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Northeast False Creek plan gets first review: too disconnected, too bland

August 27th, 2009 · 18 Comments

Vancouver activists and planners tied themselves in knots over Southeast False Creek for years before the Olympic village was planned there, fighting to make it an area that set new standards for the ideal community: green, socially mixed, non-car-dependent, and everything else your little urban heart could wish for.

Strangely, hardly anyone is paying any attention to the plans for the future of Northeast False Creek, that massive chunk of land right opposite the new village (or, as the Bob Rennie campaign will undoubtedly say, the “really, really last waterfront in Vancouver, we’re not kidding this time”). Granted, it’s land owned by four major private owners there — Concord, Pavco, Aquilini, and Canadian Metropolitan — and not the city, so there’s a limit to how much idealism city planners can demand.

But it is a huge piece of land, running from the Cambie Bridge over to Science World, that will frame False Creek to its south and Chinatown to its north. It would be a shame if it were planned just as another swath to fill in, with no distinguishing features.

The overall plan got a first review yesterday by the urban-design panel, Vancouver’s unique little process where architects, engineers, landscape architects and others assess major projects and buildings being developed in the city.

The plans show a pretty dense cluster of office buildings and residential towers (offices closer to the two stadiums there, towers a little further away) in that area, with the ghostly presence of the Vancouver Art Gallery — still no-one knows if it’s dead or alive in that False Creek shore spot — hovering at the point just past where the Plaza of Nations is now. There is a major plaza envisioned that would be framed by buildings all around, with people directed to it through a grand staircase extending from Georgia Street. (This is a grossly over-simplified description. You can read all the policy docs here, and the nice illustrations are in the link to information boards.)

It’s intended at this point to be a mix of office and housing, with more rental/singles-type housing over all and whatever family housing might be incorporated put more over towards the Science World end.

What the panel had to say? I won’t repeat every comment as it was a long meeting, with a lot of questions, but here are the main ones

– This is a place where the city could get away from the monotonous tower and podium look, but it won’t happen unless city planners really push for something different. Architect Oliver Lang was the first to comment on that, but many others did too, and it was obvious in the meeting that people think the tower-podium that represents Vancouver to many is considered here to be boring, boring, boring.

– It feels disconnected still from the rest of the city. There are the obvious problems of Pacific/Expo Boulevard (and with police dealing with the aftermath of the tragic accident at Expo and Abbott yesterday, those anti-pedestrian barriers were especially noticeable) and the Georgia Viaduct, which cut off that section from the regular street pattern. Panel members suggested there needed to be a lot of work done to make the area feel like a continuation of the city

– The uncertain fate of the Vancouver Art Gallery is creating planning problems there, since no one knows if it is ultimately going to be built on the False Creek shore, at Larwell Park (the old bus station, to real Vancouverites) or stay where it is. Maurice Pez, representing the development industry, suggested that the plan might be better overall without the VAG stuck in, torquing everything around it. Others suggested that the VAG won’t work well if it’s the only attraction of its kind amid a sea of condos, stadiums, office towers and other not very cultural stuff. Lang said the area almost needs two VAGs — one on the high part of Georgia, to draw people to that end of the street, and another on the False Creek shore.

This is just the first round. They’ll be back. It’ll be interesting to see if planners can come up with any defining vision for the area besides the “live, work, play” theme they are using now.

Categories: Uncategorized

  • Joe Just Joe

    Personally I like the current proposal for NEFC although I might be a little biased.
    Apparently there is another plan which I have not seen so take this with a grain of salt.
    Instead of Creekside park taking up all the space east of Carrall, it would be shifted to take up the entire frontage along the shoreline, towers would line Pacific along the northern edge all the way to Quebec. It would create more eyes on the street, a reason to walk along what is now a nomans land and connect downtown with citygate. The Park also benifits as it gets more shoreline and southern exposure. The Condos obviously also gain as more of them end up with water or mountain views as with them lined up they would take away views from each other.
    I don’t know how much truth there is to that plan but I could be sold on it if they work it right.

    I’ve always though the FC location was wrong for the VAG, and that the buslot was a better location as it’s in the cultural district. The FC location does however work for the long planned Coal Harbour concert venue with a name change of course.

