Saturday, October 13, 2012

An Idea: The Urbanarium

Beijing's Urbanarium
A few weeks ago, the Museum of Vancouver hosted a great event part of a series called Built City. It featured Ray Spaxman and Brent Toderian, talking retrospectively about their times as Vancouver's city planners. It was really interesting to listen to what each of them had to say regarding their career.

I had never heard much about Spaxman (my bad) but he instantly captivated me. He spoke of planning with principles, the difference between managing and leading and, overall, is incredibly humble. He spoke of something he called an 'Urbanarium' (judging buy audience reaction, he's spoken about it many times before). He described as a place with a model of the city where one can learn about cities with a bird's eye perspective:
An urbanarium is an idea that Ray Spaxman and a group of private planners and architects conceived in the early 1980's that was unfortunately never followed through. The idea was to build a scale model of downtown Vancouver, including False Creek and extending to the East False Creek Area. When a development is proposed, the applicant would be required to replace the existing scale buildings on the model with the new proposal so everyone could see the context. ... The model extending along the Cambie Street Corridor would be very helpful as development is proposed over the next few years.
Beijing's Urbanarium
I would love Vancouver to do something like this (physical or digital). I think the Museum of Vancouver would be the place to house such a thing. But why don't we take it further?

My idea of an urbanarium would be coupled with a program that teaches people how their city works and using the city as a laboratory. While we have programs that do this to an extent - the best so far being the City Studio - they're still out of the reach of the majority of people (including me because of the hours needed).

I'd love to base such a program on the Transportation Lecture program that the City of Surrey runs in partnership with SFU. I was part of the inaugural class in 2010 and found it a great experience. It brought people together to learn and interact with city staff and other professional about how transportation works in Surrey. Best part was that there are very few obstacles in the way of participating: low costs, no pre-requisites, workable hours for people with a job or school.

I think people would love to learn about how their city works (or doesn't) and why. It's my dream to help start a program like this in Vancouver.


  1. I think this is a great idea. I'm fortunate to be a part of the Fall Cohort for CityStudio right now but I think having more of these education courses that enable people to learn and transform the city would be an excellent idea.

  2. There's one of these here in New York City at the Queens Museum of Art - it is massive, and beautiful to look at.