The third season, heritage blackberries, afternoon sunshine.
And no, it’s not cookin’ down those heritage blackberries
Instead, it’s a multi-day workshop to move closer to a “… clear and detailed design . . .” for the Greenway. Two open houses will bring the public into contact with the background material (19-page PDF) being used by the 100 volunteer “Arbutus Champions” and project team.
The Champions will work over the weekend, and then — a big public Reveal to see what they came up with.
All held at:
- Point Grey Secondary School, room 109, access from north parking lot, 5350 East Boulevard, Vancouver
Public Open Houses:
- October 28: 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
- October 29: 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.
The Big Reveal:
- October 29: 3 p.m. – 6 p.m.
Come to VanDusen Gardens’ Floral Hall and see three preliminary concept plans for this 21-acre site at 33rd and Heather St in Vancouver. In some ways, this development is likely to be an introduction to the bigger one at Jericho. More thoughts on that HERE.
Saturday, October 28, 2017
11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
VanDusen Garden Floral Hall
5251 Oak St, Vancouver
Thursday, November 2, 2017
5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
VanDusen Garden Floral Hall
5251 Oak St, Vancouver
Big questions: transit orientation (plus support for Cambie & 33rd Canada Line station), affordability.
The plans are based in part on public input from these earlier open house events.
The design material will be posted, apparently, to this site after the first open house finishes.
Don Luxton, the heritage consultant for the Burrard Bridge project, reflects back on how we got here – and how we almost didn’t.
There was no doubt the Burrard Bridge and its intersections were going to change. That had been true since the 1970s when the expectation was that the intersections should function as much as possible like freeway interchanges – as did the Granville Bridge.
At the beginning of the 1990s, the City purchased the ‘Kettle of Fish’ restaurant and some adjacent land at the southeast corner of Pacific and Burrard in order to construct a separate exit ramp that would seamlessly join with Hornby, rather like the Seymour ramp does on the Granville Bridge. An upgrade of the southern intersection maintained as much as possible the freeflow of traffic on curving arterials.
A capital plan passed by voters approved $50 million for reconstruction and seismic upgrade of the bridge – which was by now visibly deteriorating. Pieces of concrete would fall off; rebar was exposed; sidewalks were eroding.
There was sufficient money to serve cyclists by widening the bridge with outriggers if council considered that a priority. In response, the heritage community (being led by people like Don Luxton) sounded the alarm. Such a change to the physical look of the bridge would hopelessly compromise one of the only art deco bridges in North America.
But one of the NPA councillors (yup, me) concerned with both changes in the look of the bridge and unnecessary costs for widening convinced a bare majority of his colleagues to at least try out an experiment: close one of the lanes for cyclists to see if that could work.
It didn’t. The 1996 closure, pushed forward without sufficient planning and notification, was a media gong show. Cell phones were just coming in, and affluent motorists, stuck in traffic, had time to call up the mayor’s office with their harshly stated opinions.
While the one-week experiment was a considered a failure (even though traffic, by the end of the week, had adjusted fairly well), it at least stopped any proposal for widening the bridge until further study has been done. And boy, were there studies – seemingly endless ideas for different configurations and even additional crossings.
However, a study around 2000 of all the False Creek crossings concluded that cycling and pedestrian lanes were needed in both directions on each side of the bridge. In the meantime, costs were escalating: outriggers went from $13 to $60 million in price. But no decision was made – until a new council decided to try another lane-closure experiment:
By the time the Gregor Robertson’s Vision council tried new trial bike lanes in 2009, Price believes a few important things had changed.
The city had created a network of non-separated lanes on side streets, helping to support a growing community of cyclists who now wanted to use the bridge safely.
The engineering and planning departments also had a better understanding of how to integrate bike lanes without completely infuriating drivers.
And the people at City Hall knew that they needed to do a much better job of informing the public about the change.
