Arbutus Amble Walk

What would a good question be for an urban railway corridor that has been handed to the care of residents almost two decades ago? Arbutus Amble Start Starting at the platform of the former Olympic Line near Granville Island, it was another warm summer day, to be out enjoying the city. It is immediately evident that the landscape throughout this walk is unique. On Saturday August 9 I’ve participated (part way) in the Vancouver Public Space Network (VPSN) walk. On the one hand we were required to occasionally cross heavy traffic; we were constantly surrounded by various types of human built structures. On the other, the natural/wild and cultivated growth along the way serve as a softening setting that has an undeniable charm that might even be considered magical.

The invitation to the walk seemed alarming: “The CP deadline for removing gardens and other structures along the tracks was July 31. … We’ll be on the look-out for any changes that have been made since the deadline passed.”

The community gardens along the way that I had the chance to walk through were still in place. The CP Rail deadline must have been an official notice without much intention to be enforced strictly. But the discussion in Vancouver will no doubt become complicated and confrontational.  There has already been some media coverage of the topic (see bottom of this page).

We all seem to want our city to be a great place to live in. What makes it great is an ever changing set of components, naturally occurring and manufactured. Following are just a sampling of phrases, each with their own implications:

Leave It As It Is: hearing this is very common when residents are asked about their neighborhood.

Enhance Its Public Character: interpreting each of these innocent words entails a world of controversy.

Common Development: do I hear residential? commercial? Just think of what clashes occurred around the Rize and Grandview-Woodlands: will this be another anti development battle front?

Re-introduce Railway Traffic: is it at all possible that such an option makes sense?

Who are the stakeholders in this story? We were probably not more than ten interested individuals participating in the walk. Even if we can imagine that any resident of Vancouver benefits from the Arbutus Corridor as it is today, what would make us engage and participate in determining its fate?

A walk along the tracks is a natural step in experiencing the play-field. I find this urban space charming and unique. However, my feeling is that a significant vision for its future is needed; a significant vision that is strongly inspired by the nature of the corridor at its current state. Could it reflect the interests and needs of Vancouver residents? What is the critical mass required to actually generate and fulfill that vision?

I had to leave the tour at an early stage: my ten year old daughter was naturally more inclined to following lady bugs and eating ice cream. One of the ideas that popped up at an early stage of the walk was using the tracks as an infrastructure for food, arts and culture carts. Would they be restricted to festivals or operate throughout the year? Well, that was just an idea. So many more are possible. What are yours?


 

A quick sampling of media coverage:

“CP Rail gets its gardening claws out” (Vancouver Sun, August 6, 2014)

“CP Rail’s deadline on Arbutus corridor comes and goes, but gardens remain” (Global News, August 6, 2014)

“Vancouver, CP Rail far apart on value of Arbutus rail corridor” (Globe and Mail, Monday, Jul. 28 2014)

Citizens involved in the debate have set up a Facebook page: Preserve The Arbutus Corridor

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My Way or The Highway

This post is part II of a series. To read part I click here.

Driving on highways has always been a source of reflection: Time, space, culture, life: you name it. Things must have been very similar in older days when progress was much slower with horses being the fastest available means of transportation. With current days’ challenges in energy resources and consumption, one of the questions that comes up is whether we are about to loose the speeds we got so used to in the twentieth century? Although I have no idea as to what might replace fossil fuel, my guess is that a replacement of some sort will be developed.

But for me this is also a time when memories swirl up. One of them, related to speed, is the day I took friends from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in my car. Although I have an impressive count of accidents in my driving history, my confidence in driving always stayed. As I was merging into the heavy and fast traffic flowing on the freeway cutting through Tel Aviv I was also engaged in conversation with my friends, Eli and Shlomit. Shlomit, who was sitting beside me suddenly moved violently beside me in her seat and raised her voice in alarm.

We were riding at about 100 km/h and cars were zooming beside us, some slower than us and some faster; much faster. For Shlomit, the experience was apparently overwhelming. She had thought we were about to crash. My reaction might have been harsh but it allowed us to keep on going and complete the 60 km ride without harm. While keeping with the flow of traffic I told Shlomit to remain in her seat and leave the driving to me. I’ve had done that ride many times. If anything would cause us to have an accident it was her agitated demeanor.

