Letter to Council: Public Realm Final Design Report vs. Johnson Street Bridge Public Realm Workshop
1715 Government Street Victoria BC, V8W 1Z4
Mayor Lisa Helps and Council City of Victoria No.1 Centennial Square Victoria, BC V8W 1P6
April 11, 2017
Re: Public Realm Final Design Report v JSB Public Realm Workshop Findings
Dear Mayor Helps and Council
Staff has selected a design for the JSB Public Realm Southeast Plaza fronting the Northern Junk Project stating that it “could still embody the broader design objectives” brought forward through the public consultation process. To be clear, this is not a design that came out of the “public consultation” process. This is a design that was repeatedly rejected by the stakeholder groups (including accessibility specialists) through a series of two open houses, a 2-day design workshop and many meetings. The design preferred by the participants of that process focused on creating a green, usable space for people that optimized accessibility and the interrelation of the plaza with the surroundings.
It appears that we have come full circle and a road and a concrete plaza will likely be built where the stakeholders clearly called for a park. At our latest meeting with staff, it was justified by a lastminute admission of the requirement for occasional vehicle access. A need for vehicle access was neither disclosed at the many open houses nor as a deliverable at the design workshop, but now somehow trumps the entire consultation process.
In previous staff reports, the design developed on the basis on community consultation was referred to as “New Concept A”. In the latest staff report, “Public Realm Final Design” the community-driven design is now referred to as “Option B”. When we compare the two design options in the latest report, we find that the option created by staff (now “Option A”) directly contradicts the design principles adopted by council on 6 Oct 2011, particularly Principles 2-4 & 6-7. Specifically:
There is a preponderance of hard surface and very little usable green space in the staff design. It will be a bland, thoroughfare offering little in terms of being a “public amenity”.
A large area of concrete adjacent to the harbour walkway will not be a “meaningful destination”, nor a place of “delight” for “pedestrians, cyclists and motorists (in that order)”.
The walkway adjacent to Johnson Street is so far below grade there will be no sightlines into that space from either the bridge of the concrete walkway to the south, so it will not be “inviting” and will likely be perceived as unsafe.
The overall design does not reflect the expectation that this section of the public realm will be a “long term legacy” nor as a “coherent” or “memorable” place
Additionally, the staff design contravenes the Strategic Directions identified in the Official Community Plan, specifically section 21.4.5 which states:
“Add parks and open spaces in north Downtown and Harris Green to support increased population growth.”
As it stands, the staff option, “Option A” proposes a transportation route that prioritizes occasional maintenance vehicle access over that of pedestrian and leisurely users of the space. The local community, including residents, requires more green spaces that provide areas of respite, relaxation and recreation, not more roads and concrete in our parks.
We strongly request that council redirect the course of this process. Tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars have been spent on staff time and resources and countless hours of volunteer time invested on a process into which community stakeholders entered into in good faith. It appears that staff is intent on misdirecting this process and misrepresenting the outcomes (and destroying community goodwill at the same time).
Rather than simply approve the staff recommendation to kick the can further along this (now five year) road, please give us some faith in the public process and direct your staff to execute the true results of the public consultation process. Otherwise expect a healthy dose of skepticism from the community regarding the transparency and honesty of the city’s public engagement process in the future.
Ian Sutherland Chair Land Use Committee Downtown Residents Association