In Support of Bike Lanes & Public Squares

Two related issues that have caught my attention this morning are the Vancouver Public Space Network’s petition to permanently pedestrianize the 800-block of Robson Street , and David Suzuki’s article in support of bike lanes.  Beginning from the end, Suzuki’s article in the Georgia Straight sums up our current reality with the following statement:

As oil becomes scarce and pollution and climate change increase, people are finally realizing that transporting a 90-kilogram person in two tonnes of metal just isn’t sustainable, especially in urban areas.

It’s important to note this is not a crusade against the car, and Suzuki points out that reducing traffic and gridlock makes it easier for those who are unable to use alternative modes of transportation to get around, while creating many benefits for cyclists, pedestrians and transit users.  With examples from Zurich, Switzerland and Amherst, Massachusetts, Suzuki outlines some of the economic and social benefits of creating mixed-use transportation infrastructure.  He also references  the results of a recent study by Stantec Consulting, published here in the Globe and Mail, which shows that in reality, businesses suffer little and traffic congestion and travel delays are mitigated when bike lanes are present. 

‎Back in November I wrote a letter in support of the permanent closure and expansion of Vancouver’s Robson Square.  The issue is making headlines again, as the Vancouver Public Space Network collects signatures in support of this initiative.  Unfortunately, according to this article in the Straight, this isn’t something that is going to happen immediately, with full transit service set to resume through the square after Labour Day.  However, several City councillors and TransLink support the idea of a long-term study to create a transportation plan that would enable the permanent closure of the 800-block of Robson St. and expansion of a public square, while meeting the east-west transportation requirements of transit users in the downtown core.  As of today, 75% of respondents support the permanent expansion of Robson Square. Cast your vote now!

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

Fragmented Geographies

Afternoon School at VIVO Media Arts Centre

Monday, 22 February 2010, 2pm FRAGMENTED GEOGRAPHIES Presented by Natalie Ethier Fragmented Geographies will explore psychogeography, dérive/drift, and the right to the city to raise questions around contested spaces, constructed landscapes and temporal infrastructure created by and for Vancouver 2010. Participants will be invited to create memory maps of the city, tracing their routes through it to show how mobility is affected by the current global spectacle. At the end, instructions on how to conduct a dérive through the city will be given.

This is How it All Began

Today I remembered how Pedestrian City began; who and what inspired the project. There are the obvious catalysts, Jane Jacobs, and Guy Debord and the Situationist International – Jacobs was an advocate for dense, active mixed-use neighbourhoods made for walking and socializing, and encouraged walking as a means of getting to know your neighbourhood; while Debord gave me a new way to explore with his concepts of psychogeography and the derive.  The less apparent, but probably first inspiration was Gaston Bachelard and his book, The Poetics of Space, which I am re-reading for at least the fifth time.  I like to think I dream differently when I read this book. At least I think about and experience spaces differently, more consciously and reverently.

As I wrote in the opening paragraph of Pedestrian City: A Visual Narrative of Trinity Bellwoods: “To borrow from William J. Mitchell, I need to make myself into an urbanist, a geographer, and begin “to understand how the objects, narratives, memories and spaces [of the city] are interwoven into a complex, expanding web – each fragment of which gives meaning to all of the others” . I have undertaken this task with this project; through gaining a sense of how people perceive and experience a particular neighbourhood through walking. To relate it to the phenomenological writings of Gaston Bachelard, Max van Manen, and Tony Hiss, this project begins to explore the relationships between place, space, and a sense of individuality; about how our experiences with the environment, natural and built, shape who we are and how we experience different spaces and spaces differently, which is portrayed in individual maps and photographs of the neighbourhood.”

In The Poetics of Space Bachelard explores lived-space as it relates to our daily experiences, reveries and reactions, with the earliest impressions, those formed in childhood, being the basis for how we experience space throughout the rest of our lives. It was this that I remembered while walking to Queen Elizabeth Park today, with the book in my bag and a camera in hand.

Today’s walk was reminiscent of my first conscious attempt of engaging in the act of psychogeography; an instance where I had a destination in mind but no planned route and only a vague sense of time. My pace was slow, my eyes were curious, and my camera and notebook were ready to record the objects that caught my attention and stood out from the rest of my surroundings – the things that enhanced the walk for me…

On the Map Again

After nearly 2.5 years, Pedestrian City is up and running again!

The first official event happened last Thursday, October 22nd at the Toast Collective in Vancouver. It was the first step in a collaboration that’s underway with the Vancouver Public Space Network in their Green Mapping initiative. The vision is to create a series of green maps of the city based on the local spaces that matter to us.

The City of Vancouver states that “greenness” is a key to our collective identity and that we live in a green paradise. In response, the VPSN is initiating a Green Map-style inventory to help us advocate for public “green” space within the City. A Green Map can “create perspective-changing community ‘portraits’ which act as comprehensive inventories for decision-making and as practical guides for residents and tourists.”

Some more informal mapping took place last night at BarterTown, also at the Toast Collective, and will continue sporadically over the next couple of months. Check the Events page (and while you’re there, the new Green Mapping and Get Out and Walk pages!) at for details of upcoming chances to contribute to this exciting project. Anyone who contributes a Green Map is also encouraged to participate in the rest of the Pedestrian City process, which involves taking pictures, sharing stories, and maybe tracing your routes through your neighbourhood in a more detailed fashion.

Scents and Spectacles

Walking is one of the best ways to explore a city, old or new. And since Vancouver is still very new to me I have a lot of exploring to do. One evening a couple of weeks ago I set out for a walk with a friend and discovered an assortment of exciting new sites, scents and spectacles.

We met at a checker board at the intersection of Ontario and 18th, which I didn’t even know existed until that evening, even though it’s only a few blocks away from my house. From there we wandered for 3 hours with no particular destination. It wasn’t too far off from an exercise in psychogeography, which was a new concept, but not a new practice, to my fellow ambler.

There were many memorable sites/sights along the way. We followed a sign in Queen Elizabeth Park that read “Small Quarry” only to find (to our disappointment) a landscaped space which didn’t look much like a quarry at all. Although I must say the view from the top of the park was stunning.

Later in the evening we discovered a “neon Virgin Mary” – back lit with two tubes of lighting that formed a halo above her head, and a passage in a hedge that led to a cemetery where it “smelled like country”. There were scents of BBQ and marshmallow in the air that evening too – but not in the cemetery.

I also learned about the array of fruit trees and other edible treats available if you look for them. Kiwi? I had no idea! I must find the kiwi tree!