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The wraps finally came off the renovation of Museum subway station at a grand opening today. Amidst the coming and going of subway trains and riders, a large group of press and luminaries, penned in by watchful officials, gathered. Mayor David Miller praised the project as “a shining example of what our public spaces can be.” While there has certainly been criticism of the project and its funding, it’s hard to not find the finished columns quite irresistible and fun.

The five different columns represent First Nations, Ancient Egypt, Mexico’s Toltec Culture, Chinese, and Ancient Greek styles.

Do not expect anything like this on the Canada Line

Written by Stephen Rees

April 9, 2008 at 4:07 pm

Posted in transit

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14 Responses

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  1. “Do not expect anything like this on the Canada Line”

    It is a shame that neither the private sector nor the public governments care about making our public places and infrastructure beautiful, and instead are concerned only about extracting profit for the most minimal service levels possible.

    I think this underscores a deeper problem in our society that suggests even larger problems.


    April 9, 2008 at 4:33 pm

  2. This is a real question which needs answering –

    Art, and to make public spaces look “beautiful” costs money.

    People pay $15 each time they get out of YVR, and a lot of that money goes into “beautification”, such as the galleries of first nations art, the pool that you walk through when you arrive from an international/US flight, and an aquarium. A lot of people griped that their airport improvement fees aren’t solely going into improving flight operations (e.g. runways, terminals), they’re going into peripheral activities (such as this and marketing).

    So with the Canada Line, would you be willing to pay an extra surcharge (e.g. 5 cents per translink trip or $2 on a monthly pass) for “skytrain beautification”?

    Or if you do not want the users to pay for it, who do you want paying for beautification?


    April 9, 2008 at 6:45 pm

  3. If we’re not trying to make a beautiful place on earth, then what are we doing? Slogging to work every day? For what? The creation of beauty, whether it is in the places we inhabit, or in the people that surround us, should be our primary goal for the short time we have.

    Otherwise, why bother?

    (And to answer your question, yes I am willing to pay more for it.)


    April 9, 2008 at 7:09 pm

  4. I would happily pay 5¢ per trip for pleasant, attractive infrastructure.

    The car culture has been constructed largely on the basis of associations with lifestyle: independence, freedom, sexiness, wealth, power, dominance, and so on. The commitment to cars is emotional, not rational. Transit needs to overcome entrenched negative perceptions. It is seen by many as noisy, crowded, uncomfortable. It is linked to poverty, violence, and criminality. People don’t take the bus because they don’t want to be seen taking the bus. The difference in perception between cars and transit is largely a class distinction.

    This is why Stephen is absolutely right that in order to appeal broadly, transit must compete on quality, not price. That includes good design, public art, and so on. Given the tremendous subsidies supporting the dominance of the automobile, spending a bit of money to beautify transit (which is economically much more efficient) is not at all unreasonable.

    (The class distinction is not necessary. The bias we have has largely been constructed by generations of policy and marketing. The associations could just as easily go the other way. Consider that cars are dirty, noisy, dangerous, and self-centered, while transit is efficient, safe, cosmopolitan and good for the environment.)


    April 9, 2008 at 7:39 pm

  5. About one third of the cost of French light rail projects goes to street art, sculptures and parks along the route. Pleasant transit systems attract ridership. The example of the rather pleasant and airy Paris metro station, found in a recent blog, is again indicative of good design.

    Of course, all new LRT systems operate on lawned rights-of-ways and even the DB is experimenting with lawned rights of ways for the mainline!

    In Kuala Lumpor and Bangkok, long vine type plants hang from the viaduct, a flower box affair, in an attempt to beautify rather ugly cement elevated track-ways.

    There are a lot of examples of pleasant transit lines if one only looks.

    Malcolm J.

    April 9, 2008 at 8:40 pm

  6. As far as I am aware, the fares were not increased by anything ion order to pay for project illustrated.

    Art has been used in metro systems all over the world. Only here do we seem to be determined to make transit as grim as we can – the first generation of Expo Line stations were cheap – and that was seen as a mistake, later rectified in later stations. The Milliennium LIne was stupid – but all the stations had some art works and all were architecturally interesting. The Canada Line is a retrogession in the movement to improve the travel environment.

    And I think buses covered in adverts are a disgrace

    Stephen Rees

    April 9, 2008 at 8:48 pm

  7. The Millennium Line has public art – though I think some of it has sucumbed to budget restraint at te time. I recall plans for an nteractive art installation at Commercial Station were passengers footsteps would be broadcast on an overhead screen – it didn’t materialize. Other stations have stained glass (@ Sperling), rooftop lanterns (@ Holdom, although they may hav succumbed to NIMBY complaints of light pollution), a spinning bike wheel (@ Sapperton), bamboo like sticks with lights on top (@ Gilmore), a winding hanging sculpture (@ Lougheed).

    A typical problem with art installations is upkeep. The classic example is Toronto’s Yorkdale subway station – the arched roof originally had multicoloured neon tubes that lit up in sequence as trains entered or exited the station – it looked great in operation. It then fell into disrepair and the TTC could not afford to maintain it. Frustrated, the artist himself paid to have the work removed from the station.

