Frances Bula header image 2

View-corridor debate: Round 2

June 26th, 2009 · 19 Comments

This comment got appended recently to the long string from last month on view corridors. I doubt many people will have continued looking at that post and it’s an interesting comment, so I’m re-posting it here as a separate entry. (And for those wondering if there will be an end to the view-corridor debate, the city’s website has a fancy timeline graphic that appears to indicate, if I am interpreting the boxes and arrows correctly, that there will be a final decision in the last quarter of 2009):

From “renaissancehombre”

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.

Categories: Uncategorized

  • CMK

    Hi Frances,
    Thanks for posting this item; it is a topic that is of great interest to many of your readers.

    For readers new to the issue, they can find out more about downtown capacity, public benefits, view corridors and height limits by visiting the study web site: http://www.vancouver.ca/capacitystudy and be sure to give us your take by completing the online survey, its up for only a limited time.

    To keep informed about study events and upcoming consultation activities join our e-mailing list or follow us on Facebook or Twitter, just visit the study web site and click on the links to sign up.

    Thanks again,
    Colton Kirsop

  • Joe Just Joe

    Not everyone in the industry is calling for a change of the view corridors I can assure you of that, in fact there is alot of concern about the study from within the industry.
    Personally I feel that for the most part they should be left as is, perhaps some tweaking here and there on a couple of them, but for the most part they have worked and continue to work. What I have recommended is that new ones be created not pertaining to only downtown. There is a new one that has been implemented over East Fraserlands to keep the view of Mt Baker. I feel the city should ensure other views across this city are preserved as well. The view cones have helped shape this city and have resulted in hundreds of shorter towers instead of dozens of supertalls, it has created the fabric that is so deeply cherished by us and by those that visit. We are a better place because of the view cones.

  • I thinq 3 x J has a point here Mr. Kirsop. Indeed, protocol requires a civic civil servant to be seen and not heard: promoting your interests is quite outré.

    The cone of vision, view corridor, issue is now long in the tooth. When integrity reigned in the planning department downtown zoning allowed 12 stories at FAR 0.9: view by definition, views not being a upper most in the civic conscience.

    The debate of 1992, when your erstwhile director of planning, resigned because he was “confused” put the kibosh on that.

    Since then we have encouraged packs of bespoke thugs to essentially run wild across the cityscape to where, now, we have neither views nor civic urban public space and places to enjoy.

    I do not blame the planning department I merely wish to point out that despite the big talk bravado it has been, and is, an ineffectual and very expense luxury.

    Vancouver is the is the outcome of the wilful desecration of a magnificent setting . . . despite an over bearing bureaucracy . . . I suggest Mr. Kisop, sir, you heed my words . . . .

  • Beautifully put, “renaissancehombre”!

    I had never knew the view corridors were a “thing” until I read about them here. Now everyday I look up as I walk around downtown and appreciate them even more. I would be heartbroken if the city enacted rules to weaken them. They shape the way downtown Vancouver feels, for the better.

  • Frances Bula

    A gentleman by the name of “uchuck” sent me this comment privately, but I asked his permission to post it, as it adds to the discussion. Here it is:

    This discussion is vacuous…the only really effective Policy is to have a uniform “cap” of, say, 45 storeys. The disaster of The Shangri-La speaks for itself. Six more of those penises would wipe out whatever views are left of the North Shore mountains. Even some 5 years ago, one could see the mountains from Oak/Broadway Sts., no more. Some 15 years ago, the “thinking” was that the mountains were the prevailing benchmark, to be protected, made Vancouver “special.” In Vancouver, Nature shall have Dominion over Man’s creation, so was the thinking. Let cities like Chicago and Toronto build to the heavens, it’s the only mountains they can ever hope to see. No more. This got “swept under the rug” under that “world-class” Planner (yea, him). I doubt any Council will have the “balls” to enforce such an easy Policy, as long as Bob Rennie & his Like are greedily counting up their mega-profits. Thanks for your time and respect for privacy.

