Grow and Jane’s Walks: Considering the Bulkhead

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.


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