Architecture
December 4, 2019

Real-estate Boardwalks in LA and YVR

The New York Times explores the Boardwalks of real-estate development:

… the surface lots that are peppered throughout cities, a vestige of a time decades ago when car ownership had surged and mass transit use had declined. Surface lots bloomed throughout the country, in big and small markets. Now, these lots are becoming more valuable.

“It’s like when you’re playing Monopoly, and you get your ticket for Boardwalk — that’s how rare it is,” said Gina Farruggio, a broker …

Sales of such lots in the U.S. have surged to more than 200 in 2016 – more than double the amount in 2006 through 2014.  It’s something that’s been going in Metro Vancouver for several decades – and at a vastly different scale.

The Times profiles a major development in Los Angeles at Culver City along the Expo Line:

The 500,000-square-foot development (on 5.2 acres), called Ivy Station, is expected to open next year with 200 apartments as well as 240,000 square feet of office space, 55,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space, plus a hotel.

Amazing Brentwood by comparison is on 28 acres: 1,300,000 square feet of retail, 500,000 square feet of office, and about 1,700 residential units.

Perhaps not comparable given the difference in area – except for one thing.

  • At Ivy Station: 1,500 parking spaces.
  • At Amazing Brentwood: 1,400.

 

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We have a new downtown neighbourhood – or at least a new name for a neighbourhood.

The Chandelier District.

 

The blocks between the Burrard and Granville Bridges, south of Pacific, are labelled as “Beach” on some city plans, or Granville Slopes.  Maybe it’s south Downtown South.  Or west Yaletown east of the West End.  No one calls it any of that.

The Hornby-Howe blocks serve as the squared-out equivalent of a cloverleaf off-ramp from the Burrard Bridge to get vehicles to the West End, or as a bypass to avoid Pacific.  Wait til Vancouver House opens. Wait til the grocery store and other services go in under the bridge.  One guess what the identifying graphic will be for this commercial hub.

 

Ian Gillespie of Westbank consolidated the public-art requirement to fund the $5-million price tag on Rodney Graham’s artwork.  The media immediately grabbed on to a presumed controversy, thereby achieving what progressives believe art is supposed to do: create a conversation.

So far the conversation consists of a lot of swipes and doubts: bling for the rich, a slap in the face for those who can’t afford the unaffordable city, a gesture of contempt on the day after the homeless count was released.  It will be vandalized.  It will be a target for the stoned, the drunk, and the pigeons.  It will get dust covered*.

Could the money have been better spent on housing for the homeless?  Of course.  So could the money we spend on flower gardens.  That’s zero-sum budgeting.

Development-required public art is not, strictly speaking, funded by taxpayer dollars, nor is the extraordinary collection that comes with the Sculpture Biennale.  But the perception that there’s tax dollars involved or the millions could have been better spent is a consideration when political leaders are asked to devote more to the arts and they’re wondering if they’re going to end up on the wrong side of a microphone.

Artists, on the other hand, cry out for more – more public art, more protected studio space, more galleries and even more housing.  They assume the public wants a city with art and a place for them.

Fortunately, the city does.  Particularly if its Instagram and selfie-friendly.

 

 

Graham did get an ideal location: lots of room for the work to breathe, perfectly balanced on all sides, high enough to avoid vehicles, with a backdrop of uninterrupted sky to the east that will not change, thanks to the park beyond.

 

So if not ‘Chandelier District,’ what’s better?

 

 

  • *Fair warning: art with moving pieces will have to be scrupulously cleaned and maintained. This one drops and spins.  Unfortunately, I can’t think of an artwork with moving pieces that still does. Except the Steamclock, and it gets a lot of care and attention.

 

 

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The conversion of Brentwood into a municipal town centre is really about the conversion of car-dependent development from post-war suburbia into the transit-oriented centres of today.  It’s the fulfilment of the regional vision that began in the 1970s.

This is the Grand Bargain in action, concentrating development on the brownfields: the asphalt parking lots, the obsolete industrial sites, the empty lots, all within walking distance of a SkyTrain station.  (Debate: Can the same thing happen along the Frequent Transit Network or even a light-rail line?  Or is grade-separated rapid transit – concrete, trains! – a necessity?)

