Monday, August 16, 2010

15 ideas from Spain

As we return home, here is a list of ideas I jotted down during the past four weeks. While I am the first to admit the list is by no means exhaustive, and I probably have missed some key ideas, here are a few small and big ideas to consider back in Vancouver

kin Parking by the minute: parking garages charge you by the minute, not by the hour or half hour. While perhaps not as profitable for the operators, it is fairer for the users. We should start doing this in Vancouver.

Ci Cigarette Butt Holders: I came across plastic units that fold into a cone and can be inserted in the sand, or just about anywhere, to collect cigarette butts. Surely we can adapt this for Vancouver.

3. Mohito Machines: we saw a counter top mohito machine in the little cafe where we had breakfast. In addition to the automatic coffee machines, this is a very popular item. It would work here!

4. Traffic Boxes: these marked boxes within intersections can NEVER be entered into by an automobile unless the driver is certain he can get out before the light changes, to avoid blocking traffic. Given the number of cars that get stuck in Vancouver intersections, we must start to do this here.

5. Digital Seat Booking in Theatres: perhaps we have this service here, but I haven't seen it. When you book your seat on line, or at the theatre, you can see where the seat is positioned in a three dimensional plan of the theatre, and the view of the stage from the seat.

6. Greater attention to keeping the streets clean. Perhaps there is a greater problem with public urination in Spain, but it's a problem in Vancouver too. Posters announcing fines for public urination and other infractions certainly draw attention to the problem, although I am the first to admit I don't know if they work. (Ed Note: As someone has subsequently noted, given that the sign is in English, perhaps it is intended for visitors, rather than locals!)

7. Decorative Parking Garage Doors: While we generally use standard, open grill metal garage doors in multi-family developments, I noticed a number of more decorative designs in Spain. This one is not particularly good, but it did match other metal design features on the building. The point is, this is a design detail most architects and developers do not usually think about.

8. Traffic Rundabouts: we are starting to install them in Vancouver, but generally only at minor intersections. In Spain, and much of Europe, they are everywhere and definitely help traffic flow. While they take up more space than conventional intersections, we should be looking at installing them around Metro, where space permits.

8 Hors d’oevres in Restaurants: little open face sandwiches held together with toothpicks are a great way to start a meal, or have a snack with drinks. A variety is usually set out on counters, and the price you pay is based on the number of toothpicks on your plate. Surprisingly, few toothpicks end up on the floor!

9. Improved garbage container design: one doesn’t see the ugly dumpsters that proliferate around Vancouver. Instead, there are colour coded garbage containers (with provision for recycling) with foot operated covers. They are much more attractive and sanitary than what we have. Yes, they prevent dumpster diving, but that’s a good thing too. For those concerned that this eliminates revenue opportunities for the homeless, I say let's find them other work opportunities.

10. Bicycle Lane markers: in addition to separated bicycle lanes, in some situations a small raised marker is set into the pavement to help discourage cars from intruding into the bicycle lanes, and prevent cyclists from intruding into the car lanes. Now this is an idea that could work in Vancouver in many situations.

11. Adding floors to existing buildings: rather than demolish older buildings, it is not uncommon to add floors to existing buildings. This is an idea I came across in Shanghai as well. While there are a few instances of adding floors to older buildings in Vancouver, this is an idea worthy of further application. One possibility: using lightweight pre-fabricated modular units hoisted into place.

12. Pedestrian streets: While we are talking about creating more pedestrian streets in Vancouver, throughout Spain they are everywhere, in cities and small towns. We should definitely be doing this in Vancouver and the surrounding municipalities. It is not just a ‘big city’ idea.

13 More Public Art and fountains: there is a much stronger tradition of Public Art throughout Spain, when compared to Vancouver. Yes, we are trying, but there is so much more we could be doing. One idea, adding public art to the much needed traffic roundabouts!

14. Celebrating architecture: when people think of Vancouver, they think of nature...the mountains, the ocean and Stanley Park. We do celebrate the urban design of Granville Island and some of Arthur Erickson’s buildings, but we have a lot more interesting architecture and planning that could be more actively promoted and celebrated. The architecture of Barcelona is one of its attractions; we have the opportunity to do the same thing here.

