Rain on me: A Vancouverite’s Survival Guide for Rain Days

I’ve always been drawn to the sun. Like a housecat, I’ll seek out a sunbeam and bask in it all day. So needless to say that the dark and damp Vancouver winters are not usually my favourite time of the year. We don’t even get the soft fluffy white snow and all the accompanying fun soft fluffy white snow activities that the rest of the country looks forward to in the winter.

But, with the Covid-19 health guidelines in place, and few options for indoor activities, this was the year to get outside and brave the elements. And I have to say, I’ve never appreciated the wet winter weather more.

Feelings of freedom and pure joy overtook me as I welcomed the raindrops splashing on my face. I felt like a little kid again as I ignored all the usual nagging worries of frizzy hair. I accepted the rain and to my surprise, it was delightful.

Even in a non-pandemic situation, it’s important for us to get outside and enjoy nature in any kind of weather. Here are some tips and ideas on how to embrace your inner pluviophile and enjoy the rain this year!

 

10 ideas for activities that will get you and your community looking forward to the next rainy day

 

“Anyone who says sunshine brings happiness has never danced in the rain.” – Author Unknown

Here are 10 ideas for activities that will get you and your community looking forward to the next rainy day. You could do most of these with your bubble or as a distanced gathering when public health guidelines allow.

 

Photo credit: Camilla Topola

 

  1. Invasive pulls. Pulling out invasives in the rain is much easier as the soil turns into soft mud. It’s a ton of fun and gives you a sense of accomplishment while also helping out our native biodiversity, consider volunteering with groups such as SPES, the Lower Mainland Green Team, or Wildcoast Ecological.
  2. Adopt a storm drain. Many municipalities run these programs. When it rains, leaves, debris, and litter can block catch basins and stop rainwater from properly draining. By adopting a catch basin you’ll help to protect water quality, reduce the risk of flooding, and keep the sidewalks dry while having fun. They’ll even send over materials, a training guide, and safety equipment.
  3. Nature boat races. Create a little raft using natural materials from around you and float them down a small stream. Make sure you only use biodegradable materials that have already fallen in case your raft accidentally floats into a storm drain. We encourage you to read this resource on honourable harvesting before collecting your materials.
  4. Get your cliche on. Go dancing in the rain! Find a safe open space and borrow some waterproof speakers and twirl away. You can even use your umbrella as a prop – just make sure everyone is spaced out far enough so that nobody gets an unwanted poke in the eye. Make a Dancing in the Rain playlist or try this one on Spotify.
  5. Raingear fashion show. Single Line Theatre has been hosting an Umbrella Fashion Show for the last three years at Jim Deva Plaza. Participants get an umbrella and $50 to spend on supplies. A community jury then scores and chooses a winner.
  6. Mudpies and structures. When’s the last time you got really muddy? Mud is a textural wonder and better yet, scientists have found that microbes in the soil such as Mycobacterium vaccae, mirror the effect on neurons that drugs like Prozac provide. The bacterium is found in soil and may stimulate serotonin production, which makes you relaxed and happier! While you can always play with mud with some water and soil, take advantage of the rain to help wash you off after you’re all done.
  7. Make art! There are many ways to use rain for art. Take some paper outside and see what patterns the raindrops leave on your canvas. Rain also transforms watercolours and chalk. You can also try shining some flashlights at a wall, the shadows from the raindrops can look beautiful.
  8. Make some noise. Grab pots of varying sizes and place them out in the rain to see what sounds the raindrops make. Try different kinds of materials to see if you can come up with the next #1 hit. If you’re feeling ambitious, consider making your own version of one of the winning entries in the Life Between Umbrellas competition to create wind chimes.
  9. Nature walks and hikes. Take a moment to tune in with all your senses. What do you hear, what do you smell? The same trails you walk on sunny days may transform on a rainy day. The forest colours might appear more vibrant and raindrops can create interesting ripples in the water. Keep a special eye out for ducks and slugs that may be hiding in the bushes when the sun is out. As a plus, the tree canopy should also help to keep you dry while you explore.
  10. Snow blitz. Of course, every once in a while we get a little bit of snow in Vancouver. Esther Moreno, a vibrant and inspirational leader in the Fraserview community never lets a rare Vancouver snow dump go to waste. She texts and calls all her neighbours whenever there’s snow in the forecast and keeps extra layers, sleds, and hot chocolate handy to share when the time is right. Organize a meeting spot in advance and keep an inventory of the winter items that neighbours are willing to share so that everyone can participate.

A step further

 

Despite my newly rediscovered love of the rain, Covid-19 has shone a light on the need for more covered outdoor spaces in public spaces. Vancouver’s winters have always been more dark and damp than the snowy winter wonderlands we see across other parts of the country or Hallmark holiday movies. And yet, there are only six undercover areas across the city’s park system. While preparing to write this blog, I searched up “rainy day activities” multiple times only to get a list of museums and malls in the area. With research showing how important it is to get outside for our mental and physical health in every season, this is a major gap that needs to be addressed.

