Bill Cunningham who wrote for the New York Times died at 87 in 2016. You may have seen his column-Bill went around New York City by bike and by foot and photographed fashion trends. But he was doing more than that-as The New York Times stated he “ turned fashion photography into his own branch of cultural anthropology on the streets of New York, chronicling an era’s ever-changing social scene for The New York Times by training his busily observant lens on what people wore — stylishly, flamboyantly or just plain sensibly”.
In 2009 he was designated by the New York City Conservancy a living landmark. There is also an excellent documentary on him called “Bill Cunningham New York.” He lived in a tiny apartment in the Carnegie Hall building. And if you saw him in his peasant jacket on a bicycle, you knew it was Bill.
I think Foncie Pulice who took photos of Vancouverites from the 1930’s to 1979 was also a bit like Bill Cunningham, someone who was at ease with talking to people on the street and leaving a cultural gift of all those photographic memories. And until 2006 there was David Cohen, a music lover that went to every symphony concert he could and would always talk to anyone on Granville Mall about music, bus routes, life and living in Vancouver. David always carried books with him and was passionate about music. Bramwell Tovey the conductor of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra played the piano for David at his hospice when he was dying. David Cohen was for me the epitome of a Vancouverite, approachable, kind and just plain friendly.
Do we still have those characters in Vancouver that connect people through photography, music, or conversation on downtown city streets? If you know of one, please let us know in the comments below.
Sometimes its easier just to get out of the box, build something, call it a demonstration project-and if it is successful, make it permanent. As CBC reports that is exactly what the City of Montreal is doing on Atwater, Roy and Wellington Streets.
The City of Montreal will spend $1.7 million dollars over three years to transform one block lengths of Roy Street East and Wellington Street, and several parts of St. Ambroise and Atwater Street. Grants will be given to neighbourhoods to create and animate pedestrian oriented pilot projects. Depending on the effectiveness of the closures, the streets will remain fully pedestrianized year round or for part of the year.
This is the third year this program has been operating, with approval ratings as high as 90 per cent from participating neighbourhoods.
There is a renaissance occurring in many American towns that are reclaiming their downtowns when bisecting highways are rerouted from town centres. Mayor Bob Crowell is the Mayor of Carson City Nevada. This is the capital of Nevada and has a population of about 55,000 people, located fifty kilometers or 31 miles from Reno Nevada. Since the last mid-century, Carson City hosted a highway right through their main downtown area, with the highway effectively bisecting both sides of the street and minimizing pedestrian and cycling movement. Traffic was through traffic, and there were metal fences on the side of the sidewalks to keep pedestrians further separated away from the travelled portion of the road.
The 21st century brought two changes-a plan for the new Interstate 580 to go around the downtown area, and a 1/8th cent sales tax devoted to community improvements, including a downtown revitalization project to bring the city’s heart back into a walkable, bikeable sociable place. The total cost of the new downtown streetscape revitalization plan was 11.4 million dollars.
“A big part of what we’re doing down here is to create not just a sense of place, but a sense of community,” says Carson City Mayor Bob Crowell. “Some will say, you know, you are just doing this for downtown businesses but we are doing it for the entire city so that we all share in what is happening with the diversification of northern Nevada.“
There are wider sidewalks and a bicycle lane, shorter pedestrian crossing distances on streets and new trees and light poles similar to those installed in this historic town in the 1800’s. Even the benches located on the main street echo the sandstone brick used to build the capital building in 1869, also situated on the main street. One side street has been closed and made into a public plaza and water park. This new McFadden Plaza is located directly across the street from the state capitol building.
There was a lot of discussion about the changes in the streetscape, but as the Director of the Downtown Business Association noted “Downtown Carson City has always been a gathering place for our locals to get together on a Friday night or Saturday. This should expand that to make it a fun, easy-to-get-to place to shop, have a bite to eat or visit local pubs any time of the day or day of the week.”
The proof is in the use, with the area fast becoming an arts and entertainment centre as more businesses open up along the Main Street. Carson City has its downtown back.