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Vancouver’s famous view corridors up for debate this year

March 30th, 2009 · 48 Comments

Vancouver’s famous view corridors have prompted more anguished howls from architects than almost anything else I can think of over the years. Now, the city is looking at re-examining them. (And, as the sharp-eyed people at skyscraper.com have noted, the posting for people to run the public consultation went up on city website Friday. You can see their comments on the whole debate here.) You can get a flavour of the arguments from my story in the Globe today, which I’ve reproduced below.

 

LANDSCAPE

City planners take new look at urban vistas

Special to the Globe and Mail

Vancouver is legendary as a city that has fought to prevent buildings from intruding on its spectacular mountain backdrop and ocean setting.

Unlike Calgary, which lost its chance to preserve views of the Rockies 25 years ago, or Toronto, which has allowed a highway plus a wall of condo towers to go up between the city and its lake, Vancouver set an aggressive policy almost two decades ago to protect more than two dozen designated view corridors.

But now the city is entertaining re-examining that controversial policy, one that has its fierce defenders and its equally fierce critics, especially the architects who have had to slice off or squish parts of buildings to make them fit around the corridors.

And the city’s head planner is signalling that he’s definitely open to change.

“I’ve got a serious appetite for shifting those view corridors,” says Brent Toderian, a former Calgary planner hired two years ago, who has been working hard to set new directions in a city famous for its urban planning. “The view corridors have been one of the most monumental city-shaping tools in Vancouver’s history but they need to be looked at again. We have a mountain line and we have a building line where that line is inherently subjective.”

The issue isn’t just about preserving views versus giving architects free rein. Vancouver has used height and density bonuses to developers with increasing frequency in return for all kinds of community benefits, including daycares, parks, theatres and social housing. A height limit means less to trade for those amenities.

Mr. Toderian, who thinks the city also needs to establish some new view corridors along with adjusting or eliminating others, says a public hearing on the issue won’t happen until the fall, but he is already kicking off the discussion quietly in the hope that it will turn into a wide-ranging debate.

“The input for the last few years has been one-sided, from the people who think the view corridors should be abolished,” he said.

“But we’re looking forward to hearing what everyone thinks. Most people who would support them don’t even think about them. They think the views we have are by accident.”

The view-corridor policy, formally adopted in 1989, was the result of public complaints over some tall buildings going up, including Harbour Centre, which is now, with its tower and revolving restaurant, seen as a defining part of the Vancouver skyline. But then, it helped spur a public consultation process and policy development that many say confused the goal of preserving views with a mathematical set of rules that often didn’t make sense.

One of those critics is prominent architect Richard Henriquez, who said the corridors don’t protect the views that people have consistently said they value most from the city’s many beaches and along streets that terminate at the water.

Instead, he says many of the view corridors are arbitrarily chosen points that preserve a shard of view for commuters coming into town.

That has resulted in the city losing billions of dollars of potential development “for someone driving along so they can get a glimpse of something for a second.”

And, Mr. Henriquez argues, city residents have a wealth of exposure to the city’s mountains throughout the region.

“Downtown Vancouver is a speck of urbanity in a sea of views,” said Mr. Henriquez, who is feeling the problem acutely these days while he works on a development project downtown where the owners are trying to preserve a historic residential hotel, the Murray, while building an economically feasible tower on the smaller piece of land next to it.

The view corridor means the building has to be shorter and broader and is potentially undoable.

His project is one in a long list of projects that have been abandoned or altered because of view corridor rules in Vancouver. The Shangri-La Hotel, currently the tallest building in the city at 650 feet, is sliced diagonally along one side to prevent it from straying into the view corridor.

At the Woodward’s project, which redeveloped the city’s historic department store, one tower had to be shortened and the other raised to fit the corridor. And architect Bing Thom’s plan for a crystal spire on top of a development next to the Hotel Georgia was eventually dropped because city officials refused to budge on allowing the needle-like top to protrude.

But one person wary about the city tinkering with the policy is former city councillor Gordon Price.

“When people talk about revisiting, it just means one thing: eroding,” said Mr. Price, still a vocal advocate on urban issues. “People may only get this fragment of a view but it’s very precious. And those fragments will become scarcer as the city grows. The longer they remain intact, the more valuable they become.”

It’s a debate that’s unique to Vancouver. Mr. Toderian said that when he was in Calgary, there was no discussion about trying to preserve views from the downtown to the Rockies in the distance.

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  • I remember reading a glowing Toronto Star feature on Vancouver and its view corridors a few years before I ended up moving to Vancouver, and it’s one of the things that really distinguishes the city. When I first arrived here for work downtown, I’d find myself stopping at intersections where the North Shore mountains would loom into view, just to admire the view. I’d often be the sole person stunned by the sight — everyone else was jaded about the view.

    It’d be a shame if the corridors concept was degraded, and I imagine there’s been just as much of a premium associated with having them, indirectly, than might be gained by getting rid of them or modifying them just to satisfy the thirst for development. I think the fact that Calgary didn’t even discuss the views is probably more a comment on Calgary and its priorities than anything else.

    It’s an interesting gauge of where Vancouver is and wants to go, in its simultaneous attempts to stay livable and grow “world-class”.

  • I think it is important for those considering this item to distinguish between the need to retain view corridors, and the need to retain all of the EXISTING view corridors. And before you say we should retain everything, please tell me why we need to keep the view of the lions for a motorist at the mid point of the Granville Street bridge…not just before the mid-point, or just after the mid-point, but precisely at the mid-point…yet we don’t mandate the need to protect many cherished public views of the city and mountains…eg, from the viewing point in Queen Elizabeth Park.

    I am in favour of retaining important views, but the application of some of the current view corridors has been, to my mind, bordering on the ridiculous. The slice off the Shangri-la, the tallest building in the city, is a good case in point.

    I would urge everyone to check out exactly where the current corridors are located, before becoming too critical of any changes.

    I would also recommend some ‘before’ and ‘after’ photos to compare the city when the corridors where established, and what we have today.

  • LP

    Although I would agree with Michael Geller that we should completely understand where these corridors are before being critical, and he is being faily impartial in his comments, personally I would be opposed to the very people propping up the election campaigns of city officials, from being involved in any of the process going forward.

    Talk about a conflict of interest.

    Perhaps we should tackle some election reforms and limit contributions before we start considering such topics as sensitive as this one.

    It’s also a concern that our new McBeasley hasn’t been here long enough before taking on this monumental dialogue. Calgary’s downtown planning is definitely not the path we as a city should be heading down.

  • Joe just Joe

    Frances,

    Glad you stumbled upon our post over at SSP, we have a lot of members that read your site as well. My position is well known, I’m a big fan of the view cones and they have served the city very well, 100 (30 story buildings) is much better then 30 (100 story buildings)…
    With that said Downtown is getting close to built out and up (probably 20yrs left under current zoning) I think the city is wise to look at the view cones and tweak them slightly. Not elimanate them, but maybe removing a couple of them is in order. I look forward to seeing what the report brings to the table.

    On that note the city is still adding new view cones, the latest is over the EFL development and saves a view of Mt Baker from the park. Perhaps a comprise is for any reduction in views in one spot they much protect another view in another section of this city.

  • Joe just Joe

    Frances, maybe you can use your contacts and check what Beasleys view on the matter is, in my opinion Toderian just hasn’t been able to fill his shoes.

  • Brent Toderian

    Hi Frances, thank you for this article and post – we do indeed hope for a lively public discussion this year on our public views and building heights. This will be the first comprehensive review of Vancouver’s view corridor policy since its inception. Although you’re right that the eventual public hearing on our results and recommendations is anticipated for November 2009, our primary public engagement opportunites will occur at two points, first in May, and then in September of this year. But as you note, our hope is for Vancouverites to be actively learning, discussing and debating on this all year.

    Few discussions will have a greater impact on Vancouver’s city-building future. Long before I arrived here, I had heard the decades-old criticism of Vancouver as a “setting in search of a city”. Over the past several decades our city-builders and community voices have been striving to build a city worthy of its setting, in part by always trying to connect the city to its setting of mountains and water. This approach to our urbanism is a credit to leaders in past generations who recognized the powerful value of connecting city and setting, something so many other cities have done poorly.

    What may seem at first to be a city design process, will really be a discussion of our values as a city and citizenry…. What is a public view worth to us? What is our “sence of place”, the feeling that we’re a part of our setting as we move through the city, worth? How does it effect our identity, our livability, our tourism and economic development, even our “greenness”? In many cases the choices and effects are tough to quantify, and some might say we shouldnt try, as not everything that counts can be counted. But we’ll be embracing the tough questions, and people will have a chance to debate them, relative to other public values or goals such as climate change and city form, other public benefits derived from development, architectural opportunity…. again, a challenging dialogue on values.

    As a result Council may decide that some view corridors be adjusted, others removed, others untouched, and perhaps some added. Some may feel we should leave things the way they are. Perhaps we can find new approaches that are more than the sum of their parts when it comes to the many values we have as a city. To begin with though, we think it will be important to have a very educated discussion, and have clarity on the values and goals that should ultimately drive the results.

