Frances Bula header image 2

Vancouver council nixes three of four new tall towers, allows some increases in Chinatown

January 27th, 2010 · 36 Comments

It was so busy yesterday that I had to bail on going to council to hear the decisions on these two issues. I’ll be catching up. Although there’s been lots of coverage of this in other media, I have a feeling there are some subtleties here that aren’t being caught. Back to you later.

Categories: Uncategorized

  • Lewis N. Villegas

    AM 1130 last night reported it as 4 new 15-storey buildings with room for the developers to come back for additional density (if I recall right, up to 5 storeys) in “south Chinatown”. Now, Chinatown is not big enough to have a north and a south, so this is either ringing Thorton Park, on Prior and Union Streets, on the International Village end of Keefer, or we are into the heart of it.

  • savannah walling

    a Downtown Eastside/Strathcona resident’s perspective on increased building height in the neighbourhood…..

    22 January 2010

    Mayor and Councillors
    City of Vancouver
    Vancouver City Hall
    453 West 12th Ave, Vancouver V5Y 1V4

    Re: Historic Area Height Review Conclusions:

    Dear Mayor Gregor Robertson and Vancouver City Councillors,

    I am long-time resident of the Downtown Eastside and artistic director of Vancouver Moving Theatre, operating in the neighbourhood since its founding in 1983. I’ve lived and worked with this community and its residents for almost thirty years – in Chinatown, North of Hastings and in Strathcona. It’s been a great neighbourhood in which to raise our son, now in university. My family and I live here because we like the neighbourhood’s values, history, art forms and cultures. We like our neighbours’ courage, compassion and diversity. We value the physical beauty of the Downtown Eastside’s historic homes and buildings, its human scale and character, building forms, streetscapes and green space.

    However, new development is bringing in hundreds of new residents into the Downtown Eastside at a pace that feels overwhelming for many local residents like myself. At the same time Vancouver doesn’t have enough housing for its increasing homeless, or sufficient affordable and social housing for its residents. I appreciate the city’s policy of revitalization without displacement. In reality, however, according to the City of Vancouver Backgrounder on Downtown Eastside Revitalization:
    • there are no longer significant numbers of low income units anywhere in the city outside of the Downtown Eastside;
    • the current DTES Housing Plan does not protect low income housing;
    • market condo units in the Downtown Eastside are not affordable to moderate or middle income households;
    • no policy of controlling the pace of development of market housing exists and the pace of development is far faster than predicted.

    My concern is that our DTES neighbourhood will become unaffordable for low and middle income residents because of rising land and retail prices, increasing rents, and loss of hotel room s for low-income patrons through hard and soft conversions. I’m concerned that higher income residents will be intolerant of the lower income. I see all these developments happening around me.

    I’m also concerned that rapid development will irrevocably erode our Downtown Eastside’s distinctive heritage, scale and style. When I say Downtown Eastside – I mean the whole historic district from Victory Square and Gastown to Chinatown, Thornton Park, Downtown Eastside Oppenheimer (Main and Hastings – Japantown), and Strathcona all the way to Clark and Burrard Inlet. Our whole area is the heart of Old Vancouver – not just Chinatown and Gastown or Pender and Water Streets. Vancouver’s history is embedded in our Downtown Eastside buildings, streetscapes, breezeways, rolling hills, parks and waterfront. Some of the most storied places and important centres for the Aboriginal, Asian, and European immigrant communities lie in this area. They are anchors for local residents, to Vancouver as a whole and to Aboriginal, Asian Canadian and immigrant communities across Canada Vancouver has only one founding historic district. Once gone, this heritage can never be replaced.

    For all of these reasons, I – like many of my neighbours – believe that the rate of change in this community needs to be controlled. For these reasons I make the following recommendations:

    1. No new height until the city completes a local area planning process for the entire historic Downtown Eastside – a plan that includes its low income residents, builds on existing community assets and existing area planning policies and community visions (including Gastown, Chinatown, Victory Square, Carnegie Community Action Project and Strathcona Community Plan). This plan should include a study of the impact and benefits of the market Condo and Woodward’s Developments on the low income and Aboriginal communities. It should also include a policy and mechanism regulating rates of development. Designate a senior planner to coordinate development for the Downtown Eastside to ensure a comprehensive plan is developed that protects housing for low income residents, creates a safe, affordable and healthy neighbourhood, and maintains its heritage, scale and character.

    2. No tall buildings or towers anywhere. Towers do not fit with the neighbourhood’s historic scale and character. They will not “solve” its social problems, nor significantly increase the social and affordable housing our largely low income community needs. Towers will dramatically diminish the entire Downtown Eastside’s heritage character, scale and potential as a tourist draw for local and international visitors. Smaller scale building preserves “eyes on the street”, facilitates a common agreement to protect the neighbourhood, and encourages the community to take care of public spaces. The Woodwards Towers should remain an exception – not a model.

    3. Update and respect Vancouver’s Heritage Registry – updating it for all parts of Strathcona and the Downtown Eastside Oppenheimer areas (which contains one-of-a-kind houses Edwardian and Victorian houses of high historical significance). There are many, many historically significant buildings in these areas that are not on the city’s historic register.

    4. Preserve and profile the entire historic Downtown Eastside as an exceptional cultural and heritage district (ultimately, I hope, with the same status as Chinatown and Gastown). Maintain the area’s historic character and general building scale as a tourist draw, while expanding social and affordable housing, and preserving our social and cultural facilities, green spaces and water-front access.

    5. Densify appropriately and sustainably, building on our history, while preserving as many heritage buildings and streetscapes as possible. (For example, developers could model social housing on the scale of traditional “clan-houses” of Asian immigrants and boarding houses of European Immigrants.) Preserve the neighbourhood’s unique mix of residential, community and retail services, commercial and industrial uses, as well as its powerful draw for Aboriginal and immigrant communities across Canada.

    6. Ensure all new developments on Hastings Street have retail on pedestrian level to provide affordable shopping opportunities for residents

    7. Work with the province and all political parties to lobby for instatement of a National Housing Strategy that brings together all levels of government to enact a plan increasing affordable housing across Canada.

    Current height restrictions provide ample room for future development and would allow the area’s population to double. There is no need to rush the planning process. Take time to engage with Downtown Eastside residents in a meaningful way to build a comprehensive vision for growth. Involve the whole community – including low income residents and neighbourhood associations. Come up with innovative projects combining social and affordable housing with the community’s character and needs, heritage building forms and scale.

    I thank you for your consideration.

    Savannah Walling
    470 E. Pender Street,
    Vancouver, B.C. V6A 1T9
    604-255-1948

  • david hadaway

    There are buildings well worth saving in Chinatown and plenty more that should have been replaced long ago. The obsessive desire to preserve stymied the Woodwards development for years until the demolition bullet was finally bitten. The beneficial results are already obvious.

    The fact is that Chinatown is a scruffy dump that urgently needs some of the same medicine. All we need is a mechanism to ensure that some of the profit from replacing the junk goes toward repairing the jewels.

  • Andrea C.

    Mr. Hadaway:

    As a long-time resident of Chinatown, I’d love to hear your opinion of what buildings or even blocks serve as good examples of “junk”. I’m not denying there’s junky buildings in this historic area, but I’d love to hear about some concrete examples of what you’re talking about. Or is it all just angry rhetoric?

