This is what we planted in the 1990s: a landscape design from the post-Expo era that has come to be known as ‘Vancouverism.”
Downtown South was in a post-rezoning boom, and Hong Kong investment, families and sensibilities were arriving – evident on the 800-block of Hamilton Street where the major tower, completed in 1995, is named ‘Jardine’s Lookout’ (a mountain and residential area on Hong Kong Island).
Now, a generation later, it is surrounded by a maturing urban forest.
The 1991 Downtown South rezoning was accompanied by a neighbourhood-specific streetscape manual in 1994, meant to provide a greener, quieter identity on what would otherwise be traffic-heavy arterials. Influenced by Erickson and Oberlander’s landscaping of Robson Square, the sidewalks would all have a double row of trees, with increased setbacks and, in this case, a heritage garden (all paid for by the developers, from building to curb.)
Note how there are four levels of landscaping, from bushes and hedges at grade, to the rows of trees, to the gardens on decks and roofs. Foliage surrounds the pedestrian on every side, and above, proving that high-density urban environments can be greener and more lush than any grass-dominant suburb.
Regrettably, the curb-adjacent planting strips (inspired by West-End boulevards) could not handle the foot traffic along the metered streets, and so the grass has been replaced over time with asphalt, brick, concrete and astroturf. Having been the councillor who pushed for grass curbing in the original urban design, I regret my over-optimism on its survival, but do wish we had gone for something both permeable and able to withstand the wear-and-tear.
This is an urban forest in its adolescence. And it’s not the only block. Throughout Downtown South, from Robson to Pacific, Granville to Yaletown, the streets are becoming so lush and thick with foliage, we’ll already have to consider how we’re going to thin them out.