I’m not sure if it was Carlos Thays who introduced the jacaranda tree to Buenos Aires – but the city certainly adopted is as a signature species. We were there when the thick summer foliage was a monochrome green – but it would be worth it to revisit in November when city streets and parks become tunnels of violet.
Here’s a sense of what BA looks like at the height of jacaranda season in this video by a major real-estate firm. So yes, a view of the northeast side of the city: rich, sleekly modern, beaux-arts elegant – and no visible graffiti.
While there are major parks along the riverfront, what partly makes up for the lack of local green space are the street trees – mature leafy deciduous trees in abundance.
It seems like all the streets in the older neighbourhoods are lined with them, almost unbroken in their canopy and coverage.
Like the street we stayed on in Palermo:
Does BA have the best urban forest for its size in the world? It must be in the counting. (I’d welcome other nominations.) And there’s a reason.
Street trees have been a vital part of the city since the 19th century. And the person who likely gets the most credit is Carlos Thays – born Jules Charles Thays in Paris, arrived in Argentina in 1889, became infatuated with the young country and was named BA’s Director of Parks & Walkways (interesting that they specified “walkways” back in 1891.) “This position gave him significant influence over the design of the city’s open spaces, and his legacy is still strongly felt in the city’s open spaces today.”
From above, to a Vancouverite’s eyes, there’s something odd about Buenos Aires:
Where’s the green space? – the parks and fields scattered across the city, like here:
Not surprising then, to find this item under “Urban Problems” in the Wikipedia profile of BA:
Buenos Aires has below 2 m2 (22 sq ft) of green space per person, which is ten times less than New York, seven times less than Madrid and five times less than Paris.
The World Health Organization (WHO), in its concern for public health, produced a document stating that every city should have a minimum of 9 m2 (97 sq ft) of green space per person. An optimal amount would sit between 10 and 15 m2 (161 sq ft) per person
Or another comparison:
Hell if I can figure out how to convert 2.75 acres per thousand residents to square meters per person. Or even if that’s the right number, depending on what’s being counted. Help me out here.
In any event, we’re talking a difference in culture too. Latin American cities generally do not have the ‘garden city’ tradition of the British-settled Commonwealth. But where, I wonder, do the kids play futbol, since I never once saw a soccer field even in the larger parks, nor pick-up games in the streets or plazas.
Greater Buenos Aires is a big urban region. Over 13 million people.
In the City of Buenos Aires, however, there are about three million porteños (people of the port) – a population which has stayed steady since the Second World War.
Why not much growth in the city’s population? Low birth rates and a migration to the suburbs. Indeed, the surrounding districts in the Province of Buenos Aires have expanded five times over.
So: three million in the City; 10 million in surrounding suburbs. That ratio is not far from Vancouver’s: 600,000 in the city; 2.5 million in the region.
The population density in Buenos Aires proper is over 14,000 per square kilometre (in an area just under one and a half times the area of the City of Vancouver, with its population density of about 5,000 per square kilometer).
Our West End, by comparison, is about 44,000 people in its two square kilometers.
So think of the City of Buenos Aires as almost one big West End, plus Kits and downtown.
I was having a great time photographing Buenos Aires when there in early January, and posting images on Instagram as I took them (seach for pricetags – Gordon Price). But then my phone camera filled up, and strange things happened. Something to do with the cloud.
Good news: I’ve found the images I thought I lost, plus others I subsequently took – so it’s time to start posting again. But not, this time, on Instagram; it’s too hard to type the commentary and post multiple images. So I’ll be using this blog, posting an image or two at a time throughout the week, but with a more extended commentary on that great city.
Your comments and additional insights are, of course, welcome.
KYLE ZHENG grew up in downtown Vancouver at a time when few kids grew up in downtown neighbourhoods. While growing up, he witnessed the growth of Yaletown from an empty, industrial land, to a trendy neighbourhood. At the age of 11, Kyle fell in love with the transit system after taking the 257 Vancouver bus from downtown Vancouver to Horseshoe Bay. Soon, he memorized all the bus routes in Metro Vancouver, and started writing letters to the local transit authority, suggesting improvements to the transit network.
