Posted by: Rosemary Poole on July 21, 2009 at 4:31 pm


Always interesting reading headlines from The Other Vancouver, that is, the city of Vancouver, Washington, pop. 164,500. Seems they’re batting around the idea of levying a licensing fee on bicycles as a way to cover the infrastructure costs associated with their in-the-works bike and pedestrian master plan. Clark County Commissioner Steve Stuart informally raised the idea last week, suggesting a fee comparable to that of a dog license, which goes for $16 locally. “As a bicyclist, I would pay a licensing fee if I had better trail access… We license our dogs. You license your car. Why wouldn’t you license your bikes?”

Interesting question. Should cyclists pay to get the city they want? Would the fees collected make a viable dent in cycling infrastructure and upkeep costs? Does it make sense to tax those using carbon-neutral transit? Another question: Should a portion of B.C.’s carbon tax be earmarked for cycling infrastructure?

Apparently, this debate isn’t new to the Pacific Northwest. Last spring, the Oregon legislature nixed a proposal to put a $54 tax on bikes (legislation linked here), following opposition from many cyclist groups. Makes me think Vancouver B.C. cyclists wouldn’t favour the idea here, either. Comments?

Posted by: Rosemary Poole on July 15, 2009 at 10:52 pm

This Saturday, the Museum begins an eight-week run of cycling tours that examine the term “Vancouverism”—that mixture of urban design, architecture, and city planning that this city has become known for globally. Vancouverism encompasses everything from the architectural vision of the late Arthur Erickson, to green-glass towers that dot the north shore of False Creek, to developer-funded public parks and schools.

Where did the term originate? Best guesses indicate it came from architects and city planners who visited Vancouver in the 1990s and were inspired by its success luring people back downtown. A decade or so later, Vancouverism has become a political ideology, a lifestyle, and an export (see Dubai, San Diego, Toronto, and Seattle). It has also become a success story: Vancouver has more than doubled its downtown population in the past two decades, bucking the trend of many other cities.

The MOV tours deconstruct “Vancouverism” by looking at the term in practice, and the people behind the major examples. It starts at the Museum, crosses over the Burrard Street Bridge into the West End, then wraps around False Creek to Yaletown, Southeast False Creek (the site of Vancouverism 2.0), False Creek South, and back to the Museum. Our Velo-City exhibit is a fitting conclusion, exploring similar themes of livability and progressive city planning.

We hope you can join the conversation. Click here to register.

Image credit: Kenny Louie

Posted by: Rosemary Poole on July 15, 2009 at 9:37 pm


A quick (and belated) post, on the outdoor screening of “The Triplets of Belleville” the Museum hosted on Monday night. The weather was sub par, but the crowd of 400+ didn’t seem to mind. Thanks to everyone who attended, and to all those who’ve blogged and tweeted about it since. So glad you enjoyed yourselves. Should we do it again?

p.s. to those who didn’t make it out, check out “The Triplets of Belleville” trailer linked here. I’ve had the theme song in my head for days. Not such a bad thing.

Posted by: Rosemary Poole on July 9, 2009 at 11:00 am


Tonight the Museum hosts a members-only reception for our ongoing exhibit “My Heroes in the Streets,” a series of 10 images taken by Ian Wallace in 1986. (One of the images is pictured left.)

Over the past three decades, Vancouver has emerged as a important centre for contemporary photographic art, with local artists such as Jeff Wall, Rodney Graham, Stan Douglas, Roy Arden, and Wallace pushing traditional notions of photography, art, cinematography, and documentary. The modern city is a recurring subject: the contents of landfills are presented; rows of Vancouver Specials—that loved and loathed housing type that dominates Vancouver’s eastside neighbourhoods—have appeared in backgrounds.

Several local institutions have figured prominently in this movement, notably: TheVancouver Art Gallery, which has hosted numerous exhibitions of this work and published an incredible library of related books and catalogues (see: Roy Arden: Against the Day and Jeff Wall: Vancouver Art Gallery Collection for recent examples). The lesser-known Canadian Photographic Portfolio Society has also played a key role, publishing limited-edition photographic portfolios, boxed in elegant archival cases. “My Heroes in the Streets” was their first commissioned work, and a slideshow of the images is on their website, linked here. The photographs show individuals navigating a generic and mundane urban landscape, localized by Vancouver locations and symbols, like street addresses and overhead trolley wires. Wallace describes the street as the site “metaphorically as well as in actuality, of all the forces of society and economics imploded upon the individual.”

