Frances Bula header image 2

Civilized crowd says: “We welcome density, but not 26-storey tower.”

March 22nd, 2011 · 57 Comments

A proposed tower at Kingsway and Broadway is the latest of many struggles going on in the city over new density in established neighbourhoods (West End, Marpole, Arbutus, Shannon Mews).

Fights about density are often portrayed in simplistic terms: NIMBY residents who won’t accept the city is growing or evil planners colluding with developers to wreck the city.

So it was pleasant to see a workshop where people had a chance to have non-confrontational conversations that weren’t just about wanting everything to stay unchanged. The workshop pulled out about 180 people, who sat at tables discussing what they liked, didn’t like and wanted changed about the proposal.

It looked to me as though there were a lot of common themes on the flipcharts where group recorders were writing.

Under what everyone appreciated about the development: “Correct location for increasing density,” “need more density,” “mix of housing choices,” “city has to grow,” “cleaned up and safer feel on East 10th” “appreciate continued revitalization” were some of the comments. 

But what they bothered them: “The visual/look/design does NOT reflect the character of the neighbourhood,” “Does not have the look/feel of Mount Pleasant,” “Doesn’t reflect the character of the community in scale/aesthetics” was one theme. Another: “LESS HEIGHT,” ‘high-rise tower is too high” “this is not a consumer destination.”

In other words, we welcome density but we want it to mesh with the neighbourhood we know, not turn it into some generic downtown development.

As I’ve said a couple of times on the CKNW civic issues program, I feel as though I’m hearing these themes over and over. As developers, having built out the industrial or formerly commercial parts of downtown, move to established neighbourhoods, they don’t always seem to be getting that what worked downtown is not going to work elsewhere.

Glass and more glass, towers and podiums, buildings that are designed more with an eye (pun intended) to views than anything else — fine for one area of the city; not fine for all of them.

I actually think people are getting sick of the glass-tower look downtown as well, but where there’s huge resistance is the neighbourhoods beyond. Not just in Vancouver, but in suburbs as well.

In a world that feels like it’s accelerating all the time, I believe that people are going to demand more and more that their neighbourhoods aren’t built like malls — generic places with no local identity. The developers who succeed will be those who figure out how to build new while enhancing the sense of place.

The Rize’s William Lin, working with well-respected architects Acton Ostry, obviously hoped they were doing that, by providing artist spaces on the 10th Avenue side, rental housing, and a very visually innovative facade. But it’s clearly not enough for the local residents (many of whom came from newer apartments quite close to the planned project).

This project has a long way to go. It’ll be interesting to see if the different parties here can come up with a solution to creating the new in an old neighbourhood that might be a model for others.

Categories: Uncategorized

  • Read the Nov. 02, MP Report carefully especially with regard to height . . . “d. Large Site Development
    · Pursue additional height and density in select locations in Mount Pleasant – particularly
    near transit hubs . . .

    As I read the above statement height is still open regardless of how the public hearing turns out.

    Furthermore, as the report is presently written (see above), somewhere down the line, while the public is distracted, towers at other sites may still be proposed.

    IMO, the difference between twelve or twenty-six floors to the casual pedestrian passing by is irrelevant.

    There are other reasons height is not the disaster of magnitude discussed:


    2. Above floor 12 incremental costs are lessened. Accordingly, a vigilant planning department may require the developers to reduce unit costs (rents) as a bonus for the extra height.

    3. At street level six, 12 or 26 floors, the visual impact and shadows for the pedestrian is unnoticeable.

    4. Iconic skyline. Provided the report is cancelled a concentrated tower profile in this central location may be aesthetically more acceptable than line upon line-up of six storey stucco boxes.

    5. The Lee building is an anachronism and while the arcade may be replicated anywhere, other elements, like the junk on top is an eyesore.

    6. Heritage: i.e. Goh and Western Front, are hardly models to be replicated in the design of affordable housing.

    I agree stark glass and concrete has run its course: totally unacceptable, now, anywhere in the city.

    Instead of, what may be a pointless discussion of height, may I suggest the discussion turn on bland concrete and reflective surfaces as inappropriate and require the developer to instruct the architect to explore colour texture, juxtaposition to other buildings and chiaroscuro.

  • Lewis N. Villegas

    “Too complicated, too technical if zoning mentioned , if FSR mentioned, if number of stories mentioned. In fact, if one person in six months of contributions said 12 stories was okay, and 20 people said six or eight stories was what they wanted, it’s funny how the 12 would get stuck into the plan for East Broadway. Fear of Vision, fear of developers going somewhere else?”

    Robert Andrew 49

    Yep. Mt. Pleasant resident and tax payer since 1988. Did not attend the Plan sessions because when I have in the past, I’ve been deemed “too knowledgeable” for the neighbourhood. Couldn’t get to Salt session—7 year old’s birthday parties take precedence. Googled “Mt. Pleasant Community Association”, though, and got this:

    Mount Pleasant Community Association. Located in Calgary, Alberta Mount Pleasant is a community just north of Downtown Calgary.

    The right way to provide input of the kind that you are suggesting, Robert, is to organize a community association (locally;-) where we can hold informal sessions that mix local experts with locals with expert knowledge. That takes time and effort and commitment. But, it’s happening all over town. I am speaking at a Comm. Assoc. in Vancouver in late May.

    The other change that has to happen is a change in how business is done at city hall. That would get us to the “Urban Code” stage. For the upcoming HAHR session I will put it to Council & staff thus (I’m speaker #73):

    We feel this is the wrong building type; the wrong urban scale; and the wrong planning process.

