Design & Development
January 12, 2011

The Past from Above

Now this is fascinating:

This is the Las Vegas Strip seen from ab0ve – the same view a half century apart – 1950 on the left, 2006 on the right.   The yellow line is the 1-15 Interstate in the location where  it would eventually be built.  The Bellagio fountain is the big green blob just right of centre.

You can watch the progress of development, if that’s what you care to call it, over ten different years by clicking on a year in the  respective date boxes (after choosing “Slide” in the “Compare” drop-down box).

All these wonderful geo-referenced air photos have been compiled on Historic Aerials, with an interface map that is almost as convenient to use as Google Maps.  (Amazing not only what’s available to us with a few clicks but how demanding our expectations are for convenience of use.)  The dark green indicates where data are available (U.S. only, regrettably).  But you can also search by address.

Best of all, you can compare the different stages and ages with a divided screen that allows you to move the map back and forth to compare in detail exactly the same aerial view over time.   Endless amusement!

And some serious lessons in urban geography too.  Here’s a comparison of Southwest Washington (that’s the Capitol in the upper right.):

This quadrant of DC went through massive urban renewal, along with the construction a freeway that crosses at an angle mid-way through the right-hand aerial.  The intimate block pattern on the left was destroyed, of course, to create the superblocks that were all the fashion.  Access to the Potomac waterfront was drastically reduced by high-speed arterials.  While never completely declining (it continued to offer affordable middle-income housing), Southwest is just now recovering from these unhappy interventions (Bing Thom’s Arena Stage is just one of the more recent successes). 

So go and discover.  And if you find some interesting images and comparison, pass them along in the Comments.

Thanks to Gladys We.

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December 17, 2010

The Vancouver Heritage Foundation has come up with a traditional gift – a calendar – that at first glance looks like it’s been done in the traditional way: ‘before’ scenes of Vancouver juxtaposed with what the same place looks like now.  But they’ve done something much more clever.   They’ve chosen to illustrate changes (and similarities) in our way of life – our pastimes in our past times.  For instance, how Vancouverites exercise,  in this marvellous pairing from August:

But if there’s one month that shows how our culture has changed even as it maintains its traditions, then it has to be these comparative images from January:

The first image is taken on New Years Day in 1930.  That’s old English Bay pier in the background, long demolished, with the Englesea Lodge behind – an apartment building that came down in the mid-1980s after a suspicious fire.

The second image, of course, is the Polar Bear Swim.  But take a closer look at the first shot, particularly of the life guards.  They’d look darn good in their own calendar, even today, but I doubt they’d be holding hands.  Nonetheless, an insight into culture appropriateness over the decades – and a great find by the Heritage Foundation.

You can order the calendar directly from the VHF off their web site.  Only $12.

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November 22, 2010

Chuck Davis was the voice of Vancouver’s collective memory.

I first heard him on CBC radio when living in Victoria – a very CBC voice, distinctive and intimate, conveyed in a way that radio does best, typically on air to regale us with some anecdote about the city’s past.  He was a natural, I guess, because as far as I know, he was never vocally trained.

I think I assumed – because of Chuck Davis – that the people of Vancouver were inordinately aware of and interested in their past.  That was only reinforced when I got my first copy of  “The Vancouver Book”, an indispensible guide for anyone who was intrigued by both the big story and the small nuances of a place that had been around only slightly longer than the author.

Meeting Chuck in person was as pleasant and as gratifying as hearing him over the waves.   He was genuine, in every way.

So now at the moment of his departure, it’s appropriate to say he will be missed.  But in truth, his literary voice will be heard for ages to come, even as more storeys are built upon the foundation he laid.  But I also hope that maybe the CBC will put together a montage of his broadcasts, so we can hear his literal voice as well.   And believe, perhaps, that collectively we might continue to be intrigued about Vancouver’s past – because of Chuck Davis’s commitment and contribution.

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November 9, 2010

Went for a walk last week – with an engaging group of students whom I met in the Woodward’s Atrium.  From there, a saunter through the Downtown East Side towards False Creek.  It’s part of a learning experience called Walking Home.