  • Really, within reason height isn’t the issue. Now I know the term “within reason” is totally out of the question given how planners have strutted and squeaked over the last decade, sin embargo, may I presume.

    Most recent urban development worldwide has essentially been under the control of the “development” industries speculative hunger: hence how boring alike they are.

    I was struck by the aerial view of Montpellier showing a semicircular open space similar to FCN. This isn’t a case of great minds thinq alike: its more evidence of the money boys, calling the shots from afar, flabby bums on swivel chairs fiddling with digits.

    FCN missed so many opportunities we should tear the whole thing apart and start again. That isn’t going to happen, of course, but at least we should make sure the same mistakes are not replicated at NEFC.

    Reading NEFC High level review I ponder, does high level refer to “big-shots-public-keep-out” or to the angle at which the graphics are computed?

    Either way high-level portends disaster. So far planners have leant nothing from FCN.

    FCN was, way back, essentially a clean slate: no complicated titles etc. There was an opportunity, to design, as one SCARP grad thesis expressed, as:

    “Narrow covered pedestrian passageways wind through the block, creating links to surrounding streets. A small atrium courtyard, large central courtyards and arcaded walkways alternatively compress and explode the experience of the pedestrian.”

    We have known for decades a “pedestrian-first” policy is good civic economics: Vancouver has missed that.

    There still is, though, extant imagination to ameliorate the interface between buildings and public space at NEFC.

    Similar opportunities arise, also, in the Hastings corridor, et. al, only awaiting recognition.

    Past experience tells us Cones of Vision and View Corridors seldom materialize and are used as a mere distraction.

    All that stands in the way of thoughtful civic urban design is the brute ineptness of a planning department that, demonstrably, is incapable of abandoning old habits.

  • gmgw

    I went to one of the recent open houses on the view cones/corridors issue, and had exactly the kind of experience I expected… a polite but pointless conversation with a grinning, glad-handing, articulate young planner who assured me that my input would not only be welcomed but even *valued*– but who looked startled and confused when I asked him why Planning had reported to Council that there had been a *positive* response to the NEFC High Level Review when 68% of the 500 respondents on the comment forms had indicated that they did not want, in effect, 4 million square feet of new residential development added to the neighbourhood. Why, I asked the planner, should I believe that you will truthfully convey my opinions to council on view corridors, when you misrepresented public opinion in such a crucial matter as the HLR? Strangely, he had no answer. I was short of time, or perhaps we could have turned the conversation to pleasanter topics, such as the weather.

    I will repeat what I said about this in March:
    Quite apart from the fact that the majority of the view cones as they exist (at least from the POV of False Creek South and environs, where most of them seem to have their POVs) border instead on the nonexistent and range all the way up past pointless to barely adequate, I think that the view cone review process itself is an empty sham, and that, as usual with Planning’s public consultation exercises, all the key decisions have already been made, the plans put in place, and all that remained was to cynically go through the typical motions of said public consultation. That duty having been done in the public eye, Brent Toderian will be able to get up in front of Council later this year and make the official announcement of what will by then be common knowledge: Sayonara, view corridors– after which he can make the usual phone call to the people who really run this city: “Did I do everything right, Mr. Hui/Wall/Rennie/et.al.?”

    And really, when many of those once-valuable view corridors have been whittled down to pathetic slivers that one can cover with one’s thumb at arm’s length, how could anyone realistically expect any other conclusion to the process?

    And some people wonder why I’m a cynic.
    gmgw

  • A. G. Tsakumis

    Hurrah for uchuck! Couldn’t have written it better myself.

  • Check gmgw . . .

    Dr Doggie Run and Professor Paradise have a lot to answer for. Your “glad-handing, articulate young planner” has obviously come under their thrall.

    And that is the rub, they have influence over young gullible students’ minds still . . .

    Napoleon said, on creating La Legion d’honneur

    “Il est avec de telles babioles que les hommes sont fil de sortie!”

    Stat . . .

  • Wes Knapp

    Frances,

    Have you taken a look at the web survey that the
    Planning Department is conducting?