    This will be an exciting dialogue, one that will determine a big part of our downtown city-shaping for the next generation of more. We look forward to your continued coverage, and to the passionate participation of your readers!

    Brent Toderian

  • gmgw

    “Frances, maybe you can use your contacts and check what Beasleys view on the matter is, in my opinion Toderian just hasn’t been able to fill his shoes.”

    Sorry, Joe, but Larry Beasley’s view on this would be that he would be in favour of any policy that would ensure maximum profits in the pockets of developers. That was his primary goal all through those dreadful years he was in charge of Planning. Larry Beasley was the best friend developers ever had at City Hall (why do you think there’s a soon-to-be-built Yaletown tower named after him? In a word: Gratitude; in this case, from one of his good developer buddies). I got to know Larry slightly when I debated him on radio a few times during a dispute over a controversial development proposal he was backing in the late 90s. It was hard not to like him personally. He was an immensely charming guy, which was one of the things that made him so dangerous. When a book was published outlining Vancouver’s post-Expo development history and which praised Beasley for his reshaping of the city, Larry used to keep copies in his office and proudly give them out to visitors. Modesty was never his strong suit. Is there any reason to think that all that Persian Gulf sunshine has made him rethink his approach to planning?
    Toderian may not have filled Beasley’s shoes as of yet, but he’s sounding more and more like a chip off the old block. Larry was from Las Vegas, Toderian’s from Calgary; neither one can be considered anything like an appropriate development model for Vancouver. But here we go again, it seems…
    gmgw

  • glissando remmy

    ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKES JACK A DULL BOY (my point exactly)
    Imagine.
    Some of the characters from the 1980’s movie “The Shining” by Stanley Kubrick (based on Stephen King’s novel) are mingling with the panel interviewed by Frances. Imagine.
    Place: The Vancouver “Overlook” Hotel
    Subject: View corridors
    Date: Late March 2009
    Here you go:

    Brent Toderian: “I’ve got a serious appetite for shifting those view corridors”
    Dick Hallorann: “We’ve got canned fruits and vegetables, canned fish and meats, hot and cold syrups, Post Toasties, Corn Flakes, Sugar Puffs, Rice Krispies, Oatmeal… and Cream of Wheat. You got…
    a dozen jugs of black molasses, we got sixty boxes of dried milk, thirty twelve-pound bags of sugar… Now we got dried peaches, dried apricots, dried raisins and dried prunes. You got to keep regular, if you want to be happy!”
    Jack Torrance: “Well, that just happens to be exactly what I’m looking for. I’m outlining a new writing project and, uh, five months of peace is just what I want.”
    Brent Toderian: “The view corridors have been one of the most monumental city-shaping tools in Vancouver’s history but they need to be looked at again. We have a mountain line and we have a building line where that line is inherently subjective.”
    Wendy Torrance: “Well, I’m very confused, and I just need time to think things over! “

    Jack Torrance: “You’ve had your whole F…ING LIFE to think things over, what good’s a few minutes more gonna do you now?”
    Brent Toderian: “The input for the last few years has been one-sided, from the people who think the view corridors should be abolished,”
    Dick Hallorann: “I can remember when I was a little boy. My grandmother and I could hold conversations entirely without ever opening our mouths. She called it “shining.” And for a long time, I thought it was just the two of us that had the shine to us. Just like you probably thought you was the only one. But there are other folks, though mostly they don’t know it, or don’t believe it. How long have you been able to do it?… Why don’t you want to talk about it?”
    Gordon Price: “When people talk about revisiting, it just means one thing: eroding.”
    Jack Torrance: “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”
    Dick Hallorann: “Some places are like people: some shine and some don’t.”
    Richard Henriquez: “…for someone driving along so they can get a glimpse of something for a second.”
    Jack Torrance:” They were a party of settlers in covered-wagon times. They got snowbound one winter in the mountains. They had to resort to cannibalism in order to stay alive.”
    Gordon Price: “People may only get this fragment of a view but it’s very precious. And those fragments will become scarcer as the city grows. The longer they remain intact, the more valuable they become.”
    Jack Torrance: “God, I’d give anything for a drink. I’d give my god-damned soul for just a glass of beer”
    Richard Henriquez: “Downtown Vancouver is a speck of urbanity in a sea of views”
    Jack Torrance: “Well, that sounds fine to me.”
    Brent Toderian: “But we’re looking forward to hearing what everyone thinks. Most people who would support them don’t even think about them. They think the views we have are by accident.”
    Delbert Grady: “Perhaps they need a good talking to, if you don’t mind my saying so. Perhaps a bit more. My girls, sir, they didn’t care for the Overlook at first. One of them actually stole a pack of matches, and tried to burn it down. But I “corrected” them sir. And when my wife tried to prevent me from doing my duty, I “corrected” her”
    Jack Torrance: “Have you ever had a SINGLE MOMENT’S THOUGHT about my responsibilities? Have you ever thought, for a single solitary moment about my responsibilities to my employers?? Has it ever occurred to you that I have agreed to look after the OVERLOOK Hotel until May the FIRST. Does it MATTER TO YOU AT ALL that the OWNERS have placed their COMPLETE CONFIDENCE and TRUST in me, and that I have signed a letter of agreement, a CONTRACT, in which I have accepted that RESPONSIBILITY? Do you have the SLIGHTEST IDEA, what a MORAL AND ETHICAL PRINCIPLE IS, DO YOU? Has it ever occurred to you what would happen to my future, if I were to fail to live up to my responsibilities? Has it ever occurred to you? HAS IT??”
    Wendy Torrance: [sobbing]” I just wanted to talk to you”
    Danny Torrance: “Revuocnav. Revuocnav. Revuocnav.”
    We live in REVUOCNAV and this keeps us busy.

  • gmgw

    Some comments that are more on-topic than damning Larry Beasley:
    Frances, there’s a small error in your story. It wasn’t the Harbour Centre development that set off the controversy over view corridors. Rather, it was the massive Project 200 development that the CPR’s Marathon Realty (former employers of Gordon Campbell), together with several partners including Grosvenor-Laing and Woodward’s, proposed to build in the late 60s. This would have seen a Toronto Harbourfront-style wall of buildings erected along the CPR rail lands on the waterfront, completely blocking most of the existing view corridors. The public outcry against this proposal was fierce enough that it was dropped. The only building in the Project 200 development that was completed was Granville Square, built in 1971-72 and now the home of your former employers at PacPress, Frances; note how it neatly blocks the view of the mountains from the north slope of Granville Street. It was Granville Square, more than any other single building, that gave rise to the “view corridor” guidelines. As Harold Kalman notes in my dusty 2nd edition of “Exploring Vancouver”: “One factor in the emasculation of Project 200 was the growing disillusionment with massive skyscraper redevelopment schemes.”. This, mind you, was back in the days when Mayor Tom Campbell (a developer) was castigated for suggesting that Vancouver could become “another New York City”. Those were more enlightened times. Now we have “skyscraper enthusiasts” in Vancouver, singing the praises of phallocentric development on their website.

    As regards the view corridors, the ones that are under discusssion have been relentlessly whittled away. As a resident of the South Shore of False Creek for the past 25 years, I have seen our own once-glorious view corridors almost completely disappear. Time was when we could see the entire ridge of Mt. Seymour, the Golden Ears, and, on a clear day, the peaks above the eastern Fraser Valley– Cheam and Slesse, all from our balcony. Now, to the north and northeast, we look at little but condo towers. I was surprised to see that the Lions and Crown and Grouse Mountains are still considered to be visible in the view corridor extending north from Charleson Park. I’ll have to check next time I go for a walk along there, but I suspect those views were wiped out by Concord Pacific’s Great Wall of False Creek North, years ago.

    Regarding Michael Geller’s predictable whine about the non-validity of preserving the view from the Granville Bridge– someday I must dig through the Sun files and find an Allan Fotheringham column from the late 60s in which he gave a wonderfully lyrical description of the experience of driving across the bridge and being struck by its then-stupendous view; Dr. Foth described it, IIRC, as “one of the great urban views of North America” (the fact that this lyrical flight appeared, bizarrely, in a column urging approval of the then-proposed Pacific Centre development does not lessen its validity). That was 40+ years ago. Now the view from the bridge has been so encroached upon that even slow-moving southbound pedestrians won’t emerge from Condo Canyon until they are in the very center of the span. As for his cranky kvetch about “preserving the view of the Lions for a mid-span motorist”, Mr. Geller might be surprised to learn that a considerable number of tourists make a point of walking across the Granville Bridge; partly for the view and partly because they’re trying to get to Granville Island. I often encounter them while walking to work across the bridge (I have been stopped and asked “Excuse me, how do we get to Granville Island?” so many times that I ought to carry printouts giving directions). They, too, are often disappointed in the non-view from the North end; it has been so throughly destroyed, in fact, that I fail to see what Geller is bitching about.

    I think, in a way, Toderian’s proposed rethink is an admission that, view-wise, we’ve f****ed up downtown beyond any hope of redemption, and we may as well hammer the final few nails into the coffin of the view corridor concept. It was a noble idea, but it has become a meaningless exercise in hypocrisy. Its demise was/is inevitable, but it will still be missed. When Toderian blathers on about “embracing the tough questions”, “a challenging dialogue on values” and “new approaches”, I have enough experience with planning processes in this city to know whose “values” will ultimately triumph on this issue, and they ain’t gonna be mine. I hate to close with a quote from Bob Dylan, but “money doesn’t talk, it swears” seems somehow apropos.
    gmgw

  • wally

    We can expect pressure for further view corridor destruction to intensify steadily.