  • Bill Lee

    Even Peoples Daily (Beijing English edition) chimes in with comments about the Chinatown development today.

    http://english.people.com.cn/90001/90778/90858/90864/6880524.html

  • Bill Lee

    Some of the tower sites were mentioned in
    from the May 29 2009 Vancouver Sun
    … and 40 storeys
    Pender and Carrall
    Columbia and Keefer
    21 West Pender

    If they kill off street fronts as Rennie’s new development does, then it is game over for Chinatown as a living, breathing district and it becomes like Montreal’s La Gauchetiere or Toronto’s Elizabeth street–Here was Chinatown.

    http://www.vancouversun.com/story_print.html?id=1644948

    …”Oddly, the city owns the land where Sun Yat-Sen Garden is located, but didn’t talk to Garden officials about the tower idea before it went public.

    “No one spoke to the Garden about this, and I don’t know that anyone spoke to the Chinese Cultural Centre about this,” said Doug Halverson, president of the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden Society. “It just suddenly appeared on these maps at a public meeting.”

    Halverson said a tower at Pender and Carrall would destroy the serenity of the garden.

    “The principle of a Chinese garden is that the walls provide separation from the noisy city,” he said.

    “That separation from the city would involve having the city loom up 300 feet immediately outside the walls, so it’s not difficult for us to say we do not want a tower on the Chinese Cultural Centre site. Because if we lose a quarter of our sky — and by the way, there’s a second tower on Columbia and Keefer, so maybe we’d lose half the sky — that will so damage the garden that you may as well abandon it.”

    To some people the idea of building a skyscraper on the Chinese Cultural Centre site is so ludicrous the city might be using it as a red herring to drum up opposition to any towers in the neighbourhood.

    But city planning director Brent Toderian said the four “special sites” were selected because there has been developer interest in towers in the historic neighbourhood. Developer Rob McDonald, for example, has looked at a 40-storey tower at 21 West Pender, although Toderian thinks it may have not been a formal application. He stresses the special sites are just a concept for discussion, not a city “

  • david hadaway

    Well I live in Strathcona and regularly walk downtown through Chinatown. Today I went down Pender Street so here is my assessment of buildings worth protecting.

    200 block North, 3 or 4 buildings.
    200 block South, 1 building, opposite Impark’s open air drug mart on the NE corner.

    100 block North , the CIBC on Main and then nothing until the group on the corner of Columbia.
    100 block South, nothing at all.

    000 block North, Here Channel M is an example of the kind of lowest common denominator new building that kills streets, then you have the Sun Yat Sen, Jack Chow and the arch.
    000 block South, almost all of this, classic Chinatown let down by the Beijing Trading Co. on Columbia.

    It’s just a personal view of what’s worth keeping but I don’t think many people looking dispassionately at the remaining collection of mostly decrepit one and two story structures would disagree. There are also some low rise new buildings whose utter banality shows that quality of design not height is what matters.

    As to ‘angry rhetoric’, well it’s better than apathetic silence and the day I don’t get angry about important things is the day they’ll be putting me in a pine box. However this isn’t one of those issues, I just have an opinion which I feel free to express, and as the Olympics are forcing me to take an involuntary holiday perhaps a little too much time to do so!

  • gmgw

    D. Hadaway:
    You’re probably too young to remember when Gastown was a (really) “scruffy dump”– up until about 1970, when Larry Killam and others showed what could be done to clean up and revitalize an historic area without taking the easy ways out: either “facadism”, or outright demolition. I grant you that it’s more of a challenge to do this without biting the “demolition bullet”, and that most of the developers in this town get blue-steel erections at the thought of destroying anything that’s old so they can build something new, crass and revenue-generating, but the “desire to preserve” that you castigate should apply to Chinatown just as much as it did in Gastown, before facadism became the accepted way of faking genuine heritage preservation. I also grant you that Gastown has had its doldrums over the years, as fashionable shopping and retail districts in the city ebbed and flowed. But this sort of thing in inevitable. Seattle’s more successful and better-thought-out Pioneer Square area might serve as a better example of creative preservation of an historic neighbourhood.

    Preservation does not have to equal stagnation. Unfortunately, there’s few people in this town nowadays with both the money and the will to do it right (and I do *not* count Bob Rennie among their number). One of the big appeals of Chinatown during the nearly forty years I’ve been regularly visiting the area is that, for just a little while, while I’m there I feel like I’ve arrived at a place that doesn’t remind me of just how insufferably and uniformly smug, bland and dull the rest of this city has become– thanks largely to people who think like you. Admittedly it was easier to experience this feeling of “escape” in the 70s, before Hong Kong money flooded in and made over much of old Chinatown along the flashy HK model. But it’s still possible to foster the pleasant illusion of “otherness” when walking along Pender Gai, especially on the block east of Main. And that’s what I’d like to see preserved.

    Why the hell can’t we have a hundred-year-old building preserved intact as part of a historic streetscape, with condos upstairs, if you must, but with an old-fashioned market downstairs selling fresh vegetables, BBQ pork, preserved duck eggs, and dozens of kinds of tea? Trendy New Yorkers would kill for an opportunity like that. But no, in our hypothetical Chinatown building– if it survives– we’ll probably get an avant art gallery and/or an upscale wine bar at street level instead, and god knows what the rest of the building will be turned into.

    So often nowadays development in Vancouver seems to take its cue from that infamous example of Orwellian doublespeak that emerged from the Vietnam war (the Woodward’s development being an excellent example of this principle): “It became necessary to destroy the village in order to save it”. It doesn’t have to be that way. It really doesn’t. But it will probably continue to be anyway…
    gmgw

  • Bill Lee

    @ D. Hadaway One of many lists of historical buildings (photo icon on the right column) is at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinatown,_Vancouver#List_of_historic_buildings_in_Chinatown

    Beijing Trading? The old Trans-Nation Emporium, once the major tourist store, on two levels in Chinatown in the 1940s and 1950s.

    See page 18 of the 53 page City study (so many studies, so little thought) http://vancouver.ca/commsvcs/planning/chinatown/pdfs/ChinatownNHS_Nomination.pdf

    from the 2007 City page http://vancouver.ca/commsvcs/planning/chinatown/

  • Andrea C.

    Thank you for your detailed reply, Mr. Hadaway. I retract my rhetorical salvo about “angry rhetoric”. I guess where we differ, despite pounding the identical pavement in Chinatown, is that you see a few individual buildings or small sets of buildings worth saving, and many more eyesores that are in need of demolition and redevelopment and I see the opposite, to some extant. Two recent redevelopment sites loom large on my personal “junk list” – Chinatown Plaza and Chinatown Centre (Gore and Georgia and Pender and Columbia) . Whatever was there before (and unfortunately, some of it was heritage that could have, should have been redeemed) cannot possibly be have been worse than these wretched white elephants. You have provided your own example with the “M” building. It’s a newer building. Personally, I believe that there’s no excuse not to rehabilitate the older buildings in Chinatown. There’s plenty of newer fodder to address (real sh*t shacks thrown up in the dirty 70s, for example). I’m not sure of the date of construction, but the cheap eyesore on the NW corner of Gore and Keefer with the meat store below and empty restuarant space above (once the respectable New Diamond) springs to mind immediately. What do you think?

  • david hadaway

    gmgw / andrea c.

