Archive for the ‘placemaking’ Category
The city in question is actually Copenhagen. Which is why it piqued my interest. You mean Copenhagen has a congestion problem? I thought they were the model we were supposed to be following. It has all those bicycles – and the space between the buildings is dealt with properly. People can not only walk they can also sit outside if they want to. But they still have congestion?
Partly the answer is of course they do because congestion is not so much a problem as evidence of success. Detroit does not have congestion any more. Moreover, in a flourishing city, traffic expands to fill the space available and congestion occurs at the times when most people want to travel. That is why traffic engineers and transport economists spend so much effort on peak hours and the journey to work. Indeed if congestion is just the banal observation that it takes longer to drive when everyone else does than when the roads are empty, it is a pretty pointless pursuit trying to “cure” it at all. Something Todd Littman has dealt with far more effectively than I could.
There is no magic bullet, but there is a set of approaches which can be adapted to the needs and geography of places – which are all different. No single solution or technology solves every problem – and not all “problems” are going to be completely resolved. We can, however, aim for better solutions and compromises which dissatisfy everybody to the least extent possible.
So what this article identifies is a set of schemes to serve areas which do not have the sort of public transport mode share as the rest of the city region. In fact it is the same problem we have. Copenhagen has a metro and all day, every day, bidirectional passenger rail services. I have to use that awkward phrase in case any of my readers still think “commuter rail” exists outside of a few North American cities. The reason they get 25% of the trips made by the population living near stations on trains is that there is a service all day and every day – and it goes to more than one destination.
Actually that in itself is a significant figure. What do you think they do for the other 75% of the trips? Yes bikes will take care of some of it, as will walking but most will be in cars. And these light rail lines are proposed for the areas that only get a 5% mode share for transit – just like most of our region.
I think it is also significant that the entire article has not a single money figure in it anywhere. If you tried to write a newspaper piece about transit here, someone is bound to ask “How much is this going to cost?” and “Who is going to pay for that?” (which actually means “not me!”) What it does stress is the importance of the network – and of selecting the “ best value corridors that the city ought to prioritise” – which sounds familiar, doesn’t it? “political opposition and questionable profitability could derail these and other proposed light rail lines” – is that Copenhagen or Surrey vs Vancouver? Except here no-one would use the words “profitability” and “transit” in the same sentence.
It also points out the silliness of thinking in terms of some future point when the present set of schemes have all been realized as an end state. It isn’t, and never will be, because there is always going to be more to do. The important thing is chose the right direction to go in. That was something we had done once – the Livable Region Strategy – which was not perfect by any means but did make the priorities clear. And then the provincial government simply ignored it and went on doing what it has always done – built more and bigger freeways. If those resources had been devoted to transit network expansion, we would be looking at a different set of problems – but we would not have solved them all. Let alone “cured congestion”. But then we weren’t trying to. We were just aiming at “increased transportation choice” – which was expressed as a target transit mode share at various dates into the future. Except that the mode share target was always 17% of all trips and the years just kept being put off into the future.
I understand that the Mayors and the Minster are now sitting down and trying to come up with some funding proposal for Translink. Presumably something that she can flourish on the eve of election day. Yawn.
“When free enterprisers have something worth fighting for, we win,” Christy Clark last night
“Win” meaning “win elections”. Free enterprise has also brought us ocean gyres full of plastic waste, global warming trending well beyond 2°C, unaffordable housing and persistent homelessness, the crash of 2008 … the list is endless. When they “win” everybody else loses.
Gordon Price posts several times a day to his Price Tags blog. I impose a much less demanding schedule on myself. But I also use flickr for pictures – because I can put text with them there, so it can be a bit blog like, now and again. One of his posts this morning is about photographing cherry blossoms. And why – in his opinion – the results are not as gratifying as seeing them In Real Life. It is of course quite true that our eye sees things differently to the camera – but then that is what photographers (and painters before them) have always played around with. And also be it noted that we are looking at these pictures on some kind of illuminated screen. So I have much less control over things like size or what else appears in the vicinity on your screen. Lots of flickr posters instruct their viewers to switch to a black background. I also print some of my pictures to go on the wall, or as greeting cards and one off books, which look far better than any photo album ever did. But on paper, they are different to on the screen.
The first one was actually used by the Vancouver Observer on their facebook page – they rotate through their flickr group regularly, but you can see more than one by clicking on their cover picture to enlarge it and then using the right arrow on that image. And the reason I put it there was I had seen a tree in bloom in Quilchena Park on March 18 – a day when the mountains were covered in fresh snow. I liked the deep blue sky as a background so I shot looking upwards into the tree. I would have liked the mountains in there somehow – but that angle wasn’t available at the time. Someone using one of my pictures has always seemed to me to be an endorsement (that’s why I use Creative Commons licensing). And they used a much tighter crop than mine.
Over the Easter weekend many more trees had blossomed. And when we went to get some groceries I took my camera along to take some shots of them.
This last image is from a much smaller tree, newly planted, which still had a label attached to it which identifies the species. Hence my title. These are not actually cherry trees. They are, mostly, plums. This one is Night Purple Leaf Plum (Prunus Ceracifera Nigra) which is why when I now post the inevitable, irresistible blossom pictures to flckr, I use the Japanese word “sakura” to describe them. Because otherwise some tree expert will be sure to correct me.