    Developers, architects and their community seek ever greater expansion. The alternative is to go find something truly constructive to devote themselves to. Unlikely. When the only yardsticks used to measure value are commercial activity and the “world class city” idiocy of the Chamber of Commerce crowd then you are left with a horribly distorted metric that leaves local neighbourhoods out in the cold wondering what happened to their city. We’ve seen the Coal Harbour waterfront views of our town sold off to to people for whom it’s just another seldom used possession. The thrilling Burrard Street views will be rented out occaisionally to conventioneers or Tony Robbins seminars and those of us who grew up here see less of our city every year.
    The meagre view corridors need to be left un-molested. They offer short moments of joy in the knowledge that we ALL live in an amazingly beautiful place. If Geller thinks that a fleeting pleasure is worthless, then I expect he will forgo all fine dining because there can be no value in an experience that lasts for so short a time.

  • fbula

    To gmgw,

    Thanks for the additional info about the wall of condos planned for Coal Harbour. I didn’t ever know about that and people didn’t bring it up when I was researching this story. (And I thought I did my homework, going back to Ray Spaxman!)

  • officedweller

    There was also an error in the story regarding Bing Thom’s Hotel Georgia proposal. The architectural appurtenance (finger) was eventually approved by City Council to encroach into the view cone, but the developer’s finacial problem led to the sale of the site and the redesign of the tower by the new owner’s architects.

    Regarding the issue of view cones, there is also an interplay between the View Cones Policy and the Higher Buildings Policy adopted in 1997. The Higher Buildings Policy is subject to the View Cones Policy – so the view cone hieght limits trump the possible 600ft limits under the Higher Buildings Policy. That’s why the only tall buildings/proposals – Shangri-La and Ritz-Carlton – are on the 1100 block of West Georgia – to avoid the view cones. The overlay of the two policies means that only 2 blocks – the 1000 and 1100 blocks of West Georgia – can support a 600 ft tower.

    Personally, I rather see tall office buildings or mixed use building centrally located in the CBD – but the view cones currently prevent that from happening.

    Another good example is the Bay Parkade site. It is a key site for a mixed use transit-oriented complex that can be directly connected to the Granville Skytrain Station ticketing hall which lies under the adjacent roadway of Seymour Street – but the site is restricted by view cones to something under 300ft tall. That’s the same height as the standard taller Downtown South condo tower. Given office floorplates and taller office ceiling heights, you’ll end up with multiple squat little office towers of 20 storeys shadowing the street on a bulky podium (rather than one taller tower).

    Another effect of limiting development downtown is that it will increase pressures for the development of areas away from the downtown core – such as the Broadway corridor – not just for residential but also for office space. And we know how well EcoDensity has been received…

    Then again, Surrey Central is slated to be the next metropolitan core in the region (to shorten commuter trips from the valley) – de-emphasizing Downtown Vancouver would help Surrey develop more quickly. Here’s an article:

    http://www2.canada.com/surreynow/news/story.html?id=29b85344-d4c4-4dac-a54d-50be618864a0

  • cashisking

    Views like parkland are never recaptured … density vs livability … developers and profit vs livability … skyscrapers like freeways have never been the answer.

  • jaymac

    I agree with gmgw. The north end of the Granville and Burrard bridges has been ruined by ill considered placement of buildings. Prime example being that ill conceived penthouse that sneaks above the bridge rail at the north-east end of Burrard bridge.

    Michael G. – give yourself a treat, try walking over the bridges. They are more than a split second in time. The Granville St. bridge has, in my opinion, some of the best views in the City. You’ll be glad that you took the 10 minute walk.

  • Otis Krayola

    But how would he get back?

  • gasp

    I agree with gmgw and Wally.

    For many of us, Vancouver is about its natural environment and the proximity to the ocean and the mountains. It is not about its buildings or the design of its “street grid”.

    It seems the developers and planners think people who live here are enamored with the skyline of buildings that has been created downtown. This is their idea of building a City – tall buildings devoid of people and their need to connect with nature. Instead of preserving and working with the natural environment, they prefer to obliterate it from view. I’m sure they would fill in False Creek to build even more “waterfront” condos if they could figure out a way to do it.

    But perhaps all this desire to build condos everywhere (the Bay parkade too, Officedweller?) will dissipate once the full impact of the global economic crisis is felt here in B.C. We can only hope for such small miracles to help save our city.

  • gmgw

    “To gmgw,
    Thanks for the additional info about the wall of condos planned for Coal Harbour. I didn’t ever know about that and people didn’t bring it up when I was researching this story. (And I thought I did my homework, going back to Ray Spaxman!)”

    You’re welcome, Frances; the Project 200 saga is a useful cautionary tale. I must point out, though, that Project 200 preceded the Spaxman era; he became City Planner in 1973. Something I neglected to mention that one of the principal reasons Project 200 (which would have been mostly office towers rather than condos– condo towers as we now know them were still blessedly far in Vancouver’s future at the time) met with so much opposition was that it called for the “redevelopment” (read: destruction) of much of the north side of Gastown, including many of the buildings on the north side of Water Street. The one-time “Gaslight Square” at 131 Water– I don’t know what it’s called now, or even if it’s still there; I walk along that block maybe once every couple of years or so– is/was an example of the kind of development that would probably have replaced them. It too was a project of Marathon Realty; built in ’74-’75, it ignored heritage guidelines in the area. Even as Project 200 was being touted, Larry Killam and a few other visionary developers were beginning to buy up buildings (often for absurdly low prices) in what would become Gastown with an eye to restoring them and creating a heritage-themed retail and professional district– rather than simply demolishing them as the City would likely have preferred. Project 200, had it gone ahead, would have killed the Gastown concept, as surely as the equally reprehensible Chinatown freeway would have destroyed Chinatown– and would also have connected to a proposed waterfront freeway which, it was hoped, would connect with the long-awaited Third Crossing (for which, thankfully, we’re still waiting).

    Gastown, of course, would later sink into a decades-long downturn in its fortunes, but lately it seems to be making something of a comeback– God granting that the insane plan for a waterfront soccer stadium never reaches fruition. Back in Gastown’s early days, Larry Killam was frequently demonized by the counterculture as a money-grubbing capitalist profiteer; but there’s no denying he played a major role in revitalizing the area, and saved a number of historically important buildings. (And, yes, he made a lot of money in the process– in addition to getting whacked in the head by a police baton wielded by a member of the VPD Mounted Squad during the August 1971 Gastown Riot; Killam was trying to stop the police from pursuing fleeing stoners who were taking shelter in one of his buildings. Now *that’s* something Nat Bosa and Victor Li would never do!) Now we have developers in Gastown who, encouraged by Planning, think the way to rejuvenate a 19th-century building is to completely gut and replace its insides, retaining only its streetfront facade as a meaningless sop to heritage preservationists. How times have changed.

    Project 200 was arguably the last manifestation of the boomtown mentality that, through several phases, had largely driven development in Vancouver since the late 19th century. The “boomtown” approach would return with a vengeance in the post-Expo years; but in the relatively quiet intermission that was the 70s in Vancouver, City Hall was run by people with a much more egalatarian vision than those who’d gone before. The victory of the liberal TEAM party and the temporary retreat of the development-at-all-costs NPA saw outstanding figures like Art Phillips, Walter Hardwick, and Setty Pendakur on Council; Ray Spaxman in Planning; and the late and much-beloved Ernie Fladell, in Cultural Planning. They brought in a whole new way of doing things. Incidentally, if you want to see the kind of development they were reacting against; if you want to see the kind of vision Tom Campbell (the late 60s/early 70s conservative NPA mayor, developer, and all-round wacko) had for the city, take a look at that bizarre propeller-shaped apartment tower at the south end of the Burrard Bridge. That was one of Campbell’s buildings, certainly his best-known. He put it up in the mid-60s. It wouldn’t be out of place in Richmond or North Surrey; but it’s completely out of scale and inappropriate for largely low-rise Kitsilano, especially back then, but even now.

    Unfortunately, the new approach fostered by the TEAM team did not long survive their departure from City Hall. I’m fond of pointing out that the best way to compare and contrast what could be called the Spaxman and Beasley eras is to simply take a walk along the south shore of False Creek. The extraordinary transformation of the south shore– more specifically, the area between Leg-in-Boot Square and the Granville Bridge– from a toxic morass of assorted small industries to a pleasant low-scale residential neighbourhood– with an excellent mix of condos and cooperative (i.e affordable) housing– is a tribute to the vision and drive of Spaxman, Hardwick and a number of other creative folks at City Hall. Art Phillips gave the FCS neighbourhood his personal endorsement when he and Carole Taylor moved into a condo on the east side of Charleson Park. We used to encounter them strolling on the seawall so often that we developed a nodding acquaintanceship. (I’ve also encountered Sam Sullivan a few times near his Homer Street condo, but it wasn’t the same experience at all…) And when Ron Basford spearheaded the transformation of Granville Island, it provided a cultural linchpin not only for the new neighbourhood but for the entire city. Could Granville Island come into being in these hard-nosed, profit-driven times? Not bloody likely.

