Skip to content

Cactus Club at English Bay: Conflict by design?

March 3, 2012

Let me say right away that I think the new Cactus Club at English Bay, opening this weekend, is pretty darn good. Architects Acton Ostry have taken a sensitive, difficult site, respected the slope to the north, views to the east, bathhouse to the south, seawall to the west, and inserted a colourful building of attractive proportions.

Though it does block the view down Denman Street (click thumbnail to enlarge), the trade-off was probably worth it: the restaurant will add vitality to the beach, offer a range of food options and add some dollars to the Park Board’s coffers.

If it wasn’t already branded, I’d call it “Three Trees.”



But what happens on the street side, where the sidewalk, bike path and restaurant entrance all had to be accommodated:



Here’s the problem with good design: it’s way too subtle for the various users to understand immediately and intuitively what to watch out for.   In these tight spaces, signage or even bollards aren’t sufficient to warn people with their own intent and destination in view .

Pedestrians wanting to enter the restaurant, particularly those dropped off at the curb, will beeline their way across the bikepath, oblivious to the cyclists until it’s too late, who in turn will assume they have the right-of-way given the seamlessness of the design with the rest of the path. Those coming from the south will have already picked up some speed.  Cyclists wanting to avoid the peds will veer off into the sidewalk, as evident above.

A more dangerous conflict, though, will be when pedestrians come up from the beach, taking the stairs on the south side of the pavillion:


Their view will be blocked by the sign wall and a louvred fence; they’ll be in the bike path before they’re aware of any conflict.


Some bollards need to be installed, curved out into the path in order to both warn the cyclists and to give pedestrians a chance to check out the traffic before proceeding.

On the other hand, this might be a place where the ‘naked street’ concept will work – a congested multi-modal right-of-way that can’t be signed or structured to handle every contigency – and which relies on the common sense of all the users to work.  That’s already happening to a great extent along the path to the north, where the bike path, sidewalk, beach access and food vendors all overlap.

It’s a fascinating case study for public-space afficionados.

17 Comments leave one →
  1. March 3, 2012 8:35 pm

    Not only it does block the view down Denman Street but it completely ruins the Denman perspective on English Bay, and to add insult to injury denied the connection of Denman street with the sea.

    It is outraging that a building has been allowed in such a location…and the intrinsic quality of the building will not prevent it to be nothing more than pure “urban blight”.
    A total departure of what make good urbanism!

    It is absolutely not worth the trade-off and absolutely nothing can excuse such a mistake:

    Denman street needs to be improved-eventually as suggested here (where you take the picture from, should be lined up by patio restaurant…but now? why seat there, since the cactus blocks the view?) not to be cut of what make its specificity (sea to sea street).
    there is lot of option to put a restaurant on English bay, this one is may be not blocking resident view (and make the resident happy), but it block the public view and ruin the public space…

    So for public-space afficionados, it is a fascinating case yes, because it illustrates how to ruin the space in its greatest extend with the least effort?

    That is a drama, and it show that there is something deeply rotten in Vancouver urban planning*.

    The same people will explain you that Georgia viaduct should be demolished to connect Georgia to False creek…Give mee a break ! start right here at Denmann:!

    This building which should have never been allowed, must be demolished and rather sooner than later!

    • Angela permalink
      March 5, 2012 10:54 am

      You do understand that before there was this Cactus Club built here, there was a concession stand that was only bringing in about 50,000$ worth of profit to the parks board per year? The concession stand was in the exact same location as this new LEED certified 100% environmentally friendly and sustainable building. It was an even bigger eyesore and STILL blocked the view of Denman St.

      The Parks board put the land up for auction, because the concession stand was more or less pointless. There were some heavy hitters betting on it and I think that all the residents are fortunate that Cactus won. If they hadn’t, who knows what companies would have built there (Earls, Joeys?), and who knows what kind of unsustainable and harmful things they could have done to it.

