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Granville Street, despite heavy foot traffic provided by transit service, is a concrete canyon. Robson Square’s pedestrian vitality, when not sapped by construction or spread over its shapeless surface, falls irretrievably into its sunken pits.
Until, that is, VIVA Vancouver brought life to both simultaneously for one short fleeting month. While Granville Street requires heavy programming to liven up even a single block, all Robson Square needs is an invitation. Picnurbia, produced by the Loose Affliates, is a remarkably perfect fit for the space, despite being shot down by some ungrateful residents of the Mount Pleasant street it was intended for. The space naturally stays packed thanks to the constant flow of white-collar workers, tourists, and parents with small children – who, when the beach empties out, fill it right back up by running up and down the tiny hills.
The space is simply a joy. Yes, living a half-block off Robson, I am among those affected by the tedious re-routing of the 5 and lengthy detours to get to the Library, among other destinations, on my bike. But the 5 doesn’t actually go anywhere – just to SkyTrain – and the only thing holding Robson Square together is keeping that strip of concrete open to pedestrians. Rather than a compromise, like making the block bus-only (which could likely be accomplished with a single lane for most of the distance), TransLink and the City will wipe out all these gains by returning general traffic to the street on September 5.
There are potential long-term solutions to create a square adjacent to – rather than on top of – Robson, but destroying what we already have would be a critical blow. The Vancouver Public Space Network have a petition drive to keep traffic off Robson Square; please show your support if you have not already done so.
Brian Gould is a transportation planner, urbanist, advocate, and recent graduate of the Master of City Planning program at UC Berkeley.