Just enjoy the pictures. When the sun was shining you could have gone out and seen them yourself. Now the clouds have returned, I hope these images brighten your day.
The need for this post stems from the use of twitter. In 140 characters you can be witty, snappy, concise – though a lot of people aren’t. And the back and forth can look like a debate, or sometimes just a trading a fixed positions. This one started because Gordon Price tweets the posts on his blog – just as I do mine. But instead of there being a debate under the blog post, this one took – or rather – is taking place – on twitter. And it needs a bit more ventilation than that.
It started with A Radical Old Idea for the intersection of Burrard and Cornwall. “Essentially it would square up the intersection, making it much more like a typical part of the classic Vancouver grid, adding some green space while retaining the number of lanes and capacity.” I suggested that more could be achieved if it was given a more radical treatment. And Richard Campbell responded that shared space is less safe for cyclists and pedestrians – especially pedestrians with disabilities.
This has now cropped up again with the release of a new video about the reconstruction of a major intersection at Poynton in Cheshire, UK. While a lot of shared spaces treatments have been successful in residential areas (“Woonerfs” for instance) their use on urban arterials is still controversial
Exhibition Road in Kensington London is another example of shared space treatment of a very busy combined arterial road and urban shopping street. I am pointing to a discussion of that scheme as opposed to a diatribe – or even a peer reviewed learned journal article, because I think there is indeed need for an exchange of views. As opposed to trading blows between preconceived positions.
One thing does need to be stated at the outset, and that is that places are – and should be – different, and local people need to be consulted about what they want to see happen in the places where they live. Even a peer reviewed paper can be distracting when the “before” situation looks a lot more like shared space already (compared to typical Vancouver arterial intersections) – and the objectives seem to be a lot less clear than Poynton.
Obviously Burrard and Cornwall is not directly comparable to Poynton. There is much less retail activity in the immediate vicinity, for instance. And the only thing that the current City proposal seems to want to achieve is keep the intersection working as it does now, but get some more green space. Poynton’s objectives were much grander – lets try and rescue our village from economic oblivion. I also found it very encouraging that there are now more cyclists there than less- and that vulnerable pedestrians (a mum with a stroller and toddler, a lady in a wheel chair, blind people with and without guides) all find the new arrangements preferable. There is also a sort of chorus, from locals who were at least skeptical if not outrightly hostile but who now support the scheme.
It is indeed possible to find other examples that were less successful, but that does not damn the whole approach. It simply illustrates that these things need to be designed carefully, and you may well need to go back and redo some things in the light of experience. What is clear is that our present obsession with concentrating on keeping the cars moving quickly is not working from the perspective of other road users. Furthermore, the conventional road safety approach of adding barriers, signs, signals and hard landscaping not only proves unsatisfactory in terms of improving overall safety – but fails in terms of place making. Because what Poynton wanted to do was create a place where people would want to linger. If they spend more time there, they might well spend more money. They might actually enjoy visiting Poynton, and go there more often, instead of the out of town superstores and big box centres.
But what is also clear is that when humans are enclosed in steel safety cages, and look at the world through a screen, they miss all the signals that we are so good at sending each other – nonverbally. Which is why pedestrians tend not to collide with each other very much. Unlike motor vehicles. And when motor vehicles collide with pedestrians and cyclists it is not the driver of the vehicle that gets hurt. Taking cars out of the mix works – but only by creating more car only streets. Places where people who are not driving are forbidden – and speeds are increased. Collisions are fewer but of much more frightening intensity. Cities evolved long before motor vehicles were invented, and the experience of getting cars – and car drivers – to behave better within cities has always required them to slow down and pay attention to other road users.
Shared space does seem to me to more productive of overall urbanity than an all out war on the car, and one that is likely to be much more successful – on a whole range of measures, including collision numbers and severities.
That’s the trouble with talk radio. In between the adverts for cars and the best deal on tires, someone accuses you of saying something you didn’t say. It is not “either/or” (roads or transit) – at least becuase the road expansion is well under way and in the case of Port Mann/Highway #1 nearing completion. And I really do not expect a magic bullet or a tooth fairy to fund it – both things that got discussed before we got to the callers. In fact I think the callers got lined up before I started speaking. They evidently weren’t listening.
But just supposing someone was listening to CKNW this morning and got intrigued this is what I am prescribing.
We spent $3bn on a bridge and have to pay that loan down, so users are stuck with tolls for the bridge until it’s paid off. Meanwhile we have to find a way to fund transit expansion. It is not enough to come up with a formula that enables Translink to carry on as now – or allow some modest increase. We need a way to to ensure that transit can grow its market share. The current plan for 2040 is way too modest in my view. We need much more and quicker than that.
I am also disenchanted with dedicated funding sources. The problem is that if you tie your funding source to something that is also going to change behaviour – and you are successful – then you are stymied. To some extent that has happened with the gas tax – and also happens with the carbon tax. I also dislike user fees – for the same reason. Pricing something is a good way to reduce consumption. It is also unfair to those who have little income – and therefore very little discretion on how to spend it. Of course those who are comfortable are quite happy to state that since they can afford the fee, everyone else should be willing to shoulder the same burden. Except, of course, they do not share the same ability to do so.
