All things environmental

Musings about the environment and all it touches, from education to city planning

Car free Robson street

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Pedestrian malls are so cool.  Ask any traveller: there’s nothing like strolling down a street in a foreign city, watch people, sit down with a coffee or a beer.  You can do that in Paris, Berlin, Munich, Madrid, Barcelona, Copenhagen, all the large European cities.  Small ones too: Freiburg, Angers, Colmar…it’s actually difficult to find a city that doesn’t have at least some streets closed to cars.

That didn’t come without a struggle, of course.  Starting with Copenhagen, merchants complained that City Hall’s decision would ruin them, talked of tyranny…now you can’t find a empty store space to lease in these malls, so popular and prosperous have they become.

People object that this only fits a European lifestyle.  Okay, how about Hong Kong?  Cairo?  Sydney?  Bogota?  Mexico City?  Or, for that matter, New York City, or San Francisco?  Yeah, sure, but those are big places, and they don’t have to put up with Canadian weather.

Well, then, what about rue Prince Arthur in Montreal? Sparks street in Ottawa?  Granville Mall in Halifax? Others in Toronto, Regina, Calgary…the list goes on.  (And honestly, Vancouver doesn`t have to contend with real Canadian weather, either.)

So why is it so difficult to have a pedestrian street in Vancouver?  There are none.  Zilch.  Lately the city took advantage of construction on a small segment of Robson street, between Howe and Hornby.  Stephen Quinn wrote that

the closed-to-traffic Robson Square is pretty sweet. The undulating gold-carpeted “Picnurbia” installation is original, eye-catching, and well-used. The hawkers are hawking, the buskers are busking. For brief moments you can trick yourself into believing that you live in a much cooler city.

The picture above shows what it looks like – early Saturday morning, on the warmest day of the summer so far.  A much cooler city, right?

The street is due to re-open to traffic after labour day, but there is an on-line petition circulating to make the change to car-free permanent, thanks to the good folks of Vancouver Public Space Network. 

Maybe Stephen Quinn is right, and the petition doesn`t have any hope in the current political context.  Maybe not?  But even so, it`s a step in the right direction – and I really believe we`ll get our car-free streets in Vancouver eventually.  Enough people want it – after all, we are the political context; we just need to shake this very Canadian defeatist attitude.

And this would finally bring Vancouver to where cities all around the world are becoming: liveable places.  Or, to put it differently, grown-up cities.


Written by enviropaul

August 21, 2011 at 10:14 am

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. […] parking lot and a few decaying buildings.  But not really central.  Me, I’d love to see the Robson block, on the other side, permanently turned over to pedestrians (it worked last summer!); and reshape […]

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