February 21 2013

Democratizing Urban Design: A Public Square for Downtown Vancouver, British Columbia

Vancouver, British Columbia can only be described as picturesque; mountain framed and seaside, the city begs to be photographed and experienced by tourists and locals alike. Along with the gorgeous scenery and temperate climate has arisen a high demand for real estate in the downtown peninsula, which has gradually resulted in a real lack of public outdoor space. During the 2010 Winter Olympics and for the past two summers, the 800 block of Robson Street, which runs through the center of the downtown area, has been closed to traffic, permitting space for vendors, rotating public art installations and groups of people to enjoy the space framed by the Vancouver Art Gallery and the Law Courts.

Summer openings of the 800 Block of Robson Street have brought life and community to the squareThe temporary public space has been such a success that the City of Vancouver, in conjunction with the Vancouver Public Space Network (VPSN), have launched a public consultation process to determine whether the block will eventually be permanently closed to car traffic. This closure would result in Vancouver’s only true public square in the downtown core. The consultation process represents an interesting shift toward the democratization of urban design.

The Fall 2012 initiative included:

  • Public events outlining expected outcomes on traffic patterns and usage;
  • The creation of a Robson Street List-serv (targeted electronic mailing list) by the VPSN to keep interested parties up to date with site developments;
  • A Twitter campaign with a designated hashtag;
  • A public online survey;
  • A letter-writing campaign and petition written by the VPSN.

The Robson Street square is fractured by the opening of the street to car trafficWhile the permanent status of the 800 block of Robson Street remains uncertain, residents and public space advocates alike are already preparing for this summer’s re-opening to pedestrians. Viva Vancouver, a city-run program that looks to transform streets into public spaces, is again accepting applications for artists and vendors looking to bring life to the square. The consultation process has now come to an end, and Vancouver residents and other interested parties are encouraged to follow updates online. While the summer openings are certainly a start toward inclusive public space creation in the downtown core, there remains a steep uphill climb for Vancouverites seeking a permanent square.

How can cities better consult with citizens on public space creation? Does the value of public space speak louder than the monetary value of real estate development?

Credits: Images linked to source and by Katherine Elliott. Data linked to sources.

Courtney McLaughlin

Courtney McLaughlin holds an undergraduate degree in Communication Studies from Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. An avid traveler, her interests are public space modification in Canadian cities and sustainable urban planning. As an aspiring landscape architect, Courtney is particularly fascinated by the interplay of landscape architecture, public space, and urban power structures. During her time writing for The Grid, Courtney reported on urban developments in Vancouver, a city frequently named one of the world’s “most liveable” urban locations. Her blog posts explored how this title has been maintained through sustainable and accessible urban design decisions that pride themselves on community engagement.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, February 21st, 2013 at 9:02 am and is filed under Community/Economic Development, Environment, Environmental Design, Infrastructure, Internet Marketing, Land Use, Social/Demographics, Technology, Transportation, Urban Development/Real Estate, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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