The right wing has seized the agenda on taxes and made us convinced that income and corporate taxes have to be reduced in order to make us more competitive. That has simply got us engaged in a race to the bottom. We now work longer – households need multiple sources of income – in order to just stay where we were. Real incomes have declined. We may have the lowest income tax but that is only because we now pay through a variety of fees and charges for the same services – or rather in many cases, a reduced set of services. Plus a greater reliance on sales taxes.
We continue to subsidize fossil fuels – both nationally and provincially. The latest expansions of natural gas exploitation are being achieved with a concession of NO payment of royalties to the province. The expansion of the oil sands in Alberta is only possible because of an extraordinarily favourable tax treatment. In both cases we would be much better off leaving it in the ground. For one thing the planet cannot tolerate the current rate of increase in carbon emissions. Since the IPCC’s warnings on climate change, CO2 output has not only increased, the rate of change has also increased. Fossil fuels left in the ground would also become much more valuable in future – because there are so many other things you can do with them other than simply burning them, all of which have much great value added and many of which are going to be very difficult to do in future.
So I am advocating a two pronged approach.
1. Stop funding silly things (subsidies to oil and gas, F35 jets, mega-prisons ….)
2. Increase income tax for the rich and corporations – as well as a switch of enforcement away from chasing small amounts from the poor to the huge sums squirrelled away illegally in tax havens.
You will note that these funds then have to come from the federal government as well as the provincial government. This is intentional. Canada is the only advanced western economy that does not have a national transit program.
Senior Government support has to extend to operating funds as well as capital funds. We also should stop collecting tax from transit agencies – it is ludicrous that we levy a tax to pay for transit on fuel burned in transit buses.
I am not going to suggest that we abandon private sector partnerships altogether. But if we are going to do them, we have to transfer the risk to the private sector. Translink revenues are being dragged down by the deal on the Golden Ears. It is unconscionable that money raised to pay for transit is being paid to a private company who built a road bridge we don’t need – and which cannot be paid for from tolls – which is what they promised initially. We also have to look long and hard at why Macquarie Bank is still getting paid long after the P3 for the Port Mann fell apart, and the project proceeded with public funding.
There are two aspects to this – what we build and where we build it.
Currently the priorities appear to be first the Evergreen Line and then – probably – a subway to UBC (though that is not set in stone, yet). Like the Port Mann, let us assume that the Evergeen Line is a done deal. It may not be the best one, but it is too late to change.
If we commit to building a subway to UBC it will be because the current B-Line “cannot be expanded” and is overloaded, and the idea of light rail down Broadway, or more elevated concrete structure for SkyTrain, is intolerable on the West Side of Vancouver (but not anywhere else in the Lower Mainland, apparently). It will also mean that the part of the region that currently enjoys the best transit service will get more and, absent a new funding arrangement for transit, that means less everywhere else.
The callers to CKNW this morning were appalled by the idea that they could be expected to use a bus. I cannot say I blame them, given what they know of bus service here. But if we are going to persuade people to get out of their cars and use transit, it is going to have to meet at least some of their needs some of the time. We also need to make the newer, better services widely available. Our current approach seems to – and does – favour some parts of the region over others. In part that is because the operator, being cash strapped, has to concentrate resources in areas where they get the most return. So if there is a ridership, there will be service – not the other way round. That is why things never change. Because we keep doing what we have always done.
So in future we will have to see some innovation. And in some cases that means taking a risk with a new kind of service, in a place that doesn’t see it now. When the railways first got into the commuter business, at the end of the nineteenth century, there were no suburbs. They built out into green fields, and hoped that those would become new subdivisions. A bit like the way the transcontinental railway was built – in the expectation that they would encourage settlement in what were then seen as “empty” areas. Indeed, that was also the way that the interstate highways got taken over by people driving to and from work. Because subdivisions popped up like mushrooms after rain, right next to the off ramps.
So if we have the ability to build rapid transit, it can only go to places that will see rapid and sustained increases in population. When the Expo Line was built through the East Side of Vancouver the residents of the areas around the stations were mostly successful in resisting an increase in density. We cannot afford that again. This seems to me to be a linkage that would allow for investment – and is a model in use in Hong Kong. There, the Mass Transit agency is a property developer. If that makes you queasy, turn it on its head, and come up with an experienced developer who knows how to do high density, mixed use development and create some kind of vehicle that ties the risks and rewards into producing transit and transit oriented development together. Stop thinking about transit – and transportation – as an end in itself. It never has been. It has always been inextricably linked with land use. Instead of building a new transit line and handing much of the increase in land value to a few lucky land owners and developers, indulge in some “joined up thinking” and get a better built environment and less car dependance on the same dime.
But rapid transit is hideously expensive – almost as much as building massive highways and bridges – and relatively limited in its reach. And we need solutions for a very wide area, where mostly people drive themselves around in single occupant vehicles. So we start by tackling the paradigms of ownership and use – since most cars sit idle most of the time, and only one or two of their seats are ever occupied. That means breaking down the barriers we have erected – mostly to protect transit. The rules we now use came into being once car ownership began to spread after World War one, and “jitneys” threatened the viability of the (private companies’) transit systems. We are already seeing the impact of widespread, mobile information systems on car sharing. It would be even more rapid if it were not for these obsolete rules. Indeed, even those lucky enough to have operating licences apparently cannot make money because of the way the rules are applied.
