October 7, 2013
This post was previously published on the Frances Bula’s blog, on July 12, 2013
It all started with a Trojan horse: The 2010 Olympic games. Granville and Robson have been closed to all traffic. Granville had been closed before due to the Canada line construction, and bus were using dedicated lane on the couplet Howe/Seymour.
We all liked the pedestrian atmosphere and gathered at Robson#Granville (thought city hall, have planed Robson square as the centre for celebration)….but it is not because you have enjoyed your last family reunion, that you must organize your living room as if it was happening every day.
The Olympic games gone, the buses got back their historic routes…short respite…
A war on bus was brewing:
Pedestrian only Granville was considered good, so buses are now routinely demanded to go back on Howe/Seymour which have lost their bus lanes in the interim!
When Hornby received its cycle track, The city ostensibly relocated its curb side parking along Howe: The city made a point to not build a cycle track at the expense of parking: the bus lanes are the sacrificed goats
Granville buses surrendered; stoned by a blitzkrieg attack; the real battlefield is obviously Robson square:
It is a war, and going to war requires an army: The purpose of Viva Vancouver is to occupy the battlefield, which can’t sustain itself, without artificial activation, as has been demonstrated last fall (an attempt to force definitive closure without consultation?).
Because it is a war, there is no mercy for the adversary: In despite of seasonal closure for more than 3 years. Not a single improvement has been brought to the Robson bus on its circuitous detour: The unnecessary hook via Smythe, to turn left turn on Burrard, from Robson, could have been easily fixed by now… whether City hall, was less contemptuous of the bus riders…
At best, bus riders are not considered differently from car drivers by both city Hall and, unfortunately the VPSN, an advocacy group for aggressive pedestrianization of Robson square (both 2012 City hall public consultation on Robson square, which in fact has been organized by the VPSN, and the 2011 VPSN “petitions”, made sure it was not possible to differentiate buses of general traffic)
Obviously, on the margin of the main battlefields, skirmishes happen routinely, often under the disguise of good intentions:
- A 30km/h speed limit on Hasting fine!… but without appropriate street design, it is widely ignored…but bus driver dutifully slow down…
- A cycle track on Union, Great!…nearby businesses have been promised that parking space will be relocated on Main…in the way of the buses…
Since it is summer, many readers, like the host of this blog, will be visiting Europe. They will eventually witness there that transit usually receives consideration and that an aggressive pedestrianism agenda is a 70′s concept, which is outmoded by shared spaces, where sustainable transportation mode, including transit, mingle with pedestrians, and naturally activate the places they serve.
They will also discover that it is not by erecting a blockade, as nice and attractive it can be, on a bus route that one will reduce car dependency…and still, it is exactly what Vancouver city hall is currently doing…
August 29, 2013
Only one week-end before back to school: it is time to draw some conclusions when memory are still fresh on the Viva Vancouver 2013 season
Judging the Viva programming is certainly a question of view point:
Some minor projects here and there, like the park-lets or the public pianos, are certainly positive actions for our public spaces, but the Viva signature projects will be on Robson square and Granville street. It is the focus on in this post
For some, the Viva 2013 program will be considered as a tremendous success:
- Closing Granville Mall to bus, for the sake to provide space to a for profit car company subsidiary, is a noticeable achievement
For others, it will be considered simply as disappointing, if not a failure:
This Year flagship installation, Corduroy Road at Robson square, was providing some seating using warm material, bringing the street partially at level with the sidewalk. Alas, as noticed before by Stephen Rees, it never get used much more than a glorified foodcourt, and beside lunch time, the place was looking too empty to be attractive :
- The installation itself, providing little interactivity, at the difference of the very popular 2012 PopRock, or the 2011 Picnurbia, could be at cause.
- The fact that both side of the 700 block of Robson street are going under renovation, was not helping either
But more probably, the “Olympic atmosphere” memories which people could have been looking at when wandering on the Vancouver street in the previous summers is simply fading, and the interest for the programming of our public spaces is disappearing. More simply, there is not enough pedestrian traffic to “fill-up” the offered space, which is too big considering the pedestrian traffic .
That is a disappointment. A particularly sunny summer makes it even bitter.
It becomes a significant failure, when the goal is to demonstrate the viability of a year round closure, and in despite of a generous funding, Viva was not even able to meaningfully program the space it seized, for the 2 most favourable months of the year: Presenting a “car2go” booth as a way to program our public space, has turned the experience into a farce, to not say a full scale fiasco.
The conclusion on the viability of a permanent Robson square closure should be obvious, and the last year experiment- keeping Robson square pedestrian only during the fall 2012- should have given hints:
Where are the people?
As we have mentioned before, the Vancouver geography of public spaces has changed with the introduction of the Canada line: The Georgia#Granville intersection (and more specifically the plaza in front of the London Drugs) has replaced Robson Square as a major Vancouver’s focal point. That reminds us the importance of transit as it comes to define the geography of the city public space, and pedestrians activity, this for the best and the less good:
Transit, and transit users need to be accomodated, not hidden, and if the City of Vancouver is true to its transportation 2040 plan, the “problem” illustrated above will become more acute in the future: It should be addressed and not made worse.
