In 1959, Fred Herzog captured this image of the intersection of Granville and Robson Streets (a link to a larger image is found at the bottom of this post). Back then, the stretch of downtown Granville Street, between the blocks of Drake and Cordova, had earned the moniker “the Great White Way,” and it was a destination for live theatre and entertainment, lit up with neon signs. If you approached it up the hill to the south, the street radiated like an airport runway.
Only a few years later, that same stretch of Granville would change dramatically, beginning a slow and steady decline. In the 1960s, City Hall passed a bylaw banning new neon signs. In the 1970s, Granville Street was reconfigured into a transit mall, accessible only to public transit buses and pedestrians. Then Eaton’s opened their large, windowless white box of a store on the northwest corner of Granville and Robson (now Sears). The design wasn’t popular at the time, shutting out the street as it did, but people shopped there anyway, and in the new Pacific Centre Mall connected to it. Most retailers moved inside, too, their old stores replaced by tattoo parlours and sex shops. (Vancouver may have rallied against inner-city freeways, but it didn’t oppose the shopping mall; its impact on street life is just as profound.)
Herzog’s Granville Street may be long gone, but the energy of that time was a major influence on the latest redesign of the street, now very-nearly completed—and years in the making. If you’ve been to Granville recently, you’ll have noticed the changes; the street has undergone a major exfoliation. There a rawness to it: new double-wide concrete-and-basalt curbs supply parallel parking by day and become crowd-friendly sidewalks by night—newly planted street trees are overwhelmed by their width. Design elements and street furniture by PWL Partnership Landscape Architects and Pechet and Robb stand in gleaming contrast to some of the scrubbier buildings and businesses. Instead of typical streetlamps, vertical light tubes line the street, riffing off the shape and intensity of the old marquee signs (see image at left, also taken by Herzog).
The overall redesign concept was conceived by Elizabeth Macdonald and Allan Jacobs, leading thinkers on “Great Streets” (Jacobs’ 1993 book of the same name). The question is, will Granville become just that? The great street it once was, connecting the east and west sides of downtown? Our next post will explore that question, looking at Macdonald’s and Jacobs’ great streets philosophy.
Continuing our look at all things cycling… Tonight at 7 p.m. the Museum hosts a free, multimedia dialogue on bike parking. The format: three 10-minute presentations, each one animated by slides charting the most creative bicycle-parking designs worldwide and identifying best practices for Vancouver. On stage are:Adrian Witte, a transportation planner with Bunt Engineering; Stephanie Doerksen, an urban designer with VIA – Architecture; and Richard Campbell, principal ofThird Wave Cycling. Smaller discussion groups and a reception (with cash bar) to follow.
In our own informal research on this subject, we’ve noticed that bike-parking design reveals much about place, politics, and civic culture. Two examples stand out.
In Tokyo, sophisticated, multi-storey, mechanized bike towers have emerged to free up space on crammed sidewalks and other public spaces. With the swipe of a credit card, your bicycle is swept into the tower and stored. Swipe your card again, and it’s handily retrieved. Watch this colourful demonstration on YouTube, linked here.
In Toronto, a very different approach. Austere aluminum post-and-ring bike stands line most downtown streets; just a heavy cast-metal post affixed with a ring. It looks faintly nautical. The stands, pictured left, have become a city icon; a symbol of how simple, local ideas can remake the public realm. The design has been credited to David Dennis, who reportedly came up with it in 1984 while studying architecture at the University of Toronto. The stands have their limitations, sure (accommodating only two bikes at a time), but according to 2008 research from Appleseed, a New York-based consulting firm, Toronto has more bike racks per capita than any other North American city, a figure undoubtedly related to the simplicity and cost-effective nature of the post-and-ring design. It has been replicated in cities all over the world.
Vancouver, ever in the process of reinvention, is currently evaluating its own approach. Richard Campbell is expected to touch on this during his presentation tonight. Check back with the blog in the coming days for highlights.
Image credit: Richard Drdul