    Very good points with which I can’t really disagree. I stand by ‘scruffy’ but ‘dump’ was unfair.

    I’m restoring an old house in Strathcona at the moment and find a lot of people do not understand my determination to preserve as much as possible of the original materials where possible and to respect the original construction methods. I hate blandness, smugness and dullness Uniformity is sometimes ok, as in a Georgian terrace, but I’ll add conformity to the list.

    I just don’t think we should be afraid of replacing small buildings at the end of their natural life with something bigger and more monumental. This is actually the process that created the best architecture in Chinatown. Unfortunately more recently it has also created some of the worst in Vancouver.

    I’d start with strict rules on the preservation of historic structures, along with the encouragement and preservation of active street fronts in all new development. Keeping design standards above the hack commercial architect standard is also essential. Easier said than done, perhaps, but it’s why we have a planning department and why concerned citizens should make their voices heard.

  • Gassy Jack’s Ghost

    “To some people the idea of building a skyscraper on the Chinese Cultural Centre site is so ludicrous the city might be using it as a red herring to drum up opposition to any towers in the neighbourhood.”

    Oddly enough, Bill, I recall floating this red herring suggestion last May when Frances first reported it, but my point was phrased differently than the in article you quote:

    “It is such a ridiculously bad proposal that it almost looks like a red-herring that is designed to draw attention away from all the other slightly less spurious amendments they also want to ram through.”

    ie. not to drum up opposition to the HAHR in general, but to focus opposition solely on this one tower, so that all the other towers and height increases would be forgotten and get passed unopposed. And it looks like that’s exactly what ended up happening.

    David, I don’t disagree with your assessment of the dumpy buildings (most of which, it should be noted, are not heritage buildings, but post-war buildings). But how you make the leap to it being OK to put towers in a heritage district is beyond me. Whatever else Woodwards may have done for the area, the towers are totally out of place and out of character and detract aesthetically from the heritage district. Furthermore, the whole orientation of the site is inside the middle courtyard, creating a really uninviting and ugly streetscape around the perimeter.

    If you really want to see what the future of Chinatown looks like with towers, take a walk down Shanghai Alley — that’s where this is heading.

  • david hadaway

    @bill lee

    Thank you for the link. The ‘compatible new designs’ on page 16 of the nomination were a bit dispiriting though. So heavy and crude compared to the old society buildings, they show how rule book architecture can be pretty dismal. The so called ‘vernacular’ style isn’t much better. Sticking on some glazed tiles and a couple of dragons just isn’t enough.

    If the planners are satisfied with that then it’s a problem.

    Thanks for making me think again.

  • Bill Lee

    @david hadaway
    My reference is confused with the “page” and the “page”
    Page 19 of the study is #23 page (sheet) of the PDF. Or just search for “City of Vancouver Archives CVA 780-456” in the PDF or parts thereof. Transnation Emporium 39 East Pender was just around the corner from the comfortable and famous Ho Inn (not the Ho Ho on the south side of Pender) Both were part of the Yuen Shen society.

    You can find that style of ‘architecture’ in the old Japantown on Powell too. Trying to be moderne (lots left in the old Manchuria part of Japan occupied China). Built in 1920?

    There is an idealized view on a Trans-nation company cheque from Bank of Nova Scotia on Ebay.com.sg right now from 1959.

    That was the old store before it became Beijing Trading to you, a “bear paw” medicine seller.

  • gmgw

    Bill Lee:
    Thanks for mentioning the Trans-Nation Emporium. It occupied the northwest corner of Pender & Columbia and was quite a large store, with frontage on both streets. Your mention of it set off a chain of memories, starting with their quart-sized bottles of Pearl River Bridge mushroom soy sauce that were a staple in what passed for my kitchen back in the day (“the day” being 35 years ago). They used to sell for a buck and a quarter, as I recall. A friend who lived in the bush in those days used to buy a case on his annual trip to town, along with a big box of Wo Fat’s almond cookies– god, how I miss Wo Fat Co.– their beancakes were the best ever. They used to be located next to the Ho Inn (where the father of one my closest friends was the manager) and that block of Pender was never the same after they moved to Hastings (next to the Only). Do you remember the tiny herbalist shop that used to be next to the Ho Ho, with the dusty tiger genitalia on semi-permanent display on a plate in the window? (How ecologically incorrect can you get!–) And its ancient proprietor– I think the only thing in the store older than him was the (possibly) 19th-century sets of wooden cabinets in which he kept his herbs (the Royal BC Museum has a near-identical cabinet on display in their “Chinatown” exhibit). I used to buy natural-bristle toothbrushes there. And then there was the Green Door, where I once took a wrong turn while going to the washroom in the back and stumbled into a smoke-filled windowless room full of Chinese guys in undershirts in the middle of several heated pai-gow games, with a lot of money on the tables– hard to say who was more startled, them or me– never felt more like a gweilo in my life. And the bookstore across from the herbalist’s, where I bought all my Christmas cards for years… and the BC Royal Cafe, which had the best gai bao in town; and the gorgeous neon of Ming’s and the Bamboo Terrace… All lost, all gone, gone, gone. Let’s try and save at least some of what’s left, sparse though it’s become.
    gmgw

  • @ david hadaway . . .

    “There are also some low rise new buildings whose utter banality shows that quality of design not height is what matters.”

    ” . . . quality of design not height is what matters . . . ”

    ” . . . quality of design not height is what matters . . . ”

    ” . . . quality of design not height is what matters . . . ”

    Thanqu . . .

  • This discussion of Chinatown triggers much nostalgia for me as I grew up on 600 block Keefer and walked to and from the family store on the NW corner of Pender and Columbia. My memories of the Trans-Nation Emporium formerly known as Kuo Seun Company, is the store where my dad worked. He was a shareholder as were many members of my extended family of the business started by uncle Dick Gok Seto and grandfather Lee Joe. The address was 89 E Pender. The Pender storefront housed curio including Peking glass vases, dishes, mother-of-pearl panels, and incense burners. The Columbia frontage housed the food emporium and herbalist counter where many of the products Beijing Trading carries today were offered. Upstairs was the warehouse for the dry goods while the basement had 100 lb. sacks of rice and ceramic pots of duck eggs. Like my cousins, I worked there many summers and holidays packaging food like dried shrimp or mushrooms and working dusting the shelves or making sales.

    I miss the neon of Chinatown with the glorious wrap around marquis lights of the Ho Ho, Bamboo Terrace, Marco Polo night club or Ming’s. I am grateful that the city is encouraging the facade improvement program for Hastings and Chinatown include new neon. Bao Bei on Keefer is already lit and the Rickshaw on Hastings is close behind.

  • Lewis N. Villegas

    I will add to savannah walling’s excellent presentation by stating matter-of-factly that if we build out at a historically compatible building scale, then the five neighborhoods that she correctly identifies comprise the DTES will achieve the equivalent of tower densities.

    We don’t need towers for density. We don’t need towers to spark redevelopment. Thus, a question needs to be answered: why do we need towers in the historic heart of our city, Brent Toderain?

    The overall density in Strathcona, measured as a whole (not on a site-by-site basis), is probably higher than density in North Shore False Creek.

    Towers need to be spaced apart in a manner that the cheek-by-jowl construction of the turn of the century urbanism does not.

