Accessibility a.k.a the Public Part of Public Space: My Letter to Vancouver Mayor and Council


Dear Mayor and Council,

I am writing regarding the future of the Arbutus Corridor.

I understood there was a plan to pave the portion where the railway tracks had been.

I thought a paved path sounded like a good idea, in part because it allows me, as a wheelchair user, access to a part of the city I have not previously been able to enjoy.

(It is worth noting that paving is neither a guarantee nor necessarily a requirement for accessibility. Accessibility is the goal – paving is merely the means to achieve it.)

Some people protested and the paving stopped.

I am going to assume Mr. Battersby did not mean to suggest otherwise but, just to be certain we are all clear – my rights as a human being should supersede those of a berry bush.

And I am fairly certain the berry bush and I could co-exist reasonably well. In fact, I hope some berry bushes remain and I hope I can reach them because I too like to pick them and I’m told I make an excellent blackberry pie.

But this isn’t really a plant problem; it is a people problem, presented under the guise of being a nature problem.

It comes down to how you imagine public space, which in turn comes down to who you include in the word public.

If you do not see me as having the same right to access public space as anyone else then you can come up with any number of reasonable-sounding excuses for excluding me. If you believe I have the same rights as you do, then you may get creative about how to improve a space but you will not suggest sacrificing accessibility to do so.

Inaccessibility is tolerated and perpetuated by prejudice and ignorance. In turn, the resulting exclusion and segregation creates more of the same.

The comment below appeared on a blog post about the Arbutus Corridor pathway. I can’t seem to manage a response that doesn’t involve an abundance of sarcasm so I will trust you will see why it is problematic without my elaborating on it further.

arbutus - wheelchair safer

When I first moved to Vancouver I was not a wheelchair user. I did many of the things people in British Columbia enjoy and take for granted. I ran six days a week and I preferred to run trails rather than paved surfaces.

There were and are an abundance of such trails in the Lower Mainland and throughout British Columbia.

When I developed a neuromuscular disease my body and my life changed.

While I was at G.F. Strong Rehabilitation Centre I participated in an outing to Jericho Sailing Centre. There, thanks to the Disabled Sailing Association of BC, I spent a sunny afternoon in a Martin 16 enjoying the company of a volunteer who is arguably one of Vancouver’s finer sailors, (the wind was playing hide and go seek and we were the only ones in the group to make back to shore on our own).

It is amazing how much power can be harnessed from even the most gentle breeze.

Afterwards I said to the recreation therapist. “Thank you – for this day and for doing what you do. The how is always more doable when you remember the why.”

Sitting instead of standing changes some things but not others. I still love water, mountains, dirt and yes, even berry bushes.

And while I think railway lines can be quite beautiful, I don’t think they qualify as a nature preserve, particularly when running through the centre of one of Canada’s largest cities.

Contrary to the analogy that Youtube video implies, paving a path down the Arbutus Corridor is not paving paradise to ‘put up a parking lot.’

I am not a car.

Sentimentality aside, we are talking about making an area already developed by humans of a previous era more useful and accessible to people in this era.

Of course aesthetics and berry bushes are important concerns, the question is where they sit in the hierarchy of considerations.

In this instance and in every other, it is not just the ‘what’ that matters in the decision-making but the how.

The people opposed to the paving are also raising the how.

They are referring to consultation. I am not.

Public consultation is always important but accessibility should not be a matter of debate.

Public money should not be spent to create or perpetuate barriers.

For this reason, I am asking you to guarantee that accessibility is not sacrificed for berry bushes on the Arbutus Corridor.


6 thoughts on “Accessibility a.k.a the Public Part of Public Space: My Letter to Vancouver Mayor and Council

  1. Pingback: Arbutus Greenway Conversations | Stephen Rees's blog

  2. Hi, I’m David and I wanted to reach out because I feel that Twitter is a frustrating mode of communication and here, we can have a more fulsome discussion.

    I want to say that I do understand your desire for accessibility, but that there are different views about how to best achieve that and it may not be paving with asphalt, just as many other popular leisure routes are not paved. There are views that creating a route which is primarily paved may be intimidating for those who would fear bikes using it as a speedway. That is something to discuss.

    Personally, for me, the notion of a “greenway” implies a more natural and rustic environment. Not so much a way to get from A to B, but an experience in itself. The bike lobby, led by HUB, want every route to be as wide and as paved as possible because their interests lie with that one perspective. There is no room for any variety. I am actually a cyclist myself and I enjoy different terrains, just as many others do who ride at Jericho Beach and other places.

    I wonder what your feeling would be about the notion of paving the Pacific Spirit Park. I think many would find that totally at odds with the environment and the experience. In it’s current state, does that mean that you feel that park is not accessible to you and so must be paved because “access is essential”? Would you be advocating for that, or do you take a view because it is a unique, natural experience? Many leisure routes in the province are not paved and yet are enjoyed by many different mobility levels. Please read this article and let me know what you think of the points made therein:

    And by the way, no one is calling you a car. The song was more a catchy reference and does not infer that this issue is about cars at all. This is about the public’s interest in this development. I know what I would prefer to see, but I would take a view if the greater public was shown to actually want a paved roadway on the corridor. It’s not my idea of a “greenway”, but that’s me. I would just like the promised consultation to take place before going ahead and paving it.

    Kind regards, David


  3. Pingback: Other Voices On Arbutus | Price Tags

  4. Pingback: Nope – Don’t Need or Want Special Spaces – I Want Inclusive Spaces. | mssinenomineblog

  5. Pingback: Vancouver – A Word About Accessibility & Why Not All Complaints Are Equal | mssinenomineblog

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