Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Art: Car-Free

 A great image by artist Tatsuro Kiuchi @ the Tokyo Illustrators Society. I'm sure a lot of people would love our roads to look like this. Nifty!


Walter Siegmund @ Wiki Commons

Monday, September 27, 2010

Public Space: Turn the Vancouver Art Gallery back into a Courthouse

Re: Globe and Mail's Article Turn art gallery building back into courthouse, B.C.’s top judge says

Last Thursday, I worked the box office at the Playhouse Theatre for Sam Sullivan's Public Salon series and I stayed long enough to hear Mr. Justice Lance Finch of the BC Court of Appeal speak. Justice Finch has a novel idea for the old Courthouse-cum-Art Gallery: Turn it back into a Courthouse if and when the VAG moves out. He says,
“Beyond meeting the needs of the court for more space, reclamation of the courthouse as a courthouse will serve a more important function. It will restore and preserve this beautiful heritage building for a purpose, in a form, and in a dignified setting worthy of its origins.”

Lord Byng Visit 1922 - Vancouver Archives CVA 99-1190

Victory Bond Rally,1942 - Vancouver Archives CVA 1184-1442

 This idea definitely caught my attention. The Courthouse has served, more or less, as Vancouver's 'centre' ever since the City shifted westward from its old core in Gastown/DTES. It has been the site of many city gatherings and continues to be the City's main protest grounds (since it's the closest thing to a 'civic' presence in the downtown core given that the City Hall is up on Cambie and well, it's a darn good place to be seen). Turning the old building back into a functioning courthouse will serve a few purposes. As Justice Finch said, it will re-endow the building as a symbol of justice and democracy. Also, it will change public space in the city for the better:
 He said the exterior of the complex has sometimes been cluttered, especially at the north end of the property where trucks, trailers, tents and other vehicles sometimes obscure the building. But, he told the forum, it could become an “open green space” to underline Vancouver’s commitment to “open beauty.”
The side of the Courthouse with the fountain, actually called Centennial Square (not that anyone knows this, but there is actually a plaque with this written on it there), has lost its purpose. Back in the day, the Courthouse lawns the entrance to the courts and were a great gathering space. This space had a major set back in the mid 1960s when the Premier, W.A.C Bennett, undertook a secretive building project for BC's centennial: the Centennial Fountain that now sits at its centre.

The Premier went to extreme lengths to keep the fountain's design a secret until its unveiling. The construction of the fountain in Vancouver's most important public spaces was extremely controversial and was even considered part of a conspiracy to break up the square to make it less viable for large demonstrations. During construction, large hoardings (painted in the So-Cred's party colours) were erected to keep out prying eyes. Vancouver City Mayor Bill Rathie demanded to be let in on the project and when push came to shove, the Mayor invited citizens to what became known as the Great Paint-In.

Vancouver Archives - CVA 1551-7
Professional and amateur artists flocked to the site and used the hoardings as their canvass. It became extremely popular and people from across the region came to see the works. The Mayor even held his own contest and bought the piece he liked the most. International media even picked up on the event. It was a huge success in civil engagement.

In the end the fountain was revealed in a ceremony in 1966 and the Courthouse square was changed forever. One review of the fountain suggested it was better suited to provide a backdrop in a strip joint (my personal favourite).

When the Courthouse became the Art Gallery in 1983, another controversial thing happened to the square: The main entrance to the building was closed on Georgia and re-located to Robson Street. It effectively demoted the grand gathering place to a lesser existence.

Back to the story at hand: By re-converting the building to a practical purpose would re-open the Georgia Street entrance and would go a long way to restoring this important and central public space to its former glory. As it stands, Justice Finch is correct: this space is 'obscure'. There isn't any real design to the square, no 'real' function, and hold two hideous entities that break up the space and that can potentially be moved elsewhere: the fountain and the Olympic countdown clock. Okay, fine - the fountain can stay.

Justice Finch's proposal deserves a look and should definitely be considered when the Art Gallery moves on.

