800-block of Robson Street has become a political football

Post by Daniel Fontaine in

53 comments

RobsonSquare.jpg
Will this iconic part of Vancouver's downtown become an election issue?

If you're familiar with Robson Street in Vancouver, you probably know that the 800-block has been closed to cars for almost two years now. During the 2010 Olympics it became the "heart of the city" as the Province of B.C. sponsored nightly fireworks shows and the very popular Ziptrek line at the site.

With the City of Vancouver about to re-open the street to vehicular traffic in a few weeks, the debate about the future of this part of our road network has begun to flare up once again.

The debate first got started last year when NPA mayoral candidate Suzanne Anton brought a motion forward to Vancouver city council asking that it become part of a new town square. At the time Vision Vancouver poo-poo'd the idea and decided to shoot down Anton's motion in favour of one that called for yet more studies.

Needless to say I was a bit surprised to read Jeff Lee's article on this topic in the Vancouver Sun on Saturday. It focused on how Heather Deal and Vision Vancouver were supportive of a permanent closure.

Lee's story failed to provide any reference to Anton's previous motion, but it did quote Deal who now appears to have had a change of heart regarding this precious strip of real estate. Rather than reminding voters she voted against Anton's previous motion, Deal told Lee:

I would love to see it turned into a permanent public space. I personally greatly hope that cars never return to that street.

Very interesting how Deal is now 100% behind the closure when only a few months ago she wanted more studies. In politics, they call that a colossal flip-flop!

But what is even more interesting to me is who is behind the move to close the street permanently. A fellow by the name of Andrew Pask with the Vancouver Public Space Network (VPSN) has set up an online petition asking for the public's support for a permanent closure.

So just who is Andrew? Well, he's no average City Hall lobbyist. That's because Pask is actually on the City of Vancouver payroll as full time staff. That's right, the fellow pushing for Robson Street to be closed permanently actually works for City Hall in the planning department.

Further, the VPSN organization have been enlisted to assist the City's planning department with public consultation. While the VPSN & Pask do some good work advocating for public space, they have to recognize that they've created a conflict of interest for themselves and their employer by not declaring up front their relationship with the City on their petition.

The fact that Vision Vancouver are now all over this issue while the VPSN is spearheading it only adds to my concern. Vancouver City Hall has become politicized enough as it is under Vision's rule, and now groups like the VPSN could be seen to be advocating on behalf of the government whether they are or not. Even Mayor Gregor is tweeting out his support for the VPSN's Robson scheme, which suggests this plan has been all but approved in advance.

I have no problem supporting the concept of closing the 800-block of Robson Street permanently, and we've discussed it many times here at CityCaucus.com. Since we're assigning credit to the idea of turning it into a public square, I'll remind readers that it was NPA city council candidate Mike Klassen (former editor of this blog) back in March 2010 who made the case for reshaping that stretch of Robson into a true downtown square.

As for Vision Vancouver's Johnny-come-lately endorsement of the concept, I applaud them for finally coming to the realization that giving this part of Vancouver back to cars is a very bad idea. It's just too bad they didn't find a way to agree with Anton months ago, instead of forging ahead rebuilding the street which is likely now to be torn back up again. This is the kind of stuff that makes taxpayers crazy.

What do you think? Are you in support of the closure? Do you think the VPSN should have declared that Pask was also working for the City while lobbying to have the street closed? Does this make a difference to how you think about this issue? Let us know by leaving a comment.

- Post by Daniel. You can follow us on Twitter @CityCaucus. Or you can "like" us at Facebook.com/CityCaucus.

53 Comments

Thank you Daniel.

I thought I remembered Cllr. Anton bringing this idea to the table during one of the council meetings - I watched it on-line.

Then more recently was second guessing myself.

Personally, I would like to see the area remain closed and use it like a boardwalk. Invite/allow local artists to show their works, food, vendors that we see only during steet fares could use the area to sell.

After having is closed for so long, travelers have had opportunity to revise their routes. If they re-open now and then close it again later, expect push back from some.