    Ironically, at the time the south shore was developed, there was some criticism of its density levels, mainly because the City had decreed that the most efficient use of the space would be multi-family complexes, starting with False Creek Housing Co-op, which opened in 1975. I can remember Vancouver writer D.M. Fraser, who’s long since passed on, sneeringly dismissing the look of the neighbourhood in the late 70s as “Buchenwald chic”. I think time has invalidated his cynicism. But compare the south shore with what has gone up across the water to the north, in “Beasleyville”, as I like to call it. The comparative appearances of the north and south shores of False Creek are the perfect visual metaphor for the spectacularly oppositional social and cultural values of Vancouver’s planners and politicians in the post-Expo era and their predecessors in the 70s– in a nutshell, Beasley vs. Spaxman. On the south shore, low-rise, human-scaled development; nicely landscaped greenspace; housing for people with a wide variety of incomes; Granville Island. On the north shore? Block after block of huge, nearly-identical condo towers looming over a few token, boringly-designed, often-deserted mini-parks. The towers are mostly comprised of apartments affordable only by those with substantial incomes; many, in fact, were bought purely as an investment by people who have no interest in helping to build a local community. At the bottom of the canyons, dreary, windswept little plazas and streets with shops and restaurants that somehow afford the obscene rents– as well as, of course, the sky-high prices of Urban Fare. The contrast could not be more dramatic. All the mistakes that Planning and successive Councils made in facilitating the overdevelopment of the West End from the late 50s onward have not only been repeated but compounded in Yaletown. And the same thing is happening yet again in Southeast False Creek (though on a somewhat smaller scale), and will shortly be happening in spades in the forest of enormous towers that will soon be rising around BC Place. Vancouver is always in such a rush to forget its past or even to obliterate its traces, ensuring that the city never learns from that past. And as I said in an earlier post, it’s beginning to appear that Brent Toderian is planning (no pun intended) to continue that tradition. Anyone with enough money can put up a 30-storey tower, or even a dozen such towers; but it takes real vision, drive and courage to create a living, breathing, integrated, human-scaled neighbourhood from scratch. Increased density is not necessarily in and of itself an evil; but it has to be done with an eye to fundamental human values. And there’s been precious little evidence of that sort of creative vision coming from Planning for the past twenty-plus years.

    Sorry about the length of this post; it wandered a long way from the topic of view cones! Anyway, I think I’ve got all this out of my system for now.

    gmgw

  • whatever

    “I’ve got a serious appetite for shifting those view corridors”

    Shouldn’t brent just shut up considering he is not an elected official. New flash— your not on council and didn’t get elected by anyone so you won’t be making any of those decision.

  • foo

    That was a great read, gmgw.

  • fbula

    gmgw,

    A thanks again for all the detailed history. But your analysis of the north and south shore developments made me wonder — what is your assessment of the SEFC/Olympic village development in the context of those other two?

  • MB

    I lived in South False Creek for 11 years. As GMGW points out in the rather small minority portion of his/her unedited but heartfelt critique, South False Creek is one of the most unique communities in the nation.

    However, I take exception to the majority of the piece, which to me reads as nothing more than a self-important vindictive hunk of blather about one of Canada’s notable urban planners.

    If Larry Beasley was so pro-developer, he would have BEEN a private developer, not an important public official whose record is rife with hard scrapple fights with said developers over many issues concerning the public good, density bonuses being only one.

    Jane Jacobs, who knew more about urbanism and urban economy than almost anyone else, praised Vancouver for its progressive stance on controlling development, increasing its downtown density, and creating a walkable community for families (yes, there are many kids and seniors growing up within a stone’s throw of Urban Fare and the vibrant Westend commercial strips, not just childless 40-something part-time foreign occupants and beemer drivers) on former polluted railyards, these being the notable accomplishments during Beasley’s tenure. Would GMGW blast her as well? You can’t hang it on one individual.

    Moreover, Beasley did not work alone. Planning and development policy and development proposals must go through a rigorous public approval process, and evolve. Developers have always harped about the onerousness of this process, which I think is a good sign.

    My sense is that some commentators are greatly troubled by urbanism, especially its pace during times of growth. Fair enough. You have been heard loudly and clearly for years. But downgrading urbanism to village-ism in Canada’s third largest metropolis is just a step away from building a Great Wall or a big glass bubble. “I’ll live here and have an impact in my community, but I’ll do my damndest to keep eveyone else out if they affect their own change”

    Last but not least, glibly trashtalking all downtown development ignores its environmental benefits. One exapmple of many: Downtown traffic has decreased between 9% and 12% (depending on the source) while the population doubled to nearly 100,000 people. No other communty, inclusing Kits, lays claim to that. This to me is good enough reason to convert asphalt to bike lanes (Burrard Bridge anyone?) and linear parks.

    Yes, there are issues with views, but unless someone fills in the ocean to create more developable land, tall towers in one of the densest communities on the continent are to be expected.

    Yes, tweak the architecture to vary the one-glass-facade-fits-all syndrom, and try to increase the quality of its public open spaces, but unless Vancouver depopulates, views and towers will always be a matter of intense discourse.

    And speaking as an ex-Calgarian urban designer, I am very happy to live here and sincerely appreciate the effort of Beasley and others. Note: I do not work for the city of Vancouver or a private developer.

  • MB

    One project readers should be aware of when discussing views is the Central Waterfront Hub exercise which is looking at the expansion of the transit hub around Waterfront Station.

    Part of the proposal is to demolish the Granville Square plaza and part of the parkade below and extend Granville Street through to the waterfront. That has some merits, notably regarding architecture and the extension of street level views to the waterfront.

    However, the Granville Square plaza currently functions as one of the most important ‘viewing platforms’ in the city and I believe it is imperative to rebuild it, preferably as a much larger — and far higher quality! — public space on the waterfront near the Seabus terminal (New Granville Square?).

    Views are one thing, but the programing of the space into a deeper and richer experience than what is currently possible in the bland, cold plaza is very important. Unlike GMGW, I’ll take the design of George Wainborn Park over the current version of Granville Square any day.

    Regarding programming, a large performance space (e.g. permanent outdoor venue for the Jazz Festival) is one thought, large iconic crashing fountains and major art installations are another consideration.

    Vancouver does not have a tradition of creating high quality urban plazas and has a long ways to go on making things like ordinary streets — especially downtown — become something more than merely engineering devices to move traffic. This is a huge concern in a transit hub where the pedestrian supposedly rules.

    The other concern I have is the dominance of the proposed private towers that will finance the transit hub expansion. I believe it’s entirely possible to use Vancouver’s creative side, not to mention its negotiation skills, to make the private realm less domineering in this project while also utilizing the revenue for a necessary expansion in public transit facilities.

    Here’s the link:

    http://vancouver.ca/commsvcs/currentplanning/whitecaps/pdf/2009/Board12_ConceptPlan.pdf

  • Len B

    MB,

    I’m not going to get into anything more than your comment on removing lanes of traffic from the Burrard Bridge in favour of bikes.

    Good/great planning needs to encompass all modes of transportation people will use in the future, and that involves cars. They’re not going away (electric’s are coming) and all the people who think otherwise are living in a dream world.

    Converting even one lane of the Burrard bridge for cyclists is nothing more than a band-aid that adds no long-term value to anyone’s livability in this city. City staffers have even recommended against this approach.

    One month it’s the Burrard Bridge, the next it’s a rent-a-bike proposal by R. Louie. This city has little if any infrastructure to support a massive increase in people using their bikes, yet this council soldiers on with these feel-good motions.
    I ask you and I ask VV what is their overall plan? Or do they even have one?

    Regarding your stat on reduced vehicle use in the dwtn, it was not achieved by reducing the roadways into the core, but rather through migration and planning. This same method should be used when building a proper and comprehensive cycling infrastructure that takes into account that cars still and will always exist.

    Reducing car lanes on the Burrard Bridge has never been about smart use of roadways, or even reducing polution, it’s been about ideology. Very bad ideology.

  • MB

    Len, when you say “Regarding your stat on reduced vehicle use in the dwtn, it was not achieved by reducing the roadways into the core, but rather through migration and planning,” you must acknowledge that a +/- 10% reduction in traffic (80% of which is cars, and of that, 85% single-occupant cars) is significant.

    If that does not justify a corresponding +/- 10% reduction in single-use land allocation (read asphalt) in an area very short on land, it should. Or more accurately, a reallocation to multiple-uses.

    Further, the space allocation to public asphalt currently consumes a third of our total land base in Vancouver, and approaches half when you include private parking lots and large residential driveways.

    This is far in excess to what is needed for the wheels of commerce to keep turning, and has created a level of dependence on cars so high that when fuel exceeds $1 per litre, it sends waves of commuters onto their bikes, into their runners, and waiting for overcrowded buses. Wait ’til it hits $2+ per litre in a few years.

    Half our land for the car. Based on the premise that oil will be cheap and abundant forever. And that the vast majority of the public purse devoted to transportation will continue to move cars, not people.

