4 Notes

Athens is Building the World’s Largest City Park


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.


Athens, Greece: not a tree on the horizon.

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9 Notes

Americans Walk the Least


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


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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2 Notes

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


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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103 Notes

Montreal, Je T’Adore


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


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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80 Notes

Vancouver Summer Spaces: 2014 Edition


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 


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

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


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


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


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


"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. 


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


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


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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12 Notes

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


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…..


…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.


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!).


4 Notes

This City Life’s Newest Addition


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.