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


December 22, 2015 at 12:20 AM

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Last minute gift ideas for the public space aficionado – 2015/16 edition!

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Carousel - German Christmas Market.

Carousel - German Christmas Market.

Happy solstice everyone! A festive mood is in the air, the holiday lights are glowing, and there’s even the possibility of snow later in the week. Magic stuff! 

But wait, you’ve only got a few days left, don’t you? A few precious days – hours really – to find that perfect, but elusive, gift for the urbanistically-inclined, plaza-inhabiting, public space aficionado in your life.

Fear not. Challenges like this require Quick + Clever Ideas. We’ve got you covered… 20 times over in fact.

We first ran a version of our “Gift Ideas” post in 2012 and it proved to be one of our most popular articles ever. This year’s list should also have something to help you out. It is designed with the last-minute shopper in mind.

Some of these items are straight-up “things” you can buy. Others are the sort of experiential gifts that work best tucked inside a card. All are fun times!

Have fun – and happy holidays!

- Your friends at the VPSN

(1) A copy of one (or more) of books on Vancouver – by local authors. A number of works dealing with city-building, architecture and urban issues have been published in the past couple of years. This year our profile starts with a few well-deserving award-winners from the City of Vancouver Book Award.

  • The Outer Harbour  – Wayde Compton is well-known for his work on raising awareness around Hogan’s Alley – a predominantly black neighbourhood on the edge of Strathcona, which was destroyed to make way for the viaducts. Compton, however, is an accomplished writer. This collection of short stories is “a creative manifesto for a radical change in Vancouver’s attitude to its marginalized citizens and land use to avert a crash-course with a dystopic, very-near future.”
  • Hastings Sunrise. Join poet Bren Simmers as she explores questions of gentrification and change in her former East Vancouver neighbourhood. Variously described as “whimsical” “eccentric” and “beautifully nuanced.”

You can see the other winners – as well as previous finalists – here. In addition, here are some of the one’s we’ve profiled in the past.

  • 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.

You can find all of these texts in stores like Pulp Fiction Books, the People’s Co-op Bookstore, Book Warehouse, and Indigo. Best to call/email first to make sure that they have it in stock.

(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) Wear your city Pt 1: a sweet Vancouver tee. Why not show your love for the city by wearing it on your sleeve? We have a few favourite shirt-makers, including:

  • Hive Printing – A local firm that specializes in 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.
  • Ole Originals – We love the retro feel of these tee-shirts. Where Hive gets literal with their use of archival maps, Ole Originals re-invents an iconography that at once feels fresh and nostalgic. Check out their clever re-branding city and province. You can find their work in a variety of shops around the city.
  • Locomotive Clothing – Prints a variety of quirky images, including some sweet tees with maps of the city’s bike routes. Locomotive sells online, and at various markets around the city. Check out their website for details.

Searching for more inspiration? The ever-fashionable Miss604 has a whole page links to Vancouver tees. Be sure to check out her page for more ideas. While you’re at it, you can also check out her page of map-themed gifts.

Vancouver necklace - by Branislav Gajic

(4) Wear your city, pt 2: Vancouver accessories! The city-as-icon theme continues. Lots of local artists are incorporating aspects of the city’s landscape into jewellery and other accoutrements. The laser cut necklaces shown above are by Branislav Gajic at Amity Design Studio. June Hunter turns familiar images – the Woodwards “W”, the East Vancouver cross – into earrings (available via Etsy, or at the Vancouver Art Gallery gift shop), and there’s no shortage of other pieces to be found at places like Granville Island or Blim Market.

(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 maps and 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.

Gastown, 1880 (CoV Archives Dist P11.1)

(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) The Gift of Culture: Museum of Vancouver, Van Art Gallery, and more. Grant your friends year-round access to one or both of the finest cultural venues in the city. The Museum – as our friend Brent Toderian notes – constantly “punches above its weight” when it comes to delivering displays, discussions and programs related to Vancouver and its diverse history. MOV Memberships come in a variety of flavours, and grant you year-round access. (The dual pass is a great deal for two adults). Check out related pages for the Vancouver Art Gallery, the Vancouver Maritime Museum, and UBC’s Museum of Anthropology.

(13) Learn about the deep history of Vancouver. How about an excursion together? c̓əsnaʔəm, the city before the city, is an extraordinary exhibition taking place at three institutions: Musqueam Cultural Education Resource Centre, the Museum of Vancouver, and the Museum of Anthropology. Exhibits and events explore pre-contact cultural landscape, colonialism, heritage politics, present-day Musqueam culture and identity. In short: “the deep history of what is now known as Metro Vancouver.” The exhibit on until the end of January, so why not make a day of it over the holidays?

(14) 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.

(15) 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.

(16) Plan a 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.

Don’t want to plan your own walk? How about a ticket or two with a local expert:

  • Vancouver Heritage Foundation – Conducts popular summertime walks, each for $15. You can get a sense of their schedule here.
  • John Atkin – A popular civic historian and author who conducts walks year round. Prices vary. Be forewarned: Atkin’s knowledge of the city is encyclopedic!
  • Forbidden Vancouver – hosts a series of regular walking tours (and photo walks) in downtown Vancouver. Titles include: Lost Souls of Gastown and Prohibition City. A lively mix of history and theatre.

(17) 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 Covenant 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.

(18) Surprise your loved ones 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.

(19) 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!

(20) 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. 

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

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