Posted by: Andrew Pask | January 15, 2010

Megaphone – Olympic Legacies? A Public Space Perspective

I was asked to pen an op-ed for Megaphone Magazine and thought I’d take the opportunity to do a brief piece on – what else? – the Olympics. My particular interest here was in exploring some of the post-Olympic possibilities for the city’s public realm. The article appeared in Issue 46, which hit the streets today.

A month to go before the big party rolls into town.  With the years of lead-up planning, the period of the Olympic and Paralympic games will be short in comparison – over before we knew it.  Then what?

Although the Vancouver component of the Games (hockey, curling, etc.) will take place indoors, the impact of the Olympics will saturate all corners of the city, and our public spaces – streets, sidewalks and gathering places – will be particularly affected.  When talking about Olympic legacies, the question of public space becomes an important one.  What will March 2010 hold in store, once the last athletes and IOC officials have left town?

Here are three ideas and opportunities that bear thinking about:

Pedestrian Streets – The Transportation Plan for the Games includes the temporary creation of several pedestrian (car-free) areas in the Downtown core – including parts of Robson Street and Mainland.  They will be heavily used during the games, showcasing some real possibilities for future transportation planning in the City’s Engineering Department.  Such pedestrian corridors can be a boon for our long-term sustainability, economic development and public health, and we should be working hard, as residents, to advocate for pedestrian corridors in our post-Olympic city.

Safety – It was a bit dodgy to say the least.  Early in 2010, Council passed a motion requesting funds from the Province for “temporary” surveillance cameras to monitor public places during the games.  Once the funding was in place, the Province made a little aside that went something like this: “What? Temporary? Why would we fund temporary cameras?”  Bad move.  The cameras – proven to be largely ineffectual at reducing crime — need to go after the Games are over.  Vancouver does not need increased long-term police monitoring of residents as part of any ‘gift’ from Victoria.

Gathering Places – Upgrades have been made to several community centre and park facilities, but what about the opportunities for imagining entirely new gathering places?  One site that should be front and centre is the large, City-owned parking lot at Georgia and Beatty.  This parking lot used to be one of the grand gathering places in the city and went by the name Larwill Park (it got shut down as such in the 1950s).  Now, temporarily re-purposed as an Olympic “Live Site”, the parking lot should be kept as a gathering place and given its former name back.  A renewed Larwill Park would help to build a strong linkage between False Creek and the Downtown core, providing necessary open space (and perhaps our long-missed public square) in a park-deprived area of the city.

These are just three of the many areas for consideration.  Each of these also speaks to a more general consideration of the social and political use of public space in the city – how it’s planned, designed, and regulated, who accesses and uses it, and so on.  The Olympics – which come with a full contingent of pros and cons – provides an important opportunity to look at Vancouver’s public spaces and the role that they play in our overall quality of life.

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