 

The success of these station areas is unquestioned.  There is a lot more of them happening, a lot more to come, as evident at the next SkyTrain stop to the west – Gilmore:

Today:

Tomorrow:

 

The bargain so far has been a push to extremes: highrise sacrifice zones to protect the iconic single-family neighbourhoods (regardless of the number of units within those houses).

And it leaves untouched the vast stretches of Motordom in between the station areas:

Lougheed Highway at Gilmore, looking west

 

The City of Vancouver has taken the first steps to rezone the blocks just beyond the arterials and transit corridors for medium-density rental, and there are a few, but very few, examples where a whole single-family district has been rezoned, bulldozed and rebuilt (Moodyville) to offer the middle-missing choices for which there is general agreement of their necessity.

This region’s ability to plan, approve and build complexes on the scale of Brentwood makes us an urban leader, certainly in North America.  By comparison, here is Miami Worldcenter, said to be the second largest real-estate development in the US, next to Hudson Yards:

More commercial, denser (and eventually underwater) – but not that different from what we do in our distant suburbs.  Okay, way more jobs, highly desired in places like Coquitlam, but in form and size, it’s just another megaproject.

Just another version of Brentwood.

 

 

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From William Whyte to Jan Gehl, there have been many attempts to find the formula for great public spaces.  And we do have a good idea of what goes into them. And yet really great spaces remain illusory, or we’d have so many more.

Here’s the one soon to be opening at ‘Amazing Brentwood’:

This is only a segment of the main plaza, still under construction.  It can’t fail insofar as there is a SkyTrain station on the south and lots of appealing attractions in every other direction.  And it feels like it has the right proportions given the way the height and curve of the buildings frame the space.

As Ian Wasson observed, the developer and designers have used really fine materials to realize their vision.

There’s a fountain off-centre that occupies a good percentage of the plaza.  You can see it from almost anywhere, but you have to walk around it – like a cog in the elaborate machinery of humanity in motion.

As night it’s a place that plays with light – ostentatiousnessl well done.  Here are some shots taken from Skyscraper Page by vanman:

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You’ve seen this before:

It’s a 1975 sketch of “Cities in a Sea of Green” – the phrase that captured the intent of the original Livable Region Plan.  In Burnaby, they took it literally (see more in ‘Cities of the Future‘).

Brentwood is SkyTrain scale, amped up.  The combo of towers tightly clustered around a rapid-transit station, connected to a shopping centre and community services, also strikes me as Asian scale – characteristic of station areas in Singapore and Hong Kong, where the planning and design go back to the housing booms of post-war modernism.  These are the urban environments in which so many of us grew up before coming to Vancouver, and to whom the projects are now marketed.

This is West Pacific.

The towers, in particular, take us to new heights – not to everyone’s taste, but very much part of the Grand Bargain.  (For an analysis and prediction of the impact of Brentwood, here’s what I said back in 2014: “Brentwood growth could help maintain quality of life: Price”

As detailed on David Pereira’s blog, the architecture of Brentwood Town Centre also goes back to 1960s with its initial highrises and mall (and, oh yeah, used car lots).  Today, ‘Amazing Brentwood’ takes the cliche of the moment – stacked and angled glass boxes – to climb the slope to the north of the station and animate the many thousands of square meters.

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Burnaby at Brentwood has gone full urban.

This is the Lougheed Highway at Willingdon – one the signature crossroads of our region.  On the right, a massive mixed-use development called (awful name) Amazing Brentwood.

Ian Wasson at Burnaby City Hall gave me a heads-up:  Brentwood was ready for a walk-through.  And easy to get to – seamlessly connected to one of the most beautiful SkyTrain stations in the region.

At the same time Brentwood Mall was under redevelopment, the City rebuilt Lougheed into more of a complete street.  There are at least four modes of movement integrated but separate, with great materials, thoughtful landscaping and exciting urbanism in three dimensions.

We’ll explore Brentwood this week.  But here’s the judgment:

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When Councillors consider this report on November 26 – Rental Incentives Review Phase II – “to create new zoning districts for residential rental tenure, for use in ‘off-the-shelf’ rezonings for RS and RT zoned sites in low density transition areas that are on and near arterial roads and close to parks, schools and shopping areas”, they will:

(1) Instruct staff “to prepare the amending by-law.”