Events: Greenest City Idea Slam / Call for artists

From the Vancouver Public Spaces Blog:
Friday, October 1 – Greenest City Idea Slam

We’re very pleased to announce our latest collaboration with the City of Vancouver and SFU’s City Program: a “Dragon’s Den”-style event that showcases some of the top ideas from the City’s Greenest City project.

If Vancouver is going to be the greenest city in the world it will need to capitalize off of the creative talents of a whole lot of people and a whole lot of new ideas. The Greenest City Idea Slam will be hosted by CBC’s Bill Richardson and will feature a blue ribbon panel of experts, artists and creative minds dialoguing and debating the top ideas that citizens have come up with in the “Talk Green To Us” forum. (You can vote for your favourite ideas on the website –

This is a great chance to see an idea jam on some of the coolest urban sustainability concepts presently in circulation… and have a darn good time in the process.

The panel event will take place at the SFU Woodward’s Fei and Milton Wong Experimental Theatre. Poet laureate Brad Cran and musicians Veda Hille and Maria in the Shower will among event animators while Jaime Kowal and Ryan Tomkinson will share art and photography. And that’s just the beginning of the fun. The public are encouraged to attend but must register for the event as space is limited:

This won’t be your regular panel discussion. Sign up now and plan to attend!

:: Want more info? Visit the Talk Green To Me website –
Call for Artists and Creatives - Illustrate Our Transformation into the Greenest City.

Are you an aspiring artist, designer or photographer? The good folks at Green the City will be presenting a variety slide show of “Green City” themes as part of the aforementioned Oct 1 Greenest City event. They’ve got a call out for some artistic expertise and are looking for images that riff off of the theme “Where have we come from and where are we going?” Share your images and visual creations (archival mash-ups, conceptual renderings, photoshop madness… documenting Vancouver’s green past, present and future).

It’s easy to participate. Check out this month’s assignment below, and submit your images and artwork to The top-notch work that you submit will be broadcast live as part of the event!

:: To send in your work – submit [at]

Friday, September 24, 2010

Businesses for Bikes

Hey all,

I got this from a fellow collegue at Vancouver Public Space Network. If you own a business and support cycling infrastructure, or know someone who does, this may interest you!
Businesses for Bikes seeks to create a robust group of businesses that openly support cycling. It seeks to supply businesses with the tools and resources to reach the cycling consumer; empower employees to ride safely and confidently; and help create a more vibrant community and local economy.

Here's how your organization can be a part of it:

Become a member of Businesses for Bikes. On our program launch on Sept. 28th we will include a list of member organizations and their testimonials in our press release and on our websites. There is no cost - this is to help increase the awareness that cycling can be GOOD for business in the face of opposition to developments like the Hornby lane.

Provide a short testimonial on explaining why cycling is good for your business and email it to

Please contact me with any questions or to register.


Erin O'Melinn
Businesses for Bikes Program Manager
Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition
Twitter: BikingToWork


Imagine getting to school like this? - Andreijj @ Wiki Commons

Thursday, September 23, 2010

SFU + City of Surrey Lecture Program

News: I GOT IN!

SFU Surrey Campus (Surrey Central City Mall)

October 6, 2010 to December 1, 2010

Wednesdays, 6:30 pm – 9:30 pm

The Transportation Lecture Program is the first of its kind in B.C., and Surrey is promoting this new initiative as part of the city’s broader engagement with the community and stakeholders. This lecture program will offer a forum to discuss important regional and local transportation issues, provide the City of Surrey a chance to better communicate and explain their role in transportation, the services they provide, and their place in the larger transportation “jig-saw”, and in turn, they will also hear first hand from you what issues and priorities are important.

In partnership with the SFU City Program we are offering a unique opportunity for citizens, professionals, and stakeholders to learn more about transportation in Surrey with topics including:

• Who’s responsible for different types of transportation and their relationship
• How transportation is funded, regionally and locally
• How we plan new transportation systems and networks
• How we operate and manage our roads
• What the relationship is between transportation and land use, in a growing city like Surrey.
The registration fee of $300. However, a sponsorship of up to $250 by the City will be available for 30 participants, given that minimum requirements for course completion are met (80% attendance and delivering paper/presentation).