    The second point to appreciate in savannah walling’s letter is her frequent reference to “streetscapes”.

    This architecture was not meant to be seen “one building at a time”. It was meant to grow together, to combine, and compose entire city-blocks or “streetscapes” as the intended outcome of individual efforts.

    Towers are the antithesis of this sensibility.

    Hadaway, take your passers-by bazooka and walk over to Columbia and Hastings. Look at the building on the south east corner, two story, wood frame: junk or jewel?

    McDonough Hall, 100 East hastings, built in 1888:

    “One of the oldest building in Vancouver, this was constructed at a time when the city was little more than a collection of Wild West false-fronts, boardwalks, and waterlogged streets. Note the unusual corner with its prominent bay and cornice. The St. Andrews and Caledonian Society built this property and held meetings and, on at least one occasion, a masked ball upstairs. [Exploring Vancouver. Kalman, Phillips & Ward, 1993, p. 57].

    Last time I drove by, it looked like any of a hundred other corner stores in the city. Appearances are often wrong.

    The idea of a “village” in Chinatown speaks to my favorite part of NYC, “The Village”. There were no “junky” buildings in The Village. Everything had a way of being polished up and brought back into service (of course, there were no post-1945 construction to contend with). A place built in post Civil War house rows, thirty years younger than the first places in our city, which were later “intensified” from two floors to four or five without sacrificing any of the urban quality.

    It is the “urban quality” of the Village as a whole that makes it world renown today.

    No one goes to see any one of the buildings. It’s its slightly rising or falling ground, the bend in the streets, the closed street-end vistas, the continuity of the streetwalls clad in brick and punctuated by street trees, it is the “quality of the urbanism as a whole” that people flock to see, experience, and wish one day they could inhabit.

    The craddle of our city is like that. “Urban Quality” not “design quality” is what we are after preserving there. Polishing up, as it were, a whole greater than the sum of the parts.

    Towers are of necessity all about “look at me, look at me!” The assume monumental scale, yet have nothing great to offer. Certainly not architectural quality.

    If you are unlucky enough to be a next door neighbour, like the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen classical chinese garden, or the Chinatown Square that David Mah and I designed, then towers are all about “screw you” instead.

    Towers devalue their neighbours with overlook, shadowing, and the concentration of vehicular loads at garage ramp entrances. Others have remarked on the worrisome lack of street presence in the Woodward’s project. Turns its back on the street to face inwards?

    In our city, after about 50′ in height, human beings cannot detect any “quality in design” whether it is there or not. That result is a function of the 66′ right-of-way.

    In order to appreciate detail, we must stand about as far away as the object is tall. In order to appreciate the object as a whole, we must stand twice as far as the object is tall. At three times the distance-to-height ratio, the building begins to merge into its surroundings. The rule is set by the functioning of our human perceptual apparatus, not a planning board or any other expert.

    Taking into account solar angles, and our cloudy skies, 35′ becomes a better fit for solar penetration in most neighbourhood streets.

    We have places for towers. Why can’t the cradle of our city be the place where we prove that we can also practice “contextual” urbanism as “good” urbanism, and good business?

    This blog not gonna be good enough. We are going to have to take our questions, and our pleas straight to Council.

  • MB

    Lewis, by perchance do you have a book in the works? I think you’ve got a unique and objective insight on urban design to at least justify a web site. The only other person I recall talking about human perception relative to height-width ratios was Sheila Lindsay, a UBC prof I had in the 80s.

    There is a risk that any attempt by the city to sponsor inclusive urban design studies / charrettes on Chinatown and the distinct neighbourhoods encompassed by the DTES will invariably be hammered by some critics (a few here on Fabula’s blog) as “kowtowing to developer friends”, and one or two will likely succumb to using their standard and rather immature embellishments using sexual and bathroom references.

    That would be unfortunate. Who else but the city could undertake urban design studies / charrettes in focused areas with relative neutrality and with the goal of strengthening the common good? Why shouldn’t the residents and small businesses of Chinatown and the DTES be given the chance to partcipate in making history in their own neighbourhoods?

    A note on heritage. Most often the ornate design of heritage brick and stone facades do not extend into the building interiors. Therefore, sometimes all you have worth saving in the interiors is the timber and masonry frame, along with some millwork and hardware. Buildings like the Dominion Building are the exception, and their interiors are protected under heritage preservation bylaws.

    In that regard, “that’s just facadism” is more often than not an overly cavalier comment thrown out by those who don’t see the many layers that heritage represents.

    Moreover, when you’re talking about preserving heritage in Chinatown and Gastown you MUST address seismic loading. Some may find the interior steel reinforcement trusses and braces offensive from a heritage point of view, but they serve a vital purpose. Unreinforced masonry in a seismically active area is a disaster waiting to happen, and one big shake will wipe out block after block of heritage buildings without reinforcement.

    Lastly, the sheer magnitude of the 19th Century urbanism and heritage represented in these neighbourhoods requires protection from being eroded at the edges by taller buildings. Moreover, there should be a transition zone where height is stepped down to the heritage level, and the architectural and streetscape character transitions between the centuries.

  • Gassy Jack’s Ghost

    Two things:

    1. Brent Toderian last May commented on this blog (in the Form Shift discussion, right before the initial Chinatown tower discussion) that “ground-oriented, human scaled, “gentle density”” was a preferred and ideal method of urban densification. As Lewis, MB and others suggest, this should apply especially to an historic district. His words, however, appear to be empty lip-service, as he proposed the exact opposite in the towers of the HAHR, which now we are going to have to live with FOREVER, to the detriment of this city’s history and heritage. Why is there such a gap between words and actions in Planning?!

    2. In the Form Shift discussion he and others like Lewis and Michael and MB noted that the Charter restricts the City’s ability to develop high density, small scale row houses (ie. ground-oriented, human scaled, “gentle density”). In this we are an anomaly in all of Canada. Toderian and the others expressed a consensus that there was a pressing need to remove this restriction in order to move forward with an excellent form of urban design that is currently unavailable to us. BT said, “we’re seeking a “speedy” resolution of the Charter problem.” Nearly a year later, I’m wondering if anyone (Joe Just Joe, perhaps?) can tell us whether or not there has been any movement or resolution on this issue from the City?

  • Brent Toderian

    Hi Frances, and readers. This past Tuesday was the climax of two very complex exercises, the Vancouver View Corridors Review, and the Historic Area Height Review. The recommendations of staff and the decisions by Council are nuanced, so I thought I would try to summarize the process, recommendations and results. I’ll focus on the View Corridors first in this comment, and try to provide another comment on the Historica Area heights over the weekend.

    Because of the overlap and inter-relationships, Staff presented both items in a joint presentation last Tuesday, and there were many very interesting and complex questions from Council (I would encourage anyone interested in these subjects to watch the presentation and Council questions, accessible on the City’s website, as the discussion covered a lot of very interesting ground). Then last Friday, Council heard from the many dozens of speakers throughout the day, mostly on the Historic Areas Heights item, and finishing around 9:30 Friday night. Council then reconvened the items this Tuesday for many more questions of staff, Council debate, and their decisions. A long and thoughtful process!

    Staff’s presentation emphasized that both these exercises had very strong connections to our City’s values – the value of our roots, in the form of our heritage district, and the value of our views, and their powerful impact on our connection to nature and setting, and our “sense-of-place”. In both case, our primary recommendation (Recommendation A in both reports) was to reinforce these important values, and the policies that protect them, and to err on the side of preserving them in any changes chosen.

