Cold weather public spaces
The last few days have seen the mercury drop to a near-record cold in this city. Not the sort of cold that phases folks from Calgary, Montreal or other parts of the country, but chilly enough to cause some locals the sort of pained expression normally reserved for a Leafs game or discussions of Tea Party politics.
Just as in the hottest days of summer, extreme weather in Vancouver impacts public space differently than normal. In lots of ways actually. It strains our city infrastructure, changes usage patterns of community centres, parks and libraries, affects crime rates, mobility and transportation patterns and much more. A few more examples:
On the social planning side, the finger-numbing chill hits the homeless hardest. For regular users and inhabitants of the city’s public space – in particular, its streets, alleys and parks – the recent announcement of $1.5 million in Provincial funding to re-open four of the City’s HEAT shelters is welcome news.
On the aesthetic side, the crisp air and sub-zero temperature seems to imbue the surrounding environment — our visual environment — with a sharper, larger-than-life, quality. Particularly when the sun has been shining these last few days the North Shore mountains have been magic – every tree frosted white, every peak contrasting with an azures sky. I took a few panorama shots from the Burrard Bridge to try and capture this. You can see one at the top of the page, and the other ones on our VPSN flickr page.
Finally, something that has occurred to me a few times recently, as I’ve seen crews working outside on a variety of projects. The space-makers — the engineers, carpenters, painters, welders and others who make the public spaces that we enjoy — are still going strong amidst the chilly weather.
Last night I pedaled along the seawall and came across the crew that’s fixing the substructure of the city’s most popular greenspace. This team has the unenviable difficulty of only being able to work at night because of tidal patterns… and yet, with the wind blowing, things were more than uncomfortably brisk.
As I turned my bike off the seawall I came across one of the crew members, a guy probably in his mid 40s, taking a break and warming up in an apartment lobby. He was sitting on the floor, propped uncomfortably against the wall. His face was wind-chapped red and his eyes glassy. The expression on his face was one of dazed exhaustion – the look of hypo-thermal fatigue that people have when they come in from spending too much time in the cold.