: 

1.) I ended up spending a lot of time in America’s National Parks and Forests, including the Grand Canyon, Mount Hood and the Kaibab Forest. After spending time on highways with billboards, fast food restaurants, and shopping malls, these areas are an oasis of untouched nature. I can see why they are one considered one of America’s greatest achievements.

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Rocking a Baby Bjorn in the Grand Canyon

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2 Notes

The Guardian Cities and UN-Habitat’s “World Cities Day Challenge”

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The High Line Park, an aerial greenway built on a disused New York Central Railroad spur. Photograph: Richard Levine/Alamy

I was recently asked by the Guardian Cities and UN-Habitat to make a submission to the World Cities Day Challenge. The contest involves participants from around the world showcasing their city’s best idea that other cities should adopt:

"Every city has different ideas that make it great, from the first skyscrapers and metros in New York and London to more recent innovations like congestion charging, bike sharing, buried expressways or floating schools. What unique venture can your city boast to the rest of the world – something that would make a real difference to the lives of residents of other cities?"

I recently found out that my submission, which is Metro Vancouver’s Green Zone, was chosen and I will be representing Vancouver on October 31st. On that day, readers worldwide will be able to follow from city to city, ask follow-up questions of the presenters and debate which ideas they like best. An expert panel including UN-Habitat representatives and Guardian Cities editors (and a few surprise special guests) will assess the presentations, and announce the winning city at the end of the day.

More details to come! 

3 Notes

PARK(ing) Day 2014 Around the World

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PARK(ing) Day in Dublin, Ireland (Photo: Archiseek)

Last Friday was PARK(ing) Day, an annual celebration to reclaim the streets from cars, or more specifically, transforming parking spaces into parks for a day.

The concept is simple - pay for a parking space anywhere in the city and get as creative as you want by turning a slab of concrete into a place where humans (not cars), can sit, relax, and socialize with other humans (not cars).

The mission of PARK(ing) Day, which started in San Francisco in 2005, is to call attention to the need for more urban open space, to generate critical debate around how public space is created and allocated, and to improve the quality of urban human habitat. It has since has evolved into a global movement.

Here are some highlights of this year’s PARK(ing) Day celebrations:

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6 Notes

Athens is Building the World’s Largest City Park

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Hellenikon Metropolitan Park, Artist Rendering

Over 15 years ago, I visited Athens as a teenager on my first trip to Europe. I was on a high school tour of Italy and Greece. After seeing the gorgeous architecture and lively, pristine streets of Rome, Florence, Sorrento and Capri, lets just say Athens was disappointing (and that’s putting it mildly).

The Greek capital city was polluted, crowded and chaotic - and not that charming urban variety you might refer to when describing New York City or London. There was nowhere to go if you wanted to escape the crush of traffic, crowds and noise that come with living in a dense city.

In fact, my most vivid memory of Athens is standing atop the Acropolis and looking out at a smoggy sea of white buildings without a single tree or green space in sight.

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Athens, Greece: not a tree on the horizon.

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21 Notes

Americans Walk the Least

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The bigger the house, the further you are from community, the more you drive, the more stuff you need to fill that home and oil you need to get there/create that stuff, and the more we destroy the planet trying to get that oil - it’s that simple.

I truly believe that smaller homes in denser, walkable communities can save the planet. It’s why I write about it and share those ideas with people around the world. America and many other countries need to wake up.

National Geographic publishes a 17-nation “Greendex” study on, among many other things, transit use and walking.  In 2012, Americans came in dead last on both indices, and it wasn’t close.

Kaid Benfield, Special Counsel for Urban Solutions, Natural Resources Defense Council, recently wrote about why this is happening in his piece, “American’s Don’t Walk Much and I Don’t Blame Them.”

Read more here.

2 Notes

The Reimagined Bus Stop

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Smiljan Radic with the Zwing bus stop

Perhaps the dullest of urban experiences is waiting at a bus stop. Yet few cities have explored how to make it more pleasant. The first community to actively reimagine the lowly bus stop is not even a city.

Earlier this year, the tiny Austrian village of Krumbach (it has a population of around 1,000 people) formed a cultural association and launched the Bus:Stop project to boost the number of tourists who already visit the surrounding scenic Bregenzerwald area.

