Well, it has been a long time since I have posted a blog entry. It was a rough semester, ending in a month long chronic strep throat infection (which really sucked!) My feelings towards the program at UBC are mixed, and require another blog entry, but for this entry i would like to focus on a great experience I just had on Saltspring Island, where I was involved in a four day design charette.
The charette teams consisted of architects, planners, builders, residents and students. We were broken into three teams: one team looking at the village of Fulford, one concentrating on the village of Ganges 'downtown' core area, and another team (my team) focused on the greater Ganges, both upper and lower village areas.
The first day we were briefed by various experts and focus groups and toured the villages, then we met for a fantastic dinner and discussion. Everyone involved was very warm, smart, kind and great to meet. The organizers: Sebastien Moffat, Christine Atkinson and Margery (I can't remember her last name) did a fantastic job putting us up and organizing the event.
On the morning of the second day our groups met to discuss areas of interest and focus. It was interesting because the residents on our team wanted to jump into creative solutions, where the designers wanted to step back and analyze the data by assessing the existing conditions of the community. Some key areas that we quickly focused on were the lack of walking paths and sidewalks to encourage pedestrian traffic, the hidden and culverted waterways, potential global warming effects on the downtown which would leave the historic core underwater in the next hundered years, and the residential sprawl zoning that is encouraging a dependece on the automobile. The community is very dependent on the car, with many people living in rural locations, and an aging population isolated in retirement communities. The defending of the automobile and the right to park was emphasised by the island residents and business owners, and yet, their downtown appears to be one big parking lot intersected by a very busy connector road. Often residents would blame the road and parking congestion on the strong tourism industry, when it is, in fact, the residents who drive everywhere. Also, often we would hear the phrase "Well, you can't get rid of the parking! What about the old people? They can't walk to the store!" The implication being that all old people need to roll up in their car to the doorstop of every store. And yet, it seemed to be the middle-aged people who were saying this, and driving everywhere.
The aging demographic is interesting, because these folks are not going to give up their cars easily, especially as they get older. Using my parents as a case study: they've had a car their whole lives, and live in a suburb where you really do need to drive to get anywhere. And yet they are fit, healthy, liberal minded people, who do bike and walk as much as they can and enjoy being active. However, if they lived in a denser community, where they could purchase groceries on a daily basis, they would, but they don't. And so their car lifestyle reflects that.
Anyway, "densification" and "city" are two evil words on Saltspring, and yet it is urban and suburban conditions that they are grappling with. One of the architects on the Ganges core team got heckled during a presentation for using the word "city" and I made the mistake once in conversation with a resident to use the term "urban planning".
There is also a resistance in the community to outsiders. This is an area that I am interested in looking at more closely this summer. The community has a great interest in self sustainablitiy and self reliance. There is some beautiful, unique architecture as a result of this mindset, and yet there is a view that outsiders just don't really understand the island or know the community and therefore their opinions aren't valid. Different communities globally embrace foreign talent in a more openminded or closeminded ways, and their are benefits and consequences to both approaches.
On the third day of the Charette our group dealt with some interesting divisions. Mainly the older architects wanted to work independently from each other, and us students struggled to find a way to deal with this division. Unfortunetly, I don't think the three of us students were able to figure out a way to become involved with the architects to put in our two cents. There were only so many maps, and so we weren't really able to do our own thing. We ended up presenting a few varied possibilities on the final day, but I didn't feel that I had a part in the vision, but was, as a student, more in the role of assisting the process. Group work is always an interesting experience. Everyone on our group did get along well, and respected each other, but the group worked in a unique way because of the heirarchy that naturally existed.
The final presentations were a lot of fun. I was happy to see a good community turn-out and such an active interest in local issues and possible solutions. The residents on Saltspring are, in general, very interested, engaged, educated and active community citizens. I am hoping to continue my involvement in the process, even as just an outside observer, since I really am fascinated with the decisions that the community will make in the next few years. I love the social anthropology and investigation that a design charette like this, and design in general invokes.
After the final presentation I stayed over and attended the Farmer's Market and went on a hike with Christine, an organizer of the event, and Max, a urban planning student from UBC. The day was so relaxing and totally fun, and I have returned to the 'mainland' feeling invigorated from the experience. What a great way to kick off the summer.