Across North America today, precious urban housing space is languishing right under our noses — or more precisely, under our wheels.
In the City of Vancouver alone, it’s estimated that over 30 per cent of all land — worth an estimated $48 billion — is tied up by our roads, parking lots and alleys. This vast urban “greyfield” constitutes the largest tract of un-built space in many cities, raising exciting questions about how it could be used to make urban density liveable, family friendly, and maybe even more affordable. . . .
. . . . We seldom think about it, but our roads and alleyways occupy enormous tracts of valuable land. Consider: the City of Vancouver has more than 1,400 linear kilometres of roadway, including over 1,000 kilometres of local roads and 650 kilometres of driveable lanes and alleys; a typical street in Vancouver is 66 feet wide, while larger arterials are 80 feet.
Price Tags did award a 2016 Gordie to the Trump Tower for being one of the most polarizing planning issues of the previous year. In our comments we noted-
Trump Tower –”what are they thinking low hanging fruit, definitely a huge sore spot. Official opening postponed, although much of the building is in every-day use through the back door.”
Price Tags has visited the Trump Tower on business in New York City and noted that the interior was-well-kind of early 1980’s, complete with lots of outdated marble finishes, and a lot of what could only politely be termed as Las Vegas glitz. However Price Tags was fascinated to learn that the Vancouver Trump Hotel that is still not opened already has a load of reviews, as noted in the Metro News.
“If you’re looking for a luxury hotel offering “unpresidented” guest service, “only takes Russian Rubles” currency, and “sucked, bigly,” look no further than the bizarre Google reviews pouring in for Trump International Hotel & Tower Vancouver…At time of publishing on Tuesday afternoon all but two of the 58 anonymous, user-submitted written reviews for the hotel that accompany its Google listing are negative — most of them mocking the Trump brand using the President-Elect’s own insults and idioms. “Unpresidented care for guests,” quipped Grant Moore, who gave the hotel just one-of-five stars. It was a reference to Trump’s Dec. 17 tweet in which he misspelled “unprecedented.”
While some Trump Hotels have been rebranded “Scion” hotels, Vancouver’s Holborn Group has not indicated that any rebranding will happen at the Vancouver Trump Hotel due to be opened any day. Until then, the Google listings are the only hotel reviews available for Vancouver’s Trump Tower.
Here’s a good chance to get the latest info and add your voice to the conversation. Lots of detail HERE. Previous presentation material HERE.
False Creek Flats is 450 acres of (mostly) very expensive industrial and employment-related land, with nearby dense neighbourhoods. It’s close to transit, downtown and the port. It’s got lots of rail, and currently 8,000 diverse types of jobs at around 600 businesses. It’s vulnerable to climate change and seismic activity. A fuller profile is HEREwith an excerpt below.
Joe Wai needs no introduction to Vancouverites-this extraordinary advocate, citizen and architect has shaped how we think about place, culture and our responsibilities to our city. If Joe saw you walking by on the street he would run across to say hello, shake your hand, and ask you how you and your family were doing. He quite simply personified all that was good in community and neighbourhood, and worked hard to make good things even better.
If you were to check Joe’s “Linked In” profile, he has written very simply “I have been around for a while“. That is typical Joe Wai and also a very typical understatement. Joe received his bachelor’s and master’s in architecture from the University of British Columbia and worked for iconic architects in Vancouver and in London England before setting up his own practice in 1978. Joe was involved with the Strathcona Owners and Tenants Association (SPOTA) who successfully challenged the expropriation of housing for the creation of a public housing project and a freeway that would have carved into Chinatown.
Joe’s energies and interests were legendary. As The Tyee notes “Joe has been involved with senior/social housing and a volunteer in Chinatown community issues for over 40 years. He is also the architect of the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, the Chinatown Millennium Gate, the Chinese Cultural Centre Museum and Archives, the Chinatown Parkade and Plaza, and the Commemoration of Block 17 as well as many restorations of the early Chinatown Society buildings.”
Henry Yu has written a memory of Joe Wai that describes more of Joe’s work and philosophy. You may also want to leave your own thoughts and stories about this extraordinary Vancouverite below. He will be greatly missed.
