Posted by: VPSN | March 17, 2011

Opening streets, closing a block, and keeping the ‘public’ in public gathering spaces

Bubbles_at_VAG_DooqBubble fun at Robson – one of the many possibilities in an expanded public square – Photo by dooq

UPDATE: Council has passed the Open Streets report and recommendations.  More details to follow!

This morning, City Council will be meeting to discuss a staff report on the Open Streets program.  This is the name of the umbrella initiative under which the popular Summer Spaces and Rediscover Granville initiatives have  been located.

In the report, staff are asking Council to make funding to the program permanent – so they don’t have to scramble each year to locate funds from various other areas.  A good thing, in our opinion.  (A disclaimer: we’ve collaborated on a couple of applications to the Summer Spaces program which we’re waiting to hear back on).

The report also references the 800-block of Robson Street – as a candidate for more permanent closure in 2012.  This, as you may recall from our on-going advocacy work around expanding Robson Square, is a public space near and dear to our hearts.  Reading this, there were a few points in the report that were unclear to us:

  • What is it that City staff are planning for 800-Robson for 2012?
  • Why have they identified a $200K cost to this while saying that there’s not much opportunity to do planning for a permanent space there this year?  Where does this figure come from and what does it include?
  • Can the City proceed with securing the space this year while Provincial renovations are still being completed and while car and bus travel patterns have been rerouted to accommodate this?

It was this latter consideration that Council was wrestling with last December, and we hope that they’ll offer some clarity on this point tomorrow.  For a lot of reasons, it would be a shame if the present opportunity were lost.

Finally, a few interesting notes in the end of the report around creating opportunities for advertising and corporate sponsorship of new (temporary) public space.  This causes us concern.  While financial sustainability is important, we feel zeroing in on these options is not the place you want to start.

Here are the key points from our letter to Council:

(1) The VPSN is supportive of the idea of creating some permanence for the Open Streets program.  We believe that its various umbrella projects – in particular Summer Spaces and Rediscover Granville – are important initiatives and will be further improved through a secure funding stream.

(2)    We note that the 800-block of Robson is noted in such a fashion as to identify it as a specific Open Streets initiative (p.4) and that “in terms of staff and planning, 800 Robson Street is not being put forward for consideration in the 2011 Open Streets Program.”  We understand from the report’s author, Mr. Dobrolvony, that this line refers to the idea of creating a major public square at the 800-block.  According to the report, staff suggest this closure would cost an estimated $200,000 (p.5).

Our understanding of your (Council’s) December 2, 2010 motion was that Council had requested that consideration of a major public square at the 800-block be included in a Downtown Public Space Plan, and that the idea was to have something in place in time for the city’s 125th birthday in April.  As we noted in our December correspondence on the subject, we believe that the City could take a great step forward merely by securing the 800-block and ensuring that it is not re-opened to traffic.  We are hopeful that this option is still being considered and can be acted upon – and would seek your support in this regard.  Securing the space could be done for little or no cost, and at the most opportune time (that is: in time for the city’s birthday and while traffic and transit patterns are currently rerouted for Provincial renovations of Robson Square).

(3)    We would request some clarification on the $200,000 identified for the 800-block site.  In particular, what are these funds targeted for and how was this figure identified?  As we mentioned in our December correspondence and presentation to Council, the VPSN would be willing to assist with a public fundraising effort were the City to move to create an expanded Robson Square at the 800-block.

(4)    Finally, we also note that Appendix B of the report identifies the need to develop a policy framework to support the Open Streets initiative.  We are supportive of this idea but would like to offer a few brief observations.

First, in numerous public presentations, City staff have done a commendable job of differentiating Summer Spaces and Rediscover Granville from other city festivals and events.  This is a good thing, because the Open Streets projects are different.  We would therefore question the rationale of using Special Events policy as the (only) starting point for developing Open Streets policy.  There are a range of other policy programs actively employed by City departments that would be useful here.  There’s also the anticipated Downtown Public Space Plan, which we believe will be critical in this regard.

Second, we support the idea of ensuring that the Open Streets program achieves financial sustainability, and also that partnership development is part of this.  We are, however, concerned that corporate sponsorship and advertising are identified as key options here.  Branding the city’s new (temporary or otherwise) public spaces will have a significant and detrimental impact on their “publicness”… and we would respectfully suggest that there are a wide range of options for financial sustainability that should be considered before laying the ground for corporate sponsorship and advertising platforms.


  1. Open up that block to traffic, or at least the buses! I take the Robson bus and don’t really want to ride it any longer than necessary with the detour it now has to take, what a waste of my time. Isn’t having Granville Street closed off on the weekends enough? You now have a wooden “lounge” out there, that ,while fine during the day, has become a homeless persons hostel at night.

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