 

Photo credit: Camilla Topola

 

Stemming from this need for more rain-friendly public spaces, our friends at Vancouver Public Space Network and Viva Vancouver held a design ideas competition in 2019 for an initiative called Life Between Umbrellas. Open to everyone from professionals to creative youth, it generated a wide array of creative ideas for improving Vancouver’s public spaces during the wet weather months. There were so many inspiring ideas submitted! However, rain-friendly infrastructure in our parks and public spaces can be expensive and require maintenance, so a continuous demonstration of community desire for such structures is necessary to get ideas like these off the page and implemented in real life. City planners are always searching for feedback on park plans and new developments. Keep your eye out for open houses in your neighbourhood, surveys, and opportunities to participate in volunteer community councils and neighbourhood plans.

In the meantime though, get out and play in the rain! You might realize that you actually don’t mind getting a little soggy. Maybe you’ll even inspire your neighbours to slip on their gumboots and follow in your splashy steps.

 

Some Last Tips

 

“A rainy day is the perfect time for a walk in the woods” – Rachel Carson

If you are going to be spending your winter splashing around in the rain, here are some tips to help keep you as safe and happy as possible.

  1. Invest in some waterproof rain gear. The Norwegians have a saying, “there is no bad weather, only bad clothing”. If you can afford it, waterproof rain gear in a city with wet weather is a great investment. However, it can be quite expensive. Keep an eye out for anything that says Gortex on it, in the sale rack, thrift stores, and your local Buy Nothing Project Group. These items are often built to last and you can find them at decent prices as people decide to upgrade or outgrow their raingear. In the meantime, an extra pair of dry socks can go a long way. Pair this with under layers of wool and fleece to keep you warm, but stay away from cotton which traps moisture against your skin.
  2. Stay visible. It can be really hard for drivers to see in the rain, especially when it gets dark. To stay safe, make sure you’re wearing bright colours with reflectors and lights in case it gets dark while you’re out.
  3. Stay active. Rainy winters can also be really cold. Make sure you stay warm by coming up with activities that will keep you moving (see examples below).
  4. Seek covered spaces. While we encourage everyone to embrace the rain, it’s always nice to be able to take a little break while you grab a snack or adjust your raingear. Sometimes you can find undercover spaces under bridges, on school grounds, and under thick tree canopies. Sara Bynoe is keeping a running list of undercover spaces in Vancouver. Feel free to add to her handy list if you make any discoveries, or consider making a list for your own neighbourhood!
  5. Reward yourself with some coziness. Come up with something to look forward to when you get home. Maybe a hot bath, some hot chocolate, or plans to read by a fire. 

 

Please note: Not everyone has the means to warm up in a warm home after it rains. Please consider donating your lightly used rain gear or supporting a local organization that provides hot meals and shelter for those who cannot always escape the rain.

Do you have any other tips or ideas for rainy day activities? We’d love to hear from you!

 

Thank you to our generous sponsor

 

 

 

Credit cover picture: Camilla Topola

 

Stanley Park: Should it stay car free? What Vancouver city builders say about the car ban

It’s been over a month since the Vancouver Park Board made the decision to close the Stanley Park roadway and part of Beach Avenue to personal vehicles. The roads through Stanley Park are closed to encourage people to practice physical distancing while walking and cycling through the park in Vancouver.

Cyclists and pedestrians alike have been rejoicing in the newfound sense of calm, spaciousness, and safety throughout Stanley Park.

As the province of BC begins to ease some lockdown restrictions, people are calling to make a similar change in Stanley Park with a move to permanently restrict private vehicles in the park. In 2018 New York City closed the Central Park to vehicular traffic, following 50 years of public advocacy with overwhelmingly positive feedback.

 

However, not everyone supports closing the park to cars… 

 

 

The Cycling Advocate

The strongest advocate behind making the car ban permanent is HUB, a cycling advocacy group that runs Bike to Work and Bike to School Week in the Lower Mainland.

HUB has been working for over 20 years to remove barriers to cycling in Metro Vancouver while cultivating the health, environmental, and economic benefits that active transportation can bring. Through education, actions, and events they have successfully petitioned for better bike infrastructure on roads, transit, bridges, and parks.

They’ve noted that bike traffic has increased by 76% in Stanley Park since the change was implemented- up by an average of 3,000 cyclists per day to over 5,300. The single-day peak was on Mother’s Day when 8,301 people rode through the park.

As HUB’s VP, Jeff Leigh told CityNews1130, “I think it would be a shame if we simply reverted to the way this was two or three months back.” The Van Bikes blogger mentions that there is discussion on what a permanent change could look like, “one idea is to turn one vehicle lane on Stanley Park Drive into a passing lane.” Which would create space to create a protected bicycle lane all the way around the park perimeter.

Limiting park traffic to transit, essential vehicles, and those that work in one of the Park’s commercial establishments would ideally be coupled with increased transit service or a shuttle service.

Sam Reeve of Car-Free Vancouver suggests, “ Transit is more accessible to more people than cars because when you think about it through an economic accessibility standpoint, cars are only accessible to people who have the money for a car.”

