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

By VPSN Blog

May 19, 2017 at 8:00 AM

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Unusual, overlooked or (formerly) illegal public spaces around the world

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Surfers on the artificial river Eisbach in Englischer Garten in Munich. Photo: Patrick Stahl under Creative Commons license

By Mitchell Reardon, VPSN Streets and Transportation

With spring here, Vancouver residents have emerged from hibernation or descended from snowy mountain peaks to rediscover their city. Cherry blossoms, which did a remarkably good job at withstanding the elements, were the first major public space attraction for many. Yet soon, warm weather and sunny skies will draw Vancouverites to any number of the many beaches that grace our shoreline. It may be their (somewhat) natural context, the hedonistic activities that they are known for or their location along the city’s urban periphery, but Vancouver’s beaches are often under-recognized as important public spaces.

These beaches are hardly the only much-loved public spaces that are overlooked, however. Inspired by warmer weather and as a salute to Vancouver’s beaches, let’s tip our hats to five unusual, overlooked or (once) illegal public spaces from around the world:

Islands Brygge Harbour Bath: In Copenhagen, residents and visitors can cool off with a dip in a public swimming pool in the city’s harbour. While the area was formerly for heavy industry, the water (tested daily) is now clean enough to swim in: a testament to Copenhagen’s commitment to environmental sustainability.

Copenhagen Harbour Bath - Islands Brygge

At the Islands Brygge Harbour Bath, Copenhagen. Photo: webjay under Creative Commons 

Urban rock climbing in Stockholm: Not all public spaces are horizontal! Along the Danvikstull Canal in central Stockholm, climbers have free access to a 25-metre rock wall. It might not be the most accessible public space, but it’s certainly well used. Don’t look down!

Burnside Skate Park in Portland: In 1990, tired of rain and security guards shutting down their sessions, a group of skateboarders built a small, unsanctioned skate park under Burnside Bridge. Twenty-five years later, the space is legendary in the skate community and a template for skate parks under bridges in cities around the world.

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Skateboarding under the Burnside Bridge, Portland. Photo: straightedge217 under Creative Commons

The Gum Wall: An “installation” that activates a space, Seattle’s Gum Wall is located in an alley near the famous Pike Place Market. It was cleaned in 2015, but visitors quickly began re-establishing the famous wall.

Gum Wall

Gum Wall, Pike Place, Seattle. Photo: Caleb Phillips under Creative Commons

Eisbach River surfing: In Munich, surfers can catch a natural wave without ever leaving the city. A practice once illegal but fiercely protected by local surfers, surfing on the river is now sanctioned by the city. Beginners beware, though: while it may be open, it definitely isn’t easy!

There are many more unusual and well-loved public spaces out there. What are yours?


Top photo: Surfers on the artificial river Eisbach in Englischer Garten in Munich. Photo: Patrick Stahl under Creative Commons

All photos under Creative Commons license

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