Frances Bula header image 2

Five ideas from Europe for Vancouver

July 5th, 2009 · 44 Comments

There’s nothing more tempting when travelling around Europe to look at some beautiful aspect of city life or another and think, “Why can’t Vancouver be more like this?”

I had that thought frequently in Bologna, where I recently spent part of a week. It was my first time in Italy and my partner and I were enthralled by the public street life at night. There was a giant movie screen (and I mean giant — at least two stories high) set up in the main piazza all week that showed black and white movies every night, which included a live band playing for the King Vidor silent movie one night.  Close to a thousand people watched, either sitting in the chairs that had been set up, parking themselves in cafes at the edge of the square, or sprawling on the cobblestones to watch until midnight.

In another piazza, San Stefano, a couple hundred kids would gather every dusk in front of the church and just hang out, playing music and talking. (It obviously wasn’t completely idyllic there, since we would see the caribinieri line up just prior to dusk with their vans to monitor the situation — shades of the Granville Entertainment District.)  Behind a church in one sector, the city put on free public concerts some of the nights we were there. The one we went to, with a group that felt like an Italian version of a Vancouver Folk Festival act, drew another 1,000 or so people to a little triangle behind San Domenico church.

And on one pedestrian-only street, the roadway was simply filled up with restaurant tables so that the whole street was like a (less cheesy) version of Mamma Mia, with tables packed with couples, families, and big groups having dinner outdoors.

Of course, it doesn’t take a huge IQ to realize that part of Bologna’s street culture is a product of the weather. It’s so warm in the summer that the most comfortable time for people to be out and about is late evening. And, while I loved Bologna’s blocks and blocks of elegant porticos and for a day thought they’d make a great addition to Vancouver for keeping out the rain, I realized later that they also work because of the sun. The overhang and shadows are appealing when it’s bright outside — in a rainier climate, they’d probably feel oppressive.

But there are features I’ve seen of European cities here where I’ve thought, yes, that would work in Vancouver and why can’t we have that. I won’t bother suggesting bike-sharing or trams, as there’s been a lot of discussion of that already here. My very brief list (and I know some of my well-informed readers like gmgw and Bill Lee will probably have copious information on more) would be:

1. A permanent building for a farmer’s market. Many French cities we’ve been to have a building set aside for small food sellers to work out of, usually called Les Halles. I saw a lovely modern one in Montpellier that looked just the right size for a Vancouver market — not overwhelming, just enough for maybe 20-30 stalls.

I realize we have Granville Island, but it’s perceived by many as difficult to get to and touristy. It would be nice if there were a purpose-built building elsewhere in a more “regular” part of the city and I am nominating for the site the new development that goes in around Little Mountain. There’s already a farmer’s market that operates there on Wednesdays. Imagine that new community with a nice little market building (with perhaps a provision to allow more casual sellers along some of the narrow streets surrounding it once a week) in some part that makes it accessible both to people in the development and outside.

2. Outdoor movies. Okay, I realize Bologna doesn’t get quite as much rain as Vancouver, but it does rain there, great tympanic thunderstorms. If they can figure out how to put up a movie screen that can survive a prairie storm, surely we can. The trick is where. I’d suggest the front of the art gallery, but the noise from Georgia would be annoying. In Bologna, the main piazza is relatively protected from interfering traffic noise. So perhaps the new development along Northeast False Creek, the new plaza in Southeast False Creek or ???

3. A couple of streets closed down permanently to traffic, where restaurants could extend their outdoor tables right into the street. Gastown (a portion of Alexander maybe?), off Broadway in Kits, the little road alongside Stella’s off Commercial Drive or ???  I’m sure there are some places outside of central Vancouver that would be good candidates as well.

4. Tunnels. One of the striking features of driving in Italy, especially the coast that is so reminiscent of B.C., is the way they have opted to tunnel through mountains rather than constructing roads over and around them. It makes for slightly less spectacular driving, but it preserves much more of the natural landscape. Remember a tunnel was the option at one point for the Sea-to-Sky Highway and then was ditched? That would have been the Italian way.

5. More free outdoor concerts. Every town and city we’ve been to in France and Italy has had free music concerts on one or more nights of the week. It’s seen as part of the city’s duty to entertain its vacationless residents, as well as a nice thing for tourists too. I really do get the sense that it’s more aimed at the former because Paris’s Quartiers d’Ete, the series of concerts, dance performances and other events put on by the city in the summer, is very poorly advertised in the tourist sector, while Bologna does not see itself as a huge tourist city.

