Brutalism or Brutalist design came out in the mid 20th century as a blocky concrete style with lots and lots of concrete. Everything was overscale, and usually in cold looking geometric patterns. Buildings designed in this style did not have much to offer on the ground plane, which was normally just as desolate an area as the facade of these buildings.
A good Vancouver example is the medical/dental building at 805 Broadway designed by architect Vlad Plavsic. It has great views from the upper floors. And a whole lot of concrete on the interior and the exterior.
There is another name for the fostering of exterior environments in cities that are just not that welcoming to people, and try to minimize opportunities for people to sit, sleep, or stay around. That moniker is “hostile architecture” and we have all seen it-from rounded corners on buildings to discourage people urinating, to benches that are designed for one person to sit on.
Chicago based artist Sarah Ross created “archisuits” over 15 years ago to address the hostile design of public spaces and buildings, and her work is still elemental post pandemic.
As described by Grace Ebert in Colossal, “Ross’s four leisurewear pieces bulge with supports that perfectly fit into the negative space of benches, fences, and building facades. The designs draw a contrast between the soft, bendable wearables and the cold, rigid architecture, which the artist describes as “an arm of the law, a form that uses the built environment to police and control raced, classed, and gendered bodies.”
While we are still struggling to urge the Provincial government to allow municipalities to declare areas of their towns as 30 km/h zones without the costly signage and legalities, the City of Edinburgh continues to show why we need to implement slower driver road speeds.
The adoption of the lower driver road speeds was part of the City of Edinburgh’s commitment to Vision Zero, a strategy to stop all traffic fatalities and injuries while enhancing safe, healthy equitable mobility.
Driver vehicle crashes were reduced by thirty percent in the first three years of the implementation of the 20 mile per hour speed limits, with a coinciding 31 percent drop in death and serious injury. The lower driver road speeds meant that more people bicycled more often.
Nitrogen Oxide emissions also decreased, a key national policy goal of the British government. But the absolutely best part of this evaluation is the analysis that the lower driver speed limits have saved 38.6 million pounds in three years.
That’s the equivalent of nearly 60 million Canadian dollars.
Do you know the history of how vehicle drivers were allowed to turn right at a red light?
And did you know before fifty years ago while some places allowed drivers to turn right at a red light, nearly half of jurisdictions, including most of the eastern United States did not?
It was the 1973 Oil Crisis and the Energy Crisis of 1979 when fuel costs soared that vehicle drivers and governments looked at reducing energy use nationally. It was Alan Voorhees that did work on the “benefits” of the Right Turn on Red System (RTOR). As unlikely as it sounds, allowing a driver to turn right on a red light at an intersection saved between 1 and 4.6 seconds of time. This was seen by the National Energy Department as a significant improvement for energy efficiency, and it was recommended that RTOR be implemented nationally.
Besides the time saving, there was a saving in fuel costs that impacted mainly larger vans and trucks. That is why today many courier companies have their trucks only making right turns to reduce idling, and to keep trucks from waiting in the middle of intersections to complete left turns.
Of course there was also the pesky bit of what happens when vehicles are allowed to turn right on red.
In 2015 Toronto Public Health produced a report showing that the right turn on red driving tactic had resulted in 1,300 pedestrian injuries and deaths from 2008 to 2012. That is 13 percent of all serious injuries and deaths due to vehicle driver crashes. Simply prohibiting the right turn on red would alleviate those injuries and fatalities.
You would think in a country that provides universal health care the concept of Vision Zero, allowing no deaths or serious injury on any roads would be of paramount importance. But the right turn on red permission for drivers has been relatively unchallenged, and the injury and death impact of giving drivers priority is underreported.
Take a look below at two articles from British Columbia published thirty years apart discussing allowing drivers the ability to turn right through red lights. The first article was published in the Vancouver Sun in 1953. The second article by Sydney Harris was published in the Victoria Times Colonist in 1981.
Here we are 40 years later, supposedly championing sidewalk users and cyclists in cities, and still giving vehicle drivers that few seconds of priority with red light turns. At what cost?
