Picnurbia: Vancouver’s Latest Pop-Up Park Transforms Robson Street

Grab a blanket and your picnic basket and head to Robson street.

Credit: Krista Jahnke

Picnurbia: the urban picnic experience comes to downtown Vancouver


On Robson Street, between Robson Square and the Vancouver Art Gallery, something big, yellow and furry has popped up and it’s not our favourite Sesame Street character: it’s Picnurbia!


Picnurbia is a 12-foot-wide, 96-foot-long island covered in vibrant mustard-coloured faux grass, shaped like a wave and shaded by dozens of large white beach umbrellas. And when the sun comes out, the urban space is covered in Vancouverites sunbathing, socialising and even napping right in the heart of the city.


The fun, kooky structure is Vancouver’s latest pop-up park. The project is part of the city’s Viva Vancouver program, which aims to create more pedestrian-friendly spaces in the city where people can sit, undisturbed by vehicles, and enjoy the fresh air.


Other Viva Vancouver projects include: the pedestrian weekends on Granville, Surprise Mobile Digital Projections throughout the city, and a Modular Deck on Mount Pleasant. So far, Picnurbia, which will remain on Robson until September 5th, is garnering the most attention.


Loose Affiliates transforming Vancouver’s urban spaces and creating a more interactive city

Picnurbia, Loose Affiliate’s first project, has been a huge success. (Image: Krista Jahnke)


Picnurbia is the brainchild of Loose Affiliates, a collective of like-minded Vancouver designers and architects.


“Loose Affiliates basically formed as a group of friends working in architecture who are interested in the city and urban spaces,” explains Phillip Dittus, one of the Picnurbia designers. “This is our first building. There are other concepts, but this is the first to be realized.”


The other ideas he’s talking about are just as unique: neon-lit nighttime picnic blankets and fluorescent-coloured logs that line Vancouver’s beaches. “These are still just ideas though, nothing is concrete yet,” Dittus explains.


When I ask Dittus how Picnurbia came to be, he tells me it was a competition put on by the city. “We just handed in our idea. It was open to everybody to submit.” Originally, the idea they put forward was a croquet landscape, but over time the project evolved into something far more open to interpretation.


Stop at Picnurbia for a few minutes between shopping or park your bike and have an extended visit. (Image: Lydia Millett)


“The idea for the wave came because it was originally planned as a playfield for croquet. We were looking for a surface that allowed for playing, but we also wanted to give people a place to sit and lay on, and it’s pretty good because it offers all these options,” says Dittus.


The only thing that remained the same throughout the whole process was the extremely loud colour. “We liked the colour, we wanted to make it an artificial landscape—make it as artificial looking as possible.”


The project is incredibly important to Loose Affiliates, not just for its visual appeal, but because of the social interactions it stimulates.


“Normally in urban spaces it’s more anonymous, where nobody talks to each other. But on that wave, people are more open to socialize. It’s a good thing to see,” says Dittus.


An artificial inner-city landscape for the people of Vancouver

Robson Street: the new perfect spot for a quick afternoon nap? (Image: Lydia Millett)


When I went to check it out—curious to see what the plastic orange grass actually felt like to touch—I found families sitting on the orange grass surrounded by their shopping bags, taking a break from the bustle of Robson street; friends laying back on the bright coloured grass, chatting and listening to the nearby street performers; children twirling sun umbrellas and others simply reading or napping.

Dittus says, “I think Vancouver has a different quality of urban space, lots of parks but not necessarily a lot of urban spaces. I mean there’s Robson Square, but it wasn’t working because there’s a street running through.”


Those enjoying the inner-city park all seemed to agree that it’s a great addition to Robson Street.


“It’s cool, I like it. It’s like having a beach right in the city,” said Kim Sun, and her friend Ben Fang agreed. “I can definitely understand why the city of Vancouver would want to do it.”


Katie Kingston and Sarah Vanturnhou relaxing on Robson Street. (Image: Lydia Millett)


Katie Kingston and Sara Vanturnhout say they thought Picnurbia was awesome and that it gave people a reason to stop and enjoy the sunshine while in the city.


“I would never come downtown and sit down here usually. It’s way better than sitting on the concrete steps,” said Sara.


When asked what the overall response has been so far, Dittus says, “It’s been pretty good. We’ve heard everything. It’s quite provocative, or the colour is not everybody’s thing. Maybe people are wondering what the wave is all about, but most people are really enjoying it and appreciate that it enhances the space.”