All through the debate, Luxton and the heritage community were vocal in their insistence on not widening the bridge, reinforcing a change that was already occurring in the engineering department. As Don notes, “Engineers are not monolithic in their thinking; they can be extraordinarily creative, given the mandate and resources.”
Finally they were. The bridge would be have to be seismically upgraded, the deterioration addressed, bike lanes and sidewalks installed on both sides of the right-of-way, traffic capacity maintained, intersections redesigned for safety and separation – and all within in the original footprint of the span.
And of course, the heritage of the bridge enhanced, to bring it back more to the original look. Except for one thing: there was no money to reinstall the decorative pedestrian lights and the posts on which they sat.
What does a city that meaningfully designs for all of its citizens look like? One of the reasons I am such a fan of city libraries and parks spaces is that these are two places where all people-regardless of who they are or their circumstances-are universally welcome to use and access those spaces. You can tell a lot about a city in how those libraries and parks treat the most vulnerable and disenfranchised.
Allison Arieff in the New York Times observes that the absence of seating in public places is an exclusionary tactic. San Francisco quietly removed all the benches in their Civic Centre and United Nation Plazas, meaning that “public seating has been removed from virtually the entire city.” It’s no surprise that a new book is coming out called “The Arsenal of Exclusion and Inclusion,” positing that things like dead-end streets, signs indicating you can’t loiter, and other restrictive signage are actually “weapons” in a kind of fight to control and alter the use of public space. Those “weapons” include “seemingly decorative “anti-homeless” spikes installed on the exterior ledges of buildings, benches with metal armrests set close together to prevent anyone from lying down, even classical music piped through outdoor speakers to deter teenagers from congregating in front of convenience stores.”
And apparently in San Francisco and Hamburg the municipalities are using a paint on buildings and structures called “pee paint”. Urinate on it and the urine splashes back at the person. All of this uncomfortableness directed at one segment of the population is not new~Portland Oregon had an “Ugly Law” from 1881 that was enforced in 1916 for a lady “making a living selling newspapers on the street who was told by authorities that she was “too terrible a sight for the children to see” and given money to get out-of-town. ”
Laws targeting the disabled and people of certain ethnic backgrounds is a sorry part of North American history. But it points to how we view inclusion or the lack of it for all citizens in our cities and places. While “NORCS” (naturally occurring retirement communities) are “accidental” inclusionary events, barriers to inclusion need to be addressed by actively participating in community. Arieff cites street parties, pop-up stores on vacant facades, and cohesively working and getting to know neighbours as vital. And there is good news in San Francisco~walkability and public space guru Jan Gehl is working with the city to get those benches back in Civic Centre Plaza, relying on data collected from the plaza’s users. As Arieff sums up “Inequality is escalating, and these spaces make that reality visible. It doesn’t have to continue this way. Everyone has the potential to act and, in a way, to be the designer of his or her environment. This is a call to action.”
“A civic triumph.”
That’s how Don Luxton, the heritage consultant for the Burrard Bridge project, characterizes the results. And as both a heritage activist and professional consultant on over 30 years of projects, he has earned his perspective.
Don was brought in as part of the team with Associated Engineering, the lead consultants for the bridge project. But he emphasizes that everyone, from city engineers to civic leaders and advisers, were determined to bring back a deteriorating piece of infrastructure to its former glory.
“From day one,” says Don, “we looked at it as a heritage conservation project. Every intervention was assessed against heritage standards and guidelines for engineering works.”
Burrard Bridge wasn’t ‘value engineered’ to death. When resources were needed, money was found – and people have noticed. “Almost unanimously, Vancouverites tell me that it has turned out better than they expected, “says Don. “It feels more civilized, more European. Pedestrians in particular no longer feel shoved to one side of a highway bridge.”
“From an engineering, traffic safety, functionality, heritage, aesthetic and civic perspective, I’d give it an A plus. It has achieved everything and more than we expected.”
This week, we’ll explore the heritage aspects of the Burrard Bridge with Don – and how the project has raised the bar for every subsequent intervention.
