Design & Development
May 7, 2021

Downtown Waterfront Visionaries – Lance Berelowitz


This is a version of a presentation that planner, urban designer and writer Lance Berelowitz made during SFU’s Lunch ‘n Learn online public event on Vancouver’s Downtown Waterfront held on 29 April, 2021.


What do we mean when we refer to Vancouver’s Downtown Waterfront or Central Waterfront? It’s worth reminding ourselves of the significant geographic extent of the site that we’re discussing.

As you can see on this aerial photo, Vancouver’s Downtown Waterfront extends all the way from Burrard Street and Canada Place in the west to Portside Park and Main Street in the east, and from Cordova and Water Streets in the south out into Burrard Inlet in the north.

There is also a significant grade difference of at least 30 feet from Cordova Street down to the Burrard Inlet shoreline.

Multiple uses occupy the area, including Canada Place and the cruise ship terminal, the SeaBus ferry terminal, the Heliport, a multi-modal public transit hub that includes SkyTrain, Canada Line and WestCoast Express stations as well as buses, the railway companies, the Port, a community park, the fishing industry, a coach parking lot, and several private properties. To the immediate south is Gastown, our city’s historic founding place and now a federally designated heritage district. Further east is Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

This is a large, complex site – to say the least – with several public and private land owners. There are multiple key stakeholders and user groups, including the Vancouver Port Authority, TransLink, PAVCO, the railroad companies, the federal, provincial and local governments, the Heliport operators, coach companies, private land owners and, of course, the citizens of Vancouver.

You’ll note that in the middle of the area lies the existing rail yard just north of historic Gastown. This rail yard currently serves Port operations, which is a critical piece of national infrastructure. But it also effectively separates the Downtown/Gastown urban fabric from the waterfront, and constrains redevelopment of the area.

Which brings me to my second image, and my first key point – what if the rail yard could be relocated?

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From the Downtown Waterfront Working Group:

Simon Fraser University, Vancouver campus, recently hosted two significant and destined-to-be-influential dialogues on the future of the Vancouver Downtown Waterfront, titled “The Downtown Waterfront: Visionaries and Implementers”.

 In the second session, held April 29, 2021, Mary Pynenburg* presented a comprehensive “how to” on implementing major urban revitalization projects.  

“What a difference a few decades can make – False Creek in 1981 v 2021 “


Why these two images?

Our downtown waterfront site is in many respects the last (and hopefully not missing) piece of an important urban puzzle.

My thoughts on urban design implementation for a site like this:

Political will at a variety of levels – city, region, province federal, including key landowners like Port, Railways, Translink, Cadillac Fairview.

Vision – not just words (we are not poets); pictures are easier and ‘worth a thousand words.’

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From the Vancouver Biennale:


What’s the BIKEnnale/WALKennale? It’s the quintessential COVID-safe way to combine our love of outdoor recreation with our love of great art.

Our self-guided walking and cycling tours are super fun and fully annotated with fascinating information on public art and points of cultural, historical and architectural interest throughout Metro Vancouver.  Register once and participate whenever you like and as often as you like all year!

Learn more and register here.

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From the BC Housing Research Centre:

Building Knowledge and Capacity for Affordable Housing in B.C. Communities

Join us for this webinar series to learn how housing demand will be impacted in the coming years. Each webinar will focus on a specific region of the province with detailed information about population trends, housing stock, and the housing market.

A discussion will follow about the opportunities for the housing industry, the challenges of meeting this demand, and the strategies that can result in more housing on the ground. Based on research conducted by the Community Development Institute at the University of Northern British Columbia, this presentation provides data that can be used by developers, builders, planners, architects, and government in developing business models and strategic plans.

Time: 10:00 am – 12:00 pm (PDT)
Location: Online, webinar
Cost: Free
CPD: 2 Continuous Professional Development Points
PLU: 2 Professional Learning Units for PIBC members

Register today



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The Post, currently under construction on Georgia, will open in 2023 as the largest office building downtown.  Inside will be about 6,000 Amazon employees in a building over a million square feet, some relocated from buildings nearby.

Says Mayor Kennedy: “The City of Vancouver is so excited to see Amazon creating an additional 3,000 well-paying jobs for people who want to work and live in our city.”

Just the kind of well-paying jobs needed to afford Vancouver’s housing costs, assisted by a generous grant that Amazon gives its employees for initial accommodation, along with the services of a ‘head-hunter’ who tracks down available apartments.

You can guess where this is going.  Great if you’re an Amazonian on the upper floors, not so promising if you’re a barista in the lobby, disastrous if you’re tenuous low-income tenant in, say, the West End.  And Amazon isn’t alone in attracting educated workers from all over the world, taking advantage of Canada’s immigration policies, close to the mother ships in Seattle like Microsoft.

So what should the city and province be doing now in anticipation of this flood, especially to mitigate the impacts on those in the low end of the market? Perhaps this:

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(Click title for videos.)

Buskers are quickly discovering that the 800 Block is the best place to perform in the city – quiet, spacious, lots of seating and a receptive audience.