      The point and theme of this building is to take something that was pointless, ugly, and sort of useless – and replace it with something that is beautiful, environmentally friendly, and has a lot of meaning.

  2. March 4, 2012 11:32 am

    I also remain unimpressed, though it was unlikely that I was going to be otherwise, so no surprise.

    Putting aside the fact that I think the Cactus Club is an awful restaurant chain, putting almost anything commercial there was a mistake, however successful or unsuccessful the architectural design. There should be no commercial development on the seaside strip of land southwest of Beach/Pacific whatsoever.

    Given M. Price’s perspective on the bike/pedestrian access problems, I’d say it’s a failure, though that may have less to do with architecture than the fact that there really wasn’t the space for a restaurant AND bike and pedestrian access. That strip of sidewalk was a disaster for cyclists before the restaurant was built, it seems inevitable that it would have remained so afterward (I always cycle on the road past there, so often have I had near collisions with pedestrians and other cyclists).

    Perhaps it’s worth remembering that the original bathhouse had a second story that blocked views, though perhaps it wasn’t as visible from along Denman. Regardless, rebuilding there was a very poor civic decision, in my view. However, there it is. Now we have to live with it. I hope this at least provides us with a greater incentive to avoid further development on our park land.

  3. Steven Forth permalink
    March 4, 2012 1:43 pm

    Overall, I agree with Voony and Edward, but in regards to the bike issue, let’s put the bike lane on the street and slow down traffic.

    But we have the restaurant now and I hope it is a success and brings some new vitality to Denman. It would be nice to have more outdoor restaurants, including some that served creative food – not the sort of thing you get with chains.

    Vancouver needs some good studies of its littoral – how much stress is it under, how productive is it, how much biodiversity is there along our shores, how do we integrate the city and the ocean to create a richer urban and biological environment.

  4. March 4, 2012 4:07 pm

    Lameness of Cactus Club getting that spot aside, that stretch has always been brutal for bike/pedestrian crossing. Hordes of gawky tourists, hot dog stands, slave-animals. This reno has made it slightly better lit.

  5. Richard permalink
    March 4, 2012 5:28 pm

    @Steven Forth

    That makes no sense. It is a two way path, how are you going to get cyclists over to a bike lane other side of the street.

    A better option would be to make Beach one lane in each direction and convert two lanes of traffic by the water into a two separated bike path.

  6. March 5, 2012 10:42 pm

    Angela, you are speaking like you are from the marketing department of cactus, aren’t you?

    and yes, I don’t understand what you are talking about:

    people can judge per themselves using Google streetview to see how it was before…
    but may be Guest was wanting to link to this:

    Who can seriously believe that the place has been improved?

    the building of this Cactus club is nothing short of a “crime against urbanity” and demolition of it is the only reasonable option:
    (yes worth to be put in bold!).

    I understand that the land is property of Vancouver park board and is leased on 5 years term to Cactus…so it is certainly possible and a very reasonable option…

    Add to that, that the applicant has seriously misrepresented some view (check the application 1790 beach avenue, and see the suggested rendering from Denman street) and so has deceived the public on the building impact…and you have a rational for a demolition order right now!

    That could also teach a good lesson to those developers providing rendering aimed at deceiving the public…and we have way too much of those unprofessional conduct, as recently demonstrated

    • Angela permalink
      March 6, 2012 1:04 am

      I thank you for thinking that I am well versed and mature enough to be working for a marketing team… I’m actually 19. My roommate works there. He loves the restaurant and i’m just relaying facts that he has told me.

      I understand your precious view has been “obstructed”, but SOMETHING was going to be built there. It was just a matter of which restaurant it was going to be. If it wasn’t Cactus Club then it was going to be something else. If you have a problem it’s not with Cactus Club directly it’s with your OWN city and your OWN parks and rec board for putting the land up for auction.

