COVID Place making
October 8, 2020

English Bay: Another Transformative Moment

This is a big deal:

Kevin Griffin at The Sun reports on the Parks Board approval of a $2.56 million contract to develop a master plan for the parks and streets from Stanley Park to Burrard Bridge for the next thirty years. Kenneth Chan at The Daily Hive describes the area and issues:

The design firms chosen are impressive: PFS Studio is of Vancouver – known for many years as Phillips Farevaag Smallenberg – partnered with Snøhetta, based in Oslo, well known for their architecture (like Ryerson University’s Student Learning Centre).  But unlike that Danish starchitect Bjorke Ingels, they’re also known for a better integration of building with public space.

This promises the production of a masterplan of international caliber, which given the location and opportunity, is to be expected.  Indeed, the challenge (for the Park Board in particular) is to imagine a rethinking of this city/waterfront interface beyond its aesthetic and recreational opportunities for the neighbourhood.  This is city-building, writ big and historic.

It will also be the third major transformation for this stretch of English Bay – first the summer grounds of the coastal peoples; then, from the 1890s on, houses and apartments (left) all along the beachfront, cutting off everything except the sands of English Bay.  For over most of the 20th century, the City purchased and demolished these buildings, even the Crystal Pool, until the by the 1990s there was unbroken green, sand and active-transportation asphalt from Stanley Park to False Creek.

But it was all on the other side of Beach Avenue, a busy arterial that served as the bypass for traffic around the West End – the legacy of the original West End survey in the service of motordom.  For some this will be seen as unchangable.  As the reaction to the Park Board changes this summer on Park Drive revealed, even a modest reallocation of road space diminishing ‘easy’ access for vehicles and the parking to serve them is upsetting to those who associate motordom design with their needs, special and otherwise.

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I’ve been posting the occasional video vignettes of city life in the time of covid – especially along the Slow Streets and the Beach Flow Way.

Video captures the cyclists and walkers intersecting among each other – appearing like dancers on an asphalt stage.  The setting is ideal: the beauty of a particularly lush spring, according to gardening friends.  A big drop in the number and noise of vehicles.  Busy roadways notched down.  All that’s needed is music.

Here’s the latest such vignette: 32 seconds set to Bach, at the corner of Beach and Davie, where the blocks on all sides are completely closed to cars.

The volume of cyclists is so high that the crosswalk demands even more attention and respect from high-speed two-wheelers and alert walkers, who want to cross the flow way wherever they want.  So they should – so long as there’s mutual respect.

The result can seem almost choreographed, right up to the birds overhead.

Here is ‘English Bay Ballet’ from the Virus Pastorale Suite*.

* Thanks to Andrew Walsh for music, production and support.

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If you are not in Vancouver this summer, it is understandable if  you think the photo above is staged. It is not. Photographer and past Price Tags editor Ken Ohrn was walking along English Bay in the evening with his wife Sylvia, who is an accomplished artist. Ken handed his cell phone to a “stranger” to take this photo.

Ken was asked if he found out who the “stranger” was that took this shot which is absolutely iconic and contains all the elements of our summers. There’s English Bay, the freighters in the background, a marvellously complex sky, people on the beach, a touch of the mountains, and the pathway into Stanley Park.  And of course ice cream from one of the many local vendors in the area.

While Vancouverites will tell you that the rainy season goes from January to December, the summer does have a unique appeal  with waterfront accessibility unlike other major cities in Canada. The  beaches are public, with the City’s Greenways policy designed to link up all the shoreline for walking and biking.

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Courtesy of Price Tags contributor Tom Durning, a look back to Vancouver’s English Bay, and the summer of 1959.

Notable events in the region that year: Canadian Pacific Airways began flying direct from Vancouver to Montreal, the “Deas” (Massey) Tunnel opened to traffic, and Oakridge Centre at 41st Avenue and Cambie Street welcomed customers as Vancouver’s first shopping mall.

 

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