Just Imagine…

a reflection on the potential of urban innovation following a post-pandemic eraby Alli Di Giovanni


Imagine…

It’s 2030 and you hop on the West Coast Express in the early morning to head to your office job in Vancouver’s downtown core. As you arrive at the station and look out to the water you see local families clamming in the newly re-claimed intertidal area, while fishers pull in nets of healthy and flourishing catches of which they can sell and provide for their families.

You head to your rearranged office – no longer do you hear Carol’s music blaring from the cubical next to yours, as wide-open spaces now dampen these sounds while providing opportunity for outside light to illuminate your workspace – adding just a hint more productivity to your day.

Prior to heading home, you take a leisurely stroll down previously vehicle designated roadway’s where patios have now spilled onto the streets, entrepreneurial buskers make a go at stardom, and pieces of nature are allowed to weep from the edges of the road, filling gaps of grey with greenness.

Figure 1: An example of the open space that can be created for pedestrians and cyclists resulting from the banishment of vehicles from the city of Pontevedra, Spain (Burgen, 2020). This image is meant to provide an illustration of the future that the City of Vancouver could create for their residents and visitors with similar innovative policies and plans.

Today you’re wandering down Waterfront Street into the Gastown Walking Hub where you’re planning to pick up some fresh grown-in-house produce from the Lot 31 Supermarket. Walking through the large bay doors you see urban farming interns tending to crops through, what was, the spiral lanes of the old parkade. Heading left into the market area, you go to pick out your seasonal produce for tonight’s dinner – specifically, you’re looking for that smell of homegrown tomatoes that you can’t quite get anywhere else. As you go to pay you realize you forgot the reusable bag by your front door, so one is rented to you with the subtle agreement it will be returned upon your visit later that week.

Running to the train, you look back at the street pondering the reality you’d be living if there had been no pandemic – no mass food insecurities or awareness of the vulnerabilities of those living closest to you, a lack of appreciation of open green spaces and a rather inept view of your own resilience towards such crises.

If there had been no pandemic you ask yourself if you would appreciate locally grown foods along with the security and jobs that go with it? If you would have appreciated the openness of streets and the ability to experience culture, socialization, and that warm feeling of belonging to the city? If over-consumerism and personal vehicle use was allowed to run rampant, would you see any harvests from our waters or be able to have plentiful space for walking and cycling?

You scan your transit pass and wait on the platform – grateful for the innovators, designers, planners, and entrepreneurs who could see a new future for a post-pandemic era.

Figure 2: The Starwood 2340 Collins Office Building, Miami – a picturesque representation of the direction of future architectural design for office spaces and urban life (Goldstein, 2020).

Comparable to a living organism, or better yet an inter-dependent set of urban ecosystems, the city is a complex system that requires adaptive methodologies that looks at the outcome of all its variables in sum (Irene, 2008). Living through the pandemic we are further enlightened on how a “living city evolves within [larger] context[‘s]” – notably we see the city forced to adapt due to this unexpected shockwave for which our current decisions, actions and plans must look ahead at recovery that incorporates sustainability of a more just society (Irene, 2008, pg. 279).

Considering the asphalt laden – vehicle designed – transport network found in many North American cities (with Vancouver being no exception) we find our communities devoid of culture, diversity, and thus resiliency. Moreover, this lack of resilience and inequitable distribution of impacts amongst communities’ highlights vulnerabilities of which have only been exacerbated due to the pandemic.

To reach a more sustainable just urban city, we must focus on our present existing resources and how these can be upscaled and intertwined with others to meet our lofty future goals.

Figure 3: An all too familiar cityscape illustrating the urban design focus on personal vehicular transport (Pexels, n.d.)

Within the Vancouver 2040 Transportation Plan – the city will be implementing a form of transport pricing by 2025 to evolve 60%+ of trips towards active or public transport methods (City of Vancouver, 2012). This will in fact, have a significant impact on vehicle produced gas emissions and thus air quality – a factor which currently plays a role in the transmission and recovery of COVID 19 (Sharifi & Khavarian-Garmsir, 2020). Moreover, by removing vehicles from the road, space is freed-up to provide areas for play, leisure, socialization and physical activity – leading to a greater sense of community, and presently impacting one’s adherence to public health COVID 19 guidelines (Sharifi & Khavarian-Garmsir, 2020).

One such innovation stemming from decreased vehicle use may take place in the form of unused parking garages, for example Easy Park Lot 31 along Waterfront in the Gastown area. Such a space could be re-designed into an Urban Farming initiative (Szopinska-Mularz & Lehmann, 2019) – as imagined in our 2030 future – of which may provide resilience to food insecurities, a vulnerability that has risen by 74% in comparison to 2018 in Canada as a result of the pandemic (Ryan, 2020). Furthermore, it would diversify and decrease the dependency of the city on imported food goods (Pablo, 2020).

As a set of urbanized ecosystems – or as a living entity – we can explore how cities increase their resilience to crises by exploring the connectivity of transport systems and its implications to food security, sense of community and the feeling of belonging, with hope of creating a just sustainable society for all. 

Presently, we await such a vibrant, lively and resilient future – with one waiting to be created through implementation of systems thinking and acknowledgement of the vast connectivity within the city, achievable by thinking beyond our current reality and reaching for potential innovations that are yet to be explored.

Figure 4: A conceptual rendering of a circular parking garage turned into an urban farm and market place (Deschuytter, 2018).

References:

Burgen, S. (2020, February 3). “For me, this is paradise”: life in the Spanish city that banned cars. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2018/sep/18/paradise-life-spanish-city-banned-cars-pontevedra

City of Vancouver. (2012). Transportation 2040. https://vancouver.ca/files/cov/Transportation_2040_Plan_as_adopted_by_Council.pdf

Deschuytter, F. (2018). The Post Parking Era. Future Architecture. https://futurearchitectureplatform.org/projects/4d571c7e-2a08-49e9-9d47-1eb5db2db4b3/

Goldstein, J. (2020, May 4). An Architecture of Optimism for a Post-Pandemic Society | Dialogue Blog | Research & Insight. Gensler. https://www.gensler.com/research-insight/blog/an-architecture-of-optimism-for-a-post-pandemic-society

Pablo, C. (2020, June 8). Metro Vancouver produces 14 percent of its food supply, consumes 53 percent of B.C. stock. The Georgia Straight. https://www.straight.com/food/metro-vancouver-produces-14-percent-of-its-food-supply-consumes-53-percent-of-bc-stock

Pexels. (n.d.) Stock Photo Inventory. Retreived from https://www.pexels.com/photo/photography-of-roadway-during-dusk-1034662/

Ryan, D. (2020, November 1). More families struggling with hunger during pandemic. Vancouver Sun. https://vancouversun.com/health/school-food-programs-struggling-to-survive-the-pandemic

Sharifi, A., & Khavarian-Garmsir, A. R. (2020). The COVID-19 pandemic: Impacts on cities and major lessons for urban planning, design, and management. Science of The Total Environment, 749, 1–14. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.142391

Szopinska-Mularz, M., & Lehmann, S. (2019). Urban Farming in Inner-city Multi-storey Car-parking Structures- Adaptive Reuse Potential. Future Cities and Environment, 5(1), 1–13. https://doi.org/10.5334/fce.50

West Coast Express delayed due to “police incident.” (2019, August 13). British Columbia. https://bc.ctvnews.ca/mobile/west-coast-express-delayed-due-to-police-incident-1.4546939?cache=yes?clipId=89750


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