Rain Friendly Principles

Umbrellas in alley

Over the past year, the VPSN held a number of events around Vancouver. We used these events to ask people about their ideas and aspirations for rain-friendly public spaces, the sorts of things they’d like to see, and activities they’d like to do. We received several hundred suggestions over the course of these events, from which we developed a series of draft principles for rain-friendly public space.

We then took these draft principles out and tested them with the public. Based on the additional feedback we received, we refined the draft principles to come up with the present list.

Click on each principle to see additional objectives and ideas associated with each.

Principle #1 Rain-friendly public spaces enable protection from the elements

The design of rain-friendly spaces should include features that protect users from different types of inclement weather and enable a measure of comfort and safety during a downpour.

Key Considerations:

  • Shelter and screening - to provide effective overhead covering (and in particular going beyond the usual 1 metre canopy that is required on building edges). Different spaces – such as sidewalks and paths, seating areas, or gathering areas – will require different types of shelter. Continuity of coverage is important along key streets and paths, as are larger covering areas at key gathering places
  • Heating - to allow people to warm up during cold weather
  • Dryness - covered spaces need to ensure that direct and indirect contact with the rain is minimized. Driplines should not complicate the problem. A dry “roof” only goes so far if walls, edges, or ground remain wet
  • Lighting – natural or artificial illumination to ensure good visibility (natural surveillance) in covered areas
  • Interior spaces - Community centres, libraries, neighbourhood houses and other community spaces need to be equitably distributed throughout the city
  • Ground-level protection - can provide additional protection against flooding, splashing (from motor vehicles), and also offer some protection from an increase in rain-related traffic noise
  • Adaptability – rain-friendly features should have the potential to respond to other types of weather conditions such as high winds, extreme heat and sun, snow, sleet or hail. Spaces should be useable in the summer months as well
  • Maintenance – rain-friendly features should be facilitate easy cleaning and repair
  • Studies show the chance of an injury in rainy weather being two to three times greater than during dry weather. Rain-friendly public spaces work to enhance safety and accessibility for people of all ages and abilities.

    Key Considerations:

  • Visibility reduced sightlines during periods of rain, combined with increased glare and/or darkness, can impact reaction time. Road users such as pedestrians and cyclists are particularly vulnerable in these conditions
  • Slipperiness – Wet sidewalks, pathways, and spaces can increase the likelihood of slipping – especially when combined with leaf residue and other residue. Wet roads can increase the amount of distance required to make a safe stop and/or generate skid conditions
  • Materials – used in public space design can inadvertently become smooth, slick, or spongey – further increasing safety challenges
  • Pooling water - Large puddles on pathways, street corners, or crosswalks can change movement patterns for pedestrians and cyclists – preventing them from, e.g., crossing the road safely
  • Mobility devices -- such as walkers, wheelchairs and scooters, can be more difficult to use in wet-weather, creating accessibility issues for users
  • Sense of Personal Safety – can change during dark wet weather. Rain-friendly spaces should encourage natural surveillance and ‘eyes on the street’
  • Principle #3 Rain-friendly public spaces… support health well-being when it’s harder to go outside

    Rainy weather can create a barrier to physical activity. In addition, the cold, darker months can also impact mental health. Rain-friendly public spaces support integrated health and well-being by ensuring opportunities for exercise and social interaction.

    Key Considerations:

  • Physical Exercise – Ensure a wide array of no and low cost recreational (and active living) opportunities are available during the wet weather
  • Cold/wet Weather – rain, especially in winter time, can have an adverse effect on health, exacerbating existing health conditions and increasing the likelihood of ailments. These challenges disproportionately affects homeless, street-involved individuals and others who spend a greater proportion of their time outdoors
  • Mental health – Program and design spaces to respond to or accommodate particular mental health challenges (depression, seasonal affect disorder, increased loneliness)
  • Food – Growing, sharing, and preparing food in public spaces can support personal health while providing good opportunities for community gathering
  • Social Determinants of Health – Social circumstances – including gender, income, employment status, and support networks etc. – can affect health and well-being, exacerbating challenges posed by rain
  • Principle #4 Rain-friendly public spaces… foster social inclusion, connection, and community-building

    Good public space is accessible to, and engaging for, people of all ages, genders, ethnicities, abilities and life circumstances. Rain-friendly public space takes this up a notch, recognizing the additional challenges that come during cold and wet-weather.

    Key Considerations:

  • Reconciliation – Rain-friendly spaces offer a chance to celebrate the traditions and present day practices of local Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations. As new rain-friendly spaces are created, they provide an opportunity to respond to the adverse effects of colonialism and to forge a new relationship between all residents
  • Equity – Ensure that rain-friendly public spaces respond to the different needs of the city’s population; recognize that the desirability, usability or safety of a public space will vary depending on your background, culture, identity and life circumstances. Employ an intersectional lens when designing or programming a rain-friendly space in order to ensure different perspectives are included in the design, programming and stewardship of the space
  • Placemaking as process – provides a way to bring different segments (of a neighbourhood or city) together to share, collaborate, and create welcoming public spaces
  • Socially just spaces – ensure that new public spaces (and public space management) don’t displace existing residents, penalize vulnerable populations, (in particular street-involved individuals), or inadvertently support neighbourhood gentrification
  • Interior public spaces – such as libraries and community centres support goals of rain-friendliness by providing community-building programming and services during the rainy season
  • Principle #5 Rain-friendly public spaces provide a multisensory response to grey, overcast and wet weather

    Good design was act as a counterpoint to the darker aspects of the rainy season, adding brightness and other sensory measures to enliven public spaces.

