23 Jan Letter to Mayor Stewart and Members of Council re: 800 Robson
Dear Mayor Stewart and Members of Council,
I am writing on behalf of the Downtown Vancouver Association to address a recent decision to defer the approval of funding for the completion of the 800 Block of Robson Square in late December 2018.
As advocates for social diversity, economic resilience and urban innovation in Vancouver’s MetroCore, the DVA strongly supports the importance of creating great public spaces that have proven to be an important catalyst for business, culture, tourism and quality of life of citizens in our downtown. Realizing the long-term vision to create a pedestrian plaza at the 800 Block of Robson square is the essential next chapter in a 10-year planning and implementation strategy. The temporary closure has been successful in allowing transportation patterns to adjust, giving way to the creation of an actively-used public space that receives large volumes of foot traffic, and has become an important venue for a variety of cultural events, commercial activities, and pop-up programming year-round.
Vancouver is among a few world-class cities with a dense urban population living in the downtown with an incredibly walkable environment. Over 50% of the resident population seeks alternative methods of mobility other than the private automobile. We have seen great successes in re-thinking our streets to reflect this shift in use, with the continued densification of our core, the implementation one of the most ambitious separated bikeway programmes in North America, a continuous waterfront seawall for cyclists and pedestrians, and an efficient transit service. The result has been a steady decline in private vehicle volumes over the last two decades and a significant increase in pedestrian use. However, we cannot reduce the momentum of these initiatives as the demands of a growing urban population are only increasing. We need to continue to build upon these successes and honour the City’s transportation plan that prioritizes pedestrians above all other mobility options. To this end, we need to ensure that our public realm infrastructure budget reflects these fundamental values that support city life.
As a city there is no question that affordable housing demands attention, as this is fundamental to ensuring that our city can be livable, affordable and inclusive. While prioritizing these needs, we cannot abandon the importance of creating places that can inspire and create a strong sense of civic pride. Plazas, designed well, and properly programmed and maintained, can become the essential ‘third spaces’ that enable a diverse and inclusive community to thrive.
The vision for a permanent plaza at the 800 block is the city’s most immediate public space priority that will create a public ‘heart’ for Vancouver, and a city ‘living room’ for the very citizens that we seek to include in our city.
High quality public spaces should not be categorized as ‘nice to haves’. As our population spends more time on foot, we need to create environments that are rich in human scale, character, and that stand the test of time. No different than any other desirable places we choose to reside, whether it be a much-loved community venue, our favourite café, or our own home, we need to treat our public spaces with the same level of care, aesthetics, detail that support their role as extensions of our own living space.
We strongly urge council to provide the funding necessary to deliver the approved “permanent” design of the 800 Block of Robson Street. Over the longer term, we also urge council and the City to establish mechanisms for both the capital funding of ‘great public spaces’ and of equal importance, the ongoing funding for their operations and maintenance. As the world class city we aspire to be, we cannot exempt these components from our capital funding strategy. It should simply not be an option.
We respectfully request that Council provide the necessary direction to staff, through the City Manager and General Managers of Engineering and Planning, to resolve the funding question as soon as possible in 2019. We would request that the project be expedited with due care, and that the long-term operations and maintenance be seriously considered as an essential part of the plaza and all future projects of this kind. As a City, we have realized many great planning and design achievements – let’s make the 800 Block of Robson Street the beginning of a new chapter in our City’s transformation.
Derek Lee BCSLA, CSLA, LEED A.P.
Director, Downtown Vancouver Association
Photo: Alison Boulier for the City of Vancouver