It was over ten years ago that a study called “Sustaining America’s Urban Trees and Forests worked out that one single immature street tree had the same cooling impact as five air conditioners in separate rooms operating twenty hours a day. Simply increasing street trees may bring down summer heat significantly in cities.
Increasing tree canopy in cities not only fights poor air quality and heat islands, trees can reduce the hourly ozone by 15 percent, sulfur dioxide by 14 percent and particulate matter by 13 percent.
Data shows that one healthy tree can remove 300 pounds of carbon dioxide from the air annually. Trees in the United States are estimated to remove 784,000 tons of carbon dioxide annually, a 3.8 billion dollar equivalent value.
Steve Mouzon’s post in CNU.org of two years ago shows that “evapotranspiration” from trees cool heat by 2 to 9 degrees. So how do you cost the value of a street tree? Dan Burden estimates the lifetime benefits of a single street tree as $90,000, and a street that is full of street trees raises the value of the adjacent housing by $22,000 a unit.
There is also some quirky weirdness: there is less crime on streets that are lined with trees. But think of it: the more street trees, the more walkable and accessible and cared for, meaning there are more eyes on the street as well as more foot traffic.
Add in one more benefit for Metro Vancouver: every street tree absorbs one inch of stormwater, so installing and watering street trees pays off as part of stormwater infrastructure.
After over a year saying they were going to do this, Vancouver Park Board is finally doing what the City of Vancouver should be doing. That is setting up accessible public toilets in “underserved areas” according to the Parks Washroom Strategy. Of course, in Vancouver underserved areas means just about anywhere that is not in a park.
and why it is so special: as outlined in CityLab the design process was unique in that Portland looked at other municipalities’ public toilets and realized that the privacy of them allowed for “nefarious” activities to occur in them.
“We really looked at Seattle as what not to do,” says Anna DiBenedetto, a staff assistant to city commissioner Randy Leonard, the spiritual godfather of the Portland Loo. “We think it was the design that was the fatal flaw. Trying to be comfortable and private makes people feel more empowered to do the illegal activities that people do in public toilets.”
Portland had a “loo squad” 15 years ago and the first Portland loo was installed in 2008 in the Old Town-Chinatown area. It is still there, still functioning. The secret to the success of the Portland loo design is as follows:
-no running water, just a spout on the exterior that pours cold water;-no mirror, as mirrors get vandalized;
-openings at the top and bottom of the Portland loo so that it is not completely private, ensuring that pedestrians and police know if someone is in there.
Add in a graffiti resistant finish and stainless steel walls and doors and the Portland loo is complete. The cost for the first washroom was $140,000 USD, but is now about $90,000. Maintenance is pegged at $1,000 per month per location.
You can take a look at Christine Hagemoen’s excellent article in Scout Magazine where she outlines the history of public washrooms in Vancouver. Ms. Hagemoen also documents what happened during the first part of the pandemic when “ most of us hunkered down in the safety of our Covid-bunkers and obsessed about toilet paper, homeless residents of Vancouver were left scrambling to find an open toilet.”
The first year of the pandemic showed how poorly we deal with equity for homeless people: public washrooms and libraries were closed. These are two places (besides parks) where everyone is welcome no matter who they are.
Paola Lorrigio in The Star bluntly pointed out that the dearth of public washrooms, once a barrier to the homeless, poor, racialized and disabled is now a barrier to everyone. The pandemic also brought out the need for public washrooms to encourage people to get outside, bike, use sidewalks and exercise, when those were the few things open to everyone.
Vision Zero refers to zero road deaths and no serious injuries on roads, with the philosophy that every life matters. Applied in Sweden since 1997 the core belief is that “Life and health can never be exchanged for other benefits within the society”. This approach differs from the standard cost benefit approach, where a dollar value is based upon life, and that value is used to decide the cost of road networks and calculate the cost of risk.
We see examples of this all the time and are now inured to these avoidable fatalities as the opportunity cost of driving a vehicle.
