Advocacy, education and outreach in support of Vancouver's public spaces


December 21, 2014 at 7:49 PM

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Updated: Last Minute Gift Ideas for the Public Space Afficiando (2014)

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A frosty Hinge Park, South East False Creek.

A frosty Hinge Park, South East False Creek.

Good work, it’s solstice time! You’ve made it this far… and now the days are going to be getting just a little bit lighter from here on in. Just in time!

But what’s that you say? It’s the holiday season and you’re stressing because you haven’t yet found that elusive gift for the public space aficionado in your life? Worry no longer. We’ve got you covered.

We first ran a version of our “Gift Ideas” post in 2012 and it proved to be one of our most popular articles ever. So just like last year, we’ve updated it with a slew of updates for the 2014-15 winter season.


(1) A copy of one (or more) of the excellent books to come out this year by local urbanists. There were a number of local books on city-building, architecture and urban issues to come out this year. We’re happy to recommend three of our favourites.

  • Vancouver Confidential - John Belshaw describes this new book as “a collaboration of artists and writers who plumb the shadows of civic memory looking for the stories that don’t fit into mainstream narratives.” VPSN collaborators Jason Vanderhill and Lani Russwurm are among the featured authors. Available in bookstores around town.
  • Arthur Erickson: An Architect’s Life. David Stouck’s study of “Canada’s preeminent philosopher-architect.” An engaging read. Winner of this year’s City of Vancouver Book Award. 

(2) Go weekly or seasonally with some urbanist subscription action. Like reading about urban issues? Forefront is a weekly long-form essay that covers city-building activities from around the globe. It’s the product of Next City, a superb blog. You can obtain a subscription here. And of course, there’s also our good friends at Spacing, who produce a magazine (and several blogs) that “uncover the joys, obstacles and politics of Canada’s big cities by cutting through the cynicism that often pervades any discussion about urban issues.” Pretty good, eh? Their national issues come out a few times a year and are a superb read. Order them here.

(3) Do a little digging, tell a story. Research a home or building. For those who have time for a quick trip to the archives: put your investigative talents to good use by researching the history of a favourite building. A couple of hours of time, and you can gather all sorts of neat stuff facts via fire insurance maps, building permits, city directories and more. Snag a few historical photos, take a print of the architect’s drawings, write up your notes, and voila – a narrative of that special place.

(4) A sweet Vancouver tee. Hive Printing is a local firm that produces stylish, tees, totes and accoutrements adorned with bikes, birds and historical city scenes. This is urban-loving fashion at its best. The Hive crew can be found at markets and festivals around the city. To find out where they’ve set up shop, visit their Facebook page.

(5) Give the gift of edumacation. Vancouver’s Community Centres and public schools offer a dizzying array of classes – everything from sports to singing, music lessons to language studies, fine arts to business, crafts to computers. Classes vary in length, location, and cost, but it’ll only take a quick search online to see what’s available in your neighbourhood. Information on the city’s 24 community centres can be found here or you can zip over to the Vancouver School Board website to see what’s on offer there. Why not double-up the fun? Don’t just sign your loved one up for lessons… join them for the learning as well!

(6) Get sticky with your neighbourhood. Have you seen the Neighborland app and online platform? It’s a great way to share ideas on neighbourhood placemaking and community building ideas. Not content to stop at online connections, the creators have produced some handy “I want ____ in my neighbourhood” stickers. You can make your own via their open source files or order a set via the Neighborland website. (Of course it goes without saying that you’ll want to place these around your neighbourhood in a responsible, community-friendly fashion.)

(7) Take your loved ones out for a bedazzling or ghostly experience. Two of Vancouver’s biggest public spaces – Van Dusen Gardens and Stanley Park – get a special holiday make-over. How about a trip to one or both of these seasonal gems:

(8) Support your local street performer. (Go retro, buy a CD!). There’s tons of local musical and artistic talent to be found around the city – on the streets and in transit stations. Like something you see or hear? Lots of street artists offer CDs, sketches and painting for sale – a perfect opportunity to support the local scene and share some of the magic with a friend.

