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Re-imagining Britannia Community Centre and surrounding neighbourhood

Live on The Drive? Hung out there? Ever walk its streets and think, “This place is perfect! NEVER CHANGE!” Or, conversely, “Gawds, this place is awful, won’t someone please do something about it?” (Doubtful, but just covering the bases…)

This range of reactions is exactly what me and my class have been going through, every week since mid-October. Except then we do some readings, crunch some numbers, cut up some museum board, and then do something about it — in the form of modelling design interventions on the built form of the neighbourhood.

Buildings, the width of sidewalks, amenities in the park, amounts of greenspace, community gardens, renewable energy generation, permeable paving, towers, heritage preservation — you name it, we’re dreaming and angsting over it.

My Theory and Methods of Urban Design Studio class here at SCARP is currently loosely collaborating with the Britannia Community Centre Society to think about how the neighbourhood (specifically, between Commercial and Clark, and Venables and 1st Avenue) might grow and change, as well as in trying to tackle some of the neighbourhood’s challenges, present and future, social, economic and environmental. A tall order.

Each design team is tasked with balancing three priorities in their designs:

  1. The stated values and desires as expressed to us by members of the Society’s board;
  2. The principles of good urban design, especially in consideration of Vancouver’s future population growth;
  3. Considerations for ecological design, for buildings that provide benefits and services that offset its impact or have a net positive impact on the surrounding neighbourhood.

As our design interventions are rolled out week to week, a team of my colleagues are also diligently rolling out updates to the Britannia Redesign Visions website, with pictures of our scale model, figure ground diagrams, and vision statements from the design teams.

For the web and design professionals (or just plain old web 1.5 savvy, for that matter) in the crowd, a word of caution: the site is, in fact, flashtastrophic, and looks like a MySpace website. It has no permalinks. And while I’ll argue that makes it unpleasant as long as you’re willing to, I’ll also throw in there that I think the “design” has merit, if you consider the fact that the neighbourhood is home a large number of aboriginal youth, and the site has an inner-city high school. Our aesthetics as designers and planners just might not be in play, and I think the people in my class who worked on the website are trying to argue that the youth in the area now — and their aesthetic values, if not their XHTML-compliant functional ones — should get consideration and steering priority.

We’re inviting any – and all! – to submit comments on our designs. We’ll also be doing a final presentation to the neighbourhood on December 1st at Britannia Community Centre, where every team will present on the goals and rationale behind their interventions. Should be good, interesting fun, and we’d definitely appreciate it.

If you’re curious about what my specific contribution is, check out “Phase 2″ — my team’s design is in the righthand column…


  1. AUGH! MY EYES!! @___@

    Posted December 5, 2009 at 6:15 pm | Permalink
  2. Liz, I can see you totally read my post and took the appropriate preparatory measures prior to clicking through (which I hoped I’d provided adequate warning to do, but I can see it didn’t quite work out so well), as well as reflecting on the implications of your reaction. :P

    Literacy with the web and good design is something we learn. And we may wish it weren’t so, but like it or not, the lack of this literacy — and, in the case of the team members who built it, inability to apply this literacy in culturally accepted ways — is a marker of social stratification. And I link again to danah boyd’s work on teenagers and their use of social network sites as an example of looking at the effects of the value judgments we bake into our designs; who we say is good and wanted, and who is not, with what we deem beautiful.

    Posted December 7, 2009 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

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