15. Celebrating life, food and drink: The Spanish economy may be in the tank, but there is no doubt that the more hedonistic, leisurely approach to life with lunch served from 1 to 4 and dinner served from 8 to 12 does has much going for it. While this is in part due to the higher temperatures and sunnier climate, I think we need to reconsider our work/life balance. We should also start drinking more lemon beer!

In In addition to the above, we were constantly suprised by the polite behaviour of motorists in Spain; they rarely drive through an intersection when a pedestrian is waiting to cross the street. We were also suprised by the design of McDonalds restaurants. They are so much more attractive than those in Vancouver.

While these are ideas that we might transfer from Spain, there is much the Spanish can learn from us, especially in terms of grafitti management. But that's another story.

If If you haven't been to Spain, Air Transat now flies non-stop Vancouver-Barcelona and Madrid-Vancouver. Prices start around $800 round trip, including taxes at this time of year. We highly recommend it!


Ezra Bradford said...

"Traffic Boxes: these marked intersections can NEVER be entered into by an automobile, to avoid blocking traffic. We must do this here."

I don't understand what is meant here. Are these automobile intersections -- in which case how do they function without admitting automobiles? Are they transit, bicycle, or pedestrian intersections -- in which case why do they need to specifically exclude automobiles?

Anonymous said...

Re: hors d'oeuvres at restaurants.

Yes! These are called tapas and it would be great if they were brought over here!

They are delicious in their own right, but the best thing about them is the surrounding culture. Pop into one bar, have a round of tapas and wine, and go on to the next bar. This way the streets and the bars are all full of happy people and life is fantastic.

Some restaurants here serve tapas (although most of them are just mislabeled appetizers) but the accompanying culture is nonexistent.

As you also mention, we could do with a few more restaurants open past 10:00pm!

Neil said...

Re bike lane markers, these planters are only 0.5m wide (looks about the width of your photo) and would help people associate bike lanes with more green in the street.

Of course Vancouver's biggest problem with its painted bike lanes are that some half-blind moron put them on the *car* side of the parked cars, not on the *sidewalk* side where people might actually like to use them.

xathras said...

What exactly is good about preventing dumpster diving? Do we really need to ensure that much more usable material makes it to the landfill?

michael geller said...

Ezra. the concept here, and in much of Europe is that a car does not enter the hatched portion of the intersection, unless the driver is absolutely certain he will not be trapped when the light changes. Compare this with Vancouver intersections which are often blocked when the light changes.

Neil, I agree. In Sweden the bike lanes are often between the parking lane and the sidewalk. That makes a lot of sense to me too.

Xathras, if you look at the picture you'll notice that the containers are colour coded so that all recyclables can be sent to the appropriate centre. You just don't have people having to crawl in and scavenge amongst the filth.

And to those who are concerned that we are removing a source of livelihood for the dumpster divers, I say let's find them other forms of livelihood, such as working in car washes, painting, power washing, planting, and other more dignified forms of work.

Corey Burger said...

Not certain that preventing dumpster diving is exactly a good thing. Yes, it spreads mess, but it also provides needed money and re-use of materials for the less fortunate/homeless.

None said...

I think the "no defecation" sign is made for British tourists... Mad dogs and Englishmen as they say... Who knows what mischief these rowdy lads can be up to.

voony said...

about the dumpster,

I think Europe, including spain, has better than what you show us, to teach:

see my topic on it:

Michael Geller said...

Voony, I agree that the pneumatic garbage collection system that is in place in parts of Barcelona is the ultimate solution. The city uses a Swedish system that is being installed elsewhere in the world. A Chinese version has been installed at the Shanghai Expo 2010 site.

While I highlighted it in an earlier post, I didn't put it on my list since it is a very expensive solution, and unlike Barcelona, which often has streets that are too narrow to accommodate a garbage truck, we do have the room. I just want to see us get rid of our ugly dumpsters, as a first step. As your photo shows, many of our back lanes look like they belong in a third world country, not the Greenest City in the World.

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