From the Daily Durning comes this gem from governing.com and Alan Ehrenhalt that once again reinforces the importance of sidewalks and street life for walkable places. Jane Jacobs based her thesis of creating healthy happy communities on the vital necessity of face to face daily contact with residents on the sidewalk, with every day meetings of neighbours on the sidewalk as reinforcing social cohesion and safety. “Lowly, unpurposeful and random as they may appear,” Jacobs wrote, “sidewalk contacts are the small change from which a city’s wealth of public life may grow.”
Sociologist Mark Granovetter later found the importance of “weak ties” to a community, “informal contacts among casual acquaintances who stop on the street to share news, gossip or simple good wishes. A robust array of weak ties gives city dwellers access to jobs, child care and practical advice, and it enhances their overall sense of well-being.”
So you’d think that this would reinforce the importance of sidewalks as people places, places where news and views can be exchanged with residents. When talking about safe, comfortable and convenient sidewalks and connections, “walkability” can be explored. In Philip Langdon’s new book “Within Walking Distance” Langdon describes the town of Brattleboro Vermont which is full of walkers and has a busy commercial street. The key to this little town’s success is geography- Brattleboro” is an unusually narrow piece of territory nestled between the Connecticut River and a series of steep hills. There was never much room for it to spread out. Something like 90 percent of the residents live within two miles of downtown. The whole town is essentially within walking distance.” Everyone supports the downtown, and even when a Home Depot opened outside of the town it had to close after four years as people refused to change their town centred shopping habits.
Langdon cites layout, ethnicity and culture as other key determinants of walkability. Another prime example of layout and geography is Dunsmuir California named after the son of B.C. Coal Baron Robert Dunsmuir. This town is constrained between a mountain and the railway and the Sacramento River. With smaller commercial lot sizes no large commercial development can locate, and the smaller local business include book and antique shops and restaurants, all full of locals on any weekend.
As Ehrenhalt notes Walkability is a “nature/nurture argument. History and geography matter. The physical character of a neighbourhood is probably the most important factor… But creativity matters as well. So does audacity. Existing regulation and bureaucratic inertia sometimes bend to neighborhood cohesion and determination. Most of the successes in Langdon’s book are testimony to that.”
A fascinating model (if you’re into this kind of thing) to demonstrate the impacts of intersection redesign at Pacific and Burrard. (Thanks to Paul Storer, the Manager of Transportation Design at the City of Vancouver.)
The City aimed to maintain capacity of the bridge – but improve traffic flow to enhance safety while also accommodating other users, notably pedestrians and cyclists, with enhanced and separated rights-of-way.
When you focus your attention on particular movements at this particular time of day (for instance, the northbound traffic in the southeast lanes on the bridge), you can see right away how much less back-up there is. On the other hand, there seems to be more in the southbound lanes on Burrard Street.
Another big difference is on Pacific, west of Burrard. Before the changes there was significant back-up for east-bound traffic wanting to get on to the bridge. During construction, traffic often lined up for several blocks, sometimes to Jervis. In the improved redesign, there’s very little congestion – again, at this time of day.
As real-wold results come in and drivers experience a much-improved traffic flow, it will be most interesting to hear from those who vociferously complained about the rebuild, especially because of that back-up on Pacific. Negative comments were continuous, petitions were started. ‘Take out the bike lanes!’
No doubt those with the loudest voices will acknowledge that perhaps they were mistaken. No doubt.
Port Moody Public Library is hosting a fall Discussion Panel that will be interesting to design, planning, transportation and health professionals: Health, Safety and the Built Environment. Moderated by Gordon Harris, President and CEO of SFU Community Trust, the panel will feature four health and mobility experts:
* Ingrid Tyler – Medical Health Officer, Fraser Health Authority
* Kay Teschke, PhD – Lead, Cycling in Cities Research Program, UBC
* Marie-Soleil Cloutier, PhD – Director, Pedestrian and Urban Space Lab, Institute National de la Recherche Scientifique, Montreal
* Alice Miro – Manager of Health Promotion, Heart and Stroke Foundation
Monday, October 30
Inlet Theatre (100 Newport Drive, Port Moody)
Admission is free – RSVP online here or by calling 604-469-4577.