    Key Considerations:

  • Beauty and Delight – while subjective, can be guiding principle that can be used to shape the way that public spaces – and adjacent buildings – respond to the rain
  • Colour - Encourage use of (brighter) colour in building exteriors public realm features and landscaping treatments. Discourage grey and neutral colours in areas that see a lot of rain
  • Light - Use light strategically to brighten public spaces; also, capitalize off of the increased reflectivity provided by rain
  • Transparency - of materials will help to capture available natural light and enhance spaces
  • Acoustics - Make use of the sound of rain (acoustics), or the opportunity for rain to generate other types of soundscaping); at the same time recognize the potential increase in noise – especially traffic noise – during rainy periods and consider ways to mitigate this
  • Olfactory – Celebrate the the smell (petrichor) of fresh rain; explore ways to enhance the smellscape of areas through features like sensory gardens
  • Texture – Different types of public spaces feel better in the rain – literally. (Consider a hardscaped plaza surface vs a soggy park field, or a sandy beach vs a puddle)
  • Principle #6 Rain-friendly public spaces… support a range of weather-appropriate activities and programming for residents and visitors

    Effective programming and stewardship supports public life during the rainy months by providing ways to help people make the best of things!

    Key Considerations:

  • Mindset and opportunity - There are everyday activities that, with a nudge, can be done in spite of the rain, and then there are activities that actively embrace the realities of rain. Both can change the culture, stigma, and language of rain (e.g. rainy weather is exciting, not miserable)
  • A Sense of Play - can help to inject fun into unpleasant weather. Many of us are grown up now, but who says you can’t splash in a puddle? Are there ways to make a game out of rainy days?
  • Celebration – means looking for the positive in the situation. Our rainfall makes the city as green as it is, it is an emblem of our warmer winters, and it comes from a natural cycle that is tied to the landscape we love
  • Diverse Traditions and Practices – Programming should meet the needs of people from a variety of backgrounds and draw upon diverse traditions
  • The Price of Admission – Providing low and no-cost programming is a way to ensure that programming is accessible to people of all economic circumstances, and fosters (rather than challenges) social inclusion
  • Principle #7 Rain-friendly public spaces… Catalyze culture and creativity

    Rain can provide a cloud-burst of inspiration for art, story-telling, cultural production and performance. Rain-friendly spaces provide precipitation as a starting point for creative expression.

    Key Considerations:

  • Rain as icon and inspiration – How can rain be a greater part of our iconography?
  • Rain as mood – Rain can serve as part of the city’s character evoking everything from coziness, to darkness, to romance
  • Rain as raw material Falling water or captured rainwater can activate sculptures, provide pools for reflection, and provide new opportunities for interactive art
  • Rain as rhythm The acoustics of rain change the city’s sound-scape. Harnessed appropriately, this could create a new melody for Vancouver’s winter months
  • Culture is therapy – consider the role of art and beauty as a way to mitigate some of the challenges that come with the dark and wet weather.
  • Principle #8 Rain-friendly public spaces support the local economy

    As the local economy expands, and as the sharing economy grows, Vancouver’s role as a rainy-city can serve as a driver of cooperativism, entrepreneurialism, and exchange.

    Key Considerations:

  • The sharing economy – provides a template for new approaches to every day rain-related products and services
  • Rain entrepreneurialism – can capitalize off of Vancouver’s reputation as a rainy city. The umbrella can be part of the city’s brand!
  • Vibrant Shopping Streets and Markets - More public life during the rainy months means more opportunities for local businesses to connect with people
  • Rain-related Jobs – Additional rain-related activities, programming, and design will have the potential to unlock a ‘rain economy’ and ‘rain-friendly jobs.’ At the same time, rain has the potential to create barriers for subsistence activities and vulnerable forms of employment
  • Principle #9 Rain-friendly public spaces inspire Learning, Innovation, and Adaptation

    Vancouver can lead the way with public spaces that support public life in the rainy months. Part of this will come from encouraging a culture of testing new ideas. Another part will come from learning from the many ideas that are used by other cultures, or have been tried in the past.

    Key Considerations:

  • Learning from different cultures and history – where responses to rainy-weather have been evolving for hundreds and thousands of years
  • New technologies – are evolving to support rain-friendly design, including sustainable landscaping design, weather-proofing, cultural production, power generation
  • Temporary designs and features - allow for prototyping and testing and also enable weather-appropriate responses
  • Metrics – developing new ways to measure public life and public space activities during the rainy months can help to determine the effectiveness of different rain-friendly strategies
  • Principle #10 Rain-friendly public spaces… are sustainable, resilient, and regenerative

    Rain is an integral part of the local hydrologic (water) cycle. Public spaces can help support the environment by restoring natural systems, reducing storm-water runoff, harvesting rain for various uses. This will be especially important, as Vancouver will experience more extreme weather events in the future.

    Key Considerations:

  • Rain as a Resource - 1 mm of rain falling on 1 square metre of surface area yields one litre of water. Rain-friendly public spaces can capture and reuse this abundant resource Sponginess and permeability - landscaping can support better groundwater filtration, reducing sewer system loads and drainage issues. Permeable pavement, porous hard-surfaces, and rain-friendly construction materials ensure rain water ends up in the ground not the sewer system
  • Landscape, Habitat and Biodiversity - The natural topography of Vancouver once featured a greater variety of ecosystems including rain forests, bogs, streams, and marshes. Although much of this has been paved, landscaped, or otherwise erased, it is possible to reintroduce these features
  • Green Infrastructure – such as green roofs, grey water systems, reservoirs and other means to respond the impact of heavy rains can be deployed in public spaces
  • Shocks and Stressors - The city is vulnerable to seismic activity, and other events; decentralized water systems fed by rainwater can be used in times of shocks and stressors
  • Energy – rainfall and rainwater can serve as source of kinetic energy, supporting other forms of renewable energy systems
  • Protected from the rain