Architecture
December 17, 2019

Larry Cudney’s Revenge – The Story of the Vancouver Special

A big shout-out to author Jesse Donaldson:

“Land of Destiny: A History of Vancouver Real Estate” is a fun, fascinating book … that more than delivers on its title. His publisher Anvil Press will host a Vancouver launch Dec. 19 at 6 p.m at Resurrection Spirits, free to the public.

Here’s an excerpt from The Tyee: 

Larry Cudney hated architects. In fact, he hated the entire architectural profession. For a time, years earlier, while still a young intern with a local firm, he had harboured dreams of becoming one himself, until a falling-out with the company prevented him from obtaining the certification he needed. …

Working as a draftsman from his cramped office on Main Street and 33rd Avenue, he designed single-family homes (the only buildings a draftsman could legally design), and his work was known for being simple and practical …

… sometime in the mid/late-1960s, Cudney sat down and drafted the plans that would become his legacy. It came to be known as the “Vancouver Special,” and for the next 20 years, it would be the most widely-discussed — and hated — type of housing in town. …

“Those brash new houses with slightly pitched roofs and aluminum balconies (known in the trade as Vancouver Specials), which are now squeezed into lots where once a single house stood in a magnificent garden are here not just to stay, but to increase,” complained the Sun, in 1978.  …Between 1965 and 1985, an estimated 10,000 Vancouver Specials were built, and by 1980, according to a Young Canada Works survey, eleven per cent of Hastings-Sunrise, and five per cent of Marpole were made up of Vancouver Specials. And as more and more were built, the backlash only grew. …

“Right now, to buy a house in the city’s east side, you have to have $20,000 in assets and a $20,000 income,” wrote the Sun’s Mary McAlpine in 1978. “Most young people with children don’t have that sort of money. The people who do are developers who tear down the house and put up Vancouver Specials …

But in the years that followed, attitudes — including city council, and the Sun’s McMartin — began to change. For many lower-income and immigrant families, council later recognized, the Vancouver Special was their only chance for home ownership. In 1987, City Councillor Gordon Price even praised the architectural style as “a tradition of our cultural diversity,” and “worthy of heritage preservation.* …

In 2005, a renovated Vancouver Special was awarded the Lieutenant-Governor’s Award for Innovation in Architecture. …

Privately, Larry Cudney was said to have been proud of the disgust his brainchild had engendered. “Creating a completely tasteless form of housing,” stepdaughter Elizabeth Murphy later opined, “was his revenge on the architect profession with which he was in conflict.”

 

*It’s true!  I remember saying that.  Still do.  But with respect to heritage preservation, I meant only that we should designate an intact original and perhaps try to save a complete block like the one above.  Let the rest evolve or eventually be replaced by higher density ‘missing-middle’ alternatives.  

Vancouver has always been in need of some kind of Vancouver Special.  The two-storey carpenter-built single-family houses along streetcar lines in the 1890s and 1900s were the originals.  Even West End one-bedroom apartments in West End highrises in the 1960s were a form of simple, affordable, mass-produced housing.  So in a different way was the illegal basement suite.  Now it’s the modular house for the otherwise homeless.  But with the high land costs, design controls, heritage preservation, and inflexible zoning, we aren’t likely to see another version anytime soon.

 

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Vancouver, get ready.

Via Dianna

From the San Francisco Chronicle:

San Francisco will allow 750 more electric rental scooters onto the streets Sunday as the second phase of a pilot program rolls out.

That brings the total number of scooters allowed in the city to 3,250. It’s a mark of cautious approval for a clean but controversial technology, which still leaves people worried about illegal sidewalk riding and injuries. …

Two months into San Francisco’s pilot program, Supervisor Aaron Peskin cautiously voiced support.

“I would say so far, not bad, compared to ‘scootergeddon’ of last year,” Peskin said, comparing the unregulated scooters that swarmed city streets in spring 2018 to an apocalypse. “Although there is still some sidewalk riding and still some injuries, all in all the rollout has been going well.” …

A May report from Boston Consulting Group found that scooter companies are hardpressed to make money: The devices have an average life span of three months, but companies need four months to break even per device. Longerlasting batteries may help.

The report also forecast consolidation in the industry, and that is indeed happening. In June, Bird bought Scoot, a San Francisco company, and its coveted city permit. …

“We don’t know whether these jobs are going to exist five or 10 years down the road, whether scooters are a passing fad,” said Doug Bloch, political director for Teamsters.

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TransLink’s CEO addressed the Real Estate Institute President’s luncheon this week with a general overview of regional transit.  And though much was familiar, there were still items worth noting.  Time for some bullet points.

