“City dwellers must have the opportunity to be deeply inspired by their public spaces.” -Krisztina Kassay
Davie Village, a lively and diverse neighborhood in Vancouver’s West End, has a rich cultural history as the LGBTQ capital of the city. After area residents made clear to the City their desire for more public spaces in which to gather, meet friends, and hold events, VIVA Vancouver—a City of Vancouver program dedicated to transforming Vancouver’s streets into vibrant pedestrian spaces—initiated a pilot project that would breathe new life into this treasured historical and cultural neighborhood.
By closing down a city block from July 2013 to September 2014, VIVA, in partnership with their colleagues from the West End Community Planning Team, successfully transformed the area into a playful and functional pedestrian space called the Heart of Davie Village Plaza (also known as Bute Street Plaza).
A mini trial closure of this street took place during the 2012 Vancouver Pride celebration, where pedestrians were encouraged to write on and decorate the street with temporary paint. As an homage to this important celebration, the defining element of this pilot program involved painting permanent rainbows onto four crosswalks of the Bute and Davie Street intersection. Relying on a “Lighter Quicker Cheaper” approach to creating this space, VIVA sourced some relatively low cost items like paint and street furniture and worked closely with local volunteers to help make the transformation a community affair.
“When creating public spaces, community engagement is extremely important to VIVA and the City of Vancouver,” explained VIVA’s lead planner Krisztina Kassay during a recent interview with PPS, “so we looked for opportunities to bring the community into the planning and implementation process.” To identify short-term improvements and to think about the future design and use of the plaza, VIVA collected extensive input through in-person surveys on location and local resident surveys, and they closely monitored use of the space. The involvement of the community was an essential part of this project at every stage. After the trial closure of the block for 2012 Pride events, for example, local planners conducted a series of “walkshops” in which community members and urban designers would together identify the neighborhood’s most storied and culturally significant areas. Legendary local Drag Queen Joan-E also led West End Community Planners on an evening tour of Davie Village’s key clubs and spots, so they could experience the district’s nightlife firsthand.
By adopting low-risk, temporary solutions, VIVA Vancouver and the West End Community Planning Team demonstrated to community stakeholders the immediate and lasting benefits of placemaking. They were able to engage a truly a bottom-up, community-based approach to revitalizing this valuable site, now the Heart of Davie Village public plaza.
The Heart of Davie Village Plaza project is an important example of how community members, the City, and local businesses can work together in creating streets that benefit people. While the pilot project ended in September of this year, the VIVA Vancouver team is reviewing feedback from more than 500 residents, local businesses, visitors, and stakeholders about the impact of the project and the feasibility of long-term change. More than 80% of survey respondents support instituting these changes permanently, and it will be interesting to see how public opinion and government policy will continue to shape the Heart of Davie Village Plaza in the coming years.
With an impressive list of projects that creatively reimagine the use of road spaces throughout the city—through small design-build competitions, the temporary installment of parklets in parking spaces across and city, or weekly farmers markets—VIVA Vancouver is a true ally in the growing Streets as Places movement. By transforming roads into vibrant pedestrian zones, each of their projects also shows us that by shifting the way we think about streets—that most vital shared public space—we can simultaneously impact the physical, social, and economic life of our communities.
With projects like this underway in this noteworthy walkable city, we are proud to be bringing our Pro Bike/Pro Walk/Pro Place conference to Vancouver in September, 2016, where you can witness this (and more) firsthand. In the meantime, you can subscribe for updates here and we will have more details in the coming months.