Councillor George Affleck responded on Facebook to this post asking whether more supply can address afforability. Here’s his comment:
We must start by developing policies and managing the city so developers are encouraged to build homes versus commodities. (And by developer I don’t mean the big guys – let’s spread the net to include co-housing groups, co-op groups, churches, individuals etc.) Several city reports have pointed out that towers are not providing the “units” that will be occupied or affordable. But row houses and town houses could be … (affordable being relative these days).
Yet we have done very little to fast track, encourage, promote, change regulation policies or bylaws to build more of the homes staff keep saying locals want and will live in. Extracting the possibilities City Plan set up 20+ years ago would be a good place to start. (Your take on this would be good, Gordon Price *).
I will say I am impressed with City planning GM Gill Kelly’s thoughtfulness on the subtleties of developing Vancouver. I encourage everyone to read his report from Council yesterday.
Hope that helps…for now.
*From Gord Price:
Two thoughts on CityPlan, conducted in the 1990s over several years when I was on Council:
CityPlan focused on the existing neighbourhoods, primarily single-family, while growth was being concentrated in the megaprojects: comprehensively designed and zoned brownfield sites over 50 acres. Six of them were occurring simultaneously: Concord Pacific, Coal Harbour, Bayshore, Collingwood Village, Arbutus Gardens and Fraser Lands. In addition, we also rezoned Downtown South and Triangle West on the peninsula. Thousands of units could pour into the market every year at the height of development.
Therefore, we could take a slow, incremental approach to growth in the low-density, developed parts of the city since there was plenty of capacity to handle demand elsewhere – notably on parcels requiring little demolition or displacement of existing housing and rental stock, and away from neighbourhood groups which would contest any significant change in scale or character.
CityPlan never really entertained significant new capacity. The neighbourhood visions that resulted were modest, with growth concentrated on arterials and neighbourhood centres – and even some of those were contested, notably in Norquay, when actual zoning was proposed. Today, those visions are often used in defense of the status quo.
If there was a failure, it was the lack of immediate follow-through from the visions to actual changes in the zoning that reflected them. The process was way too slow, and then subsequently displaced by Sam Sullivan’s policy of EcoDensity.
Nor did CityPlan allow for the amount of ‘missing middle’ development that George noted above. If it had, it might have made a difference.
But, even so, we never imagined the consequence of the flows of global capital and external demand for our favoured housing stock that the city and region have experienced in the last few years. I’m not sure anyone could have – or what they would have done about it.
Earlier this year Price Tags Vancouver reported on a phenomenon that is occurring in many towns that are reclaiming their historic downtowns back from thoroughfare highway use to more pedestrian friendly sidewalks, bike lanes, and slower vehicular flows more attractive for locals.
Carson City Nevada is 30 miles south of Reno, has a population of 55,300 (2010) and is also the state capitol of Nevada. Despite a downtown that contained a lot of important heritage buildings as well as the grounds for the state capitol, motordom reigned supreme on the main street. Four lanes of traffic went through Carson Street at speed, and pedestrians were hurt and killed trying to cross the street. At one point the City installed fence barriers along the narrow sidewalk to try to separate pedestrians from vehicles. It did not make for an inviting experience on this main commercial street.
With the use of a 1/8 per cent local sales tax, the City was able to issue bonds to pay for a revamping of their downtown corridor. Utilities were replaced under the road surface, and the street made more walkable and visually interesting by the use of new wide non glare sidewalks, plantings, dropped curbs, pedestrian activated crossings, bike lanes, and attention to detail in textures and materials.
