A Walk on the Green Side

October 26, 2001

By Michael Jessen

"The one who rides knows not the trials of walking" is an old Chinese proverb. If you want a community in which it is easier to get around on your own two feet, listen up to Moura Quayle.

As a professional landscape architect and professor at the University of BC, Quayle is among the province's leading advocates of greenways for pedestrians and bicyclists.

For the past ten years, Quayle (who is also the Dean of Agricultural Sciences at UBC) has been advocating alternate ways to move through the city and expand the opportunities for experiencing nature and city life.

Although cities were originally designed for walkability, the automotive isolation chamber has relegated pedestrians to narrow sidewalks and taken over the public realm of our communities. Quayle has spent a decade trying to restore some balance.

She brought her message to Nelson two weeks ago and an audience of about 60 listened raptly as she described how walkable communities are more livable and lead to whole, happy, healthy lives for the people who live in them.

"The urban landscape is the backbone of a town or city," Quayle said, adding that a well-planned public realm must allow space for an active public life.

"Single use zoning puts housing here, commercial there, and industrial somewhere else," she continued. "Then we have to drive to get to the various parts and it's hard to have a healthy community without a transportation dilemma."

Quayle's definition of a livable community includes concepts such as "fiscally, socially and environmentally healthy - a system that is dynamic but in balance."

In 1991, Vancouver City Council appointed Quayle to its Urban Landscape Task Force and the group's 1995 report entitled "Greenways - Public Ways" recommended a network of greenways to join important citywide destinations.

A pilot project called Ridgeway is almost complete along 37th Avenue in Vancouver. The process included public meetings and a design created in concert with adjacent residents, landowners, and interested groups.

Some of the features of greenways -- which often use existing street rights-of-way -- include boulevard bulges, tree planting, traffic circles, raised roadways, plazas, street closures, public art, and street signage.

Quayle related the reaction of residents of Garden Drive, a Vancouver neighbourhood that underwent a facelift after a public participation program. When she advocated a greening of the street, one resident said it would just encourage loiterers, prostitution, and other scary things.

The majority of the residents at a public meeting said "No, no, no, we'll have the real people on the street and we'll start to know our neighbours and we'll know who shouldn't be there," Quayle stated.

She also mentioned three requirements for planning a healthy urban landscape.

"City council should not make a decision without first asking what is the effect of that decision on children," she suggested, adding that councils should not make decisions without first doing their homework and understanding what people want.

In addition, city councils and city planners "have to be gutsy enough" to transfer some of the decision-making power to the community, she said.

Quayle's presentation was the first in the 2001 Designing Community Lecture Series sponsored by Selkirk College Community Education Department and the Nelson District Community Resources Society.

The series was to continue October 25th, but speaker Thomas Michael Power, Dean of Economics at the University of Montana, took ill at the last moment. His presentation on the topic "Changing Economies and the Value of Place" has been rescheduled for April 10, 2002. A waterfront planning and design charrette to create visions for Nelson's waterfront will be held November 3 prior to the series' final speakers, developer Harold Kalke and architect Joost Bakker.

Although Quayle won't be able to attend the charrette, she had a suggestion regarding Nelson's waterfront. "You've got this incredible waterfront, you've got to think about it in an incredibly creative way," she cautioned.

For Quayle, caring for your home landscape means making them places where you want to stay.

ONE SMALL STEP - October is PowerSense Energy Efficiency month. Home Hardware stores have compact fluorescent light bulbs on sale this month with a 50 percent purchase rebate available from your local electrical utility. These bulbs last 10 times as long as incandescent bulbs and will reduce your electrical lighting costs by half.

RESOURCES - Learn more about Vancouver's Greenways program at www.city.vancouver.bc.ca/engsvcs/streets/greenways/index.htm. A greenways resource library is available at www.conservationfund.org and the benefits of trails and greenways are provided at www.trailsandgreenways.org. Walkable Communities, Inc. at www.walkable.org has resources to help communities become more walkable and pedestrian friendly.

All columns archived here are copyright © 2000 by Michael Jessen, all rights reserved. If you wish to print an individual column for your own use, please do so. If you wish to publish any of the columns in either print or electronic format, please contact the author at toenail@netidea.com to arrange appropriate payment.