Art & Culture
July 26, 2006


First night of the fireworks at English Bay.  Just us and a quarter million of our neighbours. 
I’m not sure why photographers try to capture fireworks, or sunsets.  The result is always going to be a little disappointing, since you’re turning something that generates light into something that reflects it.  So we get a little arty instead.
But here’s something you might not have seen if you don’t stick around after the crowds have dispersed.  Down on Beach Avenue by the Aquatic Centre, there’s a convoy of sanitation trucks waiting to move into action, preceded by a phalanx of motorcycle cops, their lights ablaze.
  As the parade gets underway, there are cheers from the balconies above; people applaud from the curbs.  Someone even has a trumpet.   This must be a thrill for guys in the Engineering Department.  Talk about respect.
And for boys, who are genetically programmed to get off on trucks, the engineering parade must be a bigger blast than the fireworks. 

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Seattle-ite Patrick McGrath asked the following question in a comment to the “Density Game” below:

Are high rises the best way to move people into the urban core? How do they compare to 3-5 story apartment blocks in terms of their affordability and population density?

Well, Patrick … it depends.
As the post notes, the density for highrise and lowrise can be exactly the same. In fact, the highrise could be less dense – assuming we’re comparing floor area, not population. For instance, a 20-storey building with floorplates that are 5,000 square feet in area on a lot that is 25,000 square feet has (I simplify) a Floor Space Ratio (FSR) of 4. A five-storey building that almost covers the site would likely have an FSR of around 4.5. The lower building would be denser.

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Just over two years ago, when I was first started Price Tags, Khenko was on the cover of No. 28. Khenko is Coast Salish for the Great Blue Heron – in this case, the wired version.

Artist Doug Taylor had a vision for a work of art that would celebrate the bird’s return to False Creek: sail-covered blades to capture the wind and move the gears that in turn would raise and lower the wings of the heron. He had a model too:

Now it’s not just a model. Khenko is flying. The sculpture was raised last Friday.
You can see the sail-blades from Granville Island. In fact Khenko is visible from many points along the Creek, since it’s placed at the southern-most point of George Wainborn Park, on the north shore of False Creek, just east of the Granville Bridge.

Back in 2004 I wrote: “This is going to be amazing.”
It is.

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In municipal politics, “density” is a code word. For some, it’s synonymous with urban decay, or more mildly, a less prestigious neighbourhood. For others, it means diversity and vitality or smart growth.
But almost everyone associates density with height: the taller the building, the denser. And because that’s often the case, it seems to make sense, even when it isn’t true. Typically a battle over development turns into a debate over height. Some communities consider the battle won when a building is reduced in height, even if the density doesn’t change.
There’s also confusion over the exact definition of density. Is it calculated, for instance, by including all open space – the roads, the setbacks, the parks? In other words, the gross density. Or is it a calculation of so many square metres on the building’s footprint – or net density? And then there’s population density versus building density, calculated as floor-space (or FSR). Or how about the number of people per unit? And so on.
Since I live in the West End (often said, inaccurately, to be Canada’s densest neighbourhood), and have sat through a lot of public hearings, I’m acutely aware of the confusion – and often surprised at how urban problems are sometimes inversely proportionate to height. Today, for instance, there’s a good article in the New York Times (here) on the fabled Casbah, an historic district of Algiers.

Not much over three storeys. But a lot of people are crammed into those courtyards:

“… the quiet, private spaces have since given way to overcrowding. In 1958 the Casbah’s 175 acres were home to only 30,000 people [a gross density of 171 people per acre]. Those numbers swelled as the battle for independence gained strength, and people crowded into the city to escape reprisals by the French. More than 80,000 people live in the Casbah today. [457 people/acre.] Each house, intended for as single family, now holds as many as 10 poor families.

So how does that compare to the West End, where three-quarters of the buildings are five storeys or more:

With respect to population density, not even close. In the West End’s 500 acres (Burrard-Georgia-Stanley Park-English Bay), there are 42,120 people (2001). Gross density is therefore 84 people per acre – middling by world standards – and almost country-like compared to nearly 500 per acre in the Casbah.
More importantly, the 28,000 households average out to 1.5 people per unit. In other words – and this is what counts – the West End, though a high-density neighbourhood, is not overcrowded. That, as Jane Jacobs pointed out, means too many people in too small a space. It’s what people want to get out of as they get more affluent, though they may search out a high-density neighbourhood if it offers what they want.
So, if the West End is not Canada’s densest neighbourhood, what is?

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Today’s New York Times:

From 2002 until this year, NASA’s mission statement, prominently featured in its budget and planning documents, read: “To understand and protect our home planet; to explore the universe and search for life; to inspire the next generation of explorers … as only NASA can.”

In early February, the statement was quietly altered, with the phrase “to understand and protect our home planet” deleted.

Pathetic, and tragic.

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The escalating costs of construction – a world-wide phenomenon – may be taking down a high-profile project in this town. Literally.  Speculation concerns a highrise that might not make it above the second storey.  Could this change the exuberant mood of a pre-Olympics city?

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Here’s a cool thought for a hot day:
As far as I can tell, the diverter at Chilco and Robson marked the first traffic calming of its kind in North America.
It was part of a system of miniparks and barriers constructed West of Denman Street in 1973 to discourage short-cutting traffic. Thirty-three years later we can appreciate how literally ground-breaking it was.
A much more detailed story of how it came to be can be found in the current issue of SFU City – the e-magazine of the City Program. You can find it here.

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It’s official (by way of Calgary): Brent Toderian is the new City of Vancouver planner.
“Brent joined the City of Calgary in January 2001 as Chief Subdivision Planner. In December 2004, he moved to the Centre City team as Project Manager, Centre City Plan and was promoted to Manager, Centre City in June 2005.”
Reviews so far are good.
Brent is also a graduate of the SFU City Program’s Urban Design Certificate Program, and was instrumental in getting the program to offer courses in Calgary. Here’s a piece from the Calgary Sun.

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