Again, I realize Vancouver does have outdoor music, but it’s often associated with privately organized festivals or paid concerts. Why not something free put on by the city, especially in neighbourhoods that don’t get served that well? Surrey did a great job last year and this of organizing free music concerts that are nothing more than a chance for their citizens to celebrate together. Surely others could do the same.

That’s all for now. I’m sure I’ll think of more.

Categories: Uncategorized

  • Tessa

    What’s wrong with putting a movie screen up on the side of the sears building or on the Robson Square side of the Art Gallery, where people could watch from Robson Square? That section of Robson street could even be shut down temporarily at a set time each week when the movie is playing to make way for seating, and people could easily bring their own fold chair or a blanket to sit on. It would also be great for hockey games.

    Also, I haven’t been by the Pier development near lonsdale quay in a long while, but the new square that’s going in there would also be a great place to put something like that, or maybe there could be something added to the plans for the waterfront area if they extend granville and build overtop of the railway tracks, as has been proposed.

  • Joe Just Joe

    We do have quite a bit of out door movies although we could use more. They have the movies in the park series in Stanley park, and there is also the movies on the roof of the Gastown parkade. Both are worth attending if for nothing else but the novelty.

  • The Farmer’s Market is already looking to build a permanent building – see this press release.

    A good public square (like the ones proposed in the Where’s the Square? contest) would be key to providing outdoor movies and concerts.

    As for #3, I’d love to see a permanent pedestrian street in Vancouver. I agree it’s one of the biggest gaps in Vancouver’s urban landscape, and something Europe does really well (like the Strøget in Copenhagen). Granville Island, Gastown, and Yaletown would be excellent car-free areas. I hope Vancouver’s Summer Spaces program (which starts today coincidentally) will be the start of permanent car-free streets.

  • shepsil

    Free public concerts is a great idea. Last week, Stevie Wonder opened the Montreal Jazz Festival and the admission was free. Apparently it was a memorable concert.

  • A brief history of the ‘why-nots’ of public urban space in the western world . . .

  • Chris B

    Interestingly, the federal government just gave great whack of cash to the Ottawa Bluesfest and the Ottawa Jazzfest to hire artists and venues and have free concerts. The Bluesfest in particular went nuts with this and have a great set of about 25 free concerts.

  • jimmy olson

    “Remember a tunnel was the option at one point for the Sea-to-Sky Highway and then was ditched? That would have been the Italian way.”

    Italy has some of the best Tunneling companies and technology in the world. they were her to help tunnel for the Canada Line project. It’s was very short-sighted of the campbell government to not have chosen the tunnel option fir the Sea-t-Sky route at Horsebay. A big mistake. Tunnels are much more preferable to ruining the land.

  • Stepan Vdovine

    Speaking of movies outdoors, I fondly remember my time in Darwin, Australia where the Deckchair Cinema is popular with both locals and tourists most of the year.

    And on the same note, Vision is hosting Party in the Park on July 16: join Gregor, Councillors, Commissioners, Trustees, members and supporters for a movie under the stars. Bring your blanket and an appetite and enjoy fresh Trout Lake concession snacks.

  • SV

    Outdoor movies are the best. We spent last summer trying to make it to as many as possible here in Vancouver.

  • Sharon

    there are at least 6-10 outdoor movies planned by Vancouver Business Improvement Associations this summer. There would be more if the costs were not so high. Why does the Parks Board make holding such an event so difficult?

    Patio extensions would be great too. Red tape, insurance, city permits make them almost prohibitive.

    Stop taxing and red taping the business community to death and you may be surprised how much we could look like Bologna.

  • There is a series of family movie nights in Commercial-Drive area parks in August. They use a blow up screen. Groups sell snacks to raise funds for various causes — great community events.

  • Darcy McGee

    In my experience, people who consider Granville Island not a “permanent building for a farmer’s market” and a tourist trap are people who don’t shop there: for about 4 of my 8 years in YVR, the Public Market was my primary shopping venue.

    I’m not saying another wouldn’t be great (the Robson Street Market lacks…everything and Lonsdale Quay needs to revitalize itself) but the point is we have it. If people don’t want to shop there because of location, well…why is another one going to be any different?

    Toronto’s St. Lawrence and Ottawa’s Byward market are similar. People who live near and cycle there love them, but people who don’t and drive complain that they’re “too touristy.” I love the Byward Market. It’s Canada to me.