Hoping to promote an international exchange of ideas, the association invited seven renowned architectural firms from around the world – Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto, Wang Shu’s Amateur Architecture Studio from China, Norwegian studio RintalaEggertsson ArchitectsEnsamble Studio from Spain, Chilean architect Smiljan Radic, Architecten de Vylder Vinck Taillieu from Belgium and Russian architect Alexander Brodsky – to design bus stops around the village in exchange for - what else - a holiday there (this is to promote tourism after all). 

In addition to the city’s cultural association, the local community of Krumbach rallied together to make the project happen. Local sponsors including hotel and inn owners, craft workers and business people provided the majority of the funding and services to support the process.

The results are impressive - stacked wood planks, a forest of thin steel rods, a triangular Alps-ispired design, a tennis court viewing platform, an archaic tower and more.

The bus stops were inaugurated on May 1st and an exhibition documenting the design and construction process is currently on show at the Vai Vorarlberger Architektur Institut in the city of Dornbirn.

Hopefully, the world’s biggest cities can one day build bus stops as innovative is a tiny town in Austria did. Check out the results below.*

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4 Notes

From Manolo Blahniks to Birkenstocks: Are Walkable Cities Impacting Fashion Trends?

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Photo: Lucky Mag

Last year, when some of the fashion blogs I followed were talking about Birkenstocks coming back in style, I laughed it off as a ridiculous fad. I would never be caught dead in shoes that are solely for hippies and German tourists (pun intended). 

Then I became a new mom in the summertime, who needed to get around her walkable neighbourhood in a comfortable shoe that could be slipped on and off easily. So I succumbed to the trend and bought a pair, and I have been living in them all summer. It helps to know I am totally on trend.

According to The Guardian, Birkenstock’s two-strap Arizona is the “style du jour,” having made an appearance in the Céline spring/summer 2013 collection in Paris.

"That silhouette was universally considered ugly," Vogue contributor Katherine Bernard told the magazine in July 2013. “But [Céline designer] Phoebe Philo’s luxe reinterpretation got me thinking. It’s the most comfortable sandal in the world having a stylish renaissance.”

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104 Notes

Montreal, Je T’Adore

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10 years ago, I went to Montreal for the first time on a whim. I was 20 years old, living in Ottawa and working for the Canadian government when I had just found out that my mother had breast cancer. Right after I received this upsetting news, a French Canadian guy - who I’d only met a few weeks earlier - invited me to hang out with him in Montreal. I was in such an emotional state that I decided to risk it and go spend time with someone I barely knew and have him show me his city.

From that day forward, I fell madly in love with Montreal (not the boy, though - we remained friends and thankfully my mom recovered from cancer shortly after). I have gone back every few years since then, including spending three weeks in a French immersion program, just a few years after my first visit.

When I returned to the city last week with my husband and son, I was reminded why I love Montreal. Here are my ten favourite things - in no particular order - about North America’s coolest city.

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7 Notes

Vancouver’s First Urban Tree Nursery Opens in the Downtown Eastside

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Carbon dioxide absorbers. Oxygen providers. A source of shade from the elements. Added peace and beauty to gritty urban streets. Trees provide all of these benefits, making them essential to city life. However they are rarely nursed and grown to maturity in the city. A couple of Business Improvement Associations in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside decided to change that notion.

A few weeks ago, the inner city neighbourhoods of Strathcona and Hastings Crossing opened Vancouver’s first urban tree nursery. Through the Strathcona BIA and Hastings Crossing BIA, 14 young trees were planted in locally manufactured, raised planters along Hastings Street. 

"We wanted to improve the Hastings retail area with more greenery. But rather than simply adding nice planters, we decided to do something with greater long term social impact, and came upon the idea of a nursery that is cared for by the community," said Strathcona BIA Sustainability Coordinator, Meg O’Shea.

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81 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 Vancouver’s new public spaces this year. 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 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 rainbow crosswalks, this half block of Bute Street was transformed into a local hangout after introducing several colourful picnic tables.  The City of Vancouver and a student organization called City Studio are currently working on the Living at Bute Project , which will explore  future possibilities of the Bute Street plaza. The aim is to bring an inviting “living room” style environment 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. 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. It 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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6 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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