COVID Place making
April 9, 2020

How We Safely Space on a Street

It’s near the height of cherry blossom season, there are only so many beautiful springs in one’s life, and we really need this one now.

To safely use the glorious green spaces of Vancouver (this weekend with pink!) Vancouverites want to know how to space themselves.  Greenways are ideal – those streets where vehicle traffic is so minimal that runners with watches, parents with baby carriages, skateboarders with small electric motors, grandparents with walkers, kids with their first bikes, dogs with leashes, and everyone with a camera, i.e. everyone, can all sort themselves out with sufficient distance and politeness that everyone feels they are getting the most out of a beautiful spring day without endangering themselves or others.

It would be nice to have a poster which shows the appropriate distances and etiquette.  But I don’t think the City or health authorities quite know what that is.  They’re waiting to see what people actually do before they make decisions about how they should do it.  When it comes to designating road space, with a few exceptions, the City seems a bit paralyzed.  At least they’re not indicating so far they that they have any intentions.

So it looks like we will just do it:


C
hilco Greenway, April 9, 4:10 pm

Five different users: cyclist, runner, observer, dog walker, kid with bike, daddy.  All spaced and sorted in a 66-foot right-of way, a standard West End Street.  There’s not a psychological no-go barrier at the curb for those not in cars.  But there is room for a car if it moves slowly and yields to other users.

My guess: This weekend and on, Vancouverites are going to pour out of their sequestered spaces.  They will take the space they need, as they should, to enjoy the city and maintain their health.  And not spread a virus.

Then the City can respond.

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At PT we’re thinking about how the world is being reshaped by the impact of Covid19.  While there may never be a post-pandemic-free world (there never really was; we just didn’t want to think about it), we are going to adapt.  But how and to what? 

Already the ideas are flowing – an example from the New York Times on the office:

Those in the midst of planning suggest that the post-pandemic office might look radically different:

  • There may be limits on the number of people allowed in an elevator.
  • New technology could provide access to rooms and elevators without employees having to touch a handle or press a button.  Sensor-activated controls may also increase, reducing the number of surfaces that need to be touched in an office and allowing workers to use elevators and open doors with the wave of a hand.
  • Chairs on casters will permit people to roll seats a safe distance from colleagues.
  • Interest has surged in new materials such as those that mimic sharkskin, to which microscopic organisms have difficulty adhering.
  • Some old metals may experience a revival. Copper and its alloys — including brass and bronze — have been shown to be essentially self-sanitizing, able to kill bacteria and, early studies suggest, perhaps even the coronavirus plaguing the planet.
  • The ability to work from home at least a few days a week — long sought by many American workers — may be here to stay. “A big light bulb went off during this pandemic,” said Anita Kamouri, vice president at Iometrics, a workplace services firm. Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics, expects more than 25 percent of employees to continue working from home multiple days a week, up from fewer than 4 percent who did so before the pandemic. “I don’t think that genie is going back into the bottle,” she said.
  • If companies do allow more of their employees to log in from home, some may consider reducing their office footprint, which could have significant ramifications for commercial real estate. But if the amount of space devoted to employee workstations and other functions increases, demand for space could balance out.  There will be a higher value around spaces where we come together.
  • Lounges, cafes and other gathering spaces that sprang up to make collaborative work easier may become even more important if employees do more work from home and commute in for meetings.
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Beach Avenue looking west & Aquatic Centre August 3 1974

 

If anyone ever wanted to look at what priority the automobile was given in the last century, this image tells the story. 1974 was the year the “new” Aquatic Centre was opened, replacing the Crystal Pool that had been built on the same site in 1928. The Martello Towers are part of the “grand gesture” to the modernism of the street, where no  walker or cyclist can be seen.

This was the same year that the Knight Street Bridge was opened, and Granville Street north of Nelson was closed to vehicular traffic for conversion to a pedestrian mall, which opened that summer.

The image is another great one from Diane Sampson who found this at the Vancouver Archives.

 

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Writer and blogger Stanley Woodvine @sqwabb  has posted this photo of  a construction site in the 1400 block of Broadway that swallowed an entire sidewalk as its own. You can see in the photos that there is no guidance or safe way to get around  as a sidewalk user,  able bodied or disabled.

City sidewalks are never to be blocked, and if they are impeded there is supposed to be signage and an alternative route offered, which can include a coned area in the parking lane adjacent to the sidewalk.

The City offers guidance for the use of the street and sidewalk for business and other activities. You will note that there are guidelines to reserve parking spaces and parking meters, but none to block sidewalks. 

In the case of a construction area that has a sidewalk  blocked, there has to be signage and an alternative place to safely walk, with a clear Traffic Management Plan approved by the City that are set to the Province’s Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure standards. Such a plan also must comply with the Motor Vehicle Act.