  • Terri Evans

    The difference between Granville Island and what the Local Food First group is proposing is a focus on supporting local producers. The Vancouver Farmers Market, and others like it beyond Vancouver, provide an alternate distribution system for locally grown and produced food and are producer-focussed. They also provide social space for informal community gathering, and education around the benefits of having a more localized food system. Their New City Market idea would build on the farmer’s market model by incorporating processsing space so small scale local producers can scale up their business (more processing space is needed not only in Vancouver but across the lower mainland), demonstration space for composting, canning etc, meeting/office space for groups who work on food-related matters, and perhaps also emergency/charitable food outreach. This idea is much different than Granville Island whose focus includes some local producers (especially artisans) but also food wholesalers and re-sellers. It is a much different focus and business philosophy than a farmer’s market and by extension, food hub where the time, effort, and talent of local growers and producers are front and centre. Vancouver has room for both kinds of markets, and the Main and Termainal location would be more central for those living in the downtown east and within and beyond east Vancouver.

  • The Vancouver Farmers Market Society has just come up with a proposal very similar to what Frances is suggesting. You can see more on their idea, and a rendering of a proposed market, here:

  • Urbanismo

    Very gratifying it is to have an animated debate about farmer’s markets, live screens, movie nights on thu Drive and summer people streets.

    But amidst the excitement a very important ingrdient is missing: i.e.


    There is, indeed, no reason why such a concept, vision if like, has not been implemented: as you point out Frances just about every town in Europe is so inter woven.

    The city, especially the downtown peninsular, is replete in opportunities for people places: from Pigeon Park to the English Bay Triangle and on and on.

    I was wandering around town today dodging the rain mist and risked my life crossing Pacific Boulevard at FCN. Some months ago I suggested PB be eliminated to which Michael Geller responded, that is in the works. Yet right now it is a lethal devide separating the False Creek “community” (I use the term advisedly) from its host and my heavens planners are talking of connecting it to Granville at NEFC . . . big mistake believe me: more traffic going nowhere!

    FCN started as a clean slate and could so easily been conceived as special character neighbourhoods indentifed by little interconnected places: an opporuniy lost if ever there was one. I sincerely hope NEFC picks up on that idea and, indeed, connect the city east west north south . . .

    Pacific Boulevard is a stretch of paving going nowhere from nowhere and could well be planted over as a string of pearl like parks etc.

    I coudld go on.

    But, please, piece-meal talk of a spot here or a farmer’s market there misses the point completely.

  • Well the screen won’t be two storeys high, but this Saturday at 9:30 pm (July 11), Vancouver Public Library and Kingsgate Mall are presenting an outdoor movie atop the mall parkade as part of our One Book, One Vancouver program. We’re focusing on the Olympics this year so we’ll be showing Cool Runnings – that hilarious flic about the famed Jamaican bobsled team. There’ll be popcorn for all, bring a seat. You could even win one of the coolest toques compliments of Tourism Jamaica. Hope to see you all there.

    Check out the full program for One Book, One Vancouver: The Host City Reads at

  • Urbanismo…a small correction. I didn’t say Pacific Boulevard is being eliminated, but I did say that a major overhaul, based on plans by Alan Jacobs would soon be initiated. I’m confident they will make a big difference.

    Good discussion on ideas to improve the city. In Warsaw they have operatic sing-a-longs in a tent in the old city; in Slovenia I watched an outdoor musical performance based on the movie Dirty Dancing; and in nearby Bellingham WA they screen movies on a wall painted white.

    Frances, you’re right…there’s a lot we can learn from other places. We just have to decide which ideas should be given priority, and how to make them happen.

  • Bill Lee

    Larwill Park (to most people the ex-bus terminal) to become the Blackburn farmers market again? That was the old Vancouver public market along with the much beloved New Westminster market that survived decades longer.
    Not likely.
    And the market ‘purists’ like the Trout Lake market insists on local food (so no oranges or bananas).

    You like markets, then off to Australia on your way back and see the (non-Spitalsfield) markets in Sydney and the wonderful Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne.
    It can be done in Anglo countries to, but listen to the voices in the markets and you realize that they came from Italy, China and so on and took over the Anglo-saxons who let it go after two generations.

    And who would staff the market here? Granville Island market is like the cosmetic counters in department stores, a host of franchises, real owners of the stalls would not make a living that way, but use it as a advertising stall for wholesale. Anecdotal stories across North America show that open public markets are a hard business.

    You like Bologna evenings, then when you get back join the counter-clockwise summer nights paseo/promenade around Trout Lake for the east-siders who have been cut off from the waterfront by CP Rail and the Harbours Board.

