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Cambie: The new Highway 1 + mall village + bait/switch winner

May 4th, 2009 · 40 Comments

In a desperate search for non-ammonia-treated strawberries on the weekend, I stopped in at the new Whole Foods on Cambie at Eighth and discovered a major party going on. Well, that’s what it looked like, with people jamming into the store like it was the night before Christmas dinner. Some major organic-vegetable-buying going on there.

I would like to state for the record that I am thrilled Whole Foods (or as my American friends like to call it, Whole Paycheck) has opened in my neighbourhood so that I can expand my yuppie grocery habits to yet another venue, conveniently close to my house. Not even the Money Sense story I read saying that it likely costs me $100 more per week to shop at upscale grocery stores is likely to break me of this.

But, while admiring the boundless supplies of niche food products, I had to wonder yet again what the heck happened to city planning on this part of Cambie. It seemed like it was a nothing street just a few years ago — I’d appreciate it if someone could help me remember what actually existed between Broadway and the bridge way back in that prior millennium — and then it suddenly sprouted a collection of big-urban-box stores in just a couple of blocks: a Best Buy, a Canadian Tire, a Winners, a Home Depot, a Save-On. It was like taking the contents of an entire suburban mall, say the new Park Royal village, and stuffing them into a condo. Whole Foods is just the latest addition.

As much as I like these stores and find them convenient, they make for the strangest little strip of urban geography. You have Cambie Street, now a beautiful six paved and clear lanes, looking like some kind of racecar driver’s dream. When you turn onto the street from Broadway, it stretches out in front of you, an invitation to hit 150 k on all that empty space just before soaring off the hump of the bridge into space.

Yet on either side of this speedway are stores that are destined to attract thousands of customers a week. Which means that this little chunk of town is now infested with a constant patrolling circle of cars searching for a parking place in preference to having to descend into a subterranean parking dungeon. It will be interesting to see how the combination of drivers racing to hit the clubs downtown or to get home to south Surrey mesh with those drivers inching along, hunting carefully for a parking spot on a side street. Not to mention how all the pedestrians now flocking to the sidewalks will cope with both.

And I still can’t understand how Vancouver, the city that loves to spend months on consultative neighbourhood-visioning processes, allowed this strange little area to happen.

But I can’t blame them for the other unhappy turn of events on Cambie recently, the closure of the Capers grocery store at 16th. The store, open only a couple of years, was turning into a much-loved spot for the neighbourhood — a place that was easy to walk to for people nearby, convenient to park around, and a part of the Cambie Village strip there. That village, unlike the mall-village complex lower down, feels more civilized. It’s got many small shops, parking along the street that reduces the number of driving lanes, and an aura that invites drivers to slow down.

However, since Capers in now part of the Whole Foods empire, it was closed as the new bigger box opened down the street. One woman I know who lives nearby said she actually felt like crying when it closed. Another man, who happens to be a city planner, didn’t admit to tears but sounded profoundly glum about the closure. Apparently it’s now going to become a Shopper’s drugstore — not exactly the same kind of community gathering place. A group of people that I have to imagine are really glum are the people who bought into the condo project above. Called Olive, it was billed as a chance to live the urban life with a gourmet grocery store within minutes. Wonder if they’ll be changing the name of the building now to reflect the new tenant. Playtex, perhaps? Or Dr. Scholl’s?

Categories: Uncategorized

  • not running for mayor

    I can only imagine the city planner you mentioned that is glum about the closure of Capers is non other then Grant Miller, he truly is upset about the closure.
    I have to agree that the big box cluster is odd for an area on that side of Main, It would fit right in along Marine or Grandview though. It is interesting though in the fact someone it just works there. Try picturing those small stores along the village in that location and I think we’d all agree that they wouldn’t work. Sometimes the lack of planning might be the best plan. (although I’d hate to see that theory put to the test)

  • In the mid 80’s, I was part of a planning team with John Perkins Architects and Ralph Segal (yes, that Ralph Segal) retained by the city to undertake a planning study for Cambie Street from the bridgehead to 12th Avenue. As the development consultant on the team, I argued that Cambie should become more like University Avenue in Toronto, with a wide landscaped median up the middle and grand buildings along either side. Our plan included the undergrounding of overhead cables, and extensive landscaping up the middle, wider sidewalks, etc.

    I proposed that the cost of doing all this work would be financed by the increased property taxes the adjacent developments would pay. I remember this for two reasons….

    One rainy Sunday afternoon, my phone rang at home, and it was Alderman Gordon Campbell. He said he was just reading my report, justifying the added expense for the city and the proposed funding strategy and wanted to know….”Geller, do you really believe this shit?”

    I assured him I did believe it…and Council ultimately approved the program, and financing. However, I was quite distraught when after the work was completed, the first magnificent new development along the improved Cambie Street was…..a drive-in Wendy’s!

