Shaping Vancouver 2019: What’s the Use of Heritage?

Conversation #2: What do we do about neighbourhoods?

Some argue that “neighbourhood character” must be maintained to preserve the diversity of the city. Others note however that “neighbourhood character” frequently serves as an instrument of exclusion, making people feel unwelcome and marginalizing them.

Neighbourhoods that do not evolve risk stagnation, while neighbourhoods that change too rapidly erase the attributes that make them unique.

Are there then qualities of neighbourhoods that should be cultivated or protected? As Vancouver faces a housing crisis, how do we go about discussing neighbourhood change?

Four panelists share their insights about their local places:

Richard Evans – Chair of RePlan, a committee of the False Creek South Neighbourhood Association

Scot Hein – adjunct professor in the Master of Urban Design program at UBC, previously the senior urban designer with the City of Vancouver

Jada-Gabrielle Pape – facilitator and consultant with Courage Consulting

Jennifer Maiko Bradshaw – renter, pro-housing activist and director of Abundant Housing Vancouver


Wednesday, October 9

7-9 PM

SFU Goldcorp Centre for the Arts (SFU Woodwards) – 149 West Hastings Street

Free, donations appreciated.

Tickets here.



  1. Ugh. “Neighbourhood Character Preservation”. The refuge of scoundrels. Proponents of the concept are either disingenuous or megalomaniacs. Disingenuous if they’re using the concept solely as a means of keeping all newcomers out; megalomaniacs if they honestly think that their stories and the significance they hold to a place are more important than all other stories in the history or possible future of that place.

    ‘Keep this place the way it is forever because the touchstones of my associations (mine, not necessarily yours) must never be erased. It’s been occupied by humans for 10,000 years, but now that I have arrived and developed feelings of attachment, it is hereby deemed perfect and henceforth shall not change. Prepare the amber!’ That is the thinking of a crazy person.

    Our stories are not more important than anyone else’s – certainly not more than those of past or future residents. We are here, and then we are not here. Cities and neighbourhoods have always and should always be permitted to change to suit people’s needs. Rationalize however you want. I get that Preservation is comforting, but it is pure Loonie Toons.

  2. I would argue there is a big difference between heritage preservation and neighbourhood preservation. I think the former is essential (to a point) while the latter is detrimental (to a point). If we continued to develop “better” architecture and urban environments there would be less need for maintaining the nostalgia aspect. But we often don’t and “better” is way too subjective anyway.

    However difficult it is to define better, there are many things many can agree on. We should be compelled to build to higher standards and valuing the past gives us all a benchmarks and examples because we can understand how they feel to us – whether they work for *us* or merely for a few.

    As an example, there are large swaths of really great and well maintained old houses in various pockets of the city. I’m an urban sort who wouldn’t want the inconvenience of living there but I certainly appreciate the architecture, the care that went into the designs and construction, the gardens, mature trees – the streetscapes. They are currently way too low density and exclusive and I don’t support the nimbyism of the residents who want to maintain their little piece of heaven at the expense of everybody else. But I feel it would be a loss to us all to come in with bulldozers to build to much higher density.

    I can completely imagine maintaining the street frontages but being way way more creative in densifying everything that sits behind them – not the milquetoast introduction of individual laneway houses or infills but more akin to the project on Pacific and Burrard or the proposal that came up on this blog a few months ago at Bidwell and Nelson. (Not that those are great architectural designs – we have to do better.) They could occupy back yards and the lanes themselves to open up vast amounts of land. Mole Hill is nicely done but it could be triple the density and still feel much the same from the street with this approach.

    By and large these housing clusters are not close to amenities nor frequent transit so are likely to have some time to have the conversation of how to move them toward being inclusive through higher densities, mixed-use, mixed income etc.

    On the other hand there are huge swaths of mediocre, often poorly built old houses that are close to amenities and transit and those are the places we should focus on getting densities up – and definitely not just the properties facing the arterials. In any case, the resulting architectural and urban space qualities must be more inclusive and welcoming than now and in many cases our stock of heritage buildings and streetscapes can inform us how.

  3. “Heritage preservation” – sounds impressive.

    How about changing it to “House Dress Code”.
    It’s a bizarre imposition on private property – and should be challenged.
    Look out, or the Preservationists will dictate the colour of your curtains.

    I wager I spend more time looking at houses than the Preservationists.

    There’s heritage; and there’s “heritage look”. Big ugh to the latter.

    I love old houses. Pretty much all new ones make me want to spew. But to impose my aesthetic on someone’s private property? No. If you want to wear lipstick, or short shorts, that’s your choice.

    Besides, genuinely designed houses, esp. modern, look fantastic in old neighbourhoods. It’s the juxtaposition that gives oomph.
    If Frank Gehry wanted to build a house in Grandview, how dare a coterie of critics force him to conform to a “Heritage Look”.
    It’s boring.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *