Urbanism
February 4, 2008

Price Tags 100 – The Index

If you’ve been a regular reader of Price Tags, you may remember an article, a picture or a link you’d like to reference – but have forgotten which issue it was in. How to find it?
At last, a solution. Issue 100 features a complete index for Price Tags 1 to 99.
Download here.

The Index is more interesting than you’d guess. There’s an introductory essay that describes the evolution of PT – and lots of pictures illustrating some of the entries.
Each entry lists, first, the Issue number in boldface, followed by the page numbers. There are links at the top of every index page that take you back to the Contents or to the Issues listings, where you can download any issue with a single click.
So check to see if you can find that forgotten item – or maybe your name.
Then explore, and enjoy. It’s been a gratifying experience to produce Price Tags, knowing there are appreciative readers.
Also, thanks to the Sightline Institute in Seattle who hosts the archives.

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February 4, 2008

Here’s the unedited version of last week’s Business in Vancouver column:

        Sometime in the last year – while the smart money people in North America were preoccupied with credit default swaps – bike-sharing turned into a billion-dollar industry.
        I may be exaggerating when I say “industry.” But not “billion.”
        “Banks and private equity firms are eyeing a growth market for the bike industry,” reported Bike Europe. “The money involved in such systems is huge. In return for the Paris Vélib system with its 20,600 bikes, JCDecaux obtained the rights to exploit 1,628 billboards in Paris. The company expects to realize € 600 million in advertisement turnover over the course of the 10-year contract.”
        Cities all over the world are now looking seriously at public bike systems, and so are the large corporate entities that had previously dismissed the bicycle as not much more than a well-intentioned toy. Now they realize that JCDecaux could control a market of unknown but potentially staggering size, and they want a piece.

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February 3, 2008

Everyone (at least who reads this blog) knows Portland has a dynamic urban culture.  Naturally, there’s an online site – Portland Spaces – that brings together sources and ideas.  And within that, they have the Burnside Blog.
Here’s a taste.

Urban Uprising: The Buildings

Take your average residential lot in Portland (That’d be 5,000 square feet), build a house that fills the space from corner-to-corner, stack it on top of itself 22 times, add some nice details, and you’ll have something that resembles this tower (West Burnside at 13th Avenue) being developed and designed by Skylab. Proposed for a site just behind the Crystal Ballroom, it’s skinny, it’s sexy – and in this market, very speculative – but I hope to God it gets built.

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South America, that is.  Transit wonks are familiar with the path-setting innovations of Curitiba in Brazil.  Now Bogota seems to be setting the pace. 
Tim Pawsey sends this link to a Streetsblog video on Bogota’s rapid transit.  (Who would have thought we’d be going to Colombia to model a rapid-bus system for British Columbia?) 

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Vancouver wasn’t the only B.C. city with plans for freeways and ‘urban renewal’ in the 1960s. Over in Victoria, they wanted to transform the decaying Inner Harbour, still largely industrial, and what came to be known as Old Town (note the “skid road hotels” on Johnson Street at the centre top of this 1967 map).

First thing – you gotta have a freeway, preferably running through a poorer part of the city and cutting off the waterfront:

(This view is looking south towards the Parliament Buildings in the upper left corner.)
The proposal came with the usual assurances:

This will inject new prosperity into the older and blighted area of the core. In addition, valuable capacity on downtown streets now being taken by through traffic, including lumber  trucks, will be free when these vehicles can reach James Bay on the West Victoria freeway without touching downtown.

Then you build some highrise towers right next to the water:

This is the infamous Reid Centre proposal for the old Ocean Cement site off Wharf Street.  Victoria still hasn’t figured out what to do with the location:

After two contentious years, the towers were reduced to two semi-circular towers of 11 and 14 storeys but this failed too. The Province bought the land in 1974 for $1.7 million and imposed a freeze on development. It was followed by two more failed plans by Bawlf (in 1978 and 1987) and a failed plan by Hancock, Nicholson and Brook in 1988.

Thanks to Robert Randall for these images and quotes, collected by UVic geography student Jesse Dill.

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Greg Hamilton sends along an article on the latest plan for St. Petersburg:

“The heart of the city quarter will be a new civic space under a unique glazed roof. ”

“This unique crystalline glass tensegrity structure will imbue the space with a delicate lightness and changing light, reflecting the weather, time of day and the passing seasons. This will be a major destination in the city where people can meet, shop, eat and be entertained whilst being protected from St Petersburg’s hostile winter climate.”

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January 30, 2008

The Terrace Restaurant at the Mission Hill Family Estate Winery is, according to Travel and Leisure magazine, one of the five top winery restaurants in the world. (Imagine researching that story.)
The food is good, but the Okanagan winery itself is spectacular. 

More pics and views of the surrounding sprawl here in Price Tags 85.

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After a couple of years of blogging, taking the big view, writing about issues of significant import, from our urban future to climate change, what gets the most response?
A set of stairs. 
At least it’s something people have an opinion on.  Or a question.   What, some of you wondered, is the story behind the ‘stairs to nowhere’ in George Wainborn Park?