Said Desmond: “This is the most exciting time to be involved in public transit in its history.”  I believe him, especially when you’re running the most successful transit agency in terms of ridership growth in North America.

How successful? Up 18 percent between 2016 and 2018, when almost every other system is flat or dropping.  And it’s not just because of SkyTrain expansion. It’s bus ridership that has led the growth in actual numbers, and it’s where the biggest growth is going to come in the next few years.

Big message to the real-estate industry: Don’t just think of development at the station areas; think transit corridors, especially the new Rapidbus lines.  (Why the change of name from B-Lines?  Because they were just big buses running more frequently with limited stops.  Rapidbus involves a redesign of everything from the stops, the signs, the lanes and the land use.)

Irony alert: many transit users can’t afford transit-oriented development. This is not just an issue in the burgeoning station areas like those along the Millennium Line or potentially along the Broadway corridor; it’s also an emerging problem along the new Rapidbus lines, where the housing may be too expensive for the target population the transit is meant to serve.

The desirability of high-density station areas was affirmed when Marine Gateway (along the Canada Line in Marpole) sold out in four hours.  That made the industry pay attention when the condo market seemed to be oversold.  (It shouldn’t have been that great a surprise: many of the purchasers would have been familiar with similar development in Hong Kong, Singapore or Shanghai – where metro transit and high-density housing are indivisible and desirable.)

The Capstan station in Richmond, paid for by the adjacent development, changes the political message about how we fund transit infrastructure.  More by the private sector, less by the public.

Expect Broadway subway service in 2025.  Construction starts next fall.

If the money is approved for the a Surrey SkyTrain extension, service to Langley could also start in 2025, which would otherwise be the starting date for service to Fleetwood, the destination without the extension.)

As public consultation on the Transport 2050 strategic plan continues (phase 1 here), remember the previous one: Transport 2021 in 1993.

Almost everything proposed and planned was achieved.  “We put it together and we stuck with it and we did it.”  (Despite the BC Liberals sabotage by referendum, which they have still not acknowledged or apologized for.)

The future: electric, connected and self-driving.  Autonomous cars may not be happening as soon as expected, but by the end of the next decade, 60 percent of the entire bus fleet could be zero emission.  That’s especially notable given that a lot of housing will be constructed along the Frequent Transit Network.

Desmond also emphasizes the mundane: maintaining assets in good repair, even as we try to understand and integrate the disruptive forces in transportation.

 

*Photo by thestar

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The posts today are like the weather: gloomy, but it’s the environment we live in.

The Washington Post just featured this report: The Arctic may have crossed key threshold, emitting billions of tons of carbon into the air, in a long-dreaded climate feedback.

Mike Brown, who was a member of Vancouver’s Clouds of Change Task force 30 years ago (the first report by a municipality on climate change), has been doing analysis and raising questions with respect to Canada’s permafrost (and our responsibility) with urgency and trepidation.

Here is his update:

An article from the Washington Post is making its rounds today. Permafrost thaw has made the mainstream!

It refers to two reports* about the state of affairs.  Each says that there’s evidence that the annual net emissions (thaw in winter months minus growth in summer months) from the permafrost are now about .6 Pg of Carbon.  Here is a quote from the NOAA Arctic Report:

“ . . .  suggests that carbon release in the cold season offsets net carbon uptake during the growing season (derived from models) such that the region as a whole could already be a source of 0.6 Pg C per year to the atmosphere.”

Here is what the reports don’t mention.

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That head has to be a contender for a ‘most boring headline’ contest, right up there with the previous winner: ‘Worthwhile Canadian Initiative.’  Every word a snoozer, including ‘an’ and ‘for.’

For bonus points, it’s about a pumping station!

What makes the project worthy of attention is this:  “Although the pump station had a budget of $4.17 million through the provincial grant, the project actually came in $600,000 under budget.”

So what happened to the $600,000 they didn’t spend?

“Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth announced at the pump opening that the leftover funds would stay in the District of Kent for drainage.”

Kent saves money; Kent gets to keep money.

Here’s the part of the province we’re talking about:

This is a very soggy place; it was where the great flood of 1948 began.  Indeed, the District of Kent was incorporated … “for the reason of being able to borrow money so they could get drainage work done,” the mayor said. “It’s been something that we’ve always been working on for 125 years, and more than likely well into the future.”

Oh yeah, “well into the future” – as places like this are impacted by climate change in numerous and devastating ways.  The infrastructure costs to adapt and mitigate are going to be massive.  By rewarding Kent for making its millions go further, the Province is setting a precedent and sending a message: stretching dollars on infrastructure to deal with climate change is going to be worth your while.

 

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