Summer Spaces SNAFU

Post by Mike Klassen in

1 comment

Next time Vision wants a street party, maybe they should ask the neighbours first

In the latest example of Vision Vancouver's "we know what's best for you" style of governance, the City has had to fold plans approved by Council for recurring commercial street closures, promoted last month as "Summer Spaces."

The City’s Summer Spaces celebrations start with street closures on sections of Commercial Drive and Main Street on Sunday, July 5 and run through August. Four neighbourhoods are part of the Council-approved pilot program. Details on celebrations in Gastown and Collingwood will follow later this month.

A lot of ink has been spilled this year about Vision's jihad with the car. Just five weeks ago the Province editorial writers appeared to be REALLY excited about going car-free.

What a grand initiative. In fact, on any given Sunday, there isn't a street in the city that is so crucial it cannot afford to be closed down for the day. That said, we encourage this city council to expand this program so that on Sundays throughout the summer more streets are closed more often.

Now today The Province has had to report the Summer Spaces idea had to be spiked. What a grand flop.

Part of me says good on ya for trying to bring people together. As a community development effort, blocking off a public space from traffic can be a useful tool for building a better city. In fact, I help organize street parties in my neighbourhood every year. But there were plenty of signs that the Summer Spaces effort by Vision was doomed from the get-go.

A staff report from last March strongly advised the Vision Council to engage BIAs and other community groups before imposing a street closure plan. Over at the Straight Charlie Smith practically goaded Vision into "dropping its promise" on expanding car-free public events. It's kind of funny to think that just because a political party prints something in their election platform, that it suddenly becomes like one of the Ten Commandments.

How about asking a few questions with stakeholders first?

The Straight continued to hunt down Councillor Andrea Reimer, Vision's biggest car-free advocate (and a non-driver herself). Wounded by staff's report pouring water on her car-free dream, she sounds like she's ready for a fight:

“Staff did a fantastic and thorough job of cataloguing the barriers and the opportunities,” Reimer told the Straight by phone yesterday (March 3). “If we can move forward in any way this summer, that would be a win.”

So in other words, "Staff, if you're listening to my quote in the media, make the damn car-free days happen or else..." thought Reimer might settle for a compromise, like letting VANOC close the streets for her instead. But that wouldn't achieve the political objective of appearing to drive cars off the roads, would it?

Street closures are common for several public events, both downtown and in Vancouver's residential hubs. Vaisakhi Day in south Vancouver has to be one of the greatest examples of this. Sure, every politician in the region shows up at this event, but is this event in Little India meant to give the finger to the automobile? Of course not.

Main Street holds a successful annual weekend fair that draws people in for blocks. But it's held on a SIDE street, not on a major arterial.

Vision is pressing ahead with a costly staff report on how to keep the Summer Spaces plan alive next year.

The city is hiring a consultant to do a commercial retail impact study. It won't include Collingwood because its Multicultural Summer Market, organized by the local neighbourhood house, isn't on a commercial street.

The city is also conducting pedestrian counts, participant surveys and car counts on residential streets. A report about Summer Spaces is expected to go before council in the fall.

Summer Spaces was meant to provide a place for neighbours to commune and consume with ease, with less of a programmed festival atmosphere than the big car-free days.

Is consuming and communing in Vancouver really in that much trouble we need to spend tax money to prop it up?

Vancouver really does need a public dialogue on creating successful celebration spaces. It also needs to continue to mitigate the impact of the automobile with improved cycling and pedestrian areas. But it also needs a deft hand to lead us there, and while Reimer deserves marks for her tenacity, a program like this will fail without the support of surrounding communities.


Take the Poll: What is Vision Vancouver's objective in creating car-free streets?

1 Comment

Only the commercial drive summer streets program is ending, the rest of them are continuing because they have been extremely successful in those areas. The difference is Commercial drive didn't organize any real events or advertise it much, whereas Gastown had things like farmers markets and Main Street shut down different sections each time.

I really dislike reporting that focuses on one sensational aspect that's having trouble without looking at the whole picture. The program works, as long as it's done properly.

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