Rebuilding Foundations

An exploration of international development work in Africa


As a transportation engineer, I have to say that in my professional opinion… this is awesome!

Bowen Island, a little island close to Vancouver, is trying to encourage more hitchhiking.  Part of me thinks the best way to encourage is to do it yourself (that’s what I do when I visit), but I still like the idea of colour-coded signs.  That being said, I would never wear a bright blue lanyard.

To start, in no way do I want anything to think following is a criticism of LINK.

One complaint that I’ve heard directed towards Vancouver over and over again is how incredibly regulated it is.  Is art still cool when the City mandates it?  Vancouver requires every new large-scale construction project to dedicate a certain amount of money to public art.  I’m not sure about the numbers, but I think (NO ONE QUOTE ME ON THIS) that a recent multimillion dollar building built by a college institute had to dedicate over $30,000 to public art on their site.

And you know what?  The college couldn’t even choose the artist.  They had to pick from a selection of City of Van-approved art projects.

Listen, I love modern art.  I love abstract.  I often get into arguments with friends that what I like isn’t “real art,” it’s just paint splashed onto a canvas.  But even I think most of Vancouver’s public art is really ugly.  Consider, for example, one particular “sculpture” on the grass near the Sea Wall in Coal Harbour.  My mum and I used to run by it a couple times a week.  We originally thought the landscapers had left some bags of dirt lying around.  After a few weeks, though, they were still there.   Were they garbage?  But Coal Harbour is such an affluent area… it didn’t make sense that this eyesore would’ve been left for so long.

I finally ran across the grass to inspect the grass.  Yep.  You guessed it.  It was a “Vancouver special” (a term used to describe Van’s ugly box houses) art project entitled “Pillows.”

Van is a city in which people go to pubs to play board games.  Even I once played Jenga on a date in Gastown.  (It was awful.  He and I never saw each other again. Q.E.D.)  How incredibly pretentious is that?!

Don’t even get me started on Van’s music scene.

As a technocrat, the engineer in me loves regulations and rules.  At the same time, though, my inner hippy argues, “Sometimes you just gotta let things evolve, man… you gotta let things flow on their own.”

Compare Vancouver to Johannesburg.  Here, life spills out onto the streets.  The sidewalks of Hillbrow are covered with vendors, groups of young men, children, individuals passed out.  The public space is a social place.

Last weekend, some friends and I went to a rooftop party in the inner city in which music blasted past 10pm.  Can you imagine that happening in Van?

Because of Canada’s regulated society, when I read about initiatives like LINK, I think to myself, “Is this really going to work?  Can a government program actually change a community’s culture?”

Then again, LINK isn’t a government program; it’s a grassroots initiative with a lot of community energy behind it.

So let’s get on board!  Stick out your thumb or offer someone a ride!


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