A Ship Called City

Gathered around the table were roughly twenty people. Each with a little known set of knowledge, interest and understanding of city planning. The table was covered with a long print of the East Broadway corridor between Main Street and Prince George at 1:500 scale. We all got back from about an hour’s walk that had covered the region shown in the aerial view in front of us.

How do we start our discussion?

Property lines are shown for illustration purposes only and do not reflect legal documents.

Scot Hein, Vancouver’s senior urban designer, took out a red marker and began drawing dash-dotted lines marking properties around each structure. Some looked small compared to others. Gradually, visible patterns revealed themselves on the paper. In the street walk people could feel the space, notice the environment, see the details of the neighborhood. Now, on paper, that marking process made the connection between reality and plan.

“So what is it that you do all day in design, draw nice pictures?” my grandmother has asked me years ago.

Even the seemingly simple act of talking with an audience and drawing at the same time is a highly intellectual endeavor. Although he confessed to not being good at it, Scot handled the task admirably. What we saw on paper compared to what we’ve experienced on ground started to make sense. The technical process of giving shape to impressions is in fact the magic of reaching common ground for discussion. For everyone in the room to be able to participate in the process, a communications barrier needs to be removed. That simple drawing of lines in front of people’s eyes allowed Scot to relieve us from the confusion of where to start. At the same time it puts all of us close together as a team of collaborators.

From a skeleton, scientists have the insights and tools to show us a full illustration of extinct creatures.

In urban design we take the skeleton, be it the map of our city or any scale and shape of grid, and envision the future. For that future to be compelling to as many stakeholders as possible, the workshop conducted on the Sunday, 18th of November, was a great tool for engagement. Gradually and confidently, Scot, with input from the audience, has transformed the heavily abstract image of East Broadway from an image of neglect into a vision of opportunity. Nothing and no one can promise us success in this story.

Broadway East is worthy of attention. It requires the help of a caring crew. When I’ve heard of the Weaving Policy, People & Place Together (WPPP) I signed up for its workshops with a sense of curiosity and opportunity. What I found in the first meeting on November 3rd inspired me. There’s still work ahead. Contributions from many people and directions will no doubt strengthen the process. To me it looks like we are all trying to join forces in adding features onto the skeleton of a ship. Together we then send it to sea knowing we’ve done our best.

Property lines are shown for illustration purposes only and do not reflect legal documents.

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