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The Future of Granville Island: Keeping Urban Authenticity

February 11, 2014

A story in the Urban Land Institute’s journal, UrbanLand by Martin Zimmerman:

Keeping an Urban Authenticity Alive: Vancouver’s Granville Island

In the early 1970s, Ron Basford, a Canadian Cabinet minister and loyal Vancouverite, seized on the idea of converting Granville Island—a modestly sized pancake barely a half mile (0.8 km) south of the emerging downtown—into a special place. …

Granville was never intended to be a theme park or to mirror the festival marketplace brand. Nor was it intended to conform to a master plan. Change has been incremental, but deliberate. The island’s founding principles for redevelopment, design guidelines, desire for a broad diversity of activities, governance, and financing have all been based on the premise that place making take precedence over profit. …

top-down-aerial-entire-island1-282x300But concerns about the island’s future are growing. The most immediate issue is marketing the Emily Carr University property; the university announced last year it would move to nearby Great Northern Way, having outgrown the island site.

Some observers believe that the federal agency managing Granville Island, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), has lowered the standards of design oversight in recent years and that CMHC may not be taking adequate precautions to exclude undesirable commercial tenants, such as a souvenir clothing shop and a psychic studio.  Trust chair Dale McClanaghan wants the Granville Island Trust to reassert its original role governing vision and policy within the context of an improved financial framework to develop as-yet-unused tenant space.

Hotson and McClanaghan agree that Granville Island may be at a turning point in its evolution. Though the island is listed among 60 of the World’s Great Places by the Project for Public Spaces, issues of the island’s vulnerability continue to surface. The challenge now is whether a long-discussed return of local leadership to the Granville Island Trust can help reinvigorate the island without sacrificing allegiance to its founding principles.

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Should Granville Island stay under CHMC management – or go local?  But under whose leadership: The City, the Port, an independent body?  Chosen by whom?

Who will be the Ron Basford of our time?

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