    Might the pleasures of Bologna be because there is such a high level, 27 percent, (compared to Italy 19% in general), of retirees who never want change, only cleaner. Is this a future for cities as young couples can’t move in, but only out where they can afford it?
    See demographics on pages 3 and on in
    or the district Excel tables in
    City of Vancouver shows 12.9% 65+, Bologna 23% in historic centre, 27% in whole region.

    Do get to Ravenna down the road and the Basilica of Sant’ Apollinare Nuovo there.
    There may still be a Canadese exhibit in the ‘museo’ And look, you
    can see Albania across the Adriatic. 😉

    Now you can revisit the idea of the Lee Building arcades around the city. The 45 km of arcades (porticos) are mandated in Bologna.

    I hope that it rains and you can experience how they almost protect the pedestrians from the weather.

    First shops were in arcades/porticos/colonnades/under-the-arches. See Damascus and the word ‘basilica’ which in the town of Vincenza (you are going there for Palladio which you can drop names with your architects, and a later re-view of the Joseph Losey film of the Mozart Don Giovanni set there) is not a ‘church’ but a market.
    While in Vincenza, then go north to Treviso.

    Speaking of fillumm, the Bolognese film show “Sotto le Stelle del Cinema” is from the Cineteca Bolognese and trying to show important Ahrt films rather than the popular films of the past. Leone works, De Sica, and Mastroianni. Would anyone here watch Canadian films from the past? And like the former Olympia cinema which showed Italian features for decades on Hastings and Nanaimo, and is now a bank, how many cinemas remain in Bologna, and would not the Bolognese oldster prefer reels of Toto, the endless Chaplinesque series?
    Should the city bring back Mechanics Institutes? There is a little flurry of stories in the British press this hot summer about “Self-help” movements and a notice of Samuel Smiles.
    It looks like film/cinema but is moral improvement of cultural and linguistic quality.

  • Joe Just Joe

    Pacific Blvd is going to be converted into a so called Great St. This can only really happen if the streetcar line proceed from Phase 0 straight thru to Phase 2+. It’s funny hearing people refer to it as a highway that goes from nowhere to nowhere though, as it seems pretty busy for something that people claims does nothing.

    We are not lacking in things to do we are lacking in people knowing what there is to do in this town, we have farmers markets (even permenant ones), free outdoor concerts, free outdoor movies.

  • gmgw

    Some lengthy comments on some of Frances’ suggestions:

    I think of film as an art form, which is maybe why I’ve never understood the appeal of outdoor screenings. The image is poor, the sound worse, and you’re surrounded by people who are there for a social event, not for the movie itself, so they tend to talk and otherwise hang out all through the screening, while their kids run wild. If that’s what you’re there for, fine; but anyone who wants to see the actual film would do better to rent a copy and stay home.

    Up until the 50s in rural Italy (and probably elsewhere) there used to be itinerant film projectionists who would travel from small town to small town with copies of recent films. They would set up a projector, screen and speakers in the main square, charge admission, and screen a film for the locals. There’s a scene depicting this in, I think, one of Fellini’s early films. This would be a big thrill for folks who not only didn’t have TV but who lived in a small town or village that lacked even a movie theatre. In such a case I can understand the attraction of outdoor screenings. But in (purportedly) sophisticated Vancouver? Just another excuse to party, really. Not to say it shouldn’t happen. I just don’t get it.

    Outdoor concerts…
    … by contrast, are a great idea, as long as the nature and presentation of the music are respectful of the venue and of the neighbourhood, especially if people live nearby. In other words, while DOA wouldn’t really be appropriate for, say, the Kits Showboat, a string quartet might. The Showboat, of course, is a lousy venue for almost anything. But there are plenty of other places in this city where musical concerts, whether regular or only occasional, would work quite nicely– as long as there is extensive liaising with the neighbourhood. I was present at Kits Beach on that semi-legendary day in July 1967 when the Grateful Dead were set to play in the park (about where the tennis courts are now). No one had bothered to get a permit and the cops shut the whole thing down after a couple of bands had already played. The Dead left in a huff, as did we disappointed fans. 42 years on, though, I can quite understand why the neighbourhood suffered a collective freakout at the thought of having “Viola Lee Blues” rattling their windows.

    The Vancouver Folk Music Festival, by contrast, has, since its arrival at Jericho Beach Park in 1979, worked its collective butt off to reach out to the people who live in the area (especially the seniors’ residence just across from the main gate) and mitigate the impact on the neighbourhood of not only the music but the 30,000 people who attend on a good weekend. In the early days of the Festival there were a number of nearby residents who were quite hostile to the event and loudly complained to the Parks Board (who put a lot of pressure on the Festival to move elsewhere– Burnaby Mountain Park was suggested more than once), but 30 years on the VFMF has long since become a summer institution, fully accepted by the neighbourhood. The VFMF is, in fact, one of the very few major outdoor music festivals in North America, of any kind, that takes place in the midst of an urban residential area, and its survival is due in part to its success in keeping the peace with its neighbours.