We eagerly await the return of the bus 5 on its historic route and hope reason will prevail at City Hall
 Robson street is 80′ wide. There is virtually no example of pedestrian only street in Europe with such width. New York Broadway Avenue, at ~80′ wide, could be the closest, but the pedestrianized block around Times Square see a traffic of 350,000 pedestrians/day
July 2, 2013
At a time when “both TransLink and the City of Vancouver are aiming to establish a common vision for bus service in downtown Vancouver“, it is still interesting to have a look at what has been done in past in that respect
In 1975, the Bureau of Transit Services, then depending from the Minister of municipal affairs prepared a transit service plan to complement the City land plan :
This plan is important in many aspects, and mainly the adopted methodology
It lays down the general picture in which a downtown plan can take shape
Thought not in service in 1975, the West Coast Express concept were already discussed, and the terminals and vessels, for the seabus, were under construction. The skytrain was still a quite distant concept , but the LRT discussed in the plan is clearly considered as a pre-metro, aimed to be underground in the Core Business district.
But More importantly,
It lays down 7 principles guiding the plan
Those principle are subdivized into 3 common service characteristics:
- Direct Routing
- Minimize unecessary transfers
- Minimal walking distance to final destinations
(1) Don’t divert routes to serve specific needs: Diversion means a less attractive service for most of the travellers
(2) Use secondary services connecting to main ones, to serve “out of the way” area (rather than divert main routes)
(3) Use the downtown grid for “random schedule” transfers
(4) Go Straight thru the “center of gravity” of an area, and not its periphery, which increases the total walking distance by half.
(5) Transit and pedestrians: the concept of pedestrianization and transit must not be treated independently.
The study cites Jane Jacobs  to support the idea of bringing together the transit network with the pedestrian area 
(6) Prefer two way operations over one way, since it offers the maximum coverage
(7) Prefer nearside bus stop over farside, sinec it allows the passengers to alight before have to wait at a traffic light.
Many, if not all, of this principles are what Jarret Walker calls the geometry of Transit, and that is the reason why they are still as valid in 2013 as they were in 1975:
- Principle (7): Thought some cities like Montreal and Toronto, have bus stopa on the nearside, most of the cities adopt a farside model, since it usually allows a better general traffic output, and modern LRT/trams use also farside bus stops, since it allows a more efficient signal preemption
- Principle (1), (4) and (6): They are very strong transit geometry principles which have justified the conversion of Manners Mall in Wellington New Zealand, from a pedestrian only street to a transit mall.
- Principle (4) and (5) are why transit needs to be considered as part of the urban fabric
Some comments on the DT plan
The geometry of transit largely comfort the relevance of the historic streetcar grid:
- The choice of the streets is guided by principle (4)
- The streetcar service along Hornby, was expected to use the Arbutus line outside the DT core: the routing thru Hornby plan is consistent with the 1972 Erickson plan developped for the court house complex.
- The Robson square is envisioned to be a pedestrian oriented area, serviced by transit in full accordance with principle (4), and the Arthur Erickson’s vision for Robson square:
The only traffic through the square will be inner city buses, linking the West and and False Creek. Since buses function as people movers, they are seen as a compliment or enhancement to the pedestrian activity of the civic square [...]
- At the time of drafting the plan the Robson bus was using the couplet of one way streets Smythe/Robson: a two way service along Robson is clearly the privilegied choice.
The advent of the Canada line kind of fullfill this vision.
The underlying philosophy leading to the plan, articulating pedestrian areas around transit, and not the reverse, illustrates the dramatic shift of the current Vancouver council approach, which dismiss the transit geometry, as illustrates the Robson bus circling the square to serve a “specific need”.
At the end a transit service is envisioned on Nelson to complement the planned development of the westend, as well as a pheripheral line, to serve the “social and recreational” place on the pheriphery of downtown:
Remarkably, they are echoing recurring wishes for Transit in downtown, but the plan warms that “…there really is not much to be gained in professing support for programmes to get more people to use public transit without commitment to actions to give transit priority use of streets in Downtown Vancouver and in other urban centres in the metropolitan area.”
Alas, the current Vancouver council policies could not be farther apart of this commitment to transit.
 Draft memorandum on transit service planning to complement downtown peninsula plans of the City of Vancouver, Bureau of Transit Services, BC Minister of Municipal affairs, Sept 19, 1975. (13.6MB file)
 the underlying concept had been drafted by Harry Rankin by 1970, see The Case for Rapid Transit…in 1970
 The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs, Random House, New York, 1961
 51-61-71 Project, block 71 Schematics, Arthur Erickson Architects, 1974
 Vancouver’s 1975 downtown transit plan, John Calimenete, April 7, 2010
 This view is echoed by Jan Gehl, among others, providing rational for Transit on Sydney’s George Street.
