Fred Kent believes in people power.
You can have the most attractively built community in the world, he says, but if people don’t come together to mix in public spaces, it’s just dead space.
Kent recently spoke to the West Vancouver Chamber of Commerce and Mayor Pamela Goldsmith-Jones, in relation to the plans to renew Ambleside.
The world-renowned urban planning expert has worked with over 2,000 communities through his New York-based Project for Public Spaces consultancy, started in 1975.
His theory is that attractive, non-automobile dominated public spaces layered with multi-use functions will pump vitality back into communities that have become too isolated.
Educated at Columbia University, Kent brings studies of geography, economics, transportation, planning and anthropology, into his “place-making” philosophy. He’s taken about a million photos in communities around the world, using time lapse technology to understand the underlying motivation of people’s attraction, or repulsion, to certain public spaces.
“Foot movements are like a sort of language,” he explained of his photographic methodology, to a table of listeners including Goldsmith-Jones and Park Royal vice-president Rick Amantea, over a lunch of grilled salmon at Saltaire in Ambleside.
The group had earlier toured Ambleside and found traffic overpowered their conversations.
“Your main street is only functioning at 40 per cent of what it could be,” Kent said.
“When you look at your city, there are a lot of opportunities and a lot of things not happening.”
Kent’s group holds that great cities have a formula of ten great destinations. And each location should also be enriched by ten different activities, he says.
But a location doesn’t have to be an attraction like the Eiffel Tower to draw people.
For example, a city hall, library, laundry, coffee shop, and bank could be layered together.
“If you triangulate those things with other activities you’d have one of the busiest places in Canada.”
Busy is a positive concept for Kent, meaning regular people interacting.
“The important business of the city is in the social functions, not what happens in city hall,” he said.
Hearing this, Goldsmith-Jones nodded enthusiastically.
“I try to go to a different coffee shop every day and I find what I’m running into is so interesting, I have to move back my (municipal hall) meetings,” she told Kent.
Kent suggested West Vancouver citizens should be engaged in a process to imagine what new public spaces in Ambleside should encompass.