A piece by Shawn Micallef in the current Spacing magazine, with photographs by Don Fairchild, which so well captures the exuberant character of this West End intersection at the height of summer.
The gem at the end of Vancouver is the intersection of Davie and Denman. There is nothing like it in Canada, a perfect storm of nature and city where one flows into the other, two things people sometimes mistake as being opposed to each other working together to magnificent effect. Approaching the intersection from either street is a treat: from Denman there are fine English Bay and Kitsilano views, while Davie affords a view of Beach Avenue and the glassy highrise condos that create a kind of people-filled seawall that lead to Stanley Park.
On a sunny weekend day this is how this neighbourhood works: you walk along either street. There are palm trees, which to most Canadians doesn’t feel right but you quickly get used to it. You cross the intersection to the parkland. It’s filled with people, sitting on benches or blankets or looking at and playing with the public art. Then you reach the threshold of the beach — it’s a fuzzy barrier as grass and sidewalk just become sand, without any fuss. On a beautiful summer day, even into the late evening, Vancouverites will be sitting on the sand or on those long tree trunk beach benches that the West Coast do so well. They’ll be having picnics or drinking clandestine bottles of wine. Some people might even be swimming or wading. You can stare at the sea and the massive ocean tankers anchored out a few kilometers as the sun sets and forget all about the city but then turn around and there it is: civilization. The flow between one to the other is seamless and easy. One almost tumbles out of the city onto the beach.
Back on the sidewalk, just a block away along either street, it’s then easy to forget the sea is even there, so thick is the urban form. Denman is the kind of high street any city would want: it’s got all the services residents need (dry cleaners, pizza joints, burger places, little shops selling the stuff of daily life) and enough interesting places for visitors to occupy their time, all the way to Robson Street. Along the way there are buildings that have multiple floors of retail activity, like how many Asian cities exist (another reason this bit of town feels different than most Canadian cities). Davie becomes largely residential for a few blocks as it runs uphill towards the gay village, 5 or 10 minutes away, depending on your gait.
Running off both are residential streets that are mix of highrise, midrise and heritage homes. Like Toronto, Vancouver’s downtown peninsula has the ability to mix these rather diverse styles without the awkwardness one might expect. Many of the higher buildings have well designed entrances and humane, often artful, lobbies, making the transition from sidewalk to interior as pleasant and human scaled as one the beautiful bungalow with porch next door. It is about as perfect as urbanism can get.