What is a ‘design jam’ and how will it shape Arbutus Greenway?

City’s director of transportation talks collaboration, design and streetcars

This weekend, 100 Vancouver residents who are being called "Arbutus Champions," as well as city staff and technical experts, will gather for what the city has dubbed a “design jam” for Arbutus Greenway. There will also be public open houses.

We talked to Lon LaClaire, the city’s director of transportation, to find out what’s involved in a “design jam” and when residents can expect to see the final greenway unveiled.

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What is a “design jam”?

It’s a multi-day, collaborative design workshop where we bring together interested stakeholders and subject matter experts to develop clear, realistic design options for the project. The room is a combination of regular residents and people who are [experts such as] landscape architects and engineers. In terms of how the people were selected, we put a call-out to anyone in the city who would be interested in participating in this process. We had 300 responses. From that, we selected 100 people using a stratified random sampling method. We wanted to capture a variety of ages, locations across the city and gender. We didn’t just want all the same type of people in the room.


Age breakdown of Arbutus Greenway design jam participants courtesy of City of Vancouver.
Age breakdown of Arbutus Greenway design jam participants courtesy of City of Vancouver.


Did you actually get people from across the city applying?

We had people apply from all 22 neighbourhoods, as we define them in the city, so we did have that broad level of interest, which we were pretty pleased about.


Neighbourhood breakdown of Arbutus Greenway design jam participants courtesy of City of Vancouver.


Did you expect to get 300 applicants?

No. In fact, I think we were thinking this whole design jam would be a smaller exercise overall. When we saw the level of interest, we worked to ramp it up. In a process like this, you might normally be targeting more like 50 people. It would be a pretty practical, workable group. But even though this is a bit of work for us to enlarge it to be 100, we thought it was worthwhile given the level of interest.

What do you attribute that strong interest to?

It’s a big project with a lot of exciting potential. The team has tried to do a lot of work to bring awareness. We’ve been trying to get the word out through social media and [ways] like that. We’ve done lots of pop-up city events — we’ve popped up in areas where the people are. When there’s an event in the city, we put up a tent to try to bring people’s awareness to [the project]. So, I attribute it to two things: One is the awareness the team has tried to bring to the project, and the other thing is the project seems to be broadly appealing.

How will the 200 people who weren’t selected, not to mention other city residents who are interested in the Arbutus Greenway, be able to get involved in a meaningful way?

We want to have people engaged as much as they can. They’ll be able to see information online. They’ll be able to come to our open houses, which we’ll have set up during the weekend.

Note: Design jam open houses and the design jam "reveal," which are open to the public, are scheduled through the weekend at Point Grey secondary school in a classroom directly adjacent to the cafeteria where the design jam is taking place. The first open house runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Oct. 28. A second one is planned for 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Oct. 29. The design jam “reveal” open house is set for 3 to 6 p.m., Oct. 29. A “pin-up” presentation will take place at 3:30 p.m.

Clarify how this process differs from consultation held earlier in the year.

Probably the biggest thing is the level of commitment we're asking of people. In the previous consultation and outreach, we’d typically have a short presentation, then a Q&A section and some opportunities to fill out forms or to provide their feedback online. We took all that information and distilled it. This is different in that we’re really asking people to put some time and effort into this. They will spend some time getting up to speed and then we’ll be extracting from them what they think are really good ideas — what they want to see. When they talk about what they want to see, we’re going to probe into what is it that they really want because a lot of times people aren’t really good at communicating that. More than anything, it’s the duration, it’s the time, it’s the process that will probably dig a little bit deeper into what people want.

What, at this point in the design process, is the most complicated issue you’re dealing with.

The biggest challenge technically is the streetcar — landing the street car alignment, which unfortunately is something you can’t be too creative about because of the geometry. Laying a streetcar line has a lot of constraints in terms of the radius, the elevations and all of that. So, that’s probably the biggest challenge. The opportunity is with the space that is not the streetcar and, even the portions that are dedicated to streetcar, what do you do in the meantime? [The building of the streetcar system is dependent on regional funding priorities for transportation. The streetcar is considered a medium- to long-term component of the greenway].

Have you decided on the streetcar alignment?

We’ve spent enough time looking at it that we can see an alignment that seems the most promising. In the design jam format, for stuff that’s really technical, it’s less helpful for people to spend a lot of time on it. We did want to go through an exercise to say, well, given all the constraints and the situation along the corridor, where the streetcar is most likely to land.

Presumably, where it lands is not up for that much debate considering there are technical aspects to consider.

That’s right. We’re going to share with the design jam team all the aspects that we considered. They’ll see that we weren’t restricting ourselves where we were exploring in terms of where we will place the streetcar. Also, what I would call the preferred alignment, is one most people would look at and agree with. For example, the long stretch from 16th to King Edward where the right-of-way is next to Arbutus, we’re suggesting the streetcar should be next to Arbutus, with the cycling path and the walking path to the east. One of the strong rationales there is it’s a really busy street and having the streetcar next to the busy street is the better place for it to be as opposed to next to the quiet local street on the other side.

What are the next steps following the design jam? What can people expect?

We’ll take all of the great ideas [design jam participants] have and throw them to the design team. They’ll refine the drafts and create what we call a “preferred design concept.” Ultimately, we’ll take that design out to the public in the spring.

Is everything on schedule? When will people see shovels in the ground or the grand opening of the greenway?

We’re on schedule for what we anticipated for this design process. In terms of shovels in the ground, that will depend a little bit on our next capital plan. We will continue to improve the temporary path. This year, there’s a few more odds and ends that are under construction. Next fall, when people go to vote for mayor and council, there will also be a capital plan question. In there, we’ll have some amount of money that will go towards the Arbutus Greenway. Depending on that outcome in that process, that will determine how much we can tackle on the greenway. I don’t anticipate we’ll build all of it all at once. It’s just too much. But through the capital plan process, it will be determined how much money there is that can be spent on the greenway, both in terms of the city contributions and other partner contributions, and what’s realistic for what we can physically construct in the next four years.

More information about Arbutus Greenway can be found at vancouver.ca/arbutus-greenway.

This interview has been edited and condensed.


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