    While I am pleased that the street ultimately did attract some substantial new mixed use developments, I too am disappointed that this stretch of road does not have the majestic, ceremonial feel I was hoping for.

    But maybe another study will be carried out in a few years…a la Pacific Boulevard or Granville Mall, to repair the mistakes of 2009.

    And tomorrow at Council, I fear that the city may make another mistake and approve the staff report to remove residential as a permitted use in 17 blocks surrounding the CBD. But that’s another story!

  • I was walking along 7th through that area last week and the side of the condo development that holds Home Depot/Winners, when viewed from 7th, looked vaguely Brutalist or Soviet. These aren’t the kinds of buildings that are going to be appreciated in twenty years.

  • gmgw

    The north-of-Broadway Cambie strip has been butt-ugly for many a year, but it’s now reached an apotheosis of big-box banality. Nelson Yee is quite right in calling the Home Depot development “brutalist”; it carries on the dreadful tradition of the Great White Wall of Pacific Centre. Like most sensible people who have a choice, I’ve been avoiding Cambie, both as pedestrian and driver, ever since RAV construction started. And now that it’s all but finished, I will continue to avoid lower Cambie, as, apart from the fact that that strip gives me the horrors, I don’t shop at any of the new BB stores– with the occasional exception of London Drugs. The only retailers within a block of that stretch of Cambie I ever patronize, in fact, are Solly’s and 3 Vets, and those no more than 2-3 times a year.

    The Cambie disaster is an example of planning— if I can dignify it by using that term in this case– at its most deranged. I enjoyed Geller’s Campbell anecdote. While I’m not much of a fan of large-scale development, Geller’s proposal sounds like it might have worked. Certainly it would have been preferable to what’s been allowed to happen there. I suspect that what Planning was wanting to do was emulate bigger, more sophisicated cities with rapid transit and create a pastrami-like sandwich of popular stores between the two Canada Line stations, if only to give riders a reason to come up to street level now and then (presumably they didn’t like the idea of an underground mall complex a la the Toronto subway). Sorry, folks. *Really* did not work. As for neighbourhood consultation (not that it ever means anything), the immediate area was (and to some extent still is) relatively sparsely populated, compared to many areas along the line of greater residential density. So who’s to consult with, reasoned the planners?

    There is still debate as to whether the Olympic Village station was neccessary–some of you may recall that the only reas0n that station was even built was because the Larry Campbell-era council agreed to contribute substantially to its cost after lobbying for its construction. The thinking on the City’s part– and I have to agree– was that, with up to 15,000 people due to move into the SEFC area, and Planning’s hopes of minimizing car commuting to and from SEFC, the station would certainly serve a need (the imminent arrival of all those new potential shoppers also provided an impetus for all that new big retail). But the practicality of its location has not yet been proven. Thus far its builders have failed to announce a comprehensive access plan for the station. It remains unclear, even at this late date, how and where CL riders are going to enter it or exit from it, and whether there will be an access point for False Creek residents (i.e. to/from its north side). Anyway, that’s not really germane to the topic of this thread.

    Regarding the closure of the Capers store at 16th & Cambie, that’s just the corporate cynicism of Whole Foods at work. Real organic and community-minded of ya, folks. But cheer up, “Olive” residents. There are all kinds of good reasons not to patronize any Whole Foods outlet, over and above their appalling record on labour relations– take a look at for starters.

    Re the lamely-named “Olive” condo development itself: Ever since it was announced, I’ve been hoping against hope that another developer– or even the same one!– would put up a building kitty-corner from the Olive and call it the “Popeye” (if they really wanted to do it right, they could acquire all four corners and call the other two the “Wimpy” — (whose anchor retail tenant would *have* to be a hamburger outlet)– and the “Bluto”. Oh well, I can dream. And that’s your lame pop-culture humour for the day…

  • Frances, MIchael y Nelson,

    I share your disappointments. I have a personal theory that city planning, especially in Vancouver, falls short of expectations from a lack of understanding of public urban space: it’s utilitarian function and especially how it is connected. The developers, as you know Michael, see it as an expense, not their responsibility: this is how Concord is mistaken.

    Latin’s know how to do it. Place d’Armes Montreal

    is surrounded by mono-use banks and one cathedral yet it is magnificent for many reasons:

    i.e. it networks throughout Vieux Ville with other places, it’s surrounds follow a build-to line and the textured chiaroscuro is inherent in the architecture.

    To be academic the concept public urban space was lost to us eons ago when land changed from a public resource to a commodity. At the risk of being pedantic you may be interested:

    Ojala . . .

  • Chris B

    I disagree with the above – the fact of the matter is that people want to go to Home Depot, Canadian Tire etc. etc. Exiling them to the suburbs or the fringe means that people drive to the suburbs or the fringe. I think that this is reasonably well planned in that they are integrated into a central area that is not overtly residential.