It's disappointing to see Cllr. Deal not only lifting Cllr. Anton's Robson Square concept lock stock and barrel, but having the gaul to do so after having voted against Cllr. Anton's motion. Are Vision so bankrupt of their own ideas that they have to stoop to such a low level? It's also a funny coincidence that Deal decides to announce her sudden conversion when Anton is out of town.

The Robson Square idea has some merit, but it needs to be looked at within the larger context of the Courthouse / Art Gallery Downtown precinct. In addition, stopping cars is one thing, but stopping buses may not be so simple as Translink seems to agree. And then, there are the questions -- what does this, at this point sort of, 'square' actually become? Given the Art Gallery's ambitions and some of the shortcomings of the current Courthouse / Gallery complex it is time we take a closer, comprehensive look to further refine this fine and important sector of Downtown Vancouver.

I have said similar comments before when Cllr. Anton 1st raised this idea, and if Vision wishes to continue to use the ideas of others, it would be appreciated if they would have the integrity to credit their sources.

Deal said this, no Anton said that, no my team said it first, no MY team said it first, and around around it goes...

The Thought of The Night

"Jeff Lee did an interview with Heather the Mind Blower, and got his mind blown away with new ideas."

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DAt_dMKAkDA

Note to Vision:
Apollo is one rare hire you wouldn't want to miss!

We live in Vancouver and this keeps us busy.

Road closures, "car free" days, "activation" of public space-that was quite the activation we had on June 15, 2011...can we just live our lives in this city without being told by a planning "elite" what our city should look like? Is Vancouver in it's present form sustainable? Is democracy sustainable in the face of enviro-fanaticism? Is carbon trading stealing money from public coffers to the benefit of the largest greenhouse gas emitters in the province?
While the Vancouver engineering department and pseudo-academic urbanists trumpet the reduction in car trips downtown in the last fifteen years, a closer examination of the numbers shows a one time steep drop in 1996 and 1997 with little or no change since then. Their premise that car use is declining is patently false. If the rezoned developments Vision has approved in the last year go ahead, tens of thousands more vehicles will flood Vancouver streets. And Vision and Heather Deal and Suzanne Anton and the NPA want to close them for street parties and more bike lanes?
One clear choice-Vancouver Citizen's Voice.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hv6tOl0Gx8k

Addenda: Mount Pleasant meeting speaker Bill talks about transit, density and sustainability.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4pnu58YW6_4&feature=related

And Daniel, thank you for outing City staff's role in the Public Space Network. Mr. Pask is involved in a reprehensible conflict of interest that would get him fired under normal circumstances, but not in the house of mirrors that this City Hall administration has conjured.

This just in on Global TV-Jack Layton has passed away. I consider myself a centrist, and am very concerned about the lack of any party that represents moderation in politics at all three levels of government. Having said that, the day I ran across Mr. Layton at Library Square, he was very gracious to me. Ironically, this was about the same time he started to experience new symptoms. Thank you Jack Layton for your considerateness on the only occasion of our meeting and may you rest in peace.

Council votes are a matter of public record aren`t they and therefore become fair game in election campaigns - Anton should make sure that she uses the Vision vote against this idea in her campaign literature.

As for reopening it for car traffic forget it - people are used to taking different routes. As for buses - does make some sense to have the Robson bus back on that route.

Seriously, Daniel, how low can you go? If you had met Andrew Pask and you knew how much of his personal time he spends volunteering for VPSN and advocating for placemaking in this city, you might have re-considered questioning the integrity of his work.

You are admitting that NPA is supporting turning the 800 block of Robson into a permanent public space. Just like Vision. So, there is no political difference or conflict of interest. And, the fact that Pask works for the City doesn't change that.

As a side note, I believe Pask works for the City and not for the political party in charge, just like most other professionals in the public sector.

So everyone seems to want it closed, and a private citizen on his own time, who also happens to work for Vancouver's planning dept can't advocate to improve his City?

Shock! Maybe he cares about his community and wants to change it for the better? Jeez this is a ridiculous bent. Conflict of interest? Really?! Take a cold shower, you're getting too excited.