    In the case of the Views, we recommended the addition of three new view corridors (including one from our new Olympic Plaza at the Athletes Village), as well as various techniques to strengthen existing views. These recommendations haven’t been reported on much, but they represented critical ways to expand and enhance the power of the public views. Council approved these.

    We also put a question to Council that had come out of the public discussion – whether to continue to treat the view corridor policy as a “hard line”, which some thought resulted in a ‘flat-top skyline”, or to begin using more careful and strategic discretion for slight height adjustments in the right places and for the right reasons, that could help create a slightly more “varied skyline”. Staff put the two options to Council neutrally, and after considerable discussion, Council chose the former, erring I think on the side of a predictable result, and the prevention of view erosion over time through a series of “exceptions”.

    The last recommendation was the most controversial, the issue of 4 taller buildings (3 on Georgia, one on Burrard). Initially in launching this process, Council had asked us to consider adjustments to the view corridors that could allow additional development capacity to achieve public benefits, and this was our most difficult consideration. This because we believe strongly that the view corridors policy has been one of the most important and successful city-shaping policies we’ve ever created as a city.

    Having said that, we undertook an exercise through the public engagement, and with some special help from consultants (a group of 4 of the most respected urbanists on the continent, Ken Greenberg from Toronto, Kairos Shen from Boston, and Norm Hotson and Joe Hruda from Vancouver) to conceive a strategy option that might strike a balance between various objectives. Considering the public’s slight willingness to consider new limited taller buildings in our wider panoramic views (we heard this in Phase 1 of the consultation), we looked at where taller buildings might be located within the wider views, that might also create special moments in our skyline, and terminate views from all the key entrances to the downtown. Such visible place-markers and punctuation points within the skyline are thought to help create and read the “mental map” of our city and downtown, a long-standing concept in city-design.

    These 4 sites were tested with the public in the second round of public consultation and surveying, and we found that approximately half of the surveyed respondents supported this idea – a number that we found surprising given how overwhelming the feeling of public support for view corridors had been in the first round. Many told us that they felt we had listened carefully in round one, and perhaps that why the ideas shown in round 2 were reasonably well received as being reflective of what we’d heard. We thought the approach, although it would impact the wider views, was careful and strategic, maximizing opportunity and minimizing impact on the views. Given this, and the reasonable level of support, we decided to put it forward for Council consideration, albeit still with cautious and trepidation. Support from around half, still can be interpreted many ways,and we still believed these insertions in the views didnt NEED to happen.

    Thus although we put the 4 new tower idea forward to Council, I strongly reinforced in the presentation that our primary message is to err on the side of preservation – thus if Council felt a strong need to add more capacity, this is the MOST they should consider doing (and no more than 4, as had been suggested by some during the process). But we felt Council didn’t NEED to make such a change, and if they chose not to add any new buildings, it would certainly be in keeping with staff’s general perspective and the input from the public. We reinforced this many times, something Allan Garr picked up in his article on the subject, but several other media didn’t.

    Ultimately Council chose to approve all of the view expansion and strengthening recommendations, and not support the 4 new towers. They asked us to continue to investigate opportunities for taller buildings that met current policy. And even though they didn’t support the 4 towers, they picked up the wording we had suggested for a much higher standard for architectural beauty and green design in the taller buildings, and applied it to ALL buildings within the current taller building policy – a very strong move for how taller buildings outside the view corridors will be designed. In general, they erred significantly on the side of the importance of public views. I think this is a wise decision, reflecting the values we had heard in our engagement with the public. This has been characterized as “vetoing” staffs suggestion, but I see it as in keeping with the tone and emphasis of our presentation to Council, and staff is very pleased with the outcome.

    This decision provides significant clarity after years of pressure to randomly erode the view corridors with “special exceptions”. We now have an expanded, strengthened, preserved and confirmed view corridor policy for future generations, and that’s a very good thing.

    Regards,
    Brent Toderian

  • Brent Toderian

    And in response to Gassy’s questions, i cant recall the context of what he’s suggesting I said, but i do believe that ground oriented “gentle density” is a very strategic form of densification across the city and region, with examples such as the late Art Cowie’s fee-simple rowhouses. I think appropriate scale significantly relates to context, and the contexts of downtown, the historic area, the many different city-wide arterials and the single-family blocks all differ greatly. I’ve never suggested a one-size-fits-all approach.

    I myself worked on many such fee-simple rowhouse projects in Ontario and Alberta earlier in my career, and I remain quite frustrated that we continue to have difficulties here. The City legal minds and the Province have had several discussions about the charter issues, and it seems we’ve been in various stages of disagreement. I continue to push, and hope it can be addressed soon.

    Brent

  • MB

    Thanks Brent for participating in this conversation and for your “inside view”. It helps clarify the issue for me and I’m sure others.

  • david hadaway

    Villegas – I wish I had a passers-by bazooka! But it wouldn’t be targeted where you may think.

    Anything built before 1945 would be quite safe you may be sure and even the one storey shop fronts would have some breathing space.

    Top of the list would be the crude, clumsy but often pretentious clunkers like Channel M or the HSBC on Main. Even the car park lowering over Quebec and Keefer has a certain Maoist charm compared to these. Next would be anything in pink stucco and the low rise brick efforts like that on the NW corner of Main and Pender. If their architects were inside at the time all the better! Finally anything with vacuform green tiles and fiberglass dragons would be in the sights although in the latter cases I’d be taking care for any hidden historic structure behind.

    I understand why people oppose towers but, to me, it’s the accretion of this kind of substandard “architecture” that is the biggest threat to Chinatown’s heritage and seeing some of it described as appropriate in a city report is really astonishing.

  • Lewis N. Villegas

    MB we were both at UBC in the 80s and I remember working with Sheila, but we weren’t talking that stuff. The 1 : 2: 3 ratios are from Vitruvius, written about the time of the Christian Gospels. Next I pick up the trail “Great Streets” (Alan Jacobs) is referring to Maerterns, German, late 1800’s working in the same milieu as Camillo Sitte and Stüben, but I don’t read German and have not pursued the original sources. Heggemann has it in “Civic Art”, but he seems to be reading Palladio’s Renaissance (and later) version.

    However, thus stuff works. We can as sentient beings “get a feeling” from walking in our venerable historic neighbourhoods simply as a result of the combined effect of the architecture.

    I call that “urban quality”. And, not I don’t get it in North Shore False Creek. I’ve gone looking for the experience, but it has eluded me. There is an urban feel of sorts on Homer, with Yaletown warehouses on one side and tower-and-podium on the other. However, the street design is so… well Un-Great, that it gets in the way. Places need time to mature, and we may be a decade or so early for a solid evaluation of NSFC.

    Book…. if you know a publisher, we can get going.

    However, I am totally on board with you about “Who else but the city could undertake urban design studies / charrettes”… which is how I did them with Lennertz & Coyle of Portland, but it is not how it was done in Fraser Lands where Lennertz’s old boss, Andres Duany, I expect was hired by the developer.

    Yet, it is a civic responsibility of the First Order in a Great City to lead. And while “vision” is a can that has been kicked around the block some, in light of our earlier points on human perception, one can argue that the only effective and final way to cement a vision is through urban design.