There has been ten pedestrians killed so far in Vancouver, one pedestrian a month. One was a woman crossing at Beach Avenue and Broughton Street at 8:00 p.m. (it was still light) on July 27. She was killed by a white SUV. A cyclist also lost his life in Vancouver biking on Pacific at Hornby in July.
It is no surprise that we as a society forgive these fatalities as an unpleasant side effect of the freedom to roam the road in a vehicle. And no surprise that driving over Ms. Lutgens is seen as an offence under the Motor Vehicle Act and not a criminal offence, as there was no proof of criminal intent.
Ms. Lutgens with one of her five children, daughter Ruth
As Keith Fraser writes in the Vancouver Sun, “the court held that there was no evidence of a wanton and reckless disregard for the rules of the road prior to the intersection, and drugs and alcohol were not believed to be involved. Speed did not appear to be a significant factor.”
There are three things that contribute to road fatalities: driver speed, driver intoxication, and driver inattention. The driver was fined for “driving without due care and attention”, given an $1,800 fine, with a one year ban on driving and eighteen months of probation. In court the driver apparently was upset about the driving prohibition as it inhibited taking her children to private school.
Ms. Lutgens, a mother of five children is not alive to give her version of the story, but dash cam footage filmed her final moments. One of Ms. Lutgen’s daughters said in her victim impact statement that the driver:
There are cliffs in terms of the recognition of the collateral damage done to families by these crashes, and the loss of talent and treasure to society in these unnecessary deaths.
This year Parachute Canada has commenced the discussion in a national awareness campaign based on Vision Zero principles that calls on Canadians to #ShareSafeRoads.
Parachute Canada is a national charity dedicated to injury prevention and they have produced a series of quick 30 second videos getting the “driver”, “pedestrian”, “cyclist” and even the “scooter” to sit down and talk to a therapist. We need to commence and continue this dialogue.
We’ve included the English and French version for you to view below.
In the City of Vancouver there is no major freeway with off ramps through the city and not many places where people can legally travel over 50 kilometers an hour on streets, so any comparison to another major international city with such infrastructure is apples and oranges. But it shows that instead of seriously looking at curb ramp infill and enhancing the walking and rolling environment the City chooses to change the subject.
Metro Vancouver municipalities need to see the enhancement of sidewalks and the walking and rolling environment as vitally important. Curb ramp infill at every corner needs to be done, and should not be delayed for budgetary reasons.
Vehicle driver speed is responsible for one third of all crashes, and implementing slower speeds allows for higher pedestrian survival rates. If 90 percent of pedestrians can survive a vehicle driver crash at 30 km/h and if only 10 percent of pedestrians can survive a vehicle driver crash at 50 km/h, why not implement that survivable speed, as they have done in countless cities in Europe? Why is it in a province that champions universal health care is the ability to implement 30 km/h speeds in municipalities NOT the top priority of the provincial government?
During the pandemic municipalities encouraged walking and cycling, and in the case of Vancouver implemented Slow Streets as a measure to provide more room for walking and rolling. Given the estimates that 30 to 40 percent of people are still doing some work from home or changing their daily commute, the fact that the number of pedestrians being killed has dramatically risen shows that more needs to be done for pedestrian infrastructure.
In 2022 to date seven pedestrians have died. That is seven people who won’t get home to their families.
In 2021 ten pedestrians died, four while walking or rolling on Vancouver sidewalks.
Figures from March 2019 show that Canada has a rate of 5.8 road deaths per 100,000 people. We can look at the United States with their extensive road networks and a death rate of 12.4 per 100,000.
In British Columbia between 2012 and 2021 55 people a year have died by driver crashes while walking or rolling.
Most of those dead were men at 58 percent of fatalities, and 60 percent of all deaths are people over the age of 50 years. Fraser Health Unit (which includes Delta, Surrey and Burnaby) had 207 people die in this nine year period, while Vancouver Coastal Health had 127 people die. In terms of cities, Vancouver had the highest number of deaths at 87, with Surrey the second highest at 77 lives lost.
