July 11, 2011

BlogPlug: Changing City Updates

Here’s a blog worth putting on your Favourites to check every so often if you want to stay current on a changing Vancouver.

John Atken and Andy Coupland wrote a guide, The Changing City, a few years ago – and then use this blog to add later additions.  Because they’re on top of what’s happening with development proposals at City Hall, they get the scoop on when they go public.

And they add a lot of interesting background.

To wit: July 5 – OnQue

Replacing the Legion’s poppy factory, a more appropriate name might be ‘Finally’. The first proposal for the site was made back in 2004, with a different developer and architect. The developer then, the Holborn Group, switched architects and proposed the current scheme, designed by Gair Williamson, a few years later.

Then the project was put ‘on hold’ while Holborn switched bosses and concentrated on their two major projects …

Rize Alliance stepped in, took over the site and the design and finally started building.

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June 30, 2011

This is how Vancouver hears about where it ranks.  From The Wall Street Journal:

NYC Emerges as ‘Green City’ Leader

In a new survey of the sustainability practices and policies of American and Canadian cities, New York placed third overall behind only Vancouver and top-ranked San Francisco. ..

The survey, sponsored by Siemens Corp. and conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit, weighed 31 factors including carbon dioxide emissions per capita, water consumption, percentage of waste recycled and number of LEED-certified buildings.

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In this piece on Citiwire by Roberta Brandes Gratz, an interesting observation:

Stockholm’s population of 850,000 is expected to increase by 10,000 a year. …  (But) today there are only one-third the number of cars than in the 1960s…  

Congestion pricing since 2007 and highways outside of the center removed considerable traffic. The 25,000 bikers are expected to double by 2030. Bus ridership is supposed to jump considerably as well.

So, here’s another city – like New York, like Melbourne – that has fully recognized we are now in an age of declining car use, particularly in the central city.  And that means there’s room for other options.

In Stockholm’s case it is resulting in the redesign of the Slussen, following a competition mentioned here in a previous PT. 

When it was built, Le Corbusier loved it.

“He congratulated the city for being so brave to be modern and to take care of the needs of the car,” Schroeder says. Traffic now dominates the area. “It is all pavement,” Schroeder adds. “There is no public space and underneath, where the bus station is, it is dark and unsafe.”

Good-bye to all that.


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Michael Geller is in Spain:

I do not think I have ever seen any modern building complex that is quite as fantastic as the futuristic complex of the City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia. It comprises five astonishing buildings…four by Santiago Calatrava and one by Felix Candela.

I’m amazed too, having never seen or remember hearing of this complex.   Lots more pics here.  It’s also worth checking out Valencia on Google Earth, to see the greenway that flows through the city on a once-flooded riverbed, and, as Geller notes, the way the agricultural lands come into the heart of the city.

…. if one measures ‘greeness’ by the amount of park space and plantings, Vancouver has a long way to go to catch up to Valencia. A former river that was re-routed following a devastating flood is now a major ‘green spine’ running through the city. There are also extensive plantings along the road, and the city has somehow managed to protect agricultural lands and wetlands adjacent to the city centre.

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Scot Bathgate: “It’s amazing how most of the biggest moves in Urban Design come from simply changing the city bylaws.”

 From The Australian:

Since July 2008, when the council approved the Small Bars and Restaurants Bill, which was then incorporated into the NSW Liquor Act, nearly 40 small bars have opened up in Sydney CBD laneways.

“The change in laws has been great,” says Martin O’Sullivan, co-owner of the Grasshopper bar in Temperance Lane. …

“Not everyone wants to go to a bar and have sport televised in the background. They want something more intimate. Sydney people have been starved of diversity in the bar scene since the city was created. Now they have a choice. We have brought life back into the city.”  …

The new laws have a positive flow-on effect to commercial property with landlords being able to rent previously unwanted space.  “It will definitely increase the value of commercial buildings with more tenants moving in and landlords will benefit,” Colliers International senior executive of retail Alex Berentsen says.

“Rates for laneway space also vary from $500 per square metre to more than $1000 per square metre depending on proximity to main thoroughfares and access to other amenities. It definitely makes your building more attractive.” …

Melbourne has had spectacular success with introducing bars, restaurants and cafes in its 177 laneways. Accessible and active laneways in the city centre were increased from 300m in 1994 to 3.43km by 2004 according to City of Melbourne 2008 statistics.  There are now 138 bars, restaurants and cafes situated in the laneways, a far cry from back in 1997 where there was only 57.

More than 1100 people are employed in the small businesses.


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An interesting observation by Ron to one of the shots in Shanghai Images 1:

The street below the elevated freeway looks clean, green, pleasant and devoid of traffic (carried on the freeway).

It’s true: the undersides of Shanghai’s freeways are their best parts.

The overhead ramps and pillars are pleasantly painted, grafitti clean, well lit and often intensively planted:

(We’ll show you where they grew the trees in an upcoming Images.)

The elevated freeways leading into the centre of Shanghai were built in the 1990s down some of the wider rights-of-way – Avenue Edward VII (now Lan’an) in particular – that the Europeans so grandly laid out.  Now the ramps and flyovers make a different kind of sculptural statement.

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Tom Durning sends along another bit of detritus from the Interwebs – in this case the work of RAMÓN CORONADO:

Mercado Negro is a Spanish word for Black Market. This 12 week project deals with reclaiming an ordinary, everyday object and transforming it into something with a completely different purpose. It also comments on the shortage of parks and recreational functions in Los Angeles.

I took it upon myself to take a shopping cart and make a statement with it. I reclaimed LA’s iconic shopping cart and created furniture for kids to enjoy in these urban Los Angeles areas. The project is a criticism of the scarcity of recreational functions for kids growing up in a dense city like Los Angeles.



