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Be square, Vancouver

If you're part of the 52 per cent of British Columbians who didn't bother to vote last week, there is still a chance to redeem yourself.

The Vancouver Public Space Network wants you to vote on the future of the city of Vancouver -- or at least, on your favourite design for a new public square.

According to Andrew Pask, director of the network, Vancouver "has some real gems, really amazing public spaces ... but we don't at the moment have a fantastic central gathering place."

For Pask, a good public square is a multi-functional place, where you could have a protest one day, a farmer's market the next, and a concert the day after.

The "Where's the Square?" competition was launched last fall, and the design criteria were in part based on a public discussion held in November.

"We've had lots and lots of people ask us 'how come Vancouver doesn't have a square?' over the years," said Pask. "We thought maybe it would be fun to turn the question around, and ask people where it should go."

The competition received complete designs from 54 entrants. Two winners will be chosen, one by a jury of experts, and one by the public.

And that's where you come in. Online voting for the People's Choice Award closes Friday, May 22 at midnight. Images and descriptions of the 13 designs on the short list are available on the website.

Many of the short-listed designs have common elements.

Two of the designs celebrate Vancouver's most noted physical characteristic -- rain. Of course, if you're not so fond of precipitation, other designs include a roof over the main plaza.

Four proposals would update Robson Square. Three others would place the public square in the area around Waterfront Station.

The designs could have been "located anywhere you wanted so long as you could make a case for it," said Pask. Other proposals suggest taking over a downtown parking lot or the section of Main Street between 6th and 12th avenues.

All the entrants were required to include a large open plaza suitable for festivals or other gatherings of up to 5000 people.

The competition is about ideas, and at this point there's no plan to implement any of the designs.

Nonetheless, Pask said his organization has received positive feedback from city planners, and he hopes the competition will be a means to advocate for better public spaces.

With the designs in hand, the network will be able to approach politicians and say "Look, here's some ideas about how the city might look," explained Pask.

Winning designs will be announced on May 27 during a public event at Heritage Hall on Main Street.

Amelia Bellamy-Royds reports for The Tyee.

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