    That poses a serious obstacle to the modern planner and architect who knows nothing of that.

    You hit the right issues on historic preservation. I would only add that the workmanship of these brick buildings, who Budd Wood was instrumental in getting us to look at in Architecture School, is something we cannot do anymore. The technology for refurbishing these structures, inside and out, on the other hand, we have advanced by leaps and bounds.

    However it is “he sheer magnitude of the 19th Century urbanism and heritage represented in these neighbourhoods requires protection from being eroded at the edges by taller buildings.”

    How we act, collectively as a community, is what will mark our fate.

    Okay, I’m late to to take my daughter to swimming lessons. Ghost, I fully support your analysis and look forward to reading Brent’s reply. I agree, the FormShift discussions had a double edge: intensification of Vancouver’s arterial AND the DTES.

    I repeat what I wrote then, we are fortunate to have a DoP that blogs! That’s a new dimension in public service.

    A final quick note until I return, headway, where I come from we often call our friends by their last name. It’s a sign of respect, or a wink-and-a-nod depending on usage. I’m winking at you. I enjoyed your comments written as you experienced the city the way it’s most enjoyable to do: on foot, with a critical eye open (or bazooka) to see what does, and what does not stimulate our imaginations on that day.

  • Lewis N. Villegas

    PS

    Sorry, hadaway, not “headway”

  • Bill Lee

    Villegas : …”The overall density in Strathcona, measured as a whole (not on a site-by-site basis), is probably higher than density in North Shore False Creek. ”

    Quick set of numbers which really should be in finer granularity on the broad City website.

    —— Will this line up?
    factor A B C D E

    Population 5990 5817 3005 5084 10571
    Dwellings 3726 3389 1474 2510 6441
    Area 1.53 km2 0.82 km2 0.24km2 1.63km2 0.56km2
    Pop/km2 3864/km2 7060/km2 12688/km2 3125/km2 18555/km2

    A (CT 9330049.01)is South False Creek, Fraserview, from Main to Granville, north of Broadway, south of Lamey’s Mill road
    B (CT 9330049.02)is South False Creek, north of Lamey’s Mill from Cambie to Burrard Bridge

    A and B might be combined to do south False Creek

    C (CT 9330057.01) is Chinatown, Main, to Dunlevy (3 blocks), south of Hastings, north of Prior/Union

    D (CT 9330057.02)is rest of Strathcona, from Dunlevy to Clark, south of Hastings and a dogleg to Main south of Prior, north of Terminal.

    C and D might be combined to claim Strathcona.

    E (CT 9330059.03)is north False Creek, Burrard west of Pacific sweeping down along Homer to Nelson to the Waterfront.

    The other Census Tract (CT 9330059.05) part of North False Creek (east of Cambie to Main, south of Pender/Keefer/Dunsmuir) incorporates a lot of downtown to Burrard and I would say that it is
    problematic usage. 10,726 in 6,674 dwellings, 1.65 km2 and density of 6,505.7/km2

    You might visit http://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/index-eng.cfm
    and look at the Census Tract profiles yourself. Geosearch is a good way to narrow your search down before you click on Additional Data for the profile.

    Also have a glance at Microsoft’s Bing.com/maps and their oblique Birds Eye View to see the locations. And google.ca/maps and their StreetView feature (also in Bing) to see street views.

    The marvelous but not fully open or linked Vanmap (use the AutoDesk viewer for best results) might also be viewed.

    But you really should be on your bicylce with your bike odometer, a map, a camera, and a notebook, viewing the street in person and chatting with people from their balconies and on the street.

  • Lewis N. Villegas

    “By now the twin towers are icons, as familiar in souvenir shops as those little miniatures of the Empire State Building. We have all come to some sort of accommodation with the towers, God help us, and there have even been moments when I have seen them from afar and admitted some small pleasure in the way the two huge forms, when approached from a distance, play off against each other like minimal sculpture. But the buildings remain an occasion to mourn: they never should have happened, they were never really needed, and if they say anything at all about our city, it is that we retreat into banality when the opportunity comes for greatness.” [p.11]

    Paul Goldberger, some time architecture critic for the New York Times, writing about the World Trade Center in his “The City Observed: New York”, (1979).

    I too have observed what I tentatively term the “inverse square rule” of tower aesthetics: their appeal increases proportionately with the square of their distance from the observer. Thus, for an observer four times as far away, towers will look twice as good.

    However, this building type in either its residential or commercial varieties represents the bankrupt vision of modernism.

    I’ve never understood the “view corridor” concept.

    The best I can say is simply report back what a woman told me after we presented the “Nanaimo Urban Design Plan” a few years ago, “Lewis, I like my views just fine where they are. Please don’t put them in a corridor.”

    Urbanism resonates with plain common sense, and I have never understood why my friends who are planners don’t understand that even renown authors like Kevin Lynch are voicing a bankrupt ideology. His “Image of the City” for example, as far as I am concerned, should have been subtitled as, “Image of the City: As seen from behind the windshield when driving my automobile.”

    Not only is it obvious that “Image of the City” about a disconnected set of observations in urban space, but at the time of the writing (1961) the best contracts were being awarded by the U.S. Highways Department. The problem was not how to build beautiful cities, an in-depth analysis of Beacon Hill, Boston, would have given him that (human-scale, low-rise, high-density all the way of the same period as New York’s Village), the issue at hand was how to relieve the boredom of driving on the new freeways.

    Lynch was silent of the “Boston Dig” about to get going, or already underway, that would tear up entire working class and black neighborhoods to build the elevated freeway that we stopped, and Boston has since put underground. He was silent, and in my mind complicit, coloring an entire generation of professional planners here in North America. A generation we now have the opportunity to put at some distance from our work.

    When I started architecture school in 1982 I bought and read his “Normative Theory of City Form” (it was in the bookstore, probably for a course at SCARP, no one at our end of the Lassare building was bothering with this). The book’s title is a bare faced lie: there is no theory of urbanism or city form to be found anywhere between its covers. Fortunately, I also bought Aldo Rossi’s “Architecture of the City” on my next trip to Seattle at Peter Miller’s shop.

    “All buildings, large or small, public or private, have a public face, a façade; they therefore, without exception, have a positive or a negative effect on the quality of the public realm, enriching or impoverishing it in a lasting and radical manner. The architecture of the city and public space is a matter of common concern to the same degree as laws and language—they are the foundation of civility and civilization.”

    Leon Krier’s opening lines in the conclusion to his “The Architecture of Community” (2009).

    Coming from South America, as I did at twelve years of age, and growing up in the Lower Mainland, the trajectory of my education here led me to try to understand the persistence of two untenable realities:

    (1) The complete abdication of the public realm, or the street (including its sidewalks and fronting uses) to the dominance of automobiles; and

    (2) The toleration and containment of human misery and suffering in the so-called downtown eastside.

    The continuation of either or both conditions in our city—”our little slum” has no equal in Canada—cannot but result in the debasement of our social and cultural fabric. As these values erode, what will be left standing? The single-minded ethos of corporate profits?

    I have some comments on the fee-simple house row, but I cede space to Brent to tackle the historic area decisions first.

  • Lewis N. Villegas

    Thanks Bill! I was hoping you were in!! I’ll hava closer look.

