Roundtable 15: Public Space


The design and availability of shared public space helps build common-unity and a sense of place. Community facilities, public art, sculpture, statues, theatres, sports fields, festival spaces, passive and active parks, views, beaches, wildlife refuges – all help to connect us to one another, to culture, and to nature and the land. It is often in these public spaces that the colonization of Indigenous territory is most apparent, particularly in the naming of places and spaces, or the type of public art chosen for display.

  • How can we encourage accessibility and a feeling of inclusion in our public spaces
  • How can we improve equity of access to spaces and facilities?
  • What does a well designed public space look like?
  • How can we encourage active use of public spaces? How do those spaces or places increase resiliency?

Roundtable Discussion

The table was comprised of 15 participants, many of them design professionals, as well as the table lead Jada Stevens and notetaker Courtney Vance. The discussion began with the overview statement above, and was wide-ranging. It included the connection between public space and the natural environment, Indigenous connections and responsibility for the land, how space is used and who is using the space, and building community as part of the planning process.

If we slowly integrate a non-colonial idea of time, it might not be so frustrating to add more time and resources.

Vivian Wong

Roundtable participants shared different examples of creating friendly public space, informally and formally, and what kind of design elements go into creating these spaces. The question of how to design places and hold events that do not exclude people was raised, and the dangers of over-programming highlighted. Opportunities for more creativity in dealing with maintenance and operating costs were raised. They also discussed the importance of inclusivity, gentrification, the control of ostensibly public space by private interests, and bringing more voices into the planning and design process.

All living space can be laboratories.

Emily Dunlop

Key Findings

  • There needs to be a bigger focus on thorough consultation with planning as a collaborative process.
  • Neighbourhood voices need to be in the planning process at city hall.
  • There needs to be more mixed-use spaces – an example of this could be opening up schools from 7am-11pm to allow community use.
  • There needs to be more room for failure, for experimentation.
  • Social cohesion must be a focus of design to counteract isolation.
  • Parks need to reflect surrounding neighbourhoods and character, and not try to include everything that everyone asks for, which results in bland or cluttered space without theme or character.
  • The city needs to learn how to relinquish control more often.
  • Inclusive design is highly personal. Designers and planners need to broaden their own cultural awareness and open their minds to other ways of knowing.
Vancouver Public Space Network’s “Umbrella Wall” public outreach project encouraged passers-by to write directly on the umbrellas with their ideas on how to make Vancouver a more rain-friendly city.



  • Allow for pilot projects, experimental use of space, and adaptable space. In planning and programming, be bold and experimental as this will help identify real solutions.
  • ‘Plurality of purpose’ – design accessible and socially equitable spaces while ensuring that each space maintains its independent character and purpose.
  • Stop over-programming – provide inviting and well cared for spaces.


  • Include neighbourhood voices in the planning of public spaces.
  • Expand opportunities for community stewardship – a tool for long-term maintenance.
  • Allow more creativity.

Related Initiatives

Life Between Umbrellas is a design competition being held by the Vancouver Public Space Network starting in Spring 2019 on ways to improve public space and public life during Vancouver’s rainy months.

The Vancouver Parks Board will be developing the Stanley Park Comprehensive Plan & Process over the next 2-3 years. (pdf)

nə́c̓aʔmat ct Strathcona Branch Library, opened in April 2017, is the Vancouver Public Library’s newest branch library. At approximately 11,000 square feet, it is one of the largest branches in Vancouver’s library system with diverse public spaces, including a digital creation space; flexible meeting, programming, and community gathering spaces; and a diverse collection of books, DVDs, magazines and newspapers in English and other languages including an Indigenous collection.

Happy City is a design lab focused on “permanent spaces that boost and help social well-being in the city” with the use of pop-up experiments such as the Pavement to Plaza Program @ Main + 14th St.

VIVA Vancouver is a program that transforms road spaces into vibrant people spaces through short- and long-term street closures in collaboration with community groups, local businesses, and regional partners.

SFU City Conversations are hosted by SFU’s Public Square every third Thursday of every month on current topics affecting Vancouver and the Lower Mainland. They are sponsored by The City Program and SFU Vancouver.

Creative City Strategic Grants was a one-time grant designed to lower barriers and support groups underrepresented in the City’s arts and cultural funding programs. The grant assessment committee was comprised of artists and cultural practitioners who all identified as Indigenous and/or people of colour.

Kokoro Dance was founded in 1986 to re-define Canadian culture through teaching, producing, and performing new dance theatre with an emphasis on multi-disciplinary collaboration and cross-cultural exploration. Recognising the challenges that minority and non-mainstream arts organizations have in securing funding and building audiences, Kokoro raised $900,000 to renovate space in the Woodward building into studio space managed by Kokoro and shared with several performance groups.

The Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation is currently developing the Northeast False Creek Plan for a major waterfront park and new open spaces designed for daily life, which will transform at times to welcome major gatherings and special events.

The Save the Hollywood Theatre Coalition is a group of citizens dedicated to maintaining this heritage community space through a Community Use Agreement.

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