Viva Vancouver 2013

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

The viva objective is to disrupt Transit as much as possible, no matter the reason what: under this light, 2013 marks a special achievement, by the reintroduction of cars on Granville Mall. (credit photo: Car2go facebook)

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:

Robson Square 2013.
(credit photo, scout magazine)

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 [2]:

  • 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 [1].

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 space is too big with undefined edges to instillate a sense of “successfull pedestrian space”. The “corduroy road” installation serves mainly as a food court for the foodtrucks (on the bottom/left corner), which is preferred to the then deserted concrete seats, legacy of Arthur Erickson, credit photo, Brent Toderian

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:

The Robson square Sidewalks are ample enough to accomodate the pedestrian flow: no pedestrian feels the need to overflow on the street, even when invited. The lack of “edges” provide no reason to stop/ slow down at Robson square – credit photo Emily Jackson from MetroNews

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:

Georgia street, sometime called a traffic sewage, is where some want hide Transit and its users: it is not without creating challenges.

Georgia street, sometime called a traffic sewer, is where some want to hide Transit and its users: it is not without creating challenges and it doesn’t necessarily help to create a positive urban experience of the city at large

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


[1] 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

[2] If it can be any indication, disturbing lack of people has also been observed recurrently on picture published on the Gordon price blog, on Granville street like here or there there (2012)

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One Response to “Viva Vancouver 2013”

  1. Rico Says:

    I like the fact that VIVA is trying to add programing to help activate the downtown. I also don’t like the attack on transit implied with transit closures on Granville and Robson…but at least with Granville the street is ‘fairly’ narrow and the buses are too frequent to allow use of the street (not offering a solution because I don’t have one). Basically I do not see any easy short term solutions (a longer term solution would be new public spaces that activate the public realm better). On Robson the problem is clearly not the buses. In fact I would like to see better bus facilities on Robson (more bulges?) and I think it would improve the pedestrian experience there as well (and provide a bit of traffic calming).


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