(Incidentally, on the issue, I'm not sure that closure is a great idea given the bus route connectivity issue and the fact that with the Art Gallery moving it's fairly likely the space and building will be dead very quickly, unfortunately.)

another way to look at this - we have a civil service full of expertise and hopefully some institutional memory (even if it is getting scarce).

Is this petition a sign of frustration that staff are being ignored?

Very interesting how Deal is now 100% behind the closure when only a few months ago she wanted more studies. In politics, they call that a colossal flip-flop!

Wanting more information before taking a position on an issue is hardly a flip-flop.

Dave I would be very interested to know which study Deal read to help change her position on this issue. If you could send me a link, that would be much appreciated.

Secondly, why would the City spend all that money to build a road...only to tear it up and build a public square? Don't you find that a bit odd?

It's for that reason that I called it a flip-flop. I suspect Deal now thinks this could be a political winner leading up to the election, and she decided to jump on the bandwagon.

I also think Vision couldn't support anything put forward by the NPA...so they waited for the dust to clear then decided the push the issue forward as their own idea.

Daniel
Editor

Daniel,

The 800 block of Robson was closed off because the Province was repairing the membrane of Robson Square and the structures underground. The road above the construction site had to be dug up as part of this repair - As you see, this was not a City road repair project.

In order to make a decision with long-lasting impacts, you need to study it first. As mentioned by other commentators, closing off that block of Robson would have consequences for transit operations, connectivity etc. I would expect any good planning department to fully study all aspects and pros and cons of an initiative before making a recommendation. I think Heather Deal is right to request more info before taking a position.

This document covers some of the background on the Open Streets Program - costs, community level input etc.

http://vancouver.ca/ctyclerk/cclerk/20110317/documents/csbu4-OpenStreetsProgram.pdf

As for Heather Deal, an election is coming up and she is playing 'Let's Make a Deal'....

Oh, and the 'beach' idea, was borrowed from a program running in Paris. However, theirs is on a much grander scale (sand, umbrellas, misting machines....)

"It's just too bad they didn't find a way to agree with Anton months ago, instead of forging ahead rebuilding the street which is likely now to be torn back up again. This is the kind of stuff that makes taxpayers crazy."

Nice revisionism. It was already torn up and in progress by the November/December 2010 Anton motion you linked to.

Great project, but everyone missed the boat equally on this one. No matter, plunk some big boulders down on either end and just go with it until there's time to - horror of horrors - study a more permanent solution.

That's GREAT that he's so passionate about his city. But in municipal work, you have to keep a clean nose. If he is truly part of the bureaucracy, he must keep himself above reproach. He is not political staff, he should not be organizing political petitions. It opens the door too much to political infiltration of the bureaucracy.

Bita~there is a line that civil servants at every level should know not to cross. Consider it the cost of getting a cushy government pension.
As to closing the street I am not in favour. It negatively impacts the bus and there is nothing significant on the south side to warrant it.

Could someone tell me if Pask was working for the city planning department,while at the same time being paid as a consultant?

It's pretty obvious that this is now a done Deal (excuse the pun). As you can see from the Mayor's tweet:

"MT! RT @VanRealDeal: Great to see @vpsn petition on public square at robson. Love the idea + staff reviewing it"

Robertson isn't waiting for the studies to declare his support...and rest assured staff won't dare contradict him. The closure is permanent...take that one to the bank.

Daniel
Editor

Everyman,
Civil servants are also citizens and community members. I don't see anything wrong with them making their community a better place on their own time and as volunteers. I have been following VPSN activities for the past 3 years and believe they are a non-partisan group.

I have been following VPSN activities for the past 3 years and believe they are a non-partisan group.

I had heard that VPSN has received funds from Tides/Solomon, and if so, places them in the column of support for Vision Vancouver.

The question I have is whether VPSN was asked to toss this "football".

umm, do explain: how does getting a grant from Tides proves that an organization has a political agenda???

Because Joel Solomon is a HUGE supporter of Gregor Robertson??

