Robson Street, February 2010. Photo by Rick Chung
A quick update from today’s City Council session. The motion to turn the 800 block on Robson into a public square has been referred to one of Thursday’s Standing Committee meetings – either City Services and Budgets (9:30am), or Planning & Environment (2:00pm). UPDATE: The motion will be discussed at the City Services and Budgets Meeting (December 2, 9:30am).
This is a good step – because it means that the motion will now be formally debated. It also means that there is still time for you to have your voice heard on this important initiative – either by sending Mayor and Council a note of support, or by signing up to speak in person on Thursday.
Tonight’s meeting itself was revealing, and gives some idea about the type of discussion that may take place a couple of days from now. Our guess is that, for a variety of reasons, the wholesale adoption of this motion is not going to be as straightforward as some people in the community have envisioned.
For example, members of COPE have expressed some reluctance to support the motion because they feel that it might be redundant. In April of this year, one of their Councillors (David Cadman) introduced a motion that asked for “Saturday and Sunday closures of Robson Street, as during the Olympics” (something the VPSN supported at the time). It’s not clear if this concern will be mitigated during the debate. (Our position on this is that the present motion – asking for the investigation of a permanent closure – appears to be sufficiently different in both scope and geography).
At the same time, there will also likely be a push by Vision Councillors to locate this motion within a larger discussion of Olympic legacies. This has some merit, given that staff were requested (in March 2010) to report back to Council with information on the ways the City could sustain a number of Olympic-style activities (including the streetcar, sports activities and more). There was also some discussion, though not explicit at the time, of public space components being included in this — and indeed, Councillor Cadman’s motion was later tacked on to the work City staff were directed to undertake in this regard. The report has not yet been presented to Council.
We feel that the present motion is actually complementary to both public space programming (a la Cllr. Cadman’s motion) and a larger Olympic legacies discussion. However – and this is key – it also needs to be looked at in and of itself.
Not only is the public space itself very clearly defined under the present motion (a specific, key block vs. “Robson Street”), but what is being asked for is a closure and transformation of the space rather than a temporary Summer Spaces style of programming). We feel that this is an important distinction, because a permanent closure will require a different portfolio of planning, design and resourcing activities.
But more to the point, securing Robson Square is a hot opportunity – because the block in question is presently closed for construction and has already changed traffic patterns in the area. The ‘window’ that this affords is not particularly large. The ideal situation, we feel, is to close the space immediately after the Province’s renovation work is completed. That way, it can be more easily be transitioned into a different use — much the way the Dunsmuir viaduct lane was repurposed for a bike lane (after being closed to car traffic for some time).
For this reason we feel that the best direction Council could take on Thursday would be to direct staff to undertake the appropriate resourcing planning to get the site lined up and secured now, while also directing staff to incorporate the site as a “Quick action” component of an expedited Olympic legacies report. Any work to enhance the space (design work, fundraising, etc.) can then be done in a more involved fashion under the banner of a range of City initiatives (including Olympic Legacies, Greenest City, the upcoming Transportation Plan, and so forth).
How you can help. If you haven’t already done so, please take a moment to write a letter or email to Council in support of this motion. Encourage others to do the same! Write a short note expressing your support for the creation of a permanent square on the 800 block of Robson, and the closure of Robson Street between Hornby and Howe. It would also be helpful to note in your letter that securing the space would be a good first step in realizing a number of Olympic legacies and public space goals – but that timing is of the essence on this one.
Council can be emailed at email@example.com.
If you have the time to present your thoughts in person, consider getting on the speakers list by contacting the City Clerk’s office. Phone: 604.873.7276. Email: mayorandcouncil [at] vancouver.ca.
- Vancouver Courier – “City councillor floats downtown public square plan” – December 1, 2010
- CTV News – November 30, 2010 (sorry, couldn’t figure out how to link to the specific clip, but it’s online under BC news.
- City Caucus – “Reclaim Robson Street as a people place” – November 30, 2010
- 24 Hours – “A recipe for instant soul downtown Vancouver” – November 30, 2010
- Vancouver Observer – “A public square for downtown Vancouver” November 27, 2010
- Metro – A Eurostyle square for Robson – November 26, 2010