    Trying to remember what was there before, I do recall a Sport Mart on 8th facing the Wendy’s. Between that and the police station was a big warehouse and a Canada Post mail sorting facility (which may still be there). There was also a bargain computer books shop. A lighting store. Liquor store, McDonalds, Korean barbeque, very bad greasy spoon. That is all I can remember – I used to bike past there every day.

  • Stephanie

    A quick aside: anyone looking for organic and locally-produced food who doesn’t want to give money to the union-busting Whole Foods conglomerate might want to remember the small but excellent East End Food Co-op on Commercial Drive. They’ve improved selection and prices considerably over the last couple of years, and their workers are unionized.

  • gmgw

    Sorry to go OT again, but I keep forgetting that cutting-and-pasting into a blog response is done differently than if one was doing the same thing with an e-mail. Hence my Whole Foods link did not appear in my previous post. Here it is again (crosses fingers):

  • fbula

    not running for mayor — The despondent planner was not Grant. So there’s at least two despondent planners. That ought to make the next Capers/Whole Foods project to come to city hall a fun one.

  • Done deal: big box stores made their way into Vancouver after all. I’d like to say Sam got his way, but I there’s a council to thank, as well. It’s oddly fitting after a year-plus of pedestrians sharing the open streets with heavy traffic in full view of City Hall, to imagine a kinetic sculpture of traffic congestion commemorating such progress.

    I don’t think anyone would argue that people don’t want to go to Canadian Tire, Best Buy, Whole Foods and so on. It’s clear they know how to draw customers. I for one can’t wait to check out the new Whole Foods.

    What doesn’t work is that the way they do business requires huge spaces are incompatible with dense urban centers. They don’t go into neighbourhoods, they go into one part of town and pass on the cost of travel time and money to the customer, and to the environment with sizable ecological footprints.

  • glissando remmy

    “Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got.
    Taking a break from all your worries sure would help a lot.

    Wouldn’t you like to get away?

    Sometimes you want to go

    Where everybody knows your name,
    and they’re always glad you came.
    You wanna be where you can see;
    our troubles are all the same
    You wanna be where everybody knows
    Your name.”

    From: “Where Everybody Knows Your Name” by Gary Portnoy and Judy Hart Angelo

    Well, well, well. After more than a year since the four Capers stores were cannibalized by the American conglomerate and after being a silent witness to the WFM (Weapons of Food in Mass consumption) grand opening on Cambie and 7th I can finally say that the CAPERS brand is officially dead. The king is dead, long live the king!?
    No, not in my guest book, no.
    I first discovered Capers many years ago when it was only a little, yes, more expensive, speciality store half the size it is today in the West End on Robson street.
    They were Pioneers of organic foods and beverages at a time when most big box grocery stores were offering conventional foods at considerable discounts. During all this years I met several people, I was part of their lives the same way they were part of mine. You see, I like to talk to people, to observe people, to write about people.
    I went through Capers birthdays, college graduations, cook book openings, food fests; we exchanged recipes, talked about politics, even recommended the best ways to save for your kid’s future higher education.
    Every time I entered the downtown or the 4th street location I felt like Norm from Cheers, my coffee was on the counter by the time I reached the deli section. I then chatted a bit about weather, sent a coffee muffin combo to the homeless guy that sits outside my Duthie bookstore (again, I rather pay a little extra for my next book on architecture than become an iReward number at Chapters) or did some speed shopping for an older couple, neighbours of mine.
    I’ve been in this stores so many times that I can unofficially consider myself a tentative guest guide for future consideration and I can probably second Victoria P. on nutrition advice.
    That, of course if Capers was still Capers.
    Last Friday I did my tour of shame in the WFM’s new location. From the very moment when those kids at the main entrance shoved pieces of coloured paper in my face shouting idiotically, “Hot Deals my friend, Hot Deals”, I knew that the cat was out of the bag.
    Don’t be fooled by the limited time offers that are designed to attract new customers, they will be over soon and the price reality will be kicking in. Son of a gun, they touched my Chocolate raspberry tart as well!
    Let me tell you, since the takeover, the prices went up at almost all products, the monthly 10% appreciation days and 10 % discount senior days are over, the staff turnover is more visible…I’ll probably stop here. Hint. The prices may look similar with the ones in the past but check the net weight per package/volume, guess what; they are between 10 to 20 % less in net weight…
    I asked J.C., one of the regional Presidents for WFM “What have you done to my little Capers store, my neighbourhood store?” Based solely on his puzzlement I realized that he did not understand an iota from my ironic remark. He is part of a corporate grocery chain that is oblivious to the damage they inflict on to the small communities, small businesses, all in the name of profit margins, increased market share, brand presence and local exposure. His body language told me that he did not feel like doing anything wrong, I was the one looking like a fool and being more out of place than he was. Simply take a look across the street: Home Depot, Canadian Tire, Starbucks, Best Buy, Save on Foods…
    The new store looks more like a SafeonFoodsIGAsuperstoreMart, only more expensive, maybe not now during the opening week, but very soon. Mark my words. The other Capers locations are going to follow suit, maybe!?
    Big. Busy. Bullish. Blunt.
    Loonie versus Dollar; European feel versus American Fatso feel; Slow Food versus Fast Food.
    To my amusement, however, the store was in stampede mode. Where on Earth were these people coming from? America?
    I was tempted to stop one mesmerized Lulu Lemon attired shopper, finger point the V sign in front of her eyes and say in a robotic voice:” I come in peace, now, can you take me to your leader?”
    Anyway for what it ‘s worth, to all of the hard working people that I had the privilege to meet and know and be greeted by…Steve, Lisa, Dave, Tony, Erickia, Ana, Alex, Chris, Roxana, Seth, Carmen, Birgitta, Stephan, Lisette, Alexandra, Wanda, Max and many more…Thank you!