Opened in the Fall of 2016, I visited the street last week to see how the street was functioning, and whether the improvements were a success. Mayor Bob Crowell noted that there had been no pedestrian accidents on the street since the new street treatment had been installed. The new street is designed to maintain cars travelling at the posted speed and no faster. There are quick activation pedestrian crossings throughout the downtown. The design and development of a plaza on a previously opened street has a stage and a kid friendly splash pad, and has small local businesses and outside seating areas for people to linger.
But most importantly, “early adapter” businesses that focus on all segments of the local population have opened, most notably “Scoups Ice Cream and Soup Bar with engaging staff, a plethora of ice cream flavours, and a ready-made place for kids of all ages to hangout and reflect in the adjoining plaza. As several teenagers admitted, there was no reason to come to the main street of Carson City before, as there was nothing of interest. Now with an ice cream and soup bar and open seating outside the store, teenagers feel comfortable and have a sense of belonging in the plaza. That is what successful placemaking is all about.
It is no surprise that many locals now are using the downtown Carson Street in a different way, as a place to walk to and to linger. As well new eateries have opened, including The Union which is always busy and attracts hungry visitors from Reno.
Carson City now has a “there there” in their downtown, and is experiencing a renewed interest in its downtown commercial area. The city has a strong arts focus and now has a downtown that is accessible and attractive to pedestrian and bicycle users. Buildings along Carson Street are being renovated, and a new mixed use building with rental apartments on the top floor is being built on a sidestreet. Carson City’s decision to shelve motordom and to enhance local shopping by bike and by foot is already reaping early returns.
From Jake Fry:
Eight good-sized three-bedroom apartments.
I lived across from this for a number of years and it disappeared into the streetscape of single-family homes.
(Other contributions welcomed.)
Designing and Drafting Design Guidelines
October 26, 2017, SFU Vancouver
Instructors: Neal LaMontagne, Oliver Hartleben
Good urban design—from the building to the site to the neighbourhood—benefits from strong, clear and well-crafted design guidance, and many planners and urban designers are tasked to draft design guidelines.
This course will guide you through the challenge of drafting design guidelines in varied contexts—from the elements of urban design performance to structure and the drafting process. This course will also help you make a meaningful contribution to advancing the quality of your local built environment and the development approval process.
Next-Generation Transportation webinar series
Free Roaming and Walkability — Enhancing urban design, cities and spaces for wellness and well-being
Oct 23, 10 AM PDT
Speaker: Dr. William Bird,
Moderator: Sandy James, director, Walk Metro Vancouver
Free. Reserve a spot.
Dr. William Bird is a renowned medical physician and urbanist who believes prevention and wellness should be practised at a city scale. Dr. Bird has always been fascinated with the connection between the health of humans and their environment. As a pioneer in leading innovative programs and practices, he has transformed millions of people’s lives around the globe through his work. He has been named among the top 100 who are making Great Britain a happier place and he is an MBE (Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire), awarded by the Queen for his work connecting health and physical activity…
New Community Data Science Course
Community Data Science Theory and Practice
Nov 21, 22, 28, 29, SFU Harbour Centre
Instructors: Andy Yan, SFU City Program; Craig E. Jones, UBC
This professional development course focuses on the collection, analysis, visualization and dissemination of information derived from structured public datasets. You’ll acquire a basic toolkit for navigating public datasets containing socio-economic, demographic, land-use and real estate data. You will not only develop a familiarity with core datasets like the Census, municipal business licenses and property datasets, but also a basic ability to understand and use most structured public datasets. While you won’t necessarily fully master these datasets in this single course, you’ll learn a set of skills and conceptual understandings to analyze and share information. The course provides a balance of “how,” “what” and “why” of working with data and understanding its possibilities and limitations in the development of evidence-based decisions.