H E L L O ? ? ?

Kahlo;

You might want to read this:

http://newstalkcanada.com/tides-foundation/


TIDES did a 'paper shuffle' contributing $300K to Robertson's campaing and by so, helping get Vision Vancouver out of their $350K debt. Also note the other 'wealthy' Americans involved in 'buying' themselves a politician.

Equally notable, Sadhu Johnston got married at Hollyhock...

I am a VPSN coordinator and I can you that we're non-partisan - Robson Square is a public space issue...hence Vancouver PUBLIC SPACE network getting involved. We're actually petitioning against the city's decision to re-open the square so I don't see how this is partisan at all. Please do not denigrate the work of volunteers striving to make the city a better place for people.

Brandon the good intentions & efforts of the volunteers such as yourself and the politics of the circumstance are separate matters.

However, the editorial regarding VPSN had to do with conflict of interest, not partisanship.

In this matter, can you confirm that this particular effort was initiated purely within your group, without any prompting or urging from an external influence, be it party, politician, or otherwise?

It's shameful that Coun. Anton isn't given full credit for her original idea to create a public space at Robson Square. When the Vancouver Public Space Network ran their Where's the Square? contest in 2008 they probably should have credited Coun. Anton with the inspiration.

[/sarcasm]

Oh, for God's sake, just turn the whole place into a grow op.

OK Chris, they can have credit also. In fact the general notion of a public square in this location predates even the presently named "Robson Square" (so named because it was meant to be Arthur's version of a public square for Vancouver). The original early 70's 60 storey Provincial Courts building was at the south end of the site with a 2 block civic square to the north and the old Court House.

What's germain in this discussion is not who gets credit, but the fact that Cllr. let's make a Deal and her Vision cohorts voted against the idea when it was brought to Council last year. And, now she's suddenly seen the light 3 months before the 19 November election. Don't you think there is a certain amount of opportunistic hypocrisy in Cllr. Deals conversion?

Bill we know that.
I would add that Heather Deal Cubed as in real life is a backwards Gip as well.

@Bill McCreery
Yes, and I notice the boulevards are all getting mowed now. Amazing what becomes important to the Mayor just before an election.

@Bill - It's not important who gets credit? That seems to be the whole point of Daniel's article. I'm glad you mentioned Arthur Erickson's original vision for the area, because if all you read was Daniel's post you might believe this nonsense:
"Since we're assigning credit to the idea of turning it into a public square, I'll remind readers that it was NPA city council candidate Mike Klassen (former editor of this blog) back in March 2010 who made the case for reshaping that stretch of Robson into a true downtown square."
Gee, March 2010. What a visionary.

Max,

I think we are misunderstanding each other. I am not advocating for Vision here. My point is, VPSN's work is carried out by volunteers who are citizens of this city and have been doing excellent work around the city before Vision came into power. Unless we have solid evidence (not assumptions) that the group has used Andrew Pask's connection to the City as a way to inappropriately drive a political agenda, let's leave them out of this mess and not accuse them of all the aforementioned. This site has a clear political agenda and is willing to throw a grassroots group under the bus to ride the waves.

Chris, you can cherry pick from Daniel's post, so can I. I don't think anyone here is trying to be a "visionary". Let's get back to the essentials of this discussion.

This location has been identified as a good location for a civic square of some kind for a long time. Time has shown Arthur's has not been sufficiently successful. This is an appropriate time to take another look. In addition, times, technologies and values have changed, so there is potentially an opportunity to do something really innovative which can bring Vancouverites together in a contemporary 21st century way.

The questions are: Do we need a civic square? What are its purposes? Is this where our civic square should be? What kind of civic square is appropriate at this location? What are the limitations and opportunities of this location? What other option are there?

One sightly little tricky bit is that this land is owned by the Province, not the City, so whatever is done must be a joint effort.

I feel this talk of a 'civic square' comes from the envy of the plazas that are prevalent throughout Europe.

Plazas (that for the most part) were built hundreds of years ago, with narrow streets all around them.
People watching, walking with your kids, having coffee at cafes.

