Brent Toderian is doing occasional columns for the Huffington Post Canada. Here’s his first: “Want Families Downtown? Design for Them!”
My good friend Peter Rees, the chief planner for London, England, once proclaimed to a New York audience we were jointly presenting to, that “kids kill downtowns,” referring to the NIMBY that can result when families complain about noise from nightlife and such.
Although his point is valid, the success we’ve had in our Vancouver downtown in mixing families, nightlife and urban energy by artful design says otherwise. Is it perfect? Far from it, and there are indeed tensions, but what it is, is urban, vital, and diverse – what downtowns should be.
Kudos to Brent for taking Vancouverism to a wider audience. He is an articulate voice for the best of urbanism, which Vancouver has to offer the world in many respects.There is certainly plenty of evidence that this approach has worked well in the downtown peninsula, with the unofficial “residential first” policies of the 1990s and early 2000s.
However ,I would argue that residential uses do threaten downtown’s other functions here, if by downtown we mean the central place of work, shopping, culture, adult entrtainment and nightlife in the region. Residential uses simply outbid all those other necessary and vital uses or seeks to quieten them at night, with the result that the music and club scene, for example, is noticeably less active than other large city centres. (I say this as a downtown resident who has made noise complaints over the years, so I know of what I speak.)
Its not the kids, per se, that creates this outcome, it is putting residential above all other uses and activities. Luckily, Vancouver caught onto this a few years ago and is striving to correct the imbalance in land uses by creating an environment that attracts office development. Now, if only parking costs at night and weekends could be less restrictive to attract people to, say, the Playhouse. Oh wait, it’s gone! Maybe a new concept if not location for the VAG can help reinvirgourate the cultural scene downtown. It’ll probably need a honking big residential component to help pay for it, and so it goes.
Toderian’s comment about the chief planner of London’s opinion of kids reminded me once again about the influence of politics on planning. The situation is complicated, and not black and white.
My first reaction was: Oh, how can people be so selfish and self-centered as to destroy aspects of the city that make it urban and exciting. A minute later, my next reaction was: well, that is what people do.
To some degree, we can try to educate and socially engineer the public, but to some degree, we must deal with the public as it is. Certainly, the development industry must do this. They spend much funds and effort examining market prefereneces. Why don’t planners do the same?
I guess that we could make the city easier to plan for if we just removed all the people.