All things environmental

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

Italian Day on the Drive: something missing?

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italian days 15Today I went to Italian Day, but I didn’t get to hear any of the arias I so enjoyed last year. Nor did I see any of the classic cars – Ferraris, Alfa Romeos – I remember from previous events. They were probably there; the problem was me. I saw the crowds, grabbed some groceries, and turned tail. In my grumpiness I noticed the side streets were filled with parked cars, no doubt belonging to people who drove to this car-free event.

Don’t get me wrong: I still love the idea of the festival, even if I didn’t stay. But I doubt that many people came for the love of opera. Rather, we Vancouverites are starved for street events, and since it was sunny, everyone showed up.

The same thing happened with several car-free days on the Drive, especially on nice days. The answer is not to cancel these festivals; rather, the car-free part of it should become routine, if not permanent in some places. After all, successful pedestrian malls are found all over Europe. But a few  years back, Andrea Reimer, then an rookie councellor, got the city to organize car-free days on the Dtive every summer Sunday, and it was a flop. What gives?

What’s missing, maybe, is a destination, place to relax with a drink. When routine car-free days were created that summer, it seemed people stopped coming once the novelty of walking in the middle of the street wore off.  To keep them coming, but in manageable numbers, maybe we could try to copy what the real Italy does.  Successful car-free streets are not pedestrian thoroughfares; they are destinations. In Italy and throughout Europe, people come to these areas to shop, sure, but mostly to relax, grab a drink, eat a bite, meet friends. (According to facebook, several of my friends were on the drive today, but good luck bumping into one of them in this crowd.)

Everywhere in Italian cities, and throughout Europe, these public areas are places where pedestrians dominate: they walk, sit at a caffe, sip a drink; in busier areas they may enjoy listening to a busker or even witness a public dance.

A lovely lady enjoying her drink on a quiet street in Italy

A lovely lady enjoying her drink on a quiet street in Italy

So, let’s imagine this: every Sunday, tables are spread all over the pavement on the Drive. Stop, sit and hail a waiter, or simply go in and order a pizza with a bottle of red, to enjoy outdoor with your friends just out there to the left – the server will find you. On a warm summer evening, I can just imagine the returns to the eateries on the Drive; and there a huge number of them there. And I can’t imagine that most of the other shops, the clothes retailers, the bookstores, etc, wouldn’t benefit from the walk-in traffic. This would create a destination which could remain popular over the summer – over three seasons, probably. Eventually, if the example of Europe serves, it would become so popular that the local merchants would lobby to turn this into a permanent feature.

Normally the Drive has a few tiny table on the sidewalk, where you can enjoy a coffee, but certainly not a beer. Today, you could sit out, in the street, at a table with a glass of wine, but it had to be in a suitable enclosure that created a bottleneck for the already dense street pedestrian traffic. No mingling allowed. Why can’t it be like in Italy? Outdoor drinking is a permanent feature; alcoholism and rowdiness isn’t.

All we’d need is a more relaxed attitude towards outdoor drinking.


Written by enviropaul

June 14, 2015 at 6:24 pm

One Response

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  1. Beauty creates destination. Look at the picture above — even ignoring the lovely lady, it is a beautiful urban place. We in Vancouver may not be able to manufacture centuries of European-style history, but we can insist on beautiful architecture and streetscapes instead of buildings that are nondescript boxes or opulent monstrosities. Our built environment should reflect the best of Vancouverite values: love of nature, embracing cultural diversity, European roots, and rebuilding connections with those of us who are First Nations. The heart of the Drive beats with those values, but does the built environment express those values?


    June 15, 2015 at 9:00 am

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