November 5, 2012
On October 15th and October 17, It was a so called “public consultation” on the block 51 respectively titled “a look back” and “a look forward”. If you were not made aware timely by social media like twitter, there is little chance you could have attended it, since it was quickly sold-out (sic).
The Panel of the first evening was a discussion involving Bing Thom, Alan Bell, Nick Milkovich – three members of Arthur Erickson Architects at the time of building the courthouse complex, reflecting on the 1973 design . In the second event a short 6mn lecture by different speaker was given. The historian John Atkin gave an historical account of the north plaza . Lon Laclair from city of Vancouver was here to talk of how great the Olympic experience was. Jenniffer Sheel and Krisztina Kassay from Viva Vancouver, the brains behind the Robson square programming, gave an overview of what has been done on the square. They didn’t explain why the programming need to be exactly in the middle of Robson street to be successful-and not let say on Bute at Robson , but were apparently wanting to make the point that according to them, “people don’t want traffic at all here”. Heather Forbes from VPSN explained that an overwhelming majority of entries to their “Where’s the Square?” design competition selected Block 51 as the heart of Vancouver, omitting to mention that the people choice was the North plaza, but noticing that solutions can be found for other user/need, like transit.
Her speech was followed by Matthew Blackett from Spacing Magazine, who, probably not briefed enough on the agenda concerning transit, incidentally presented those “solutions” starting with London’s Exhibition road:
He followed up with Pioneer square in Portland, Oregon:
and ending with its preferred, Ban Jelačić square in Zagreb (Croatia):
Since Matthew Blackett is from Toronto, he couldn’t have mentioned Yonge and Dundas square. He doesn’t like the electronic billboard, which are “cheapening the place” in his word, but it his hard to deny it has been a successful place since its opening in 2002:
You will have certainly noticed that all the great places presented by Matthew have a transit component, and it is probably not accident to the success of those places. The bus along Exhibition road was rerouted on a very nearby street (Queen’s gate) during its construction, but once completed, the bus came back, certainly for good reason!
The talk session of the evening, was closed by the Pop Rocks designers Matthew Soules and Joe Dahmen presenting how they have designed their huge pillow from recycled roof material of Canada Place . They proposed some interesting design guideline fro Robson Square, summed up in the below artist’s rendering:
Speakers were certainly interesting, but beside the fact the public was not provided opportunities to interact with them, the whole session was missing key points to a public consultation:
What is the problem?
No proper diagnostic of the Block 51 has been done:
- No metric has been provided on the amount of traffic: how many pedestrian, how many bus rider…: does there is a space allocation problem there? 
- No geometry analysis of the space has been provided
- No analysis of what is working and what is not has been done
- No context analysis has been provided
When come public space, the audience was seeming to think of a one size fit all , what is not necessarily true, and it seems that a wealth of diverging opinion has been expressed. Using the Olympic celebration to explain how the place can be is like using your last family gathering to explain how your dining room can work routinely. It is irrelevant. Spatial Geometry of space is important; A failed party in the large living room, can be transformed in a success in the tiny kitchen ; and that supposes to have some known metric.
It seems to have been an non spelled rule; worship of Erickson work is mandatory; preventing any honest and franck diagnostic of the robson Square deficiencies.
The site has been presented on a North-South spine. That was effectively the original Erickson idea. But nowadays, Robson square is dominated by an East-West flow. No discussion on the future of the VAG was opened: The organizers seem to think that a place-making can be done independently of its context, what seems perfectly silly.
What are the solutions?
Since, in fact no problem was identified, the whole function of the consultation was to find a reason for the only proposed solution: “full closure of Robson square to all traffic“. That was the apparent purpose of the co-design exercise.
What are the potential impact of the proposed solution?
No evaluation was provided at all
Apparently, the organizers didn’t find useful to invite Translink to the consultation table. Transit is considered as a second thought, not to be integrated in the urban thinking of the place, what is a striking departure of successful placemaking. Transit has several implications, among them:
- Operating cost of the re-routed line
- impact on handydart if people can’t use regular transit
- impact on the ridership at large, due to lack of clarity, speed, good network connection, involved by transit change
- impact on pedestrian safety: transit riders are pedestrians, and have them boarding/alighting in safe spot is important (today bus 5 is rerouted thru Burrard, one of the most pedestrian accident prone arteries of Downtown)
They are not the only reason Transit is important
- Street vibrancy
In Vancouver, vibrant streets, with flourishing retail businesses, are more often that not correlated to transit rich corridors. Transit has certainly been a causation effect in the past. could it be still true?
- The example of the struggling Cambie village area after loosing good transit access and visibility need to be compared to the recently flourishing areas next to the Yaletown station
Could it be different with Robson? Why?