If you encounter a blocked sidewalk, let the City know the block and street through the VanConnect app or call 311. If you have a contact in the Engineering Department, call them and ask them to follow up.

Some ideas of  how sidewalk traffic diversions can be handled are in the photos below. These photos were taken in Knightsbridge in London England.

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From the Downtown Waterfront Working Group:

In 2015, Toronto-based developer Cadillac Fairview attempted to get approval for a 26 storey office building at 555 Cordova, shoe-horned up against the east side of Waterfront Station in Vancouver. Cadillac Fairview owns Waterfront Station and the proposed building site has been the eastern access and parking lot for the Station since it opened in 1914.

The proposed site is not a separate building lot and far too small to accommodate a giant office building. The building, dubbed the Icepick, was turned down at City Hall in 2015, following wide-spread objections from neighbours and the public.

Now Cadillac Fairview is back with Icepick 2, a slightly revised version of the original. Responding to design objections, the developer rotated and pushed the building a little further west and north, slightly reduced its footprint, and made it possible to see and walk through the ground floor.

With these changes, the developer seems intent on getting approval at a Development Permit Board Meeting scheduled for May 25, 2020.

The proposed building is not consistent with the existing 2009 Council-endorsed Central Waterfront Hub Framework. In October 2017, Council approved a program to update the Framework and resolve implementation issues. This work has only just begun.

Does it make sense to put approvals before planning? Should a private developer be able to sabotage a public planning and design process?

The proposal does not conform to planning guidelines for the area. The most recent proposed building is more than twice the suggested height of 11 stories, and six times the recommended floor space. It overwhelms heritage buildings on either side and provides an uninviting gateway to Historic Gastown.

Most disturbing, Cadillac Fairview has not agreed to an extension of Granville Street to the waterfront. The developer owns the parkade at the foot of Granville. Removing part of the parkade’s top level was a central concept of the original Hub Framework. It would open the street to the waterfront, and provide an opportunity to build a public walkway connecting Stanley Park, the waterfront, Gastown, Chinatown and False Creek.

As the most important transportation hub in the region, this site is critical to the future of the city.

Surely Vancouver, which prides itself on progressive planning, can find a better solution.

Approving Cadillac Fairview’s latest proposal will preclude the current planning process and seriously undermine future options for the City’s waterfront.

Icepick 2 must to be stopped.

 

Community Open House & Feedback Session

Tuesday, Feb 18

3 –7 pm

Fairmont Waterfront Hotel
900 Canada Place, Mackenzie Ballroom

 

 

 

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Another example from Ian Robertson.  From Commercial Real Estate:

As public transport usage among Sydney’s CBD workforce surges, and the number of cars entering the city each day falls, developers and landlords may soon face the challenge of figuring out what to do with basement spaces that don’t meet modern building codes. …

At the same time public transit patronage among the CBD workforce has been undergoing a significant increase.  Transport for NSW estimates that between 7000 and 8000 fewer cars entered the city each day over the three years to 2018 …

Developers and building landlords nowadays are less concerned with onsite parking provisions, opting to use more of the building’s floor plan for office space or building infrastructure like end-of-trip facilities or gyms in an attempt to future-proof buildings against declining demand for parking spaces. …The City of Sydney has planning controls which encourage the reduction of parking spaces as part of redevelopment plans for existing sites, allowing developers to pursue additional height levels in exchange for adaptive reuse of basement spaces.

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Stats-and-numbers guy Andy Coupland does a backgrounder on The Grand Bargain and what Vancouverites (City and Metro) should know about this town.

Here’s the first post in the Andy Coupland Primer. Here’s the second. The third.  And now the fourth and final:

Random Acts of Density

Can the city or the region build itself out of the current ‘housing crisis’? The proportion of rental households actually went up in Vancouver between the 2011 and 2016 censuses (and in the rest of Metro too, although with a lower overall proportion renting). The past five years have seen over 33,000 starts in the city – the past four years have seen over 28,000.

But for the city to achieve an average 8,500 new units a year (the target the mayor has mentioned) would mean moving away from the caution we generally see.* Perhaps it won’t be as difficult as it seems. It was a bit surprising that there wasn’t pushback when Wall built a huge complex on Boundary Road, quite a way from the SkyTrain. That was the most extreme example (in Vancouver) of a street of modest houses replaced by over 1,000 condos in 32 floor buildings.

The take-up of the Cambie Plan also shows a different approach – not so much the six-storey buildings along Cambie already mentioned but the more recent additions. The City now has a method to fast-track rezoning for 1.4 FSR townhouses. One existing house can become six or even eight units, half of them 3-bed family-sized. There are already 32 projects as current rezonings – all but two approved in the past year. There are nine other sites already at Development Permit stage, and they represent 341 townhouses – which for Vancouver is a huge change.  The same sort of thing is happening in Marpole and Grandview Woodland, as those plans took the same forms and density.