    In that light, some could say our priorties are royally screwed, and chipping away at this dependence is justified.

    But of course this is only ideology.

  • foo

    The boosters of what was done in Yaletown/False Creek N love to say that it’s been turned into a wonderful place for families. You have to wonder what planet they’re living on.

    The masses of tiny condos are anything but family-friendly. We constantly hear about the massive demand for places at Elsie Roy school, but in reality, we talking about a school of 330 kids (and demand for maybe 500) in a neighbourhood with 10k units.

    The fact is that the development plan for the downtown core has turned it into a resort for rich out-of-towners, and a playground for yuppies until they grow up and have families. It looks nice now because it’s new, but let’s see what it’s like in 20 years.

    The sad thing is that it could have been developed as a place for families, for people to live all their lives, to grow up in. Instead, the planning dept/council chose to use the development as a cash-cow, which really pushed the condo-bubble.

    I think the current firesale at The Beasley is an entirely appropriate legacy for the Beasley era.

  • Len B

    MB,

    Using your calculations of half our land for cars, I’d suggest it would be even more ridiculous to say 1/2 our land (paved) for bikes. That would be a complete waste considering they need far less pavement to operate.

    That said, cities like Amsterdam and Copenhagen have whole parking garages built for their multitudes of bikes (more concrete), they have pedestrian bridges (even more steel and concrete) where cars are not permitted, and that includes moveable bridges to allow boats under/through where necessary.

    We have none of those, and no plans for any as far as I know. Again I doubt we even have a plan, unless we’re all waiting for Raymond Louie’s next feel-good brain-storming session. (I envision wheels turning, steam coming out of ears and all that other fun stuff)

    I don’t dispute the need to reduce car traffic, however your argument on gas going up will also result in cars that pollute less – if at all, and once people move to these vehicles there will be fewer arguments for getting cars off the roads.

    Also keep in mind, it’s only ever been the increase of gas prices that gets people out of their cars, and NOT congesting traffic by taking existing traffic lanes out of production as Gregor plans to do.

    We can start planning for the future now, and invest in an infrastructure that works for all modes of transport in 2009 dollars, or we can continue fooling ourselves and pay for it in 2020 dollars. It’s be nice to get it right for once.

    I’m looking forward to 2010 when Tesla sedans are offered for sale in our fair city. Hopefully I’ll be at the front of that line and will not have to sit on a waiting list.

    Then try and tell me to stop using my car.

  • gmgw

    “gmgw,

    A thanks again for all the detailed history. But your analysis of the north and south shore developments made me wonder — what is your assessment of the SEFC/Olympic village development in the context of those other two?”

    Frances: Sorry, but here’s another essay-length response. My take on SEFC is pretty much in line with critiques made by a lot of other people over the past few years. I will concede that what’s happening there is an improvement on the neo-brutalist design ethic on view in Yaletown and Downtown South. The emphasis in SEFC on low-and-mid-rise buildings , coupled with the drive for sustainability, will, it is to be hoped, result in the creation of a somewhat more human-scaled community, especially when compared with the Concord Pacific properties (but still a community with much greater densities than similarly low- and mid-rise False Creek South). Had Concord been successful in the bidding for development rights to SEFC, they would almost certainly have put great pressure on the City to grant them permission to build highrise towers similar to those in False Creek North, and Terry Hui indicated as much. Even given the difference in scale, the sight of the overall SEFC development, viewed as a whole, is somewhat daunting. I was part of a group taken on an extensive tour of the SEFC site about a year ago and even then the sheer scale of the concept, seen at close range, was breathtaking, probably because it’s being built all at once, rather than in stages as was False Creek North.

    The affordable-housing fiasco is unfortunate and reflects badly on all the involved parties. There are also those who, like Michael Geller, seem to think that “affordable housing” means instant slums full of problem tenants– homeless people, the unemployed, the mentally ill, substance abusers, whatever your poor-people paranoia happens to be. This is balderdash. There is a highly successful mixed-income neighbourhood model conveniently located near at hand, right on the other side of the Cambie Bridge, with “affordable” housing complexes comfortably nestling next to high-end condos. It is a pleasant and functional neighbourhood with a broad range of residents and no more social problems than any other neighbourhood (and considerably fewer than some). It should be pointed out once again that many of those “affordable” buildings are housing co-ops, built at a time when the Federal government was still actively committed to funding a co-op housing program. Housing co-ops, far from embodying the cliched image of rundown “social housing” are in fact shining examples of the mixed-income model, with single moms on fixed incomes living next door to double-income professionals in a close-knit, self-sustaining community. Ottawa’s ridiculously short-sighted decision to cease the funding of affordable housing was a terrible blow to civic governments all across the country who have been forced to fall back on their own meagre resources in finding funding for affordable housing.

    Those who think like Geller need to be reminded that people– including many working people– who can’t afford to drop 750G on a condo, aren’t necessarily more likely to be spending their evenings breaking into their wealthier neighbours’ cars and homes. And why all this resentment coming from those Gellerites who argue that people who live in affordable housing should, apparently, be denied sites for their homes with pleasant views of water or greenspace? There’s been a lot of thinly-disguised poor-bashing in the media lately, with all this whining about half-million-dollar “affordable housing” units. A lot of the blame for this mess can be laid at the feet of Sam Sullivan and the NPA, who, on taking office, wasted no time in trashing much of the more egalitarian planning for SEFC that had been done by the previous civic administration, including a substantially higher affordable housing component. It must also be kept in mind that the extraordinarily high price the City demanded and received for the SEFC lands, while it must have seemed like a windfall at the time, helped to ensure that the affordable/non-profit housing component would be minimized.

    The financial problems associated with SEFC will also likely ensure that development of the much-needed parkland planned for the area next to the Cambie Bridge will have to be put on hold for at least a couple of years. That site could prove to be problematic in another way; until recently the home of the City works yard, a century of industrial use has left the soils on the park site heavily polluted, so much so that it was considered unsuitable for housing. Yet the City has no plans for soil remediation on that site. May I remind one and all of the fiasco that resulted on the Expo site after those lands (85 acres, give or take) were sold by Grace McCarthy to Li Ka-Shing for the bargain-basement price of about $170 million. Li was canny enough to demand a clause in the sale requiring that the seller take responsibility for any necessary site cleanup. The upshot was that so much polluted soil had to be removed from the site– God knows how many thousands of tons– that it pretty much wiped out the profits from the sale. (Most of that soil was dumped into Georgia Strait, off Point Grey– another good reason to stay out of the water at Wreck Beach.) Might I also mention Gasworks Park in Seattle’s Wallingford neighbourhood, considered a showpiece makeover of an industrial site– 20 acres that once encompassed a coal gasification plant, which were transformed into an extremely popular city park that opened in 1975 (the eponymous gasworks plant was retained, as a sort of giant work of industrial art). Unfortunately, Gasworks Park was found to contain dangerous levels of benzene and other toxic chemicals in its soil. The cleanup went on for more tan two decades, requiring frequent extended closings of the park, and even now tar still occasionally oozes to the surface in some areas. Could we be looking at a potentially similar scenario in SEFC? I fervently hope not.

    Incidentally, the Vancouver Salt Building, the only heritage structure remaining on the SEFC site, has itself eaten up a lot of money, as it was found to be in worse shape than originally thought (and despite its relative fragility, it had to be moved a short distance to accommodate a new building planned for that site). At least the Salt Building will be saved, though it may look quite anachronistic in the midst of all that shiny newness. It’s unfortunate that the huge (3 acres in size!) and magnificent old Western Bridge/Canron building, dating from 1935 and torn down in 1998, could not have been retained and somehow integrated into the redevelopment, as took place on Granville Island, but it didn’t fit into the plans– just too rustic, I guess.

    An important aspect of SEFC that has not yet received proper attention in the media is the enormous impact it will have on its neighbouring areas. After the Olympics are blessedly over, a brand-new community of some 14,000 people is going to suddenly come into being. By comparison, there are not much more than 5,000 residents in all of False Creek South, between the Cambie and Granville bridges, a larger area than SEFC. My neighbours in False Creek South, not surprisingly, are anticipating the advent of SEFC with some trepidation. The local community association is spending much time considering the potential impact of SEFC and how to mitigate that impact. A Community Plan is being drawn up and will be submitted to the City (see http://www.falsecreeksouth.org for more details). If Planning has its way, SEFC will also spawn a complete makeover of the slopes of lower Mount Pleasant– i.e., the area encompassed by Main Street, Broadway, Cambie and Second Avenue. It is intended that over the next decade or so this now light-industrial area will, through rezoning, be almost wholly transformed into middle-to-high-density housing, to tie in with the transformation of SEFC. The massive redevelopment of lower Cambie Street, incorporating big-box retailers and two Canada Line stations, has been done with both of these newly created communities prominently in mind. There are major developments already planned (finances permitting) for Second Avenue, which almost borders the SEFC lands to the south but is not part of them.

