Design & Development
February 10, 2010

Sidewalks of Granville

An update to the post below.  Here are some shots of Granville between Drake and Nelson:

The compromise, I presume, was to keep four travel lanes open, still allow for car parking while at the same time widening the sidewalks.  The result:

Part of the problem is the design of the bollards: no subtlety here.

They’re now the dominant element on the sidewalks.  Worse, with only a few bike racks available, typically at the end of each block, the bollards can’t be used for bikes either: too thick for U-locks, no cap for cables.   Without parking meters, there’s almost no place (except for the poor street trees) to rack a bike close to your destination – an unforgivable omission.

But the real problem is the quality of the remaining space for the dominant users of the street: the pedestrians.

And there’s no doubt there will be lot more people walking.  Already there are changes in the most intransigent block on the street: Helmcken to Davie.  New shops and restaurants are opening by the day.  The hotels are full, and newcomers are exploring the blocks where previously most Vancouverites feared to tread. 

Most conspiculously, renovation is almost complete for a le Chateau.   When the corporate chains decide lower Granville is a suitable address, the message goes out to the rest of the retail community.

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February 8, 2010

Confident prediction #1: No Olympics will be more photographed than this one.  Until the next one. 

Maybe that’s always been true.  But the digital revolution has put the camera permanently at our touch, embedded in our phones.   (Not to mention the surveillance cameras above us.)   And so it seems today everyone is out on the street clicking away at everything.  At least on Granville Street.

Speaking of which:

We blew it.   Granville below Nelson is a dud.  The attempt to use the sidewalk as flexible space, sometimes for people, sometimes for cars, just doesn’t work.   The bollards makes for clumsy clutter, and, too thick for U-locks, they can’t even be used for bike parking.  

We’re used to cars separating us from traffic.  That’s a good thing.  But here they’re at the same level, not a few centimeters below. 

 The difference is profound – like a like a very large person intruding into our personal space.    We’re uncomfortable even if we’re not sure why.  On a cross-section it may have looked like enough space for everyone; in reality the wall of metal creates a restricted corridor. 

In time, leaking oil will discolour the concrete, which along with the gum will make the sidewalks feel permanently dirty.  (One of the reasons the sidewalks of downtown Portland seem so pristine is the care they take to remove gum.  That and the absence of cigarette filters shows how small things have large impacts.)

So okay, we tried.  At least the solution won’t be costly.  The cars go back on the other side of the curb; the bollards come out.    Everyone’s happy.

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February 3, 2010

I grabbed this shot with my phone last night, hoping to capture the look of the new cylindrical lights that line Granville Street:

This image doesn’t do the job – but what made me pause was the busker in the middle of the street beginning to build a crowd.  In the last few days I’ve seen street performers surrounded by audiences of hundreds, filling up what will be, after the Olympics, the roadway for the return of the trolleys.

On second thought, is that a good idea?  I mean, bringing transit back to Granville Street?

My first thought – when I was on City Council, deciding on a process for the redesign of the mall – was yup.  In fact, I moved a motion that insisted there could be no loss of transit efficiency, whatever the design.  Many downtown business-people wanted a return of car traffic; others suggested a pedestrian-only zone.  What you see now is the compromise.

There’s certainly a justifiable argument to keep an exclusive transit right-of-way on Granville, most importantly to separate the buses and trolleys from the other congested arterials in order to prevent delays that ripple though the entire transit network.  It’s also easier to transfer from one bus route to another, and from the Expo and Canada Line stations.

But we lose, in turn, the ambience of a pedestrian-only street – one filled with cafes running down the centre, like Lincoln Road in Miami Beach, or used as an outdoor gallery like the 700-block Granville at the moment, or as impromptu performance space, as we’ll see throughout the Olympics.

And, in truth, the transit system seems to be functioning fairly effectively on Seymour and Howe Streets – something I presume will continue when the 800-block is closed off on weekends in the entertainment district. 

So I’m ambivalent about the decision we made to return Granville Mall to the old pattern, neither one thing nor the other.  Especially since post-Motordom cities are increasingly creating ped-only streets, whether in New York (Times Square) or Geneva (where City Council just voted to close 200 streets to cars).

And I’m ambivalent too about the new light standards.  They’ll be stunning when coming over the Granville Bridge, creating a corridor of white.  Close-up?  I’m not so sure.  It would be so cool if they changed colour and ‘performed’ electronically, like the visual equivalent of dancing waters. 

Or would that just be tacky?

UPDATE: I’m off for a conference in the next few days – so I leave it to you readers to debate the future of Granville in the comments section.

