by Ellen Johnston | I recently spent a month in the city of Berkeley, California, a place too independent to be described as a suburb of San Francisco, and yet totally a part of the Bay Area’s metropolitan network. I say this because while it stands in the shadow of its bigger, more glamorous sister across the Bay, it remains such a vital force on its own, through its longstanding political activism, amazing intellectual resources (UC Berkeley ranks as one of the greatest universities in the world), and pivotal role in the local food movement (hello Chez Panisse). While I was there, I found myself considering the differences and similarities between Vancouver and the Bay Area, and what we can learn from them, especially when it comes to urbanism, and the interaction between built environment and culture.
Vancouver has long been compared to San Francisco, and the reasons are palpable: they are both dense, multicultural, located in spectacular natural environments, are very LGBT-friendly, have long traditions of activism, are filled with hippies and weirdos, yoga-pushers and lotus eaters, are home to mild yet often moody weather, have great food and are generally considered to be the most liberal cities in their respective nations. But while this is all true, the actual feeling on the street can be quite quite different, especially because the hyper-density of downtown Vancouver casts an illusion over the whole city, both statistically and physically. Unlike San Francisco’s more uniform mid-rise density, ours is one of great contrasts: a forest of tall residential towers in the downtown core surrounded by the East and the West sides, which, with the exception of a few neighbourhoods, have been hesitant to move beyond the single family dwelling model. Apartments exist, and rowhouses seem to be finally making an incursion into these parts of the city, but they still remain a small fraction of the buildings compared to the downtown core. In short, while our demographics sing San Francisco, the physical reality of Vancouver is something more akin to Hong Kong throwing up on Santa Monica, Portland or – most apt of all – Berkeley. Read more
Jim Powers – “homeless and at the mercy of [his] talents” – has been creating mosaics on the streets of New York’s Lower East Side for nearly three decades. His “mosaic trail” is made up of 80 light posts representing “the East Village as an artistic community.” We have a quite a few mosaics brightening the sidewalks and telling stories here in East Van, but it would be awesome to see more of them in other neighbourhoods. Of course this dude – a Vietnam veteran – would probably get arrested for mischief within minutes if he started working in Dundarave or South Granville, but whatever. Powers’ story is a great one nonetheless, and a fair reminder of how Rudy Giuliani is a total dork (via).
(via) These shots were taken in a vineyard in Ghent, Belgium. It’s an open air library/art installation raising funds for the local libraries that have fed its many shelves. Would it work in Vancouver? Well, Ghent only gets 2 inches of rainfall fewer than we do per annum (45 inches), and the installation only lasts until September 16th. So, sure it would, and if not Vancouver, why not Kelowna? Your move, Mission Hill.
As London gets ready to host the 2012 Summer Olympics, those Brits who suffer a deficit of natural sporting ability but a surplus in style and good humour have just concluded their own games, The Chap Olympiad. The competitions therein poke Pythonesque fun at English stereotypes and include such challenges as Umbrella Jousting, Shouting At Foreigners, and Ironing Board Surfing. I don’t know how well it would translate across the pond, but it would be worth a laugh to try. And nevermind the Dragon Boat races. I want to see stuff like Yoga Pant Relay, NIMBY High Jump, Luongo Shotput, and Angry Cyclist Javelin. Surely we have enough stereotypes of our own to figure something out?
Wouldn’t it be great if Vancouverites (and British Columbians in general) had a beautiful work of art that was actually a quick reference growing calendar? Because it’s one thing to know what’s in season and when, but it’s another thing entirely to have that information presented beautifully and framed on your wall. This one is from England’s Bold & Noble, and we love it (via Poppytalk). Someone please get on it!
by Andrew Morrison | Seattle will soon become home to the United States’ first “food forest”, a seven acre plot forest garden of apple, pear, persimmon, chestnut and walnut trees supplemented by bushes of blueberries, lingonberries, raspberries, and other tasty things besides. Beacon Food Forest will be located in the city’s Beacon Hill neighbourhood (2.5 miles from downtown), and all of the food within will be free for picking and gathering. Another pie in the sky concept? Nope. It’s already underway.
According to the Beacon Food Forest’s website, the project’s mission is “to design, plant and grow an edible urban forest garden that inspires our community to gather together, grow our own food and rehabilitate our local ecosystem.” The perennial permaculture forest project, believed to be the first of its kind in the U.S., will eventually be self-sustaining, much like the way a forest in nature works. Creating the self-sustaining environment is reliant upon the types of soil, insect life and companion plants placed strategically within the environment (via).
A solution to the Viaduct question? Your move, Vancouver.
UPDATE: a reader reminded us about the Copley Community Orchard near the Nanaimo skytrain station. Check out the video below. Though it’s only a 7th the size of Beacon Food Forest in Seattle, it’s a good start!
So what if we have sausage and cupcake sellers if not a one of them masquerades as the other? These delicious-looking cupcakewursts were made at home by the good folks at the Cupcake Project, but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t be achieved for Vancouver’s streets. Some enterprising sweet tooth should please get on it (especially the “hot dog” version on a halved Long John donut with raspberry sauce). That would be much appreciated.
We did a “Vancouver Would Be Cooler If…” post about the original “Before I Die” project in New Orleans by artist Candy Chang in March of last year. It seems we’re a little cooler now, courtesy of local aesthete Dana Ramler. Her effort just went up on the southern end of the alley between Keefer and East Georgia (across the street from The Brixton Cafe), and it hasn’t taken long for every line to be filled. Take a look and bring a hope or two. Personally, before I die, I want a dog. Just sayin’.