I do not advocate a free for all deregulation – but I do think that there is obvious potential when entrepreneurs keep popping up with ideas that seem to work but get slapped down – mainly to protect vested interests. It is also the case that even where transit service is good, people can come up with other services that appear to meet local needs better. So obviously there needs to be some kind of oversight, but the rules need to be drawn up to protect the broader public interest, and not just the narrow “economic interest” of the industry, as our current regulator has it. In some respects, with the creation of a new smartcard payment system, giving multimodal regionwide access, Translink actually will have a useful tool to ensure cooperation. So the same card that you swipe to ride the bus or SkyTrain could also get you a shared taxi, or a even an exclusive ride in a shared car, like car2go. It is instructive that modo – the car coop – expands in areas that are well served by transit. It is complementary – not competitive – to the transit system. You cannot expand the reach of transit deep onto low density single family home areas with a 40 foot diesel bus. And there are limits to what can be done with shared rides and demand responsive systems. The DART in HandyDART once meant “Dial a Ride” – but you now have to book days in advance and be qualified. The service that results satisfies no-one, but contains the germ of an idea that ought to be allowed to flourish, and benefit from the extra-ordinary explosion of information abilities of smart phones.
It is significant, I think that the companies that need to hire bright young minds now provide bus service to get their employees to the workplace. The buses they use look nothing like a transit bus – they have wifi on board for a start – and do not pick up at bus stop signs. But a new app allows them to be mapped. I am willing to bet that the man who upbraided me this morning for expecting him to use something as slow and cumbersome as our current transit service would be quite happy to get on board one of these. The IT aspect means that all our current practices of mapping and scheduling can be discarded. The routes can be adapted on the fly, in real time, to meet changing need. The rigidity of regulation means that Greyhound can’t adapt service levels to changing needs the way Bolt Bus (its subsidiary) can. The same paradigm starts to make suburban shared ride services look feasible even of they don’t look a lot like transit does now – and maybe that is a good thing in and of itself.
One of the reasons young people do not want a car – or a mortgage – is because we have loaded them down with student debt. Until they pay that off, a car loan or a 25 year mortgage is neither practical or appealing. Moreover, they no longer use the same systems we did to get in touch with each other. They have texts, twitter and Facebook. Almost anything can be set up on the fly – just ask the Occupy movement.
I really doubt that it is possible to win over everyone to using transit and I am not even willing to try. There will always be some people driving everywhere all the time – just steadily less of them as a percentage of the total. After all, we could not cope with a sudden influx to transit – as the UPass so convincingly demonstrated. The way we built the Canada Line showed we had not really thought through what “change modal split” actually meant. There already enough people who want to use transit – and who want to use it more often – but are frustrated, to provide a significant increment in transit use. The increase in service just to meet those desires would also bring in more riders, as service frequencies and reach would make those services more attractive. This is the benevolent cycle of growth that has been seen in so many other cities that have stuck consistently to expanding transit. We, on the other hand, seem so besotted with short term point scoring that we are going to enter the other spiral – where cost cutting reduces service, and thus ridership and thus to further cuts. I am convinced that these systems will always respond to these dynamics. There is no steady state. It is either growth or decline.
So the strategy I am suggesting is for conventional transit to incrementally add to its service – which means, right now, more buses. And more exclusive bus lanes – by taking road space away from single occupant vehicles. As demand grows, more limited stop and express routes – creating a hub and spoke system based on town centres, supported by an intricate and much more varied web of feeder services. That means space at the hubs has to be provided for bike storage, or shared bikes, as well as park and ride, kiss and ride, shared cars and station cars and shuttle buses. Rapid transit stations are, of course, hubs – as well as centres of mixed use, denser development – because they are within walking distance of so many services and facilities. I doubt that there will be many new rail based services added for a while – but obviously if there is an underused rail corridor available it must be pressed into use. Freight gets to use the lines when people are sleeping. Where there are highways, there will be rapid bus services – with priority where needed. At the very least so that those who insist on driving can have the educational experience of seeing the bus swish past them while they are stuck in traffic. Elsewhere it will have to be more and better buses – and the whole panoply of related “Better than the bus, cheaper than your own car” services.
Since we have hobbled public enterprises, and are convinced of their ineffectiveness, the expansion has to incorporate private enterprise. But we should look long and hard at what we are doing before we do it. Compare and contrast BC Hydro before and after IPPs, for instance. Learn from the experience of Britain with its railway privatization – or the Underground in London – and benefit from their experience.
There is no one simple solution – because although the problem looks straightforward (how to pay for transit) it is in reality complex and difficult because of all the connections. Politicians like big capital projects because they get to cut a ribbon. But what is needed is a whole range of small, incremental changes, and a shift in mind set. Mostly it needs a change in the way that government behaves.
This is my second attempt at posting about the continued closure of Robson Street between Hornby and Howe. Originally the closure was supposed to be temporary, ending on Labour Day, but has now been extended. My first effort was to have been linked to my pictures of the Viva Vancouver “Pop Rocks” which are posted as a set on flickr. I must admit I got a bit frustrated with the WordPress layout, which did not seem to work the way I wanted it to. I also began to realize that the issues are more complex.