Shlomit and Eli stayed in Jerusalem for the night and I had to return to Tel Aviv. At about 3 am I was half way to my destination. In the coming exit, a few hundred meters away, I was planning to stop and refresh myself. It so happened that a deserted car neatly standing at the side of the road had woken me up before reaching the exit. The ride ended with my left hand heavily hit on the steering wheel and the car ending its short life with me as spare parts.

From the hospital I rushed back home just a little late for the morning walk with Neto, my patient dog who was happy as usual to greet me at the door.

I still love driving.

To read part three, click here.

Urban Drive

The long Easter weekend was an opportunity to visit our family inPortland. Driving south on the highway can be a boring yet quick way to do the 500 km journey. Still, diverting occasionally from the main route allows a sense of exploration. In our case this has introduced us to a few entertaining experiences.

After passing the border in a relatively quick 20 minutes we had an option to try out the Blackberry coffee house in Blaine. It was only 6:40 am and I knew that the place was already open. It was at that moment, when we kept on driving without stopping, that I reminded myself that I’d better stick to the concept of trying out new places. When you are not in a rush, taking the time to experience the landscape is a better way to make the distance.

There is though some wisdom in making the initial driving sections longer. At the start I can handle driving better than at the end of the day. Breaking the trip into too many sections might turn it into a tedious affair. So we got to Everett at about 8:30 am and drove off the highway. Taking the route to the sea front brought us to Mukilteo, a place we’ve never been before. A few questions to locals lead us to the Red Cup Cafe’. Perfect for breakfast.

The business was purchased in about 2009 by the lovely current owner who is already familiar with most of her clients. Marianne Brown has a warm, rolling laughter. If your coffee fails to wake you up, you won’t have to wait long before her voice will. The atmosphere in the place is absolutely friendly, so are the service and the food. That was a great start.

Nothing was waiting for us in Seattle so we took the I 405 to get away from potential rush hour traffic. This proved to work well. On our way back we saw warning signs for jams on the eastern route. Although the I 5 was busy the traffic flowed well. Still on the way south, we stopped at Furney’s Nursery to look at some plants.

It was when I worked in a landscape architecture office that I had the revelation that plants can be fantastic gifts. Flowers eventually wither and are thrown away. Many other gifts might be useless and end up in the dumpster. A plant on the other hand, is a living present that can grow and provide ongoing joy to its owners. So we brought a bunch of plants in small pots for to hosts in Portland for their well maintained yard.

Image

We made two more stops before getting to Portland at a leisurely 3:30 pm. For a quick stretch we parked beside the Country Cousin Restaurant in Centralia, where some old tractors decorate the parking lot. The 1973 built structure is styled after farmyards of an even earlier time. Then just about 100 km north of Portland we had a friendly conversation with the owners and operators of ‘Coffee Connection’, a trailer type coffee stand. Their blackberry crushed ice was a good refresher.

This post is part I of a series. To read part II click here.

re:CONNECT. Vancouver: past; present; future (What we have).

This is an extension of the intro post

What we have

Vancouver has its share in history of groundbreaking achievements in both preventing unwanted development and enabling progressive ones. Reference and context are crucial then, to a comprehensive analysis.

This is an established symbol for the Vancouver East-side crippling problem of drug abuse and homelessness.

Lessons of the past might not always prepare you for future surprises. However, the experience gained in real life is worth documenting for reference.

The 2010 Winter Olympics showed mostly the nicer face of Canadian hospitality and community engagement.

Against some challenging odds a group of dedicated and committed Vancouver residents overturned a decision that had looked like a sealed deal.

Before seeing this drawing I’ve only heard about the fight against the freeway. The cries about killingChinatownwere not exaggerated. Visits to other cities that took the freeway route are evidence to the menace of freeway worship.

Alright

Words will not build a city. Still, optimism is an essential ingredient and additive to any effort of planning and execution.

Jump back to  intro