For details on the course, download the course backgrounder.

Monday, September 20, 2010

VIFF Preview: Cities in Film

I got a chance to look at the Vancouver International Film Fest preview guide and I wanted to highlight some interesting 'city' films:

Cities on Speed - Bogotá Change

With streets buried under garbage, near-total gridlock, and an astounding murder rate, Bogotá, Colombia, was once considered to be the world's worst city. Through the work of two visionary mayors, the city was resurrected. Removed from his job as Dean of the National University of Colombia for mooning an angry mob of students, Antanas Mockus gained a reputation as an honest man. Upon taking office, Mockus instituted some of the most curious civic campaigns ever conceived of, including using an army of mimes to de-snarl traffic, punching out balloon people as a vaccine against violence and snuggling up to a giant carrot. What's even more surprising is that these initiatives actually worked. Enrique Peñalosa picked up where Mockus left off, and completed Bogotá's transformation.
Cities on Speed - Mumbai Disconnected

One of the world's largest and most densely populated mega-cities, Mumbai's transportation infrastructure is on the verge of total collapse. With a sagging public transit system (a dozen people die every day falling from overloaded trains) and more cars on the dangerously clogged roads (thanks to the affordable new Nano car) traffic has reached crisis levels. Camilla Nielsson and Frederik Jacobi's film focuses on the stories of three very different people, who are all equally affected, including a resident of the city's most wealthy neighbourhood, a working man whose biggest dream is to buy a new car, and an engineer responsible for trying to solve the world's worst traffic jam. What emerges is equal parts appalling, hilarious and entirely human.

Bogata by Rafael Callamand @ Wiki Commons

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Is better Transit a money problem? (and other ramblings)

When it comes to transportation issues, particularly when dealing with transit problems, they often revolve around money. When I lived in Langley, I always defaulted to the argument that since municipalities in the Metro Vancouver region all pay for Translink (and we are subject to a gas tax that also pays for transit), they should see an equal 'cut'. The argument was: poor transit = poor funding (or unequal funding). The argument also tended to lean on a perceived 'bias' towards Vancouver.

In reality, as always, the issue is much more complex and I don't insist that I have mastered all angles of this issue.

Langley is not a city built for transit. 200th street, in my opinion, is not a street built for light rail and nor will light rail succeed in the corridor as is. The street network is not conducive to transit and neither is the pattern of development (large parking lots and buildings that don't front the street).

Ah, yes. The superiority of 'the grid'. Boring, predictable, and conducive to high density, walkable neighbourhoods,  and frequent transit service. Vancouver gets a greater share of transit service and funding because the fabric of the city attracts people, businesses and therefore transit need. IT'S THE GRID, STUPID! (or is it?)

If Langley (or any South Fraser) hopes to attract better transit investment, it may need to start radically changing the way they design their city - what they approve for development (Big box stores by 64th Ave and 200th OR more like Fraser Hwy strip). To be fair, the city is getting better...but not nearly enough to warrant huge investments in transit.

Or, on the other hand as a recent article in the Vancouver Sun stated:
"[Surrey is] where the region is changing the most and that's where we need transit," he said, adding: "It shouldn't be put off. ... If we put rapid transit in there, it would put a big impact on the development community on where it wants to go." Carline said it's more difficult to retrofit a community for high-density transit hubs after it has been developed, particularly if a city has decided to turn swaths of cheap land into low-density, sprawling office parks.

So, is it a chicken and the egg story? Anyone have any thoughts?

Another thought from a recent post: Do you build transit to Vancouver - is that the goal? Do you want your residents commuting outside the city for work? The best commute is no commute.

Sorry for that rambling of thought. Discuss!

Here's how sad Langley is - in the Facebook Credit Union Fundraising 'thing', Langley's tag picture is of the Casino. This is Langley:

Monday, September 13, 2010

Video(s): New York Bike Lane and Traffic Talk

Okay. I swear this is my last post tonight. Here are a couple great vids from Street Films (check them out). Bike Lanes in New York, New York: If they can make it there, can they make it here? (Hint: YES!)


So, I've relented: I have a twitter account.