    Similarly, I’ve often wondered how the Jazz Festival manages to get away with their big two-day free concert event at David Lam Park , where the main stage directs frequently very loud music (clearly audible across False Creek) directly at the condo towers bordering the park on the west– full of well-heeled folks who one would not assume relish having electric blues, salsa et. al. pounding at them all day (personally, much as I like most of the music, it would make me crazy to have it forced on me for two entire afternoons). I can only assume that a similar program of community outreach was undertaken, and that it must be an ongoing challenge. However, such an outreach is essential for any large outdoor event, not only ones of a musical nature.

    Italy doesn’t always build tunnels, Frances. The section of Autostrada that runs along the Ligurian (Italian) Riviera near Genoa clings to the hillside high above the sea, much as does the Squamish Highway. Given what it must have cost to build, it’s probably not surprising that it’s among the most expensive stretches of toll highway in Europe. The sad/ironic thing is that, as on the Squamish Highway, there are so many high-speed and otherwise reckless drivers that one doesn’t dare glance at the spectacular view of the Mediterranean. They might just as well have built a tunnel instead.

    Farmers’ markets:
    It sounds like there are at last serious proposals afoot to create a permanent site for a farmers’ market in Vancouver, which is all to the good. CMHC Granville Island has never treated the concept seriously, apart from their token farmers’ market that happens on Thursdays. There are often food producer/vendors– as opposed to mere vendors– set up inside the Market itself during growing season. But it’s not easy for them to do business. There are three large full-time produce dealers within the Market. There have been persistent rumours over the years that all three are owned by the same group of businesspeople. What is known is that they all get their produce from the same wholesalers, which is why all three generally charge identical (often high) prices on their goods. There is almost never any competition between them on prices; however…A couple of weeks ago there was a day vendor in the Market, clearly a grower, who was given a space right beside two of the regular produce dealers. She was selling local strawberries for $2.99 a pound, the same price that the regular dealers had been charging. As soon as the day vendor showed up, the regular dealers lowered their price to $2.49 a pound. The day vendor, obviously without the resources to engage in a pricing war, was there for a few days. As soon as she was gone the price went right back up again. This is a typical pattern. You could say that farmer/producers are not warmly welcomed at Granville Island Market.

    All the more reason to have a real farmers’ market in Vancouver. I’m tired of going to the small fruit and vegetable dealer near my mother-in-law’s place in south Surrey and often finding produce priced at 50% less than GI prices. Friends who shop on the Drive tell me similar stories. This isn’t all the fault of the GI Market merchants, obviously– CMHC charges exorbitant rates for leases and forces Market tenants to jump through innumerable (and frequently expensive) hoops. And in recent years business in the Market has been down, which has led CMHC to fiddle with the mix of retail in the Market. Fewer food retailers suitable for locals, more that are suitable for visitors.

    I’ve been shopping regularly in GI Market for 25 years, but it’s changing in ways I don’t like, and while I wouldn’t yet call it “touristy”, it could easily become so. And CMHC isn’t telling anybody these days what they have planned for the Island as a whole– but they’re making plans nonetheless. Cross your fingers… and raise your voice for a true full-time farmers’ market.

  • CV

    Here’s a great idea from London: Street Pianos.

    A number of pianos have been located on streets around London this summer. I passed one near Carnaby St on a warm evening last week. Sure enough, people passing by would stop to sing along or play crowd pleasers. A guy with a trumpet happened to be passing by and joined in. The nearby pub did a brisk business with patrons wandering over to the piano, pint in hand.

    I’m sure it would be inexpensive to find an old piano in Vancouver and leave it for people to play, just off Robson by the art gallery. Now if only the liquor laws allowed the 95% of people who are responsible to carry a pint in hand into the street.

  • Urbanismo

    Hey Michael, you “ . . . did say . . . a major overhaul . . . “ So great, the sooner the better!

    And 3xJ . . .“It’s funny hearing people refer to it as a highway that goes from nowhere to nowhere though, as it seems pretty busy for something that people claims does nothing.

    Huh! Not funny! Every street in town goes from nowhere to nowhere and “seems pretty busy” is an understatement big time.

    We lunched at Barney’s and had a hell of a time parking on South G. Cornwall bumper to bumper too!

