History & Heritage
January 23, 2020

Outpouring of Support for City of Vancouver Proclamation for Mount Pleasant’s Davis Family

This week I wrote about the City of Vancouver turning down recognition of the Davis Family who transformed the 100 block of West Tenth Avenue, and who worked tirelessly to bring in the Mount Pleasant zoning that supported maintaining the area’s Edwardian and Victorian houses. Way before the City of Vancouver launched laneway houses, the Davis Family was already making rental units available in the houses they saved from demolition, and oh yes, they built a few laneway houses too.

Every time I think of the Davis Family and their three generations that have promoted neighbourliness and community building I come up with a new initiative they pioneered. One was eliminating the harsh “crotch dropping” of mature street trees to allow for the unfettered access to hydro lines in the trees. The Davis family refused to allow BC Hydro to butcher their street trees, taking the keys to the offending  tree cutting vehicles and not giving them back. The compromise  was taken forward to  City of Vancouver council,  and that was raising the hydro lines in mature trees so that the trees were not brutally altered. That is now civic policy  for mature tree canopies.

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I have written before about  the Davis Family and their remarkable work on the 100 block of West Tenth Avenue. You know the block~instead of indulging in cash-cropping existing Edwardian and Victorian houses into three storey walkups during the 1970’s and 1980’s this extraordinary family restored them. At that time renovating very old houses and using them for  rental accommodation was not the thing to do.

But the Davis Family led by John Senior (who passed away in the 1980’s)  and his wife Nita (Pat)  with sons John and Geoff persevered, and over five decades the extraordinary streetscape of the 100 block of West Tenth emerged.

Pat Davis passed away last summer and it seemed like the right thing to do to ask the City of Vancouver to do a proclamation in February of 2020 to have a day during “Heritage Week” designated as “Davis Family Day”.  There were several reasons for my request~not only did the Davis Family renovate this block and provide rental housing, they stewarded it, and it made sense to get their community building and volunteerism in the civic record for future generations. They were also instrumental in the development of the zoning for this entire area of Mount Pleasant.

The Davis family maintained the street and helped their neighbourhood. Pat or her son John would be out sweeping the sidewalk and picking garbage off the road in the early morning. There was a bicycle with a basketful of flowers next to a city tree, and two adirondack chairs if someone wanted to sit next to the grassed boulevard. They welcomed neighbours and community.

The Davis Family were involved in all of Mount Pleasant’s planning processes in the 1980’s and 1990’s. The RT-6 zoning in the area was a result of their own work, where existing Victorian houses could be renovated into several units with a coach house in the back.  Laneway houses were also originally a Davis Family innovation.

It seemed a slam dunk for the City to recognize the extraordinary contribution of this family to conserving Mount Pleasant’s history and contributing so greatly to community neighbourliness.  I thought a proclamation to have the Davis Family stewardship in the civic record would be a good thing. But I was wrong.

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A big shout-out to author Jesse Donaldson:

“Land of Destiny: A History of Vancouver Real Estate” is a fun, fascinating book … that more than delivers on its title. His publisher Anvil Press will host a Vancouver launch Dec. 19 at 6 p.m at Resurrection Spirits, free to the public.

Here’s an excerpt from The Tyee: 

Larry Cudney hated architects. In fact, he hated the entire architectural profession. For a time, years earlier, while still a young intern with a local firm, he had harboured dreams of becoming one himself, until a falling-out with the company prevented him from obtaining the certification he needed. …

Working as a draftsman from his cramped office on Main Street and 33rd Avenue, he designed single-family homes (the only buildings a draftsman could legally design), and his work was known for being simple and practical …

… sometime in the mid/late-1960s, Cudney sat down and drafted the plans that would become his legacy. It came to be known as the “Vancouver Special,” and for the next 20 years, it would be the most widely-discussed — and hated — type of housing in town. …

“Those brash new houses with slightly pitched roofs and aluminum balconies (known in the trade as Vancouver Specials), which are now squeezed into lots where once a single house stood in a magnificent garden are here not just to stay, but to increase,” complained the Sun, in 1978.  …Between 1965 and 1985, an estimated 10,000 Vancouver Specials were built, and by 1980, according to a Young Canada Works survey, eleven per cent of Hastings-Sunrise, and five per cent of Marpole were made up of Vancouver Specials. And as more and more were built, the backlash only grew. …

“Right now, to buy a house in the city’s east side, you have to have $20,000 in assets and a $20,000 income,” wrote the Sun’s Mary McAlpine in 1978. “Most young people with children don’t have that sort of money. The people who do are developers who tear down the house and put up Vancouver Specials …

But in the years that followed, attitudes — including city council, and the Sun’s McMartin — began to change. For many lower-income and immigrant families, council later recognized, the Vancouver Special was their only chance for home ownership. In 1987, City Councillor Gordon Price even praised the architectural style as “a tradition of our cultural diversity,” and “worthy of heritage preservation.* …

In 2005, a renovated Vancouver Special was awarded the Lieutenant-Governor’s Award for Innovation in Architecture. …

Privately, Larry Cudney was said to have been proud of the disgust his brainchild had engendered. “Creating a completely tasteless form of housing,” stepdaughter Elizabeth Murphy later opined, “was his revenge on the architect profession with which he was in conflict.”