There is also the problem of the Robson street segments between Burrard and Hornby and between Howe, Granville and Seymour. Traffic closure between Howe and Hornby, involves a drastic motor traffic reduction on those segments, while a successful Robson square involves an increased pedestrian traffic. We could have one without the other making those segments unappealing as it is the case now – but one could fairly assume it is also due to building construction/renovation. That said, it is hard to see how a space reallocation on Robson square can’t involve one on those segments, and then come the subsidiary question: Will it be enough pedestrian to make this stretch of Robson of success? .
The displayed lack of sophistication in the discussion surrounding the pedestrianization of Robson square is for the least, curious :
- It eventually helps us to understand why pedestrian squares are largely a failure in Vancouver, and more generally in North America.
- It helps also to understand the lack of forthcoming of some other spaces, like Georgia#Granville: A very busy corner since the advent of the Canada line, one which could tend to replace Robson square for some functions, like demonstration, but more importantly, people meeting. The subway station entrance hindering considerably the space when it doesn’t need to do witness this lack of forthcoming. Similar observations could be done at Yaletown, where the subway entrance is turning its back to the square
 20mn romandie, July 6th, 2012
 The post Block 51: North Plaza capture most of the presentation
 That is a spot identified by the Vancouver’s transport 2040 plan
 The post Vancouver courthouse Blocks 51-61-71: The Final Erickson proposal fueled by insight of the conversation, capture part of it
 Normally any reallocation of space is preceded by a careful study of traffic, pedestrian, transit riders, and vehicles. Of course, that was the case for London’s Exhibition road, On the section illustrated in this article, there are ~4000pedestrian/hr vs 550car/hr at peak hour (Exhibition Road Monitoring, August 2012). What are the number for Robson square?
 Verbatim of Jan Gehl, Livable Cities lecture, Richmond city Hall, Jan 27, 2011.
 Robson street is 80′ wide. There is virtually no example of pedestrian only street in Europe with such width. New York Broadway Avenue, at ~80′ wide, could be the closest, but the pedestrianized block around Times Square see a traffic of 350,000 pedestrians/day
 for matters of comparison, one can refer to the Paris’s place de la République renovation involving space reallocation in favor of pedestrian. the project is €17millions, what is relatively benign in the Paris city budget of €8billions. Nevertheless, the public consultation process is order of magnitude more elaborated that the one in place for Robson square. It includes the elaboration of shared diagnostic on many aspect of the space, walk tour,…
 For more idea about the different function of a public square, see Geography of Paris squares or plazas, oct 29th, 2012
 The company site explains well the process. A 1973 movie, related to the block 51, was projected in the first evening, chairs for lovers, which introduced the “co design process”. co-design has also a blog
October 26, 2012
This post is assumed closing our historic errand series of the Blocks 51-61-71:
- The Provincial Court House or Block 51-61-71 History up to 1972
- The Provincial Court House or Block 51-61-71 History after 1972: The Erickson years
The north Plaza of Block 51 is the square sitting north of the VAG. Thought it is part of the block 51, and more generally of the Block 51/61/71 complex, this square has a life of its own.
After the opening of the second courthouse in 1912, This square will very quickly become the ceremonial Vancouver square. Its location along Georgia street, providing frontage to a preeminent and formal government institution, makes it almost a non brainer:
The early days
- A first fountain, commissioned to sculptor Charles Marega in 1912, had been installed as a memorial to King Edward VII right along Georgia. It was initially equipped with bronze cups on chains, but these were quickly stolen and never replaced.
- On august 29, 1913, a flag pole has been erected in the middle of the square. It was said the tallest flag pole in Canada
It was apparently a staple to be photographed on the front step of the courthouse,and the Vancouver archive are full of group picture 
1966: The Centennial fountain
respecting the formalism of the space, the city idea for the square in 1964 was as pictured below:
It happens that W.A.C Bennett had another agenda. He commissioned R. H. Savery (design) and Alex Von Svoboda (sculpture/mosaic) to design an “XXL” fountain, 72′x26′ and 16′ high:
According to  quoting an official report: the “symbolic twin-pillar centrepiece” is “meant to represent mankind rising from the sea and depicts gods of Celtic mythology”.
The $250,000 fountain will be controversial right from the beginning, and will be called the secret Bennett Project, erected behind blind walls. W.A.C inaugurated it at night, during a rainstorm, after having inaugurated the Grouse tramway, on December 15th, 1966. The semi-private ceremony was perturbed by a so called act of vandalism: someone had poured detergent in the fountain, making huge bubble 
The old fountain has been put in storage up to 1983, when it has been reinstated along Hornby street.
