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More new lighting on Robson – but this time from below, at 545 Robson.

These glass sidewalks are a contemporary reference to ‘vault lights’ that used to illuminate the areaways underneath – a tradition that goes back to the founding of the city.

Vanalogue tells the story in “Sidewalk prisms of Vancouver,” referencing a a ‘Heritage Vancouver’ newsletter from 1999:

Justine Murdy explains that since Vancouver’s incorporation in 1886, property owners in the downtown area ( i.e. The CBD, Gastown, Chinatown) were charged “taxes for sidewalks that aligned their lots, even though using the space above the sidewalk wasn’t permitted”.

Some property owners took advantage of this and decided to use the spaces below the sidewalks to expand their basement space. Murdy explains that “by paying a minimal encroachment fee to the City, basements could be extended into the area under the sidewalk” past the building wall up to the street wall.

By the time areaways came into use in Vancouver, many other cities in North America and the UK were already using glass prisms to safely illuminate these spaces. The idea of lighting otherwise dark and dank areas with “pure, healthful, white light from wall to wall” was very appealing in the Victorian and Edwardian eras.

Eventually the City made them illegal and over time required the areaways to be filled in.  Safety argument, no doubt.

But when Woodward’s was being redeveloped, Jim Green made the case, with support from the heritage community, to allow for their replacement. (At least I think that’s the story.  Maybe John Atkin or others can correct or provide more detail.)

In any event, it’s nice to see this contemporary interpretation: green light in a grey city.