Another discovery by Scot Bathgate:

In 1986, CIVITAS (in New York City) initiated a study, No More Tall Stories, which makes the case for lower buildings, with the same heights as their neighbors, and elimination of plazas along Upper East Side avenues. Paul Newman narrates the video illustrating the issue. 

And interesting examples of the work of Berkeley’s Environmental Simulation Lab.  What they did before computers.

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August 19, 2011

You might have missed it: the 25th anniversary of SkyTrain.  Four billion dollars invested so far, and a billion passengers served.  The cost of this form of rapid transit may still be debated, but not its level of service: 90 second headways still amaze me, moving over 300,000 people a day in a region only slightly above two million.

Equally amazing: the woman who got the credit at the ceremony:

Grace McCarthy was the Social Credit minister and Deputy Premier in Bill Bennett’s government charged with getting SkyTrain up and running in time for Expo ’86.  With her indefatigable optimism, on full display before the crowd, she had brooked no doubters.  This was to be another manifestation of B.C. as Builder – a political tradition marking progress with state-sponsored infrastructure.

Indeed, it says much about our current times that she now comes across as a bit of Leftist – at least as a promoter of government-directed expenditure, of using borrowed money to build your way out of recession.  “Bill Bennett,” she related, “said it was a terrible time (in the early-80s) to go into more debt – but also the best time to spend money.”  Hence Expo, and SkyTrain.   And as Bennett himself observed, “A small-town Premier from the Okanagan transformed the province’s major urban region with transportation” * – and a collective form at that. 

McCarthy, I think, is fully aware of the moment we’re in.  “The U.S.,” she said, in what I imagine were carefully chosen words, “is suffering from indecision, from not working together.  But we have not lost our positive outlook – and we cannot afford to lose that.  We can do what we did 25 years ago when we showed the world what we were capabile of.  And we can do it again at this pivotal time.”

At that moment, all the TransLink executives, board members and mayors present were likely thinking, Oh Grace, we should take you on the road once again to convince every council, every doubter that now is the time to move forward. 

[In conversation afterwards, there was a lot of optimism that, indeed, the ‘Moving Forward’ initiative – with accompanying gas tax – will be passed at the local level, and, unlike in the past, the Province will quickly pass it.   The Evergreen Line makes it imperative, and the other benefits, particularly South of the Fraser, will bring onside sufficient weighted votes to get it through the Metro Board.]

Finally, I should note that McCarthy made special mention of the B.C. Parkway – the private-sector sponsored pedestrian and cycle paths that run under SkyTrain.  Though it’s still criticized by users for its poor design, McCarthy was right, I think, to honour its achievement.  It really was precedent-setting, and provided a regional vision of alternative transportation that lives on today.

(Thanks to Jason Vanderhill for the photo.)

* See also this piece on the transformation of Richmond by the Canada Line.

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You can get all the details and register here.

Vancouver Special Tour Get your tickets early! Sat. Sept 24th, noon – 5pm, $28 + HST.
The third Vancouver Special House Tour – get inside new Specials including a Joe Wai and a newly renovated Stephanie Robb Special!

Laneway House Tour Buy your tickets now! Sat. Oct 1st, noon – 5pm, $60 + HST. Get inside all new Laneway Houses behind existing homes! Buy tickets >>

Get Out of Town to the Fraser Valley Sun. Oct 16th, 8am – 5pm, $125 + HST. This year we will visit the historic Fraser Valley – read more and  buy tickets >>

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This is where I do my day job:

Third window from the corner, just above the awnings, facing Hastings Street.  Home to the City Program – and the downtown campus of Simon Fraser University. 

This in fact is the old Spencer’s department store before it was transformed into the mixed-use complex of Harbour Centre – which is, as of today, 33 years old.

You can see much more at Miss604’s retrospective, including some great shots from the Top of Vancouver at- where else? – the top.

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SFU history professor Allen Seager discussed the early part of Vancouver’s history yesterday in a lecture chock-full of great anecdotes.  Example: In the  1890s, the CPR proposed a smelter on False Creek.  As Seager said, we could have been Tacoma, where heavy industry shaped the core of the city for a century.  Instead, the railway centralized smelter operations in Trail.

He also had a historic video – After 50 Years – done by the precursor to the National Film Board for Vancouver’s 1936 half-century celebrations.  (Can’t, unfortunately, find it on the internet.)  And yes, it’s unintentionally absurd in the affected style that characterized British-colonial Canada, right down to the accent of the narrator.  Sanitized too: even MayorMcGeer couldn’t be acknowledged since he was an opposition MP at the time.  Seager notes, however, that the Federal Government funded the addition to the post office (now Sinclair Centre) as a consolation prize for McGeer when his party formed the government but he didn’t get a cabinet position.

The documentary captures Vancouver in all its aspirational and optimistic glory (despite the Depression) – a city where the Marine Building and Hotel Vancouver dominate the skyline.  As much as the city has changed, though, it’s remarkable how much is the same.  A shot looking west down Hastings Street isn’t that much different than today, save for the change in the cars, the absence of the streetcars and the density of the crowds.

Coincidentally, Mike Klassen sent along a few historic images today.  Here’s a shot, looking east from Burrard or Hornby, of the now-demolished second Hotel Vancouver at the southwest corner of Georgia and Granville, with the Birks Building behind:


The entrance to Stanley Park, after the Causeway through the park was constructed to the left of the City-Beautiful allee (still there but with fully-grown trees):


And Prospect Point before the Lions Gate Bridge:

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I’ve got a collection of videos I’ve been meaning to post (including the West Van one below).  So let’s have a bloggy film fest. 

Here’s an award winner:

A Journey into Time Immemorial won the American Design Award for flash websites.  It was a production of Simon Fraser’s Museum of Archeology and Ethnology  and the Teaching and Learning Centre  (credit to Ivana Filipovic and Dr. Barbara Winter, Director of the SFU Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology).

[Journey is] based on the story of Xá:ytem Longhouse in Mission BC in the Fraser Valley just east of Vancouver B.C. – SFU worked closely with the staff at Xá:ytem to produce this award winning website.

After creating a detailed storyboard, collecting props, and assembling a green screen studio, actors from Stó:lo Nation were brought in to bring their ancestors to life. The final result is an exciting website with seven panoramas dynamically loading sound, video characters, panorama elements and educational content through a Flash panorama engine custom created for the website. We have completely succeeded in transforming a purely museum content into a virtual ancient environment which gives the visitors endless ways of exploring the content and enjoying the animated scenes from the past.

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Next to the those fast-motion video essays a la Koyaanisqatsi, I really like chronological montages a la the Oscars – a city’s history captured in pictures. And the best one I’ve seen recently is this:

It’s part of the repositioning of Ambleside – West Van’s commercial district.   Hopefully this is an indication of the quality to come – and, thanks to the technology, an example of the quality being achieved in video production these days at a reasonable price.

Thanks to Pamela Goldsmith-Jones.

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