    We live in Vancmerica and this keeps us worried.

  • rf

    It costs $1:50/hr to park under the Save-on and they’ll validate for a free hour at the checkout. To have all of those stores in one place is ridiculously convenient and a massive improvement from the half-industrial/half crap retail from before. My wife and I hit 6 of those stores on Saturday alone.
    I find all of the waxing about how much better this could be a little bit odd. People, this is a two block area at the on ramp to a 6 lane bridge on a major transportation corridor (I’m not just a centre-right wingnut, I actually have an Urban Geography degree as well). The same people who fought tooth and nail against the Skytrain would hardly have endorsed (or be willing to pay for) a “Big Dig” strategy.
    I resent them being referred to as ‘big box’. They are hardly that. This type of development is completely acceptable in Manhattan and that is the strategy and plan that is being (pretty-much) copied. Good on these companies for adapting. The whole anti-corporate attitude is full of contradictions.

    There’s no 10 acre parking lot and there is some of the only new rental housing on the west side attached to it.
    MEC is a praised corporate citizen (aside from the anti-semites). No one complains about London Drugs. They have the same floorplates and less parking in the same neighbourhood. They are not labelled big box. What’s the difference?

    For every capers on 16th that closes there is an IGA on Maple that should be demolished.
    Some of you may live and love the cozy neighborhood lifestyle. Others, there is stuff we want and need and those are types of stores where we like to buy it. Great selection and reasonable prices. If those stores are not there, we are driving to suburbs on weekends to find it. Throw another 5000 people into False Creek post olympics and I think this development will be viewed as very necessary. Why UrbanFare gets a free pass in this city and WholePaycheck is evil (they are practically the same) amuses me.
    Too much complaining. There is no perfect city on this planet

  • There are big box stores then there is sensitive integration.

    I cannot thinq of a boxier big box than MonoPrix

    You wouldn’t know the extent of the one on Avenué Opera until you ventured down to the basement: same on La Defense. They could be big time intrusive, like on Cambie, but they ain’t!

    Now let’s start the blame game . . .

  • spartikus

    I have to admit, as an area resident, that I too often use these stores on Cambie and appreciate that I don’t need a car to get to them.

    They obviously mark off certain boxes on the urban planning checklist – it’s obvious people are using them, it’s well served by transit, etc – but it’s not an example of excellence. In my ways like Library Square, discussed here in an earlier conversation.

    I’ve always felt that the architecture in Vancouver was mediocre compared to other cities – people doing the barest minimum to get their projects built, and so on (yes, there are exceptions). In that regard Cambie is par for the course.

  • Peter G

    I seem to recall a Brown Bros Ford dealership down there at some time in the distant past. I must agree with RF, it really is convenient to have a sensibly priced grocery store and a hardware store within minutes of downtown. I still think that the city was shortsighted in not sinking Cambie St and building a pedestrian plaza at street level. We could have called it Placa Cambilunya. Our first city square!

  • rf

    Pedestrian overpasses are definetely the missing part. I would give the project an A if they included some safe pedestrian crossings or even an above ground pedestrian plaza for shoppers to take a break.
    I still give a B.

  • The way I understand the economics of food stores is that it’s all about volume, margin, rent, and square footage. Whole Foods looked at the square footage of the 16th location and balked, compared to the volume they can do at the new location. Yes it sucks but how much are you prepared to pay for convenience?

    There are independent food stores — I’m thinking SuperValu associated with Loblaws — that could do well at Capers’s location. If the rent is reasonable that is, and maybe that’s what nobody is only peripherally talking about. If you want a livable neighbourhood, what are the City and the neighbourhood’s residents prepared to do?

  • rf

    When I hear “livable neighbourhood”, I think of people like Jack Layton saying “working families”.
    It is very livable even if the grocery store is 6 blocks away. You have a grocery store at City Square, 25th and Oak, 7th and Cambie and lots of little markets too. Not everyone can have a grocery store within 2 blocks.

    My Jack Layton reference is frustration with socialist rehtoric suggesting that families with low incomes are the only ones that are “working”.

