On the evening of 16 June 2014, City of Vancouver planners / consultants held a Norquay Village Plan Public Realm Workshop at Renfrew Community Centre from 6:30 pm to 9:00 pm. The CoV web site captioned the event “Explore Ideas on Public Space” and elaborated:
City staff and consultants PWL Landscape Architects will listen to your ideas on plazas, Ravine Way,
and other neighbourhood places.
A new planner (the fifth since 2006) assigned to Norquay, Joyce Uyesugi, introduced herself and briefly sketched her understanding of recent plan history. Her comments on the relationship of Renfrew Ravine Linear Park to a future bicycle route (to follow a separate Eastside Crosscut Greenway) generated a series of questions from the audience. The first question was how the evening’s exercise would build on the considerable work already done by Norquay residents in preparing the Norquay Plan. There appeared to be no connection.
Uyesugi Tells Norquay about Implementation
Workshop attenders agreed to start with a discussion of Renfrew Ravine Linear Park. Three smaller groups gathered around separate tables for most of the remainder of the evening. The only two specifics announced for the workshop in the emailed invitation were (1) Plazas and open spaces along Kingsway (2) Ravine Way. These two topics absorbed practically all of the attention and discussion.
Renfrew Ravine Linear Park Tops the List
A remarkable degree of consensus and emphasis emerged from the three independent groupings.
“Don’t Sell Off Any CoV Land” — First Item on List
None of the land already assembled for the linear park should be sold off.
At points where the existing footprint is narrow, additional land should be acquired. Irregularity in boundary offers opportunity for creating spots of special interest along the way. This could mirror to some extent the way that Kingway cuts across the street grid. The right of adjacent residents to erect high fencing means that the linear park must maintain significant width to avoid becoming a cramped corridor.
Existing street and boulevard space should be appropriated to form continuous parkway.
Safety (especially of children) in moving along the linear park is a first consideration. The aesthetic superiority of continuity is obvious. A continuous pathway serves the Norquay Plan objective of increasing walkability.
Delivery on the linear park should begin as soon as possible.
One opportunity for phased delivery is to open up a simple route that can be walked, even if landscaping etc. are not yet affordable. A low-cost three-foot-wide strip of bark mulch would be enough. Another opportunity would be to convert one or two of the streets adjacent to the existing community garden and deliver soon on at least a two- or three-block stretch. Since the mid-1980s, this promise has mostly been deferred and repromised. That’s already one generation that has passed.
Linear park design should emphasize the natural.
This criterion applies to features (slopes, runoffs, etc), plantings (native species), and materials (local stone and wood).
A continuous pedestrian connection should be established.
A pathway should lead from Norquay Park to the 29th Avenue skytrain station and the head of the still-open Renfrew Ravine. The gateway site at 2711 Kingway is already under construction.
Lots of Ideas for Renfrew Ravine Linear Park
Most of the energy and focus went into considering Renfrew Ravine Linear Park. This is understandable, since future plazas at the Purdy’s site (Kingsway at Earles) and the 2400 Motel site (Kingsway at East 33rd) do not seem to be on the near horizon. Recent “plaza” design at 2220 Kingsway suggests that certain developers can do pretty much anything they please, regardless of what the Norquay Plan intends. To the extent that greater Plan definition could achieve a better result, these are features that should be expected of any future Norquay plaza:
• A single contiguous space whose proportion approximates a square
• Plaza to be located at ground level, with podium form not allowed to wall off and
privatize all remaining space
• No plaza space shut off from public access by inhibitory features like walls or pools of water
• Edges abutting new development to be activated by appropriate retail (coffee shop, etc)
• Open space, at least some uncovered, with natural features
• Clear separation from required Kingsway setback so as not to cannibalize that benefit
The schedule announced for Norquay Public Realm foresees a draft plan being brought back to Norquay residents in Fall 2014. Given the clarity and unanimity of workshop directions, there seems little reason for this schedule to fail to be realized.
Norquay Public Realm should have been defined in coordination with the spring 2013 public benefits “strategy” that went to Council with no public input into allocations, and well ahead of the spring 2013 rezoning approval for 2220 Kingsway, one of Norquay’s three most important large sites.
The February 2011 shutdown of Norquay Working Group sent a message that the City intends to tell Norquay what will be done, and to offer few or no opportunities for input. Two years of no public forum preceded the utter diktats of spring 2013. Even this long overdue “workshop” was described as nothing more than “listening to ideas.”
Informed Vancouver residents deserve better engagement. They should not be made to feel like aliens in their own neighborhoods.