Making People Places: Glasgow

This post has some observations from a short trip to Glasgow in late September 2018. The feature image shows a view from the Glasgow Necropolis on a surprisingly sunny day in the city.

Find other Making People Places posts about Montreal, Bristol, and the Millennium Bridge / St Paul’s Corridor in London.

Blessed with some sun for our day in Glasgow we walked around the centre of the city to see some highlights and I couldn’t help but notice some interesting public space elements along the way.

Busy pedestrian Buchanan Street in Glasgow on a sunny Sunday

On Sauchiehall Street near Buchanan: an old bright red police box, giant planters as vehicle barricades, a variety of bollards, trees, and lots of interesting paving patterns.

Bollards and paving treatment on a pedestrianized portion of Sauchiehall near Buchanan Street

Sauchiehall Street near the Glasgow School of Art is being transformed to include wider sidewalks and separated bike lanes and trees – hurrah! I did not manage any good photos and it isn’t much to look at when we visited in late September 2018 as construction is still ongoing. This is work was begun before and now delayed by the tragic fire at the Glasgow School of Art.

BT digital advertising kiosk on Sauchiehall Street

A development about which I am harbouring some scepticism is the installation of BT InLinkUK digital advertising panels. I spotted one going in on Sauchiehall and another in operation on (I think it was) Trongate Street.

Having done some research on these digital kiosks for work, I am well aware that they are likely going to become a lot more common and ride in on a weird wave I can only clunkily describe as ‘hyper-connected surveillance capitalism but hey we’re giving you free wifi’. Although these units come at no cost to taxpayers (they are installed and maintained and run entirely from ad revenue) and claim to bridge the ‘digital divide’ by which some folks (wealthier, higher class) have ready access to the Internet and others (poorer, lower class, street-involved) do not, I’m just not convinced that this development is as good as it first seems under late stage capitalism. I’m waiting to be proven wrong. BUT I DIGRESS.

BT InLinkUK digital advertising kiosks will replace 2,000 public telephones around the UK.

The Glasgow Necropolis which, like many Scottish cemeteries functions quite a lot like a park and busy albeit quiet public space, is a sight to behold. On this beautiful mostly-sunny day that still managed to retain a good measure of Scottish moody greyness, it was stunning. It’s an amazing point from which to view much of the centre of the city (as you can see in the header photo of this post.)

Glasgow Necropolis

Also for work-related reasons I’ve taken an interest in wayfinding map stands and public toilets and in Glasgow near the Cameron Memorial Fountain there was an opportunity to see both in one photo! Sadly, though, this underground public toilet is, like most of them, a relic of the past.

Disused underground public toilet and map stand at at Sauchiehall Street & Woodside Crescent



Making People Places: Bristol

This post contains some of my observations of public spaces in Bristol on a trip there in July 2018. The feature image shows a view from the canal edge to the pedestrian bridge that leads to Millennium Square with colourful balloons and flags (for Pride!) on sale at a cart in the foreground.

Find other Making People Places posts about Montreal, Glasgow, and the Millennium Bridge / St Paul’s corridor in London.

Bristol Canal

This is the place to be on a warm sunny weekend, and on a warm sunny weekday for that matter. (I wonder how this space works on a cool and drizzly day?)

Café patios spill out of historic buildings onto the cobbled streets that line the canal, and everyone and their dog is hanging out by the side of the canal, many legs dangling off the edge towards the water.

Spotted another heavy duty outdoor ping pong table by the canal provided by Ping! – “on a mission to bring ping pong to the people”. I wonder where one can borrow paddles and a ball from?

Millennium Square

Millennium Square feels like it has been recently redeveloped. It is bordered to the east by a newly renovated (or purpose-built?) building filled with hip restaurants with patios, to the south by an above-ground structure that leads to an underground car park, to the west by a casino, and to the north by the Bristol science centre, compellingly named ‘we the curious’.

Our trip to Bristol coincided with Pride, the ‘official’ version of which in Bristol consists of a parade followed by a kind of private event / outdoor party with live performances held in a large fenced-off section of Millennium Square.

Unfortunately, I didn’t take any photos of the space during Pride as we mostly gazed around wide-eyed while we passed through. Needless to say it was busy with people lining up to get into the event, plenty more milling about outside, and still others drinking on nearby patios.