When the Price Tags Editorial Board was considering the 2016 “Gordies” award for the most puzzling planning work, the new Vancouver Art Gallery design did come up. There was a quick scuffle online to find that the design was actually revealed in September 2015 and therefore could not qualify for the 2016 most puzzling planning work award.
In 2014 Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron were chosen to come up with a design for the new Vancouver Art Gallery, but not at the current site at 750 Hornby Street. The Hornby Street location is the 1913 Rattenbury designed courthouse that was renovated in 1983 by Arthur Erickson to accommodate a 172,320 square foot gallery. The new art gallery was to be located at 688 Cambie Street on land provided by the city on a 99 year lease. The original report to council in 2013 proposed a new art gallery that was double the size of the current gallery with 85,000 square feet of gallery space.
The project was to cost 350 million dollars in 2013. The Federal government and Provincial governments conditionally pledged 200 million dollars with the remaining $150 million to be raised by private fundraising. It should be noted that this amount of money has never been privately fundraised for one project in Canada. To get people excited about the new gallery, Herzog and de Meuron who have also built the Tate Modern in London and the National Stadium (the Bird’s Nest) in Beijing drew up a conceptual drawing and model.
Herzog and de Meuron-Tate Gallery-London, National Stadium-Beijing
When the new design was released by Herzog and de Meuron, reaction was mixed. This is a firm that likes the grand gesture without scaled interest on the ground plane that would be warm or welcoming to building visitors. Critics noted that there were also plans to fence in the bottom for more exhibition space, and there was no vision on how this space would work with that of the Queen Elizabeth Theatre’s open space across the street.
Herzog and de Meuron proposal for New Vancouver Art Gallery, 688 Cambie Street
This 310,000 square foot wood clad building would be approximately 20 storeys high but have seven floors for the public and two floors below grade for storage and parking. There would be 85,000 square feet of galleries, a new education centre, an auditorium, and library and archival services.
There’s not been much news about the new gallery’s progress at the new location on Cambie Street. The current 750 Hornby Street location with the wonderful lions at the entrance still functions as one of the city’s primary places to meet, greet and people watch. Price Tags is watching too.
Jason Vanderhill, collector and historian extraordinaire, posted this newspaper clip on FB about the pending demise in 1946 of a section of “Skid Road” and the characters who were to be displaced. Hard to read in the image below, but this is how it begins:
“It appears, that in the interests of better town planning, certain experts have expressed the opinion that the entire block down in the old Skid-Road district bounded by Water, Carrall, Cordova, and Abbott streets must be razed to the ground in order to provide room for the parking of more motor vehicles.
“Should this be done, I suppose we must bow to the inevitable march of time and accept this harsh decree. However, the destruction of all these old landmarks, peopled by ghosts of the past, will wrench the very heartstrings of many old-timers.”
As it turned out, the block from Water to Abbott survived long enough to be re-imagined by Larry Killam and others in the late 1960s; the commercial and aesthetic potential of Gastown was a key element in the coalition of ideas that formed to fight the freeway in the early 1970s. The concession made to cars at the time was the big parkade, for Woodward’s, which took a chunk out of Water Street a block to the west – part of it became the “Historicum” [sic?] attraction and is now …. ?
The best claim-to-fame for the parkade is its appearance as a set in Jackie Chan’s classic “Rumble in the Bronx.”
I am intrigued by the historical connection Lauster makes between culture, class and zoning; and the way these ideas echo and influence even today. For example, it goes unchallenged when people naturally assume that dense housing should, of course, be built adjacent to arterial roadways. This despite ongoing evidence that such proximity has health hazards built-in. So we assume it’s OK to relegate larger numbers of one class to these hazards, and reserve healthier locations for smaller numbers of another, a.k.a. “la crème de la crème”.
