LocalSocial: Design Through the Citizens’ Perspective

by Brandon Chow

On the outskirts of Chinatown, 221A’s current exhibition Tangential Vancouverism addresses design strategies for Vancouver’s ever-growing urbanism. While the topics range in complexity and scale, they remain dedicated to a clear, unifying objective: “Vancouverism 2.0 should attempt to reflect the perspective of its citizens.” In keeping with this goal, the gallery is an inviting atmosphere with in-depth didactics to support its eye-catching sculptures and models.


Among the crowd of innovative solutions, the design firm ph5 Architecture stands out as particularly relevant for Vancouverites because it addresses the breadth of Vancouver’s residential and commercial neighborhoods. The architects begin their presentation with a question that encompasses the values of each of their ideas: “As neighborhoods grow and change, how can design support and enhance the tangible and intangible qualities of place that people have come to value?”


To begin tackling this question, ph5 Architecture first sought to understand the fundamental problems that occupants in Vancouver’s residential neighborhoods face. The ideas presented are in response to a mapping project for the Grandview Woodlands and Douglas Park neighborhoods in Vancouver, conducted by the Vancouver City Planning Commission and SmartGrowth Advisory Services. During this project, called YouMap Vancouver, residents participated in onsite workshops, neighborhood walks and online mapping exercises to identify their neighborhood’s strengths and weaknessesAmong the opinions offered, it was found that community interaction is considered to be the most vital element to any public amenity, regardless of the service it provides. From this, the concept of LocalSocial was born, which is the Firm’s cohesive outlook in their approach to reimagining Vancouver’s neighborhoods.

LocalSocial operates under two maxims: less is more, and simplicity is key. Their solutions rely on cultivating existing neighborhood infrastructure to create sustainable growth for the future, without the disruption of major redevelopment. For example, they suggest the concept of mobile food carts into other products such as clothing and local produce, catering to a broader market without infringing on existing commercial property. They also propose creating open public areas at intersections between small streets and busy arterials, designated for pedestrian use, and where mobile businesses will be set up. Both ideas allow for small businesses to be maintained, while developing overall economic activity and public interaction within the neighborhood. Their final idea aims to smooth the transition into the concept of a mobile business by combining parking meters with BC Hydro smart meters and power outlets. This does two things: one is to help alleviate the generally noisy and polluted presence of mobile businesses, and secondly, to provide them with a source of energy, since mobile businesses generally run on gas generators. While these ideas undeniably exhibit forward thinking, their feasibility may be somewhat distant. Creating pedestrian designated areas requires addressing rezoning laws, while the concept of buying clothing or produce from moving businesses may take some time for people to warm up to. That said, ph5 Architecture is a significant contributor to this exhibition, in part, because it confronts the city’s wide range of neighborhoods. 


Belying the conventional notion of architecture as monumental buildings designed by equally immense firms, Tangential Vancouverism takes the opinion of the people to heart.  As Vancouver’s urbanism expands, both the way in which space is used and public opinion become increasingly relevant. 

If you have a keen interest in design, architecture or the future of your community, indulge yourself in Tangential Vancouverism’s ideas and help re-create the city you call home.

Tangential Vancouverism runs until April 29th at 221A.


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