Vancouver people have never been fond of this fountain  and we can give here a couple of keys why:
- The fountain looks over-sized, in respect of the square size, and more especially the old courthouse building
- Disregarding aesthetic taste, The chosen Artistic choice, doesn’t pair well with the Neo-classic building
To be sure, the Vancouver administration hasn’t made any effort to improve the fountain setting, and the fact that the today VAG is turning its back on Georgia doesn’t help the matter. More generally we can consider that all the intervention on the Rattenbury’s building after 66 (lobby on ground level, rooftop patio…) are unfortunate acts of vandalism
The Erickson proposal
The Erickson view for this square in 1966, was not much different of the one of the city:
In his 1973 proposal:
- It was envisioned as a largely hardsurfaced plaza — adapting itself readily to multiple uses according to , but model photography suggest nothing much more than a lawn
This part of the complex design has never been implemented, allowing the Centennial fountain to stay up to today .
2009: the VPSN competition
In 2009, the VPSN held a design idea competition, “Where’s the square?”, and one of the co-winner of the “people choice” was HAPA collaborative, with their entry, “red carpet”:
We will find some remarkable analogy with the City Hall 1964 vision, and this HAPA proposal epitomizes quite effectively what is the Vancouver collective conscience and wish for this space. It also shows a remarkably solid consensus overtime on the idealized vision of this square.
2011 The Concert-hall by Bing Thom
On March 4, 2011, The Vancouver Concert Hall and Theatre Society proposed a Bing Thom plan for a 1,950-seat concert hall underneath the existing plaza fronting Georgia Street.
notice how this vision fits well with the HAPA proposal.
 Verbatim of John Atkin intervention at the Block 51 event, a look forward, VAG, Oct. 17, 2012
 That includes John Atkin, who even qualified it as too noisy!
 VancouverProvince, December 16th, 1966
 heritage vancouver society newsletter, Volume 17 Number 1, June 2008
 Redevelopment in downtown Vancouver : report No 5, City of Vancouver, 1964.
 In fact the fountain is excluded of the Block 51 lease agreed between the City and the Province. That along original negotiation line dating back January 1974- (Vancouver City council mn, January 8, 1974)
October 25, 2012
This post follow up on the history of the Blocks 51-61-71
- The Provincial Court House or Block 51-61-71 History Part 1 (~1900 to 1972)
Prologue: The 70′s at City Hall
The 70′s was years of intense civic engagement worldwide and public interest for civic participation was something city hall, controlled by the NPA for the last previous 40 years, was not prepared to deal with. The Chinatown revolt on the freeway plan in 1967 is something the city hadn’t see coming.
That had eventually lead to the formation of “The Electors Action Movement” (TEAM), and COPE in 1968, which made inroad to the council in 1968 (Philips and Hardwick for TEAM and Rankin for COPE). the four ensuing year, 68-62 was electric ones at city hall. Each development put forward by the administration was supported by the NPA, fought by COPE and TEAM, and ended to be defeated in drama, the apex of it being probably the third Georgia crossing in 1972, resulting in a full blow fiasco for the couplet NPA/administration. The only major project of the time which had been able to move forward was the Eaton center (sic). The NPA and the city administration was so distrusted that the NPA didn’t even present a mayoral candidate in the December 72 election, which was won by the TEAM. The first major decision of the new mayor, Art Phillips, had been to dismiss the director of planning of the time, Gerald Sutton-Brown. other dismissals and administration re-organization was on the TEAM menu leaving a vacuum in the city hall affair
The W.A.C Bennett government is defeated by the NDP, in the Provincial election of August 1972. The Provincial plan for the Vancouver Courthouse is stopped. Naturally (sic), considering his previous work on the site, Erickson will be the architect of choice.
The Premier of the time, Dave Barrett, had said something, Bing Thom, then member of the Erickson’s team, translated as “You need to go fast, because we don’t gonna be reelected” . This and the fate of the aborted previous project was also more than an encouragement to do so.
In the meantime the consequence of the politic turmoil at city-hall, involving many dismissals among civil servants, was leaving a vacuum in the Vancouver civil administration giving the Erickson’s team pretty much free rein on what to do in the city, so allowing a speedy process  :
As seen before, the Erickson proposal was to locate the provincial offices on block 61 and the court house on block 71, leaving block 51 for civic activities. To move forward with this spatial organization required to resolve some ownership issue:
- Block 71, including lanes, was sold to the Province for $4.6 millions in 1974
- Block 51 is leased to the city of Vancouver, by the Province, for $1 per year for 99 years started on August 29th, 1975
- In return, the city of Vancouver leases street sub-surface and air-space to the Province for 99 years started on August 29th, 1975 . exception are
- The city own the air-space above Robson
- The Province can sublease Smythe and Robson sub-surface (it can’t on Howe).
The province was also proposing to install and maintain street furnishing including trees on Robson street, and other detail which could still need to be sorted out.
- Following the freeway revolt, the rapid transit idea was getting steam, especially with Rankin as alderman , and a plan for downtown was as illustrated above, which was calling for a rapid transit station at Hornby and Georgia
- More importantly for the project itself, was the public outcry at the tower, but also the conveyed idea that block 71 could have been a green-space
People didn’t want the tower, but wanted the green-space.
