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May 9, 2023 at 12:24 PM

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A People-Focused Gastown – strengthening public space in Vancouver’s first neighbourhood

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Earlier today, the VPSN wrote to City Council to offer our support for a motion entitled “A People-Focused Gastown: A Bold, Forward-Looking Vision for a Vibrant and Prosperous Neighbourhood.” A long with our note of support, we offered a few ideas which we felt could strengthen the objectives of the proposal.

By way of background, the VPSN has long advocated for improvements to Gastown public spaces. We have programmed several events in the neighourhood, provided input to previous planning and design efforts, and, most recently, participated in a Council walking tour of Gastown that took place late last year.

Based on our work in the area, we offered four key suggestions:

(1) Recognize that the issues facing Gastown public spaces are complex.

There is not going to be an easy solution to the challenges facing Gastown. The area in question has a complex transportation network, a number of overlapping uses (commercial, residential, office, social service, etc.) and also represents a meeting point between a number of different communities, each with varying needs. Work on this important initiative needs to be undertaken with care and consideration. Please resource it appropriately (beyond the current capital budget allocations). Be wary of anyone promising an easy fix.

(2) Go bold. Enhance a mix of spaces and places through placemaking & programming.

Maple Tree Square and Water Street are central to the renewal of Gastown public spaces, but a comprehensive effort should also give consideration to other critical public space and placemaking opportunities within the neighbourhood, including:

  • Utilizing street-end segments of Cambie, Abbott, and Carrall (i.e. north of Carrall) for supplemental gathering areas
  • Re-opening the CPR right-of-way that runs diagonally between Columbia and Pender
  • Considering new opportunities in commercial laneways, including Homer-Cambie-Cordova Alley and segments of Harbour Light Alley
  • Ensuring a clear integration with Trounce/Blood Alley which has been undergoing a concurrent redesign process

(3) Go bolder still. Use the opportunity to establish strong public realm connections to adjacent areas.

Similar to the previous point, the present work presents an opportunity to strengthen the broader downtown public space network, by connecting Gastown to other nearby areas, including, but not limited to:

  • CRAB Park – Through a potential connection to/from Carrall Street across the railway tracks
  • Granville Street – Ensuring linkages to an enhanced study area for the Granville Street planning currently underway
  • Waterfront Hub – future-proofing the Gastown work so that there can be appropriate tie-ins to the anticipated Hub project

(4) Work with Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations (MST) and urban Indigenous peoples and other cultural communities to ensure the public realm tells a broader and more equitable story.

The motion references local First Nations in the preamble, but not in the actual recommended directions. We feel this is an oversight, and encourage you to incorporate language that explicitly directs staff to work with the local Nations and urban Indigenous people when planning for the future of Gastown.

Further more, the area has served as a meeting point for a number of cultural/demographic communities – in particular through its connection to Luk’Luk’l, Chinatown, Paueru Gai (Powell Street), and the Downtown Eastside. Ensuring that staff bring a cultural (and broader) equity lens to this work will help to ensure that the resulting improvements are more inclusive and accessible.

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