  • Really a “livable neighbourhood” I offen connote with cosmopolitan centres such as London or whatever. If someone wants to live in such a scenario, with high streets and facilities within a short and simple walk, there is a price to pay.

    Though that said, I don’t see the Whole Foods as departing much from similar businesses in larger established cities, even somewhere like London. If WF is a pain in the rear end to get to for the Cambie Village crowd, they just won’t go there. I haven’t timed the walk so I can’t say.

  • gmgw

    Historical note for Peter G: The car dealership was Totem Mercury, who were notorious for using a very Caucasian-looking, buckskin-and-feather-clad “Indian” maid in their advertising: Arms folded, she would smilingly intone the memorable phrase: “Let’s talk Totem talk!” Argh.

    My ideal urban commercial street includes elements like 3-storey limits, large leafy trees, small, distinctive, independent (i.e. non-chain) retail (bookstores, galleries, antiques, specialty food stores, gift shops; whatever turns your crank) and unpretentious, friendly, civilized places to eat and/or drink (with a few upscale places for those who prefer them), with outdoor patios. Main Street in Santa Monica comes to mind, if only because I know it fairly well and was there recently. There are very few streets like that left in this city, but if Planning had had the will, it would have been possible to create a streetscape like that even on lower Cambie. But noooo… in any case, my vision was doomed by the conversion of lower Cambie into a mini-freeway, similar to Burrard from the bridge up to Broadway. Even if those blocks hadn’t gone big-box, those civilized outdoor patios wouldn’t be very pleasant places to sit, not with six(?) lanes of traffic roaring by, would they?

    Whatever hairs the likes of RF may choose to split, a big box is a big box, and what hideous emporiums like Best Buy, Save-On and Canadian Tire do best is bring the worst aspects of suburbia into the big city.

    I freely admit my dislike of the big-box concept. My parents lived in Langley for a few years in the mid-70s when its conversion to the mall capital of the universe was just getting under way. Langley went from being a dusty little farm supply town that would not have been out of place in rural Saskatchewan to what it is now. Unappealing in both incarnations, but the former at least had a sort of bucolic charm. No longer.

    Not being a buyer of furniture, gardening or auto supplies, bulk foods, stereo equipment, mainstream music and DVDs, or (usually) hardware, the appeal of big-box retail continues to be lost on me. A few years ago we spent a year as Costco members. My mother-in-law, who lives in south Surrey, liked to be taken to the one in Surrey to do occasional shopping, and in an uncharacteristic fit of cultural solidarity, we joined as well. On the few occasions we actually went to the store, I would wander the aisles and observe the people in the lineups with a horrified fascination that brought out the latent social anthropologist in me. It was extraordinary to watch the people lined up ten deep at the checkouts, buying Conehead-size quantities of everything: Three dozen muffins at a time! (My favourite was the guy I saw buying a two-gallon pail full of bubblegum– a lifetime supply for any normal person). In defense of these lost souls I must mention something a friend pointed out to me, which is that some of those people were probably small retailers themselves; purported bakeries, for example, who find it easier– and possibly cheaper– to put a cardboard flat of Costco muffins in their window than actually make their own.

    When it was proposed that a Costco store be allowed to open downtown, Planning held an open house on the proposal at the downtown library. At that open house I was expressing my opposition to the proposal to a planner when I suddenly found myself in a “frank exchange of views”, as it’s known in diplomatic circles, with a Type-A gentleman (who knows; maybe he was RF) who worked his way up to angrily shouting that he ran a business downtown and needed a Costco outlet nearby so he wouldn’t have to keep driving to the Surrey outlet for his bulk office supplies. He was so busy calling me an “obstructionist” and so forth that I didn’t get a chance to ask him why he didn’t simply deal with Staples or Grand & Toy, as do most downtown businesses. Well, I hope he’s happy now; he got his wish. And at least the store is out of sight from the area of Beatty for the most part (so much so that I’ve never been able to figure out where the store entrance is, not that I’ve gone looking). But somehow, for me, that guy– and the guy with the bubble gum– epitomize the kind of people who are happier than the proverbial swine in the proverbial feces about the way lower Cambie looks now. And while some may find my use of that metaphor distasteful, to me it’s an absolutely appropriate image to use when discussing the aesthetics of that strip of Cambie.

  • > Nelson Yee is quite right in calling the Home Depot development “brutalist”

    +1 for that.

    The Capers/WFM saga has been fascinating to watch from the perspective of someone who is fascinated by brands. WFM tried to step very carefully to avoid the impression that they were doing a snuff job on the only potential competitor in Vancouver. It’s been an awkward period, with small graces like the ‘take a penny’ cup being forcibly removed from cashier tills under the reasoning that it ‘may corrupt the till total’ (actual quote). The staff turnover has been been much higher at the Kits location where I still shop, but the progression towards a US-style diet is obvious. New products have more packaging, more sugar and more salt than the comparable products that Capers used to carry.

