Edited by James Eidse, Mari Fujita, Joey Giaimo, Lori Kiessling, and Christa Min (Blueimprint books, 2008)
Most, if not all, human settlements interact in weird and wonderful ways with the natural environment in which they sit. These circumstances become particularly evident in places that exist within extreme geological and/or climatic settings. Stir in the complex interactions created by specific cultural fears and desires, and a subtle and distinctive richness begins to dictate the flavour of our settlements.
This unique quality of any given city is often overshadowed by the contemporary practice of city branding that uses the typical commercial "taglines" techniques and one-liners as the means of drawing global audiences into their boundaries. This is certainly the case with Vancouver with its quick leap into the global consciousness as one of the most "livable cities in the world" and home of the 2010 Olympics.
This unfortunate circumstance makes the contribution of books such as Vancouver Matters
all the more important. With its call to look beyond the "civic boosterism" and "constructed mythologies" of the city, it offers a much needed critical look at Vancouver's urban landscape with the intention of generating a more sophisticated discussion of our past, present, and potential future(s).
Tightly bound in its compact 5x8 inch frame, this book contains 16 interesting essays written by a number of local contributors on a diversity of distinct local issues. A quick summary of each will serve to show the multitude of the themes covered:
Andesite by Annabel Vaughn & Rob Brownie
An interesting look at the locally sourced volcanic rock andesite (found on BC's Haddington Island) and its use throughout for the construction of several of our most significant buildings.
Blackberry by Stacey Moriarty
A wonderful photo essay that describes the potential of the wild blackberry plant culture (Rubus ursinus) that spontaneously grows in the derelict spaces throughout Vancouver on sites that "fall outside of the administrative gaze of the City's various regulatory bylaws."
Freeway by Hannah Teicher
Discusses the precarious circumstances that led to Vancouver's current lack of freeway and calls for the city to more actively engage a vision for its built landscape and the spaces left by the freeway fragments built.
Grass by Aaron Knorr
A thought-provoking meditation on the unique condition and potential of the Southlands - Vancouver's Agricultural Land Reserve.
Hedge by Lindsay Sung
An amusing photo essay of smiley faces placed on several large hedges throughout the city that "highlight the anthropomorphic tendencies of these commonplace plant structures."
Heritage by Courtney Miller
An in-depth investigation of heritage structures and how the regulations used under this designation are used within Vancouver.
Horizon by Chris Macdonald
Examines the perception of the horizon in the mountainous landscape of the Lower Mainland.
Iconography by Matthew Soules
Discusses Vancouver's Convention Center as a unique branding mechanism for the "Eco-Metropolis" that "obscures more authentic and productive attempts to build a city that is broadly beneficial to the environment."
Intimacy by Sherry McKay
A critical examination of the transparent glass facades that dominate the downtown peninsula, and the important role played by interior drywall partitions as the primary strategy negotiating the density of people housed by these towers and desire for intimacy.
Residue by Andrea Nunes
A beautiful sketch/drawing essay depicting residual urban relics left after Expo '86.
Stucco by Kenneth Terriss
Looks at the rise and evolution of the Vancouver Special as a unique local house type.
Sugar by Kelty Miyoshi McKinnon
An absorbing look at the significance of BC Sugar Refinery and the important role it played in the lives of local Japanese Canadians.
Trees by James Eides
a historical look at the creation of Stanley Park and the production of the "nature-myth" currently associated with its existence.
Veil by Joey Giaimo
A contemplative examination at the emergence of the "Ghost Building" - wrapping in scaffolding and white opaque sheathing - as a unique and provocative contrast to the surrounding singular podium tower building types in the downtown peninsula.
View by Christa Min
A brief but engaging photo essay surveying Vancouver's view cones.
Water by Mari Fujita
A short reflection on water use in Vancouver and the important role this resource will play in the future.
The breadth and variety of issues discussed makes for an overall stimulating book - well-packaged and beautifully put together. However, I would not go so far to say that this book is for everybody. The writing style of most essays tend to lean towards the academic and someone looking for a more accessible read may not fully appreciate the content.
That said, the explicit purpose of the book is to provoke a critical and thoughtful debate about several key issues relevant to Vancouver, and despite its small size, it lives up to its mandate forcefully.
For more information visit the Vancouver Matters website. They are also having their book launch on February 14, 2009 2:00 to 4:00pm at the Charles H. Scott Gallery 1399 Johnston Street (Granville Island).
Erick Villagomez is one of the founding editors at re:place. He is also an educator, independent researcher and designer with academic and professional interests in the human settlements at all scales. His private practice - Metis Design|Build - is an innovative practice dedicated to a collaborative and ecologically responsible approach to the design and construction of places.