(Rather than pay the fee to go into the performance area, we went to Castle Park where lots of folks were having a more relaxed and free celebration on the grass in the shade. The number of young people walking around in big queer gaggles wearing 6-colour rainbow pride flags as well as bi and trans and asexual pride flags just made my heart swell. I digress.)

I did catch Millennium Square after the Pride celebrations were over and the fenced-off event was gone, on a quiet Sunday evening with the weekend coming to a close.


Bristol Shopping Quarter

When I see high streets like Broadmead in Bristol’s central ‘shopping quarter’, I immediately wonder how we can bring this to Vancouver (e.g. Robson Street.) Here, two broad pedestrian streets with tons of shoppers milling about, tables and chairs, benches, and trees cross and converge at a circular plaza. Bollards and bike racks at the entrance to the street tell us: this space is not for cars, and here’s a place to put your bike so you can stroll down the street on foot.

Places to sit and rest and people watch, spots to grab some shade, and some interesting art make this is a lovely space that is about more than simply shopping.

The Bearpit

Not only is this a handy landmark for walking and bus rides around Bristol, but also an interesting public space. Sunk in the centre of a large traffic circle with stair and ramp access at a few points around the edges, the Bearpit is a unique plaza-like space. I observed people walking or cycling through*, skateboarding, folks who were likely street involved or homeless sitting under the trees at one side to keep cool, and a handful of businesses on the south side all closed and boarded up. It feels like a space that could be well-loved by all but isn’t.

*The Bearpit is where Jake’s Bikes is located, where I rented a bike for my cycle along the Bristol Bath Railway Path.

There is a group of vendors that ran businesses on the south side of the Bearpit until early in 2018 when they abandoned the site due to safety issues. They have put forward a £3.5 million plan to redevelop the site and rename it ‘The Circle‘, envisioning a food hub and community space.

As much as I can read and learn more about the background of the site, I know I can’t access the personal feelings I would have and community knowledge I would gain if this space were in my neighbourhood, but it is not difficult to get a sense that there is tension here.

From a jurisdictional standpoint, the Bearpit is part of three different city wards and it is not a park but is public highway. Although I am not sure of all of the implications of this in a Bristol context, no doubt it means that there are a lot of different stakeholders here. Significant stakeholders include the Bearpit vendors, who are concerned about people using drugs in the space and want to see greater police enforcement.

They also want to “[m]ake the space politically-neutral, and remove political slogans from the Cube“. Meanwhile, the Peoples Republic of Stokes Croft note the importance of the Cube for political expression: “Where public space is continually eroded, the relative freedom of the Bearpit, which is hard-won, offers hope.” (The PRSC offer a brief visual history of the kind of messaging the Cube has displayed.) I tend to side with the PRSC here: public space serves a crucial political function and I’m sceptical that removing political murals from the Cube is the answer here. (Not to mention that there can be no such thing as a ‘politically neutral’ space; space *is* political and removing political slogans from the Cube is a political act in itself.)

Public toilet-related aside: The Bearpit vendors also want washrooms provided for staff, but I say why limit that to only staff?! When will we agree that washrooms access is a right and public washrooms essential to healthy public spaces?

Making People Places: St Paul’s Cathedral to Millennium Bridge

The beautiful ‘promenade’ from St Paul’s Cathedral in London to the Millennium pedestrian bridge over the Thames benefits from urban trees, shallow steps and ramps, and dark pavers.

View towards the Millennium Bridge along Peter’s Hill, London

Making People Places: Montreal

This post contains some of my observations of public spaces in Montréal on a trip there in June 2018. The feature image shows a shipping container converted into small free library near Atwater Market, a project of Dare-Dare. (I saw lots of repurposing of shipping containters – and I mean, why not use the available resources? This is a port city after all!)

Quick-construction wooden Parklets seem to be a dime a dozen in a Montréal summer. Some of these look like they are year-round spaces (like the pink Parklet in the upper left photo below) and many are summer-time only. Accompanying regulatory signage indicates that these two parking spaces are reserved for Parklets from April 1 to December 1. Temporary loss of parking is just the price of great outdoor patios that enliven a street for the summer months.