  • Bill Lee

    Towers right up against a water feature. I see a windy city if the (desperately needed? ) towers are not designed right.
    And while it is suggested that the towers existing are not empty suites owned by offshore clients, I don’t expect eyes down in our rainy city if they even can see past the low ceiling.

  • I just hope that somewhere in this plan, or a future concept, our planners can create the kind of wonderful vital URBAN SQUARES found all over Belgium and other European countries, lined on three or four sides with continuous restaurants and outdoor cafes.

    You can find some images of places I have found around Belgium at

  • evilfred

    squares! how are we going to have an olympics without a square they can put a big TV in? (seriously)

    i just noticed that we have a new square by the new convention centre the other day, but it’s kind of useless as there’s no commerce and no people.

  • Charlie Demers

    “(or, as the Bob Rennie campaign will undoubtedly say, the “really, really last waterfront in Vancouver, we’re not kidding this time”). ”

    Very good line.

  • Darcy McGee

    > squares! how are we going to have an
    > olympics without a square they can put a > big TV in? (seriously)

    I would personally argue for a rhombus instead or, if pressed, a tetradecagon.

  • Jordan Parente

    It appears the effort going into the design of NEFC is to avoid the requests of the residents who have already moved into the area. Frances outlines who the players are – and the residential component is missing. The last thing NEFC needs is another tower, residential or otherwise. Where are the amenities for the people who already live there? Concord has put off the promised Creek Side Park for more than a decade now, and the closest elementary school is either the over capacity Elsie Roy, or the treacherous trek through Strathcona. No foolin’ the big Developers & City officials wants to make the area a big singles bar, there’s no design features for the family. And lastly, on my wish list – Re-instate the defunct Plaza of Nations outdoor venue – that would surely rock the neighbourhood!

  • Joe Just Joe

    The city/parks board/schoolboard all need to sit down and work out new arrangements. It no longer makes sense to have a school that sits empty for most of the time.
    There is no reason that costs could not be shared and they be used after hours, on weekends and during the summer when students aren’t there and residents are off work and could make use of the space.
    Imagine single mutliuse buildings that could house an elementary school, a high school, a community centre and library and even a daycare. There are partial examples already in this city, time to take it to the next level.
    It could still be possible in NEFC, and lets hope this extra density helps pay towards realizing the streetcar network as well.

  • gmgw

    “…lets hope this extra density helps pay towards realizing the streetcar network as well.”

    Sorry, JJJoe; the revenues from the extraordinary increase in density proposed for NEFC (and we’re talking over three million square feet of new residential space) were meant to help pay for the new roof on BC Place. There’s something like seventeen new towers proposed for the stadium precincts alone Buyers of condos in those towers were to be required, as a condition of sale, to sign a document agreeing to forego any right to file complaints related to noise from the stadium when the roof is open. Those monster truck rallies, to cite only one example, would certainly become a participatory experience for anyone living that close.

    I’m speaking partially in the past tense here, since, based on news reports that the retractable roof may be indefinitely postposed or even cancelled due to rapidly escalating costs, I’ve been wondering if that level of density will now no longer be necessary. Yeah, I know; dream on.
    Incidentally, will the loss of the big view corridor now giving Southeast False Creek a splendid view of Mount Seymour affect property values in SEFC? Just asking.

    As for the streetcar, anyone in Engineering who’s connected with the project will tell you that for the downtown, or even Yaletown, extension to be built the other two levels of government will have to get on board. And that was true even before the current economic schemozzle. The figure that has been most often bandied about as the cost of a Gastown/Yaletown extension is $100 million-plus, and that figure is at least five years old. For the foreseeable future, the streetcar extension is going to remain only a gleam in the eye of certain City engineers.

    One last niggly point, this one for Frances: Frances, the correct spelling of “Larwell” Park, as you’ve called it, is “Larwill”. Trust me on this one, OK? I may not be old enough to remember when it was a park (a designation that has never been officially removed from that site– the bus depot had not been meant to be permanent), but I do know some of its history.

  • Michael Gordon, Senior Central Area Planner

    Thank you Frances for attending the Urban Design Panel and doing this posting. It is important for people who have an interest in the future of northeast false creek to now be weighing in with thoughtful advice.

    1. This is a high level review and the form of development in the area will continue to evolve, especially when we move into rezonings following the high level review. At this point among the important policy questions Council will being consider ingare the density, land uses and public spaces, public amenities/benefits to be required in the area.

