Museum of Vancouver Director of Curatorial and Engagement, Gregory Dreicer joins Adam and Matt to discuss the exhibition “Your Future Home: Creating the New Vancouver.”
For more information about the exhibition, head to MOV’s site: http://www.museumofvancouver.ca/
And these guys.
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Tell us about yourself and your role. We understand you’re new to the city?
Yes, I’ve been here for about a year and a half, and I’m the Director of Curatorial. My mission is to engage Vancouverites in thinking about their city. The museum is an enabler or platform to help people do that.
You’re from New York – do you see connections between there and Vancouver?
Absolutely. Like here, conversations there start with real estate: [people say] how they can’t afford to live there and need to move out. With the amount of change happening in both cities, there are many parallels.
You said “with everyone already talking about Vancouver’s sky-high housing prices, we want to shift the conversation from real estate to the state of the city”, with the exhibit Your Future Home: Creating the New Vancouver. What do you mean by this and can you speak to the larger goals of the exhibit?
Everyone talks about real estate and there’s often a focus on developers. What people are anxious about is much larger than who’s building what, the development community, how tall things are, etc.; it’s really about what people want in their own city. Development is part of that, but the whole city is privately developed so there’s nothing new about developers building and changing things. We’re hoping to encourage people to think about Vancouver itself. What Vancouver means to them – everyone has their own idea of this. Also, to learn about the city; there’s all kinds of myths and beliefs about the city, so we’re trying to get people on the same baseline to learn and be surprised. There are also two dozen future scenarios: experts like architects and designers were asked to create challenges or solutions to things happening in the city. We present eight Vancouver stories: small histories of turning points in the history of the planning of the city.
What are some of the key challenges facing our city that are explored in the exhibit? Can you speak about the visions of the future, and are there connecting tissues?
- Housing affordability: this is the centre point, what people are talking about all the time and are maybe hearing too much about.
- Public space
These are all closely connected: all two dozen future scenarios are organized around these four overlapping themes. Some of the contributors are challenging; for instance, there’s a model of a 2500-foot tall skyscraper. This will never happen here, but it helps people think about density and sustainability – which are closely linked – and what they want. For instance, a taller building gives a better view. Some people say you can’t build taller than X stories in some neighborhoods. It’s unclear how or why they arrive at that number.
This might be against mission of the museum, but is there a larger goal of pro-density or just having people think about the issues facing the city?
The museum isn’t pro or anti-density. We are pro getting people to think and learn about it. In a way, the biggest issue or question facing Vancouver is density: downtown is already dense and will just get denser. Most land area of Vancouver is low-rise residential and industrial, so the question is what’s going to happen everywhere outside of downtown?
So, you’re trying to engage the public in those four arenas?
It sounds like you’re saying now is an opportune time to have this discussion?
Yes. The level of anxiety/fear/concern is high – with three house demolitions per day, people are focused on what’s happening in my neighbourhood, my city? This is why we wanted to do the exhibition now. We’re focused on engaging people to think about these issues with our project partner, the Urbanarium. There will be a number of programs and a series of debates on different issues, and a variety of programs including special tours led by experts, not just of the exhibition but also out in the streets. We’re hoping to bring in various community groups to talk and meet each other, focusing on specific issues. There is cultural programming; [for instance,] Vancouver is being “sanitized” – is the heart being taken out of Vancouver and why? There are a variety of ways to bring in people who usually don’t participate. There are always passionate, loud voices which is great, but do those people represent the whole community? We’re trying to get more people involved.
How has this exhibit been received?
It just started a couple weeks ago, so it’s early to say.
When I was here it was really busy.
Yes, lots of people are coming and we hope lots more. Through social media we’re getting lots of response and we may tailor activities and events to what people are interested in. The exhibition is open to May 15, and beyond that we’ll keep focusing on Vancouver. We’ll keep going.
So, there may be more to come in terms of housing and real estate and areas of progress of the city?
Absolutely. Visit www.museumofvancouver.ca to see Vancouver. We’re interested in hearing ideas so if people think of things we should be doing, they should get in touch and let me know.
In an exhibit like this, my impression with the 20 different visions is it’s a complicated exhibit and Vancouver is a complicated city, but does the exhibit have a point of view?
It encourages people more to learn and rediscover their city, to think about how they might get involved. Everyone is busy and to think of how we might be involved on top of what we do every day might be overwhelming, but just learning and voting is getting involved. If even a small percentage becomes involved, that’s great. There is no specific view of where Vancouver should go, but we want to engage people to meet and talk about it.
I noticed there are different artists and creative thinkers thinking about the future, hoping to get their audience to challenge the status quo and think about the city in different ways. But then there are other aspects of the exhibit with a historical bent – for instance, the creation of Mole Hill in the 1990s. Is a goal of the museum to point to Vancouver’s past as a potential way forward?
Yes, absolutely. Stories – for example, how Granville island came to be, why and how the freeway was stopped here – they dramatically changed the city. These are stories about people – activists, designers, planners – trying to speak out and make things happen. This is a critical part of the exhibition. Another issue is that any city is very complicated and who’s making decisions about why things are the way they are is not obvious, for many reasons. Hearing these stories lets people in on that. It’s very complex.
What’s your personal favorite part of the exhibition?
One of them is the story of the freeway: the local communities of Strathcona and Chinatown came together and had an impact. This changed the city in a way that today everyone is delighted about. They’re shocked to see what could have happened. It’s a really powerful story.
Taking you back to New York, it’s like the Robert Moses of Vancouver.
Yes, there is a similar story where local New Yorkers stopped Robert Moses. In New York, there was lots of freeway and highway building; this totally changed the face of the city. Some highways were demolished like the viaducts here will be, for instance, the West Side Highway was demolished. The thing about city planning is once you build infrastructure, it stays for a long time.