Please feel free to twit me.



Metro Vancouver's Regional Growth Strategy: Rapid Transit destined for the South Fraser?

Recently, Metro Vancouver released its Regional Growth Strategy (RGS) Draft which you can read here. While Metro Vancouver can create these amazing documents with laudable (sometimes lofty) goals, it lacks the power to enact and enforce measures that would help us attain them. It must bring together a diverse group of stake holders and representatives:
Each representative has a say in how the region is run. The 2009 Board consists of 37 Directors representing 21 Municipalities, one Electoral Area, one treaty First Nation, and one Municipality that is a member of the GVRD for the parks function. These Directors are members of your Municipal or First Nation council who have been appointed to the Board by their respective councils on a “representation by population” basis.
So you can imagine, it's a bit like herding cats. Back to the report...

There's a particular part of this report that the CBC, South Fraser OnTrax, Vancouver Sun picked up on. The RGS Draft's section 5.1 (page 50) states that:
  • Priority 1: The Evergreen Line (Coquitlam Regional City Centre to Lougheed Municipal Town Centre)
  • Priority 2: Connecting Surrey Metro Centre to one or more of the Urban Centres south of the Fraser River (Fleetwood, Guildord, Newton, Langley) and connecting the central Broadway area in the Metro Core to the existing rapid transit network serving the eastern and southern parts of the region.
The second part of this section mentions enhancing service in key corridors. This includes the UBC-Broadway Corridor. It then states, "these corridors may be considered for rapid transit expansion (busways or rail) after the implementation of rapid transit expansion Priority 1 and Priority 2."

This is a huge development for the South Fraser region (a cause that South Fraser OnTrax has tirelessly championed - with good cause). In fact, the Evergreen Line has been long over due even before it was eventually bumped for the Canada Line. It Translink follows this plan, tt will also be the first major investment in rapid transit with a destination that doesn't end in Vancouver (does the Canada Line count?). There are a significant amount of trips from Surrey to Coquitlam.

I think that it's important not to build a system that just ferries people to and from Vancouver (a spoke system which assumes that everyone wants to go downtown). We have to make sure that our other cities and suburbs can stand on their own. Retrofitting, ho!

As UBC student and frequent user of the Broadway Corridor, I'm a little concerned considering the state of the B-line and other buses that run to UBC. Translink has been trying to shift some traffic onto other buses like the 25 and 84, among others. Can Broadway wait 5, 10, or 15 years until a major service improvement? 

Furthermore, an important priority should be the gap between VCC-Clark and the Canada Line.

In the Vancouver Sun article, Surrey City Councillor Judy Villeneuve states that, "Vancouver is a place where you don't need a car. Surrey is a place where you have to have a car." It's glad to see that Surrey is getting the picture and hopefully they're asking themselves, "why do I need a car?" The answer isn't so much rooted in that it's being unfairly allotted inferior transit service but that it's a city that isn't designed for transit. They're starting to retro-fit and it's a great start but they have long way to go to hope to get the same quality of service that Vancouver does. The cities in the South Fraser region have long been capable of getting better service but many of them continue to bow to the private automobile.

Indeed, I'm not sure how much a Skytrain extension further into Surrey will help that city much. One of the larger goals should be to create better links within the city itself, to lower commuter time, and to ultimately get people to live near where they work. Surrey has done some great work to make itself into a viable city.

Though, Metro Vancouver's John Carline argues that:
"[Surrey is] where the region is changing the most and that's where we need transit," he said, adding: "It shouldn't be put off. ... If we put rapid transit in there, it would put a big impact on the development community on where it wants to go."
Carline said it's more difficult to retrofit a community for high-density transit hubs after it has been developed, particularly if a city has decided to turn swaths of cheap land into low-density, sprawling office parks.
Here's a link to Surrey's Civic Centre Redevelopment Plan. For a nerd like me, this is exciting. 

Surrey Civic Centre Concept (I took this from Paul Hillsdon's Blog)

* It is also important to note that Metro Vancouver can't enforce how Translink spends its funds - it's only there to consult and guide.

Friday, September 10, 2010