BY: Mary Wu
The VPSN has been proactive in supporting activations in the 800-block of Robson Street for quite some time now, advocating for it to be a permanent public space. Past projects have included Valentine’s hearts on the VAG steps, Karaoke Kiosk, and the Blim Community Market. So of course, when the City of Vancouver put out a Request for Expressions of Interest (RFEOI) for this summer’s Viva Vancouver Robson Square installation, we posted our own call to collaborate. The result? A diverse group of dedicated individuals – including landscape architects, urban designers, and passionate idea generators – came together to do what VPSN does best: make Vancouver public spaces more inviting and interactive. Read on for a recap of our brainstorming and proposal-making (affectionately dubbed “jam sessions”), and get a feel for what volunteering with a VPSN project could entail.
It started at the Roundhouse…
The response to the call for interest drew a sizable group gathering at the Roundhouse Community Centre, from veteran VPSN volunteers, folks with concrete design and planning skills, and curious citizens just checking things out. Due to last year’s extension to keep Robson Square car-free, we’ve seen lots of public interest and consultation in an expanded Robson Square. The really encouraging thing is, given the public’s engagement and VPSN’s advocacy in the space, it’s entirely possible that even if our submission doesn’t get a green light from the City, the VPSN could still use the ideas for future projects.
Though the inaugural meeting was focused on gauging interest, taking stock of skill sets, and clarifying the requirements of the proposal, it was clear that the group was eager to get going. People already started throwing out elements we could integrate (“Let’s find a design that complements the stairs!” “Can we partner up with food carts to enhance this?”), and we identified some key themes to focus on, including a space that would be family-friendly.
Jamming at Waves
Ironically, a potential stumbling block of collaborating on public space activations? Finding a suitable public space to do it in. Luckily, the Waves coffee shop downtown has boardrooms you can rent, free of charge (buy some coffee if you do though, don’t be that guy). Here’s where our jam sessions really got going, nestled into the smaller of the two rooms, surrounded by our notebooks, laptops, inspiration from other public spaces, and maps of all sizes depicting the 800-block of Robson. Over a period of two weeks, the jammers came together to brainstorm, collectively narrow down ideas, and paired off outside of Waves to create beautiful concept art and expertly wordsmith the submission.
The jam sessions saw us go from putting out every idea we had (“Archways!” “A stage!” “Tree forts!”), to identifying some common themes that pulled our concepts together (“The Urban Playground?” “Or ‘Vancouver’s Living Room!'”), to getting into the nitty-gritty of assigning potential sponsors to contact and pounding out a budget. Without giving too much away, these incredibly productive meetings revolved around a couple of key points: how do we use this opportunity to turn this popular space into a playful and inclusive gathering area, and how do we encourage residents and visitors to see the potential of streets as significant public spaces?
Bringing it together (over breakfast!)
As we hit the home stretch of our proposal prep, a generous jammer offered up her home as a gathering place to afford the team a good, solid chunk of time to polish the submission. Over a potluck-style breakfast on a sunny Sunday, the team worked through the final stages of articulating and illustrating our vision, and completely re-designed our RFEOI submission – a huge step up from the original Word template provided on the website. And with that, our entire proposal package, beautifully designed by talented team members, was delivered to the City on March 5th.
So after all that, what did we come up with? We don’t want to reveal too much, since the submissions are still being reviewed and at this time we haven’t heard anything back from the City. Suffice to say though, there’s a lot of good stuff, including elements of play and community. Whether our entire proposal is accepted as is and we start building and installing for the summer, or elements from our submission find their way to future VPSN projects, we’re going to be looking for even more enthusiasm and passion to help us out. Keep an eye out, and let’s connect soon.