Posted by: VPSN | December 20, 2013

NEW & IMPROVED: Last Minute Gift Ideas for the Public Space Afficiando


December 20, 2013 snowfall. Photo by Brent Granby.

Happy snowy solstice Vancouver! Don’t the city’s public spaces look extra cozy under that dusty white blanket? Aren’t you feeling all snuggly-wuggly? For those of you who may be looking at the snow and feeling yet another layer of a holiday-related pressure… stop right now. Grab a cup of cocoa. Sit down. We’re here to help.

We first ran a version of our “Gift Ideas” post last year and it proved to be one of our most popular articles ever. We’ve shared it a few times since them, but we’re now reissuing it with a slew of additional updates for the 2013-14 winter season. Good news for the snow-adverse: some of these options don’t even require you to go outside!

As we noted last time, our gift-giving rituals don’t all have to be about crass cable-knit sweaters (though for some reason those are actually popular this year).  For the public space loving urbanists out there, there are a host of things that you can give to your friends and family that will not only make them happy, but do a nice turn for the city as well.

Hang tight – there’s a whopping 18 last-minute holiday gift ideas in this post. All of them are awesome. Enjoy!

(1) Support a local parklet project and contribute to the creation of neighbourhood public space. There are two AWESOME parklet projects currently under development in Vancouver. Design work on both sites are complete, and each project is now using crowd-funding as a means to finance the building and programming of the spaces.

  • French Quarter Parklet – will transform two parking spaces (located in front of Chocolaterie de la Nouvelle France at Main Street and East 21st) into a vibrant outdoor seating area. The clever design and landscaping (featuring snappy triangle benches)  also features a bike car for folks that want to stay on their bikes while having their coffee. The project is a collaboration between Choclaterie, and our good friends at PWL Partnership Landscape Architects and Cycle Chic. Donate to the French Quarter kickstarter campaign here.
  • Commercial Drive Parklet – will convert two parking spaces (located in front of Prado Cafe at Commercial Drive and East 4th) into a permanent seating and gathering area for the whole community to enjoy. The Drive desperately needs more outdoor seating areas, and we’re pleased as punch that VPSN friend Julian Thomas and Board member Stewart Burgess are among the collaborators on this fine venture. Donate to the Commercial Drive Parklet Kickstarter here. (Note: this project lost some anticipated grant funding and are now looking to go beyond the initial $3,500 target. In addition to its great placemaking value, the Commercial Drive Parklet will be a vehicle to provide skills training for community youth).  

(2) A copy of one (or more) of the excellent books to come out this year by local urbanists.  There were a lot of fine books on public space and urban issues to come out this year. We’re happy to recommend two that are near and dear to our heart. (We’ve had the pleasure of collaborating with both these authors in the past and love the work that they do!). Both are available at better bookstores around town.

  • Happy City – written by local journalist and city-thinker Charles Montgomery – promises to “change the way you think about urban life,” doing so by exploring the multifaceted connection between urban design and the science of happiness.
  • Focusing closer to home is Lani Russwurm’s Vancouver Was Awesome – a visually rich exploration of collects stories of “the people, places, events, and phenomena that collectively have infused Vancouver with a distinct flavor and flair.”

(3) Invest in your community with some Seedstock.  Sure Bitcoin gets all the press, but while it may circumvent some of the problems of a global banking system, does it really do anything for local business? Did you know there’s actually an alternative currency that specifically supports local Vancouver business and non-profits? Seedstock Community Currency lets you do double with your money: exchange cash for Seedstock with a local cause to support their work, and get the equivalent amount of Seedstock back to spend at over 80 local businesses! (Find out where here). You can get ahold of money that feels good to spend – or give! – at the local xChange Station.

(4) Go weekly or seasonally with some urbanist subscription action. Like reading about urban issues? Forefront is a weekly long-form essay that covers city-building activities from around the globe. It’s the product of Next City, a superb blog . You can obtain a subscription here.  And of course, there’s also our good friends at Spacing, who produce a magazine (and several blogs) that “uncover the joys, obstacles and politics of Canada’s big cities by cutting through the cynicism that often pervades any discussion about urban issues.” Pretty good, eh? Their national issues come out twice a year and are a superb read. Order them here.

(5) Give the gift of edumacation. Vancouver’s Community Centres and public schools offer a dizzying array of classes – everything from sports to singing, music lessons to language studies, fine arts to business, crafts to computers. Classes vary in length, location, and cost, but it won’t take more than a bit of research to see what’s available in your neighbourhood. Information on the city’s 24 community centres can be found here or you can zip over to the Vancouver School Board website to see what’s on offer there. Why not double-up the fun? Don’t just sign your loved one up for lessons… join them for the learning as well!

(6) Get sticky with your neighbourhood. Have you seen the Neighborland app and online platform? It’s a great way to share ideas on neighbourhood placemaking and community building ideas. Not content to stop at online connections, the creators have produced some handy “I want ____ in my neighbourhood” stickers. You can make your own via their open source files or order a set via the Neighborland website.  (Of course it goes without saying that you’ll want to place these around your neighbourhood in a responsible, community-friendly fashion.)