  • Andrea C.

    M. Hadaway, I have to say you have an awesome eye for bad architecture, and I mean that in the best possible way.
    This has been a secret little bugbear of mine for the last few years as I wander through Chinatown – those mold and mildew covered vinyl canopies fronting every last building in the district, new or old. These things are filthy, festering, algae encrusted vinyl/PVC abominations. They also provide an excellent roost for pooping pigeons. The sad irony is, most of these eyesores / building facade destroyers are less than 10 years old. You wouldn’t have to touch a single building to drastically improve Chinatown overnight – just can the c-h-e-e-p vinyl.

  • Lewis N. Villegas

    In defence of Chinatown, the “Night Market” is the best week-in-week-out summer event in our city, vinyl and all. Chinese New Year year-in-year-out is a spectacular celebration.

    However, it’s a free market economy out there, and I bet it’s tough to make a go in a storefront in either Chinatown or Gastown right now. Never mind Commercial, Main Street, Fraser or Kingsway.

    I agree with you Andrea, but I want to see a lot more common ground, and consensus.

  • Lewis N. Villegas

    …. And the envelope please…..

    [Using Bill Lee’s suggested footprints for South False Creek, North False Creek, and Strathcona]

    Winer: Top Density per square km—Strathcona, 19.8 k [19,748]

    Second Place: North False Creek, 15.8 k

    Third Place: South False Creek, 10.9 k

    [I will check the footprints carefully, and show them in outline on scaled base maps for the CIP and Land Summit presentations. However, for us here and now, these results are truly, truly remarkable.]

    Before we proceed, a message from our sponsor—not Frances, but Bill. He is absolutely right. The only way to get a feel for the place is by walking around in it. That’s how to get the quality of the urbanism anywhere: Rome or Hastings.

    Fear not, a walk in these neighborhoods—pick a sunny Sunday morning, bring the kids, then treat yourself to brunch afterwards—can be truly rewarding. When I take my students for urban walks, they always come back glowing from the experience. Art is not to be had simply at the VAG. That was savannah walling’s point, I think, and many others who have written here.

    For resident, the experience can be had simply by opening the front door, and reaching down to pick up the packet of flyers.

    O.K. Back to the numbers…

    North Shore False Creek, the poster child for what every city in Canada (I am told) would like to achieve, delivers 20% less tax revenue to the host city than Strathcona.

    South False Creek has 55%, or about half, the density—and Tax Increment—of Strathcona.

    Let me first thank Bill Lee for this.

    Then, let me exit on two points:

    (1) If we can achieve equivalent densities with either tower-and-podium, or fee-simple, human-scale, high-density, low-rise buildings, then which building type delivers the best urban quality?

    (2) What is better for the DTES? A community of strata owners riding in elevators, coming and going from buildings that turn their back on the street (reference comments we have already heard here about Woodward’s). Or a community of land and building owners, with mortgage-helper rental suites, who will sweep the sidewalk, pick up trash from the lane, garden in their front and rear yards, and give me dirty looks every time I drive by with the top down exceeding a tacit 20 km/h speed limit?

    So, back to our Director of Planning: We don’t need tower-and-podium for density. We don’t need tower-and-podium to spark redevelopment. Thus, a question needs to be answered: why do we need towers in the historic heart and cradle of our city?

  • Andrea C.

    Mr. Villegas
    Thank you for responding to my little rant, r.e. “the evil of PVC in Chinatown”. The focus of my dislike is, indeed, very narrow. For example, I can totally live with the vinyl that comes and goes away, because I, too, love the Chinatown night market.
    I guess my philosophical contribution towards gaining a consensus would be along the lines of, “People of Vancouver, and Chinatown, the DTES and Stathcona in particular:
    Empower yourselves with knowledge. Learn the rich history of this area through reading, walking, listening. Acknowledge the many struggles of those who made their home in the neighborhood before the first waves of gentrification arrived in the early-to-mid 90s. The Strathcona I first glimpsed, with slack-jawed wonder, in June 1990, was the product of decades of stuggle , and a determination to live in dignity for its residents. There was not a thing I would have changed in my idealistic mind. It was like falling head over heels in love. City planners, architects, business interests and politicians tried their best to destroy this carefully woven urban fabric, but only succeeded partway. I have always appreciated these efforts – I see the tender care with which generations have beautified and fortified their homes, despite draconian by-laws that forbade any renovations at the pain of a crippling fine. Some readers may recall the pride taken in cultivating chysanthemums in many front yards – years of attentive pruning that yielded glorious blossoms.
    A roof-to-basement restoration of a heritage home is alright, but not if it erases all traces of the past. I know of many new homeowners, who despite having been told the history of the chrysanthemums adorning their yard and nodding sympathetically, have made post-haste to rip them all up and install a Home-Depot insta-landscape on their property. Landowners rights, you know? They call it progress, but it always gives me the blues.

  • david hadaway

    Andrea C -Thanks, and for anyone who noticed thanks for sparing my blushes about getting North and South wrong.

    In a city with so many detailed regulations ( I just had to hack the top off my garden gate because it exceeded the official height ) you’d think a requirement to clean awnings might be a good idea. In fact such rules exist in many European cities.

    Another European city concept I would love to see would be laws against keeping residential properties unoccupied – to discourage speculation and increase available accomodation.

  • Brent Toderian

    As promised, here is the second part of my summary of process, recommendations and Council decisions, this time for the Historic Area Height Review. This item is even more complex and nuanced than the View Corridor work, thus this overview will be longer than part 1, so my apologies in advance.

    Perhaps to start, a commenter asked why we were even considering heights for “towers” in the Historic Area. The short answer – the work was based on Council direction. Followers of the EcoDensity (ED) process will recall that when staff brought our first draft ED actions to Council for permission to take them out for further public consultation, Council added several new action items, including one to study the possibility of taller buildings in the DTES to achieve additional public benefits. When we brought back the final ED actions for Council decision, we proposed a re-written version of that action based on public input that emphasized the preservation of the area’s historic scale and character in such a review, and Council agreed and approved the revised action. This was the basis of the work we’re discussing.

    A comprehensive review of heights in the area did have a strategic value – at the time we were being presented with several proposals for very tall towers (350-400 ft) in the DTES, with many other properties possibly changing hands with land values that assumed such tall buildings. Such assumptions are never a good thing for the city, as over-assumed land values always makes for much more challenging discussions around proper densities, and public benefit contribution negotiations. The Woodwards project had some assuming that a 400 ft height was the “new normal” for projects in the area, rather than seeing the Woodwards height as a unique case in the community. At the time there were also rumours of proposals inside City hall to allow “ten 400 ft towers along Hastings” – whenever I was asked about this rumour, I clarified that I had never heard such a proposal. Those with smaller project aspirations made passionate arguments for more density and height to facilitate population growth in the area, for economic revitalization reasons (especially in Chinatown) and to contribute to the “body heat” in the area. As all this was creating much uncertainty, debate and speculation in the area, it made sense to look at the height and heritage question at the wider community and sub-area scales, rather than trying to deal with many individual proposals and rumours.

