One of our signature undertakings, the VPSN Downtown Public Space & Public Life project is a research initiative that aims to support the creation of a long-term plan for public spaces across “metro core” area of Vancouver (including the downtown peninsula, and the area bounded by Arbutus E 16th and Clark Drive.
The intent is to take a “systems approach” to this area – identifying the spaces that exist, how they are being used, and the way that they support (or don’t) public life in the city. Ultimately, this will also help us to understand both the critical assets, as well areas in need of improvement.
In December 2011, the City of Vancouver passed a motion to create a Downtown Public Realm Plan. The VPSN supported this motion, as well as it’s specific focus on key public spaces (including the 800-block of Robson and Mainland Street). Work on this initiative, however, has only taken place in fits and starts. From the beginning, we recognized that our volunteers and supporters were uniqely positioned to help get this ambitious project off the ground.
Why? Because in order to make a plan that covers downtown public spaces, it’s first necessary to know the existing state of affairs. That sort of comprehensive baseline research simply doesn’t exist. In fact, there are several missing pieces, including:
- A list of all the public and privately-owned public spaces in the downtown area;
- Additional lists of key public realm features;
- An inventory of all the various regulatory tools (bylaws, policies, guidelines and programs) affecting downtown public space;
- A set of defined principles related to good public space;
- Performance indicators and research around how public spaces and public space features are working – as well as site specific public space and public life evaluation tools;
- An overall assessment of key public space issues and opportunities.
We feel that these sorts of items are part of the necessary ingredients list for a successful public realm plan. Having them means that the community, together with planners, designers and other stakeholders, will be able to make thoughtful recommendations about how to enrich the existing network of public spaces in the downtown area. This is particularly the case if you want to go beyond a “high level” vision for public space, and into the more detailed – and actionable – aspects of change-making.
In 2012, the VPSN set about gathering these materials. Volunteers walked up and down every street in the downtown, documenting and photographing key features. Others took a ‘deeper dive’ into specific sites. Still others tackled policy review and other documentary analysis. The work has been slow going, but we’ve managed to assemble a fair bit of material in the process.
When completed, the Downtown Public Space & Public Life Project will result in:
- An inventory tool to record public spaces and public realm features, along with a full record of the sites identified by our volunteers
- A “State of Public Spaces” site analysis tool, with additional measures of key spaces
- Public Life assessments of key spaces
- An inventory of public space regulations in Vancouver
- Core Principles for Good Public Space – backgrounder
- Additional backgrounders exploring public space stewardship
- A report outlining key recommendations aimed at enhancing downtown public spaces and public life
Want to help with this project? We have lots of ways that you can lend a hand. For more information, please contact Michelle Pollard, Volunteer Coordinator, firstname.lastname@example.org.