    And, during lunch, just as a matter of interest my G’son lives next to the dormant “doggie run” in Yaletown and naturally the conversation came ‘round to the big red and white “SOLD OUT” sign there upon.

    He’s a realtor. How come “sold out” and the site is still a mud hole? We asked. Answer: buyers have bailed ‘cos their “investment” has bombed.

    “INVESTMENT!” Did these people buy a home to live . . . in or what?

    To ” the art collector” green shoots! What green shoots?

  • Darcy McGee

    DOA isn’t appropriate for anywhere, anytime.

  • Agree that Granville Island market is highly priced compared to other areas of the city. We were shopping in Kerrisdale — hardly a “cheap” location and most of the produce was 40% less than GI. If you want people to use the market concept, it better be reasonably priced.

    As for a “farmer’s market” concept, well I don’t know if there are enough local farms to properly service the community year-round. I can’t recall too many markets in Europe that didn’t have at least some imported foods for sale. And the prices were not expensive compared to the supermarkets. The Mediterranean markets I found to be absolutely massive in scale compared to anything in North America; I don’t know if it could be made to work unless prices were right.

  • gmgw

    Darcy said:
    “DOA isn’t appropriate for anywhere, anytime.”

    Speak for yourself, youngster. Some of us old codgers still like ’em just fine (this dang rheumatiz sure makes it hard to pogo, though).

    Talk – action = O

    Disco sucks!!!


  • MB

    For once I agree with gmgw (disco sucks) and Urbanisimo (conjoined piazzas).

    There are really only two ways to structure a city, on a transportation system, and on open space.

    Burnaby’s Deer Lake Park possesses one of the best outdoor concert venues anywhere and can accommodate 10,000 people listening to the VSO or blues. Most of the infrastructure is underground and therein unseen. In the off season it appears as nothing more than a 22,000 square metre terraced lawn.

    When completed, the Georgia-Robson section of the Granville Mall will function in part as a concert venue with a handy built-in purpose designed electrical service. Broadcasting videos on the four-storey “screen” known as the blank white east wall of Sears was also proposed as part of the Granville Mall redesign, but I’m not sure if anything came of it. It really should be an ephemeral public art display and never succumb to commercialization.

    I suspect there will be a revolution in local food production and the advent of farmer’s or public markets once higher fuel prices, a growing water management crisis, an increasing distaste for gargantuan public subsidies and debt, and chronic drought allow the true price of that head of cauliflower grown in the San Joaquin Valley to break free.

  • gmgw

    If there’s to be a revolution in local food production hereabouts, it had better come soon; more and more farmland, pastureland and orchardland in the Fraser Valley and the Okanagan is being covered with asphalt and housing developments, making us all increasingly and dangerously dependent on those heavaily-subsidized caulifowers from the San Joaquin– where you can find some of the most heavily chemicalized soil on the planet, courtesy of decades of intensive industrial farming.

    I get a kick out of the “localvores” who yammer on about the virtues of the hundred-mile diet while overlooking the fact that land on which to grow that “local” food is steadily disappearing (and really, if it means I can no longer eat mangoes, pineapples and papayas, I don’t want to be part of your diet, anyway). Incidentally, I wonder what Whitehorse localvores eat in January? Pemmican?

  • Re: Those Commecial Drive Summer Movie Nights that Wendy mentioned way upthread….

    Here’s a link with all the info.

    Fantastic thread everybody – thanks….

  • Andrea C.

    Frances, Bologna is one of the best cities in Italy. It seems almost unfair (or hopeless) to try to coax Vancouver to imitate it in any way.
    Bologna will always rule in food, left-wing resistance, cinema and, of course, in red stone colonnades!!

    Bologna – where French is the second most widely understood language, German the third, and English a lonesome fourth (Brit bargain air tourists notwithstanding).

    I don’t care if it’s a 10,000 mile diet – is there any way to smuggle a Parma ham home with you?

  • Urbanismo

    Kudos Frances for inspiring such an animated conversation.

    You will no doubt have noticed, though, that what worked for Julius Caesar’s France is unlikely to work on the Drive . . . or indeed anywhere in Metro!

    I’ll bet you start your day over café au lait and a chortle with Vercingetorix. And that Frances is where any hope that cyclists will proliferate, or out door movies will catch on, in Vancouver as they have in La Belle Payse evaporates.

    France goes ga-ga over V’s antics in Gaul with his Viking horns and that tells me the French imagination, read tolerance, goes back over 2000 years: and ours doesn’t!

