Architecture
March 22, 2019

Zoning Walls Going Up

 

By the post-election decisions being made by some of the smaller, more affluent municipalities in Metro, the messages seem to be: no more density, no more height, no more affordable housing (and, rarely stated but assumed: the people who might live in it if they come from ‘outside’).

In North Vancouver District, as previously reported in PT:

District of North Vancouver council has spiked another affordable housing project, this time before plans for it were released to the public.

Council voted behind closed doors in January to terminate a proposal from the non-profit Hollyburn Family Services Society for a 100-unit, all-below market rental building on a piece of district-owned land on Burr Place.

In Port Moody:

A proposal to build 45 townhomes on six properties along St. George Street in Port Moody is “far too dense,” with not enough green space, said city councillors who rejected the project at their meeting last Tuesday. …

Mayor Rob Vagramov criticized the proposal for being too dense even though it’s located in Port Moody’s Transit Oriented Development (TOD) zone, which encourages higher density living.

In White Rock:

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In a single day, a chilling winter turns to a summer-like spring.  The seawall is packed; the bikes are out.  We look to the patios and parklets for conviviality and amusement.

These are the scenes captured in the videos of the ‘small places’ team – Brian Gould and Kathleen Corey.  PT has featured much of their work over the years, but here’s another one that’s perfect for the moment:

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It’s open.

Hudson Yards, the self-proclaimed “largest private real-estate development in North America” (maybe the world!), has been on my list of urban must-sees.  How convenient for it to have opened one week before I arrive with the hottest ticket in town: a reservation to climb ‘Vessel’ – the public-art centrepiece.

Whatever you call Heatherwick Studio’s Vessel—the wastebasket, the egg-crate, the Escher-brought-to-life, the basketball net, the Great Doner Kebab—it is the opposite of those examples. Not temporary, not cuddly, not delicate. It looks just like its renderings except possibly more perfect.

I had mentally assigned it an outer cladding of weathering steel; with everything else so smooth and shiny, surely Vessel would have an industrial flavor? But no—Heatherwick Studio leaned into the fractal nature of its design, and the cladding, copper-colored steel, has a mirror finish like Anish Kapoor’s Bean in Chicago’s Millennium Park, welcoming our irresistible impulse to selfie. As we assembled on the plaza below it, the underside of the upper tiers crisply reflected us as ants in bright orange safety vests.

The comment above is from Alexandra Lange, the architecture critic for Curbed.  Unlike the New York Times review of Hudson Yards, which was snarky and dismissive, Lange provides some good insights on the nature of such megaprojects (worth comparing to our own undertakings in the last two decades, as well as in Toronto).  Here are excerpts from here review: At Hudson Yards, the future isn’t now.

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It’s not a park, and, at least for buses, not very royal.  Nor for their riders, waiting in the rain:

 

This is the stop for all West Van buses heading east, north and south.  It’s really a slightly enlarged bus stop serving as a transit exchange, except without sidewalk capacity, real-time signage, adequate seating and overhead protection.  Forget any prospect of a washroom.

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Once again, New York City is taking public art literally one step further in the design of the public art piece “The Vessel” by artist Thomas Heatherwick.

This is the first public art installation at Hudson Yards, the old working dock and shipbuilding site on the west side of Manhattan. By square foot, Hudson Yards is the largest private real estate development in the United States, with 16 planned buildings. Total cost of this megaproject is $25 billion.

The Vessel is fifteen stories high and as Amy Pitt observes in in CurbedNY.com, “The piece is made from 154 interconnected staircases, and is intended to be used by the public—for climbing, running (though probably not too fast), and, most likely, for providing the backdrop for selfies and Instagram photos.”

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In much of the commentary over the West Van B-line, there’s an oft-repeated assumption, articulated by our very own Thomas:

You obviously do not know many folks in NVan or WVan. Many would never take the bus (or a bike for that matter). That is why there is so much opposition to it.

