Design & Development
May 17, 2010

Change at City Hall

The non-political ones, that is.  And certainly the biggest change is the Canada Line.  City Hall is now five minutes or less from downtown, and its front entrance has shifted from south on 12th Avenue to north on 11th.   Along with the reconstruction of Cambie Street, the City has built a new and welcoming entrance across from the station.

Crossing the north lawn, two changes: angled benches now line the walkway.  And though they face north and have no view, they’re still heavily patronized on warm days.

The second change: a community garden.  Ridiculed by those who would patronize City Hall’s commitment to a green agenda (chickens, anyone?), the garden is an indicator of a more profound change in the way we use public space.  Agriculture is returning to the city.  Urban people have historically fed themselves with local produce, and only in the last generation or two has that tradition somehow seemed exceptional.  No longer.

The best addition to the Hall itself is a contribution of the City Archives – historic photos from their collection, capturing the attention of those waiting for the historic elevators.

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Join me on May 18th for a panel discussion on how to respond to West Vancouver’s changing housing needs and an exploration of new housing types…

“Housing That Fits Us and Fits In” – A free public forum on Housing

Tuesday, May 18th – 7:00 to 9:00pm at the Kay Meek Centre, 1700 Mathers Avenue, West Vancouver

 (Doors Open at 6:00pm with information displays in the foyer) 

 The event will be moderated by Gordon Price.  Speakers include: Mayor Pamela Goldsmith-Jones, Michael Geller, Noha Sedky, Robert Brown, and Adine Mees (see attached poster for details)

 For more information about the District of West Vancouver’s Housing Pilot Program, please go to or contact the Planning Department at 604.925.7055


May 23, 2010 10:00 am
$10pp – cash only please
Meet at Celebration Hall and Courtyard – 5445 Fraser St/39th
Come Meet the Masons – the Masonic Section: tour by John Atkin

The two and a half acre Masonic section of Mountain View Cemetery was set aside for the use of the Masons in Vancouver in 1902 and was administered and maintained by them until the early 1960s. The Masonic Section features some of the more elaborate monuments in the cemetery and many well known Vancouver names including Ladner, Bell Irving, Horne, Blackmore, Bowser and others.

Remember Me As You Pass By – Tour of the 1919 Addition: tour by Lorraine Irving

“We will visit the graves of Joe Fortes and Janet Smith who both died in the 1920s. Janet Smith’s murder has never been officially solved and two books have been written about her death. When Joe Fortes died he was described as the guardian of children at English Bay. We will also visit the first Sons of Italy monument, Firemen’s Benefit Association monument, accidental deaths and another murder.”

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For those who like architecture and history, one  of the best places to visit in Vancouver is Mountain View Cemetary.

Mountain View is literally a depository of Vancouver’s history – one that is breaking down the psychological barriers as it becomes a more welcoming place for both the neighbourhoods that surround it and for the city. 

Reflecting that is the new Celebration Hall (the name says it all).  It’s a fine example of a certain style of Vancouver modernism.  Lots of concrete, of course, that creates a place for reflection and, yes, celebration.

Even more appealing as an example of landscaping and architecture is the new columbaria:

As it happens, there’s an event coming up on April 24, 10:30 am to 4:30 pm, for those interested in matters related to dying and death. 

Regardless of your interests, the cemetary is one of the great green spaces of the lower mainland.   And one of the most memorable.

Thanks to Robin Naiman.

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Miro Cernetig writes in today’s Sun about a rapidly changing Vancouver to come.   

They’re working on multi-billion-dollar plans to fundamentally remake the city, a development boom that will unfold over the next few years and rival what happened after Expo 86. The skyline will never be the same.

Really?  What surprises me about Vancouver, given its youth, is how much it stays the same. 

