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

By VPSN Blog

March 12, 2017 at 11:00 AM

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Update #3: Northeast False Creek Emerging Directions

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Northeast False Creek site plan, City of Vancouver

By Wendee Lang, VPSN Open Spaces

In January, the Northeast False Creek (NEFC) park design and stewardship advisory groups reconvened beneath the Cambie Bridge in CityStudio offices to discuss and critique the emerging directions document that will inform the NEFC draft area plan (currently under development).

These directions are the result of Phase 1 of the NEFC consultation process, an outreach strategy that has involved stewardship advisory groups, an expert advisory panel, stakeholder workshops and public open houses, as well as existing city and regional policy and technical work by city staff. They were drawn within the bounds of the 11 Guiding Principles, which require that plans reconnect historic communities (DTES, Strathcona, Chinatown, etc.) with the waterfront, expand parks and open space, and engage residents in a meaningful way throughout the consultation, among other ideas.

Among the document’s most exciting highlights is the prioritization of thoughtful public space design and themes of inclusivity and sustainability that underlie public space planning. From the new NEFC park, to new streets conceived with “complete streets”* principles in mind, to the waterfront and False Creek Basin, the City stands to gain a variety of diverse public spaces in the future. While sustainability tenets are threaded throughout the document, the language becomes particularly strong where it comes to open space design, emphasizing integration of nature and complex ecosystems through use of green infrastructure, along with increased biodiversity and habitat creation. In view of the pre-eminence being given to park stewardship conducted by James Corner Field Operations and the presence of a new elementary school just west of the park, the opportunities for education here are endless.

However, the section of the document relating to public space has not passed without critique. Absent from discussions of public spaces are any guaranteesor even indicationsas to which, if any, streets will remain car-free (an issue the VPSN has raised in many contexts), aside from Carrall Street between Keefer Street and Pacific Boulevard. Though both advisory groups have often been presented with inspirational photos of busy Melbourne laneways and pedestrian-packed European avenues, the fact that all of these examples are car-free often goes overlooked, and we want the City to take leadership on this issue. Encouragingly, members of both advisory groups have been united in their strong opposition to the idea of cars at the water’s edge, though we have yet to see this space guaranteed for pedestrians and cyclists alone.

Northeast False Creek waterfront, City of Vancouver

Additionally, while language around sustainability design in public spaces is firm, pledging to “seek the highest levels of environmental and ecological performance,” these goals weaken when it comes to building standards. Instead, the City will “explore opportunities for sustainable building design” and “explore opportunities to maximize tree planting in public and private spaces to improve air quality and combat urban heat island effect” (emphasis added). As climate change presses upon us, we simply don’t have time for weak language, and we feel that the City must take leadership around these points.

Another of the document’s highlights is the stated desire to provide “meaningful cultural recognition and integration” of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh nations; urban aboriginal communities; Chinese-Canadians; and Vancouver’s Black community throughout the area’s overall plan. This is to be done via what the document calls “fulsome engagement” with these communities to uncover and recognize sites of cultural significance; create an Indigenous Peoples’ gathering space; and recognize Hogan’s Alley, Vancouver’s historic Black neighbourhood, which was demolished during the creation of the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts.

It is curious how recognition of diverse cultures falls mainly within the document’s Arts and Culture section. Indeed, in conversation around parks and open space, a desire to recognize the presence of Chinese-Canadian and Black cultures appears absent. Rather than parcelling cultural recognition into a separate section, we would like to see it prioritized, woven throughout each of the emerging directions in much the same way as is sustainability. 

In sum, the emerging directions are largely positive, and I continue to be (mostly) impressed with how quickly feedback from the advisory groups is taken into consideration by the NEFC planning team.

Our next meeting will occur some time in early April. I encourage you to consider the emerging directions document and send any thoughts you may have to wendee@vancouverpublicspace.ca.


*Complete streets” principles are rooted in inclusivity in that streets must be safe for users of all ages and abilities and the idea that streets too can be dynamic and lively public spaces.

Images: City of Vancouver

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