The Museum’s interest here leans toward the documentary aspect of these works. Wallace’s intentions notwithstanding, it’s hard to ignore how the downtown core has changed since the images were taken, transitioning from a bland western outpost searching for its best side pre-Expo 86, to a post-industrial, international city. Still, Vancouver’s preoccupation with how it’s viewed by the outside world persists, intensifying in the lead up to another massive international event. What will the world find when they get here in February?

Image credit: CPPS

Posted by: Rosemary Poole on July 3, 2009 at 2:32 pm

This is neat: our neighbours at the City of Vancouver Archives have digitized early film footage of the city and put the collection online. Some 150 films and counting, all accessible here. (A screen grab from the film “City Lights” is pictured left.)  It’s an incredible glimpse of Vancouver’s early days: sawmills on fire, bridges demolished, swimmers in bathing caps at Third Beach. Maybe I’m just on the change beat these days—a look at previous posts indicates as much—but I’m always astounded by the rate of change in this city. Some of the footage calls for a curator or historian to explain precisely where you’re looking. Granville and Robson? Somewhere on East Hastings? Would other Canadian cities be so unrecognizable? Other young, Western Canadian cities?

Cities are always in a state of change: buildings come and go, businesses change hands. But in Vancouver, it’s the scale of the transformation that’s striking. Here, whole neighbourhoods change from industrial to residential in the span of a few years. Maybe things will settle down now that the low-hanging fruit—those industrial areas that had run their course—has been plucked, but I think innovation and renovation is just part of our nature, and nothing is permanent.

Image credit: City of Vancouver Archives, film “City Lights”

Posted by: Rosemary Poole on June 25, 2009 at 1:11 pm


Continuing our look at all things cycling… Tonight at 7 p.m. the Museum hosts a free, multimedia dialogue on bike parking. The format: three 10-minute presentations, each one animated by slides charting the most creative bicycle-parking designs worldwide and identifying best practices for Vancouver. On stage are:Adrian Witte, a transportation planner with Bunt Engineering; Stephanie Doerksen, an urban designer with VIA – Architecture; and Richard Campbell, principal ofThird Wave CyclingSmaller discussion groups and a reception (with cash bar) to follow.

In our own informal research on this subject, we’ve noticed that bike-parking design reveals much about place, politics, and civic culture. Two examples stand out.

In Tokyo, sophisticated, multi-storey, mechanized bike towers have emerged to free up space on crammed sidewalks and other public spaces. With the swipe of a credit card, your bicycle is swept into the tower and stored. Swipe your card again, and it’s handily retrieved. Watch this colourful demonstration on YouTube, linked here.

In Toronto, a very different approach. Austere aluminum post-and-ring bike stands line most downtown streets; just a heavy cast-metal post affixed with a ring. It looks faintly nautical. The stands, pictured left, have become a city icon; a symbol of how simple, local ideas can remake the public realm. The design has been credited to David Dennis, who reportedly came up with it in 1984 while studying architecture at the University of Toronto. The stands have their limitations, sure (accommodating only two bikes at a time), but according to 2008 research from Appleseed, a New York-based consulting firm, Toronto has more bike racks per capita than any other North American city, a figure undoubtedly related to the simplicity and cost-effective nature of the post-and-ring design. It has been replicated in cities all over the world.

Vancouver, ever in the process of reinvention, is currently evaluating its own approach. Richard Campbell is expected to touch on this during his presentation tonight. Check back with the blog in the coming days for highlights.

Image credit: Richard Drdul

Posted by: Rosemary Poole on June 22, 2009 at 11:03 pm

Interesting debate going on at the Museum about whether Vancouver is on its way to becoming a true cycling city. Certainly, there’s evidence out there that we’re trying to become one, but far more evidence suggests we’ve got a ways to go, especially if we look at other cities.

The gold standard is surely Copenhagen, where 500,000 residents commute by bicycle. That’s 55% of the city’s population and 37% of the Greater Metropolitan Area. By comparison, Vancouver cyclists make up 3.7% of commuters, up from 3.3% in 1996, according to the City of Vancouver’s “2008/2009 Cycling Statistics Update; the full report is here). Copenhagen has the numbers, they’ve got the ideal, pancake-flat urban form, and they’ve got the infrastructure (dedicated and separated bicycle lanes and a well-established bike-share program, among other things). They’ve also got the culture; a far less tangible element but no less important than the others. By cycling culture, I mean a following that defies easy classification. There is no “typical” Copenhagen cyclist, you see businessmen in $2,000 suits, 20-something hipsters, moms hauling tots, seniors, on and on it goes.