Other learning opportunities
Urban Design – Economic Fundamentals
Nov 15-16, 9 AM – 5 PM, SFU Vancouver
Instructors: Gerry Mulholland and Michael von Hausen
Urban Design – Planning for Transportation and Accessibility
Nov 17-18, 9 AM – 5 PM, SFU Vancouver
Instructor: Tamim Raad
Aging, Design, and the City
Feb 2, 2018, SFU Vancouver
Instructor: Beverley Pitman
Yesterday I profiled a bountiful urban garden on the rooftop of Quebec City’s Hôtel du Vieux and asked the question: with the pressure on the Agricultural Land Reserve what does the future hold for food security in Vancouver? Could Vancouver be doing more with our numerous rooftops regarding urban farming? Indeed there are some excellent rooftop projects around town already up and running (Fairmont Hotel Waterfront and YWCA immediately come to mind).
This past summer I had an opportunity to tour an extensive urban agriculture program on top of Bosa’s False Creek apartments located on the corner of Main Street and Switchmen in Olympic Village. The program is sponsored by the Bosa Properties Foundation (more here)
Building resident and program participant Thea Treahy-Geofreda took me on a tour of the operation and provided some background on the projects history:
The Bosa Properties Foundation has committed to supporting our rooftop garden project each year. They supply all the soil, seeds, seedlings, equipment and support (if necessary, through Can You Dig It!). The team of residents maintain and harvest the garden from there. This specific rooftop garden has been operational for 3 years and we are planning our 4rd season now. Bosa also supports the efforts of the community garden within their Chinatown building.
The crop yields are substantial and are never wasted, supporting a range of local organizations in Vancouver:
We have 3 designated plots which are donated to Project Chef, a school based cooking program in Vancouver. They request the crops they need before the growing season starts, and we provide them throughout the summer. All left-over produce from our bi-weekly harvest are donated to the Vancouver Food Bank. We consistently provided them with 1-3 boxes of mixed vegetables each harvest, all season.
Food waste recycling is done onsite using a continuous flow Vermiculture system (Compost worms) providing nutrient rich worm tea and castings fertilizer for the garden while reducing the need for organic waste collection. More on their composting system here.
I asked Thea what are the teams biggest challenges and most successful crops:
There are little (if any) challenges with our rooftop garden, as we are protected from strong winds, attract an abundance of sunlight and are protected from most “pests” found at ground level. We do deal with some aphids and slugs, though nothing like those working on the ground.
Tomatoes and hot peppers have got to be out most successful crops. The heat and sunlight we get create the perfect environment for these plants. The hardest thing to grow on our rooftop are squash and pumpkin. We quickly gave up on that after year one.
Kinda makes you miss summer doesn’t it? Thanks to Thea and the Bosa Properties for exposing me to such an exciting urban agriculture initiative.
With the seemly relentless attack on the Agricultural Land Reserve from Mega Malls, Port development, speculators and farmland banking from countries including Mainland China and Saudi Arabia (More here), what does the future hold for food security in Vancouver? Well, perhaps our numerous rooftops are the solution. A friend recently experienced a delightful stay at Hôtel du Vieux an Eco-minded boutique hotel in the heart of Quebec City’s old town.
From the hotel owners:
“Hôtel du Vieux-Quebec is an officially recognized and award winning leader in the environmental movement. Committed to reducing its impact on our natural environment, this Quebec City hotel has launched a series of initiatives to lighten its ecological footprint.”
As impressive as their commitment to carbon reduction and recycling is check out their jam-packed rooftop gardens:
The hotel compliments its abundant crop production by maintaining 5 beehives as part of the Miel Urban or ‘Urban Honey’ project, increasing urban pollinators in an insecticide free zone while producing Honey for local cafes and restaurants.
“Hôtel du Vieux Québec has installed three green roofs. Our rooftop gardens grow an assortment of organic vegetables, flowers, herbs and other plants. This helps to keep part of the hotel cool in the summer thereby lowering our energy consumption, sequesters carbon and captures runoff rainwater. This also enables us to provide fresh organic produce for staff and clients. We also insure that our gardens have plants that help revive the health of bees, butterflies, birds, bats, and other pollinators in our area.”
