Posted by: jillianglover | November 27, 2012

Council considers re-opening Robson Square to vehicles (at least for now): VPSN response

800-block Robson (Robson Square) - P1020993

Tomorrow, City Council will be meeting to consider a report on the future of the 800-block of Robson Street and the expansion of Robson Square.  The report follows on the heels of a popular consultation (the most popular on-line survey the City’s ever done), and strong support for a permanent pedestrianization of the space.

On the plus side – the City still appears interested in expanding the plaza.  Unfortunately, they’re also planning to re-open the space to vehicles on December 1, and haven’t attached any resources (timeline or budget) to resolving outstanding issues around transit, design and programming.

The VPSN has written to Mayor and Council to outline our concerns with this approach.  You can read the letter here (and below the fold).

If you’ve got an opinion on this issue, we would strongly encourage you to write an email or letter to Mayor and Council (, copied to  This is an important issue, and your voice can make a difference.

VPSN Letter – Re: 800 Robson Street: Strategy for Moving Toward a Public Plaza

Dear Mayor Robertson and Members of Council,

I am writing on behalf of the Vancouver Public Space Network (VPSN) to provide commentary on the aforementioned Council Report.

The VPSN is OPPOSED to Recommendation A, “That Council direct staff to re-open 800-block Robson Street on December 1 to vehicle traffic and prepare for a summer seasonal closure aligned with Translink’s regular schedule changes.”

The VPSN SUPPORTS Recommendation B, WITH AMENDMENTS, “That staff continue to work on addressing the issues raised by the public and report back to Council on impacts, challenges and opportunities for potentially creating a permanent public square on 800-block Robson Street.”  The Network recommends this second recommendation be strengthened, and have suggested some additions for Mayor and Council’s consideration.

I would like to elaborate on both of these items in turn:

Recommendation A – Re-opening the Square

Our organization is concerned that a plan to re-open the 800-block to vehicles, then close it again (temporarily) in Summer 2013, creates undue challenges for people moving to and through the area.  The problem with this approach is that it means transit and travel patterns will be changed and then changed again (and then a few months later, potentially changed again).  In our estimation, this lack of predictability is likely to cause frustration for residents and visitors to the area.

Based on our read of the staff report we do not feel that there is a strong enough rationale to support this recommendation.  We assume that this recommendation emerged from a couple of considerations – (a) the desire to resolve outstanding transportation issues; and, (b) the lack of a budget for any fall/winter/spring programming in the space.

If the City is serious about moving ahead with the creation of an expanded public square at the 800-block – or even if it’s serious about studying a variety of options first with a view to “moving toward a plaza” in the near term – then we feel that it makes more sense to keep the space closed while these options are explored.  We note that the present traffic and transit patterns have now been in place for approximately five months and are adjusting accordingly.

Furthermore, there are many cost-effective approaches to transform the 800-block with paint, bollards and planters to define the pedestrian nature of the space.  These measures, which have been successful in cities like New York, San Francisco and Portland, could be combined with some simple programming to enliven the space and add to its character.  Invite the public or other stakeholders into this conversation!  The recent ‘Diversity Tree” that was assembled by the Province mid-block is an example of the sort of intervention that will help to animate the space without any substantive cost to the City.

We would encourage the City to think of this as an opportunity to model positive, pedestrian-friendly change during the non-summer months. Public life in the Square does not need to end in winter time – as many naysayers are inclined to suggest.

Recommendation B – Further Study

Our concern with this recommendation is that it is too vague.  We support the idea of further study and agree that there are issues that need to be addressed – most significantly connected with the movement of the #5 bus (approximately 4-6 months of study, as noted in the report), but also with design and programming issues connected with the space.

We would like to see this recommendation strengthened with the inclusion of:

  • Sufficient staff (and other) resourcing to undertake the type of study identified in the report;
  • A timeline indicating when the public can expect staff to report back on this issue – and how this relates to other on-going issues (including the anticipated review of Vancouver Art Gallery business planning; the redevelopment of the Sears/Nordstrom building; redevelopment of the North Plaza; and the report-back on the public space component of Transport 2040 implementation);
  • Direction that the report-back take the form of a stand-alone document so that the many interest individuals and stakeholders following this issue can follow the City’s investigations with ease.
  • Additional resourcing to support small scale interventions and programming within the space.  This sort of ‘Action While Planning’ will enable the public to see further examples of the space transformed while the aforementioned study is taking place.

As part of the staff report, we would further suggest that, staff could be directed to commence work on the development of the “overarching strategy and implementation plan” referenced on page 9 of the report.  This way, Council would be in a position to assess a greater range of considerations about the future of the 800-block at this time.

VPSN Involvement

In conclusion, I would like to say that our organization understands that there are a range of issues at play with the expansion of Robson Square, and that these will require careful attention.  We commend the City for its work to date to make Robson Square a success.

The VPSN is willing to help.  Our team has spent the last 15 months researching various components of a Downtown Public Space Plan (including opportunity areas such as Robson Square) and we are always willing to share the results of our work with the City.

Furthermore, as noted in our December 2010 correspondence to the City, we are still willing to work with the City on developing a community fundraising program to raise money for improvements to Robson Square.  We feel community contributions to this project will alleviate some of the financial considerations that may be present, as well as foster a greater sense of civic pride in the initiative.

* * * * *

Mayor Robertson and Members of Council, I would like to thank you for this opportunity to provide feedback.

Strong support for a transformed and enhanced 800-block has now been demonstrated for several years.  There are outstanding issues to resolved, granted, but with appropriate consideration and planning, these can be effectively dealt with.  In light of this, we ask Council to move quickly to implement a permanent, pedestrian-only expansion of Robson Square.

If I can be of any further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Yours truly,

Heather Forbes, Chair,

Vancouver Public Space Network



  1. […] Update from the Vancouver Public Space Network on today’s Council meeting – here. […]

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