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Just out from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives:   

This study lays out a plan for a 30-year initiative that would transform the ways in which people and goods move across our province. This in turn will create complete communities with affordable housing choices, more and better jobs, and a better quality of life for all British Columbians.

Not only is the report both local and global (it makes the link between climate change and what we can do specifically in this province) but it also addresses aspects not usually covered – particularly what rural communities and small towns can do – and what this means for those most vulnerable.

And there are lots of great illustrations.  Like this one showing how Kingsway could be transformed:

Disclosure – I was one of the ‘authors’ in that I was happy to participate in the overview and critique.  But most of the credit should go to Marc Lee and the crew at CCPA.  More here.  And if another pdf file is not what you want to you’re looking for today, try this – a really well-down video that captures the essence of the report.


And while we’re at transportation transformation in Metro (and really good videos), here’s another:


The first two buildings that pop up in the animated renderings are the gorgeous new Bing Thom designed central library opening this fall and the proposed City Hall – Surrey’s essential commitment to the transformation of Whalley (or Surrey City Centre, as it’s being branded) into a true Metro downtown.

Paul Hillsdon comments here.

Not to leave the City of Vancouver out of it, there’s a new draft plan just out for the Cambie Corridor – which is, as Patrick Condon characterizes:

… a corridor plan that is worth sharing. It speaks to the densification of a former streetcar/now subway corridor in Vancouver. It’s the first explicitly urban design plan for a location outside the downtown and the first plan of any kind for a long urban corridor (rather than for a neighbourhood ).

More here.

UPDATE: An extensive interview with Planning Director Brent Toderian on the Cambie Corridor planning process, by Erick Villagomez in re:place.

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New Heights in Architectural Excellence

Can taller buildings set new standards in beauty and sustainability in Vancouver? Learn more about this discussion and hear experts weigh in on the topic.

The City of Vancouver is hosting a free public lecture event featuring world-renowned architects Jack Diamond (Toronto) and Rick Cook (New York City) on Tuesday, April 19 from 7:30 to 9:30 pm at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver, 900 Georgia St., Pacific Ballroom.


The panel, which provides recommendations to City Council on creating buildings that achieve the highest sustainability and architectural standards, will review a proposed highrise development at 1290 Burrard St. at a special session on Wednesday, April 20 from 9 to 11 am at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver, 900 Georgia St., Vancouver Island Ballroom.

For more information email: .

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Scot Erdman writes:

Thanks for hosting a really interesting discussion last Thursday on the Viaducts!  I really enjoyed the exchange of ideas, hearing the different options and opportunities, and the Q&A period at the end as well. 

You mentioned that anyone who was planning on writing a blog piece on the topic should email you their links so that it can be shared.  Here’s a blog article I’ve co-authored with two other Vancouver Public Space Network volunteers, Canisius Chan and Jesse Tarbotton, on the topic:

I’d love to read other pieces written up by local bloggers from Thursday’s Forum.  Is there a page you have that has links to everyone’s Viaduct blog articles?

Yes, Scot, there is – and here it is.  I’ll add other links as they come in, and continually update this post.

Stephen Rees, of course, has published the most comprehensive description of the evening.  His conclusion:

I do not think that the viaducts are worth preserving …  But let us see that the proposed design competition produces. I am not an urban designer. But I do know now as a certainty that the area will be better without these concrete viaducts, and there is very little to be said for retaining even small parts of them. Dammit they are ugly!

Here’s a post from Tim Barton:

… what happens to all the traffic that currently uses the viaducts? Does everything come to a grinding halt if they are removed? The consensus was – no. And to be fair, all the evidence now supports this, including the little experiment the City did in February last year when a small sporting event shut down the viaducts and a few other streets! There is now a fair body of evidence from all over the world which supports the notion of  ’disappearing traffic’

Full post here.

Voony hasn’t weighed in on the Viaduct Forum yet – but he did post on the Cheongyecheon Restoration Project, which obviously had a big impact on City Engineer Peter Judd who began the evening with the CRP as an instructive lesson on the limits of traffic modelling.

Says Voony in an email:

In the forum, we mostly heard ‘removal’ of structure and other ‘negative’ words …  No need to convince me, like  the forum audience, that there will be little adverse congestion effect – but we need to agree of what will be the positive outcome of it.

The panel didn’t answer my question, but from the audience feedback, I got my answer, from the nicely named Hogan’s Alley Planning Initiative touted by Ned Jacobs to the Hong Kong bay ‘vision’ touted by Larry Beasley…

Clearly a world of possibilities … but no agreement whatsoever.  And when there is no agreement, there is no action…long life to the Viaducts !

Paul Hillsdon also sent along a link to a previous post back in 2009 (he was one of the first to suggest tearing down the Viaducts).  Good illustrations too.  And Bev Davies contributes some background.

Ron Richings, who doesn’t blog but should, writes in an email:

One of the interesting things about this … is that much of the ‘problem’ that we now want to fix results from an earlier generation’s ‘Grand Vision’ (which often happened to include freeways).  And at the time those designing the new, enlightened approach to urban living were likely every bit as confident of their ‘rightness’ as we are today.

 Perhaps some of the problem arises from the very notion of ‘Grand Visions’ themselves, which often involve ignoring and displacing existing neighbourhoods and the people who live in them.  To paraphrase, when they are good they are very, very good, but when they are bad they are horrid.

It’s fairly rare to get regular media coverage of City Program lectures, but we had reporters from The Courier and The Tyee, which also linked to a video by Kurt Heinrich which describes the city’s current study of viaduct removal, and how some community groups have reacted to the idea.

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