    At first I appreciated the care WFM was taking in integrating the brands, but at this point I would have rathered that they bulldozed the Capers stores, put up a big ‘f-you’ sign on the lot while they built their new ones, and jacked up the prices 20% all at once. It would have been, dare I say, more wholesome of them. Vancamerica, indeed.

  • rf

    “Obstructionist”! That is the perfect word!

  • rf

    Why people slam Americans as being fat has always amused me. Seattle isn’t fat. Portland isn’t fat. San Fran isn’t fat. Manhattan isn’t fat. Los Angeles isn’t fat. 1 hour outside and beyond any west coast city is often pretty fat. That goes for Canada too.
    Every gone to restaurant in Quesnel? Chilliwack? Merritt? Peterbourough? Sudbury?People are fatter. Smoke more too.
    Did you watch the leaders debate? Apparently people who get to ask questions are also fat. And as elegantly pointed out a few months ago, BCTF protesters also appear to be a little hefty.
    Anti-american sentiment is a little too glass-house. Stones down urbanites.
    It’s not a US vs. Canada issue. It’s a rural vs. urban issue (expect in the Southern US….those folks are fat.)

  • Bill Lee

    Fabula said : “You have Cambie Street, now a beautiful six paved and clear lanes, looking like some kind of racecar driver’s dream. When you turn onto the street from Broadway, it stretches out in front of you, an invitation to hit 150 k on all that empty space just before soaring off the hump of the bridge into space.”

    You are looking the wrong way. It is the freeway view to the south (and Richmond No. 5 speedway) that terrifies.
    They are coming out of Vancouver core at 2 in the morning and on that road, designed as it is, nothing is going to stop them.

    It was semi-fast before. Now it will be a killer as much of the road down to the Fraser doesn’t have dividers. How many decades did it take before the city put up real dividers not the little rounded bump on the Granville street bridge after yet another late-night head-on crash crossing the lanes.

    And unless I couldn’t discern that, there is one exit for the foul subway at Broadway? So you are going to have people running for their bus/subway across Cambie or even kitty-corner from Broadway against the lights, oblivious to traffic, wearing dark clothing on a darky, rainy night.

    10 deaths along Cambie and 200 injured in the first year at least.

  • Jen

    There is a great new grocer that carries only local goods at Columbia and 18th – opened on Good Friday and is open everyday of the week until 8pm!!! Carries produce, meats, dairy, honey, flours, baked goods, gelato. Check it out!
    The new whole foods is too big for my liking.

  • spartikus

    Why people slam Americans as being fat has always amused me….

    Not that it matters, but statistically the American obesity rate is twice that of Canada’s (which is itself 4x that of Japan)

    OECD statistics (Excel)

  • Not running for mayor

    We’ll all be skinny after we learning our chickens can’t get fat from the organic veggies we’re growing. And we’ll be short on money from the increased taxes, so that we can only get half a shopping cart from Wholepaycheckfoods. But as a positive it will be easier to bike across the Burrard Bridge when we’re all skinnier.

    The Broadway Cityhall station has a knock out panel for a future connection.

  • AndreaC

    I really enjoyed reading this blog entry. I have to say it matches my own impressions r.e. North Cambie. I call this type of road development a “salad shooter”, and I think we’ll be witnessing the resulting mess when construction ceases.
    gmgw: I have to agree about the medium to long-term liability of the so-called “athlete’s village” station. It is poor planning, never mind how many millions are destined to live in a four block radius, to place stations so close to each other. It was a good day for rapid transit when the Capstan Way station was canned. The “athlete’s village” station should be killed the second the Olympics are over. Those poor Millenium condo dwellers are just gonna have to haul their butts a few blocks to Broadway.
    Finally, I went to the opening of WF at Broadway. What a horror show. I’ve never seen so much plastic in my life. Gleaming boxes and bags of plastic, everywhere. The noise was deafening. I’ll miss the old store on 16th. Yuppie chow has had its day – Sunrise Market and Fujiya – here I come!

  • gmgw

    RF sez:
    “Why people slam Americans as being fat has always amused me. Seattle isn’t fat. Portland isn’t fat. San Fran isn’t fat. Manhattan isn’t fat. Los Angeles isn’t fat.”

    LA? Not fat?? Well, well, looks like somebody never got to go to Disneyland. On a busy weekend in warm weather you’d think the hippos had escaped the Jungle Ride en masse and were stampeding down Main Street in too-tight shorts and XXXL Hawaiian shirts. Not everybody in the LA basin looks like the hotbods of both sexes who strut their stuff in West Hol, on Venice Beach, or on the Santa Monica Promenade, RF. You ought to spend some research time in the less-fashionable areas of Orange County, for instance (i.e., away from Laguna and Newport). You’d quickly understand one of the big (no pun intended) reasons why the American health-care system is as overburdened as it is…

  • Hi Frances,

    I’d love to give you a tour of The RISE to follow up on your post. There is a lot going on in this building and the precinct. The RISE is exemplary of a new model of transit-oriented, inner-city development that successfully mixes large format retail uses with smaller shops and services, as well as housing in a smart mid-rise form. I’m not alone in this assessment – the Urban Land Institute just recognized the RISE with a Development Excellence Award from among more than 140 submissions drawn from across the Americas.