This tiered Parklet structure designed for the slope of the road up Mont Royal appears to be a summertime installation as well, although the sun cover could just as well be a cover from the rain in a wet Vancouver winter. It has a mix of moveable and fixed seating as well as swing seats hanging from the scaffolding (see lower centre photo below – neat!), in-built planter boxes, an adjacent shipping-container-cum-café (bottom left photo below), and steps and ramps for access. (I think the small grey attachments on the stairs and at the top of the ramp are solar lights?) A posted wooden events calendar for June shows a whole bunch of scheduled end-of-week and weekend activities and performances. When we were there, there was a musician playing cello (top photo below).

The whole thing has the air of being thrown together quite quickly – the goal is a functional, quickly installed space, rather than something that’s meant to endure through the seasons. I’m curious what happens to the lumber when winter comes.

I spotted specialty paving treatments like tiles and pavers (not just asphalt and concrete) in public plazas across Montréal.

Off of the fantastic fully separate bike lane that runs what seems like the entire length of Rue Rachel, north of Parc La Fontaine, I spotted these permanent ping pong tables. Would have loved to catch them during the day to see how popular they are.


A couple other pieces of street furniture I liked were these pre-fabricated wood-topped concrete benches with skate-stops (which function well as both blockade and sitting opportunity) and these add-on wheelchair ramps at the Saint-Laurent street festival for folks to get on to and off of the sidewalk.

The ramps are made by AXCS, who envision a Montreal without steps, and what to raise awareness among citizens, urban planners, and business owners to making space more physically accessible.

London: Camden, Regent’s Park, Seven Dials, & Trafalgar Square

We are staying in a tiny studio flat on the third floor of a row house and it has a gabled roof, so it is very lucky that we are both short humans. Although there is no view, it’s fantastic to have the skylights that let in tons of natural light.


Our rental flat near Willesden Green tube

Camden Coffee House has good coffee, light food, good wifi and a relaxed environment for working, plus a delightful secret back garden.

Lovely back garden at Camden Coffee House

It is hot right now in London (around 28 degrees) and sunny. The canal near Camden is full of a strange green water plant bloom, which is capturing plastic bottles that folks have chucked in.

Camden canal in bloom

Walking near Primrose Hill, it’s clear that the trend in sustainable transportation for young school aged children is the scooter.

Packed parking lot at local primary school

Seeking out some better shade, we headed for Regent’s Park. Maria was very interested in checking out the waterfowl at the Boating Pond, so off we went. We spotted swans, many ducks, and a heron! We ended up in the Rose Garden for a lie down in the grass.

I loved this rose variety named “Colorific”

A little more work time at Harris + Hoole in Fitzrovia.

H+H had a delicious summer berry soda and plugs for some much-needed tech-charging.

I was thrilled to discover Attendant, an old underground washroom (like the last remaining in Vancouver) converted into a coffee bar. Unfortunately it was closed when we walked by, but I had to capture the ornate wrought iron grate.

Although I love a creative reuse of space, I wish there were more (accessible, attended) public washrooms in public space.

We headed to Seven Dials, to the Homeslice Pizza in Neal’s Yard for a GIANT thin-crust pizza. I’m not sure if this is a truly public space, or a privately-owned publicly-accessible space, but it is a fantastic spot of people watching.

The roundabout at the centre of Seven Dials is also a wonderful space.

A couple enjoying a beer from a nearby pub at the centre of Seven Dials

Not too many cars passing through the centre of Seven Dials, and a pub on the corner has patrons standing outside standing or leaning at ledges along the pub windows, just enjoying their beers on the sidewalk. What a great after-work thing, to have a pint outside in the beautiful evening air instead of holed up inside a dark pub, and at the same time bring a little more life to the street. We’ve seen quite a lot of that this evening.

We walk through Leicester Square, and then Trafalgar Square, where Maria enjoys the giant lions at the base of Nelson’s Column.

This is the quintessential “Maria Does London” photograph

The crosswalk at Trafalgar Square has special green ‘walk’ lights for Pride – can you see them?

Trafalgar Square at sunset with a Pride-themed female-female symbol crossing light. (The crossing light on the other side had a male-male symbol. I didn’t see any trans walk light symbols, although that would have been great.)

A Tube ride back to our flat. Fantastic light this evening and a warm breeze.

Sunset in Brent