Design & Development
August 15, 2019

Trees at High Summer

As we pass high summer into the glory days of fall (the first leaves are changing, perhaps from a bit of drought), it’s time again for an observation I make every year:

Did Vancouver seem as lush and forested on its streets a year ago as it does now?  Same answer, too: Nope.  Things grow fast here (it’s almost a rain forest), and the additional growth from spring is tangible enough to make a difference in perception – especially if seen only intermittently.

Where, for instance, is this – where the trees now branch over a highway-wide corridor?  Only a decade or so ago, they seemed only samplings.*

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City of North Vancouver Councillor Tony Valente has been involved with The Shipyards development for at least ten years as a community member, leader, and now a City Councillor.  I asked Tony to tell the story of his involvement and how The Shipyards Commons came to be.  He begins with referring to the “bloodlessly named” Lot 5 that was his motivation for engaging with local government back in 2009.

I was one of a group of neighbours in Lower Lonsdale (LoLo) who petitioned the City to get moving on the North Van central waterfront following the failure of the National Maritime Project.   The petition was, sadly, promptly filed by City Council following my delegation and presentation.

It wasn’t over, of course. The petition connected me with other neighbours, including the owner of the Cafe for Contemporary Art (Tyler Russell who has continued to spread culture across our province) – where we held our own guerrilla consultation, discussing elements of what could be on Lot 5. That turned into a non-profit society – the North Van Urban Forum – which brought together a diverse group of community members to transparently and openly engage in ideas for developing our public realm.

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The Pride Flag – one of the great graphics of our times.

Its simplicity, those particular colours, its inclusive meaning – no wonder the Pride Flag is so immediately recognizable and embraced by so many peoples for what has become a global summer festival.  Variations will evolve to distinguish the nuances of its subcultures, to be raised more as political statements – but the rainbow Pride Flag is a keeper that keeps on spreading.

Its graphic power especially allows it to escape from the constraints of the flag format.  Think crosswalks.  And as artists and designers have appropriated its colours for more creative presentations, cities around the world have became outdoor galleries of splashy public pride-art.  Sometimes just for association, sometimes for marketing, always for expression.

Here are some fine examples from Tel Aviv when it celebrated Pride for a week this June.  (One gets the sense that the bold use of the colours is also a statement of secularity by its citizens.)

Vancouver is relatively unimaginative in its use of Pride regalia – mostly flags, banners, a bit of paint.  So allow me to make a recommendation:

City of Vancouver, have a contest to decorate these trucks, Pride-style:

I get why you use them as giant metal bollards, to close off streets and prevent a terrorist event as happened in Toronto.  But it makes the events they’re protecting seem like they’re in construction zones.

Commission some transformative ideas.  Give some grants to make them happen. Let the artists and designers demonstrate their cleverness and creativity, using these lumbering canvases, to make them part of our festivals, parades and gatherings – not just a cheap, dumb solution to a policing problem.

Show some Pride.

 

 

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Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of three- (arguably four-) storey frame apartment buildings were constructed in Vancouver after the Second World War.  Here’s a classic at Comox and Bute in the West End.

Though (not arguably) the blandest architectural housing ever built in this city (at least Vancouver Specials had balconies), it supplied quick accommodation to meet the post-war demand for affordable rental apartments in non-car-dependent locations. That’s how we handled housing crises in the past: lots and lots of cheap, plain housing and apartments.

So what happens to that stock when it gets old?  Here’s an example of what that same apartment block looked like last week:

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Number One on Heritage Vancouver’s Top 10 Watch List site for 2019 is Mount Pleasant, one of Vancouver’s original neighbourhoods – an area under threat of losing its valuable heritage qualities.

Intersected by the commercial high streets of Broadway, Main and Kingsway, the old Mount Pleasant village (the “Heritage Heart”) has been the hub of the neighbourhood ever since it first developed in the 1880s. Pedestrian-friendly and human-scale streetscapes are lined with independent stores and restaurants that lend this commercial area of Mount Pleasant a welcoming, interesting and vibrant village atmosphere.

Many of the heritage buildings from the neighbourhood’s streetcar era still exist, alongside others from the early and mid-twentieth century.  They continue to provide affordable housing, artist studios and commercial spaces for a wide variety of community groups and local businesses.

The area is a complete neighbourhood and is clearly distinct from the rest of the city. However, the forthcoming subway, new transit station at Main and Broadway and accompanying development may put this in jeopardy.

 

Sunday, August 18

10:30 am – 12:30 pm

Cost: $10 for Heritage Vancouver members, $15 for non-members.  Tickets here.

Meet at the NE corner of 13th and Quebec Street.

Tour Lead is Christine Hagemoen

 

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The Shipyards has been launched.   It’s just east of Lonsdale at the North Vancouver waterfront – a mixed-use commercial development at the centre of the City of North Vancouver’s Central Waterfront  

The commercial offerings (the restaurants, the boutiques, the Cap U extension) are still to come.  Nearly complete, however, is a great new public space that will serve not just Lower Lonsdale (LoLo) but the whole North Shore.

The Shipyards replaces the bloodlessly named Lot 5 in the plan below.  The green-coloured Commons’ fulfils almost exactly the vision that informed the project from the beginning.  The Commons is a covered year-round public space big enough, at 12,000 square feet, to accommodate major events while still providing a flexible intimacy needed to give sparkle to what mayor Linda Buchanan calls ‘the jewel in the crown.’

The design is by Dialog, among whose principals, Norm Hotson and Joost Bakker, were the architects of Granville Island.  This space is not just what’s on the floor and at first level.  There is also the spectacle of the walls and ceiling: a cathedral-like industrial legacy above, a retractable roof extension over the water park alongside, with galleries surrounding the space to the east and south.  There’s constant animation around, over and above, with people looking down, up and across.  Irresistibly moving around to capture views and Instagrammable moments both front and back.  It’s dynamism in three dimensions.

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For some years now, the City has been approving the replacement of small plazas, originally incorporated into the design of downtown office buildings and open to the public, with infill development.  Now those projects are underway – notably at Hastings and Seymour, and here at Dunsmuir and Homer, which in 2009 looked like this:

The two-storey pavilion and surrounding plaza were part of 401 West Georgia, and were never much used.  Shadowed, windy, and even though windowed, presented a blank, bland facade to the street.  But the empty space at least gave breathing room for the adjacent Holy Rosary Cathedral.

Here’s what that looked like until recently, from the view at Richards and Dunsmuir:

Now that the infill building replacing the pavilion and plaza is almost complete, here’s the view a few weeks ago:

I suspect the architects thought they were being respectful while providing street continuity in this fast-changing part of east Dunsmuir.  But the result is a crowded cathedral and more blank glass walls.  There’s not even a chamfered corner that would have acknowledged the church.

We’ll hold final judgement until the ground-level frontage is complete.  But even though the original plaza will not be missed, the setback and breathing room for the cathedral most certainly will.

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A few more comparisons with the West End.

Here’s a West End minipark:

And one in the White City:

Here’s what it’s like trying to find a parking spot at night in the White City:

It’s way worse than the West End: the closest space from the image above was at least a kilometre away.  In the West End, it’s not as bad if you have a permit sticker – but didn’t see any residents-only parking in TLV.

Rico, in the post below, says that he prefers the West End: ” … to me the difference is not building form but tree cover along the sidewalks.”  And the West End certainly has some of the best street trees in the city:

But even in subtropical Tel Aviv, especially in the northern part of the White City, the streets are heavily treed:

While the White City is not as heavily landscaped and parked as the ‘Garden City’ planner Patrick Geddes intended, it still stacks up well against even as green a city as Vancouver.

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