(9) Stay informed and stay up to date – While on the subject of street vending, keep your eyes peeled for two other items that make for great gifts. The Hope in Shadows calendar features top-notch work by DTES photographers and Megaphone Magazine. Revenue from both of these projects is used to provide education, training and support to low-income people in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

(10) Historical pictures. Who doesn’t like to see the way we used to live in years past? The Vancouver Public Library has a great selection of old photographs of Vancouver – which can be purchased for reasonable cost on Floor 7 of VPL Central. Or, you can go the DIY route and visit the Vancouver Archives on-line catalogue – where they have an amazing assortment of high-resolution photographs that you can download for free. Having the VPL and Archives print your pictures for you may mean a bit of a delay — but not to worry, many of their collections are available on-line and in high-resolution. You can print ‘em yourself via your local photo shop.

(A word to the wise – the VPL and Archives collections are different. So if you’re looking for that perfect photograph of, say, Robson Square during the 1960s paint-in, you may have to visit both facilities).

(11) Friends-of Gift Memberships. Both of the aforementioned organizations (the Vancouver Public Library and Vancouver Archives) have volunteer “Friends-of” groups that support their work. The Friends of the VPL and Friends of the Archives both engage in special projects, raise funds for new acquisitions, and champion the work of their respective organizations. Know someone who likes libraries or gets jazzed about archival fonds? Set them up as a patron of one of these groups by buying a gift membership.

(12) Go green with local nature. For over two decades the Stanley Park Ecology Society has played a leadership role in the stewardship of Stanley Park. They do this through a range of education, research and conservation programs. You can support the good work they do by taking out a membership with their organization, “adopting” a bird’s nest, paying to plant saplings or several other things.

(13) More brightening, less frightening – Bike & Ped lights. There are too many people out there still walking and biking around without decent lights or reflective gear (Velcro braceletsvests, etc.). Why not keep your loved ones safe by upping their visibility. MEC is an obvious go-to (and their new USB plug-in lights are awesome!) but there are lots of other places to get this sort of gear.

Know someone who’s not a cyclist but ought to be? If they have a bike that’s kicking around and gathering dust – why not surprise them with a tune-up (at Our Community BikesKickstand or your neighbourhood bike shop). Another idea, especially for newer bike users: give the gift of cycling confidence and sign them up for a streetwise biking course with HUB.

(14) Make a gift box on behalf of a friend or family member. The holiday season is festive and fun for many of us. For those less fortunate, the seasonal festivities can also be a time of loneliness and challenge – a time that is further compromised by the city’s cold, wet and rainy weather.

There are lots of organizations around town – Lookout, the Aboriginal Front DoorCovenant House, the Downtown Eastside Women’s CentreCarnegie, the Union Gospel Mission, the Kettle Friendship Society (to name just a few) – who will take donations of money, food, warm clothing (socks, sweaters, long johns, rainwear), toiletries, and other un-wrapped gifts.

(15) Make your own walking tour. Why wait until May for Jane’s Walk? Plot out a stroll and show your friends and family some of your favourite spots – the architecture you like, your favourite pieces of public art, a hidden park, other good places to meander. Show them why you like the city. Want to amp it up a bit? Put a few more treats into the itinerary – like a stop at your favourite café or restaurant for hot chocolate, or an end-of-walk admission ticket to the VAG or Science World.

(16) Surprise them with some random market magic. Still searching for some stocking-stuffers? You’ve just scored yourself a great opportunity to support Vancouver’s market scene. The annual Christmas Market occupies Queen Elizabeth Theatre Plaza between now and December 24. For the foodie on your list, there’s the weekly Winter Farmers Market at Nat Bailey Stadium – every Saturday from 10am-2pm). And if you want to go all-in, wander over to Granville Island for any number of specialty gifts.

(17) A membership in another co-operative! You’ve probably heard about co-op housing before, but there are also a good number of co-ops that sell goods and services around town. These include Modo (the car co-op) and the ever-popular MEC, as well as ones like the Vancouver Community Laboratory, the Parker Street Woodworker Coop, the Vancouver Tool Library, the Terminal City Glass Co-op or East End Food Co-op. Co-ops are a good place to shop for those who want to support locally owned, member-driven organizations that operate with a concern for community. Buying a membership in a co-op is a great investment and a smart gift – and will turn your holiday gift exchange into a gala event! 

If you’ve got other public space gift ideas, please send them our way – via info [at] vancouverpublicspace [dot] ca.


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