      This is a great opportunity for the company. Contrary to what you say, the entire city is really excited about the restaurant and it’s popularity is only going to increase.

      • March 8, 2012 6:57 pm

        I appreciate your enthusiasm, Angela, but please remember that the “entire city” does not agree on ANYTHING that I can think of. Just as we are not “all Canucks”, regardless of how many banner are erected that says so, we are not all enthusiastic about having – if one is deemed necessary on that site – yet another restaurant that serves mediocre food and employs slim, busty young women who agree to wear tight shirts and skirts. It’s barely a step up from Hooters. If the Parks Board finds that a good replacement for a hamburger stand, I’ll live with it, but don’t confuse muted acquiescence with approval.

      • March 8, 2012 8:57 pm

        Of course it’s the Parks Board that is ultimately responsible for this atrocity, but that doesn’t mean that CCC isn’t complicit. Good grief, this is the West End, my neighbours have more than enough anger for public and private on every other project, and nobody’s going to suggest they should only be mad at the city because that’s ridiculous.

        “This is a great opportunity for the company.”
        Of course it is. The seawall (and associated ribbon of green) exists because of decades of effort to keep private uses on the other side of the park line – no kidding that an over-rated, over-priced, over-franchised chain is going to love an invitation to slip over.

        “the entire city is really excited about the restaurant”
        Really? We need another CCC like we need another Starbucks. Perhaps for the next act we can plop a Moxie’s at the end of Davie and a Joey’s on top of the laughing statues.

        For more than a year they obstructed one of the best parts of the bike path, and now they didn’t even put it back properly. I look forward to dazed bobos wandering aimlessly across it for years to come.

        Or maybe I’m just bitter because the only vegetarian item on the menu can be found in the frozen section of Safeway. Get off my lawn!

  7. Graeme Jones permalink
    March 12, 2012 11:46 am

    The issue here is poor planning. It has to do with the lack of long-term vision for the water abutting public space in the city. I have asked the city about this before and they have always responded that this is in the plans. I disagree. What they include is more paths and connections and nothing about design and “experience”. With the “resi-density” of the downtown increasing. There are continual missed opportunities for long-term improvements in capacity and quality.

    The wind storm closed the Stanely Park sections. With the tons of donated money many good changes were made. However, they missed an opportunity to widen the dangerous choke-points.

    With this Cactus club, instead of seeing this part of an area improvement for entire Denman-Davie Triangle, the project is being done as a site specific treatment. I feel those who approved this at the parks board have never tried to bicycle or walk the area on a sunny day in the summer.

    The situation there will get worse. Issues with transitioning from beach level to street and across are in a bigger mess as indicated in the original post than before. I am not too worried about who the tenant is, but I do believe this is another lost opportunity.

  8. Athea permalink
    April 30, 2012 12:31 pm

    How much did it cost to build?
    I love it!!!

    • In Fear permalink
      July 25, 2012 11:52 am

      It might be inviting criminal behaviour – the other night it was littered in drug dealers looking thugs and young girls in almost sensly skimpy clothing walking out of there and then they hang around English Bay. You could openly see in the distance then there was a kid behind the Cactus Club who was being assulted for some time by a group of guys – finally some people came to help him.

      Used to be quiet place for a first date as a teenager etc now it’s a dangerous area – I wouldn’t want my daughter behind a structure like this place, with the darkness, groups of thugish young men walking around in shiny cars, drug-thug looking types with provactive night club looking young girls and smell of canibis & worse of drugs openly scented in every corner in the air. There was a couple like you would normally see on a nice night pushing their kids in a baby cart and heard them say that it never used to invite this kind of crowd – just when that cactus club came in.

      People are scared.


  1. Best on the Net: Sears closure, Bill C-10 and Cactus Club | City Caucus
  2. Perspective on the English bay Bistro « Voony's Blog
  3. Cactus Club bike path: More conflict by design « Price Tags

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 7,413 other followers

%d bloggers like this: