Architecture
December 2, 2020

White Supremacy

Daily Scot checking out the massive tech complex by Westbank, going up at 5th and Quebec:

Scot’s excited by the built-in alley, giving its name to the whole project: MainAlley.

But as we’ve asked before: why no colour?  Why, like the sea-green glass that covers almost every highrise since the ’80s, do developers, architects and the city’s urban designers, stick so conservatively with such a limited pallet, with one or two small exceptions?  There must be an architectural rationale, but mostly we hear supposition and speculation.

Further, the brutalist brick block (originally a data processing centre) at the corner of 5th and Quebec is coming down (or covered), so there will a net loss of colour and texture.

This is a three-block project; its impact on this part of the Main Street tech district will be substantial.  And it won’t be the green roofs we see from the street.

 

 

 

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It has been frustrating watching the proposed shipping container terminal expansion at Deltaport near Tsawwassen. This is the  Port of Vancouver’s jurisdiction. They are stickhandling the Terminal 2 expansion proposal through the review process. The Port hopes to create more  turf by drivepiling a new industrial island  in waters off Roberts Bank. This is on the traditional  territory of the Tsawwassen First Nations. That black area you see in the photo above is Deltaport’s coal terminal.

It is Vancouver Port’s dirty secret~American ports on the west coast refuse to ship thermal coal for environmental reasons. But not the Port of Vancouver, which has doubled thermal coal exports in nine years to over 11 million tons. This dirty American coal also moves tariff free.

The Port was relentless in their pursuit of the Terminal 2 prize expansion, despite the fact that Roberts Bank is one of the few places on the planet for the migrating western sandpipers going to their spring Arctic breeding grounds. As I have already written these birds feed solely on an algae that is only available on these mudflats.

That algae cannot be moved or replaced, meaning that this important bird migration on the Pacific Flyway would be annihilated with port expansion. Extinct.

 Larry Pynn in The Province pointed out that the written response from Environment and Climate Change Canada to the Canadian Environment Assessment Agency clearly outlined the catastrophic impact of a new terminal eradicating this sandpiper feeding area. Their exact words were Among the findings, the panel report also notes there would be “significant adverse and cumulative effects on wetlands and wetland functions at Roberts Bank.”

Environment Canada was not happy, and it was at this time Global Containers (GCT), Deltaport Terminal’s operator did a bait and switch, stating that the proposed Terminal 2 complex at Roberts Banks was “outmoded and no longer viable.”

Sadly, abandoning this terminal expansion and working smarter (this is the only major port on the Pacific Coast that does not work on a 24 hour basis)  was not something proposed by Global Containers Terminal (GCT) .

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The Fraser River runs 1,300 kilometers from the Rocky Mountains to the Salish Sea, and creates a wide river delta that attracts millions of migrating birds.  You can walk along the Fraser River or visit the George Reifel Bird Sanctuary (call ahead for a reservation during Covid times) to see some of the millions of migrating birds that pass through this area.

Roberts Bank where the Deltaport Shipping Terminal is has mudflats that are kilometers long during low tide, and provide nutrients for over half a million Western Sandpipers daily during the spring migration. It is a highly sensitive area in terms of habitat and use.

This article in Business In Vancouver by Nelson Bennett describes a new study that has just been published in the journal Conservation, Science and Practice.  This study was undertaken by a team of University of British Columbia scientists who estimate that  “100 species in the Fraser River estuary could go extinct over the next 25 years, unless better habitat management, restoration and loss prevention is implemented in a more harmonized way”.

The species identified include  Southern Resident Orcas, the four types of local salmon~chinook, coho, chum and sockeye, and the Western Sandpiper that uses the Roberts Bank area as one of their sole feeding grounds on their migratory route.

Habitat loss is a contributing factor, as well as climate change. And the fact that nearly three quarters of the biggest cities are located on estuaries puts tremendous pressure on the biodiversity. Add in items like Deltaport’s proposed Terminal Two expansion which would take out the biofilm required for migratory birds at Roberts Bank, and you can see the pressures on this ecologically unique area.

The scientists did conclude that there was a solution, and noted that there was not one overall piece of legislation and not one overall managing governance structure for the estuary, that would represent federal, provincial and First Nations leadership.

They proposed a 25 year investment of $381 million dollars ($15 million a year) to develop an overall regulatory act and to develop a “co-management” governance system. That on a per capita basis for each person in Metro Vancouver is the equivalent of one beer a year.

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When I first heard about the proposal for ‘Transport Pricing’ in the City of Vancouver’s Climate Emergency Action Plan that went to council a few weeks ago, I thought, sorry, that’s a lost battle.

The political capital required to start ‘taxing the road’ is so high, reports that recommend it – like this one – are typically dead on arrival.  As elections approach, political leaders jump over each other to reject anything that looks, sounds or smells like a toll.  Here’s Bowinn Ma from the NDP, passing along the blunt words from John Horgan (who won the 2017 election by taking tolls off the Port Mann): “I have to be clear: it (congestion pricing) is not in our platform … and John Horgan has stated very clearly today that it would not be supported by our government …”

Not that it matters.  Congestion charging as it has been demonstrated in a handful of cities so far, notability Singapore and London, is way out of date – so 20th century.  Using gantries, cameras, IED passes and other visibly intrusive technology to establish a geographic cordon for pricing entry and exit for one particular part of a region will never pass the fairness test.  Why wouldn’t we include other places – for instance, the North Shore – where congestion is bad and getting worse?  (Minimally, there will have to be ‘discussion’ among the municipalities on either side of Lions Gate Bridge.)