    In closing, I’ll note that I was privy for some years to many of the deliberations of the SEFC Working Group, being acquainted with one of its members. This informal group of consultants, comprising a group of people with diverse backgrounds in architecture, planning, design, and the environment, was assembled by the City to provide ideas on how best to build a sustainable, functional community in SEFC. Their excellent list of recommendations, submitted in their final report, were received with thanks and then almost completely ignored. It’s a great pity that the City did not see fit to incorporate the Working Group’s proposals into the plans for SEFC. Had they done so, we might have seen a truly world-class neighbourhood take shape on that site. As things stand, however, we can only cross our fingers, wait, and hope.

    gmgw

  • “There are also those who, like Michael Geller, seem to think that “affordable housing” means instant slums full of problem tenants– homeless people, the unemployed, the mentally ill, substance abusers, whatever your poor-people paranoia happens to be.”

    GMGW…what did I ever write or say that prompted you to present my views in this fashion? I must say I was quite impressed with much of your historical analysis, but I think you are completely off-base on this one.

    If you read my last article in the Vancouver Sun, I noted that based on my experience with the planning and development of the South Shore of False Creek, the lower income households were if anything, the ‘deliberate poor…teaching assistants, artists, etc…

    But rather than continue the discussion in this fashion,

    I HEREBY CHALLENGE YOU, AND OTHER INTERESTED FABULA CONTRIBUTORS TO A PUBLIC DEBATE !

    on the matters initially raised by this posting and the subsequent discussion. More specifically,
    a) should the city be undertaking a review of the existing view corridors? (do any of us really know which aspect of the Granville Street Bridge is currently being protected?)
    b) is the South Shore of False Creek better than the North Shore Development?
    c) should the city mandate that a percentage of the units in Major Developments be reserved for social housing? and while we’re on the topic, what should be the future of the current social housing component of SEFC?

    I challenge you to come out from behind your laptops and participate in a discussion on these matters. If you agree, I am sure that Frances will be happy to moderate the discussion…and I’ll happily assist in arranging a space at SFU or the Public Library, or a venue of your choice.

    I think the matters raised in this discussion are worthy of a public airing….I hope you all agree it’s about time we removed our masks and had a healthy public debate on important matters facing the future planning and development of our city.

  • that should read “which aspect of the Granville Street Bridge VIEW is currently being protected.

  • MB

    Note to Len, I’m sad to say that we’re really off topic now. Vancouver Vision Triangles, remember? Or was that Non Partisan Cones, or COPE Corridors?

    My last tangential comment is to say I don’t believe cars using internal combustion engines will ever be replaced one-to-one with electric Volts, $70,0000 (CD) Teslas, or even biofuel and hybrid vehicles. There just isn’t enough electricity capacity or cropland.

    This is a function of energy, not of how attractive or convenient cars are to us.

    The six-decade long Automobile Age is clearly not sustainable. That’s not to say personal cars won’t be with us for several more decades (in whatever form), but that they will certainly slip in numbers and in dominance, perhaps radically so.

    This is something that needs to be planned for. All indications are that the issue is being ignored except by council who are about to commission a staff report on peak oil, joining Burnaby and Portland, Or. Portland has spent several years now planning for higher energy prices and shortages, and their rails, bikes and zoning reflect that. They are light years ahead of everyone else, notably senior governments.

    Note to Foo: I too am critical of North False Creek, but with its detailed execution, not of the overall scope. To obtain a 40% chunk of the development area in open public park land is a real accomplishment (thank you Vancouver Planning Dept, that was a long and hard fight), as is its Metro-mandated higher level of ground-accessed low rise town house podiums. If Vancouver and Metro planners didn’t have a say, the development would probably have 60-storey Hong Kong block apartments right up to the lot lines, no public input into the design, even smaller units that we have now, only 10% public open space, and no social housing. But yeah, more units would be affordable.

    I believe those with a truly critical and balanced eye will recognize the benefits of such development, a lot of it on the public side of the ledger. Instead, we have much narrower social and political agenda in much of the above commentary masquerading as “knowledge” about development and urbanism. Definitely from the comfort of plush armchairs.

    Note to Michael: Great idea about the public debate!

  • MB

    One interesting thing I forgot to mention concerns Copenhagen. City officials decided in the 60s to remove public urban land devoted to private cars, but at the very reasonable pace of 3% a year. This policy was strongly influenced by Jan Gehl, a Danish architect and urban designer. As the result they accumulated over 100,000 square metres (25 acres) of land which was converted over the years to conjoining public pedestrian streets and plazas.

    The effect was stunning, as characterized primarily in the Stroget, a 6 km long car-free zone with high quality finishes and pedestrian-oriented amenities.

    Links to this topic and a description of Jan Gehl’s work are below.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Str%C3%B8get
    http://www.visitcopenhagen.com/tourist/what_to_see_and_do/inspiration/top_10_sights/stroeget
    http://www.absoluteastronomy.com/topics/Jan_Gehl

  • foo

    MB,

    I would be less critical of FCN and the Beasley era if the city was (and is) honest about what they were trying to achieve. If they had come out and said, we intend the downtown core to be a place for yuppies, rich people and retired people, and families be damned, that would be ok.

    (Much like Peter Rees, Chief Planning Officer for London has said “families kill cities” and “downtowns are no places for kids and strollers”)

    Instead, we have been fed the line that the city intended the development to be family friendly, put restrictions in place to ensure that, and continues a family-friendly policy. It’s complete crap, unless you consider >$600k, 750sq ft 2 bed condos as family friendly.

  • gmgw

    Dear Mr. Geller:
    I think what I object to more than anything esle in your remarks is your smug use of the phrase “deliberate poor”. Perhaps that was a clumsy attempt at humour; I don’t know. I do know that it comes close to being as offensive as the common usage of “welfare bums” was, years ago. I don’t know of anyone, apart from monks whose holy orders require them to take a vow of poverty, who deliberately sets out to be poor. It’s not an easy way of life. I’ve tasted poverty myself more than once and I fervently hope never to again. Regarding your filing of teaching assistants and artists under that dubious classification, I am privileged to number members of both of those honourable professions among my friends and acquaintances, and I can assure you that even though each of them loves what she/he does and intends to keep at it, all of them hope to move on frrom their varying levels of relative impoverishment as soon as possible. The most skilled artist I know, a dear friend, has a full-time job which keeps her busy and tired enough that for some time she has had little time or energy to pursue her art– but she also has a mortgage to pay down. The impoverished state of many of this town’s tryly innovative and creative artists– and artists everywhere- is more a reflection of how little honour is assigned artists in this city and in this society (yes, I know that there’s nothing new about that, but…). We have emerged into an age that values art chiefly for its investment potential, and my friend’s delicate, lovely, and distinctive watercolour still-lifes have been turned down by more than one gallery owner as lacking in marketability and being out of step with current trends. I suppose she could “deliberately” quit her job and try to formulate an artistic vision with greater commercial potential, but she’s no fool (and she has no interest in pandering to popular tastes). You need to do some re-thinking about poverty, its causes, and about those who suffer from it, Mr. Geller. And kindly remove that usage from your vocabulary.

    Regarding your proposal for a debate: Interesting idea, Mr. G., but I’m no fool either. I suppect my rusty public debating skills would be no match for yours. Unlike MB, I think going “off topic” in an online discussion or forum can often serve a useful purpose, as long as the discussion remains within parameters that at least relate to the main subject of the forum: In this case, the city of Vancouver, its sociopolitical culture, and the extended ramifications of same. But I think we’re approaching the end of this thread’s usefulness (and likely testing Frances’ tolerance–and bandwidth– rather more than she’d prefer).
    gmgw

  • Larry Beasley

    There is a lot of weird personal hogwash in the “stream of consciousness” of this blog – which I guess is typical when people can be anonymous – but I hope no one lets this take the focus away from what is really at stake in this review of Vancouver’s long established view corridors. Frankly, the essence of our city is at stake. One of the fundamental and unique amenities of our city is at stake: our tangible moment-to-moment experience of our glorious mountain and water setting from an array of locations both at the edges, across and within the dense urban core. I see our view corridors, now so clear and obvious after years of careful management, as a part of the very commonwealth of our city. I say “our” corridors because they belong to everyone, regardless of wealth or status – they’re there for peoples’ enjoyment in their own time, in their own way. Trading them away for the expediency of the moment would be trading away our patrimony – and I think that would be a shame.
    I’m skeptical of the intent of some of our politicians on this matter, but I think our Chief Planner, Brent Toderian, is right: we can tweek the corridors after 20 good years of experience (in fact, I hope we even add some new views). No one can argue that some have proven to be more vital than others and, in any event, it is good from time to time to refresh our public support for such a vulnerable amenity. But let’s make this a “no net loss” exercise. To put this successful policy up for grabs, in principle, or to diminish much of the public equity that it represents would be a travesty for the public and an insult to those hundreds of developers who abided by the corridors over the years and still found ample profitability in their projects.
    More to the point, to trade any of the very few now protected views away for more development potential of any kind – private or public – is shortsighted. There are many ways to accommodate development potential in our core without giving away our quality of life. What should our citizens think about deleting their public equity for private gain?
    In fact, I propose an opposite strategy to what is now underway. Why can’t the City Council sponsor a program for people to nominate new views for protection? Instead of potentially less, let’s shoot for more protected views out of this review. Let’s turn this moment into an investment in our commonwealth, rather than a diminishment of it.
    But no matter what happens, I hope the process fosters a wide and extensive public debate. Unfortunately many people take for granted the wonderful setting that they enjoy every day, assuming that it will always be there. Let’s make sure everyone knows the implications of less protected views: the closing in of our inner city, disconnection from the mountains and water and a sense of claustrophobia that is the day-to-day reality in most big cities in the world. I think most people would conclude that we don’t need that here in Vancouver.