    I hadn’t come across it until I received a phone call last week asking if I would fill out a survey about view
    corridors. I was taken aback when I saw it. The hidden agenda is hardly hidden. Developers’ greed is implicit in the entire issue around the view corridor study. The survey and questionnaire are so disingenuous. It has the audacity to imply social amenities will unfold if view corridors are tweaked–when developers are resisting ever more adamantly a requirement to provide amenities.

  • Frances, this discussion is a bit like the movie…My Dinner with Andre. I read one post, and find that I agree. I read another, that offers a completely opposite point of view, and find that I agree!

    Now, before you all dismiss me as someone with no real opinions and a desire to please, let me explain.

    The established view corridors, as developed 20 years ago, have played a role. But they were developed from static viewpoints, and do not necessarily reflect how one sees views as one moves about the city…across a bridge, or down a street 20 years later.

    Secondly, they often protected a view of say…. the lions, in a very analytical way, but did not necessarily protect important street end views. Indeed, since we created the view cones, some new streets have been created.

    I am all in favour of protecting important views. But as I wrote before, slicing a corner off the Shangri La tower to protect an important view cone was silly.

    Similarly, keeping a narrow vertical slot view cone from the Granville Street bridge…one that is dominated by a very wide apartment building, with the consequential result of seriously restricting potentially desirable forms of development on the St. Paul’s Hospital site, is also silly.

    I think it’s important to distinguish between protecting public views and protecting existing view cones. The two are not synonymous.

    I for one would be in favour of adding some new view cones, and reconsidering some of the existing slots.

    That having been said, I agree that notwithstanding what may have been good intentions, the current open houses, and comment sheets are not worth the effort. However, I do think it is necessary to have some public events at which the DofP and staff can present, in slide and video form, the existing context, and potentially alternative proposals on the table.

    And again, I hope that Urbanismo and GMGW and Joe Just Joe will come out, because they do have something important to say, and it should be said in public, at events organized by SFU Think City, the Planning Institute, the Architectural institute, UDI and other public events,….with the media present so that we can have a full discussion on the issue.

    (I would add that the planners, architects and developers have all been strangely silent on a number of important decisions that have been made recently.)

    To conclude, this is not a view vs. no view matter. It’s how best to ensure we protect future views. But let me also note that those who do see this as an exercise to allow more development may also be correct, since this is, after all, been promoted as a view and CAPACITY study! So we better watch out.

  • Frances Bula

    Wes,

    I don’t think there’s anything hidden about the agenda at all. Vancouver has made it evident for a number of years that one of the prime ways it can pay for social amenities in the city is by selling off space. Others are following suit. Surrey is certainly looking at trading density for certain things it wants.

    That doesn’t strike me as such a bad idea, as long as it doesn’t mean selling just any old density. That’s always the trick.

  • gmgw

    Frances sed:
    “Vancouver has made it evident for a number of years that one of the prime ways it can pay for social amenities in the city is by selling off space.”

    Which is as good a way of paraphrasing and updating “You have sold your birthright for a mess of pottage” as anything I can think of.
    gmgw

  • VPD has been on a hiring whirligig during the happy days.

    Now the music has stopped, they are looking to keep busy and expect us to pay for their ride.

    . . . that’s all the revived “view corridor” thing is about.

  • Downtown Dad

    gmgw,
    You talk about the feedback received at a public open house being overwhelmingly against more condos for Northeast False Creek. Perhaps this is true, however, I would argue that feedback received at open houses should be treated with caution. Since people choose to attend (usually because they are strongly supportive or opposed to something), they can’t be considered a random sample and can’t be assumed to be a representation of the city as a whole. I shudder to think if the planning department were to consider opinions from open houses as gospel truth. What would stop wealthy developers (think “Mr. Hui/Wall/Rennie/et.al.”) from hiring teams of “citizens” to stuff the opinion boxes?

  • gmgw

    D-Dad:
    While I agree with you about the questionable validity of open-house surveys, that’s not what we’re talking about here. Planning conducted a survey of nearby residents to get their opinions of the proposal(s) for a 45% increase in density in NEFC (adding an additional 4 million square feet of residential and 7200 residents). Of the 500 residents who responded, 68% opposed the proposal. Despite this, Planning staff reported to council that the survey results indicated strong *support*(!) from the surveyed residents. This comes alarmingly close to fraudulent misrepresentation.

