British Columbia

Vancouverites search for solutions to lack of covered public spaces in city

Sara Bynoe is worried about visiting safely with friends this winter and is making a list of all the covered public places in the city they can rendezvous. She says she has not found many options.

'I hope we can at least get some tarps'

Two people have lunch in Mt. Pleasant Park. As Vancouverites prepare for the pandemic winter ahead, some are wondering where they will be able to meet outdoors, safe from both COVID-19 and relentless rain. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Vancouver resident Sara Bynoe is worried about where she will be able to visit with friends safely this winter. So worried, in fact, that she is building a list of covered public places where it is possible to meet up without getting rained or snowed on.

Her list is not very long.

And Bynoe is not the first Vancouverite to puzzle over the problem.

In 2018, before the pandemic isolated people indoors, the Vancouver Public Space Network, through public consultation, came up with a set of 10 principles for rain-friendly public spaces. The group's founder, Andrew Pask, says this guide, and examples from other rainy cities, could help create more spaces for Bynoe's list.

"There are a lot of single people in this city that don't have balconies or outdoor spaces — can't we just please have some benches with some coverage?" Bynoe said during a walk around the Mount Pleasant neighbourhood to scope out covered public places with the CBC's Stephen Quinn.

The duo visited Mount Pleasant Park on Ontario Street and the Helena Gutteridge Plaza at City Hall and, spoiler alert, did not find any covered spots, save those with the coverage of a few trees that will soon lose their leaves.

"I hope we can at least get some tarps," Bynoe said, sounding disappointed. 

Sara Bynoe seeks shelter under trees in Mt. Pleasant Park after scouring the popular hangout spot for anything more adequate. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Pask, speaking Friday on The Early Edition, pointed out civilizations have been trying to create structures to protect people from the elements for centuries. 

"If you look at even some very, very old aspects of architecture and design, going all the way back to the stoa [covered walkway] of the ancient Greeks [and] the stepwells of ancient India, people have been trying to wrestle with how to account for rain in different ways," he said.

Pask isn't suggesting the city start building Greek arcades, but he did suggest something a bit better than a tarp — putting more canopies along the edges of buildings.

Bynoe is pictured at the Helena Gutteridge Plaza at Vancouver City Hall. The large public square has no place where people can protect themselves from the weather. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

A canopy meets most of the criteria for the first of Pask's group's rain-friendly principles, which is simply to ensure protection from the elements.

Click here for a complete list of these principles, which range from keeping people dry to keeping them entertained.

And according to Pask, one only need to look south, to Director Park in Portland, Ore., where a large glass canopy was erected over an urban square in a city with an almost identical weather profile.

The Clarke Quay in Singapore, a city that gets as much as 2,340 millimeters of precipitation per year, employs creative canopy cover to shelter people all year round. (https://www.lifebetweenumbrellas.ca/)

The Vancouver Public Space Network's website also recognizes Clarke Quay in Singapore, a hot spot for nightlife and tourist crowds. There, a series of creatively designed canopies cover the roadway and shelter those underneath all year round.

Pask also said some Western European parks have done well using mature trees to create natural canopies for people to play under.

"Think about how many of them we have in our city. How can we use those as a natural feature to do this?" said Pask.


To hear the complete interview with Sara Bynoe, tap here.
To hear the complete interview with Andrew Pask on The Early Edition, tap here.

With files from The Early Edition

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