    Although it seems that some corners of the City grow around us overnight, the RISE did not emerge suddenly from the ether! There was an extensive major projects review of the Preliminary and Complete RISE applications in 2003/2004 involving the public, neighbouring property owners, a dozen City departments, the Urban Design Panel and the Development Permit Board (links below).

    2003 Preliminary RISE Application

    2004 Complete RISE Application

    Cambie and Broadway is the gateway to Vancouver’s uptown and secondary business district. Grosvenor recognized the potential of the area when it assembled a full 2.3 acre block in 2002. At the time, the property accommodated a car dealership and some discount retail stores. Recall also that at the time there was a big debate on the wisdom of locating large format retail in highway oriented industrial land at the fringe of the City. Another developer’s application for a Home Depot in Kits triggered a City review of C3A zoning on Central Broadway and resulted in a 40,000 square foot cap on large stores.

    There were no large format restrictions on Grosvenor’s Cambie Street site. At the development enquiry stage, City Planners like Mary Beth Rondeau (now at the City of Surrey) were very supportive of Grosvenor’s ideas to bring a full service grocery store to the site and to wrap the large format uses with smaller stores. It was agreed that major entrances would be introduced at all block corners; that all loading, waste management and parking would be completely internalized; and that good materials and transparency would be applied to the elevations wherever possible. Contrast that with typical suburban big box design!

    Larry Beasley in his capacity as the then Director of Planning also strongly encouraged Grosvenor to add live-work residential uses to maximize the use of the site (across the street at Crossroads, the City pressed hard for Office uses). The residential program added significant complexity and cost to the design and construction but Grosvenor knew it was absolutely the right thing to do – to maximize the use of a key transit-oriented site at the gateway to Vancouver’s evolving uptown district. Further, Grosvenor did the math and decided that market rental housing would work well in this location.

    So what’s wrong with large format in “walk-to” urban locations? Absolutely nothing! In fact, we need to consider the advantages of urban locations for large format retail. Typical suburban big box retailers provide 5.25 stalls for every 1,000 square feet of leasable retail area – Frances, that’s 1,700 square feet of parking for 1,000 square feet of store! Anticipating better pedestrian, cycling and transit mode splits, Grosvenor provided 2.5 stalls for every 1,000 square feet. That’s what an urban location does for transportation demand – the best transportation plan is a good land use plan. No sense having a LEED platinum building if everyone has to drive across the planet to shop there!!

    Public involvement during the City’s review process helped Grosvenor, Nigel Baldwin Architects and the rest of the development team refine the design and building program:

    – We remassed the building to open shared views to the north for our neighbors;

    – We introduced building features to significantly reduce energy and water use;

    – We designed a 20,000 square foot intensive (ie. useable) green roof to provide amenity, improve overlook, absorb stormwater, insulate the building, and mitigate urban heat island (there is a metre of soil on our roof!);

    – We added a large community garden for residents that has since been planted full of herbs and vegetables;

    – We dedicated an live-work to the City’s Artist in Residence program for 15 years at GAIN shelter rent ($375/month);

    – We added a public fountain maintained in perpetuity on our property as an amenity for the Yukon St bikeway;

    – We worked closely with Save On Foods to design a storefront that completely opens onto the Cambie pedestrian frontage, providing animation and interest for pedestrians;

    – We added plenty of public street furniture and bike racks and ensured that we had an interesting low-water streetscape treatment where possible;

    – We commissioned an interesting public art piece from Douglas Senft along Cambie Street (google him, he does great work).

    … and the list goes on!

    So, Vancouver now has an award-winning, working example of how mixed-use large-format retail can work in a very urban setting. Understand that it’s not Cambie Village – Cambie and Broadway is different. Market forces have created the City’s third largest retail node here because of the proximity of City Hall (and a new Hall at some point in the future?), the growth of the VGH precinct and related biotech sector, the success of the “Polar Fleece” district anchored by Mountain Equipment Co-op, and the energy of South East False Creek and related neighbourhoods to the north.

    I think the scale of development and the mix of uses is right. Watch people on our site. Frankly, even I, car-free-cyclist-planner-development manager, am staggered by the numbers of pedestrians rambling on the extra wide Cambie sidewalks despite the ongoing street construction. It is a lead indicator of great success. Our retailers report a huge walk-to trade and the power switch on the Canada Line has not even been turned on. The supply of safe, well lit underground parking is completely adequate. People are walking, shopping, meeting spontaneously, pausing for a sit-down coffee or snack, relaxing on benches, or exploring the network of stores on the side streets. That’s how we create living cities.

    Michael Mortensen
    Senior Development Manager
    Grosvenor Canada
    Vancouver BC

  • AndreaC.

