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

March 22nd, 2011 · 57 Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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