    Ergo read Harvey Enchin, in today’s Sun, and understand why cyclists don’t count in hilly, rainy traffic snarled-up Vanc. As for Gregory’s bridge . . . he doesn’t understand Salvatore Calatrava . . .

    Also consider the absolute impossibility of enjoying an out door movie, on say Larwell Park, surrounded on all sides by those stinky, noisy snarlies blaring in our ears.

    I enjoy your blog Frances but you have far too many frustrated opinionated people who hunger for a forum . . . and hey that’s fine with me so long as no one bets the farm on all the chatter . . .

    Pemmican . . . for real . . . I like that gmgw!

    And for Vancouver to catch up, and on, we will need a quantum shift of some magnituded . . .

    Huh yu never no!

  • Sarah Blyth

    Don’t wory Frances, I am working on getting more movies in Parks. I will keep you updated. I think it is a great idea for Vancouver! I was also thinking it might be cool to have movies under a bridge where it would be undercover from the rain.

  • gmgw

    Re public art projects, and the kind of cool things that happen in Europe but never seem to happen here: There’s been assorted stories in the media in the past couple of days about the One and Other/Fourth Plinth event currently taking place in Trafalgar Square, London. I think this is one of the most interesting conceptual art projects I’ve ever come across.

    Essentially each participant stands on an elevated plinth in Trafalgar Square for an hour, during which they can do anything they like (within reason). You can get all the details– and view the ever-changing “participants” in the installation — at

    This is a very well-designed Web site– you can view the event in real time, with sound, from a couple of different perspectives, and look at archived footage of previous participants (the event started a couple of days ago and runs through October, 24 hours a day), as well as statements from them.

    We’re probably going to be in London this fall, so naturally I tried to sign up, but it appears they’re not taking applications from non-UK residents– sigh. Oh well, some Emily Carr student desperate for exposure is bound to mount a Vancouver imitation before long.

  • The point is gmgw that London thought of it first . . . same as Asterix thought of playground movies first . . .

    No prize for copy cats . . .

  • PS . . .

    The last time Vancouver Art rocked was when Angela Grossman, Richard Lukacs, The Anything Co, Ian Baxter and The Young Turks were at large.

    Now all we can do is tour Europe and whine about what should be.

    We are far to world class and in thrall to off-shore empty suits to take creative risks and be proud of who we are . . .

    If Frances hadn’t gone to the movies would ridiculous Sarah try to buy cheap political brownie points . . .

  • Lewis N. Villegas

    Word came to me that “Frances had gone to Rome and come back with lots of ideas, check it out.” No matter, it turns out that it was Bologna.

    At the FormShift evening Frances reiterated an earlier confession about her inability to read architectural plans. Yet, her experiences in urban space seem unhampered by such a personal flaw (have a dead ear to music, can’t play, can’t read, yet love concerts and enjoy all types of music).

    Here are five lessons in urbanism we can ‘draw’ from Bologna:

    1. The Pedestrian Shed as the neighborhood footprint.

    The center of Bologna is a “Roman Castrum” (as is Firenze). Walking from the center of a Roman Castrum to the edge takes five minutes. Thus, part of the magic that Frances experienced in Bologna was walking in a ‘precinct’ sized for the human experience of place. Nevertheless, automobiles, trucks, buses, etc., can still get around.

    2. Return to a street-and-square urbanism.

    The center of the neighborhood, and the center of Bologna, is an empty place: the square. However, as Frances found out, it doesn’t stay empty for long. Those central spaces become the site for the market buildings, outdoor screens, fairs, concerts (as others have already note) … and even the odd public execution.

    The guillotine stood at Place de la Concorde and Savonarola was burned alive at the stake in Piazza della Signoria, Firenze, a stone’s-throw from Michelangelo’s David.

    What we must put to the fire today is the legacy of the Charter of Athens, where the “street and square” urbanism was signaled out for extinction.

    3. Fee-simple, high-density, low-rise buildings.

    In the center of Bologna buildings rarely exceed 4 stories.

    4. Dedicated bus lanes that can convert to surface rail service once neighborhoods attain threshold populations.

    Transportation is among the primary shapers of urbanism.

    5. The Urban Arterial.

    Bologna has a wonderful ‘peripherique’, probably built on the site of Renaissance-era city walls, complete with a center median generously planted with trees.

    The Roman tradition of lining highways with trees, later adopted by the French Baroque architects for the tree allées of the royal palaces, and finally usurped by Napoleon III-Hausmann in their mid-19th century re-invention of Paris, has something to offer today’s green movement.