You know how the optics of most worthwhile protests in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery are invariably spoiled by recalcitrant teenagers dressed in potato sacks smoking dope with rats in their hair? Not so across the pond, where they sometimes roll bespoke to make their points…
On April 23rd, immaculately dressed gentlemen and ladies assembled outside the Abercrombie & Fitch flagship store in London to protest the company’s plan to open a store on Savile Row, the London shopping street that has long been the home of fine British tailoring.
(more photos of the protest by Stephanie Wolf here) It’s not like we’ve been bereft of opportunities to follow suit (no pun intended). J. Crew just had their grand opening yesterday on Robson and there was nary a peep. It could have been a real tweed-up.
by Ellen Johnston | I am not the first person to mention this, nor will I be the last to bring it up. But I feel that it needs to be stated again and elaborated upon if we are going to truly grow as a city and live up to the goals and claims we have for ourselves. I’m speaking about the fact that Vancouver, despite winning many liveability polls, quality of life surveys and accolades attesting to our success as an urban environment, lacks something that almost every great city in the world has: a central square. If a city is like a living organism, a central square is like its beating heart. Vancouver has great fingers and toes, natural parks and beaches which lie upon the peripheries of our city. But we just don’t have an urban, central gathering space that can, in any way, aproxímate the great central squares of the world, like Trafalgar Square in London, Rynek Glowny in Krakow, Piazza Navona in Rome or even the Zocalos of smaller cities like Puebla and Oaxaca, in Mexico. Robson Square may be the closest Vancouver has come to building a purpose built gathering space, but its very design is conducive to exact opposite of what great central squares should be. By being built underground, it does not attract foot traffic; it is hardly a place where someone would choose to eat their lunch on a sunny day, and it is difficult to imagine a public protest happening down there, since almost nothing can be observed from street level. If the very purpose of a central square is to gather people together, placing it out of sight is essentially tantamount to pressing a self destruct button. It will fail.
And so, I give you:
Five reasons why Vancouver needs a central square:
We need to bring people together rather than push them to the periphery. Beaches and seawalls are great, but instead of gathering people into a central area, they disperse them along a fine line that runs from the northwestern edge of downtown all the way to UBC.
Central squares provides a forum for public meetings, protests, arts events, festivals, and gatherings. These are all things that our city needs more of.
A central square would provide an urban alternative to Stanley Park. If we do not want to be classified as a resort city, then we need to stop acting like one. Nearby hiking options do not a great city make. They are a fantastic amenity, but they are by no means the basis for urban living.
Central squares encourage better architecture, because the walls that surround them add to the aesthetic of the location. Like a beach, in which the geographical background greatly enhances the experience, the background of a city square defines its ability to draw people and to be successful as a gathering place. Vancouver needs more places that encourage better architecture.
It will apply a measure of diversity to an urban landscape that is overwhelmed by condos. It is fantastic that so many Vancouverites live downtown, but simply building housing untis and units alone does not define “living”. Public spaces are important because they encourage people to live with each other, rather than side by side, yet all alone, in little boxes in the sky.
So the question is, what would we demolish to make room for one?
Ellen Johnston considers herself a wanderer, whether tramping through the rain-soaked streets of Vancouver and attempting to pry loose the layers of our urban fabric, couch-surfing across America, or getting lost in the souks of Marrakech. Since that is not a full time gig, she fills her days with the study of African dance and drumming, writing, piano, and running her own cookie company, Cookie Elf. She grew up in Vancouver, studied in Philly and London, and hopes to see even more of this great big world in the future.
I’d pay a few bucks extra to the Rio if they set up shop in False Creek or Coal Harbour. The shots above depict Thailand leading the way (via) with an auditorium raft by German architect Ole Scheeren. Yes, please.
You’ve probably seen lots of artist renderings of soaring, dream-like, architectural wonders that incorporate plenty of green in their designs. None of them, however, ever get built. Sure, we might see LEED certified homes with green roofs (we live in one) and a few two to three story buildings of similar ilk, but skyscrapers? Unfortunately not. Particularly here in Vancouver, one look at the skyline from any angle suggests that we have irrevocably fallen for the triumvirate of concrete, steel and glass. But the same is true in urban centers all over the world. The designs have all been just so many masturbatory fantasies. Except, that is, for Milan’s Bosco Verticale, the construction of which is now nearing completion.
Bosco Verticale optimizes, recuperates and produces energy. The building aids in balancing the microclimate and in filtering the dust particles contained in the urban environment. A diversity of plants leds to the producing of humidity, absorbing of CO2 and dusting particles, producing oxygen and protecting the building from radiation and acoustic pollution. This improves the quality of living spaces and gives way to dramatic energy savings year round.
Each apartment, on every floor (in all 27 floors), will have a balcony planted with trees. This trees will respond to the weather: shade will be provided within the summer and in winter the bare trees will allow sunlight to permeate through the spaces. The threes will also filtering [sic] city pollution.
The filtering and reuse of the greywater produced by the building will support the plant irrigation. Aeolion and photovoltaic energy systems will further promote the tower’s self-sufficiency. Plant irrigation will be supported through the filtering and reuse of the greywater produced by the building. Wind energy and solar energy will further promote the tower’s self-sufficiency.
Plus it looks really cool.