More on Hôtel du Vieux and their sustainability initiatives here.
Could Vancouver be doing more with our numerous condo tower and mid rise rooftops? Could this be our new Agricultural Land Reserve:
Tomorrow in Part two I visit a Vancouver example.
Continuing on the small scale infill theme (see previous posts in the series here and here) we travel to the Westside of Vancouver where the Airey Groups Bishop Kerrisdale development makes the most of an unusual narrow sliver of land.
The project mixes residential rowhomes with a classic brick clad retail space located on a unique wedge shape lot addressing the street with excellent scale and proportion.
I had to check that this wasn’t an existing heritage structure as its seems most new developments bypass traditional materials and look in favour of more contemporary elements when designing commercial space.
It all works and compliments the neighbourhood node of small scale shops across the street. Development is located on W 57th Ave & East Blvd across from Choices Supermarket.
Durning picks up another piece from The Guardian by author Madeleine Thien:
Vancouver’s Chinatown came into being in the 1880s as Chinese migrants fled the region of the Pearl River Delta in the wake of political violence that claimed an estimated one million lives. In Canada, Chinese migrants took on the railway’s most dangerous jobs while earning less than half the salary of their white counterparts. When the railway was completed, the workers, intent on sending remittances home, found jobs in sawmills, coal mines, tanneries and brickyards. But their presence drew an ugly backlash from mainstream society. …
The ‘Oriental city’
Across North America, Chinatowns developed a parallel civic society, providing schools, benevolent associations, libraries and a complex social organisation. Gradually, a self-protective architecture evolved: colourful facades that would satisfy an outsider’s desire for a contained, exotic experience – and an inner world that could meet the everyday needs of Chinese workers segregated into an increasingly crowded space.
It is a little known fact that the brightly painted facades of the oldest Chinatown in the US, in San Francisco, were designed in 1906 by the architect-engineers T Patterson Ross and AW Burgren, who were hired by Chinese merchants to dream up deliberately exoticised architecture.
In American Chinatown: A People’s History of Five Neighbourhoods, journalist Bonnie Tsui documents how the “oriental city of ‘veritable fairy palaces’, was a conscious, east-meets-west attempt by Chinese merchants to change the community’s image … and ensure its continuing survival.” The Chinese merchants wondered if their frontier-style buildings were livened by elaborate flourishes, would mainstream society’s fear of the outsider diminish? Might they even enter the colourful gates, drawn to the exotic world on their doorstep?
By 1910 Vancouver’s Chinatown began to incorporate flying eaves, glazed tiled roofs and other stately decorations. Ironically, the ornamentation which they hoped would convey dignity and social cohesion added to a pervasive misconception: that the Chinese utilised such details because theirs was a community of perpetual aliens, incapable of adapting to a new environment. Ross and Burgren’s architecture became emblematic around the world. …
From Chinatown to Metrotown
In the 1980s, many Chinese immigrants to Vancouver hoped to prosper and leave behind the struggles of Chinatown, but I suspect they believed, and hoped, the enclave would persist. Its sometimes kitschy atmosphere allowed for memory without sentimentality, nostalgia freed from rigid tradition. Its alleyways and buildings are the physical evidence of a discriminatory history, as well as a population that “has always flourished in a community form”, as the journalist Tsui observes.
That is all changing. The Chinese working class and poor communities are being displaced here, powerless against the unified forces of developers backed by city re-zoning and incentivising plans – the price of individual condos in two recent developments is between $1 and $2m.
In Everything Will Be, Julia Kwan’s powerful 2014 documentary on the demolitions and losses in Vancouver’s Chinatown, Bob Rennie, the owner of Vancouver’s largest real estate firm, insists that “the Chinatown that your parents enjoyed here is gone forever”, and says the city must look to the future.
Developers claim they are preserving the neighbourhood, but the fact remains that the heart of the community – meaning its people and their livelihoods – are currently fighting for their existence.