The 1973 Erickson analysis
The city was seen like illustrated below, where Robson Square at the highest point of the peninsula, is not considered at the crossroad, but as a destination in itself :
The concern for the building height and its corollary, shadow, starts to commend the shape of the court house:
That leaded to the below proposal in late 1973, early 1974:
Some striking elements:
- Robson street is interrupted between Howe and Hornby, both being only connected by a pedestrian passerelle.
- A sunken Plaza on the East side of the block 51/61, featuring a food court on block 61, and a sculpture garden on the block 51
- A “city square” on the block 61
- The north side of the old court house, facing Georgia, is in the original proposal a large reflecting pond. This aspect of the design disappears very quickly -the model above seems to show a lawn- certainly due to the lease term of the block 51, which excluded the Centennial fountain
Those elements will be altered in the subsequent project development, but basically the overall design is already fixed:
The thing will be built pretty much as planned. Nevertheless the city took issue with at least three components of the proposal.
The rapid transit station location
- To accommodate the rapid transit plan of the time, the proposal was provisioning a station access along Hornby on block 51.
- For some reason, the city didn’t like this idea and was wanting it along block 61. That is what has been built 
Erickson architects was planning to have London plane trees on Howe and Hornby street, and had purchased them right at the start of the project . While a staple and beloved tree in London, Paris or New-York, the city engineers objected to this species, and provided numerous reports explaining that the Acer rubrum was a better choice. This curious bickering could have passably irritated the Erickson team, but the Acer rubrum has been the planted species
Mirroring his fordism view of the city, Erickson was looking at keeping separate the Robson shopping mall (then made of small shops) of the Granville one (then envisioned as the high end fashion mall) :
The bus routing was supposed to support this vision:
Accordingly, the original vision was calling for an open sunken plaza without at grade connection between Howe and Hornby to de-emphasize Robson. Nevertheless, it was a telecommunication duct below Robson they couldn’t realistically move, also they have choosen to ” hide” it below a pedestrian passerelle .
The city engineers didn’t like too much this idea for the reason below :
- A too narrow strip above the sunken plaza was breaking the continuity of sidewalk along Robson street, and they wanted to preserve the ability to return the traffic in case of the scheme was not working as expected
By early 1974, The province, the city and the architect, AEA, will agree on a bus only connection. Arthur Erickson rationalized the agreement as below:
“The only traffic through the square will be inner city buses, linking the West and and False Creek. Since buses function as people movers, they are seen as a compliment or enhancement to the pedestrian activity of the civic square, whereas the present car traffic would present and irreconcilable conflict.”
- Robson street was one way street at this time, with a peak transit traffic of 11 bus/hour in the West direction, leaving the transit lanes empty most of the time, what was not seen as a best use of the road space by the city:
The city was calling for foundation allowing a 4 lanes -80 foot- wide street (what has been granted), but was satisfied with the construction of a 3 lanes- 50 foot wide- street (that is the Robson street width between the domes). Another problem at this time was the Connaught bridge (or second Cambie bridge) landing at the foot of Robson at Beatty: the city was pushing its views by painting them as interim, up to a relocation of the Cambie bridge, able to move the traffic away of Robson.
The defeat of the NDP government in the 1975 general election, by the son of W.A.C bennett, Bill Bennett could have signed the abandon of the project again. Something, Bing Thom among other had worked at avoiding by pleading their case to the new Premier . The Province court will move in the new building on September 6, 1979. The entire complex cost had been reported to be $139 million in 1979 . The Vancouver art gallery will move in a renovated old courthouse building in 1983
The project will have received several awards, more noticeably, It won the American Society of Landscape Architects President’s Award of Excellence in 1979, where the jury commented on the “extraordinary integration of landscape architecture with architecture–consistent and coherent.” Envisioned as a “linear urban park, importing nature into the city“. In 2011, The RAIC architecture jury rewarded Arthur Erickson Architects with the Prix du XXe siècle. The jury had commented
“Thanks to its splendid horizontality and its complex system of landscape terrace, pools and waterfalls, this vast urban landmark is able to embody a West Coast sense of space and relationships. Bridging between law and the arts, it epitomizes the urban monument in its highest civic aspiration”
 The originally proposed lease was on a 50 years period. it has been extended to 99 years , and starting date choose, to match the lease agreed with the Pacific center.
