What culture expects us in the future?

As I lock my bike to the railing beside the Croatian Community Center, another guy has just about finished locking his own. He grumbles something about the lack of racks to accommodate the mass of bikers who came to the planning workshop. “Pretty impressive” I share in irony. “We seem to have parking challenges” I smile and continue my unpacking. “Assholes”, he scoffs and walks inside.


The last of seven planning workshops for Grandview Woodland concluded on Saturday, March 7, 2015. The series of workshops has generated an intriguing process of interaction. The neighborhood is made up of people from a variety of cultures. Can their various interests and intentions then constitute a Grandview Woodland Culture?

Doug Saunders, a Globe and Mail columnist and author of Arrival City, spoke at Surrey City Hall in November of 2014. His opening remark relates nicely with the process Vancouver is going through these days. “We have just finished five decades in which we got lucky… and, we are now at the beginning of five decades in which we will have to be skilled”. Saunders’ discussion focuses on “the urban districts that form the bottom rung on the ladder”. (The full talk by Doug Saunders can be watched here). However, his observation is valid for any planning process a city goes through.

In mid-2013 the planning process for Grandview Woodland ran into what can be seen as a clash of cultures. To the best of my knowledge, the people at City Hall, responsible for that process in Grandview Woodland, are all skilled.

Has the City of Vancouver missed on being smart? What qualities do we need to successfully head into the coming half century?


Good will? Or in Y2K speak, Transparency? In 2012, the Commercial Drive Business Society (CDBS) commissioned a consultation process that resulted in a document: Vision and Design Guidelines. The Grandview Woodland Citizens’ Assembly (GWCA) has approached the CDBS in a request to share that document. I’ve been among those who signed an open letter that had urged the CDBS to allow circulation of the document in the community. However, I had a feeling that the two groups were heading into an unnecessary power struggle. I was very quickly happy to realize I had been wrong. On March 7 Nick Pogor, CDBS executive director participated in the workshop. Copies of the Visioning document were circulated in the hall. Not bad, eh?

The Citizens’ Assembly are in the final stages of working out their recommendations to The City. The learning process that they’ve gone through is sure to yield many benefits for the neighborhood as well as the individuals involved. The play between scales is at the core of planning, designing and caring for our city: the interests of an individual and the needs of the community; the livability of a street and accessibility within the region. A bench on the sidewalk is a result of a layered process that is more than just screwing it in place.


It was a beautiful day on the Saturday of the last workshop. My daughter wanted to get there in the car. My wife and I wanted to take our bikes. “It’s all downhill from our place to the Croatian Center” I told her, “We can take the Skytrain on the way back”. On our way back we cycled halfway and crashed at Inbal’s classmate’s home. They were very happy to see us and without delay opened a box of cookies. Both kids and parents had another hour of socializing. The rest of the way to our place was a piece of cake.

We can only plan some of our moves. The gatherings in Grandview Woodland exposed a multitude of interests and needs. What then is the culture of a neighborhood? How do you facilitate its success for the future?


Blindness of Power

140 West Plaza: Exhale

140 West Plaza: Exhale – Chapel Hill, North Carolina

When Mikyoung finished her presentation, her call for questions resulted in a strange stillness. Maybe it was the lack of light that kept her in that moment of power: everyone else could remain hidden in the comfort of their silence. However, Ms. Kim’s care for her audience stayed: she inquired who in the room were students, who were architects and so on. By then I was already heading out so that I could contemplate the parts of the lecture I enjoyed.

I remember, as a student going to presentations by guest designers, waiting for words of wisdom from the esteemed achievers. Like many of my peers I am curious to see what other designers are doing. A person on stage has a moment of power when attention is directed to them. What I have to say and how I say it is an opportunity to cultivate a message.

Yet standing on stage can be intimidating. Not everyone might like what I have to say, to show. My audience can be a reflection of my inner critic. The louder that inner voice is – the bigger the fear. That fear can be blinding. It can obscure my sight of the people who took the time to direct their attention to me.


Farrar Pond Project – FlexFENCE

When Mikyoung Kim stepped onto the stage she started by addressing the context of an audience waiting to hear the words of the accomplished personality. We all start our lives looking to others for reference. Whether it’s the only issue that interests me or not, how to make money out of my skills is a big one. Looking for words, Mikyoung seemed to struggle a bit at first in addressing that balance between aspirations and reality: saying no to a client is one of the hardest things.

Alluding to the fact that she was also a beginner at one point, her words meandered between comfort and encouragement. I appreciate Mikyoung’s effort of presenting a meaningful story. But when you’re on stage you are the story. Even better than that, you are the message.

The work of Mikyoung Kim Design is inspiring. You can get a sense of what it is from the firm’s website and other sources on the web. In her talk, Mikyoung also shared some ‘behind the scenes’ stories that enhanced the visuals in her slides. For me this is usually the better part of presentations. We can all see the details, but how you got there is what we’re here to absorb.

Many in the audience in SALA Lectures are students of the school. But whenever I go, I see other practitioners from the field, beginners as well as veterans. I am always curious to see and hear what other people have to share. However, what intrigues me beyond the immediate encounter, is that interface between intention and result, expectations and outcome.

Horizon Garden - Providence, LI

Horizon Garden – Providence, Rhode Island

Standing on stage is a position of blindness. You present your show and hardly see your audience in most cases. You definitely can’t see the impression you’ve had on their minds. If you practice your show, then stepping from first impressions to conclusion can work to your benefit. Mikyoung Kim advocates finding authenticity. If you don’t see your audience you still have yourself, which in her case is a lot.