The Vancouver Public Spaces Network was formed in 2006 and its goal is to, “preserve and celebrate public space as an essential part of a vibrant, inclusive city.” The VPSN has campaigns regarding public vs privatized spaces, public art, security, democratic spaces, green spaces, and the corporatization of public spaces.
The network holds monthly meetings and over the last few months they’ve been running a contest called Where’s the Square — a challenge to design and propose the next big public space for all to enjoy within the city of Vancouver urging participants to help find Vancouver’s missing plaza.
Public squares form the heart of many great cities around the world. When well-designed, they provide a central location for accessible, year-round activity â€“ whether these be as straightforward as eating a bite of lunch, catching some sun, or playing a game of chess, or as elaborate as community celebrations, concerts and political rallies. Public squares are engines of cultural and local economy, as well as the spatial realization of democratic principles.
Submissions were accepted until March 20th, 2009 and the winner will be announced in May. “The VPSN is pitching it as an ideas competition: to bring out some good public square ideas into Vancouver’s consciousness,” said Dustin Quasar who designed a public space for the competition along with Julie Miller and Darcie Frederick. Their idea was Lantern Park — a new concept for Thornton Park at Main Street between National and Terminal.
“I was inspired to enter by the fact that Vancouver is missing a big urban public square,” noted Dustin. “We chose the park at Main St Skytrain because of it’s large size and central location. In spite of these, it’s vastly under-utilized. It was a fun project imagining the varied features that could re-vitalize this space for all of Vancouver.”
Some may argue that Vancouver already has quite few public spaces such as Victory Square, Robson Square, or even the stone plaza adjacent to the new convention centre (although it is seriously lacking foliage). However, VPSN believes we need something much larger and many agree — you can see from Vancouver’s lack of inclusion on this list of “city squares by size” around the globe that something is obviously missing. (Link via The Weekly Gumboot). Even our neighbouring cities are building squares and public gathering spaces such as the revitalized Holland Park in Surrey.
Dustin says, “The art gallery area is what we use, but it wasn’t designed for that purpose, and it’s just too small to fit large gatherings. I’ve been to rallies there where people were squished in like bugs. Vancouver’s still a relatively young city, we still have opportunities to create a large urban gathering space.”
The same kind of idea was brought up at Interesting Vancouver last summer where Roy Yen noted that we are starving for community gathering places – in the public realm (not just on Facebook).
As for the Where’s the Square entries, there’s no guarantee that the VPSN winning design or concept will come to be but Dustin said he’s hopeful that even if their public spaces plan is not chosen or put into place immediately, that it can be realized and implemented in phases. “The area right by Main St Skytrain is badly in need of some touch-ups. Even simple things like better wayfinding signs at the skytrain exit would improve the area considerably. The larger aspects of our plan (amphitheater and roof over much of the park) are the real juice, but would require more investment.”
Short-listed designs will be revealed at a public event April 28th, check out the VPSN site for more information about the network, and the Where’s the Square competition.