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.
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.
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.”
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
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
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.
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.
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."
“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.’”
All you need is love.
"It can be difficult dating a man who loves attention."
View of Downtown Vancouver from my neighbourhood
Tumblr reminded me that my blog is three years old today.
Since then, This City Life has introduced me to many people around the world who are doing inspiring work to make cities better. I am grateful to be part of the conversation.
Photograph by: Jason Payne , PNG
Last year, a small park in an emerging hipster Vancouver neighbourhood called Main Street was unofficially named “Dude Chilling Park” by local residents.
The park is actually called Guelph Park, but a sign was created by artist Viktor Briestensky and designed to mirror the format of other Vancouver city park signs. Its original location was near a Michael Dennis sculpture of a lounging figure - now known as the “Dude Chilling” - in the park.
When park staff noticed the sign last November, it was taken down. But an outpouring of support for the sign through social media led the park board to reconsider. According to a petition launched by Dustin Bromley:
For years, Guelph Park has been known as, “You know, that park like a block north of Kingsgate Mall?”. It has been under appreciated, and mostly occupied by empty bottles of mouthwash.
The park itself is great! Boasting grassy knolls, a playground, and even tennis courts, it is a great place for you and your furry friend to relax and unwind after a rough day at work.
By renaming this lovely rectangle of grass to “Dude Chilling Park”, people will give this little rectangle of nature the respect and attention it deserves. We all witnessed how much attention the park gained from just one day of social media posts on the internet. Imagine how much that attention can grow, given a little time and nurturing. Dude Chilling Park will become a destination, a place to meet with friends. Imagine a visitor from Toronto sharing his photo relaxing with the “chilling dude”, instead of just another boring picture of him riding the downtown bull statue.
After a vote Monday night, the Vancouver Park Board is making the “Dude Chilling Park” sign a permanent installation, having approved the sign as a new piece of public art.
Now the world has taken notice. Well, late night talk show host, Jimmy Kimmel has. You can watch his comments here. According to Kimmel:
“Between Dude Chilling Park and Rob Ford, I might have to move to Canada.”
This week the UK newspaper, The Guardian, launched a new section - The Guardian Cities - devoted to ideas, discussion and predictions about cities all over the planet:
More than half of the world’s population now live in a city, with the number of urban residents increasing by 60 million each year – that’s two new urbanites every second. It is a relentless rate of expansion that will see over 70% of the global population living in urban areas by 2050, requiring the equivalent of a new city of 1 million built every five days between now and then.
These mindboggling figures make impressive headlines for breathless reports on urbanisation, to be regurgitated at conferences across the globe, but such statistics are meaningless without asking what these cities will be like, who they are for, and how they are being made.
That’s why we are launching the Guardian Cities site, as an open platform for critical discussion and debate about the issues facing the world’s metropolitan centres, from the future of housing and transport, to public space and infrastructure;, from the nature of planning and governance, to energy and security – along with the forces of change that can’t always be planned for. What happens to cities subject to conflict and natural disaster, industrial meltdown and financial collapse?
Featuring regular contributions from established experts and new voices, we’ll be peeling back the glossy veneer of the computer renderings, and going beyond the facts and figures of the city sales pitch, to ask what our future cities will actually be like – and how we can influence them for the better.
Representing Vancouver, The City Life is featured as one of the best city blogs around the world. There are some excellent blogs to explore on the map. I look forward to more global insights on urbanism from these blogs and The Guardian Cities.
Aerial View of Coquitlam - a Metro Vancouver suburb.
More studies show that young people in North America - the millennial generation - are forgoing car ownership and choosing to live in cities over suburbs. These findings may get urbanists exchanging high-fives at their successful redesign of downtown centres, but I am not convinced that we should be celebrating yet.
It only took a recent trip to IKEA to confirm that the suburban dream is alive and well. In a panic at having not started creating a nursery for our future son (due in a few months), last weekend my husband and I took a trip out to the suburbs to visit IKEA. The place was full of young families –all between the ages of 25-40 – buying furniture for their suburban homes and packing that furniture into their personal vehicles. They were not riding bikes to their downtown condos like this admirable fellow in Denmark:
IKEA Denmark lends out bicycles equipped with trailers at its stores.
First of all, I love the idea that more young people are going to reject suburban sprawl in favour of living downtown in condos - and maybe we will see more families living in the city, riding bikes with trailers for their kids, using car share programs and cramming their stollers onto crowded buses and trains.
It’s the time of year when the holidays are over, the Christmas lights have come down and it’s still dark outside. But, it doesn’t have to be another three months of dreary winter. Many cities use the seasonal darkness as an opportunity to celebrate light - by holding festivals and exhibiting beautiful light installations throughout the urban core. Here are some examples around the world.
Montreal’s Speech Bubble Street Lights - the Atlantic Cities recently featured Montreal’s new comic-book inspired speech bubble street lights. Conceptualized by Turn Me On Design, the ”Idée-Ô-rama" project won a winter lights competition in 2012. This past December, over 70 speech bubble lamps were installed along the Avenue du Mont-Royal. Each features winter-themed characters and symbols designed by artists Astro and Jean-François Poliquin. The lights grow brighter with nightfall.
As 2013 comes to an end, I am grateful for the many wonderful things that happened in my life this year; to live in a beautiful city; to have a space where I can express my thoughts and share stories on urban life; and for the people around the world who are doing great work to make cities better.
I wish you all a happy, healthy and prosperous 2014.
Here are the top five This City Life posts for 2013:
Looking forward to 2014.
Imagine having to carry your belongings with you at all times. You would not be able to go to a doctor’s appointment or job interview, fill out a housing application, or even use a restroom without risking the loss of all your possessions. That is the reality for people living on the streets.
It’s impossible to fully understand the hardships faced by the city’s homeless population. Some wonder why they struggle to find employment and housing, yet few realize the barriers they face, including carrying their belongings wherever they go. In Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, the First United Church recognized this and developed a storage facility- the only facility of its kind in the Metro Vancouver – that provides 200 units of free storage to homeless people living in the Downtown Eastside.
First United Storage Facility user speaks about it benefits for the indiegogo campaign video
Jillian Glover works in communications and media relations. Her passion in that space is connecting with people about urban issues.
Jillian writes about cities at a few places online, including her own blog — This City Life.
Her writing is paying off. This City Life was recently named one of the Top 10 urban blogs on Tumblr. Jillian is also a contributor at Sustainable Cities Collective and This Big City.
We often talk about design details on Urbanism Speakeasy. This week our focus is on the everyday observations around a city. Jillian lives in Vancouver, Canada, but I can already tell you her observations and insights will resonate with you regardless of your hometown.