 

*It’s true!  I remember saying that.  Still do.  But with respect to heritage preservation, I meant only that we should designate an intact original and perhaps try to save a complete block like the one above.  Let the rest evolve or eventually be replaced by higher density ‘missing-middle’ alternatives.  

Vancouver has always been in need of some kind of Vancouver Special.  The two-storey carpenter-built single-family houses along streetcar lines in the 1890s and 1900s were the originals.  Even West End one-bedroom apartments in West End highrises in the 1960s were a form of simple, affordable, mass-produced housing.  So in a different way was the illegal basement suite.  Now it’s the modular house for the otherwise homeless.  But with the high land costs, design controls, heritage preservation, and inflexible zoning, we aren’t likely to see another version anytime soon.

 

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When we think of our city as a whole, it is important that it sustains a strong sense of identity for the diversity of people who live here.

The recent City of Vancouver Arts and Culture Plan proposes actions for the incorporation of new approaches to both intangible and tangible heritage. For the purposes of ongoing cultural vitality, redress and equity, it also proposes integration of intangible heritage into the City’s existing heritage program which up to now has mainly focused on the preservation of buildings.

Our final talk for 2019 will look at the opportunity for how a new City-wide plan might carve out a larger role for heritage and integrate current heritage thinking into a wide range of the City’s social aims.

 

Michael Gordon – Former Senior Downtown Planner, City of Vancouver, Vancouver Heritage Commissioner

A year ago, City Council appointed Michael to the Vancouver Heritage Commission. Until 2018, he was Senior Downtown Planner for the City of Vancouver primarily focused on planning in the downtown peninsula and the West End.

 

Elijah Sabadlan – Heritage Consultant & Conservation Specialist

Elijah views heritage architecture as palimpsest in the continuing evolution of urban environments. As a Heritage Consultant with Donald Luxton & Associates, he provides heritage design and technical advice to the project team, from planning to construction.

 

Carmel Tanaka – Founder, Cross Cultural Strathcona Walking Tour

Carmel Tanaka was born to an Israeli mother and a Japanese Canadian father.  Carmel’s pro-diversity stance and open door policy stem from valuing both sides of her heritage, which she describes as “Jewpanese”. This base provides Carmel with the ability to sensitively manage and effectively mediate challenging projects involving multi-generational intersectional groups with mixed political, religious and social opinions.

 

Kamala Todd – Indigenous Arts and Culture Planner, City of Vancouver

Kamala Todd is a Metis-Cree mother, community planner, filmmaker, curator, and educator born and raised in the beautiful lands of the hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ and Skwxwú7mesh-speaking people, aka Vancouver.  She is the author of “This Many-storied Land”, in In This Together: Fifteen Stories of Truth and Reconciliation (2016),  and Truth-Telling: Indigenous perspectives on working with Municipal Governments (2017) for Vancouver Park Board.

 

 

Thursday, November 28

7-9 pm

SFU Goldcorp Centre for the Arts (SFU Woodwards): 149 West Hastings Street

Free, donations appreciated.  Reservations here.

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From the CBC:

“I really think this is a real gift to the city,” said Stewart. “Everything we can do to make this project be successful is at the top of my list.”

 

Be careful.  If Senakw, the Squamish Burrard Bridge project, is a gift to the city, other proponents will come bearing gifts for similar considerations.

From Expo 86 to the 2010 Olympics, the City has seen almost a dozen megaprojects appear on the skyline – developer-driven, comprehensively designed and built, beginning with Concord Pacific in the late eighties.  All through the nineties, megaprojects sprouted – from Coal Harbour to Collingwood Village to Fraser Lands.

They all had to meet standards for complete communities, based originally on what we had learned when the City created the South Shore of False Creek, followed by Granville Island.  If a developer came to the City with a megaproject proposal, they came with a plan that met the council-approved megaproject standards.

The City extracted huge wealth from the value it created through those zoning approvals.  Lots of parkland and seawall extensions, in addition to the basic infrastructure – pipes, cables and roads.  As well: social amenities and necessities – schools, community centres, child care as a priority; housing percents for families with children, for social equity. There were design standards: for cycling, for sustainability, for the arts.  And more.  That’s what we meant by ‘complete communities’ – and you can go walk around in the results.

Developers paid for all this through direct provision of the benefits, like a child-care centre, or through ‘contributions’ – those CACs you hear about without quite understanding how they work.

In the case of Senakw, it could be the other way around.

Ginger Gosnell-Myers (Vancouver’s first aboriginal relations manager) said Senakw will give future Vancouverites the chance to live in the city and it’s up to the city to respond to concerns about infrastructure and capacity.

Stewart say he is up to the challenge, including working with the park board, the school board and the province to ensure community services are available when the neighbourhood’s new residents arrive.

