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

August 27th, 2009 · 18 Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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