    The only councillor who questioned Planning’s figures was Suzanne Anton, who prior to the Council meeting had met with a group of local residents opposed to the densification, of whom my informant was a member. As a result Anton had come to the Council meeting already informed of the true results of the survey. Confronted with the truth, Planning staff had to withdraw their claim. The same group of residents also met with Geoff Meggs prior to the Council meeting, but the only issue he raised in that Council meeting was whether Ken Dobell had been involved with the survey. Why, Meggs alone knows.

    Gregor-the-Mayor, at that same meeting, delivered some predictable blather about sustainability and greening, but said nothing about the 10-acre park, promised by Concord, for which nearby residents have been waiting in vain for 20 years, nor did he mention that the densification as proposed would actually mean a *reduction* in public green space of almost 20 acres. And as for those vaunted view cones? When it comes to the ones to the northeast (from the Cambie Bridge, Charleson Park et. al.), Planning’s attitude, apparently, can be summed up in two words: “F**k ’em”.

    It’s fairly well-known that Concord’s Terry Hui donated heavily to Vision in the last civic election and even paid off their debt from the last election. Councillors like Raymond Louie, of course, are known to be frequent guests on Hui’s yacht and to have accepted other “gifts” from him. But that’s how the development business works in Vancouver; you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours, Mr. Mayor and Council. And any citizens who are still labouring under the delusion that they elected a “progressive” Council and Mayor can, as far as that Council and Mayor is concerned, go piss up a rope.

    You don’t need to take my word for all this. There’s a meeting scheduled for July 8 , 7-9 PM at the Telus Science Center, 1455 Quebec; it’s sponsored by the False Creek Residents’ Association. The issues I’ve mentioned, and more pertaining to NEFC and downtown development (eg. view corridors, the High Level Review, the Historic Are Height Review, and others), will be raised and discussed. City councillors and Planning Commissioners will be present. Come out and give them hell. Everyone is welcome (even Terry Hui, assuming he’s not out frolicking on the yacht).

    Frances, if you’re back in town by then, you would find it well worth your while to attend. And no, I’m not one of the organizers, though I know a couple of the people who are. Maybe any Bula-ites in attendance should wear purple hats or something– or perhaps it might be best to remain safely anonymous.
    gmgw

  • Huh! So this is what it’s come down to eh?

    Numbers!

    7,200/20! And maybe 5% get a view!

    How sad, after decades of desecration we cannot be more sophisticated. Simplification at that low level plays well into the hands of the bespoke thugs: the Terry Hui’s and the Stanley Kwok’s before him!

    Yes, indeed, how very sad.

    In the hands of sentient creative designers a higher density surrounded by well-crafted inter-related buildings inter-twined by various places and little spaces mediated by realistic views and noise abatement: this could be magnificence writ large.

    7,200 hundred happy residents with their families living within their means close to work, leisure and necessities: their kids playing hop-scotch in little cu-de-sacs out of harms way . . .

    OMG what am I smoking?

    Sentient creative designers: huh! The planning schools cannot endure them. The hall wouldn’t recognize them if they were served up with french-fries.

    Haven’t we learnt by now the thugs will politely listen to our cascading pleas then bugger off into their club houses and onto their yachts and do what the hell they like . . .

    . . . and we wont know until its all over.

  • Wes Knapp

    Frances,

    Take a look at the large ad that the City of Vancouver has placed in the most recent Vancouver Courier in which it is inviting citizens to come out to “enjoy the views. ” Ironically, the invitation is to Mountain View Cemetery Open House on July 11, 2009. Now if that isn’t an omen for what’s unfolding with the City’s View Corridor study,
    I’m not sure what is. That Vancouver’s only cemetery should have the name “mountain view” is itself rather telling.

  • Gassy Jack’s Ghost

    It’s true, Wes, we ghosts have by far the best views!