 

 

 

The Conservationist

Stanley Park is a natural haven for people and animals alike in otherwise busy downtown Vancouver. Back in 2015, a deer even showed up in the park. Unfortunately, only a few weeks after the initial spotting, the deer was struck by a vehicle and killed. Although this tragic accident was also due to people feeding the young buck, animal fatalities due to vehicles is a common occurrence in many parks, with Stanley Park being no exception. Wildlife uses the roads as they are easy to navigate and the warmth is appealing to reptiles. Furthermore, the decreased noise disturbance brought on by motor vehicles will reduce stress on animals and allow for birds, small mammals, and amphibian populations to flourish.

Dylan Rawlyk from the Stanley Park Ecology Society tells us that one of Stanley Park’s biggest challenges is habitat fragmentation caused by trail networks, roads, and developed areas:

“The roads separate the flow of organisms including plant spores, pollen and seeds, small mammals, amphibians, invertebrates and breeding forest birds. Small, isolated patches of habitat are more vulnerable to disturbance and are often unable to support viable populations.”

Other negative effects of fragmentation include changes in microclimate and species composition, loss of gene flow resulting in inbreeding, increased competition and predation, and degradation of the existing habitat due to edge effects and exotic species invasions.

While banning cars through the perimeter roads of Stanley Park would be beneficial to wildlife, Dylan recognizes that the two major causes of habitat fragmentation in the park are the causeway which connects to the Lion’s Gate Bridge leading to North Vancouver, and the Seawall, both of which would be much larger undertakings to manage.

 

 

The Commissioner

While the idea of a permanent car ban in Stanley Park seems popular on Twitter, at least one Park Board Commissioner is not in favour. John Coupar, representing the NPA, says that the park should be accessible to everyone, including seniors, people with disabilities, and large families that may not be able to ride a bike or walk long distances. Furthermore, as he tells CityNews1130, “the parking in the park actually sustains the park.” The 2,600 parking stalls in Stanley Park generate approximately $4 million in revenue that goes towards maintaining the popular and heavily-used park.

Commissioner Coupar is also concerned about the impact that closing the park to personal vehicles would have on organizations that operate out of the park such as the Vancouver Aquarium, the Teahouse, or the Rowing Club. As Kenneth Chan, a writer at Daily Hive points out in his recent opinion piece, the Park Board has a mutually beneficial relationship with these high-profile restaurants and the Vancouver Aquarium. Stanley Park’s privately-operated restaurants provide about $1 million annually for the Park Board. For some visitors to Stanley Park, the main purpose of their trip is to visit these restaurants. Additionally, the Vancouver Aquarium has an agreement to pay about $300,000 annually in rent, plus an additional amount of its food and beverage services.

Kenneth Chan suggests that “it takes the entire region to support a major attraction like the aquarium, and this is partially accomplished by ensuring road access is maintained for suburban families with young children arriving by private vehicle, students in school buses, and tourists in tour buses.”

While Commissioner Coupar is not in favour of a total closure to personal vehicles in the park, he is open to the idea of car-free days or traffic adjustments for special events which are already implemented for special run events.

 

The Professor of Architecture

“Closing Stanley Park to traffic is a simple idea with immediate benefits. However, ensuring that all park visitors can access its varied attractions will require careful planning,” says Joseph Dahmen, an associate professor at UBC in an opinion piece published earlier this month in the Vancouver Sun.

While it might be hard to imagine asking people to take transit at this time, it won’t be the case forever. Additional electric busses that run to and through the park at regular intervals will address many of the accessibility concerns for older visitors and others for whom walking or cycling isn’t an option.

Dahmen suggests that a more permanent shift to reduce traffic in the park could entail narrowed roadways, decreased paved areas within the park, and increased sidewalk widths. He also recognizes that the causeway linking downtown to the north shore would need to remain but suggests that it should be repaved with environmentally friendly “quiet” pavement. The porous surface of this material reduces tire noise and decreases harmful surface runoff.

Another option to reduce noise levels would be for the Ministry of Transport to “sink” the roadway below the level of the park in the future. This would also provide opportunities for level bridges for both people and wildlife.

“Stanley Park without cars is like an unplowed street after a snowstorm. A new sense of calm pervades this magnificent metropolitan park. With the perimeter roads closed, the sound of birds is everywhere…The park feels whole, no longer carved into pieces by the constant flow of traffic. Why would we ever go back to the way things were?” argues Dahmen.

 

 

 

Park Board staff are collecting data on the number of cyclists on the roadway and pedestrians on the seawall and will be reporting back to the Board about how to promote active transportation around the park. At this point, there’s still no word on when Stanley Park will reopen to vehicle traffic. The Park Board is expected to see rolling changes as the situation progresses over the coming weeks.

Folks on Twitter have also been offering their thoughts. Some people suggest that the focus on greenway expansions should shift to the eastside of Vancouver, where parks are not given the same level of attention compared to the westside’s waterfront parks:

 

 

Thank you to our generous supporters

Stay in the loop about Park People opportunities, programs & events

Subscribe to our newsletter!