Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Make Vancouver's Robson Square a Real Square

Vancouver's best public spaces have always happened around its edges, as if some invisible centrifugal force were at play in the city, spinning all the residents to the sea wall. Don't get me wrong, the sea wall is magnificent. It's a gem of which Vancouver should be proud. But as a public space it has to be acknowledged that the sea wall is primarly a linear, moving strip. People walk the sea wall. They bike. They rollerblade. They jog. In other words, they move.

What Vancouver needs, and what was shown to be a great success during the Olympics, is a permanent central square. A place where citizens and visitors alike can sit and take in the bustle of the city. A central spot to meet, eat your lunch, read a book. The Vancouver Public Space Network recognized this need when they held their Where's the Square contest, calling on Vancouverites to rethink the city's potential.

During the Olympics, the redesigned Robson Square showcased this potential. The short block between Hornby and Howe, hemmed in on each side by the courthouse and the art gallery, was closed in order to allow thousands of people to congregate. As the Vancouver Public Space Network points out, the time is right for this area to remain closed. The section of the road in question has been closed for awhile for construction and Councillor Suzanne Anton has put forward a motion to make this closure permanent.

From the very beginning of its life Robson Square, designed by Arthur Erickson, got it backwards. Allowing a road to bisect the space and placing a pedestrian space underneath the street conveys a preference. The preference for cars over people. Literally.

Robson Square needs this portion of the street to stay closed in order to be a successful public space. Its downfall is that the majority of its space is hidden from view. The redesign for the Olympics (read my previous review of it here on Beyond Robson) did much to make this space more comfortable and inviting, but the reality of the situation is that without the closure of the street here the public space remains off the beaten path so to speak, closed off behind bushes or underground.

Much has changed in city planning and design since the original days of Robson Square. We now have car free Sundays where we pedestrianize city streets, and the Olympics saw the closure of many streets to car traffic. There is a longing for these central public spaces in Vancouver and we shouldn't miss the opportunity to make Robson Square into a real square.

1 comment:

  1. Great post Jake. One thing TO has over Vancouver is the numerous central meeting places in the downtown core - Nathan Philips Square, St.Lawrence Mkt, Union Station, etc. The parks also seem better integrated into the street scape and less distant than in Vancouver. Meeting friends at Christie Pitts seems like much less of a chore than meeting at Jericho park!