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February 2, 2010

Photographer Alex Waterhouse-Hayward reflects on whether Vancouver has become a city of vertical gated communities:

It was in 2001 that I was taking pictures of artist Alan Storey. I photographed him by his Coopers Mews sculpture. It is a (a whimsical look at what preceded the area(north west side of False Creek) before the condominiums were built. Part of the pathway includes steps that produce steam when one walks on them. He pointed at a nearby baby sitting centre. It seemed odd amidst all the concrete towers.

Storey and I had a fun time during our pleasant shoot. But it was partly jarred by an event that I will not forget. We stopped our picture taking when we saw an extremely beautiful and elegant blue car stop at the gate of one of the condos. It was an Aston Martin being driven by a young man. He glanced in our direction and then the gate went up and he disappeared into his building’s garage. We discussed that the kind of luxury that we had previously associated with living in Shaughnessy had a much different counterpart here by his sculpture and that it was a luxury of which we had no inkling. It was a way of life for which we had no understanding.

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Australia’s great southern city is, as Vancouver, on its way to Post-Motordom.  The inner city at least is seeing a drop in traffic as its residential population increases, it reinforces transit, and, as this recent example illustrates, it reverses car-dominant design from decades past.

Indeed, even its car-supportive politicians are reversing their position. 

No cars, new city squares: Doyle’s Swanston Street reversal

Lord Mayor Robert Doyle has unveiled an ambitious $25.6m plan to redevelop Swanston Street, including designs for four new ”city squares”.

The proposal will see private vehicles and taxis banned from the city’s major thoroughfare and limited hours of operation for delivery vehicles.

Cr Doyle, who came to office on a platform of returning cars to Swanston Street said it had been his ”road to Damascus”.

 [Thanks to Damon Rao.]

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This probably means you.

From the re:place team.


A humble call to help us with suggestions for the our newest initiative Urbanists Guide to Vancouver – an online list of off-the-beaten path places, events, products, etc. that  we want to have live for visitors in town for the Olympics and local urbanists who want to know what’s happening in and around the city.

… what we want to compile is a pretty comprehensive list of off-the-beaten path places, events, products, etc. that most people may not be aware of, but that reflects a more balanced concept of what this city is all about.

How? Simple. Just post a comment, or if you’re not a comment-type person, send your suggestions to  Please include any supplementary information – i.e. links, websites, etc. – and  a short description of why you think this should be included in the Urbanists Guide.

We’ll be gathering the suggestions and information until Wednesday, January 27th and release the final edited list in time for the Olympics. We’ll also give you regular updates as we develop our initiative further.  In the meantime, please help us out and drop us a line.

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[The third of a series.  Start here.]

It may be one-and-a-half times as long as the route from Lansdowne Station, but Olympic organizers will recommend to spectators heading for the speed-skating oval to get off at Aberdeen and walk the 1.5 kilometres along the Richmond River Walk.

To the north, the best features of Richmond: the Fraser, the mountains, life along the river. 

To the south, the less appealing industrial landscape of the ALO Triangle along River Road.

The block from Cambie to Gilbert is possibly the longest in the Lower Mainland – an unbroken kilometre, without a sidewalk.

Not that the dyke itself was designed to handle a lot of people.  Part way along, the Richmond Yacht Club leaves only a strip of gravel as a half-hearted bypass.

But that’s changing.  Richmond has crews out working on what will obviously be a significant transformation of the river walk.

New  construction promises to grandly welcome the pedestrian – and, I’m assuming, a separate path for bikes. 

It’s a real turn-around for Richmond, where, even in its more recently developed parts, the gap between a true pedestrian- and transit-friendly cityscape and what’s on the ground is regrettably wide. 

For instance, take the route – only half a block – from the south side of Aberdeen Centre to the Canada Line station:

At point 2:

At point 1:

Obviously the city is waiting for redevelopment to resolve these embarrassments.  Here it will happen.  But the ALO Triangle?  Should another industrial zone be scrapped, even if in return we get a transit-oriented, pedestian-friendly, high-amenity neighbourhood?

That leads to one of the more critical planning issues – maybe the most difficult challenge of the upcoming regional plan.  More later.

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The ALO Triangle lies between the Aberdeen and Lansdowne Canada Line stations and the Olympic Oval – the territory to be traversed by many thousands of Olympic visitors.    It’s only a kilometre from Lansdowne to the Olympic Oval – but it’s a dreary kilometre.

Here are a few of the enticing streetscapes along Lansdowne Road:

This is sure to impress the Europeans. 