Meanwhile there is now a new Chinese enclave where Vancouver blurs into Burnaby. Where the old Chinatowns were low-rise shopfront streets and alleyways, this new area, with its glass skyscrapers, shopping malls and a plenitude of restaurants specialising in Chinese regional cuisines, reflects a shifting global order. The predominant language is Mandarin.
This area, Metrotown, has a strong resemblance to the urban live-work neighbourhoods built beside rapid transit stations, and near to vibrant green spaces in Shanghai, Hong Kong or Singapore. Architecturally, it resembles an Asian metropolis, rather than an imagined oriental aesthetic. Metrotown carries the tension of a new Chinatown, which is no longer an area with distinct borders, or something that can be contained by exotic gates.
I came across these interesting small scale infill projects while walking to a friends house in East Van a few weeks back. My phone battery was dead but luckily there always Google Street View!
Here is what appears to be a 66′ x 100′ corner lot with single dwelling converted into 4 smaller units at the intersection of E 22nd & Fleming. Before and after aerial views from Google Earth:
Street view shots:
Just up the street is a series of small infill homes on 50′ x 178′ & 66′ x 171′ lots. This is between Fleming and Maxwell just north of E 22nd. Before and After:
Maxwell St development Google Street View scene:
Interesting how the two middle units of the Maxwell Street development have no street frontage and are instead accessed from the laneway. There were no Google Street View images available for the Fleming Street development. Some interesting building typologies between single family detached and townhomes.
In 2014, Vancouver pioneered a first in North American intersection design: protected phasing. At the south end of the Burrard Bridge, each mode – vehicle, bike, ped – was separated and given its own phased lighting though Burrard and Cornwall.
Now the same thing will happen on the north end at Pacific.
The transportation engineers never hesitate in explaining why they could confidently reduce the number of lanes on the centre span of the bridge to vehicles without inducing intolerable congestion. It’s because traffic flow is determined by the capacity of the intersections – effective meters on demand – not the number of lanes between them. So they widened the north intersection to create more turn lanes while also extending the merge lane to handle the flow once on the bridge.
Vancouverites didn’t appreciate the significance of Burrard and Cornwall because all the attention was on the changes occurring further down the road – the closure of Point Grey Road to through vehicle traffic. The spillover from that controversy created a lot of sensitivity among the stakeholders when the full redesign of the bridge and north intersection was being discussed – but the success of the southern intersection alleviated a lot of anxiety.*
That gives us a reason to post one of the best videos produced by Kathleen Corey and Brian Gould – Seacycles – that shows rather than tells how it all works so beautifully.
*What happened to all the outrage over the impact of changes to Point Grey Road? It’s an old story: carmageddon predicted, and then never occurring. If anything, traffic from Cornwall to Macdonald seems smoother than ever. Lives have not been lost. Chaos has not occurred. So disappointing.
With visions of a car-light area in Gastown, City of Vancouver is consulting residents on a transportation area plan. Tour and workshop, Saturday October 21, 1:30 to 4:30. Project, event details and signup HERE. An online survey is available for members of Talk Vancouver.
Starting, as with Burrard Bridge, from the need to do major repair, CoV seeks input on moving Gastown towards a complete street design model.
“We have an opportunity to build on the strengths of Gastown and design the streets in a way that better serves the area. We want to work with the community to achieve the best outcome,” says Lon LaClaire, Director of Transportation for the City of Vancouver. “As part of our community engagement, we will be exploring whether Water Street could become car-light, but it is important to us to work closely with businesses in the area to see how the streets can continue to support loading and movement needs.”
Potential car-light street
Water Street was identified in the Downtown Eastside Plan and Transportation 2040 as a potential car-light street and as a missing link within the east-west bike network.
Car-light refers to a street design that reduces the number of vehicles travelling through an area in order to create more inviting spaces for people to walk, cycle, and enjoy.
Any car-light area will need to balance mobility and access needs for local businesses, residents and visitors with the desire to create an interesting and welcoming place for people to be.