From January to September 2007, I fulfilled a lifelong dream and took a trip around the world with my wife Sally. During my travels, I wrote a bi-weekly column in the Vancouver Sun Westcoast Homes, sharing observations and ideas that I thought might have application to Vancouver.
The first story, written from Fiji, appeared on January 13. It promoted the ideas of more family sized apartment suites, with amenities catering to children; better security provisions in our homes; and why developers think building lobbies are so important.
After a couple of stories from New Zealand, with which I was very impressed, I visited Australia. I was very taken with Sydney’s sustainable Olympic village, and the apartments and other developments along the Gold Coast. (SFU City Article)
I was also very impressed with Singapore. (Vancouver Sun Article) After this story appeared, I received a number of comments from readers, one of whom suggested that he always thought that Singapore was ‘the largest hotel lobby in the world’! Ironically, my story was reprinted by the Singapore Straight Times, the largest English language paper in the country.
This time, I didn’t receive any criticism, although a number of blogs questioned my assessment of the country’s cleanliness.
During my travels, I became very interested in why some places seem more harmonious than others. It had a lot to do with common materials and colours. I wrote about this and one of the most interesting countries on my journey that defied this approach - Albania in a column that was reprinted in the Victoria Times. (Times Colonist Article)
I was pleased to discover after I got home that my story appeared on the website of the city of Tirana, the capital of Albania (Municitapalidy of Tirana Article) It is definitely worth checking out some of the wonderful painted buildings around the city. I also believe that some of the lessons from Albania could be applied to improving Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
Because I was always on the move, and using a variety of forms of transportation, I became very interested in alternative ways of getting around. I wrote two stories on the topic, which offer many lessons for Vancouver;
(Vancouver Sun Article; "Bus, rail travel around the world is a mixed bag"),
(Vancouver Sun Article;"Taxis: Options to the one size fits all")
We really need to dramatically overhaul Vancouver’s taxi system.
As an architect, I have always been interested in public art and how it can beautify our cities. During my travels, I was struck by how much attention other cities give to the creation of public art and delightful public spaces. I wrote about this story after visiting Eastern Europe and Russia. (WestCoast Homes Article)
In Amsterdam, I was impressed by the extensive use of bicycles as a mode of transportation, and wrote a column suggesting that if Vancouver could make its bicycle pathways safer, more people would ride bikes, and may not have to wear helmets. (westCoast Homes Article)
I was overwhelmed by the response to this story. I have subsequently taken a bicycle riding course offered by the Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition in order to feel a bit safer in traffic. But we do need to do much more if we are going to get more people moving around on bikes. For one thing, we need more bicycle parking.
My final story was about two very different cities in Brazil, Brasilia, the modernistic capital built 60 years ago, and Curitiba, the most sustainable city in South America.(WestCoast Homes Article; "Brazil's two futuristic cities exemplify ...")
At the end of the trip, I wrote two final stories which summarized my observations;
(Vancouver Sun Aricle; "We can learn a lot from how others choose to live")
(Vancouver Sun Article; "Taking a global view of cityscapes"
Since my return, I have given a number of talks about my observations, based on the newspaper articles. One of the presentations ‘Michael Geller’s Planet is available as a PowerPoint presentation elsewhere on this site. The following are a couple of stories that reported on my talks. It is my hope that some of the better ideas from around the world can be promoted by others and implemented in our region.
Charlie Smith, editor of the Georgia Straight wrote a very succinct summary at (Georgia Straight Article; "Michael Geller's foreign lessons")
I wish I had Mr. Smith’s ability to say so much, with so few words.
Michael Klassen of the Vancouver City Planning Commission also documented some of my ideas.
("Michael Geller back home with a message")
Stephen Rees, an excellent and prolific blogger, generously wrote a very good summary, with pictures! This can be found at (Stephen Rees's blog) You can find many good transportation and urban planning ideas on this blog.
As I wrote in my articles, I believe Vancouver is great, but it’s not perfect. However we can learn from other places.