While it is now proven that walking and mobility are vital for sociability, engagement, and continued physical and mental health, the City of Vancouver has ignored this most important part of micromobility.
The City of Vancouver’s own numbers show why the walking environment needs to be enhanced now: 45 percent of pedestrian fatalities are seniors, and 50 percent of all pedestrian fatalities and serious injuries happen at night. Half of all the vehicle driver crashes in the city that are fatal or life changing injuries involve pedestrians and cyclists. And most of those vehicle driver crashes occur in Vancouver’s low light and rainy winters, meaning that walking infrastructure and lighting should be enhanced and posted vehicle driver speed decreased.
Ms. Marchi had traversed over snow from angled city parking on the street to a city sidewalk. There was no way to access the sidewalk except through a snowbank. Ms. Marchi successfully argued that providing an access in snow from the city parking lot to the sidewalk was not a “core policy decision” but was an “operational decision” taken by the City of Nelson. You can read more about this case here.
This of course has ramifications for other Canadian municipalities. The Supreme Court found that angled parking spaces would not have been cleared if it was not intended for residents to use them, and had a pathway in the snow been cleared in a path from the parking to the sidewalk Ms. Marchi would not have injured her leg. A new trial has been ordered.
Another trial again in British Columbia examined whether residents are liable for clearing the snow in front of their houses. As Jason Proctor notes in this CBC report, Canadians have been suing each other for decades about sidewalk snow removal in front of their houses and slips and falls.
In 2017 Darwin Der slipped and fell on black ice on the sidewalk in Burnaby. His case went to the B.C. Court of Appeal with a lawsuit against the couple who owned the adjacent house, arguing that the property owners owed a “general duty of care to remove snow and ice from their section of the sidewalk.”
The court of appeal judges disagreed, saying those residential property owners had shovelled the sidewalk the previous day and had salted it that day. They had done their civic duty and that “The snow and ice accumulating on public sidewalks and the potholes on the street in front of the house are the legal responsibility of the municipality, not the adjacent property owner.”
So at this point all eyes are back on those municipalities.
The new trial in Ms. Marchi’s case will establish whether it is policy or an operational decision when Nelson plows the on street parking out, but forgets to provide a pathway through the snow onto the sidewalk; and as it stands, if you do the basic shovelling on your sidewalk in front of your house, any ice or potholes contributing to falls are the city’s fault.
Want to Boost Your Well-Being & Mental Health? Go For a Walk in the Woods Now
Want to feel better about yourself quickly? Get out into a forest for a walk.
It has been known for a while that getting out in nature boosts mental and physical health, but no one has quantified what that value was to health care systems. A study done by Forest Research in the United Kingdom was the first to come up with some monetary figures.
Going for a walk in nature means “fewer doctor visits and prescription, reduced hospital and social service care, and reduced lost days of work”. The Japanese refer to this as “forest bathing”.
And here’s something very interesting: the study showed that street trees in urban places “cut an additional 16 million pounds (24.4 in Canadian dollars) from antidepressant costs”.
Damian Carrington in The Guardian notes that while the pandemic has increased mental illness, “green prescribing” getting people to go for a walk in nature helps. In the survey work done by Forest Research, “90 percent of respondents said woodlands were important to them in reducing stress”.
The information is clear: if people spend just thirty minutes a week in a forest grove, they feel better. And the data proves it: the annual mental health benefits of visiting woodlands and forest groves are estimated to be 185 million pounds or 317.5 million Canadian dollars.
That means this research makes the case for continued investment in forests and city treescapes for mental and physical well-being, not only for sustainability, shade and mitigating climate change.
The research also shows that you don’t particularly need to do anything in the forest, that walking and sitting is just as good. As Dr. William Bird has previously said, looking at a cellphone screen does not count, your field of vision and senses need to be taken up by the woodland.
There was also a study in Australia where visits to green spaces of at least thirty minutes lowered depression rates by seven percent. You can take a look at this study from Brisbane in 2020 here, that concluded the need for green space during the pandemic was vital for well-being.