The closure applies to cyclists as well as motorized traffic – but enough cyclists seem to ignore that to create conflict.
Trying to get those two images side by side instead of on top of each other was where I got stuck last time. I also began to realize that this opens a whole new can of worms. Originally I just wanted to celebrate the closure of the street to cars – which happens a lot everywhere else around the world but hardly at all in Vancouver. Not only that but Charles Gauthier of the DVBIA was already pontificating – he is very predictable in his opposition to such ideas – and I felt that there needed to be some response.
This morning, I got a copy of a letter from Transport Action British Columbia that has been sent to the City Council. As I have said here before, I am a member of that organization. I am reproducing the letter here as I think it deserves a wider audience. It raises the issue of how this street closure impacts transit users – which is why I chose the Translink notice as the top picture on this post. Instead of using Granville Street – the main artery and linear exchange for transit in downtown – Route #5 now goes via Burrard Street.
Transport Action British Columbia is NOT against street closures to traffic (like the DVBIA seems to be, on principle) but rather how street closures need to be carefully examined when they impact transit users. Cities are also much better places when they give priority to pedestrians – as the City of Vancouver’s Transport Plan has long recognized but has not implemented very effectively. Some of our pedestrian places – Robson Square and Jack Poole Plaza ( Google doesn’t label it) do not work very well at all. So my initial enthusiasm for this particular closure is waning rapidly.
September 4, 2012
Vancouver City Council
Mayor Robertson and Councillors:
Re: Permanent Closure of Robson Street Between Hornby and Howe
Transport Action BC is concerned with the City’s decision to extend the Robson Street closure between Howe and Hornby Streets for an extended trial that is seems intended to become permanent. The closure has serious implications for transit users that must be considered.
The bus re-route around the closure is circuitous, particularly for those on Robson wishing to use the Canada Line or southbound buses on Granville Mall. TransLink schedules five to seven minutes travel time from Robson & Burrard to Pender & Granville. Transit users wishing to travel south then spend more time getting back to Robson Street. Thus, transit riders are penalised over ten minutes for every one-way trip compared to the direct route on Robson. Walking to Granville Street from Burrard & Robson is quicker for transit connections but this is unattractive for seniors or those with mobility aids, and even less attractive in the wetter, colder months. Additionally, the re-route forces an additional transfer on those who wish to board the Canada Line at City Centre Station.
The net effect of the closure from a transit customer’s perspective is highly unfavourable. Anyone with a choice between transit and driving will find driving relatively more direct and attractive while those without access to a car are taken needlessly out of their way and forced to make additional transfers.
Creating active, pedestrian plazas is laudable. However, it is ironic that in a city aiming to be “green”, the two streets chosen for long-term “activations” are major transit corridors. By routinely diverting transit from these streets the City is reducing the legibility, directness and overall attractiveness of transit. Meanwhile, no effort is spared in providing on-street parking on other streets where corner bulges and wider sidewalks could make permanent improvements in walking conditions throughout the city. Existing plazas, such as those at Robson Square, the Art Gallery and Main Library function far below their potential, presenting off-street opportunities for improving pedestrian amenities.
We suggest that the City take a more holistic view of its transportation priorities before making a final decision on permanently closing the 800 block of Robson to transit. Such considerations must also figure prominently in Viva Vancouver’s seasonal closures.
Buses will play a major role in Vancouver long into the future. It is time surface transit received more respect from City Hall.
CC: Councillor A. Carr; Charles Gauthier – Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association; TransLink Board of Directors
Secretary – Transport Action British Columbia
There is now a nice video by Spacing Magazine – they have it on their blog and so does Gordon Price. But I thought I should embed it here – just becuase I can. Worth seeing in HD and fullscreen if you can
This is a bit of a departure for this blog. Generally speaking I tend to leave issues like landscape and gardening to the experts. In this weekend’s Vancouver Sun their gardening correspondent Steve Whysall has a longish piece about pleaching. As it happens, when we were in Paris recently we not only saw the results of pleaching, we also saw how it was done which means I have some photos – which had been on my hard drive and, until now, had not been posted to flickr. So, as with the piece about the Bombardier LRV mockup, I am going to try to do something in both channels.
Pleaching is a type of pruning on trees that produces a flat top and sides – essentially a box sort of shape. As Whysall remarks it’s “a classy way to give a street, courtyard, square, boulevard or avenue an elegant, formal look.” He wonders why it is not done more here, and I think the answer is simply that the traditions of gardening in France and England are different. The style most popular for the parks around the stately home were those fist adopted by Capability Brown. His style was to “perfect” a natural appearance and it almost completely replaced the formal patterns of gardens that preceded him. The formality of gardens in France, on the other had, tended to be preserved, although I was pleased to note that places like Versailles and Chantilly have English gardens in the Brown style.
Whysall says “There is no denying it is a time-consuming exercise. It requires skilled workers and it is probably an expensive process.” This is based on his observations of some pleachers in Chartres. And he is probably right about what he saw there, as he is an expert at what he writes. The approach at the Luxembourg Gardens which I observed was rather different.
In the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris, for example, long avenues of giant chestnut trees have been pleached to create a superb formal, almost sculptural garden architecture with sufficient space underneath for people to sit, even have a picnic.
