What Vancouver can teach us about street furniture

Last week on Urbanphoto, I wrote about street furniture and sidewalk decoration in Vancouver. While Vancouver is a much newer, smaller city than Montreal — one still coping with adolescent growing pains and an identity that consists in large part of being an escape, a Terminal City, for both immigrants and Canadians alike — it has some lessons for us in urban design.

Compared to Montreal, Vancouver takes a much more proactive approach to planning new residential and commercial development than Montreal, for instance. It also pays more attention, at least in some areas, to high-quality street furniture.

Downtown Vancouver in particular has an abundance of high-quality new street furniture, thanks in part to the city’s insistence that property developers pay for public space improvements like water features, parks, benches and bike racks. (They’ve also paid for new schools, a new home for the Vancouver International Film Festival and social housing — but that’s another story.)

The strange-looking bike rack above is a nice example. I found it on Davie Street near the corner of Seymour, just outside a large new condo complex. It is both attractive and functional, which is something that cannot be said for the woefully misguided bicycle rack design that is the standard across Montreal. Although Montreal has been installing more attractive, better-functioning bike racks around the city, as well as replacing on-street car parking with bike parking, it’d be cool to see some really prominent, eye-catching bicycle racks that are both stylish and functional.

Last year, Montreal got rid of the last of its on-street recycling bins, citing concerns about vandalism and cleanliness. So far, the city hasn’t done anything to offer public recycling receptacles, so most pedestrians have no choice but to throw away their bottles and cans.

Vancouver has come up with a cheap and ingeniously simple solution to this problem. Many garbage cans around the city feature a “recycling rack” with room for five containers. Put your bottle there and, soon enough, someone will take it away to cash its deposit. Like Vancouver, Montreal has a virtual army of men and women who scour garbage cans for anything with a deposit value. Installing recycling racks on the city’s trash cans would give them a bit of extra change while preventing at least some bottles and cans from being dumped into a landfill.

Many newly-developed residential areas in downtown Vancouver include superbly-designed parks and plazas. I’ll write more about them in another post, but here’s one really cool element found in George Wayburn Park, a new public space along the waterfront, surrounded by condominium towers and townhouses. On the edge of a stone terrace overlooking a lawn and the waters of False Creek beyond, a row of permanent metal sunchairs have been installed. They face south, so they take advantage of both the morning and afternoon sun. It’s a nice touch that adds a bit of playfulness to its surroundings.

There are few legal spaces for postering in Montreal. You can stick a poster onto any construction hoarding, but these are monopolized by an advertising company called Publicit√© sauvage. There are also a handful of poster boards in the Quartier des spectacles and outlying boroughs like Lachine. In the most heavily trafficked places in town — exactly where legal postering space is needed the most — people are forced to glue their posters illegally to mailboxes, lampposts and other surfaces.

Vancouver is far more accommodating: hundreds of lampposts around the city have been fitted with casts to which anyone can stick a poster. City workers clear them every Tuesday.

One comment

  1. Could I use that great picture of a bike rack for an (unfortunately) very small picture in a chapter in a book entitled “Infrastructure Planning and Finance: A Guide for Local Practitioners” to be published, hopefully sometime soon, by Solano Press, a small California publishing company. It would be in Chapter 20, streets and streetscapes.
    Hope you say yes, I would give your photo attribution of course.

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