 This day in history: September 6, 1979, VancouverSun, September 6, 1979
 Verbatim of Bing Thom intervention at the Block 51 event, a look back, VAG, Oct. 15, 2012
 Memorandum to Vancouver city Council, Blocks 51/61/71, November 29, 1973
 It was in this post 72 context, that Stanley King came to propose his co-design method, object of the movie chair for lovers
 Robson Square, The Canadian Architect, May 2011
 Urban Development Standards: The Block 51-61-71 Project, Arthur Erickson, JAE, Vol. 29, No. 3, Canada (Feb., 1976)
 Development standards case study 1. Arthur Erickson Architects, Vancouver B.C. June 21, 1973
 Department report, Vancouver B.C. June 21, 1974
 51-61-71 Project, block 71 Schematics, Arthur Erickson Architects, 1974
 Following Erickson recommendation, the Province bought, at apparently discounted price 300 London plane trees which had been over-ordered for the World’s fair in Spokane, WA. Later the city refused to plant them, they have ended on a waterfront promenade in Victoria 
 Seven Stones, A portrait of Arthur Erickson, Edith Iglauer, University of Washington Press, 1981
Blocks 51-61 and 71 are the ones sitting between Howe and Hornby, and between Georgia and Nelson, numbered from North to South
the early XX centuries
At the turn of the century the court house was located on what is now Victory square. It will be relocated on Georgia in 1912 in the building designed by Francis Mawson Rattenbury. (nowadays house of the VAG). The annex facing Robson will be added in the 30s.
In those days, the building main entrance face a ceremonial square onto Georgia street :.
While the South side seems to use to be a lawn:
City of Vancouver was eyeing the Block 61 (South of the today VAG), to transform the whole area in a civic center, by relocating noticeably the public library and the BC electric building.
- An Auditorium is considered for block 61 in 1949
- After an exhaustive study to select a location for a public space in 1958, block 61 is selected in 1960.
Most of the block 61 is acquired-thru expropriation- by the city by early 1964. At this time Downtown Vancouver is a sea of parking lot:
The Province had expansion plan for its court house since 1955. The original 1955 plan to add a building on Robson having encountered firm opposition, the Province had acquired the land behind Hotel Vancouver and some parcels on block 61… But in 1963 it was considered critical to add a parking structure to the Hotel Vancouver. a deal was stroke:
- The Province sold its land north of Hotel Vancouver to the Hotel, for purpose of building a parkade
- The City sold block 61 to the province, for the court house expansion and other governmental uses, understanding it will also include a civic square
The sale occurred in 1964, and land ownership was then as illustrated below, with Eaton owning block 52 and 71:
In 64, the block 51-61 was envisioned as below by the Vancouver city planning department:
The Province was seeing the things slightly differently, with the adding of building on block 51, and some commercial developments:
Retail corridors like Hasting were already seriously declining and the city was not seeing commercial development on block 61 as desirable. The city strongly opposed to the Province proposal for this reason.
The 1964 Redevelopment plan
The redevelopment plans published by the city in 1964  were already integrating an additional building on block 51
The design then considered by the city didn’t seem to consider a major public square. The development of pedestrian precinct, fully segregated from motorist traffic, was considered along the lines below:
That said, the city will have the Vancouver art council to commission Arthur Erickson Geoffrey Massey and Bruno Freschi to offer a counter proposal for which we have a specific post:
Needless to say the Province was decided to move on with its plan leaving the square question open:
1966-1972 : Where is the square?
The Province design was not considered offering an attractive enough space for a civic square. The city approached the Province to buy back block 61 without success. so the city resolved to consider 
- block 71 as a civic square., a then considered very poor alternative.
- block 42 because it was owned by the city (purchased with the proceed of the block 61 sale).
- a one block in the area bounded by Hasting, Seymour, Georgia and Hamilton street
- have scattered open space in the city
And a last alternative, echoing the Erickson 66 proposal:
- Acquisition of block 51 for a civic space
In the meantime, the city acquired block 71 from Eaton, since the site was considered as suitable for a ‘central’ park, if not a civic square, and could be used to trade with other properties, again echoing the erickson 66 proposal.
The Province, on its side, was busy moving on the new court house:
The Plan in early 1972
The year 1972 starts with the following design, from aprioiri Thompson, Berwick, Pratt and Partners, poised to be built:
The proposed high-rise, beyond its height, 698feet accomodating 55 storeys, was a 200 feet wide slab tower along Smythe, twice bigger than the Electra building (by the same architect). It was obviously against any by-law; the Province is not legally bind by city by-law; but this was not the major contentious point with the city administration. The proposal have its fair share of oddities:
- Block 51 and 61 was needed to be zoned commercial
- No sidewalk was planned on the south side of Robson
- A 14 feet passageway between the old court house and a new building was planned, to connect it to a 25 feet wide interior court yard
- The proposal was assuming that the block 71 should be a park, providing an open setting to the tower
While the city engineering department was considering the provided parking space (630), as noticeably insufficient (they were asking for 1200), the civic design panel had considered that “the tower structure itself, is well designed and in an acceptable location” but that the “most important problem is considered the lack of open space separation between the proposed new building and the [old] court house”.
…Needless to say the resident had a very different opinion on the slab-tower.
August 30, 1972
The W.A.C bennett government is defeated by the NDP, in the Provincial election: The project is stopped, but it is not the end of the story, to be continued here
all source from  unless otherwise noticed
 More informal gathering space was at Larwill park, at Georgia and Beatty.
 Redevelopment in downtown Vancouver : report No 5, City of Vancouver, 1964.