But that is done with a truck mounted crane, on which the arm at the top has mounted a series of circular saws. This can be used vertically or horizontally – and looks very much like the large economy version of what happens to cedar hedges here all the time. The truck moves forward slowly and the top – or the side – of the tree is just taken off. This is quite unlike the selective pruning used for most trees to promote tree health and vigour. Rather it is a simple matter of keeping the spread of the canopy in check.
It is an approach which we would like to see applied more in Vancouver for very selfish reasons. If you have a north facing window on the top floor of a six storey building put up around 30 years ago, you will have noticed that your view of the North Shore Mountains is steadily decreased every year, as the trees, planted at around the same time the building went up, reach maturity.
There was the notorious case of the West End resident who was so annoyed by the loss of her view that she simply poisoned the trees responsible for it – even though they were city trees planted in the boulevard. She was convicted and fined, but the social opprobrium heaped upon her was so great that she felt forced to leave town. Some people – make that many people – feel deep affection for trees, all trees. And cannot bear to see them “damaged” in any way. Which, of course, lead to the great Stanley Park disaster, when large numbers of trees were lost in a windstorm and tree management policies were subsequently revised to be more pro-active.
Update: July 28, 2012
This morning, on a short walk for a different purpose I saw something that reminded me I had intended to add to this post a while back. One of the nicest features of the west side of Vancouver are the narrow residential streets where the trees meet overhead, forming a green tunnel. I think that much of what Whysall wrote in his original Sun piece is quite simply wrong. Pleaching is not exactly highly skilled if you can do it with a large and rather brutal piece of machinery, and the result does not necessarily produce a better result – certainly not if you are looking for shade. The way these trees have been allowed to grow creates a more inviting, human space. So in terms of streetscape I do not want to see more pleaching. Yes, it would be nice if the sixth floor view was clearer – but living in cities means we have to learn to get along with other people. The lessons of history are that the people who planned cities who did not actually like people (Hausmann, Robert Moses, le Corbusier) did not produce spaces that worked well for everyone.
There is a longish piece in the Guardian today about what is expected to be the legacy of the Olympics on East London. The title cites Newham and the Carpenters estate. In fact the article ranges further than that – discussing Tower Hamlets and Hackney as well. My interest is because I spent the first 18 years of my life in Newham – though somewhat to the east of the area in question in what for much of that time was East Ham. My family moved out of the area soon after I left for university, and I have not been back for more than very brief visits since. Even so I accept that if anywhere needs regeneration it is the area around Stratford, which used to be mostly railway facilities and a network of declining industries known as the Bow Back Rivers. It is also true that the man who ran the locks on the canal used to answer the phone by announcing “Bow Locks”.
Now the summer Olympics is a much bigger deal than the winter Olympics, and in London it is all on one site not split as it was here. But the immediate similarity struck me – the victims in our case being the unfortunate residents of a BC Housing estate on the edge of the Olympic site in Queen Elizabeth Park. That site was cleared – though BC politicians were vehement in their denials that the removal of the tenants was anything to do with the Olympics. And the expected development has still not yet happened.
The other Olympic legacies here are the Sea to Sky Highway – which lead to a variety of residential developments in and near Squamish based on the newer shorter commute times by car to Vancouver – and the Canada Line, and lots of high rise residential towers in Richmond, with again much displacement of waterside industry. Not to mention the Olympic Village in Vancouver, which at long last seems to be getting going as a community with its own grocery store opening last week.
The other influence on my thinking is this recent article from Spacing Vancouver about Tom Slater the “unabashedly subjective” gentrification researcher.
in the opening chapter of his upcoming book Fighting Gentrification, he realized that “a different picture of gentrification emerges if one takes the trouble to talk to those who do not stand to profit from the rising costs of land and real estate.”
So he made himself a promise. “I felt that I had a civic duty to be critical in the work that I was doing, and to present a story that captured the predicament of the people living at the bottom of the class structure. So that became, if you like, my mission,” Slater said.
And if you read what the residents of the Carpenters Estate are saying, it reads very much like what his interviewee says in that article – or what the residents of Little Mountain have been saying.
”I think that the Olympics has lost me my home.” She has lived on the Carpenters for 40 years and is disinclined to depart quietly. “I think they’re gonna have to come in here and drag me out. Why should somebody be able to force you out of your home? A home that’s got nothing wrong with it, that’s standing solid? I do not want to go.”
There is also some very relevant stuff about what people want – and it isn’t high rises
She [London's outgoing Olympic legacy chief, Margaret Ford] gathered intelligence for the masterplan on “mystery shopping” excursions – chatting to people in cafes and the old Stratford shopping centre. “They wanted front gardens, back gardens for their kids to play in, really good lighting, lots of storage space, nice green spaces, somewhere they can afford and a decent school – it’s not bloody rocket science.”
Hat tip to Ron Richings who circulated this to the trans-action Google group
For more photos of successful urban places that have removed cars, go to the flickr group I created “Places without cars“
Spacing Road Show – SFU 28 June 2011
“Talking Urbanism & City Design from Coast to Coast”
Said that the city is “thrilled by the partnership” with the magazine (the event was also part of the consultation on the transportation plan). This “collaboration raises our cool factor” because there is a different demographic for this event compared to the people we usually see at City events. He stressed that although it was partly about transportation they “want to go beyond how we move to how we be in space”. He cited Jan Gehl’s experience in Copenhagen when he recommended street cafes: the Danes said “We’re not Italians” but their behaviour has since changed and they now embrace street life.
