This weekend I attended Gordon Price’s “Jane’s Walk” through Vancouver’s West End — a densely populated neighbourhood situated between downtown, English Bay beach, and Stanley Park. Price told the neighbourhood’s story, connecting it to more universal ideas including those of Jane Jacobs about how city’s work, and mixing in wisdom from his years on city council contributing to many of the zoning and decisions that have made Vancouver the successful city it is today.
One lesson from Vancouver’s West End: much of its livability comes from the balance of transportation modes in the area. Neighbourhood roads that serve the 1960s and 1970s era mid rise apartment blocks are quiet. People walk, cycle and roller blade along them joined only by the occasional motor vehicle, most likely local traffic. Driver’s are generally patient and accept their equal status on these roads with human-propelled options. Every residence is within 4 blocks of a busier street with an electric trolley-bus transit route (the modern day street car) as well as a variety of shops, cafes, restaurants and other businesses.
Price used these observations on the walking tour to point out that a vibrant, livable community needs to support four types of transportation:
- Motor Vehicles
Numerous people who want to promote livability in cities think of the car as the enemy. Price argued that the car has a place in our lives and in a well designed city. The problem with cars comes from designing space that only accommodates private automobiles, crowding out walking, cycling and transit. Sprawl tends to do this, for example, separating people from each other as well as the amenities they need such as grocery stores, shops, restaurants, schools, recreation centres, etc. Jane Jacobs recognized this long ago.
Closing down commercial streets to cars, making them pedestrian malls, tends to fail, Price reminded the group. Both transit and cars bring customers into the area, and keep “eyes on the street”(A Jacobs-ism). This access combined with walkability and cycle access allows that many more people to support the businesses that provide what residents need and appreciate.