The smart blog Copenhagenize offers a comprehensive look at Denmark’s cycling achievement, and advice for cities trying to follow its example. Check out the November 2007 post: “18 Ways to Know That You Have Bicycle Culture” linked here. I like #13: “You don’t even know that you live in a ”bike culture” and have never used the expression. You just ride.”

Image credit: Zakkaliciousness on

Posted by: Rosemary Poole on June 18, 2009 at 12:48 pm

It was a quiet and sad ending for Vancouver’s oldest family-owned restaurant. Last week, the City’s business license panel revoked The Only Sea Food’s permit, after police testified they’d found drugs on the premises and evidence that the restaurant was used for trafficking. Health inspectors also reported the presence of rodents, unplumbed sinks, and filthy, unsanitary conditions. It was one of the worst inspection reports some on the panel had ever seen. The full story ishere.

It’s a familiar tale: storied Vancouver business slowly ground down by neighbourhood that changed around it. Some city residents remember heading to The Only for their famous clam chowder back when the neighbourhood was lit up by neon signs and the sidewalks were crowded with pedestrians who’d just stepped off B.C. Electric trolleys (the terminus building is now the Centre A Gallery; building image here.)

In Neon Eulogy (Ekstasis Editions Canada, 2001), author Keith McKellar charts the history of The Only back to 1916, when 20 East Hastings St. was home to the Vancouver Oyster Saloon. That year, brothers Nickolas and Gustave Thodos acquired the restaurant and changed the name to The Only Cafe. They expanded the original space, added an ornamental tin ceiling, and installed a large horseshoe-shaped counter, ringed by 18 stools. Nick ran the place until his death in 1935, then a second generation of the Thodos family took over. Business was brisk: oysters were sourced from Thetis Island; fish was bought from the Campbell Avenue Fish Dock. They sold upwards of 60 lbs of steamed clams a day.

Sometime in the early 1950s, the iconic seahorse sign was added. Designed by Neon Products, it’s a double-faced projection, affixed to the brick building with wires and angle iron. Nick’s second son Tyke Thodos ran The Only up to 1992, then sold it to current owner Wendy Wong, who worked there as a waitress at the time. By then, business had seriously declined, public transit patterns had changed, and most other businesses had fled the neighbourhood, which now had the dubious distinction of being “Canada’s poorest postal code.”

The Only’s doors are now locked. Few seem to have noticed, media coverage was scarce, and Wong now faces drug charges. But the seahorse sign still hangs over the sidewalk, a relic of a bold, optimistic era. Like most neon signs of its time, it was leased to the business owners on a maintenance contract. Neon Products, now owned by Pattison Signs, still owns the sign and the lease expires in June 2010. Joan Seidl, the Museum of Vancouver’s director of collections and exhibitions, hopes it stays where it is. “I would always rather see the signs on the streets, adding to the layers of grit and history that keep Vancouver real.”

Image credit:

Posted by: Rosemary Poole on June 11, 2009 at 2:19 pm


This just in: Starting tomorrow, and running until Monday, the City is hosting a demonstration of the Bixi bike-share program, using bikes and rental stations on loan from the City of Montreal. Part of the mayor’s Greenest City initiative, it’s a chance to see how a public bike-share works, and to test-drive the bikes (so long as you bring a helmet). Details and map here. If you go, send us your comments. We’d love to hear from you.

Posted by: Rosemary Poole on June 11, 2009 at 11:45 am

Propeller design



MOV’s Velo-City exhibition explores Vancouver’s cycling revolution, and is curated by Propellor Design’s Nik Rust, Pamela Goddard, and Toby Barratt (all pictured left). In a conversation with MOV, Barratt discusses how the show came to be, how Vancouver is becoming a cycling city, and the bike he had painted John-Deere green.

Where did the idea for Velo-City originate?
My partners and I are avid cyclists and we have noticed that little by little over the past decade the popularity of cycling in all of its many forms has been increasing, and in the last two or three years it has really started to take off. We really wanted to dig into the subject and try to understand what is going on in the city and how people are using their bicycles to push the limits of sport, creativity, individuality, and community building.