    Mr. Michael Mortensen’s extended blogmercial does not invite discussion or questioning. It is the type of one-sided, self-serving drivel that developers specialize in. Am I supposed to be impressed? Frances: I hope you do not allow developer Mortensen’s extended commercial for the Rise(able) go unchallenged. That building has a staggeringly high vacancy rate, yet the management refuse to budge on the ridiculous asking rents. See Condohype’s archives – there are some interesting comments from the brave, the few that have moved in.

  • fbula

    Andrea, I don’t know enough about the Rise to challenge anything at this point. I’d have to do some research. My only knowledge of it so far is one person I know who lives there and thinks it’s great. I have to say, at this point, that it is the one block that is somewhat attractive, with the landscaping and benches out front, and as a result generates more pedestrian hanging around than any other block on that strip. But their design features are not carried through to any other block.

    To Michael: I understand that the Rise has all these features, but I still don’t get what the thinking was behind building something that looks like a super-highway and then lining it with stores that attract thousands of consumers. That’s more to do with the overall planning than the individual buildings. I’m sure I’ll get a tour of the building soon, courtesy of my acquaintance who lives there.

  • MB

    The “superhighway” is an apt term, Frances. The traffic engineers really had their way on that one. If the Canada Line is supposed to move the equivalent number of people as a 10-lane freeway (if you believe the premier), why so much asphalt?

    There will one day be another rapid transit line located there and Broadway-Cambie will be even more animated by pedestrians using what is bound to be a very busy hub station. That will also attract more development.

    The streets need to reflect the new pedestrian / transit paradigm. There is much merit to consider curb bump outs, better crosswalk definition, and signalized cross street intersections for pedestrians, bikes and commercial access. And also to add much more public art and urban plazas with quality design.

    I don’t have the problems with The Rise that Andrea does. In fact, I had more trouble with the site’s former use as a car lot, and I fully agree that putting people there (living, shopping, working) has worked well to transform the site to the better, no matter what the developer’s motives were.

  • MB

    One more comment. Ggreat danger lies in censorship.

    I really appreciate you continuing, Frances, to allow developers AND anti-developers their say without responding to one party’s demand to censor another.


  • I don’t disagree with Mortensen. I think the Rise is deserving of the recognition that it received from ULI. And I can understand why many of the above comments support the addition of the new retail services.

    But I really am sorry to see all the trees removed from the centre of the street, and the resulting generally harsh and sterile streetscape. Mayor Robertson, if you really want Vancouver to be the greenest city in the world, then please make sure this street is fixed…. the central median needs to be widened a bit, and properly planted with both evergreen and deciduous materials.

    Perhaps one of the new progressive city engineers (who hopefully read this blog from time to time) will let us know if there is a plan to ‘green’ the street with extensive boulevard and median planting. Or will it interfere with ‘traffic safety’?

    This is a very important entrance into our city. I do hope it will be improved.

  • Andrea C.

    I don’t have a problem with the Rise, per se. I didn’t criticize its appearance in any way (which has been very ably done by previous posters).

    MB, Frances may allow any post she wants on her blog. She may zap any post. I’ve had posts disallowed, and I’m not complaining. It’s her blog. She’s the boss. She’s the host.

    MB, could you point out where I asked any post to be disallowed on this blog, at any time? Expressing my hope that Mortensen would be called out for posting what essentially amounts to a long-winded puff piece for his development is not censorship. Throwing the word “censorship” around doesn’t make it so.

    Facts are facts. The units at the Rise have been available for rent for a donkey’s age, and the vacancy remains high. The few renters that have chosen to live there seem to enjoy the building. Grosvenor Canada has “more money than god”, apparently, so they can afford to let the building sit at 50% vancancy (or higher). This is a vanity project for them, pure and simple.

  • MB

    Andrea, it is not Frances’s job to “challenge” the content of a “blogmercial”. That’s your job.

    Mr. Mortensen followed the rules of posting, as did you and everyone else who got past the moderator’s filter.

    Here’s to freedom of speech.

  • Andrea C.

    “Freedom of speech” – you make me laugh. What’s stopping you or Mortensen or anyone else from posting your opinions? I called Mortensen’s posting (after it was posted in full, mind you) a blogmercial . That’s called expressing my opinion, not “supressing free speech”. Whose speech has been held in captivity? And one more time in case you missed my ultimate point:


    Truth is, MB, you lack real debating skills. The only way out for you is to cry “censorship”.

  • MB

    You know, I can see you running your own blog, Andrea. They’re free.

    And you’ve evidently missed my ruminations. Perhaps they weren’t debate-y enough for you.

  • Carbon Sink

    Before the development there was a big Ford car dealer on the east side across the street from the Wendy’s. On the west side was a large MacDonald’s which then became a liquor store.

    In the distant past, the MEC flagship store was on 8th east of Wendy’s (in fact it significantly predated Wendy’s).