    A fine and delicate balance is required. I tried to show by piling on a bit on Bill McCreery’s post #47. Bill and I come from the same background (architecture) and are looking at the same problem (urbanism). But we are also trying to suss out how to get this thing done.

    The “right planning process” would be welcomed by the developers because the industry loves certainty. I don’t buy the NIMBY argument: give the neighbourhoods more say in the future and it will be all “Not In My Back Yard”. That seems like a smoke screen for the other issue that has to be raised:

    Political leaders and senior staffs may see a shift in paradigm as a loss of power and deal making.

    Keep up the good work with the knob & tube.

  • “IMO, the difference between twelve or twenty-six floors to the casual pedestrian passing by is irrelevant.”

    I would like to disagree with this observation by another architect who posted the comment on this site. I believe that there is a difference, both for pedestrians, but also for those living in the neighbourhood, and those viewing the towers from a distance.

    If you want to experience the difference, go to Kerrisdale or many parts of the West End, west of Denman where the ‘highrises’ are limited in height to something in the order of 10 to 12 storeys. You can also go to Richmond where buildings are limited to this height due to the proximity of the airport.

    I admit that I do not like looking at many of the Richmond highrises, since they look like they have had a haircut at this height….there is insufficient terracing or sculpting of the tops of the buildings. Moreover, the ‘floorplates’ are a bit too fat for the building height in some instances.

    However, I do like the scale of the towers in Kerrisdale, and believe that the character of the area would be quite different if the buildings were generally 26 storeys in height.

    One advantage of lower towers is that they generally fit better with three storey or six storey buildings next door. I admit that this is a somewhat subjective opinion, but it is based on looking at neighbourhoods around the world.

    I agree that the look and feel of a neighbourhood is also influenced by whether the towers are predominantly glass, or a mixture of glass and concrete or brick.

    In assessing the appropriate height of buildings, I think it is important to look at the pedestrian experience at grade, neighbourhood context, and also how the building will appear on the skyline. Many people dislike the 18 storey Langara Gardens towers, not because they create an unpleasant experience for the pedestrian, (they don’t, given the extensive landscaping around them); but people don’t like the fact that they stick out on the skyline and are so out of scale with their surroundings.

    As a final comment, one cannot look just at height. One should also look at the ratio of building area to the site area or FSR or density.

    Just as medical charts attempt to correlate a healthy weight with height, good architects can do the same with buildings. So, to assess whether a building will fit, I believe it is important to consider the height, the density, the building shape and form, the exterior treatment, and the context.

    I would like to see a number of the current rezoning proposals in Vancouver examined using these criteria.

  • Michael @#53

    My professional name is Roger Kemble Architect/Planner: Master of Arts (urban planning SCARP 1987) Academician of the Royal Canadian Academy of the Arts, Member of the Architectural Institute of British Columbia . . . (erstwhile member CIP) sixty years of professional experience . . . stat! Do you have a problem with that?

    I being the other architect would just like to point out a few of the subtleties of urban design for you Michael.

    I admit there are few examples but if you view Vancouver from Little Mountain you will see a cluster of downtown buildings that are quite dramatic, as clustered, were as each individual component leaves much to be desired.

    Another cluster of great traditional aesthetic is Le Mont St. Michel off the coast of Normandy.

    You may recall the original rationale for HAHR was conceived as a skyline from across the water.

    As for MP Report Nov. 02, 2010: please read it carefully. It is replete in arbitrary sentences, I quote one #51, that permit towers, any shape any size anywhere through out the study area. Is that a case of malevolent planners deferring to developers or inexperienced staff: I prefer the latter!

    My suggestion to a central cluster height in preference to a scatological (pun intended) mess of stuff all over the place was indeed to image a Village-on-the-Hill as per the stated aspirations of the exercise.

    Also, with affordability, economics, demand and contemporary building techniques in mind . . . I stand by my six points with one additional comment . . . it is a sad time that we are unable, and that is true, to develop an original urban vocabulary to meet our times and purpose.

    It isn’t a matter of building higher. Or indeed falling back on a never-was simplistic nostalgic, nonsense of fee simple row cottages.

    It is a matter of orchestrating a purposefully sophisticated streetscape that satisfies life on the street as well as our aesthetic sensibilities.

  • Gassy Jack’s Ghost

    Michael, as a layman, I’ve considered why the Kerrisdale towers work OK as I gaze at them from outside the Arena my son occassionally plays hockey games at. IMO, one of the things that maybe makes the Kerrisdale towers less of an intrusion on the main streets of the “village” is that they are located a block or 2 back from the main shopping/pedestrian streets, rather than right on the main streets. If they were right on the corner of the 49th/GB intersection, say, it’s likely they would really detract from the pedestrian experience, shadowing, streetwall, etc. The modern podium tries to mitigate, apparently, but I think it mostly fails badly in this regard.

    It seems that’s one of the mistakes that’s being made in the Rize case. There may be a place for lower-rise towers in Mt. Pleasant, but putting them smack in the middle of the “village”, right on the main pedestrian/shopping streets is likely going to detract from the pedestrian experience in the area, rather than do anything to enhance it.

    Curious to know what the experts think?

  • Wisemonkeys blog was at this meeting and your post hits the nail on the head (unlike the Province article which claimed that opinion was pretty equally divided). Here’s our post on the community meeting:

  • Here’s a site with info about what you can do to fight this project (including a poster you can print out and put up around the neighborhood)