What’s your favourite piece from the show?
Wow, that’s a tough question. Every bike in the show has a strong Vancouver story attached to it. There are bikes that are works of art and others that epitomize the strong DIY ethos that is present in the show. But, if I had to choose a favourite, I’d go with Lorne “Ace” Atkinson’s 1954 handmade track bike. Ace is a living legend. He is one of Vancouver’s great cycling champions, having raced in the 1948 Olympics for Canada. Ace was also a coach, a bike store owner, and an advocate for cycling in B.C. Ace built his track bike by hand, filing the elaborately detailed lugs by hand over the course of a winter. He rode this bike in the 1954 British Empire games and was still riding this bike on the Burnaby Velodrome in the 1990s.

How did you wrestle bikes away from avid cyclists for four, mostly summer, months? Couldn’t have been an easy sell.
Once people understood the depth and scope of our ambitions for Velo-City they were happy to sacrifice a summer’s riding for the cause. All of these people have at least two bikes so they will still be pedalling this summer. One of the most incredible bikes in the show is Sam Whittingham’s Varna Diablo speed bike. At some point this summer he will be taking his bike for a week to attempt to break his own world land-speed record by besting his current record of 133 kilometres per hour.

What’s your bicycle of choice?
I have three bikes: a Bianchi fixed gear, a Rocky Mountain Fusion for touring and commuting, and my baby, a 1990 Marinoni road bike which I have put about 60,000 kilometres on. In 1999, I had it painted John-Deere green. The painter advised me against the colour for aesthetic reasons but it suits me just fine. I get other cyclists commenting on the old girl at stoplights occasionally. My Marinoni has become an old friend and it would be a very dark day if it were ever stolen.

You travel the Pacific Northwest by bike. What’s that like?
My partner Pamela and I go on a month-long bike tour every summer and it is the best part of every year. We have ridden to San Francisco three times and to Portland and back twice. Bike touring is a great escape. We set out into the countryside with everything we need packed on our bikes. It distills life down to its most essential elements. We get stronger everyday, we sleep under the stars, we meet people who are interested in talking to us even though they think we might be crazy, we swim in lakes and rivers and we get to know the countryside we travel through. Anyone can do this, we aren’t super athletes. We are pleasure seekers, reconnecting with the physical side of life after 11 months of sitting at the computer. We are adventurers for the month of August each year.

The timing of the show is ideal, with the recent decision by the City to devote a car lane of the Burrard Street Bridge to cyclists, on a trial basis. 
I ride across the Burrard bridge regularly but it is a real obstacle for many people who simply don’t feel safe riding over it. I see the bike lane trials on the Burrard bridge as an attempt to begin the process of re-imagining the city as a different kind of place where people are valued more than cars, and community more than the mythology of individualism that is attached to the car culture. I am not anti-car but rather, for more balance. The bridge trials will create controversy, but we shouldn’t shy away from a conversation that is about to get louder.

Where do you think Vancouver is at in its cycling evolution? The critical mass events, where downtown streets are overtaken with cyclists to stop traffic, could indicate local cycling culture still has the trappings of a protest movement. You don’t see such events in places like Paris and Copenhagen, where cycling is almost like wallpaper—just part of the scenery.
Our cycling culture is maturing quickly and attracting more Vancouverites every year, but cyclists are still a very small minority. It seems to me that the activist culture in our city has moved beyond confrontation to a sincere strategy of courting the non-cycling public. Critical Mass rides in Vancouver are internationally renowned for being peaceful and FUN. This attracts people to the cause and gets people to try riding. I fully expect that 8,000 Vancouverites will ride the June 2008 Critical Mass, doubling last year’s record number of riders.

What is the future of cycling in Vancouver?
Number one: People will ride bikes built to do specific jobs. For instance, going to get a big load of groceries is a breeze if you have a bike like the Kona Ute, which is built to make carrying a load comfortable and safe. Number two: Cycling will become the most stylish way to get around the city. You are starting to see it already—ladies in heels and dresses riding to work or downtown for a night out. Number three: Streets in Vancouver like Water Street, Commercial Drive, and Robson will be permanently closed to motor traffic. Cyclists and pedestrians will flock to these places and these communities will thrive.

The Velo-City exhibition runs until September 7, 2009.


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