What’s Going on with Robson Square?
I work near Robson Square, Vancouver’s only central downtown public space, and have been wondering for the past year what on earth they are doing with the site. It has been constantly under construction since before the Olympics and they are still not done.
What’s the deal? And, more importantly, is it going to become an awesome public square? Because Downtown Vancouver still needs one.
I finally got around to doing a little research, so here is what I gathered.
Robson Square was designed by Vancouver architect Arthur Erickson. It opened in 1978 as part of the Provincial Law Courts and Vancouver Art Gallery. In 1982, a public skating rink was opened (and subsequently closed in 2000).
The Robson Square Renewal Project is a $41 million, multi-year project. A major portion of this work involved lengthening the ice surface of the skating rink, installing new stairs and replacing the current dome roofs and installing clear glass in time to open the area up for public skating during the 2010 Winter Olympics.
Robson Square facing the Vancouver Art Gallery (courtesy of Kirk and Co.)
After that epic party, much of Robson Square closed again (which resulted in packing pedestrians in like sardines as they walk down the 800 block of Robson St.). Apparently this next phase of construction involves replacing the waterproof membranes that underlie Robson Square’s distinctive green roof to prevent rainwater intrusion. There was also the controversial decision to remove the existing gardens, which will apparently be replanted according to the original design (the gardens were designed by legendary Vancouverite landscape architect, Cornelia Oberlander). And finally, the crossing and sidewalks along the 800 block of Robson Street are being made “more accessible” as well as improving access to stairs to the Art Gallery Annex that front onto Robson Street.
All of this information was gathered from the BC government website (so it is their words, not mine). That last part gets me. What does it mean to make that portion of Robson St. “more accessible”? Are they going to keep it closed to vehicles so Vancouver can finally have the central downtown public square we so desperately need???
Remember these good times? Robson Square during the 2010 Winter Olympics (sans cars and buses)
The Vancouver Public Space Network (VPSN) has been advocating for the City to take advantage of the current street closure and traffic re-routing. The Province’s renovation work on Robson Square has facilitated a change in car and transit routing over the past two years. According to the VPSN, this is a golden opportunity for the City to secure the 800-block for a permanent square.
In fact, City Council has unanimously supported this idea, and passed a motion in December 2010 to create “a major public square at 800 Robson Street to coincide with Vancouver’s 125th Anniversary.”
One hiccup: Translink doesn’t want to keep rerouting the buses. In particular, they are uneasy with the idea of a continued re-routing of the #5 Robson bus.
VPSN is encouraging people to consider taking 5 minutes to write a short letter copied to Translink and Mayor Gregor Robertson, stating, “Your letters of support for the closure of the 800-block were part of the reason Council voted to support the idea. It is still very important to let the City and Translink know that you support this important initiative.”
This current restoration phase of Robson Square was set to be completed in spring 2011. I am very curious to see what the final outcome is. What do you think? Should we keep that portion of Robson St. closed to cars or……?
- morethis answered: I kind of disagree with green space vs. concrete space - we need people space.
- rommy answered: We do need more public space. But more importantly more green space. I wish this was a green space initiative and not a concrete one.
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