Design & Development
January 25, 2008

Good Fellow

Kudos to Anthony Perl and my colleagues at SFU Urban Studies for bringing in James Kunstler (author of “The Long Emergency”) as their first Fellow. That meant he had a week to tour the region, speak to students, staff, politicians and the public in a variety of settings (from the Carnegie to the Vancouver Club in one day).
Those familiar with his writings and blog wouldn’t be surprised to find that what were once fringe opinions, bluntly expressed, are now almost mainstream. The world is moving his way. Some senior developers in this city, after the Vancouver Club presentation, said they found his analysis bleak but not out of line with their own observations.
If you missed Kunstler this week, despair not: you can hear him in full flight at the TED site (Technology, Entertainment, Design) here.

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Every urban-design and architecture critic I read has a highly cultivated cynicism. Christopher Hume, he of the Toronto Star, is always good for an articulate scathing of TO.
But his recent column on the competition results for a new park at the foot of Jarvis Street on the lakeshore is almost optimistic:

Ah, the waterfront, the waterfront. Does one dare believe in what it could be; or does one succumb to the cynicism of the day?
The latter may be tempting, but it’s too easy. Besides, there is reason for optimism, especially when one sees the final-round proposals for the Jarvis St. Slip. Chosen through an invitational design competition, the three schemes are so good, each one should be built. That’s unlikely, of course, but one can always hope.

This is interesting for two reasons: the results of the competition really are rather good. Check ’em out – and remember them for the SFU City Program discussion on the state of Vancouver’s architecture and urban design on February 1. Details here.
Secondly, there’s a video with the story on the Star’s website:

This is, of course, the best way to ‘read’ a visual story – and something newspapers are increasingly adopting for their online versions.
Two questions: why not more competitions in Vancouver for our urban design, and why not more videos in our newspapers?

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January 13, 2008

Interior designer Mitchell Freedland has an interesting observation in this Globe article when he was asked why Vancouver is at the forefront of condo design.

I think it’s the luck of economy and geography. In the fifties and sixties, our downtown was a dense cluster of high-rises and it was natural to go from the rental market to the condo market.
We started to develop the urban-condo concept a lot earlier than any other centre. Cities like Toronto, New York and Chicago have had great high-rise successes, but we were one of these little pioneers. It was a quiet city that kept growing vertically and suddenly everyone was paying attention.

In other words: we owe it all to the West End.
For another perspective on that eternal question – Does more space equal happiness? – check out Charles Montgomery’s take in this issue of Walrus.

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Occasionally someone, after coming across Price Tags, sends me an inquiry, like this one from Marc Aubin in Lowertown Ottawa, a member of a citizens’ group fighting a road-design issue in their neighbourhood. 
Take a read.  Perhaps you have some advice to pass on:

I’m part of a local community group called the King Edward Avenue Task Force…  I read some of your document entitled A Local Politician’s Guide to Urban Transportation with great interest. My understanding is still growing about the convergence of transportation and land-use planning….
My grandfather lived his entire 86-year life within a ten-block radius in downtown Ottawa (shopping, Church, school, home, work, service organizations, everything). I’ve often been very perplexed at why, even 30 years after Jane Jacobs wrote about it, that we still haven’t started going back to a more sane way of building our cities. Why can’t I live like my grandfather did?
I got a chance to see most of Canada’s cities in the past year, and the contrast was heart-wrenching. It really is a tale of two cities. At the heart of every major city lies an old and often decayed victorian paradise with elm trees, walkable neighbourhoods, and wonderful gothic architecture. Then, surrounding every city, like an overweight person’s belly, is the huge expanse of endless and ugly strip malls and suburban sprawl. It’s a shame.
The sections of your document that were of particular interest to me were 1) Congestion is our Friend and 2) Maximum Desirable Capacity. I in fact ran into this very issue in 2001 when I was fighting with consultants undertaking an environmental assessment. They were looking at “renewing” King Edward Avenue in downtown Ottawa after the city was ordered by the Ontario Municipal Board to prioritize the improvement project for the street.

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December 27, 2007

Roger Kemble ends the year with a sardonic missive from Nanaimo on the emerging Olympic Village:

Yup, Vancouver is still singing the same old, same old . . . world class, paradise, the mountains, views. Oh no!

From the sub-prime to the ridiculous. Well, at least we are not Dubai!

When will the hucksters grow up?

The Olympics are coming and for a few days in the winter of 2010 the town will have a ball. In the meantime the local socialites and crony capitalists are hard at work making money off the taxpayer.

Vancouver’s Olympic Village on the South East Shores of False Creek is about to emerge from the old industrial detritus of an illustrious past.

More here.

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Sucher is the author of “City Comforts” – a gem of a book that explains how to design good cities. Essentially, he says, remember the three rules:

Build to the sidewalk (i.e., property line).

Make the building front “permeable” (i.e., no blank walls).

Prohibit parking lots in front of the building.

Here’s an example currently under construction at Denman and Robson:

David also gives good blog. And, since he’s going to expand the Three Rules into a book, he’d like your advice.

I would very much appreciate hearing every possible critique of the ‘Three Rules.’ Click here to download the chapter. Praise it if you like. But I am even more interested in hearing the reasons why I am full of it, why the ‘Three Rules’ is naive, incomplete, simple-minded and overall just plain wrong and/or misleading. Let me have it. Bring it on, in the words of our bumbling leader. Tell me in as much detail as you are able why I should drop this project immediately and not embarrass myself any further by my clueless rantings.

Well, he asked. And he’s at

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November 11, 2007

Architect Richard Henriquez has an idea for a tower in Queen Elizabeth Park.  Little Mountain is the highest point in Vancouver, and once had great panoramic views.  But trees grow, views disappear.  And that’s what happened at Queen Elizabeth Park.
Now there are three choices: (1) Leave the trees, lose the view.  (2) Lose the trees, get the view.  (3) Build something over the trees.
Henriquez came up with the proposal for a tower and drew up an option:

It looks like it could have been designed by an expressionist architect in the 1910s – a vision of tomorrow from yesterday. 
And no doubt there will be strongly held views from those who (a) don’t like the idea of a tower in a public park, particularly one privately financed, and (b) don’t like the architecture.
I like the idea of a tower.  There’s just something about getting to a high place with long views that’s embedded in our genes.   And they’re great places to take visitors to explain the lay of the land.   They give us another perspective on our own place.
Henriquez proposed that there be a both a free lookout lower down, and an elevator ride to the top for a charge.  Combined with function rooms, the tower could cover its costs.
Even better, it could help lever the financing needed to redo the plaza on top of the mountain – and the Bloedel Conservatory, that geodesic- like greenhouse for tropical plants that’s suffering the ravages of time.
We also get another ‘Henriquez.” The architect is one of the best in this part of the world, and he’s already added admired landmarks to the city: the highrise with the tree on top at English Bay for one.  You can see more of his work in Price Tags 74 and Price Tags 76.
Yes, the tower will change a view as it seeks to capture others.  But in a complementary way, I think, adding a vertical note to a horizontal landscape.  Contrast can be good.

And I like this option a lot better than cutting down trees.

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