  • gmgw

    “Unlike GMGW, I’ll take the design of George Wainborn Park over the current version of Granville Square any day.”

    This may surprise you, MB, but I agree with you, on this point anyway. At least Wainborn Park has a grassy surface, and is probably more quiet than Granville Square, thanks in part to those tombstone-like towers serving as WP’s backdrop. The design of the park itself, however, is rather dull, conservative and stolid, not unlike the man for whom it was named.

    I will also agree with you that Granville Square does enjoy one of the finest urban views in the country. (Though imagine what would happen to that view should the Whitecaps stadium ever come into being!) (There’s a lesser-known great view, BTW, from the north side of the parking lot between the Seabus terminal/former CPR station and the Landing building (Steamworks).) But good God, could the Square itself ever use a (complete) makeover.

    Vancouver, like Toronto, has been cut off from its (Burrard Inlet) waterfront throughout most of its history by industrial usage. This accounts in large part, I think, for the huge marketing success of the massive Coal Harbour reedevelopment– those views had not been available for residential usage since the days of the Three Greenhorns. It’s a pity that Crab Park remains the only place for public access to the Burrard Inlet waterfront between Coal Harbour and New Brighton Park. The fact that a single developer (his name escapes me, but he stood to profit mightily from the proposed stadium) has been allowed to buy up much of the waterfront land between Main and Granville streets probably means that this won’t change any time soon.

    As a long-time devotee of the Jazz Festival, I have my doubts as to the suitability of even a remade Granville Square as a primary outdoor venue for that event. David Lam Park works well enough. Certainly Granville Square would merit consideration as a secondary venue, however (though some in the area might take issue with the sound from the PA).

    It’s difficult to envision how Granville Street could be successfully “extended to the waterfront” should Granville Square be demolished, or what might greet people at its northern terminus. As I’ve said, as a rule I’m all in favour of enhanced waterfront access (for pedestrians, I hasten to add). But in this case I would like to see the concept drawings before making up my mind. Anyone know of an online source?

    gmgw

  • Joe just Joe

    Visit the COV website and do a search for waterfront hub. The renderings are very prelimarany but they should help. You can even head over to skyscraperpage.com go into the Vancouver subforum-downtown forums- there is a thread dedicated to the waterfront hub, lots of info there.

  • gmgw

    “Also keep in mind, it’s only ever been the increase of gas prices that gets people out of their cars, and NOT congesting traffic by taking existing traffic lanes out of production as Gregor plans to do.”

    Len, I have to disagree. Many European and east Asian cities are experimenting with reducing traffic congestion by simply making it much more difficult and/or expensive to take a car into the city centre– Amsterdam, which now severely restricts the number of cars allowed to enter the narrow streets of the historic city centre is a recent example. There has been some preliminary discussions of how Vancouver might insitute similar restrictions, but so far a relentless increase of parking meter rates in downtown and environs appears to be the only concrete idea planners can come up with. The other factor that encourages people to leave their cars at home (if they even own a car) is efficient, affordable and extensive mass transit systems. Do you really think that the majority of people who work in Manhattan, downtown Toronto, or in central London or Tokyo gets to their job by car? Can you imagine what would happen if they tried? “Chaos” doesn’t even begin to say it. Vancouver spent decades futzing around and lagging behind other cities in Canada and elsewhere in developing efficient rapid transit systems. And now that the cost of the infrastructure has gone through the roof, we’re still lagging. And even when we build those systems, we still screw things up: When the Canada Line starts running on or about Labour Day, Transink will be eliminating all the express bus routes that currently carry riders from Richmond, Delta, and south Surrey into downtown (including the heavily-used and remarkably efficient Richmond B-Line ), in a draconian attempt to force riders to take local buses connecting with the Canada Line instead. Residents and politicians alike from cities south of the Fraser are furious about this, but Translink (read: the BC government) remains adamant. Far too much money has been spent on the Canada Line to risk anyone using an alternative method of transit. Most observers seem to feel that at least initially there will be a substantial upswing in car traffic as stubborn commuters try to have it their own way, but that will likely fade as people get fed up with dealing with the nightmares that are southern Oak Street, Granville and 70th, and Highway 99 during rush hour.

    It seems to be a longstanding (Metro) Vancouver tradition that even when we finally do the right thing, we still do it the wrong way.
    gmgw

  • gmgw, I’m surprised you didn’t comment following the post by Larry Beasley. Given in your first post you were awfully certain he would do anything to help developers, including destroying this view policy, and made that a central theme of what could arguably be described as character assassination, I would expect you to respond to his fervent support of the view policy. In fact he even espoused expanding it to include newer areas where views need to be protected.

    I quite like your historical analysis and you clearly are very knowledgeable on Vancouver’s development, but when you so obviously misrepresent someone’s views I would appreciate it, and I’m sure it would show a stronger character, if you at least acknowledged a mistake.

  • Len B

    gmgw,

    If you’re talking about increasing the cost to people travelling into the core, then I agree that will work (to a point).

    Whether it’s an increase in gas prices, or a ‘congestion tax’ as some cities have implemented or debated, it’s not a lot different than an increase in fuel costs. It’s hitting people in the pocket books that works – I don’t see where there is any disagreement. I will add that I am not advocating for a congestion tax.

    Reducing existing infrastructure (roads) to the point of a European city is a bit like comparing apples to oranges though. Unless new neighborhoods are constructed such as the Olympic Village where the streets are as narrow as one would find in Europe, forcing the electorate (majority) to accept reduced existing capacity for a minority (cyclists) of the population will never be tolerated.

    With regards to the Burrard Bridge and cycling use, I would also suggest that with current density in other areas of the city increasing much quicker than those areas serviced by the Burrard Bridge, that cycling lanes on other bridges may/should be more of a priority.
    (Where would we get the most value for our dollar?) I don’t support reduced lanes on any existing bridge, I’m just making a point.

    Further, I’ll add that even David Suzuki has stated on his t.v. program that he’s had it wrong for at least 20 years (I believe he used the phrase – beating his head against the wall trying to get people to listen to him). People will not change their habits based on a worry about the environment, but will if there are benefits they derive from changing their behaviour – namely convenience and cost.

    As you mentioned we do not have a convenient transportation system and nor is it inexpensive to the user. And it’s not only transit, we’ve wasted millions in this city on under-used bike lanes because the routes planned, are not the ones most frequented by cyclists.

    This has to stop and knee-jerk feel-good policies (rent-bikes and the Burrard Bridge trials) should be shelved until we come up with a transportation and infrastructure plan that will stand the test of time and include all modes of transport. Read “No more band-aids”.

    Finally, it should also be presented as such, with much public debate and scrutiny before implementation. I’m not talking about an information session or two at the Roundhouse, perhaps a seperate ballot question during our tri-annual civic election would work.

  • gmgw

    Tessa:
    I have to admit I was initially surprised at Larry’s popping up in this forum and delivering a ringing endorsement of the view corridor concept. Then I realized that he was unlikely to take any other stance since it was his department that formulated and advocated the view corridor guidelines. Maybe I’m guilty of tunnel vision, but I find it difficult to reconcile Larry’s words here and his actions when he was chief City planner. I’m going to have to repeat some of what I’ve already said in earlier posts…

    Remember that I live on False Creek south shore. When I moved into that neighbourhood in 1985 it enjoyed what could be regarded as multiple, unplanned view corridors extending to the North Shore mountains. Since 1986, and largely under Larry Beasley’s stewardship, Planning has facilitated the construction of multiple residential highrises in Yaletown, along the False Creek North waterfront, and in Downtown South,which have obliterated the views from our neighbourhood. And many more large towers are coming to the area around BC Place and in what could be called False Creek Northeast. At least one developer has proposed a 60-storey tower for the former site of the Plaza of Nations. Even if it is scaled down, massive density is planned for that area, in part to help pay for the construction of the new roof on BC Place Stadium through development fees (I kid you not).

    I realize we don’t have Larry Beasley to kick around any more (so to speak), but when he passionately advocates for the retention and even the expansion of the view corridor policy, I have to wonder just what part of town he’s talking about. The massive densification that took place under Beasley’s leadership has done more to destroy or encroach on downtown view corridors than any other factor. Let me ask you a couple of questions: If you can stretch out your arm to full length and encompass a “view” within the width of your thumbnail, are you therefore looking at a “view corridor”? Is that tiny sliver of green enough to bring about the elevation of the spirit the corridors are presumably meant to evoke? How restricted are they allowed to be? And why has Larry Beasley, in the case of False Creek North at least, so clearly said one thing and done another? No wonder he’s in favour of seeking out and protecting view corridors, in “new areas” (the only place any unspoiled ones are likely to be found). At least that might partially balance the karmic burden he bears for facilitating the destruction of so many others.