Another British study showed that a two hour visit in nature weekly significantly increased “wellbeing”. This was the first study to ascertain how much time was needed to be in nature to get an effect, and predicted that in the future “two hours in nature could join five a day of fruit and vegetables and 150 minutes of exercise a week as official health advice.
Access to these wooded areas and forests needs to be more easier: in England only 63 percent of people visit the woods once a year. That number increases to 80 percent in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Of those people that visit the woods several times a month, half of those people are in Scotland.
Some of that advice about walking in the wods for mental health already seems to be followed in Metro Vancouver. Neal Carley, General Manager of Parks, Planning and the Environment for Metro Vancouver states that the regional parks have been discovered and heavily used during the pandemic. With a normal visitor volume of 12 million visits annually, Metro Vancouver parks had 16.5 million visits in 2020 and 17 million visits in 2021.
Here’s a quick virtual walk in the woods below. Please note this video does not substitute for your own walk and time in a local forest.
It was Chris Foxon, a former groundskeeper for the Vancouver School Board that noted that publics change, and that in every seven years there was a new cohort of people that are using public spaces. Mr. Foxon saw the effective use of space as having a seven year life span before those space need to be re-evaluated or repurposed for changing people and interests.
The Tupper Neighbourhood Greenway has been one of the city’s most constant and neighbourhood loved spaces located to the north of Tupper Secondary School in the 400 block of East 23rd Avenue.
The street on this block had been originally closed in the 1970’s due to street racing, and had been left as a closed asphalt surface with two chains on either street end. One side was playing fields associated with the school; the other side was the physical campus of the school. That closed street stayed that way for over thirty years.
In 2003 a student at Tupper Secondary, Jomar Lanot went to play basketball with friends on the school grounds on a weekend. Leaving the grounds he was accosted by a gang not related to the school. He was murdered.
In the aftermath of this tragedy the neighbourhood wanted to do something to commemorate this tragedy, and to bring the community together after such a horrendous event. Walking with community members and teachers, formalizing this closed street into a public space that could be used by residents and the school seemed like the right thing to do.
The design for this closed street was developed in concert with school students, who actually led some of the public process. The city’s engineer on the project, Linda Chow, had been a graduate of Tupper Secondary. Over several months the design was collaborated upon, and featured two infiltration gardens at each end of the street, a small amphitheatre of boulders for class teaching and a commemorative boulder in the centre.
The benches that are surrounding the boulder were designed by the shop class at the school, and were fabricated there.
In the City of Vancouver you cannot commemorate people on city streets, so Jomar’s name could not be put on the rock. But what could be placed was a quote. The school student body was given a choice of several quotes that could be engraved on the rock, and they chose a quote which came from Jomar’s school notebooks:
“Culture is the root of our lives and Love is the most powerful force”.
The engraving on the rock was done onsite so that the students could witness that part of the process. When this neighbourhood greenway was planted, the school and community came out to do the work, while the culinary program at the school provided the cuisine. The VanDusen Master Gardeners followed up doing garden replanting, weeding and maintenance and had an active committee that stewarded the garden. The Lanot family was involved in the planting and the maintenance of the space, and Jomar’s mother spoke at the opening of the greenway.
The students at Tupper Secondary won the Mayor’s Award for Youth Involvement for their participation in the project in 2008.
This is a space that is always used. There is a violincello player that comes in the early afternoons to practice. Children and adults use the space, and there is a bikeway path that goes through the space. The garden portions of the greenway are well maintained and cared for.
These photos show how the gardens look today, with some maintenance being done on the infiltration gardens. The concept and space are now approaching 14 years of being actively used and maintained, although the original story of who Jomar was and how he died has been lost to many newcomers in the area. But the intent of the space, to bring community together carries on.
It is one of the most successful ongoing community spaces in east Vancouver, and illustrates the power of legacy when it is the right idea at the right time: inclusive open space for both students and residents.