(7) Take your loved ones out for a bedazzling or ghostly experience.  Two of Vancouver’s biggest public spaces – Van Dusen Gardens and Stanley Park – get a special holiday make-over.  How about a trip to one or both of these seasonal gems:

(8) Support your local street performer. (Go retro, buy a CD!).  There’s tons of local musical and artistic talent to be found around the city – on the streets and in transit stations.  Like something you see or hear?  Lots of street artists offer CDs, sketches and painting for sale – a perfect opportunity to support the local scene and share some of the magic with a friend.

(9) Stay informed and stay up to date – While on the subject of street vending, keep your eyes peeled for two other items that make for great gifts.  The Hope in Shadows calendar features top-notch work by DTES photographers and Megaphone Magazine.  Revenue from both of these projects is used to provide education, training and support to low-income people in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

(10) Historical pictures.  Who doesn’t like to see the way we used to live in years past?  The Vancouver Public Library has a great selection of old photographs of Vancouver – which can be purchased for reasonable cost on Floor 7 of VPL Central.  Or, you can go the DIY route and visit the Vancouver Archives on-line catalogue – where they have an amazing assortment of high-resolution photographs that you can download for free. Having the VPL and Archives print your pictures for you may mean a bit of a delay — but not to worry, many of their collections are available on-line and in high-resolution. You can print ’em yourself via your local photo shop.

(A word to the wise – the VPL and Archives collections are different.  So if you’re looking for that perfect photograph of, say, Robson Square during the 1960s paint-in, you may have to visit both facilities).

(11) Friends-of Gift Memberships.  Both of the aforementioned organizations (the Vancouver Public Library and Vancouver Archives) have volunteer “Friends-of” groups that support their work.  The Friends of the VPL and Friends of the Archives both engage in special projects, raise funds for new acquisitions, and champion the work of their respective organizations. Know someone who likes libraries or gets jazzed about archival fonds?  Set them up as a patron of one of these groups by buying a gift membership.

(12) Go green with local nature.  For over two decades the Stanley Park Ecology Society has played a leadership role in the stewardship of Stanley Park.  They do this through a range of education, research and conservation programs.  You can support the good work they do by taking out a membership with their organization, “adopting” a bird’s nest, paying to plant saplings or several other things.

(13) More brightening, less frightening – Bike & Ped lights.  There are too many people out there still walking and biking around without decent lights or reflective gear (Velcro braceletsvests, etc.).  Why not keep your loved ones safe by upping their visibility.  MEC is an obvious go-to (and their new USB plug-in lights are awesome!) but there are lots of other places to get this sort of gear.

Know someone who’s not a cyclist but ought to be?  If they have a bike that’s kicking around and gathering dust – why not surprise them with a tune-up (at Our Community Bikes, Kickstand or your neighbourhood bike shop).  Another idea, especially for newer bike users: give the gift of cycling confidence and sign them up for a streetwise biking course with HUB.

(14) Make a gift box on behalf of a friend or family member.  The holiday season is festive and fun for many of us.  For those less fortunate, the seasonal festivities can also be a time of loneliness and challenge – a time that is further compromised by the city’s cold, wet and rainy weather.

There are lots of organizations around town – Lookout, the Aboriginal Front DoorCovenant House, the Downtown Eastside Women’s CentreCarnegie, the Union Gospel Mission, the Kettle Friendship Society (to name just a few) – who will take donations of money, food, warm clothing (socks, sweaters, long johns, rainwear), toiletries, and other un-wrapped gifts.

(15) Make your own walking tour.  Why wait until May for Jane’s Walk?  Plot out a stroll and show your friends and family some of your favourite spots – the architecture you like, your favourite pieces of public art, a hidden park, other good places to meander.  Show them why you like the city.  Want to amp it up a bit? Put a few more treats into the itinerary – like a stop at your favourite café or restaurant for hot chocolate, or an end-of-walk admission ticket to the VAG or Science World.

(16) Surprise them with some random market magic.  Still searching for some stocking-stuffers?  You’ve just scored yourself a great opportunity to support Vancouver’s market scene.  The annual Christmas Market occupies Queen Elizabeth Theatre Plaza between now and December 24.  For the foodie on your list, there’s the weekly Winter Farmers Market at Nat Bailey Stadium – every Saturday from 10am-2pm). And if you want to go all-in, wander over to Granville Island for any number of specialty gifts.

(17) A membership with Modo – A casual membership to Modo (formerly the Car Co-op) costs $50 and gives you access to a range of vehicles for those times when you actually do need a car (which, for lots of folks, isn’t as as often as they think).  It turns out that the self-same membership also gives you a bunch of other perks as well.

And this presents us with another great avenue of gift giving to share…

(18)  A membership in another co-operative! You’ve probably heard about co-op housing before, but there are also a good number of co-ops that sell goods and services around town.  These include the aforementioned Modo and ever-popular MEC, as well as smaller ones like the Vancouver Tool Library or East End Food Co-op.  Co-ops are a good place to shop for those who want to support locally owned, member-driven organizations that operate with a concern for community. Buying a membership in a co-op is a great investment and a smart gift – and will turn your holiday gift exchange into a gala event!

If you’ve got other public space gift ideas, please send them our way – via info [at] vancouverpublicspace [dot] ca.  

Thanks to  Mike, Kevin, Paola, Julian and Kathleen for their contributions to this post.


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