    Rows of trees are an effective way of ameliorating the impact of arterials carrying high volume traffic. Reinvesting in our urban forests is a good way to build up the carbon sink. Trees near the source of pollution are much more effective than trees far removed.

    Of course, Bologna is the kind of place that also has a few things we ought not copy:

    1. The basilica of San Petronio is one of those great Italian churches missing a temple front. Two schemes by Palladio are on view at the local museum. One of them should be installed.

    2. Nearby, in Santo Domenico, round the back of the altar, a number of statuettes have been recently attributed as early works Michelangelo and Nicoló dell’Arca. Letting go of “Il Magnifico” should be a reminder to treat our local talent better.

    3. Legend has it that fighting Pope Julius II, the same Pope that stole Michelangelo away from both Bologna and Firenze, the locals melted down the only equestrian bronze statue by Michelangelo to make a canon to fire at the Papal armies.

    4. The scale of Piazza Maggiore, the central square, is off. The space feels too big because its dimensions exceed 6-times the height of the surrounding built form.

    5. All the arcaded streets in Bologna seem to lead to the Piazza Ravegnana, site of a gate on the eastern edge of the original castrum. Two blocks from Plazza Maggiore, this rat’s nest of medieval squares is the real heart of the city. Yet, when I was there, it was overrun by cars.

    Ultimately, the dilemma that Frances has presented, as others have indicated above, will only be resolved at the level of Isaiah Berlin’s distinction between the hedgehog and the fox.

    The Romans, and in their turn the Italian Renaissance, mastered urbanism in a manner that will continue to escape us until we change approach. Urbanism is not an endless list of fox-smart strategies, to be cherry-picked here and there, in an attempt to ameliorate things long after the horse has left the barn.

    Getting the urbanism right requires a global, overall knowledge of one, vast and complex field of knowledge. It’s hedgehog knowledge.

    Traveling in Bologna, Frances came across something timeless. Yet, what she experienced was neither a work of art nor the result of a stroke of genius. It was a town built of concrete and verifiable parts. In Bolognia, and in the other Italian Renaissance towns, the builders had put their finger (once again) on those physical relationships known to resonate with our human sense experience or human scale.

    It is “human scale” that will remain on view in Bolognia for all generations to come, or until such time as we as a species evolve longer legs, larger lungs, or a different psycho-visual apparatus. Good urbanism knows no politics. The worst despots, as well as the most enlightened leaders, have built great cities. In the meantime, the 5 minute walk, the golden ratio of 1.6 to 1, and the simple harmonic ratios of 1 to 1, 1 to 2, and 1 to 3 will fix in more or less exact proportions the limits of what we will experience as joyous in constructed, urban space.

    And you don’t gotta be able to read a plan to get it.

  • MB

    Very well articulated, Lewis. I would add that a ratio of 1:4 in the more intimate Japanese courtyard garden may have a role in the analysis of quality urban design.

  • Good for you Lewis . . .

    No dreaming, no whining, no wishful thinquing . . . just the facts . . .

    tell us more . . .

  • Lewis N. Villegas

    Heggemann, quoting Maertens, thinks that human perception stays “in focus” up to a ratio of 1:6. I had stopped the explanation at 1:3 for brevity.

  • david n.

    Love the idea to close some streets to traffic and open them up to not only pedestrians but businesses and restaurants. Closing Alexander is a great idea, but can you imagine how great it would be to see the entire ‘gassy jack’ plaza area converted to open air restaurants and such?

  • A Reader

    That public piano idea is brilliant!
    I vote for that!

  • Frances,

    Outdoor events in Italy certainly sound idyllic. Fortunately for Lower Mainland residents, they don’t need to fly across the ocean to get a taste of that. There are many outdoor events happening in Maple Ridge throughout the summer, including the Caribbean Festival on July 11th – 12th and the Jazz & Blues Festival on August 8th. You can see a detailed scheduled on Now, as for the outdoor movie screen… that’s something to think about!

    Sandy Blue

  • Frothingham

    Lewis for Town Planner! Brilliant!
    PS I found countless smaller cities planned much like Bologna. Urbino, Treviso, Siena, Lecce and so on son… Is this possible in NA. Not sure. We built when we where two much in car mode.

  • Darcy McGee

    There will have been three outdoor movies in Vancouver this week alone by the end of it: Tuesday at the Museum, tomorrow at Trout Lake, Sunday at David Lam Park in Yaletown.

  • Charles Campbell

    The Vancouver International Film Centre has a rear-projection screen on the front of the building that will be used regularly when the area across the street is developed as a park.