    2. Connectivity: The change in the grade from the downtown to false creek poses some challenges and you are right to emphasize that as a concern. Next week, we will be making a presentation to the Urban Design Panel on the Georgia Pedestrian Link, envisaged to connect Beatty and Pacific Blvd on the east side of the stadium.

    3. Public Realm: The high level review will be recommending a pattern of open spaces and public realm connections. Their design and configuration will be sorted out in more detailed planning after Council reviews the HLR in the fall.

    4. Public Engagement: We will be holding a series of public open houses, they will be advertised and we urge all interested to come and offer their advice. We are also contacting commuunity and business groups and offering to come out and give a presentation and ask for their feedback.

    Lastly, I am confident that the four property owners, their design designs, Council, the residents, the business community, and those who frequent false creek will be interested in seeing this corner of False Creek emerge as a unique, vibrant to visit, work, play and live.

    Thanks again for getting engaged in following our progress of this planning work.

  • Otis Krayola

    With gmgw, that makes three of us (that I know of) who are still breathing and aware of Larwill Park.

    I was at a Park Board function a couple of years ago when Dave Rudberg was on about the wonders that were to be seen come 2010 and the Big Party. He waxed rhapsodic about the Downtown Cultural Precinct and the crowds that would gather nightly (in the rain) on ‘that land where the bus station used to be’ to bear witness to the Miracle of the Games.

    Nancy Chiavario, ex-NPA City Councillor and, more important (in this case), ex-Park Board Chair, piped up, saying,”Wait. That’s Larwill Park you’re speaking of!”. Rudberg, looking abashed, said, “We don’t like to mention that it’s a park.”.

  • tf

    I continue to believe that “Larwill Park” needs to be developed as a park again. It is the last remaining open space in the tower jungle. There is so much creative potential if we look at it as a park.

  • Frances Bula


  • Joe Just Joe

    The BC Place land is not what the NEFC review is about, the lift on this rezoning will not be going towards BC Place. The only funds towards BC Place will be from Pavco leasing their land on a 99yr lease to whoever develops it. The lift on the upzoning of NEFC will go to city coffers.

  • Re. Rennie’s “really, really, last waterfront in Vancouver”:

    Ha ha, good one! And I wonder what he’ll call the even huger strip of even primer waterfront land — the Gastown railyards – when they get around to developing that?

    And City Planning wants everyone to believe we have a “capacity” shortage. (Noticed on the Hub Review that the railyard is marked something like, “Not to be developed in the foreseeable future.”)

    It’s an old sales trick: create the false notion of scarcity when you have condos to sell or policies to ram through….

    Re. The VAG on FC:

    The Liberals announced they are cutting BC Arts Council funding by 40% earlier this year, and Friday will likely be known as Black Friday in the arts community as numerous arts groups across BC were notified en masse by email that their funding from BC Gaming has been revoked completely or severely chopped.

    So it amazes me how there is still any question as to whether or not the grandiose VAG on FC — clocking in at 250+ million dollars — will still get built?

    Then again, it wouldn’t surprise me one bit. It is after all, Campbell’s grand legacy. And he sure seems to enjoy screwing over the little folks to pay for the big boys’ toys….

  • public space

    Thank you for raising awareness and summarizing some of the issues about NEFC. This is a great venue for discussion on a large (and last) chunk of development for downtown.

    I’d like to highlight a few more issues (three are many more!) that need to be addressed by this NEFC ODP;

    * poor connectivity to downtown and Chinatown with BC Place, GM Place, Pacific Boulevard and Georgia viaduct creating physical, visual and physiological barriers to False Creek.

    * the large amount of contaminated soil that exists on the Concord lands. The plan is to stockpile and cap this toxic soil on the long proposed adjacent creekside park site.

    * With over 7,000 new residents planned to be housed in NEFC, only 7 new acres of public open space is proposed – 1/3 of the amount the Parks Board standard has typically provided for a development of this scale in the past. Plaza of Nations – you will be missed.

    * The public space should be planned first with development responding to the open space configurations.

    The City is planning NEFC public open houses on Sept. 20, 21 and 23 and will be reviewed by council October 22nd. Come out, ask questions and speak out.

  • Edward

    Why shouldn’t it be bland? We may as well stick to the theme already established in most other modern waterfront developments in Vancouver.