The City wants to emphasize public space: “we are increasingly taking civic life to the next level and the riot will not derail the process”.
Spacing publisher Matthew Blackett
Started by thanking the sponsors who had made the road trip possible. This was the best turnout so far . The collaboration with re:place now means that spacingvancouver.ca is on line. Spacing started in 2002 in Toronto by a group of “urban curious” people looking at public space issues. They felt that the professionals understood the issue, the need was to convince the regular resident. It was to become an outlet to talk about public space issues. Transit for instance was treated as a exclusive concern but instead of dealing with “silos”, we should also be talking about density, development, design. One of the earliest issues that they dealt with was postering. The fight to save private (non-c0mmercial) postering. “Freedom of speech is a thjousand times more beautiful than clean lamp posts.” There have been 20 issues to date. Each covers a theme – water, transit etc and they use local blogs “to do daily stuff”.
They hit upon the idea of using buttons as fund raisers. They are cheap to produce but people are willing to pay for them. They have since added magnets. These were based on the designs used for subway stations but without TTC logo and over 200,000 have been sold! They have also tried highway buttons, and on the city’s anniversary former component city logos (names like East York which disappeared with amalgamation but still command local loyalties). Don Cherry’s recent remark sparked the response with pinko buttons “left wing pinko” “bike riding pinko” sold 30,000 sold – nationally. They attempted to get an endorsement by promising funds for Cherry’s anti cancer charity but he responded “There [sic] still left wing pinkos to me” !
There is now a cross Canada urban blog network. The tour launches the first (paper) national issue. They have found that there are the same issues in every city – transit, waterfronts, public space, community, neighbourhood. In the most recent survey they picked Vancouver’s Seawall as Canada’s best urban public space. The top ten list also included Granville Island.
Erin O’Melinn (Vancouver Public Space Network)
Her presentation can be found here.
She created the map above of the top ten spaces in Vancouver which showed that they are all together around the core. This may be because of the “great transportation opportunities”. In great public space, cars are not king and “it feels like an outing, different from everyday”. Getting there is part of the experience. People don’t want a carnival band in their backyard. She also pointed to the failure of Jack Poole plaza and the “underbelly of Robson Square”. We are repurposing transportation spaces: streets can do that but where does mobility fit in? There are problems in giving up a street for a longer period of time than one parade day. Places being lively is what is important not current transportation patterns.
He opened by commenting on the low average age of the audience: “something is going on”. He wanted to explore their ” generational perspective”.
He said that the were two kinds of public spaces – destinations and “on the way”. His own personal favourite space is 2nd beach – which is part of what makes the Seawall great. Vancouver is shaped around 19th century streetcar grid. He cited the intersection of Denman and Robson where the two gas stations have gone. It was once typical of the motordom city but has since transformed. In his view the streetcar city is the best form that has been developed.
There is no Vancouver equivalent to Pioneer Square in Portland [OR]. “We have no left over spaces”. Although Pigeon Park was left over from the interurban. When we want to celebrate, we stop traffic – 72nd and Scott Road in Surrey – how did they chose that?
He found the question “what are your public spaces” to be highly subjective. It depend on the way you interact with the city. He asked what is the process of selection? There was a short list of 50 across the region that included Surrey and the North Shore [none of which survived the selection process]He said that it is not only hard to define, but how do you choose between them?
is the senior editor of Spacing and specializes in the long “psycho-geographic walk”. He said that he felt as though “I am on a business trip cheating on my partner” (i.e. the City of Toronto).
Why we did a national issue was the discovery that in indierock circles they speak of “Monronto” i.e. despite the claimed differences between the two cities as far as indie rockers are concerned they are the same. Canada is an urban nation. A lot of that so called identity junk would drop away if we recognized that. 80% of us are NOT rural . Our day to day lives have nothing to do with the Rockies or the Prairie. We have to slowly shift our idea of what Canada is. It is very significant that cities were not mentioned once in the recent national election debate.
We do urbanism really well in Canada
What makes these spaces successful?
Erick – connections
Gordon – The blue green edge: all human beings attracted to it. Loops. For most of the history of the city the waterfront was not open. False Creek is even more recent. The 8 to 10 km loop is an ideal workout. Can choose to cut it off and don’t need to retrace your steps
Erin – permanent – move through space – uncertainty about what to do with ourselves when we have spare time. You can walk and you don’t need to talk. There are no awkward silences. You feel like you are doing something.
Shaun – In Toronto people are in a constant state of anxiety but they make eye contact in Vancouver.
Toronto is now, slowly, embracing its beach culture – the height of modernity meeting nature. he cited the intersection of Denman and Davie as one the best examples of Vancouver’s public space.
What can Vanvouver export (to other Canadian cities)?
Gordon – Waterfront as public realm, and not commercialised
Erick – Transportation : Commercial Drive shows how it is done – the mix of commerce and movement is the foundation of good cities
Gordon – Issue of the car: transportation choice no 1 is still the car. We tried to create spaces without cars – Leg in Boot Square – doesn’t work at all. Can’t drive to it or stop at it. We had to acknowldge that without auto access it doesn’t work.
