Even before the pandemic, Vancouver’s Downtown Association wanted to make Main Street’s portal into lower downtown a little more cosmopolitan, welcoming and wow!
After the pandemic locked down much of life, improving the loneliest block on Main by adding colorful street murals, custom bike racks and a people-friendly “parklet” seemed even more prescient.
“It was planned before COVID but now it’ll be even more uplifting,” said Michael Walker, executive director of Vancouver’s Downtown Association. “It’s a symbol of Vancouver resiliency.”
A parklet is a sidewalk extension that subtracts a little of the space usually reserved for traffic and parking, and gives it back to people.
“It’ll be a great way to enjoy a sunny day,” said Michael Lary, co-owner of The Source Climbing Center, who got busy on a recent Friday afternoon helping volunteers install shiny oval planters in a new zone of cool blue on the asphalt in front of his business at 12th and Main. Lary said he plans to repurpose some plyo boxes normally used for workouts as daytime stools. He figures that parents picking up kids and grown-ups cooling off after climbing sessions will love lounging in this little island that’s been reclaimed from the street.
“Anything to help activate our space,” Lary said.
The new parklet anchors a network of vibrant crosswalk murals. Walker said there’s more than meets the eye in the wavy, liquid design by husband-and-wife artists Colin and Mia Behr of Beaverton, Ore., who go by the name Gombehr LLC: It’s meant to make this historically dangerous spot slower and safer.
That’s based on psychological color theory, Walker said. The new parklet for lounging people is blue because blue promotes feelings of relaxation and safety. The adjacent red crosswalks, by contrast, send the same signal as red traffic lights or stop signs — slow down and be alert.
The force of law is at work here as well as the force of art, Walker said. The intersection of 12th and Main is now a four-way stop.
Lary said he’s always been slightly jealous of the busier, friendlier scene farther to the south on Main. Here on the 1100 block, the east side of the street is dominated by the gray, nondescript wall of the Main Place parking garage. The garage’s west-facing pillars and south-facing walls will also come to colorful life, Walker said.
There’s still more to the project: Vancouver School of Arts and Academics students Caitlin Mitchell, Lily Engblom-Stryker, Sophia Le and Destiny Robello have designed artistic bicycle racks — 21 bike parking spaces in all — that will get installed at several spots along Main, including atop a new street mural at Eighth Street. The laser-cut metal racks will feature local nature imagery including a heron, Columbia River fish and a post-eruption Mount St. Helens.
Put all that together and you’ve got “an immersive experience at the gateway to lower downtown,” Walker said. “It’s going to look like a place people want to visit.”
The project was paid for by two $10,000 grants from Vancouver’s Culture, Art and Heritage Program, which were matched by VDA for a total cost of $40,000, Walker said.