Says Lauster: You see covenants still written into old housing deeds, restrictions that are no longer legal but point to a previously racially-restrictive housing past. Anti-Asian mostly, although there was a historic black neighbourhood that was destroyed in an attempt to build a freeway, not to mention First Nations groups… So it’s intertwined with a lot of these zoning laws. Single-family zones, in particular, were meant to keep out the rabble, which included anyone who couldn’t afford a single-family house. This included the poor, as well as most immigrants and other groups that would be inclined to subdivide up houses into multiple apartments or take in boarders.. . .
What we haven’t seen as much attention paid to are the places zoned for single-family houses. We still have, effectively, about 80 per cent of our residential land base locked away for single-family houses owned by millionaires – despite the ongoing affordability crisis sweeping the city. Only 35 per cent of Vancouverites are able to live in these areas.
This is where the politics comes in. You can’t change this solely through neighbourhood consultations, because local residents are not going to let you. If you want your planning process to have democratic legitimacy, you need to make it a full city-wide process. Community groups should have a seat at the table, but they can’t be the sole deciders of how their neighbourhood is going to change. The very reason it hasn’t changed is because it was built to be exclusionary in the first place.
Many of us have been conditioned by our cultural norms to equate [“home”] with a separate structure under its own peaked roof, standing on an individual plot of land, with yards acting as moats buffering the residential unit from public intrusions. That is, home means the single-family detached house as might be signified by a child’s crude drawing of a square box with a door and windows topped by a triangle boasting a smoking chimney, bordered by a picket fence.
In our culture, becoming a successful adult as measured by a good job, a life partner, and starting a family, traditionally was the cue to buy a house of your own, probably in a leafy suburb like your parents and grandparents. But in this era of globalization, increasing migration and diversity, urban sprawl, and escalating property values, many urbanites are challenged to make themselves at home in the city without the familiar security blanket of the house. . . .
Lauster concludes: “Ultimately, it seems, Vancouver provides the cultural scaffolding for many people to reinterpret their lives as success stories even when they do not own houses.”
A number of his respondents reject the single-family house in favor of alternative visions of the good life. Townhouses, apartments, and the like not only are more affordable but require far less time and energy in maintenance. Furthermore, they turn out to be surprisingly good places to raise children.
Lauster is Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, UBC.
For Day Four of the 2016 Gordies, two awards are being given in the category of “Most Puzzling Planning Work”.
The 2016 Gordies “For Most Puzzling Planning Work” go to:
Jericho and Heather Lands: “Huge potential for city-making on 92 acres of desirable real estate at Jericho and 21 acres at 37th and Heather. The potential is only exceeded by the ongoing silence. Major opportunity for transit-oriented development at Heather Lands; some work required on this for Jericho via Broadway Line extension.”
Provincial Gov’t to give $35,000 interest free to eligible home buyers. “Even as the Feds’ CMHC requires higher down payments to help avoid debt risk to homeowners. How many months until that Provincial election??”
Especially this time of year, predictions pop up like the daffodils of spring. But here’s a rarity — Michael Geller prognosticates, and reviews the accuracy of his past predictions.
Most often, people glibly predict, media gullibly report, fear grips the population, decisions shift — but the post-event audit rarely occurs. Especially but not exclusively it seems, when the subject is motordom, accountability and credibility are laughable by their absence. “Carmageddon”, “total gridlock”, “destruction of all businesses in the downtown”. We read and hear these things in local media constantly. And in lower-level online playpens, the doom, gloom and fear is remarkable only for its strict congruence to partisan objectives.
Is this a ripe field for specialization? Is there an aspiring journo out there who wants to make their bones by maintaining an audit trail on prognosticators and their predictions? It’s easy to see why some media outlets would balk at this — it could tarnish the cred of pundits reliable mostly for their ability to provide slick, crisp, fear-inducing quotes on demand, in an instant. And fear sells. We all know this. But what juicy stories — the yearly “Creddies”, awarded in two flavours, the rancid and the deep.
My first year-end column was written 10 years ago as I set off on an around-the-world sabbatical. Titled “Affordable housing rises on wise use of land,” it urged municipal planners to allow row houses and apartments to replace single-family houses along such arterial roads as Oak Street.
It also promoted reduced parking standards to facilitate redevelopment of parking lots and rezoning of single-family lots to permit alternative housing forms, including back-lane homes, duplexes and triplexes.