Erick – Public spaces are also good places for anarchy. Vancouver has no gathering space at City Hall compared to Toronto – we protest in front of the Art Gallery. Van designed that deliberately. You have to expect that and can’t be afraid of it.
Gordon – the fireworks are a good example –and show that we can do a big public gathering. We need a hard surface wired for sound and light
Erin – the riot was after a series of games: there was a huge build up of the “us vs them” mentality. The lesson is that we should not leave the crowd to their own devices
Shaun – “kindling is everywhere” – We ought to focus on the 99% of the time when everyone is on the streets and it works. Creation of Nathan Philips Square – Terry Fox and the Iraq protest. No do dads
- places just happen organically
- people take to the streets because there isn’t anywhere else
- arterial roads becoming cruising strips
- the success of Granville Street
Toderian sum up – importance of not moving through: to get twice as many people you either have to attract more people which creates pressure on transportation OR you encourage people to stay twice as long (Jan Gehl). That is what should have been talked about.
I must admit to some reluctance to attend this event. I spend most of my time on line and I do not buy “dead tree” glossy magazines with adverts. I have no subscriptions now to any paper publications. I also am deeply suspicious of anything sponsored by big banks in general and BMO in particular. Their only interest is in increasing their own, already immense, profitability.
It also seems quite out of place for this to be a car based road trip. Yes they brought their bikes and went for long walks but driving across Canada seems a bizarre way to connect into the need to reduce auto-dependency in cities. The magazine is nicely produced and the advertising not too intrusive. Clearly like the federal government funding they get, it helps and does not get in the way much. The use of buttons as fund raisers is clever, but I already have way too many buttons as in this city they get given away at so many events. If anyone wants Vancouver transit buttons, let me know. I will happily pass them along as they just sit in a drawer.
I was very pleased with Toderian’s summary as he captured exactly what I was thinking. The riot is a huge distraction. The media love it, as do the political reactionaries. Public space is needed for large, relatively infrequent events. But it is much more important to get the everyday right. What I learned at the last provincial election in East Richmond is that we have no public space at all. Everywhere that people gather is private space. Unlike Steveston – which has the waterfront – all we have is a dog walking park. And strip malls – private land, where canvassers can be told to leave. If I wanted to hold a rally, I would have to use a school playing field – which is all that our parks are. There is nowhere here to linger and people watch. Good public spaces positively encourage loitering. And while benches were mentioned, no one highlighted the significance of movable tables and chairs, which have been the key to success in converting streets in Manhattan to livable public spaces.
Tyler Harbottle, in the Tyee, does not seem to think so. Although he does find “two renegades who do urge a rush to the barricades. Bianca Mugyenyi and Yves Engler are authors of a new book, Stop Signs: Cars and Capitalism: On the Road to Economic, Social and Ecological Decay, a war-chest of facts, figures and arguments identifying cars as enemies of the people.” So perhaps there ought to be.
There certainly is an on going battle – or perhaps more of a rear guard action – between car advocates and cycling advocates. There is an especially nasty anti cyclist rant dressed up as news in the Courier this morning. What the car advocates fail to point out is that they have had it pretty much their own way for the last hundred years. And the results have not been pretty. There are also people who do, quite deliberately, target cyclists on the road and take pleasure in scaring them – and then hurling abuse. It is a form of road rage. There are also drivers – possibly the same individuals – who hate any other vehicle that gets in their way. Just drive at the speed limit on any road in Greater Vancouver and they will quickly identify themselves. Of course, there is not a lot they can do to intimidate trucks and buses – but they make life as difficult for them as they can. These people are essentially psychopathic – or have an anti-social disorder to use the latest jargon. Sadly some of them seem to be able to command a significant audience in the main stream media. Mostly, the politicians favoured by the elite do the bidding of the corporations – and on the whole they are still wedded to automobiles for themselves and as many as they can foist on the rest of us. It still suits their agenda, even though it is short sighted and self destructive.
Unfortunately, lost in the cyclists versus car drivers debate is all the important stuff about what sort of place we want to live in, what our transportation choices have been doing to us and the place we live in and the planet we depend on. Notice too, how hard the car lobby tries to put the label of “moral superiority” on cyclists – and, by extension, anyone who has the temerity to suggest that we need more and better alternatives to driving everywhere. I suspect that is because they are aware at some level that they have already lost the argument. Cars did not bring us the great benefits they promised – and much of the time we spend in our cars is evidence that the system we have constructed – and are still constructing for it will never ever be enough – does not work very well even in its own terms. We do not have the freedom, mobility or accessibility we were promised. What we do have is, quite literally, killing us. And there are better ways of doing things that have been working well for many years in other places. And we cannot go on as we are.
Cycling is going to be part of our future. So is walking and so is mass transportation of various kinds. Individual motorized transportation has got to be limited and reduced. And, on the whole, that will prove to be a boon. For while it seemed, once upon a time, that increased car use would have benefits, it is quite clear to anyone who has the requisite capability of making a rational assessment, that the costs of widespread car use far outweigh those benefits. Of course, in the media it is not arguments or facts that matter. Its the narrative – and the small c conservatives have understood how to do that better. Because they have had to, as reality has had a nasty habit of hitting them in the face. But, as we now know, they are immune to facts.