    As one might expect, the process was extremely complex, and the public engagement very challenging. At a mid-way point in the process, staff developed various options for the public and stakeholders to comment on, based on a “pattern and punctuation” concept for the height question. Staff didn’t support the idea of significant height increases across the board, but developed ideas for slight and strategic pattern height increases in various sub-areas for the public to comment on. As tall buildings were the key question in Council’s direction, we also floated the idea of various tall tower building sites (with heights in the range of 250-300 ft) based on various approaches to “punctuation” criteria. We included for discussion all building sites that were the subject of inquiries or discussions, official or unofficial, as we felt this was the time to put everything on the table for public comment. For the record, it was never a staff-supported proposal to put a tower on the Chinese Cultural Centre site. However, this was an idea being discussed and debated in various circles in the community, and was raised with us during the early consultation, so we made the decision to include it in the public discussion so that people could comment on it as part of the bigger context.

    A significant majority of the public and stakeholder input we received, including from various advisory bodies to Council such as the Urban Design Panel and the Heritage Commission, did not support the punctuation tall tower concept. Such towers, we were told clearly, were too tall, and the wrong building form for the historic area. We also heard from a significant majority that the Woodwards height was indeed unique, not the “new normal”. Staff agreed with these messages.

    It was Staff’s primary recommendation that the heritage scale and character in the area should be generally respected and preserved in the context of any changes. It was noted that Gastown had recently been recognized as a National Historic District and that we had recently requested such a designation for Chinatown as well (and hopefully eventually, a Unesco World heritage designation). The heritage character of the area continues to be one of its greatest strengths.

    Staff ultimately developed a series of careful and strategic recommendations that proposed slight pattern height increases in some areas (i.e. from 65 ft to 75 ft in Chinatown along Pender, and in Chinatown south a continued base height in the zoning of 90 ft but a new ability to rezone up to 120 ft). In other areas, we proposed that the height potential be left as-is, especially where the majority of heritage buildings are located (i.e. Gastown would stay at 75 ft, and Victory Square at a 75 ft base with potential for up to 100 ft through rezoning as per current policy). The strategy erred on the side of preserving or staying close to heritage scales, while adding some strategic density potential. These strategies ultimately received support and compliments from the various heritage groups that provided us advice, including the Heritage Commission.

    As for tall towers, staff agreed that tall “punctuation points” of 250 ft + were the wrong height and form for the historic area. Instead, staff suggested the idea of no more than three “high points within the pattern” at about 150 ft, for Council consideration (at Pender and Abbott aka the Budget site, Pender and Carrall aka the BC Electric site, and Keefer and Columbia aka the Keefer Triangle site). As with the view corridor work, we recommended a new higher standard for exceptional architecture for such taller buildings. I know the word “tower” is subjective and that many might see these still as towers, but they certainly differ significantly in height from what had been previously discussed, and differ in building form as these would be more of a perimeter-block building form rather than Downtown-south style slim towers. This form means more density, not just more height, and most agreed it was a form more appropriate for the heritage area.

    Although there were several other significant items addressed at the special council meeting on Friday January 22nd (Phase 1 of the Cambie Corridor planning, UBC Line planning principles, and View Corridors), a significant majority of speakers spoke to the Historic Area Heights Review. Many from the Carnegie Community Action Project (CCAP) and the low-income community asked Council to delay any changes until after a socio-economic study of the Woodwards project, and a comprehensive area plan for the DTES are both completed. A few speakers, representing a group calling for Chinatown economic revitalization that includes the Chinatown BIA , made the argument that the pattern height increases and the few 150ft heights were insufficient to bring about the revitalization that they felt Chinatown needed. Some suggested that the building forms being proposed would not be economically viable without greater height.

    On the other hand, there were many speakers from various heritage groups, and a Coalition concerned with the conservation of Historic Chinatown made up of numerous Chinatown stakeholder groups, that commended staff for the balanced and careful approach to heritage and revitalization issues. These speakers recommended that Council support the recommended height increases, but no more. Several speakers expressed specific concern about one of the three possible 150 ft sites, the Keefer Triangle site, primarily based on shadow and view impacts related to the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Gardens. Many other concerns and comments were raised, and Council asked many questions – all in all, it was a very sophisticated discussion, appropriate for a very complex community.

    Ultimately, Council made a series of thoughtful and nuanced decisions that I thought illustrated careful listening to the many voices that spoke to them. They approved the various pattern height changes, with no amendments. For the 150 ft “high points within the pattern”, Council supported 2 but rejected a third, the Keefer Triangle site, based on the concerns raised by the public. Although some had asked for the “generally 150 ft” height to be increased, Council didn’t do so. Only in the case of the South Chinatown HA1A zone though, Council chose to keep the door open for additional 150 ft sites to assist with further Chinatown economic revitalization, asking staff to report back.

    Thus for the majority of the historic area, after a time of considerable uncertainty and speculation, we now have a high level of certainty – confirmed slight pattern height increases, only 2 sites that can go to about 150 ft, and no further tall towers. For South Chinatown specifically, we have partial certainty in the form of a new pattern height of up to 120 ft through rezoning, and further study for possible additional 150 ft buildings.

    In addition, Council passed several related motions based on the requests of speakers. They directed staff to report back regarding approaches and budgets for three pieces of work: a social-economic study on the impacts of new developments in the DTES on the existing low-income community; a priority approach for an Economic Revitalization Strategy for Chinatown (recognizing that such revitalization is affected by much more than height and density, and is positively influenced by heritage assets); and based on much discussion over the past few years within both the community and City Hall, a comprehensive DTES strategy.

    Overall, I believe that Council’s decisions were consistent with the values heard from the public and stakeholders, but also reflect the complexity of perspectives and strong differing opinions. Making clear decisions with so many differing opinions is never easy.

    My sincere compliments to our DTES senior planner Jessica Chen and her team, for their great work on this challenging exercise, and to the many community leaders and citizens who showed great passion while educating us and each other on the many issues involved.

    Brent Toderian

  • Bill Lee

    Converting tabs to spaces and a monospaced fond might line up.

    factor A B C D E

    Population 5990 5817 3005 5084 10571
    Dwellings 3726 3389 1474 2510 6441
    Area 1.53 km2 0.82 km2 0.24km2 1.63km2 0.56km2
    Pop/km2 3864/km2 7060/km2 12688/km2 3125/km2 18555/km2

    Do note the areas and bourndaries of the Census Tracts--they are for the census and may not correspond to your mind maps or the 'City' official neigbourhood boundaries.

    As to the bike, the panniers and saddle bags hold you stuff, give you right to the street, and the bike's odometer measures at least 1/10 th of a kilometer as you wander around.

    -------- re: width of street
    from BMJ (Brit. Med. Journal) 30 Jan 2010
    Minerva column

    A study examines whether lights at pedestrian crossings give^ older people enough time to cross safely. After measuring the^ walking speed
    of patients attending a geriatric assessment^ centre, the investigators calculated that, with current timings,^ many 80 year olds would be unable to make it across a road more^ than 22 metres wide. Although matching crossing times to the^ walking speeds of older people may seem unrealistic, in the^ European Union, nearly 40% of pedestrians killed are aged 65^ and older (Age and Ageing 2010;39(1):80-6, doi:[72]10.1093/ageing/afp20).^

    --------
    I'm sure that Chris Keam has more on this topic and street design in general in his vast files.
    See the abstract and PDF etc. at http://ageing.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/39/1/80

    And I commend the further/related stuff in the sidebars of PubMed http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19923163?dopt=Abstract