A Real Public Square

Dear City Council and Mayor Robertson:

Councillor Suzanne Anton is doing this city a great service by introducing a motion to expand Robson Square with the permanent closure of Robson Street between Howe and Hornby. Doing so would give Vancouver something it sorely lacks: a truly pedestrianized public space; a place to stay rather than merely pass through.

Shifting the focus inward, from Vancouver’s picturesque natural surroundings and urban beautification efforts that have been concentrated along the water, to improving the pedestrian realm in the busy downtown core is a crucial step in achieving a truly livable, greener city.

A public square would provide citizens and visitors with an inviting downtown destination designed for play, leisure and informal meetings and gatherings, free from the pressures of consumerism. A large and safe public square in the heart of the city is something many people feel is missing. From an infrastructural perspective, this is a vital step in integrating a vibrant and functional pedestrian and bike-friendly network throughout the downtown core.

Councillor Anton’s timing is perfect because current construction around Robson Square has allowed for months of traffic pattern adjustments. Also, if the Olympics were any indication, Vancouverites are willing to adapt to changes in their commuting patterns and support new public spaces, provided they are designed to attract and accommodate a wide variety of users.

Furthermore, with Vancouver set to host Walk21 in 2011 and aiming to be the greenest city by 2020, now is the time to take bold actions to improve the pedestrian realm. While bike lanes have rightfully received a lot of attention and investment, it’s time for pedestrian issues to become a prominent focus.

Functional and attractive public spaces combined with improvements to the pedestrian realm are crucial in achieving and supporting sustainable modes of transportation, as each and every person is a pedestrian, regardless of which mode they use to traverse the city. People need places to stay, not just spaces to pass through.

Sincerely, Natalie Ethier

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