That will be another way in which Vancouver will continue to grow in ways other municipalities don’t, because there’s actually a lot of change happening in some of Vancouver’s single-family neighbourhoods, which really isn’t the case in other municipalities. It would be interesting to know who is buying them. The family homes generally cost well over $1 million each – so more affordable than most existing Vancouver houses, but still a pretty steep haul to finance as a young couple.

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There’s a new proposal to convert half of each of Vancouver’s three city-owned golf courses to up to 10,000 homes, with the other halves converted to parkland. In total, it could create housing for 60,000 Vancouverites, ranging from low-income to market rate.

In past years, the Vancouver Park Board has voted to keep its courses for golf, with one Commissioner emphasizing their importance for senior recreation and combating social isolation.

But the number of golfers is declining. And the Park Board recently voted for its staff to “evaluate the full spectrum of realized and unrealized benefits of Park Board land currently used for golf,” and to look at past, present and future golfing demand. This year, they’ll ask for the public’s preferences – your preferences.

 

Scot Hein is an author of the housing and park proposal. He’s an Adjunct Professor in the Master of Urban Design program at UBC, and formerly Vancouver’s Senior Urban Designer.

Tricia Barker is a Vancouver Park Board Commissioner. In her day job, she is a certified personal trainer who specializes in working with seniors.

 

Thursday, February 20

12:30 PM

SFU Vancouver Harbour Centre | Room 7000, 515 West Hastings Street

Free Event | Registration is required.  

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Fred London* visited Vancouver in 2018 as one of 12 case studies on ‘Healthy Place-Making‘ – the title of his newly released book.

In modern-day society the main threats to public health are now considered ‘avoidable illnesses’, which are often caused by a lack of exercise and physical activity. Practitioners must now consider how they can encourage people to lead healthier lifestyles and improve health through urban design.

This book presents the path to healthier cities through six core themes – urban planning, walkable communities, neighbourhood building blocks, movement networks, environmental integration and community empowerment. Each theme is presented with an overview of the issues, the solutions and how to apply them practically with exemplars and precedents.

Here are some excerpts from his Vancouver chapter: .

Vancouver’s diverse character.

Old buildings remain along (Yaletown streets) reinforcing local identity, and former commercial loading bays create an appealing street cross section for eateries and retail, with walkways raised a metre or so above street level forming promenades unencumbered by the cars parked below.

Vancouver’s cultural heritage is also reflected in the varied social environment, strongly represented by the Pacific east coast. These are mainly from China and Japan, and notable for the extensive choice of good grocery stores and places to eat, catering for a range of income levels that serve as the bedrock for lower income communities.


Vancouver’s towers enjoy uncluttered views onto North Shore Mountain slopes saved from urban sprawl:

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There’s a trend in city architecture and in North American vehicle purchase that tests how we view ourselves and what we value in  current culture. This is the time of importing starchitects to Vancouver to build structures that do not really respond to their environs or surroundings, but are rather signature statement towers that clearly carry the stamp of who is the designer. And they are not unique to the place~you can see the same Bjarke Ingels Vancouver House twisty forms in this winding development at 76 Eleventh Avenue in New York City.

Take a look at Kenneth Chan’s current article in the Daily Hive on the 2016 proposed Holborn Group development for the Hudson’s Bay parkade on Seymour Street which challenges Vancouverites to think “bigger”.

That Holborn parkade redevelopment plan proposed three towers, one which will be 900 feet (that’s about 90 potential storeys) with just one small problem. The proposed height is 600 feet over the 300 foot limit because of the City mandated view cone to protect the views to the mountains. Kenneth Chan states “this is the same view cone that severely constrained the height of the adjacent TELUS Garden office tower”.

The project’s tower looks like an undulating lipstick tube and is described as bringing “a design flair that is common in modern Asian metropolises like Singapore and Hong Kong, this concept was designed by Beijing-based MAD Architects, which has international offices in Los Angeles, New York City, and Rome.”

The Holborn Group is the same developer who built Vancouver’s Trump Tower and who controls the former social housing  fifteen acre Little Mountain site. They state on their website that they intend to build 1,400 units on that land. There’s been all kinds of discussion on how this land was purchased from the Province, and how for nearly 12 years nothing has happened on this site which previously housed 224 social housing units.

It appears that the  story for this decade is still the focus on building downtown architecture to be a developer and architect’s  standalone showpiece. It does not really need to fit into the existing vernacular or reference the outstanding mountain and sea views. The trend is to outperform other buildings in size, shape, height and shock value. The iconic buildings anticipated for the downtown also do not appear to be responding to any local housing market needs with the exception of the Burrard Bridge located towers proposed by The Squamish Nation. Naoibh O’Connor has created a little compendium of twelve new buildings proposed for  Vancouver which allows you to look at some of the designs.

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