You wanted to know – so I asked a principal of the firm that designed the park, Jeff Philips of the PWL Partnership.  Here’s the scoop:

The PWL design premise for George Wainborn Park, which was lead by Bruce Hemstock, was to develop a downtown, urban, formal waterfront park. The basic components that make up the park are the upper plaza area with its formal wall and lookout, soft, passive lower green and seawall walkway bikeway edge. The general organizing principles were based on the symmetrical parti of the Beaux Arts with some latitude to respond to playfulness of a park setting. The symmetry and formality of the park wall was quite important to the design especially when viewed from the seawall and lower passive green. A great deal of effort was taken to ensure that the grades, layout, plinths, lights, beacons, etc. were mirrored on the centre axis of the lookout to ensure that this formal Beaux Art organization was carried out.

A practical issue arose when the grading for the second stair east from the western edge revealed that in order to accommodate the grade change and the number of risers required, the stair would need to extend into the path of travel of the east west walkway that allowed the city sidewalk parallel to Beach Crescent to move through the park. We felt that this would not be appropriate and after careful thought proposed a design solution that maintained the overall design symmetry and created a folly within the park. We proposed to build only the stairs that we could fit within the space allowed ending them in the balustrade, essentially creating a folly. We thought this would be a great spot to sit given its south facing aspect. We thought that this wonderful sun trap would provide park users a place to sit and enjoy the great view to False Creek and beyond in a protected and very warm location. We discussed this with the VPB staff and all agreed it was an interesting solution.

I am pleased to say that this has been embraced by the public and we have, on many occasions, seen people sitting on the ‘stairs to nowhere’ enjoying the sun and the tranquility that this little place in this park has to offer.

I hope that this helps to explain the George Wainborn Park “stairs-to-nowhere folly.”

Thanks, Jeff!

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A few weeks ago in the Vancouver Sun, John Mackie wrote about “What Might Have Been.”

The most mind-boggling plans were for the freeway systems in the late 1950s and 1960s….
The wackiest proposal was to build a giant trench through downtown so that cars could vroom non-stop from the Burrard Bridge to a new third crossing of Burrard Inlet in Stanley Park.
A 1960 drawing of the big ditch at Comox and Thurlow shows a dizzying complex of roads and cloverleafs. Try to imagine the Trans-Canada Highway in Burnaby plopped down in the middle of the West End, only bigger (it was eight lanes wide, and 10 metres deep).

The big ditch was one of the elements in a $340-million plan to build a freeway system in Metro Vancouver, including an ocean parkway that would have run along English Bay….
Many Vancouverites were incensed at the proposal, and packed public meetings in the late 1960s to denounce it. The only element of the plan that was built was the Georgia Viaduct…
Project 200 drew its name from the $200 million that was supposed to be invested in the scheme by Canadian Pacific, Woodward’s and other investors. It was an incredibly ambitious plan, including a highrise forest of office and residential towers, a hotel, a department store, enclosed malls and a waterfront freeway.

[More renderings on page 12 of Price Tags 20.]

These days, it’s hard to find anyone who was in favour of these proposals. In fact, it’s amazing the number of people who say they were on the front lines in the fight to oppose them.

Public outrage contributed to the demise of the freeway plans. But (heritage expert John) Atkin says the deciding factor was probably the bickering between the federal and provincial governments over who would pay for the freeway system.

“The feds finally said, ‘Forget it. We’re taking our money and going home,'” says Atkin. “So they left, and the whole Project 200 collapsed because of that. They walked away.

John, I think, has it right. The freeway proposals died for lack of fiscal oxygen, not directly from the vociferous local opposition.

“There’s a total reinvention of history going on within the world of early politicos in Vancouver: They talk about how Vancouver made the decision not to have a freeway. Well, no. If the feds and the province had agreed, we would have had a waterfront freeway. “

Of course, the provincial and federal politicians were aware of the stakes locally, but much of the support was coming from North Shore officials, for whom the idea of a Third Crossing was most appealing. By 1972, when the NDP were elected provincially, senior governments had pretty much decided that it was far more popular to lay asphalt in the hinterland than spend tax dollars to serve the ungrateful wenches in the city. No final vote was necessary.
When TEAM under Art Phillips got a majority that year at Vancouver City Hall, that was the end of the debate. Every council since has affirmed that there will be no new roads to serve traffic coming into the city – which has, in fact, started to drop. And will likely continue to do so, as both population and transit service within the city increase.

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It looks as though we may have another capacity crowd for this Friday’s Paradise Builders’ panel, hosted by the SFU City Program:

The Challenges of Today’s Vancouver
Friday, February 1, 7 pm
While Vancouver’s urban design generally gets high praise, many are critical of its architecture. Where, they ask, are the iconic buildings? Why do our highrises all look the same? To discuss this, we’ve asked a panel of Vancouverites to address the nature of contemporary architecture and urban design.
Join Planning Director Brent Toderian, Globe-and-Mail critic Trevor Boddy, architect Bing Thom, and journalist Hadani Ditmars at SFU Harbour Centre (515 West Hastings Street), 7 pm, on Friday, February 1st.
Also: an update on how the City deals with design in the public realm, with Scot Hein, senior urban designer at the City’s urban Design Studio.

Book now: It’s free, but reservations are required. Email cstudies@sfu.ca or call 778-782.5100. Assigned reading: Brent Toderian did his blog post at Planetizen on whether Vancouver suffers an icon deficit. Lots of response. And Trevor Boddy in his Globe and Mail column took on the question of whether Robson Square (certified iconic) needs a clamshell. Read more »