When urban planners look at designing parks in dense urban settings such as downtown Vancouver, one of their goals is to accentuate what is called “triangulation”.
It may sound a little like math, but it’s all about turning park space into an opportunity for strangers to talk to one another.
“Ever been in a public space that has something really bizarre or interesting and turned to the person next to you and said something?” she said.
“That’s called triangulation.”
The “something” that makes you talk to a stranger could be public art or a performance or even the terraces in a new urban park at the corner of Smithe and Richards.
“There are these moments in the city where all of a sudden strangers will talk to one another,” said Herrington, author of a book on Cornelia Hahn Oberlander, Canada’s leading landscape architect.
“It makes the space so much more social. It connects people to other people.”
Herrington said while it is difficult to evaluate a park’s effectiveness from looking at illustrations in a report, she believes that all the different elements, including the ramp that looks out over Smithe Street, are the kinds of things that get people talking to one another.
That’s a big challenge today, she said, because of social media, which keeps people “so glued to their phones” even in public spaces,
On Dec. 9, the park board approved spending $13.8 million to convert the parking lot at Smithe and Richards into a new park of 1.9 acres to add to the city’s inventory of 228 parks. In nine years, the cost of the park has increased from $8 million. Annual maintenance is estimated at $500,000.
While construction on the as-yet unnamed park is expected to begin early in 2020, it was identified as a potential park as far back as 1992.
Dialog, an architecture, planning, and design firm, was hired by the board as the park’s lead designer. Its 2015 research report compared the park to other urban parks around the world, such as Tear Drop Park in New York, Serpentine Gallery Pavilion in London, and Miyashita Park in Tokyo.
“As Vancouver rapidly transitions from it’s pioneer port past to become the urban city it now is, Public Open Space of any kind is becoming increasingly valuable for the residents and visitors who live and frequent the downtown core,” the report says.
Dave Hutch, the park board’s acting director of planning and park development, said the design for the park at Smithe and Richards was the outcome of a multi-layered public process. It included three open houses, four meetings with a park design focus group whose membership was comprised of 13 neighbourhood groups and businesses such as Downtown Vancouver BIA, ArtStarts in Schools, and Vancouver Public Space Network, as well as a final survey of more than 1,000 people.
In part because the new park drops by five metres from north to south, it has been designed vertically as well as horizontally. Inspiration came from New York’s High Line, an abandoned, elevated rail line turned into a linear park that has become a popular civic attraction in Manhattan.
“I’m not saying we copied the High Line, but a lot of people started looking at these constrained spaces and asking: ‘How can we maximize different kinds of experiences looking beyond the ground plane while keeping things open and accessible?’” Hutch said.
One of the things the park board has learned about designing parks in a dense urban setting is that a park can only handle so many people before it starts breaking down. About 27,000 people live and work within a five-minute walk from the new park.
One example he pointed to was the way “lawns just aren’t sustainable” when they can be walked on by potentially thousands of people a day.
“We’re really struggling to keep the lawn in (Yaletown’s) Emery Barnes Park green and not a mud pit, particularly in the winter but even in the summer,” he said.
“It’s a real challenge.”
One of the benefits to harder surfaces in the new park at Smithe and Richards is that it will be fully wheelchair accessible at all levels.
Hutch added that the park will look green and lush because of thousands of plantings that include urban pollinators to attract birds and butterflies. Most of the 12 mature trees along Richards will be kept.
“We have to make sure surfaces are sustainable, hard-working and durable in these small parks that are in really dense urban situations,” he said.
Amenities in new park at Smithe and Richards will include:
• A public plaza with a water feature which will reuse potable water for irrigation and public toilets; the water feature can be turned off for performances;
• A café at the southwest corner;
• A playground and community table;
• Overhead walkway, including a lookout over Smithe;
• Three terraces with seating designed to take advantage of sunlight;
• Hard surfaces that are fully wheelchair accessible;
• A rainwater filtration system on the lane between Richards and Homer;
• Vertical “sky-frames” with overhead lighting that can support banners and public art.
Different kinds of parks in Vancouver
• Destination: five, larger than 20 hectares, which collectively represent 44 per cent of park system. For example: Stanley Park.
• Community: 101, medium, averaging 6.4 hectares, 22 per cent of park system. For example: John Hendry (Trout Lake) Park at 3300 Victoria.
• Neighbourhood: 50, medium, averaging 2.6 hectares, 31 per cent of park system. For example: Maple Grove Park at 6875 Yew.
• Local: 63, small, averaging 0.54 hectares, two per cent of park system. For example: Foster Park at 501 Aberdeen.
• Urban plazas: nine, small, averaging 0.4 hectares, less than one per cent of park system. For example: Pioneer Place (Pigeon Park) at 399 Carrall. The number of urban plazas will increase to 10 with the addition of the unnamed park at Smithe and Richards.