The 2016 Pro Walk Pro Bike Pro Place conference happened in Vancouver, BC from September 12 to 15 and I thought it might be interesting to pass on a few highlights.
With an event program the size of a heftier magazine and held in conjunction with the Project for Public Spaces and Placemaking Week, the conference felt somewhat like the Lollapalooza of vibrant cities and sustainable mobility.
In case you weren’t able to attend—or couldn’t get enough of it—here’s a sample of niftier take aways and links that I took note of. (And if you have other highlights you want to share, I welcome them in the comments below).
Public Space Stewardship
How might communities create, claim and activate more public space? The new Public Space Stewardship Guide provides neat examples of how communities are working to make streets and squares more vibrant. It also describes a number of models and nitty gritty details on how to fund, program and maintain public spaces.
This resource was created through partnership of San Francisco Planning, MJM Management Group and The Streets Plan Collaborative (the folks also connected to the Open Streets and Tactical Urbanism guides).
- Three interesting examples profiled in the session included:
- Playland – a previously vacant school property turned into grassroots community gathering spot.
- Sound Commons – a people-attracting sound/music installation in a previously stark plaza that is also providing work experience for at-risk youth and adults
- Boombox – a public-private project of Activate! Chicago that placed a shipping container in public space for use by start up companies.
Canada’s New Geometric Design Guide: Yep, it’s About Time
The Geometric Design Guide for Canadian Roads (GDG) is a primary transportation design resource for Canadian planners, designers and engineers. AND the last time this resource was comprehensively updated in 1999, Jean Chrétien was dodging sponsorship scandal golf balls as our Prime Minister, The Matrix was in theatres and 64% of Canadian households didn’t have internet. (The first rudimentary BlackBerrys were just being stuffed into pockets and iPhones and iPods were mere twinkles in Steve Jobs’ eye).
So, needless to say, a lot has changed in our world since the last GDG release and in particular our approaches to sustainable transportation and cities.
While the Transportation Association of Canada (TAC) has been providing supplementary updates since then to reflect our literally shifting city landscape (see their many free resources), it is now in the final stages of reviewing and publishing a fully overhauled Guide.
Due out in early 2017, we got to see a sneak preview of the revised GDG at the conference. The new Guide seems like it embraces the idea of designing transportation around people (!) and a more fulsome inclusion of walking/rolling and cycling in terms of design and how we allocate space (!!). Something to look forward to in the new year for sure. (And I’m also curious to hear more about how the GDG update will integrate current transit-related best practices as well).
Let it Snow! Harnessing the Fun in Winter
Fittingly for a conference on human-powered transportation in Canada, a session called “Let it snow! Let is snow! Let it snow!” focussed on how to encourage people to get around by means other than private automobile when the weather is cold and days are short.
Drawing from a range of presenters and cold winter communities, some of the key take aways were what you might expect.
- Think about how you are going to design facilities so that they CAN be maintained in the winter.
- Ensure there are policies around which routes will be prioritized to be cleared and maintained.
- Give residents and business owners clear direction on how they might help (see the City of Calgary postcard below, for example).
However, one other session point that struck me was the idea of promoting active travel through the lens of winter health.
Linking health benefits to walking and biking is nothing new. Yet I’d never before considered the specific case to be made for winter health or how it can be used to convince communities to prioritize investment in winter active transportation.
In other words, winter can make some populations less inclined to be outdoors or active and social. And therefore, encouraging winter outdoor physical activity through how we get around can be one of the great strategies to help counteract the season’s effects on isolation and mental health.
My other key take away was the idea that winter is–and can be sold as–playful. “Winter is tough and dark. How do you make it fun so that people come out?” asked Edmonton’s Tyler Golly, one of the session’s organizers and presenters.
Thinking of my own soggy winter walks to bus stops or bike commutes through west coast squalls must have made me look doubtful because landscape architect Matt Gibbs echoed Golly’s “make it fun” sentiment. He said that what made the difference for him was changing his view of winter to one where he embraced it.
You can see how the City of Edmonton is embracing the fun side of winter through this video provided by Gibbs below or by hearing him talk further about the project.
I’m going to see if I can indeed change my head space around winter this year. In the meantime, here are some key dates to keep in mind if winter transportation interests you:
- The Winter Cycling Congress happens in Montreal from February 8-10, 2017. Vélo Québec Liaison Magali Bebronne described the event as a great opportunity to build on the theme of playfulness and to take a deeper dive into how communities can encourage cycling and other active modes year round.
- The Winter Cities Shake Up conference is happening in Edmonton, AB from February 16-18, 2017. The event is billed as a gathering for those urban planners, designers, entrepreneurs and community organizers “who live in winter cities and want to take advantage of all winter has to offer.” Call for presentation is now open until Oct. 14, 2016.
The Little Easy
I sometimes wonder how much further sustainable transportation could get ahead in regions if the various transportation advocacy organizations—and I’m a member of some of them–were more united in our vision and how we convey it. If we could figure out and consistently communicate the 90% that we all agree on, mute the erudite squabbling in public over the other 10% and collectively go for it.