This performer perfectly captured the mood of the day (add his name, if anyone knows), using the square like a stage.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Art Gallery, a performance of another kind altogether:

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And it was only April 1:

From the New York Times:

The research, published online Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that in cities where bike infrastructure was added, cycling had increased up to 48 percent more than in cities that did not add bike lanes. …

But in public transit research, the effect of adding bike lanes is a matter of debate.

“It’s like a chicken and egg problem,” said Mr. Kraus, a doctoral candidate in economics at the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change in Berlin. “There can be this reverse causality that, actually, if you have a lot of cyclists, they will demand better infrastructure, and it’s not really the infrastructure that creates more cycling.” …

Bicycles, unlike cars, do not emit greenhouse gases. Matthew Raifman, a doctoral student in environmental health at the Boston University School of Public Health, found in a separate study that investments in infrastructure for cycling and walking more than paid for themselves once the health benefits were taken into account. …

“There’s indications from mobility behavior research that as soon as you find another way of getting around, then you might actually stick to it,” Mr. Kraus said. “So I’m confident that if you keep the infrastructure, that people will continue cycling.”

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Jack (Hans-Jurgen) Becker


Jack Becker was one of the generation that with vision and determination laid the foundations for the cycling city that Vancouver is today.   He was meticulous in his planning whether for cycling expeditions with his partner Jean or in the many submissions he would make for the planning of the projects and proposals that shaped this city and region – the Canada Line, the Gateway Project, the City of Vancouver Capital Plan.

He was a Director and Past President of the British Columbia Cycling Coalition, founding member of the Sustainable Transportation Coalition and Canada Bikes, and director of Bike to Work BC.  He was a director of the Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition and member of the City of Vancouver Bicycle Advisory Committee (the HUB).  When he lived in Toronto, he was the co-chair of the Toronto Cycling Committee.  Cycling was his primary mode of transportation.

When you cycle in this city today, you are to no small extent cycling in Jack’s world.

Our sympathy and condolences to Jean and Jack’s many friends and colleagues.



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The Daily Hive has posted renderings of the proposed SkyTrain stations along the Broadway line.  What a disappointment for such highly public infrastructure that will be with us for generations – especially compared to its predecessors along the Millennium Line (right), whether exterior or interior.

Budgets?  Surely if there’s a place to spend money on bold design, it’s for such public places.  Especially when compared to other cities of similar size like Stockholm that aspire to high urban quality.

The stations on the whole aspire to nothing more than the mediocrity of the Canada Line – another disappointment that was rationalized by budgetary limitations and an urgent deadline.


Seriously?  This looks more like a rendering to illustrate the volume into which the actual building must fit.*

The Urinal School of Interior Design.  (At least there will be public restrooms in the stations.)

Not sure what the red boxes are for – but that is literally the only colour in any of the renderings other than the signage.

This is surely the greatest disappointment: the station that will serve one of the pre-eminent art and design schools in Canada.

We can only hope the students will rebel against the blandness and use the spaces for some guerilla artistic urbanism:

Yes, there is art to come in all the stations – but that is no excuse to treat the architecture itself as a blank palette.


*Update: Andy Coupland in the Comments below notes that, indeed, that is pretty much just a volume rendering, representing the building that will rise above.  The station, however, seems fittingly mediocre.

Update: A friend noted that this is not just about aesthetics.

Are all the stations going to be the same design with an identical colour/material palette? Not only will that be banal but it will also make for an orientation challenge with six identical-looking stations in sequence, and possibly 10 to 12 when it gets to UBC.

A commenter mentioned Toronto’s original stations as a negative example but at least they varied the tile colours to assist in station recognition and orientation. Are we going to start off not having even learned the importance of that? Canada Line is repetitive but at least it has a variety of side, centre and stacked-platform stations, so that helps orientation, even subconsciously, despite the bland materials and poor signage.


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A few weeks ago, BC Cycling Coalition board member Peter Ladner got an op-ed in The Sun on that perennial bike-path irritant – Kitsilano Park.

What is it about cycling through Kits Park that triggers neighbourhood “uprisings,” talk-show vitriol, and a bully mob that scared the Park Board from making a decision in 2018? …

This westside flashpoint has somehow become a blinking red light slowing down cyclist safety in other parks. Fearful trepidation about creating a permanent bike lane through Stanley Park is just one echo of the Kits Park blockade, even as the evidence is screaming “these changes work.”

To be fair, the Vancouver Park Board is promising to build a safe cycling route through Kits Park a year from now, amid election jitters. That’s almost 10 years after earlier plans were shouted down by a group best described as the Hadden Park Defence Militia (officially the Kits Point Residents Association). Yet park board staff and elected park board officials — including the green-professing majority — are still terrified of this group, continuing to hold the city’s exploding numbers of pandemic-driven cyclists hostage to its anti-cycling demands. …

That provocative reference to the Kits Point Residents Association was guaranteed to provoke a response – and so it did.  But maybe not what was expected from a group with a notorious NIMBY reputation from years ago. They want to be on the record as ready to help ‘close the gap’:

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