Here are some shots, all taken in the 1960s (that’s half a century ago, kids), of Vancouver street scenes:

300-block West Pender

 800-block Granville

900-block Granville

900-block Granville

2000-block West 41st

Correct me if I’m wrong, but except for the signage and the cars, not much has changed.  I’d guess that almost every building in these shots is still there.  Certainly, the overall look hasn’t changed that much – something that arguably might be true for the majority of the streets in the city.

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February 15, 2010

Diane Switzer, the Executive Director of the Vancouver Heritage Foundation, sends along a much better pic of “The Wall” – the new site for art that comments on our built environment, located on the west side of the new CBC Plaza.

Eric Deis is the artist of Last Chance, and here’s his statement:

In Eric Deis’ architecturally-scaled photograph, a house is framed by a large cedar tree on one side and condominium sales office on the other. In the background, the presence of a residential tower suggests  a similar fate for the little house at 1062 Richards Street. The photograph was taken just months before the owner ended her resolute stand off and sold her home of 45 years to make way for advancing development.

Echoing the current rapid migration of construction sites from one street to the next throughout Vancouver’s downtown core, Deis has transplanted Last Chance to the 700 block of Hamilton Street.

Using a printing medium commonly associated with full colour advertising and real estate marketing, Last Chance asserts a distinctly quiet, black and white presence. Its scale suggests a distant view, yet focuses upon a recent past.

Compressing into one image the last house, the last tree, and the last chance for preconstruction pricing, Deis’ photograph captures a somber and familiar moment of transition in Vancouver’s  built environment

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September 23, 2009

James Johnstone is a house whisperer.  Or perhaps that should be a house listener.  In any event, he researches the history of old Vancouver homes in extraordinary detail, revealing not only the circumstances of a particular dwelling but also the context – the historyof the times – in which it was built and occupied.

Of course he has a blog.

And now he’s giving tours.

He has been doing walking tours of the East End for about a month now – the first one a fundraiser for the Heritage Vancouver Society.  His next tour is this Saturday (Sep 26), departing from the Heatley Block at the southwest corner of East Hastings and Heatley Avenue at 2 pm. 

More info here.

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Continuing on the tour, walking east on Nelson into Downtown South.  Almost all the blocks have filled in now, and it all happened in less than two decades.   A few glimpses of the past remain.


Astonishing that the Penthouse survives, with its storied history and painted sign, as dated as top hats and white gloves.

Across the street, something slightly different from the usual Downtown South podium of townhouses and stoops.

Level offers what looks to be commercial space above the storefronts.  And another sign of the times: furnished rental apartments, perhaps a temporary use until the condo market revives but also a helpful part of the mix in what is really Vancouver’s new West End – a neighbourhood that accommodates people in transition.  Newly arrived, newly divorced, just passing through or waiting for circumstances to change.  We’ve all been there at one time another.

What helps make such a hard-edged district a littler softer are the street trees, some of which are now the oldest things on the block.  And the landscaping that creates corridors of green for  pedestrians: columns of trees on both sides, with a canopy above, and a rich carpeting of textured plants below.

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September 11, 2009

NOTE: I took the image above on March 30 this year, from the riverfront walkway in Jersey City immediately across Downtown Manhattan.  It is one of two memorials to 9/11 that I saw, including this one on the left.  There are still no memorials on the Manhattan side, waiting, I suppose, for the reconstruction of the World Trade Center.

The next issue of Price Tags, the third in the New York series, will be about the urban design of the Jersey City shore, also affected by post-9/11 developments.

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August 6, 2009

“Statesmen of World War I lamented afterward that if only the negotiations in the days before the first mobilizations had not been conducted by telegraph, the war might have been avoided.

“The problem, they said, was that none of the kings or foreign ministers of Europe had accustomed themselves to the speed of information, to the quantity of it that became available when telegraphs replaced letters.  And in their confusion, they felt they had to act and decide at the (then-blistering) speed of a telegraph machine. It destroyed their judgment.”

– Joshua Cooper Ramo, The Age of the Unthinkable

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