A partnership of non-profits, walking, cycling and transit advocacy groups in Halifax appear to be doing something along those lines and it looks pretty effective and interesting.
Called “The Little Easy,” the Halifax partnership have put together a website that shows their vision of what the transportation network, housing and economic development policies might look like. Equally importantly they’ve made it very visual and focused on the type of lifestyle and community that’s possible when you drive less and live more via walking, biking and transit and have neighbourhoods that are affordable, fun and connect.
A shout out to Halifax urban planner Tristan Cleveland for chatting with me about this and passing on the link. (And if anyone in the Victoria region wants to consider collaborating on something like this, drop me a line).
The Big Jump
Have a contact in the United States that wants to take their community cycling to the next level?
The advocacy and cycling industry coalition group PeopleForBikes has issued a call for proposals to fund 10 communities to improve their cycling infrastructure.
Called The Big Jump, the project website describes it as “a three-year effort to help 10 places achieve a big jump in biking – a doubling or tripling of people riding.” Funding will help build a network of safe and comfortable places to ride.
While, alas, this funding is only available for U.S. communities, citizens and communities everywhere can take advantage of the PeopleForBikes resource Quick Builds for Better Streets.
Sage Engagement Advice
Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps was part of a conference presentation on her community’s Biketoria project but in a plenary session on place-based governance she also provided some pretty great quotes and lessons learned on community engagement;
- Be very clear on where you are at in the engagement process and what you are asking people to do. If the decision has already been made to move forward with a project, it needs to be very clearly framed as “We’re doing this project, how can you help us make it great?” so it won’t be misunderstood as that the project is still asking for permission to happen.
- Have people on stand by at engagement activities to draw aside people who are very angry or who are otherwise negatively affecting the ability for others to participate. I’ve used this practice at some of my own larger sessions and it works really well. The individuals who are upset have an opportunity to have a one-on-one conversation with project staff away from the larger session and have themselves heard. In turn the larger group is better able to participate.
- Get rid of the false dichotomy between “citizens and the community” and “government.” Said Helps, “I’m both!” (For more on that topic, see also my post on When Activist Worldviews Collide).
There were lots over the two days I was there but here were the ones that stuck with me most:
“Place can be a motivating space to get people out of their silos.” – Project for Public Spaces President and Founder Fred Kent on how refocusing the conversation on places and how to make them great can take people away from their preconceived notions and agendas and help them work together more effectively.
- “The idea is to be a catalyst and not just a project. To be an impetus to carry on.” – Veronica Hahni, Executive Director from the Los Angeles Neighborhood Initiative on her organization’s work with communities around projects. For her, engagement isn’t just about having community involvement to ensure that a project is just and done right, but also that it helps develop capacity and desire for residents to take on even more.
And for Dessert: A Grandma’s Eye View of Vancouver’s Chinatown
I wrapped up my time at Pro Walk Pro Bike Pro Place last week with a mobile workshop. Organized by Eliana Chang (Fraser Basin Council), Sophie Fung (SFU Urban Studies Program), Aaron Lao (City of Vancouver) and Ignatius But (UBC School of Community and Regional Planning), the tour took participants on what they called “A Grandma’s Eye View of Vancouver’s Chinatown.”
The tour was a real pleasure to be a part of and took attendees to wide range of sites within Chinatown, from the surreally quiet and beautiful Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden, to street side discussion on how layers of population change, culture, history and development have shaped this place over the past two centuries.
A highlight of the tour was the opportunity to sit around tables in the Chinese Cultural Centre of Greater Vancouver with long-time resident seniors of the neighbourhood and hear first hand their observations on how their lives and neighbourhood have changed over time.
Another highlight was hearing representatives from the volunteer group Youth Collaborative for Chinatown (YCC-YVR) speak about work they have been doing to encourage people from a range of ages and cultures to spend time in Vancouver’s Chinatown.
“We found that events in Chinatown represented “bursts of activity,” said group member Doris Chow. “People would come to celebrate major events–like Chinese New Year–but then that activity would go away. We wanted activity that could be sustaining and which would bring people to the community on an ongoing basis.”
Demonstrating that placemaking doesn’t have to be complex or expensive, the group has been organizing “Mahjong Socials” once a month since May 2015. They set up 12 mahjong tables on the sidewalk and plazas. Accompanied by activities like story telling and lantern making for younger citizens, the events are now attracting 150-200 people per Saturday. Families and multiple generations attend and are bringing back some of what the organizers call the “hot and noisy” vibrancy back to Chinatown’s streets.
“We talk about preserving heritage,” said Doris, “but we also need to include ‘intangible heritage.’ The cultural activities, community, people and relationships that are also connected to a place.”
To get a sense of the project, check out Nicole So’s great short film below. In the note to the film, So explains that the term “hot and noisy” derives from a Chinese phrase that means the measure of a place’s lively atmosphere.