This urge to have a civic square seems more to do with trying to find a way to connect in North American cities.

The problems is that over here they end up being places where too many people can congregate to party (i.e. riot). Shut the streets down and let the idiots take over.

Can we force connection?

kahlo and bita seem to be missing a very important fact: Vision has gone out ofits way to muzzle city staff in favour of referring them to Penny Ballem et al. And yet Pask is able to advance this idea,which falls close to his own dept, with impunity. There is a strong whiff of a double standard happening.

Hi Dennis, yes, this effort was initiated entirely by the VPSN, from our own volunteers, without being prompted or suggested by anybody else.

Because people are using the space actively right now as a public square, it just seemed like a good time to us to initiate a conversation and share our idea.

We created two petitions, one for, and one against the expansion of Robson Square to gauge the level of support for both sides.

We look forward to reviewing and publishing the results of the petitions over the next couple weeks! In the meantime, you can view and/or sign petitions here: http://chn.ge/pcP4Rr or here: http://chn.ge/p8MOUp

Cheers!

"Your" idea, eh, Brandon? We'll add you to the list taking credit for this scheme.

Is the VPSN doing work for the City of Vancouver as Daniel says?

What is a public square?

A plaza, zocolo, etc.
All of these look great in the day time.

I just wonder about the Granville Street entertainment district when it spills out onto the street.

The bar district simply migrates.Not many families wandering around at 2 a.m.

this is starting to smell similar to the bicycle lobby. "it is our idea and therefore it must be a good idea"

The Thought Of The Night

"As a matter of fact it was Arthur Erickson who suggested a public square @ 800 Robson! Only he didn't get the approval from the... city bureaucrats of the day. He said to me 'Not a big Deal... maybe one day when you'll be all Pointy!'"

What…
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=627MzSSBFF0

We live in Vancouver and this keeps us busy.

Who gives a shit who's idea it was. You all sound like 10 year olds fighting over who gets the ice cream. If it's a good idea, let's do it. If it's not, then don't. But this squabbling over what party/person came up with it first is ridiculous.

I would like to come from a "different tack" on this one. I used to work in a kiosk facing the Gallery steps that was situated on Robson in between Howe and Hornby. I think I probably put in over 100 hours over the course of 5 years. Between the crackheads,drug dealers (with dogs) and circus performers, it was never boring - one thing I observed was that the general public didn't really spend much time in that area. Unfortunately it got so out of hand around the end of 2010 with the dope smoking and violent behaviour that some of us had to get out of the kiosk for air. When it was suggested that perhaps the smokers could move a bit further away, the intimidation over the next week or so was so frightening that the kiosk was shut down.

We don't even have to talk about what takes place on the Georgia street side on certain Fridays and certain smoke-in days.

Question: Would the general public even use this area as their square, or will even more space be taken over by certain groups of people with nothing else to do but hang around?

Boohoo, you are absolutely right so why do politicians say no when ANY idea comes from someone else but say yes when the exact same plan comes from a colleague?

I call that lousy, self serving governance.

Thanks Brandon,

The motives for this initiative may be genuine but it's too easy to be cynical as an observer of this city's politics, warranting the scrutiny. Conflict of interest being top of mind, to which I could cite examples.

Could I suggest that VPSN clearly indicate a 'privacy statement'. It should indicate whether the petition will be handed to council or not, and what information will be contained within.

If the petition will be handed over, and includes the petition signer's contact info, the likelihood is high, given the mayor's office recent conduct that they will be added to Vision's mailing list to solicit people to receive the Mayor's office newsletter which may have little to do with a public square. In which case, VPSN's petition will have been co-opted to put together a political contact list. See how fast that gets slippery?

I would also suggest then, specific instructions to council that personal contact information provided is not to be databased or used in any way except as proof of declaration for its intent on the petition, or alternatively, just redact it from the petition before handing it over.

Can you provide any of these assurances Brandon?

Because this ridiculous party system has devolved to that point. My question is why we keep thinking the next time will be different.