    Locally, the plaza marking the Central Valley Greenway / Expo Line Greenway trail near Clark & Grandview Highway North is typicallly littered with debris.

    As for Museum Station, there is / was a lot of controversy about that renovation – mostly because it is a “half-assed” job. The ceiling looks unfinished (a finished slat ceiling was removed to expose conduit and painted concrete). The mezzanine has not been renovated, just the platform level. The station still does not have elevator access despite the renovations. Tiled walls at the north and south ends of the platforms were just painted over. This is a renovation to one of the stations on the TTC subway that had relatively low passenger volumes, so it was in very good condition. Practically, there was no reason to upgrade it – other than asthetics – and even that hasn’t turned out well.

    Here’s the Urban Toronto thread on the subject:

    Ron C.

    April 9, 2008 at 9:00 pm

  8. WRT Canada Line, the following appears in the Development Permit Board minutes for the Vancouver City Centre Station:

    “Regarding public art, Mr. McCarthy stated that InTransitBC is developing an art program and will release the details at a future date.”

    Seems fairly low key. Probably sculptures and pieces to fill the high ceilings in the stations (out of reach of vandals).

    Ron C.

    April 9, 2008 at 9:29 pm

  9. Controversy is to be expected about art – look at the fuss over the upside down church – or the cut out dogs at No # Road on the dyke. And we are all entitled to our opinions. The Star this morning notes it as “a makeover done right”

    Stephen Rees

    April 10, 2008 at 8:30 am

  10. The City of Vancouver has a policy to devote 1% of its budgets for major civic projects toward public art. If there was a similar criterion for the Canada Line, we’d have $20 million in art expenditures. That kinda dough would be very effective.

    Some of the best public art in Vancouver is built right in to the design. Unfortunately, the 1930s concrete Deco lions on the Lions Gate Bridge abutments, and the boat prows + city shield + abutment lanterns on the Burrard Bridge are installed on car infrastructure.

    On the other hand, the Marine Building (Hastings x Burrard) is an outstanding piece of Art Deco architecture — I think it’s the best in Western canada — and is rife with artistic Deco era references to the West Coast. Though it was financed and built privately, the ornate facade treatment is a “public” resource, as are all structures that garner recognition as heritage assets. Several movies are shot at the Burrard entry every year.

    The architecture of the Millennium Line stations is one of its best features. The mode / technology and original ridership projections are all debateable, but the station design and locations are fine in my opinion. It has stimulated perhaps $500 million in development so far in Burnaby and therein can be termed transit-oriented development. It won’t be long before it generates the equivalent or exceeds the construction and financing value equivalent in private development. If only the condos could receive equal attention to design ….

    You can’t legislate taste, but you can certainly build in “architectural excellence” into the terms of reference that goes out to the consultants. It’s obvious that’s what the difference is between the Expo Line and Millennium Line. Public art is not as clear cut. I personally think art should be evocative and stimulate discussion, but it should also strive to be inherent in the site design rather than just plopped, and attempt to be timeless.


    April 10, 2008 at 9:24 am

  11. Visit VCC-Clark on a rainy day — it has a unique water feature that only operates when it rains (in other words, most days 🙂 )

    The Millennium line stations are certainly airy, but they seem to have more of a pigeon problem than the older stations… Almost every square inch of roosting space at Brentwood is now sporting spikes, yet the pigeons are still there… Translink seems to have given up on the recorded Jungle Bird sounds; didn’t fool the pigeons (though it did fool me at first.)


    April 10, 2008 at 12:31 pm

  12. Interesting.
    Personally, I think that the original Expo Line stations serve their function well and have not “dated” too much. They are modular so that replacement parts can be easily and cheaply installed. Scott Rd Station (an expansion station built after the original modular designs) is probably the low point in Skytrain Station “design”.
    If you go beyond the austere and add too much art you get into YVR territory where people begin to question whether an agnecy is spending in areas beyond its mandate.

    Ron C.

    April 11, 2008 at 12:00 pm

  13. Hi Stephen,

    You are a very profilic writer and sometimes your insights simply stump me and I’m at a loss for words to contribute anything witty/smart/insightful… although this time you’ve opened the door for me to say something about two cities that I’ve lived in and that I absolutely love. Both cities (however different they are) have art in many of their metro stations: Mexico City and Paris.

    Paris’ decision to include art in their stations is quite obvious, Mexico’s doesn’t seem to me that obvious. But as a matter of fact, in the La Raza station, you can walk through a science exhibit (the large things in life, like stars and so on, and the microscopic things, like viruses and bacteria – beautiful photographs). In the Zocalo station, you can see a replica of the Aztec and Spanish early era downtown cores (1500, 1800, 1900).

    I am glad your post allowed me to comment on something that doesn’t seem always visible. Mexico City has WAY many more museums than Vancouver does, and many more public displays of art. And I think people (even Mexicans) tend to forget that.


    April 14, 2008 at 9:37 am

  14. Such hugely necessary things like transit stations can, if a little effort was extended, be more than utilitarian places. It’s obvious the public art of the Paris and Mexico City metros — and other areas of each city too — are invigorating, educational and intelligent and add much interest to daily routines. Trouble is, such things are often portrayed as luxuries by critics who hate spending tax revenue.


    April 15, 2008 at 1:02 pm

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