Pro Walk Pro Bike Pro Place in Vancouver Offers Real Inspiration!

September 19, 2016 at 9:11 am 2 comments

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Many thanks to Mark Plotz, Vice President at PPS and Program Director of the National Center for Bicycling & Walking, who does the heavy lifting for the conference! He took my phone call when we still had half of Washington State to bike across and I wasn’t sure I’d make the event because of headwinds.

My family and I dipped our front wheels into Puget Sound at the end of our bicycle journey across the U.S., just in time for me to hop a bus from Seattle up to Vancouver for the 2016 Pro Walk Pro Bike Pro Place Conference and Placemaking Week, September 12-16.  It was an incredible treat – to experience Vancouver and also to participate in these events put on by the Project for Public Spaces (PPS) and other partners!

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View across the harbor from the Woodwards Building

By chance, I was able to stay with a lovely couple who are Warm Showers hosts living in the famous Woodwards Building in Gastown – a former department store that was the site of affordable housing protests against luxury redevelopment.  It has been re-made into mixed income housing with incredible views of the port. In a nod toward Vancouver’s typically rainy climate (this particular week was bright and sunny the entire time) the complex also has several indoor-outdoor communal spaces, as well as a neighborhood grocery and other services on the ground floor.

The very first afternoon I was able to jump on a Seabus Ferry with other conference participants to cross the harbor and engage in a mobile workshop put on by the City of North Vancouver and consultants from Nelson/Nygaard. Called (Un)Squaring the Square, the workshop invited practitioners and local stakeholders to walk through, sit down, and re-envision two underutilized public spaces. The session was engaging and well organized and also a grounding and connecting experience for many of us just arriving in Vancouver.

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Atrium public space at the Woodwards Building at night.

Despite the tremendous beauty of the City of Glass and its surrounding mountains, I appreciated how open local conference organizers were about Vancouver’s continued affordable housing and mental health crises, as well as other serious issues. The keynote, Charles Montgomery, local to Vancouver and author of Happy City: transforming our lives through urban designshared how important it is that we help people connect with one another through our transportation and placemaking work.  That everyone belongs and should be made to feel that way.  And how connecting people in public spaces and through walking, bicycling, taking transit, and carpooling is essential for our mental health and economic futures.  It affirmed all of the base motivations for the work I do and I look forward to reading more of the science associated with Charles’ work.

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Mobility walking workshop to see the various elements and changes that will result from the planned removal of two auto-centric viaducts downtown. Many thanks to City of Vancouver staff Holly Sovdi and Devon Fitch for this great session.

Vancouver has a great bike share, Mobi, which partnered with PPS for various parts of the conference. For this particular week, however, I was able to throw my bike on the bus up from Seattle and use my trusty steed for transportation. As a bicycle and pedestrian professional and advocate, it was incredible to get to use Vancouver’s extensive bike and sidewalk network – much of which has been built out in the past decade. It really was a delight to walk and ride around the city – both to and from the conference location downtown and for mobile walk and bike workshops.

Local folks shared it hasn’t been an easy transition to all of the separated bike facilities that now exist for miles along major downtown streets – and are filled with bicycle commuters. There are regular reports of conflicts with motorists.  And bike theft is such a crazy problem that it sounds worse than New York City.  I was happy to have secure inside bike parking at night and that the conference had contracted with local non-profit Better Environmentally Sound Transporation for Valet Bike Parking during the day.  B.E.S.T. told me they were asked to provide Bike Valet all summer, 7 days a week, for large employers on Granville Island – because bike theft has been so severe that folks refuse to bike there.  It was a great success and bicycling employees have been sad to see the program end with the fall.  Hopefully they find a way to sponsor it year-round. Side note: I love B.E.S.T. for their work and resource materials.  I was using them a decade ago for car ownership financial literacy work – so it was fun to meet them in person.

img_6160-2The city is doing some interesting public engagement and experiments with re-use of public space, too. For example, this block in the photo at right has been closed to car traffic in a central location downtown. In addition to the usual street furniture (nice to eat my lunch there!) and food trucks, they’ve used bright temporary paint to ask people for their input, with an information kiosk and suggestion cards available nearby.

On Thursday night, I volunteered for the Waterfront Redesign site that was part of Placemaking Week’s POPCrawl. Organized by the lovely Jackie Kanyuk, a local consultant and Volunteer Manager for the conference and Placemaking Week, this was a walking tour of various public spaces, potential redevelopments and public art installations.  Using old-school, simple materials, folks stopping by our site were invited to revision a proposed redevelopment of a parking lot adjacent to the port – not as luxury looming condos, but as mixed use space.  A local artist/architect was on hand to quickly visualize and post people’s input in vivid drawings.  Others wrote their ideas on I Would Like to See This Here stickers that were displayed in an ever-growing number on a big piece of cardboard.  Each attendee carried a passport we would stamp for visiting our site and the busy sidewalk pulled in lots of local Vancouverites to participate as well.  Local advocates will use this public feedback as part of their work with the city to alter the current design for the site.

 

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Arthur playing his favorite song on a public piano. There seemed to be public pianos all over town.

All week I had the chance to meet new folks from across the U.S. and Canada and farther afield (New Zealand, Brazil, etc.) – plus see a few New England faces from back home.  And I got to spend time with the fabulous Arthur Orsini of Urban Thinkers and Vancouver Coastal Health. In 2011, following the National Safe Routes to School Conference in Minneapolis, I was able to do a training with Arthur on facilitating authentic youth engagement in active transportation projects.  It was just amazing and inspired me to do some youth-led projects in my Safe Routes consulting work back in Maine.  He’s the real thing when it comes to not tokenizing young people and doing genuine facilitation – and it was so fun to get to hang out with him in his hometown!

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Entry filed under: Active Transportation, Transportation Demand Management, Transportation Infrastucture Improvements, transportation planning.

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Amy Walker  |  October 16, 2016 at 6:15 pm

    Hi Sarah, I’m so glad you had a good experience in our city! – One small correction – the building you stayed in is called Woodwards.
    😉 Cheers!

  • 2. sarahcushman  |  October 17, 2016 at 8:07 am

    Thanks so much for letting me know, Amy – I should have checked on that! And thanks for your wonderful Vancouver hospitality – yours really is a WOW city!

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