Category Archives: Identity

Erasing Misconceptions at Vancouver Draw Down

By Lauren McGuire-Wood

It’s cathartic, creating something. Putting pen to paper and expressing whatever is on one’s mind. In the case of Vancouver Draw Down, this expression came from putting marker to paper.

Earlier this month, organizers of the annual Draw Down event invited Vancouverites of all ages and all manners of artistic backgrounds to 18 different venues around the city to draw something. Anything they wanted. Many among us may believe that we are incapable of producing anything artistic; Draw Down aims to break down the barriers that keep us thinking we cannot. Participants are encouraged not only to draw, doodle, and shade, but to challenge their preconceived notions of what is considered art and who is an artist. It also serves as a reminder of the purpose of good public spaces: community connection, dialogue, and, sometimes, innovation.

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Killing Time at Copenhagen’s Assistens Cemetery

Once the weather warms up and the sun comes out from its hiding place behind the clouds, an interesting thing happens in Copenhagen – the population seems to nearly triple. People and animals alike come out of hibernation and clamber for a patch of shady green grass.

From the popular sunbathers oasis that is Frederiksberg Gardens to the expansive Fælledparken, there are many places in the city for sun-seekers to occupy. However, a more modest location proves to be an unexpected hit amongst the sun starved. North American cemeteries are not overly inviting, but the Assistens Cemetery located in the trendy Nørrebro neighbourhood is unusually welcoming for a cemetery.

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A Tale of Two Parks in One City

What makes a good park? Chicago has two of the biggest, boldest examples of very different ideas about parks right beside each other on its downtown lakefront.

More than 600 metres wide and nearly 2 kilometres long, Grant Park is truly enormous and a remarkable dedication of valuable urban land to a park. (In Toronto, it would cover the waterfront between Yonge Street and Bathurst Street, an often-maligned forest of condo towers between the downtown core and the water.) The park began as a thin sliver of public lakeshore along Michigan Avenue, attaining its present scale somewhat accidentally when the debris following the Great Fire of 1871 was dumped in the lake and became new parkland. The park is protected from significant development by easements and dedications fought for by local residents over several decades against their own City government. All buildings are subject to a low height limit, except for the Art Institute of Chicago, a relic from the 1893 World’s Fair.

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Under Construction

When developers in big cities begin new projects—whether repairing old buildings or creating new ones—their initial focus in preparing the site seems to revolve around due diligence. Have the neighbours been notified? Will activity remain within noise and traffic by-laws? And always, has the construction site been physically separated safely from the public realm?

The barriers between construction sites and the sidewalk are typically crafted out of simple boards, scaffolding or plywood. There is nothing particularly attractive about these dividers. Often they will be plastered with posters, and in cases where developers have gone to greater effort, the temporary walls may display images and slogans to market the condos that are being built. These dividers do nothing to add to the passerby’s experience, and if anything, detract from simply walking down the street.

Here in Toronto, one developer has taken a very different approach in separating a new condo construction site from pedestrians. This group is developing an old industrial site that had once been a distillery. Section by section they have refurbished old buildings along cobblestone streets and created new spaces for shops and artisans. Instead of slapping up simple barriers around a new condo site, the developers have built a unique, attractive wall as a hoarding.

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Signage for a Way of Life

I like to explore industrial areas when I visit a new city and Hong Kong was no exception. While the city is compact, with real estate and developable land extremely precious and highly valuable, small areas still remain reserved for warehousing and distribution. It was in one of these small areas that I stumbled across a unique neighbourhood and accompanying public space.

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Art or Bike Parking?

Planned art installation? Spontaneous intervention? New bike parking? We’re not sure what the inspiration was for these bikes playfully hanging from a tree in Toronto’s Trinity Bellwoods Park but it definitely got our attention. We love these unexpected and creative changes to our public spaces that make them more enjoyable experiences. Let us know if you saw this over the weekend and bonus points if you can tell us why the bikes were in the tree.

photo by Melissa Daniels

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The Aesthetics of Juxtaposition

By Jake Tobin Garrett

As the days begin to get warmer, I am looking forward to spending some time at Sugar Beach, one of the newer waterfront public spaces that is part of Waterfront Toronto’s ambitious revitalization of the Toronto’s shoreline. The beach owes its name to Redpath Sugar, a still working piece of Toronto’s industrial past that remains adjacent to the park.

It’s not unusual to see a huge ship carrying thousands of tonnes of raw Brazilian sugar docked at the refinery, unloading its burnt-yellow cargo with cranes that send metallic clangs over the water. I love watching the workers who in turn gaze over the railing of the ship at the people lounging under Sugar Beach’s bubblegum pink umbrellas. It must be an uncommon sight to these workers to be able to stare at sunbathers and kids playing in water fountains while they do their work; but then again, it’s uncommon for a public space like Sugar Beach to share such close proximity to working industry.

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Space98: A Vancouver Bus Shelter Turned Message Board

By Brandon Yan

This space on Granville Street near Broadway used to be a bus shelter for Translink’s 98 B-Line, a rapid bus system from Vancouver to Richmond that became extinct with the completion of the Canada Line. Since September of 2009, this sad space has sat unloved and unused: the number 10 bus that now runs along Granville Street stops about five or so metres to the north so no one waits here. Sometimes you’ll see the odd person sitting on the bench.

Whenever I see a sad space in the city I always envision its potential. A few months ago, the Vancouver Public Space Network (a group that I volunteer with), organized an ‘Ideas Jam’ and I brought up the possibility of transforming this old bus shelter into something useful again. A group of us came up with some pretty great ideas but I thought it’d be even better if we asked the community what they wanted. So, I bought a bunch of peel and stick chalkboard panels and some chalk and this past weekend I gathered a few friends and volunteers and we set it up. I kind of prefaced the whole experiment with a quote from Jane Jacobs: “Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”

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Frank Gehry’s Indoor Public Space for the Signature Theater

The Signature Theater has relocated to a Frank Gehry-designed 70,000 square foot space just west of Times Square after over 25 years in a small theater in downtown Manhattan. Unsurprisingly, Gehry has manifested a vibrant and dynamic space. What is surprising, however, especially for New York City, is the center’s vast indoor public space. This space does not require a theater ticket for entry. It is truly open to the public!

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Planter Personalities

By Jake Tobin Garrett

Walking around New York this past summer, I began to notice something as I moved from neighbourhood to neighbourhood. On each street, at regular intervals, street trees protruded from well-tended and uniquely-designed mini gardens. Each of these trees had their own personalities stamped into the sidewalks from which they sprouted.

Being the weird tourist that I am, I began to take pictures of these all around New York. It was amazing, once I began to notice them, how many different kinds of treatments there were. Some were overgrown with greenery, others deliberate flower gardens, others lined with stone. Some had small wire fences around them while others were left open to wandering feet. (Many, especially on residential streets, contained a small sign that implored dog owners to curb their dogs). I wandered around, happily snapping photos of the sidewalk, while others snapped photos of the skyscrapers.

Then, I got back to Toronto.

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