Lately I’ve been writing often about the Arbutus Greenway, Vancouver’s 9-km rail-to-trail. This week I was excited to attend a stakeholders’ workshop hosted by the City of Vancouver at City Hall, where representatives of various invited organizations met to start putting together a vision for the greenway’s design. I was there representing the Vancouver Public Space Network (VPSN).

This was the first time I’d ever participated in a stakeholder meeting to consult on an aspect of urban planning, so it felt really inspiring to be a part of it and experience the discussions that go into these kinds of decisions. This particular project is large and complex in scope, with the potential to enhance our urban ecosystems and many thousands of lives. Other participants represented Vancouver-based organizations involved with green space, human mobility and health, cycling and public consultation, with students of architecture and landscape design present also.

The intention of the meeting was high-level: to formulate overall “vision” and “values” for the Arbutus Greenway’s design, leaving specific recommendations and troubleshooting to further stages. The city kicked it off with a strong emphasis on the greenway’s purpose as a transportation corridor, reminding participants that this formal status was in fact a condition of the purchase. The long-range intention is to build light rail, though as I’ve described previously, there’s no timeline for that because the streetcar isn’t funded. The city’s reminder was important, though, in framing our conversation.

After the city’s presentation, we split up into two tables for discussion, then came back together for a discussion as a whole group.

Remaining CP railroad crossing signs evoke history of Arbutus Greenway/Naomi Reichstein photo
Remaining CP railroad crossing signs evoke local history/Naomi Reichstein photo

Any major city project is going to encapsulate a variety of goals, some of which may be more compatible than others. Around the room, people clearly agreed that the greenway should represent a commitment to ecology, with indigenous plants, habitat for species including pollinators, preservation of quiet green space and the opportunity for non-motorized movement. Equally universal was the feeling that the greenway should both represent and enable social inclusion and interaction, allowing people of all ages and mobilities to come together within the community and engage in healthy physical activity in an accessible public space. Participants likewise agreed on what I called the attractive duality between the quiet seclusion available on parts of the greenway and the relative busyness at neighbourhood hubs. People appreciated and expressed the wish to preserve the way in which the greenway traverses through tranquil green areas while occasionally coming upon interspersed larger gathering areas (such as 57th, 41st and 6th), offering variety and interest over its long course. Supported too was the idea of incorporating plenty of benches for resting, plus cultural elements from street art to preserved railway markers.

Unsurprisingly, certain values were at odds. There was some tension between the vision of Arbutus as essentially a green space needing conservation versus its status as a transportation corridor including a streetcar. One view was that a streetcar could eventually reduce the greenway’s appeal as a walking and bike route and its ecological qualities, while other participants advised that designing with the streetcar in mind should play a role from the start so that improvements made now wouldn’t have to be ripped up and redone later should funding for rail come through.

What you can do

The public consultation is happening now, and you can participate via the survey and open houses. In March, the city will report out on the results of the consultation, including our workshop today.

More soon.