I’m sitting in 49th Parallel Coffee Roasters with Lance Berelowitz. Lance graduated from the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London before specializing in urban planning and becoming a Registered Professional Planner. He is the Principal of Urban Forum Associates. Lance is a past Chair of the Vancouver City Planning Commission, has served on the Urban Design Panel, and has penned numerous critical writings about the city. We sat down to talk about Vancouver and its speculative future.
JB: Your book, Dream City: Vancouver and the Global Imagination, released in 2005, presented unique chapters which thematically illustrated the origins and trajectory of our city. In the last 10 years since its publication have you noticed any new themes developing that are beginning to define Vancouver? If the book were released today would you add any new chapters?
LB: Cities are never finished. I would have a chapter dedicated to sustainable development. Things like separated bike lanes, district energy, and electric car chargers did not exist here ten years ago. I would further argue that our city does not need to ‘look’ sustainable; rather, that it should be invisible and always there. Sustainable urbanism is holistic. It is completely integrated, like a well-tailored suit.
JB: You were involved in the redesign of downtown Granville Street prior to the 2010 Winter Olympics. The new design introduced a more pedestrian-friendly streetscape with elements such as tapered sidewalk edges, wider sidewalks, public art, and integration with vehicles. Since this design, related initiatives such as Robson Redux and the closing of Granville Street to vehicles on select weekends have arrived. What do you see as the future of Granville Street?
LB: Granville Street is currently in an interim state. Its current design is a response to the introduction of the Canada Line, and its redesign has done well for its time. Right now, it is more open to pedestrians, open as a bus route, and has flex parking for private vehicles (which is important to local business owners as a perceived need). Eventually, I envisage that Granville will be closed to all vehicle traffic and the buses will be re-routed down the adjacent streets. It will be predominantly pedestrian like it was during the 2010 Olympics: bustling, crowded, fantastic. One immediate change I would endorse is that Granville should not be the only location for nightclubs. Segregating and concentrating certain demographic groups (like nightclubs, or the indigent and mentally ill in the Downtown Eastside) invariably leads to social problems.
JB: You were the Writer and Editor of Vancouver’s 2010 Bid Book submission to the IOC. During the Olympics, Vancouver’s street life was electrifying. Numerous public art installations, free performances, the dense concentration of happy people; the spectacle of Vancouver during those weeks seems difficult to recreate. Would it be possible to reintroduce this kind of energy into our city today?
LB: The City was generally pleased that Vancouver avoided coming to a stand-still during the Games. I have every confidence that we can do it again. There are systems to help make it work. Local merchants and property owners might see the closing of streets to vehicles as problematic for business, however this trend is beginning to reverse. Some streets can be that pedestrianized all the time.
JB: A considerable number of Vancouver’s built and unbuilt iconic buildings have been met with scathing criticism. Do you sense that the city has developed a culture that rejects unorthodox design proposals before their benefits can be fairly weighed?
LB: Vancouver is a pretty conservative, parochial design city. Our architecture is stiflingly polite and homogenous; it’s very Canadian of us. Because of this, there’s a bit of a knee-jerk reaction to novel design. Sometimes I agree with the conservative sentiments, sometimes not. On the other hands, many iconic ideas that get presented are egotistical and don’t contribute to the public realm.Read more »