Embedded in that assumption is this: North Shore residents live primarily in large single-family houses, on steep slopes, that were designed (and still are) car-dependent.  So pervasive is that narrative (and the argument that then follows: no need or desire for transit) that it requires a significant and wilful blindess to ignore all this:

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After scrapping an 80-unit rental apartment building, with rents offered 20 per cent below market, along with a seniors’ respite centre, and after rejecting funding for the Community Housing Action Committee. (CHAC), the Council of the District of North Vancouver is now undermining an extensive consultative process for the Delbrook site.

Indeed, it has scheduled a special council workshop with only the community association that was opposed to the project.

It’s a one-item agenda with no report or guidance for the workshop.  It effectively de-legitimizes the extensive public process that involved more than just the immediate neighbours, according to Robin Prest, program director at the SFU centre for Dialogue that facilitated the process.

From the North Shore News:

“The 2015 Delbrook Lands community dialogue put the district on the map as a leader in inclusive, participatory democracy. Any future engagement process that intentionally privileges the loudest voices over the silent majority is not only undemocratic, it risks breaching the trust of those who participated in good faith in the 2015 engagement process, including many residents living immediately adjacent to the Delbrook Lands,” he said.

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Worth bringing forward: Sam Sullivan took the opportunity to comment on the upcoming ‘Tales from the West End’ talk on the People’s Park fight at Coal Harbour in the early 1970s.  (Click on headline for all illustrations and text.)

The 1971 model. Much more on the project by the invaluable John Mackie at The Sun

Sam Sulllivan:

Actually the original proposal (1964) was 15 towers of guaranteed rental for 3,200 residents. Towers from 15 to 30 stories. There would have also been a 13 story hotel near the entrance to the park. Critics didn’t mention the apartment rental and focussed on the smaller so-called ‘luxury’ hotel.

Instead Council spent $30 million in today’s money to turn this into a park. This depleted five years of park aquisition money which would have been used for park deficient east side neighbourhoods instead creating an additional park beside the 100,000 acre Stanley Park.

Gerald Sutton-Brown believed we could convert waterfront industrial land into high density towers to provide quality homes and keep down the price of housing. This would have been years ahead of the rest of the world. TEAM opposed this and fired him. They implemented their vision in South False Creek which had lower densities than a typical single detached house neighbourhood. It would be almost two decades before Coal Harbour, Concord Pacific and City Gate would revive Sutton-Brown’s vision.

TEAM went on to oppose townhouses in single house neighbourhoods(Shannon Mews), tried to end the Vancouver Special by removing the basement exemption, end any approval of residential towers for over a decade and introduce processes that have succeeded in preventing the densification of RS neighbourhoods

When I was in elementary school our teacher took us on a tour of Peoples’ Park and met the protesters. It all seemed quite wonderful. But in light of what has happened to the price of housing since we lost Sutton-Brown, I think of the apt symbolism of what happened to the city vision, looking in our purse for what was on our head.

Bayshore Gardens and Harbour Park today.

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Towers go up, towers come down – like the Landmark on Robson, going, going …

 

On the other side of the peninsula, Vancouver House nears completion.

 

At ground level, it’s already evident that the podium and low-rise infill buildings – their volumes shaped by the Granville bridge ramps – could have a bigger impact on this downtown district than the tower itself.

 

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Don’t want to misquote Mike Harcourt, but he observed not long ago that a lot of the residential growth in the City of Vancouver for some considerable time in the future could be West of Alma.  And primarily on First Nations lands.  Sites like the UEL, the University Golf Course, Jericho.  And then further east, there are the Heather lands, sites along the Fraser, around Burrard Bridge, perhaps much more.

Jericho is the first large-scale site to be considered west of Alma for many decades.  So the planning begins – and not just for the urban design of the site.  Also for the waves of wealth generated.  For the kind of partnerships that evolve.  And how reconciliation is interpreted.

 

 

Saturday, March 2

12 pm – 4 pm

Jericho Hill Pool & Gymnasium | 4180 W 4th Avenue, Vancouver

Ceremonial Welcome (12 pm – 1 pm) – formal welcome by representatives from MST Nations and City of Vancouver.

 

Following the ceremonial welcome, stick around to learn about the process, project background, City policies, proponent aspirations, talk to City staff, and meet the proponent team.

Open House (1 pm – 4 pm)

 

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