Betty
I am part of the general public and I will not use this area if that is what I am expected to put up with!

The Thought Of The Evening

"If... the 800 Robson St. block will stay closed, it will put an end to the North-South divide for good! Brothers from the Vancouver Art Gallery will shake hands and hug with Brothers from the Provincial Law Courts, and who knows, maybe, one day, even the UBC Troglodytes will see the Light of Day."

Also, this would provide a strong 'pro-case' against moving the VAG from the area!

When Vancouver Conference Centre West was forced fed down the throats of the Vancouver citizens, that should have been enough incentive for not having to spend 700 million dollars for a new BC Place cathartic Roof.
But when both were loveless Bastards of the BC Liberals and David Podmore, what can one Vancouver peasant do?

If the block will remain closed and further develop into a logical pedestrian central plaza, the urban question remains "Will VAG Director Kathleen Bartels, come back to her senses and continue with better programming and a more efficient use of the huge amount of presently VAG wasted space OR go for another Big Empty where one could watch her futuristic 'Vagina Monologues' production from across the lifeless Geoff strip formerly known as the Dunsmuir viaduct & Gregor's bike lane?"

If the latter will happen though, my psychiatrist tells me... someone is going to be in a dire need of booking an appointment with her... and, not me!

We live in Vancouver and this keeps us busy.

The Afterthought of The Day

"Afterthought of an afterthought... this is what Forrest Gump caught!"

In the spirit of Vision Vancouver's uninspired social experiments, I did one myself, today. Only this one... inspiring.

My Translink 'A-MAZE-ing' experience.

I took the No.5 Bus from Davie & Denman to the front door of Tamara Taggart's new gig on Burrard St.

Time: 5.45 PM
Mode of transportation; No.5 Bus/ moderately crowded.
Payment: pulled a 'Gregor Robertson'... just kiddin'... Concession Fare... just kiddin... one joke per stop for the bus driver... kiddin' again... one zone transfer bus ticket.
No glitches until we hit Robson & Thurlow. In order for the bus to travel one block from Thurlow to Burrard we went as follows:
Right on Thurlow at Robson; Left on Haro by the Fire Station & IGA; left on Burrard crossed Robson again... full stop.

It took the bus, which BTW, managed to catch ALL the red lights, the same amount of time it took to climb the Robson St. And we advanced... ONE block!
This my friends... is insane.
I am truly sorry I wasn't aware of that until now.
And God knows where that bus went after I got off and walked back towards the VAG.
Then I asked myself, why didn't the bus turned Left on Hornby... and it came to me...The Hornby freakin' bike lane, but of course.

I looked again at the small 800 Robson strip and said to myself, damned if you keep it closed, damned if you don't, but in the end, public transportation IMHO shall take precedence.

A compromise could be reached though, access could be allowed to all PUBLIC Transportation vehicles and TAXI's. I have no problem with having to BAN all PRIVATE and COMMERCIAL transportation vehicles from the block.

As for that 'novelty undulating orange turf'...common, give me a break... a sidewalk flea catcher.

Other than that, sun was in the sky, all right, all right...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wmYT79tPvLg

We live in Vancouver and this keeps us busy.

Glissy,
again thanks for this. Good points:

"I looked again at the small 800 Robson strip and said to myself, damned if you keep it closed, damned if you don't, but in the end, public transportation IMHO shall take precedence.

A compromise could be reached though, access could be allowed to all PUBLIC Transportation vehicles and TAXI's. I have no problem with having to BAN all PRIVATE and COMMERCIAL transportation vehicles from the block."

Voice of reason... again.

I know this is completely off topic but I was just flabbergasted to read that B.C.Ferries won't respond to a FOI (from Global TV.) about the amount of money they spent involved with a Canucks sponsorship.
Why on earth would B.c.Ferries be involved?

i.e did they get free tickets, what did they get in return?

As a Vancouver taxpayer who will probably have to suck it up over policing costs, etc after the riot, I would really,really like to know why this event was advertised to everybody.
Come to downtown Vancouver and PARTY!!!

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