Again, so much more political capital required.  Add in an equity requirement*, and good luck in getting a majority vote.  That’s why so few cities have done it.

So I was impressed when Council, by a bare majority, voted to support the part of the report that had actually recommended Transport Pricing (despite media, and my own, perception of what was being proposed).  Staff, having played in this rodeo a few times before (a previous report listed 14 examples), really wanted one key thing from council:  ‘Authorize us to develop a road map that will get us to Transport Pricing (TP).  Do not take it off the table, ship it off to the region, qualify it into irrelevance or remove any deadline for response’ – and that’s what they got.

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Coincidence? The Turner Movie Channel plays the full version of 2001: A Space Odyssey on the weekend, the 1968 classic film directed by Stanley Kubrick.

Then right on cue a strange, large metal monolith, remarkably similar to the one featured in the 52 year old film is discovered in public land desert in Utah,nestled into a canyon. Of course there were no footprints around the 12 foot (3.6 metre) monolith, but there it was, found by wildlife officials counting bighorn sheep from a helicopter in an undisclosed “remote south-eastern area” of Utah.

As the BBC reports, the helicopter crew landed to take a look at the upright plinth, and scrambled down to its location where it had been placed in a carefully cut rock. They did touch the monolith, and it did not set off any response to summon alien beings.

The Utah Department of Public Safety Aero Bureau tried to be in the fun  zone in their statement “It is illegal to install structures or art without authorisation on federally managed public lands, no matter what planet you’re from.”

Fearing that people would find the perfect covid pandemic activity of trying to trek into the location of the monolith, the department has made it a big secret.

It did not take long for sleuthers on Reddit to figure out where the monolith was located, and they even established it had been placed there in 2016.

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Bloomberg’s Feargus O’Sullivan has been writing an interesting series on housing in world cities. He took a look at Brussels Belgium where instead of opting for tall apartment buildings as a 19th century solution to housing many in the downtown, stone and masonry decorated single family homes were adopted. These houses are tall, thin, and all have entranceways directly onto the street frontage.

These houses are fittingly called “maison de maitre”  or master’s house, for their size and facade splendour and were built and lived in by the “wealthy bourgeois”. Like the Goldilocks and the Three Bears story, these houses are not grand mansions for the truly rich aristocrat, nor were they as plonky as a standard townhouse. The main floor had three large reception rooms with dividing doors that could open, an open space concept way before its time.

 “The result is an interesting hybrid, combining floor plans reminiscent of London townhouses, plot sizes similar to old Amsterdam and servants attics like in Paris — all brought together with an elaborate, unmistakably Belgian decorative style.”

There’s a lot of ornamentation on the front facade of these structures which can be kindly called a “baroque streak” but were largely influenced by the aesthetic movement.

While Brussels did try a Paris redevelopment plan in their downtown similar to Baron Haussmann’s in the 1860’s, the locals hated “Haussmann-style” apartment living.

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Cities are the fundamental building block of contemporary society, certainly in Canada where almost 90 per cent of our population lives in a community of 5,000 or more. COVID-19 – and the various measures governments have taken to cope with it – is having a dramatic impact on the future of urban life now, and will potentially alter fundamentally how we plan, design, manage, and govern cities in the future. The non-profit sector will play an important role in this process.

Join Mary W. Rowe, President & CEO of the Canadian Urban Institute, and the host of CityTalkCanada, to consider five good ideas for the non-profit sector to build a city, now and in the wake of a global pandemic.

Mary is no stranger to how cities recover from disasters, having worked in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and New York City during and following Hurricane Sandy. For several years she worked closely with Maytree Chair Alan Broadbent on Ideas that Matter, a convening and publishing program focused on the core areas of Jane Jacobs’ work: cities, economies, and values. Her work continues to be focused on how cities enable self-organization, cultivate innovation, and build social, economic, environmental, and cultural resilience.

Date: Dec 3, 2020

Time: 10:00 am Pacific Time

To sign up please click this link.

Images: MayTree,Arup

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Last week I wrote about 6 year old Arianne who saw the issue crossing Centre Avenue in Ladner with her brothers and sisters and Grandmother, wrote a letter to Council, drew a picture of the problem and collected on her own a supportive 30 signature petition. This story was followed up on in the news media by CBC’s Justin McElroy and  reporter/videographer at CTV news Emad Agahi.

We really don’t talk a lot about how disenfranchised the young, the disabled and the elderly are in the way that streets are configured, and we also don’t take into account that for these users being able to walk or wheel on the street or sidewalk is their major way of movement around the city.

Harriet Grant in The Guardian writes about a unique program in London England that utilizes youth thought and participation in design of streets and spaces.

Architect Dinah Bornat is the London Mayor’s Design Advocate and at the invitation of an east London local housing association and developers worked with youth on a new scheme for 1,000 residences in Aberfeldy Estates. Ms. Bornat’s first premise is that placing children first in the design process centres planning work around people and vehicle drivers.

Kids in this area are being driven to work because it is unsafe for them to cross the streets and walk to school. in involving children in the planning and design process, Ms. Bornat found that 89 percent of 16 to 18 year old kids said they had never been asked about any neighbourhood change or process.

Ms. Bornat states: “Young people can’t vote and they don’t pay taxes but don’t we want to know what they think? Too often we focus  on negative issues to do with young people and we don’t think about their happiness and joy.”

By asking where youth want to play and gather with their friends, she was able to identify what space was important in the public realm. With a background in urban geography in their studies, the youth also understood the issues about road users and road sharing and understood the importance of lower traffic neighhbrourhoods to stronger communities.

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