At 10- to 12,000 residents, there is no way Senakw could meet some of the established standards.  Concord Pacific had to provide 2.75 acres of park for every thousand residents.  Senakw would need more than twice the area of its entire 11-acre site.  While it’s not yet clear what Senakw will  provide, it isn’t obligated.  Nor is it yet clear (or even negotiated), but the City looks like it’s committing itself to providing significant amenities and necessities – accepting density and paying for impacts.

So if the development itself – the thousands of market rental apartments – is the gift, then why would the City not be open to receiving more gifts from other developers.  Yes, Senakw is unique given its status as a reserve, so developers wouldn’t expect the same deal.  They’d just expect the amenity bar to be lowered.

How the relationship develops and negotiations occur is what reconciliation is seriously about – a relationship based on mutual interests levered for maximum value. One of the values of the City is the building of complete communities.  Squamish would point to their own history for examples.  It shouldn’t be hard to come to a consensus.

Squamish has an interest in a successful development in every respect.  The city has to demonstrate respect.  Together, they’re negotiating our collective interests.

This is the reality of reconciliation.  It’s not about gifts, or reparations.  It’s about building the latest version of a complete community, together.

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Steve Nicholls, former Director of Planning for the District of West Vancouver, will speak on municipal planning and the development of West Vancouver when he served as Senior Planner and as Director of Planning, Lands and Permits from 1979 to 2009.

During this time, West Vancouver pioneered in forging advanced policies in community planning, area planning and density transfer, green belt and creek preservation, and waterfront and parks acquisition,

A look at West Vancouver as it was, as it is, and as it can be, from a planning perspective.

Wednesday, November 20

7:30 pm

Marine Room, West Vancouver Seniors Activity Centre.

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Competing meanings have been attached to heritage.  Some feel heritage has broadened too far while others feel strongly that heritage needs to continually re-examine its concepts. This comes at a time when there is increasing questioning of the usefulness of heritage due to its traditional focus on preservation. In this third installment of Shaping Vancouver, we will examine the disruption taking place in heritage and the challenges it faces in remaining relevant.

 

• There is a growing interest in heritage as a living system of relationships between people and place;

• There is an understood need for greater attention to cultural diversity and how different cultural groups value heritage (e.g. First Nations, women, LGBTQ);

• Classical heritage concepts around building preservation alone do not address contemporary societal needs and issues; resolution of these needs requires broader and more interdisciplinary approaches

Locally, the heritage field in general is just starting to consider these broader ideas.

 

These panelists to share their insights about their local places:

Angie Bain– Researcher with the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, Director with Heritage BC

Paul Gravett– Executive Director, Heritage BC

Aneesha Grewal- Vice-Chair Punjabi Market Regeneration Collective

Robert Lemon– Architect, Former Senior Heritage Planner for the City of Vancouver

 

Tuesday, November 5

7-9 PM

Free, donations appreciated

SFU Goldcorp Centre for the Arts (SFU Woodwards): 149 West Hastings Street

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You won’t likely find “The Grand Bargain” in a planning text, even though it explains in a phrase the de facto understanding that has shaped many of the places where Canadians live.

The bargain looks like this:

This is North York* between the Sheppard and Finch subway stations – a one-block-deep corridor of high-density mixed-use development on either side of Yonge Street.

Go another block further and there is a cliff-face drop in scale, where single-family suburbia begins under a canopy of street trees.

Post-war Toronto and its suburban cities decided to accommodate density (those concrete towers especially) where there was primarily commercial and industrial zoning.  With the opening of the Yonge Street subway in 1954, the station areas made ideal locations, especially where there was already a streetcar village.

To deal with community blowback at the sudden change in scale and alienating architecture, especially if the bulldozing of existing residential neighbourhoods might be required, planners and councils struck a compact: we won’t touch a blade of grass in your single-family zones.  Your status will be maintained.

Hence the Grand Bargain: high-rise density, low-scale suburbia, little in between.  Massive change for one, almost none for the other, and spot rezonings thereafter.

On the other side of the country, something similar was going in Burnaby.  In the fifties, the Lower Mainland Regional Planning Board produced a vision – ‘cities in a sea of green‘ – and provided the guidelines to go with it, notably where to consider apartment zoning.  David Pereira details the evolution of Burnaby’s commitment to the regional vision and its apartment zones, renamed town centres, in the 1960s.

That bargain when built out looks like this:

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Sun columnist Alan Fotheringham characterized Vancouver in the 1960s as a “Village on the Edge of the Rain Forest” – and apparently one of the house photographers was a character named Vlad.

Durning came across his Facebook page, where he’s been posting his work from, yup, a half century ago, when the main street of Vancouver looked like this:

I’ll leave it to John Atkin to nail the exact date, but you can see this was taken, about 1970, when Pacific Centre was under construction, Royal Centre hadn’t even started, and Georgia just west of Burrard still had one-storey storefronts.

So what’s going on?

SPEC, the Society Promoting Environmental Conservation, had been formed in 1969, and they’re having a protest march through downtown on the way to Stanley Park:

So much has changed.  Except the issue that SPEC was demonstrating about.

Lots more great captures from that time on Vlad’s site here – Seize the Time – where there’s not much about him, even his last time.  Just his photos.

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