Urban Design In Safe Hands

December 8, 2011

I was fortunate enough to have a simply marvelous day yesterday.  I had been invited to be a reviewer of the presentation of an Advanced Urban Design post-grad studio class from UBC’s School of Community & Regional Planning (SCARP) and it was a great experience.

The 8 students in the studio under Erick Villagomez were tasked with looking at the portion of Commercial Drive from 1st south to 18th Avenue and suggesting design interventions that could alleviate perceived community planning issues. They came up with seven specific proposals (one of which was shared by two students) each of which was presented to the class and the reviewers.

There were a lot of great ideas:

  • turning the Royal Bank parking lot at First & Commercial into a permanent plaza featuring food carts with a design that attempted to link the north and south sections of Commercial Drive;
  • re-invigorating the area west of Woodland to Clark Drive by designing structures that incorporate workshops on the ground level with living accommodations above;
  • improvements to the Sky Train/bus interface at Commercial & Broadway;
  • enhancing the interesting series of public gardens that run down the lane east of Commercial between about 10th and 15th;
  • a series of traffic calming measures for the Victoria Diversion section that is often a racetrack today;
  • re-creating Clark Park into an ecological learning centre; and,
  • improvements to bus stops to make them safer, more comfortable.

The presentations and the accompanying drawings were of a very high quality (SCARP studios are heavy on drawing skills, I’m told). In my remarks as reviewer I was happy to add whatever historical context I could to some of the proposals. But mostly I listened — to the students and to the heavyweight reviewers (Andrew Pask and Scot Hein from City Planning, urban planner Brendan Hurley, and SCARP professor Maged Senbel) with high-level design and planning backgrounds who could poke and prod to elicit more clarity.

It was a fascinating experience for me, and one from which I took away a number of new insights regarding my neighbourhood.

If this group of students is representative, then the future of Vancouver’s urban design will soon be in new creative and safe hands.



December 8, 2011

“Meadow” (2008), TIFF print, 36″ x 30″