Do you know your neighbours?
In last week’s column, I wrote about a talk I was giving that evening at SFU called “Twelve Great Ideas for Vancouver from Around the World.” I was gratified by the turnout, but even more pleased with the discussion that followed.
Of the 12 ideas presented, one that generated considerable interest was the need to make Vancouver a friendlier city. Many in attendance commented on how difficult it can be for newcomers to make friends. Suggestions were offered on how to design friendlier apartment buildings, including putting a residents’ lounge near the entrance, rather than in some leftover hidden space.
One speaker suggested that instead of having Family Day in British Columbia, we should have Neighbour Day, when neighbours could meet in one another’s home or at a block party. Far too many of us do not greet neighbours when they move in, and after a while there does not seem to be a good justification to introduce ourselves. I facetiously responded we’ll all get to know one another when the earthquake hits us, and we’re dependent on each other for survival.
I also suggested, since I doubt the premier will replace Family Day with Neighbour Day, that we might designate an arbitrary date, say the third Saturday in May, as Neighbour Day. On this day we would introduce ourselves to new and old neighbours and organize a block party, spring clean-up or other community activities. One of the attendees noted that some streets in Kitsilano are now organizing regular block parties, and this is also happening in other parts of the city.
Whenever I think about the friendliness of a neighbourhood, I am reminded of one of my late father’s stories. A man was thinking about buying a new house, but wondered what the neighbourhood was like. The realtor pointed out a man cutting his lawn across the street. “Why don’t you go and ask him.” The lawn-cutter responded by asking his potential neighbour what it was like where he was currently living.
“Oh we all get along very nicely,” he replied.
“Then I think you will find the same thing here!”
Other ideas also resonated with attendees, both during the Q&A and in subsequent discussions. For example, I noted that in Freiburg, Germany, which I consider one of the most sustainable cities in the world, many new apartment buildings have stairwells with large windows and colourful finishes to encourage residents to use stairs rather than elevators. After all, it is healthier. Compare that with most Vancouver apartment buildings where stairwells rarely have windows and are often not even finished other than some yellow stripes on the stairs. Moreover, security provisions often prevent neighbours going from one floor to another, either by stairs or elevator.
As a result, these buildings are terrible places to go trick or treating at Halloween, something I have often considered a measure of a building or neighbourhood’s friendliness.
Other ideas that appealed to the audience included the need to create pedestrian-only streets in Vancouver and safer crosswalks. Some wanted us to bring back the “scramble intersections” we once had, which allow pedestrians to take over an intersection in all directions, even on the diagonal.
One speaker responded he liked all the ideas presented, but feared municipal authorities would not be willing to make the necessary changes. While I appreciated his concern, I did point out that if enough people ask for changes, they may eventually happen. Laneway housing is just one example.
This prompted a traffic engineer in attendance to suggest we need to do a better job of improving the appearance of our lanes and in the future use them not just for laneway houses, but other forms of infill housing and neighbourhood uses.
In his concluding remarks, SFU City Program director Gordon Price noted it was evident that a lot of people care about the city and have many good ideas to improve it. We just need more opportunities to have such discussions, preferably with city officials and politicians in attendance, to increase the likelihood that good ideas are eventually implemented.
- See more at: http://www.vancourier.com/opinion/suggestions-for-a-friendlier-vancouver-1.1816417#sthash.nrX66Saw.dpuf