    Tessa, I know I sound like a crank who blames Larry Beasley personally for wrecking the view from my balcony, and who thinks that False Creek South was some kind of gloriously bucolic Eden that looked out upon the Elysian Fields before the snakes arrived from Planning. And it is true that we still have a fine, although much shrunken,view– the only mountain of which we still have an unobscured view (at least for now) is Burnaby Mountain. But I thin the False Creek South experience is emblematic of much that was wrong with Vancouver’s city planning while Beasley was in charge. But my curse (or blessing) is that I’m old enough to remember a very different Vancouver, and I deeply mourn its loss. And I would have greatly preferred that those who have so throughly remade it over the past 25 years or so had elected to take an evolutionary rather than a revolutionary approach. Despite what some wiill tell you, there was much of value in that old Vancouver; but most of it has been lost, crushed underfoot in our collective stampede into the 21st Century, and what remains is a pale shadow of both what was and what could have been. As a friend of mine likes to say: If you were able to magically take Vancouver and transport it to the site of, say, Regina, would it still enjoy the same reputation for beauty?

    I’ll leave you with this: Half a century ago, when I was a kid growing up in this city, I was a devoted reader of Superman comics. I used to look at downtown Vancouver and wonder why Vancouver didn’t look more like Metropolis, with tall, vaguely futuristic skyscrapers everywhere (I had little knowledge of Metropolis’s real-life analogy, New York at that tender age). Downtown didn’t have any buildings nearly as cool as the Daily Planet building, I thought. I used to feel vaguely ashamed, thinking I was living in Podunk or its equivalent.

    Eventually I developed more stimulating cultural pursuits, and left Superman and comic books behind. I no longer pined for Metropolis, and realized my home town had its good points after all. But you know what? There are some kids, I think, who never outgrow that longing for that comic-book city of the future with all those big shiny towers. And some of them, when they get old enough, go out into the world and start trying to bring it into reality. Some become developers. Some become architects. And some even become Chief City Planners.

    Welcome to Metropolis, folks. It’s about time for Superman to appear…

    Oh yes, one last question: Can you think of another city– anywhere– in which developers were so grateful to the Chief City Planner for, shall we say, smoothing their path, that they actually named an apartment tower after him?? Frankly, I think that speaks volumes about Mr. Beasley and his policies. If an honorific structure were needed, a simple statue outside City Hall might have sufficed; perhaps a life-size bronze of Larry, wearing his characteristically charming grin and giving an enthusiastic double thumbs-up, as if Concord’s Terry Hui had just walked into Larry’s office to discuss a proposal, lying on Larry’s desk, for another new 35-storey tower.
    gmgw

  • not running for mayor

    I’m pretty sure the tower is named after Beasley to honour what he’s done in making Vancouver one of the most liveable cities in the world year after year, not as a reward for allowing developers to rape the citizens.
    Also while your knowledge of the past is great, your knowledge of the present is saddening. There is no 60 storey tower planned in area 10A or 10C (BC place land). There is a view cone that passes over it and there are strict height limits in place. The one corner could allow just under 300ft (~30stories), the other corner much lower. Simple mistakes like that make me question the facts presented in your other posts.

  • gmgw

    NRFM:
    I never said the tower was “planned”. I said it was “proposed”. You do understand the difference, I hope. My information re that *proposal* (emphasis added) came from a colleague I trust absolutely, who closely monitors development issues and proposals in the False Creek North and Northeast areas and who has excellent contacts at City Hall. The information has been making the rounds for months. It was (thankfully) a proposal doomed to fail, probably for the reasons you’ve identified, but I mentioned it in order to illustrate the kind of pressures being brought to bear to greatly increase density– and height limits– in the last largely undeveloped area bordering False Creek, the BC Place neighbourhood. By all accounts, it sounds like a miniature version of the Oklahoma land rush has been going on over there. There are nearly a dozen new towers planned for the area near the stadium, from several different developers. Any view cones that might still exist there will be hard-pressed to survive.

    Re your take on the Beasley tower’s name, I’m uncertain if you’re being disingenuous or merely naive. (And while we’re at it, let me promptly dissasociate myself from your calculatedly provocative use of the over-the-top phrase “rape the citizens”. Puh-leez.)
    gmgw

  • fbula

    GMGW,

    The tower you’re talking about is something I mentioned in a Vancouver Sun article right after the announcement last year by the premier about the art gallery moving down to False Creek. There was a proposal submitted to the planning department, one that I don’t think anyone thought had the smallest rat’s chance of succeeding, that showed Northeast False Creek sporting a series of fantastical towers joined by walkways. All very futuristic, designed by the London firm of green-skyscraper builder Ken Yeang. It certainly created a buzz in planning but it was never seriously considered. However, it is partly due to pressure from those NEFC owners that the city is now considering the issue of view cones once more.

  • gmgw

    Thanks for your clarification, Frances. I must have missed your Sun story when it ran, so I didn’t have those details; but that particular proposal has been mentioned in passing more than once in discussions of development issues in a couple of community groups I belong to. I agree with you that the proposal didn’t have much chance of being taken seriously, but I’ve had enough experience relating to bargaining and mediation to know that sometimes one side will throw something outrageous onto the table just to see if the other side is paying attention– and also to gauge their reaction, in order to get an idea of what they’re going to be able to get away with.
    Sorry for using up so much space this week, BTW. There were a surprising (to me, anyway) number of points which I felt needed a response, and time seemed to be of the essence…
    gmgw

  • Eddy Elmer

    The sad thing here is that if view cones are altered, the only thing we’ll get in return is more tasteless condominium towers, firmly solidifying Vancouver’s reputation for mediocrity (architecturally and otherwise).

  • I find it hard to believe that Calgary and Toronto are used as comparisons here.

    In Calgary, the mountains are not visible from downtown, because it’s in a valley. They are visible from a few of the ridges around downtown, but the towers are of little effect – the mountains extend along the full length of the horizon line. And that’s the days that you can actually see the mountains to start with – which is rarely in the summer due to haze and smog.

    Toronto’s situation is terrible, but totally different. It’s not views of the water that are the issue, but access to it. The Gardiner Expressway is long overdue for a replacement to reconnect Toronto to it’s waterfront.

    And lastly – right now the height limit downtown is 600′. The mountains are over 4000′! They are never going to be “hidden” by taller towers, particularly by the narrower style towers that are built here in Vancouver.

  • Robert

    As an admirer of your fair city I have the perspective of an outsider, which perhaps gives my position a different sort of objectivity. I have visited and studied your city in detail basically because it is a great city and I would like to live in a city as beautiful as yours. I really hope you realize how good you have it and how unusual this is.

    I have nothing personal to gain, but it would break my heart to see your city get worse instead of better due to something so petty as shortsightedness.

    Please be aware that if you people begin down the road of undoing the View Corridors, that you run the very real risk of setting in motion a trend towards compromising on other aspects of the things that have also made Vancouver truly special. Once such a trend begins, it is very hard to reverse.

    My impression is that the View Corridor ordinance, which incidentally has inspired other cities to attempt similar measures for the public good, arose because every new development project resulted in a battle, and judging by some of your comments it seems clear that in some of these battles the developers won and the public indeed lost. Perhaps I am mistaken, but to revise the view corridors in response to developer pressure now is an invitation for a return to a very contentious situation in which developers and the public are continually pitted against one another.

    Is this actually what you want? I am sure the developers would not mind, since they have nothing to lose and everything to gain. But what do you want?

    I am honestly surprised that you people cannot find a more creative solution. I am shocked actually. I know your city well and have studied your view corridors in detail. At this juncture you developers have nothing legitimate to complain about because the view corridor ordinance has been in place now for a considerable length of time. Begin to tinker with it and this will no longer be true. Suddenly every developer will have grounds for violating a view corridor for any new project because it will be seen as unfair that some rules were relaxed while others were not.

    Instead I think you people should recognize that sooner or later buildable lots in downtown will become scarce. This could happen now, in which case developers can be encouraged to improve your city by improving other parts of it, or you can first let them ruin the downtown and then move on. For example, San Francisco suffered a weakening of its identity when short cited city officials changed rules that permitted the downtown to become overdeveloped. Yes there are still nice parts to the city but the downtown there is now cold and hostile and not nearly as nice as it once was. Once a bad idea is implemented in such a form you are stuck with it.

    Take your time, please, and try to figure out what the real problem is, and by all means find a more creative solution than dismantling the things that took you this far just so some developers can pocket some extra cash.

  • A.R.

    Also, for all the talk here of Toronto and view corridors, it seems like the focus was on the wrong place. The lake is flat and it doesn’t make for scenic views. It wasn’t the condos that ruined it either; it was the railway corridor and Gardiner Expressway.

    Unmentioned were the impressive view corridors achieved through urban planning: Queen’s Park at the head of University Avenue, Old City Hall at the head of Bay Street, and many others. In the 1970s, architect George Baird identified many of these in his work “On Building Downtown”. Preservation was championed and achieved, but the city is once again at a crossroads whether or not to protect them with all the high-rise condo development going on. There aren’t too many, though, so it’s not like preserving them would make a significant impact on the development industry and the growth of the city.