At least Lansdowne Road has sidewalks on a few blocks (though at Minoru Boulevard it turns into an industrial lane) and has been extended from Gilbert to Hollybridge.    But try walking on Minoru Boulevard and you’ll find that there was never any intent to accommodate you – unless you’re making a trip from your car seat to a storefront, both placed as close together as possible.

It’s all too clear that the only critical urban design that went into the ALO Triangle at the time it was zoned for industrial (the 60s?) was done by the traffic engineers and the road builders.  At that time, sidewalks were a needless expense.   The only serious mode for good movements was truck – and so the roads were designed for them.  They had no foresight of an alternative future, except for one of unlimited automotive travel. 

Fortunately, for the Olympic visitor, there will be a choice.  More Monday.

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At least Guardian writer Steve Rose had said “I told you so” a year ago.  Now he follows up with a story on the worst of Dubai’s excesses, which only seem more grotesque in hindsight – particularly this “60-odd-storey atrocity that was supposed to be the centrepiece of the famous Palm Jumeirah and super-luxurious addition to the Trump brand.” (Do click on the video for the outlandish James Bond music and sheer decadence of the vision.)

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Mike Klassen, the acerbic blogger at, was invited out to Surrey last week to speak at a public meeting on the future of a community known as St. Helen’s Park .  ( He blogged on the subject here, also providing a link to the grassroots community group looking to resist larger ‘megahomes’ – 

Before he went, Mike did a little tour on Google using Streetview to get a sense of the community.  He also created a rather brilliant little slideshow using images from the streets.

Mike lives in a classic streetcar neighbourhood off Fraser Street on the East Side of Vancouver, and is an articulate fan of the kind of intermediate urbanism that so characterized the development of this city before Motordom took over.

St. Helen’s Park, on the other hand, is a classic 50’s subdivision of the kind that pioneered post-war sprawl south of the Fraser.  

As I traveled around SHP the first thing I noted was there are no sidewalks. Most of Surrey’s older residential communities don’t have them. Cars were always present and gas was cheap, after all. Who needed to walk? Fortunately, city planners today are making walking more of a priority.

There were many other things that struck me.

  • Everything was low, low density. One storey homes + basement. Probably few, or no suites;
  • Local shopping was practically non-existent;
  • Homes were set so far back from the street that visibility was a problem, which invites crime;
  • Streets were tidy, but dull. Little effort was made to improve the curb appeal of streets;
  • There are no curbs at all;
  • Apartment buildings on the outer edge of the community were old and tiny in comparison to the lot sizes;
  • Streets were narrow and dangerous for walking – I bet most kids around here either drive or bus to school;
  • There are no parks or public space inside of SHP’s boundaries.

Not a bad summary of the challenges facing these aging suburbs.  But what Mike found out, of course, was that the people who live there, aging in place, rather like it that way.  Sidewalks?  No thanks.

Mike (and the leaders of St. Helen’s Park) might want to pick up the Summer-Fall issue of spacing magazine out of Toronto that consistently wins awards for its coverage of the urban landscape.  This issue is devoted to “The Return of Suburbia” – and while regrettably the stories are not on line, it’s worth finding a copy to read Dylan Reid’s piece on “Suburban Evolution.” 

In it, he discusses the character of the inner suburbs of Toronto which, having lost of the bloom of youth, are confronting distinctly urban issues.  But thanks to the strong planning of past Metro governments, he argues, they are twice as dense as the newer outer suburbs and can build on the fabric of towers and transit to evolve into something more urban.  Unfortunately, this is not going to be sufficient for the later suburbs, often described as the ‘905 Belt.’

“Much of the inner suburbs, and most of the outer suburbs, are made up of  low-density housing subdivisions with indirect, dead-end road patterns deliberately designed to not connect well with neighbouring arterial roads.  They can’t become traditionally urban …”

Fortunately, Dylan has a suggestion:

… a first step is to make subdivisions more walkable.  But the obvious solutuion, to put in sidewalks where they are missing, gets a lot of resistance.  When I’ve talked to people who live on these kinds of streets, they’ve told me they don’t want sidewalks because the street feels shared at the moment, a sheltered space where people can walk, kids can bike, and drivers are aware of them.

Rather than putting in sidewalks, such streets could build on this sentiment by being formalized as “shared streets” … 

The basic steps for creating residential shared streets are simple: narrow the entry points and sign them so that cars know they are in a special zone, and implement a super-slow speed limit (20 kilometres an hour)…  A Canadian twist could be to specifically allow street hockey to be played at all times of the day,

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