(2) Refer it to the City-wide Planning process.

(3) Other.

 

Sun reporter Dan Fumano reports:

Another change would allow four-storey rental apartment or townhouse buildings in “low-density transition areas” — defined as residential blocks within 150 metres from an arterial street. Some Vancouver neighbourhoods, such as Kitsilano and Mount Pleasant, already include many such buildings off of arterial streets. But the proposed change would open up many more parts of Vancouver to these buildings, including much of the less-dense southern half of the city, on both the east and west sides.

Asked if he expects some homeowners and neighbourhood associations might object to apartment buildings on side streets, Stewart said: “I think it’s something to digest. But all of us on council say we’re in the middle of a housing crisis, and if you’re in a crisis, you have to do something new.”

 

 

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This aerial over Burnaby was taken last Thursday, flying out of YVR.

From Collingwood Village to Royal Oak, from Gilmore to SFU, this is how Burnaby stung its apartment districts along Skytrain.

It’s a half century of shaping development according to the Grand Bargain.

Back in the 1950s and 60s, planners and councils struck a compact with their citizens – the blue-collar workers who had achieved the Canadian Dream: a single-family house in a subdivision.  The deal: City Hall won’t rezone a blade of grass in your single-family zones.  But we will pile the density up in highrises, lots of them, clustered around where we expect rapid transit to come.

This is what that looks like. A Cordillera of Highsrises and a prairie of low-scale suburbia. Little in between.  Massive change for one, almost none for the other, and spot rezonings thereafter.

More here in The Grand Bargain, Illustrated.

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Adam Fitch commented on the post below, expressing doubt that we’ll end with a Haussmann-style boulevard on Broadway:

What is more likely to happen is that the areas immediately around the stations will be quickly redeveloped with clusters of 30-40 storey condo towers with a bit of chain and big box commercial at the ground level, ala Marine Gateway and Lower Cambie Village.

Perhaps something like what is emerging on West Davie in the West End:

Your basic Vancouverism – the style that transformed Downtown South in the 1990s: streetfront podium accommodating commercial uses, with separated towers above.

The model is essentially the high-density version of the ‘Grand Bargain’ – low-rise residential and slow-growth on the interior blocks, with a high-density buffer along the arterials (with the unstated class distinction that goes with it).  It’s a choice more likely to emerge from the Broadway planning process than a more simplistic consolidation of density in a few blocks around less than half a dozen station areas.

Irony alert: At the moment, a building-height-to-street-width ratio that might make sense on Broadway at roughly 100 in width feels more crowded and canyon-like on a street of 66 feet, even though the three-storey podium that creates the streetwall alleviates the impact of the towers.

It’s a variation on the development scale that has been allowed in the West End since the 1950s, evident elsewhere on Davie.

Or maybe it doesn’t really matter much.  So long as there is animation, transparency, sunlight and rain protection along the sidewalk, the height becomes irrelevant once we get used to it.

 

 

 

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As noted below, the Expo Line, which opened in 1985, has transformed the corridor along which it runs, especially at many of its station areas.  In that same time, nothing much has happened along Central Broadway.  Some of the blocks between Granville and Broadway seem curiously untouched since the 1970s.

The blocks between Granville and Burrard have some of the widest sidewalks in the city – and some of the least active street life.

This block from Burrard to Cypress has never had street trees, for no apparent reason:

At six lanes, it feels more like an urban highway than a streetcar arterial.  This is Motordom 2.0 – a redesigning of the city for the car and truck.

Because of the width of the road at six lanes and the height of the buildings at one and two storeys, there is no sense of enclosure, no ‘village’ feeling.  The Broadway subway offers the chance for a complete reordering when the train comes through  – a case where higher heights and densities will actually give the street a more ‘European’ feeling.

A classic example is in central Paris, where the ratio was set by Baron Haussmann in a 1859 degree that determined the height of the buildings as a function of the width of the street:

Six lanes allows five storeys, plus mansard roof (and no doubt higher storeys than our nine to ten feet for residential).  Even without street trees, it works.

 

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