Robson Square is getting closer to being permanently pedestrian only

Robson Square Car Free

For the past several months,  the 800 block of Robson Street has been a car-free zone. The city designated “Robson Square” to be purely for pedestrians. I for one have spent many hours on the south stairs of  the Vancouver Art Gallery reading my book/people watching in the sun. Now Mayor Gregor and the city are seeking public input on keeping this area car-free.

In a recent email, sent out to people who signed a petition to keep the space car-free, some of the plans for the future of the area are outlined. There is also information on open house meetings and other means to get your opinion heard.

Read the letter below:

Dear Friend of Robson Square,

Last summer you signed the Vancouver Public Space Network’s petition calling for the expansion of Robson Square in downtown Vancouver. We’re writing today to let you know that your signature made a difference!

Thanks to our collective effort, Mayor Gregor Robertson and the City of Vancouver have recently announced a plan to consult with the public on turning the 800-block of Robson Street (at the south end of the Vancouver Art Gallery) into a pedestrian-only space. They are also looking at the possibility of potential improvements to the north-lawn of the Art Gallery (known variously as Courthouse Square, Centennial Plaza or North Plaza).

This is an important moment for public space in Vancouver – and it wouldn’t have happened without your help.

Now the real work begins! We need to make sure that the positive momentum that was created with the petition is sustained for the next few months.

The City will be consulting on the future of Robson Square and the Art Gallery plaza between now and the end of the year. During this time, your support for this cause will be critical in ensuring that the expansion of Robson Square goes ahead.

This is not an appeal for any money. Rather, we’re writing because we want to encourage you to be part of this important consultation process. Here’s how you can help:

(1) Attend one of the City’s public events on “Block 51” (the City is referring to the consultation process by the title “Block 51” – which is the survey name for the block bounded by Robson, Hornby, Georgia & Howe where both Robson Square and the Art Gallery are located. Details on these events can be found below.

The City of Vancouver is hosting two events next week (Monday, October 15 and Wednesday, October 17) that focus on the past and future of these important sites. Both events are free, but you need to register to attend.

(2) Sign up for our “Robson” List-serv. We’ve set up a dedicated list-serv to help share news and information on this consultation process as it unfolds. Please join this list so we can keep you up-to-date on developments. We promise not to spam you! (List-serv URL –

(3) Follow the discussion on Twitter. The City has set up the following hashtag: #block51.

(4) Complete the City’s survey. In the next week or so, the City will be releasing a survey on Robson and north plaza sites. We’ll let you know when it’s available and how you can complete it.

(5) Write a letter. Good old fashioned letter-writing is still one of the most-effective ways to make change. Please consider taking a few moments to write an email to share your take on this issue. If you support the closure of the 800-block to vehicles, the expansion of Robson Square, or improvements to the north-end of the Art Gallery… please consider saying as much. Let the decision-makers know why this issue is important to you.

Send your thoughts and ideas to:

* Mayor Gregor Robertson and Council – at MayorAndCouncil [at] vancouver [dot] ca
* Penny Ballem, City Manager – penny.ballem [at] vancouver [dot] ca
* Peter Judd, City Engineer – peter.judd [at] vancouver [dot] ca

(6) Help to spread the word. Raising awareness about the opportunity to enhance Robson Square is important. Please forward this email on to your friends, family and networks. The more people that are involved, the better the process, and the stronger the outcome!

(7) Find out more. Check out the following online sources of Robson information:

– City of Vancouver “Block 51” webpage –
– Vancouver Public Space Network blog –


15 October 2012 – A Look Back
Vancouver Art Gallery, 7:00-10:00 p.m.
750 Hornby Street

The 1973 National Film Board film “Chairs for Lovers” and a panel with members of the original team for Robson Square will set the context of how this block came to be.

:: Register – A Look Back –

17 October 2012 – A Look Forward
Vancouver Art Gallery, 7:00-10:00 p.m.
750 Hornby Street
Short and inspirational presentations will look at how this block has been used over the last few years and draw on inspiration from other cities.

:: Register – A look forward –

Both events will include an illustrated brainstorming exercise that will collect ideas on what type of future uses are desired in each site.


Thanks again for signing the VPSN petition on expanding Robson Square. We’re grateful for your help on this issue. The city is a better place for it!

Vancouver Public Space Network

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  • jen

    My office overlooks Robson Square.  For the past 2 weeks while the block remains closed off there has been absolutely nothing going on down there.  Nothing.  While buses and cars continue to be detoured around the block it remains empty. What a massive waste.

  • Jason

    Jen, I think you’re being pessimistic and are expecting it to be constantly flourishing already.   The only thing it’s wasting is space for…cars?  Time in discussion on how to utilize it?  If this is a forever locked down area I bet you will see it being utilized more, at the very least when it’s sunny and musicians want to set up shop.  There were dozens and dozens of people enjoying those white lofty seats where I parked myself on a sunny afternoon to enjoy a talented musician.    

  • Billy Bob

    what great benefit is there to making it pedestrian only? Seems people and cars can co-exist there, instead of making traffic even more congested in surrounding blocks. The pedestrian underpass already connects both sides. Unless the city is considering some grandiose plan whereby the area is completely transformed into an actual desitnation, I only see weak city planning here.

  • Bob

    I like the closing off of that space. When I go there for lunch there are always tons of people hanging out and eating. It’s the perfect location for a “public square”.

  • jen

    In summer sure, definitely not in the cold, rainy fall and winter months. Meanwhile the elderly have to walk blocks further to catch a bus and traffic becomes more and more congested.  Closing it off in these months is pointless and short sighted.

  • elliot

    I live in downtown, by the library, and its a huge pain.  It adds so much more time to drive or cab to the other end of Robson.  There’s plenty of space to hang out on the steps by the VAG or below street level by UBC. 

  • TJ

    Hi Jen. You are correct. The idea is crazy. The detour the Robson bus has to take is extremely inconvenient for the large elderly community that live in the West End and rely on the #5. The only time the space is at all occupied is lunch time on a sunny day. I wish the city would stop trying to make people congregate together. The downtown is too small to start closing streets as we already have to put up with the ridiculous bike lanes. The reason for the amount of road rage is the unnecessary congestion. I would like to see them use the Georgia street Art Gallery space, where the fountain is, as a public square. Pave the entire space and clean it up.

  • West End Resident

    With a little creativity, I’m sure we can figure out ways to make a hard-surfaced public gathering area work in the winter time.  It’s probably a better all-season type of public space than a soggy winter-time park.  (In seriousness, there are lots of cities that are wetter and colder than Vancouver that have figured out ways have public squares be a success year-round).

    As for the bus – no question that the re-routing is causing some challenges.  But that shouldn’t actually be that hard to fix, should it?