Today, there are indeed new multi-family developments along several Vancouver arterials, including Oak, Cambie, Granville and King Edward. Sadly, however, new single-family homes continue to be being built along major transit corridors throughout the region.
On Wednesday we are awarding the 2016 Gordie for “Planning for Big Impact [Positive or Negative]”
There were a lot of contenders in this category. The Editorial Board of Price Tags and Price Tags Commenters agreed on the following:
The 2016 Gordie for Planning for Big Impact-Positive or Negative- Five Winners-
Tsawwassen Mills/Commons– “giant transit-free all-cars all-the-time mall in the middle of nowhere. What could go wrong? Or more likely – what could go right?”
Waterfront Station Transportation Hub: “a major transportation node at the confluence of Skytrain, West Coast Express, Seabus, cruise ships, float plane airlines, HeliJet, arterial streets, bike lanes, greenways, freight trains, transit buses. Vastly diverse mix of people in the area. Possible transformation into a destination. Expansion of transportation services to include passenger ferries and inter-city rail. More HERE. Immense potential. More complex than most space programs. And we mean outer space, not interior design.”
Arbutus Greenway: “from an abandoned rail line into a publicly-accessible Greenway for all Vancouver citizens. A chance for something spectacular and transformational. Great job by negotiators. Heartening improvement for Vancouver’s people.”
Approval of Kinder Morgan oil pipeline: “Federal and City policy disconnect.”
Vancouver has been a creative hotbed for environmentalism, urban design, art and social policies – but is that coming to a halt due to high prices and other factors?
Arguing the PRO side are Sandy Garossino and Caitlin Jones:
Sandy Garossino is Associate Editor at the National Observer, as well as public commentator and arts advocate. A former independent book publisher, Garossino has nurtured and promoted independent street artists and cultural diversity. By coincidence, four of her adult children have careers in film and music outside Vancouver.
Currently Executive Director of the Western Front Society in Vancouver, Caitlin has worked at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Rhizome.org, in NYC. She writes extensively about contemporary art and most recently the impact of Vancouver’s real estate market on art and artists.
Arguing the CON side are Mark Busse and Jane Cox:
Mark Busse is Director of Creativity and Engagement at HCMA Architecture + Design, helping lead their interdisciplinary design team and TILT Curiosity Labs initiative which explores creativity, design, and engagement in all its forms, including an artist in residence program and community initiatives such as Likemind Vancouver, CreativeMornings/Vancouver, and Interesting Vancouver.
Jane Cox is the Director and Founder of Cause+Affect, a strategic brand consultancy. She is a recognized leader in culture building, social entrepreneurship and civic engagement. Cox’s clients benefit from her extensive experience and insight into transforming detailed business plans and strategic objectives into active and compelling brands that inspire, connect and drive impact.
Gordon Price sends pix+words from the warm part of the globe, via Instagram. Other good stuff hangs out there too.
Here’s a segment of Ipanema (from the Barbie end of the beach, some would say) – and it’s probably not what you have in your head (either the image or the song) of what this world-famous Rio skyline should look like. Because most of it is only six or seven stories high, and there’s not a building that looks to be built in the 21st century. There’s got to be a story here about why that is.
Here’s a shot of Ipanema Beach looking south, with a few more highrise towers breaking the medium-rise wall facing the Atlantic. But not many, and not new. Nor will you find many highrises in the blocks behind, overlooking their front-row neighbours to capture the waterfront views. Where are the supertall condos typical of the hyper-active global real-estate market? Even a poor Brazilian economy wouldn’t stop those if they were permitted. So clearly they are not. How did such planning controls come into place? And how are they being maintained?
Another article on our doomed Chinatown by Kerry Gold in the Globe and Mail:
Gentrification isn’t just nibbling at Chinatown’s edges. Thanks to rezoning changes, it’s taking major bites out of the neighbourhood. … Class inversion is happening in cities throughout North America. Urban cores used to be the domain of low-income groups, while the wealthier demographic lived in the suburbs. In recent years, wealthier groups are choosing urban living and pushing low-income groups to the outskirts, or further.