 Block 51 and 61, D.L. 541 City Planning Department, Vancouver BC, June 1965
 Memo to Vancouver City council- “BC Centre and court House additions Block 51 and 61″, May 31, 1972
 Memo to Vancouver City Council- “A civic square for DownTown Vancouver”, September 22, 1969
in the 1960′s the Province and the city of Vancouver were in thorny discussions regarding the development of critical downtown blocks known as block 51 (where the Vancouver Art Gallery sits) and the block 61 on its immediate southern edge. The city, unhappy with the direction imposed by the Province, had the Vancouver art Council to commission Arthur Erickson and Geoffrey Massey, to develop a counter-proposal , what they will do in 1966:
The Erickson/Massey proposal was redefining an area much larger than block 51 and 61. It was including also block 71 and 42, among other:
One will eventually draw some parallels with the Le Corbusier‘s plan Voisin for Paris. While the cold reception of his plan had contributed to make Le Corbusier person non grata in Paris…Vancouver gave a much warmer reception to the Erickson modernist ideas! 
In detail, this plan, extend the government activities on block 71, reserving the block 51 to civic activities. Erickson was considering that:
“If the downtown is to survive as a shopping center street, it must compete on equal term with the suburban shopping center, it must provides adjacent parking, free pedestrian traffic flow without crossing traffic lanes and some degree of shelter and pleasant surrounding for the shopper.”
Accordingly, the traffic movement was addressed in a multi-layered system, in which car and pedestrian were atop, while bus and truck, considered as service, were put underground:
His rationals for the segregation of traffic per mode -also promoted by Le Corbusier then for different reasons- lead him to design Robson street and Granville street, the identified main retail Malls (by Erickson, as by the city), on at least 3 levels:
- atop, a covered pedestrian mall on one to 2 levels
- below, a bus tunnel, where the bus, in the Erickson view, are understood as parking shuttle
- and at lower level, a service lane for truck traffic
A case of more interest to us in the context of the current city plan
The Strasse becomes a Shopping arcade
The access to Robson square is done thru the second level of the Shopping arcade – to not impede car traffic on Hornby street.
How to get there?
Of course, all that had to be serviced by an appropriate network of freeway, and Erickson was also calling for a ring road:
Eventually there is a rational to believe that Erickson was better architect than urbanist, thought some will probably explain that the Erickson mastery is not enough understood:
The general development form, with strict separation of movement according to transportation mode, implicitly negating the social function of the street, was a staple of the time, and is usually concomitant to a general organization of the space on multi-level. Such schemes have almost universally proven to be a failure
That said this proposal is important, because it lays down many concept which will be applied in the design of the existing provincial court house complex. One of the most important is not to consider an extension of the Provincial court (from block 51 to block 61), but a relocation of it ( from block 51 to blocks 61/71), freeing block 51 to civic usage. The concept of the sunken plaza, is also introduced in this proposal.
Some other concepts will appear in a different form in the Vancouver urban landscape…like the covered mall of the proposal, which will later translates into the rain-screen above sidewalk- in fact more inline with what was envisioned by Eugène Hénard in its vision of the Parisian street of the future…in 1900.
It also states some important analysis:
- bring the people as close as they want to go
While the car was considered as the mean of choice. Tansit was considered as an important complementary component to the accessibility, and was brought right into the high street of the town, including of course Robson street and square.
Analysis/critics and concern expressed on the Eatons centre; can also be considered as prescient for the time:
“Cemp-Eaton development could very well help the surrounding commercial areas instead of showing a blank face to them. We see the Cemp_eaton project as a vital catalyst to the downtown but are anxious that it not to be inward-looking and self-cenetred, threathening the existing shopping of Granville Street by creating its own subtarrean shopping centre, divorced from the existing shopping pattern.”
As well, a good analysis of why the downtown Vancouver didn’t follow the path of other downtown in North America:
“The downtown Vancouver has strong characteristics, principally from the uniqueness of its site, the surrounding sea, the beaches, the harbour, Stanley Park, and the crossing to the mountains.Largely because of this, the West End has emerged as one of the unique residential precincts in the world”
Cities downtown will eventually learn later, that to be thriving, they don’t have to compete on equal term with the suburban shopping center, but have to offer what they can do the best: a “real” urban experience in all its complexities… which supposes a certain level of “entropy” in its spatial organization
source: A Proposal for Block 61 and the Downtown Core. Erickson/Massey architects, Vancouver, 1966
 Bruno Freschi was also part of the team (source, VancouverSun, May 18 1966) thought his name didn’t appear on the author list of the proposal
 It was of course some dissident voices. The more noticeable was the one of the jurists, and the attorney general of the time, Robert Bonner. They had commissioned the architect Vladimir Plavsic to draft a “counter-counter proposal” (I don’t have more information on it, but for the record, Plavsic was a “brutalist” architect: he has designed the 805 Broadway Medical Dental Centre known as the Frank Stanzl building).