On Saturday May 7th, Duane Elverum and I led a Jane’s Walk through South East False Creek in Vancouver. This is the home of the recently developed Olympic Village. It’s intended to be a model sustainable development and will eventually house 16,000 people. In this context Duane and I felt it was important to ask a number of questions about the challenges that face our growing and changing cities.
What is sustainability? What does it look like? What does it mean to live sustainably?
We used different features of the Olympic Village to pose these questions and initiate a discussion about how we can enact sustainability. One point of discussion was a public art work by Vancouver artist Myfanwy MacLeod called The Birds.
This pairing of oversized male and female sparrows raises many questions about human and nonhuman relations. The sparrow is a remarkably successful as a species due to its adaptability to human beings as the dominant shaper of the urban environment. The scale of these birds inverts the typical relationship of the human and the bird. Rather than hopping about trying to steal falling crumbs these birds dominate the plaza. The Birds dominate the plaza shifting our typically human-centred understanding of the environment.
For Duane this work raised a question about the role of public art in ecology. I was interested to hear the range of responses people had towards public art and its potential role. Some felt that it could present an idea that would inspire, others felt it posed questions and accentuated tensions or conflict in important ways. The idea that we as viewers/participants in the work also needed to bring new meanings and interpretations also came across.
Another question posed by Duane, involved our use of materials. How far are we willing to go to obtain materials to aestheticize or beautify our cities? We looked at the large granite blocks used to build out part of the water front and speculated on their original source.
It was interesting to contemplate the journey this granite may have taken before ending up under our feet. It opened up a number of complex issues around our desire for certain things and the potential cost ecologically.
Urban density is also a major issue for cities. While greater concentrations of people can mean a reduced footprint, what does it mean in terms of livability? Are denser neighbourhoods more lively or more anonymous? Do they bring people together or pull them apart? What opportunities are there for people to come together in shared social spaces?
For the last part of the walk, Duane and I explored Habitat Island. I’ve thought a lot about this site since I first encountered it a couple of years ago while the Village was under construction. I’ve tended to focus my attention on the artificial aspects of the site and how it operates as a representation of nature. Duane brought forward some things that I had never considered. He discussed how life happens in folds and pointed out the concentration of life in the fold created by the shape of the “island.” For Duane and many of the people on the walk, the remediation as a result of this site was important.
At the last stop we explored the public art project by artist team Kobberling and Kaltwasser called The Games are Open. K&K built a large scale bulldozer using recycled wheat board on the periphery of the Olympic Village. The sculpture has been left to slowly decompose and break down over time. The slowness of this process in contrast to the speed of development poses some questions about how we develop our cities. Is it possible to build slowly to create a different temporal framework for change?
This led us into a discussion about the bulkhead site, which sits across the seawall pathway from The Games are Open. This site is adjacent to the Habitat Island entrance. In contrast to the carefully considered parks it is a rather raw remnant from False Creek’s past. There are blackberry brambles, discarded wood and old tarps mixed in with mussel shells, gravel and rusted steal beams. The bulkhead is the site of the Grow project’s urban agriculture lab. Something that came across in our discussion was how interesting the site is as a counter point to the Olympic Village development. It’s positioned in conversation with the overall design of the Village. This raises the question of how much to intervene?
Duane sent everyone out to look at the site and consider what its “strong centre” is currently. These are the locations that shouldn’t be disturbed. We had everyone mark these locations on a map of the site. Although, an incredibly difficult exercise given the heavy rains at this point in the walk, we managed to salvage some of these maps and put them together in this animation.