“You have to ask, ‘Where is this coming from? Who are you serving?’” asks Kevin Huang, executive director of the Hua Foundation, a non-profit for young Chinese-Canadians. Mr. Huang is also committed to supporting the people who form the tight-knit Chinatown community, and who are now under threat of displacement. …
“With this rezoning, I think this is a battle for the soul of Chinatown, and what does it mean for us as a city in terms of diversity and inclusion,” Mr. Huang says. …
“We seem to be treating Chinatown as a development site instead of a community,” civic historian John Atkin says.
The old mom-and-pop shops are already hurting, faced with mounting property taxes and aging ownership. The educated next generation doesn’t always want to take over the old business. And those new corporate retailers wouldn’t be able to buy from within the neighbourhood or from small local farms the way current businesses have for a century. The old local economy of Chinatown – a model of sustainability before it became a buzzword – would be destroyed….
Melody Ma, a self-professed “policy wonk,” grew up attending dance classes in Chinatown. Both Ms. Ma and Mr. Huang see the city’s failure to prioritize people, with their histories and traditions and lives, as the problem. Other cities have adopted culture as an integral part of their urban planning, including New Westminster and Montreal, so they’ve asked Vancouver City to consider doing the same. …
“That means developers will have to make sure they consider the needs of the community prior to even talking to city hall – that we’re recognizing the culture and history and the aspirations of the people who live there,” she says.
It’s more than the buildings. Unless the culture is preserved, the place becomes commodified and soulless, she says. To thwart displacement, the city offers up bigger building potential in exchange for a few units of social housing. But what good is social housing if a community is wiped out? …
Small businesses such as Mr. Mah’s face deeper challenges if the city doesn’t craft policies to protect them. …
But pressure on the community will only intensify because the area is in the crosshairs of future densification. A couple of blocks away, the viaducts will come down and the new St. Paul’s Hospital will transform the historic area into a hub of high-tech medical care.
Ms. Ma says “it was a mountain to climb” just getting council to agree to consider culture as a priority.
“We have to ask ourselves, ‘How do we place a culture or community first – rather than just follow finance?’”
I am a loss to understand what is wanted for Chinatown – or what is even possible.
Should it be a goal to “prioritize people, with their histories and traditions and lives,” if it means we’re intending to preserve a cultural product that was a consequence of one of the most racist periods in our history. Chinatown was a ghetto in the worst sense of the word.
Is the desire to exclude anything that doesn’t reflect that era?
And even if there was an inherent racism in that assumption of exclusion, how can a zoning code preserve or even encourage businesses no longer wanted, no longer viable?
The forces of time and change mean there is essentially no hope to maintain the cultural moment of Chinatown. Surrounding development forces, the removal of the Viaducts, a new St. Paul’s and changing demographics guarantee that.
Why would we set ourselves up for failure?
Shaping urban form and use is the purpose of zoning and development bylaws. Saving a culture is not. And that’s as true for the gay village on Davie and the Punjabi Village on Main as it is for Chinatown on Main.
Presumably Mr. Sadhu Johnston has a very Vancouver vista out some window nearby his office, but here’s his view of planning policies and results. It’s taken from a Vox interview published in July, 2016.
Just to show how some of this goes, and to give a glimpse into the lives of City politicos and managers, here’s some of the section on bike lanes:
DR: Presumably you’ve been doing bike infrastructure long enough to get some data on it.
SJ: We did one bike lane that became a major, major election issue. A hotel owner on the bike path gave the largest political donation in our city’s history to try to unseat the mayor on an anti–bike lane campaigning platform. They just went down in flames. People did not respond to it.
But because it was so much of a fight, the business association downtown did an in-depth study on vacancy rates on the bike path before and after. Vacancy went way down after the bike lane. It was very, very clear that the bike lane added value to the economy on that street.
So I think businesses are starting to acknowledge that bikers can stop more easily, can park more easily, and there’s more of them on a bike lane than you’re going to have with cars that are racing down there at eight times the speed.
Many thanks to PT commenter “Gulley” for the pointer.
St. Regis Hotel, thriving on the Dunsmuir Bike Lane