Walking Home Carrall Street is an experiential education project exploring the history and development of Carrall Street with the overlays of contemporary life and use, and the subsequent intersections.

Walking Home Projects, in partnership with The Dr. Sun-Yat Sen Classical Chinese Garden, works with a group of proactive youth in grades 11, 12 and university, to host talks and tours from specialist architects, planners, historians and community representatives including John Atkin, Annabel Vaughan and myself.

Natually, they’ve summarized their experiences on a blog – here – to capture their observations.  Example – these observations on Woodward’s:

One thing we all agreed on was the impressive scope of this social and architectural endeavour. Gordon explained that, because of the massive construction required in the area, none of the original Woodward’s building was used in the rebuilding except two original facades that were kept for heritage value. For Gordon, this compromise was understandably the only viable option but he admitted that for many others, like his friend and fellow urban planner, Michael Short, even this small tribute was too large a concession on the design and budget of the project. Many of us found this idea shocking, especially after hearing from historians for so many weeks previously! But hearing from the urban planning perspective gave us a more informed picture into the debate of historical preservation versus progress and contemporary usage.





Lots more here.

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Some upcoming events of interest:


Have you ever thought about who creates the everyday places such as parks, residential developments, public squares, commercial centres, gardens, transportation facilities, and institutional centres around you?  Each of these examples of design, planning, and land-use management is the work of landscape architects!

BC Society of Landscape Architects is proud to present Drawing on the Land: Contemporary Landscape Architecture Exhibition at the Pendulum Gallery (885 West Georgia Street, Vancouver, BC) from November 15 to December 4, 2010. 

Featured projects include: YVR Canada Line Living Wall (Richmond), Woodwards Lighting Concept Plan (Vancouver), Stuart Park (Kelowna), Nicholas North (Whistler), Southeast False Creek Plaza, Marina Park (Sidney), and more from across BC and Canada. International projects: include Vimy Ridge (France), Boat Haven (USA), a travel journal (The Netherlands) and Chong Qing Railway Access Park (China) to name just a few.

Gallery visitors will be welcome to view a behind the scenes look at the thought process that goes in to designing and humanizing open spaces. The Gallery is open to the public from Monday to Wednesday from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm, Thursday and Friday from 9:00 am to 9:00 pm and Saturday from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.  Admission is free.



On Wednesday, November 24th at 7pm, James Johnstone will be doing an encore presentation of a 240+ slide presentation on the fascinating history and multicultural heritage of  Vancouver’s first neighbourhood, the Old East End.

So here’s your chance to learn about the fascinating history of Vancouver’s first neighbourhood, the East End, and to support a very important program that provides over 100,000 meals to children and elders in need in Strathcona.

The presentation will take place in the Seniors’ Lounge on the first floor of the Strathcona Community Centre at 601 Keefer (near Princess Avenue) on Wednesday, November 24th at 7pm.


Get inside six recently completed laneway houses in Vancouver! 

Lane houses have arrived.  We see them popping up all over the city, and six of them are opening to the public December 11. Get some ideas for building a lane house, or just come to see what the buzz is all about. 

Saturday, December 11, 2010 1 pm – 5 pm
$50 + hst   ($25 tax receipts issued upon request)

Sponsored by the Vancouver Heritage Foundation. Register here.

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Carl Elefante is the guy who coined the phrase: “The greenest building is the one that is already built.”   He is Director of Sustainable Design at Qunin Evans Architects, Washington, D.C.

At an upcoming lecture at SFU, he’ll be asking (and answering) the question: “What is the cultural, economic, environmental sustainability of older buildings”

FREE public lecture: Renewal + Transformation – Heritage conservation practice integrated with the quest for a sustainable way of life.   7 pm – Thursday, Nov. 4, 2010 – SFU Harbour Centre    More here.  Register here.   _____________________________________________________   Also, there’s this symposium: THE HERITAGE & SUSTAINABILITY NEXUS AGENDA   Opening address by Carl Elefante: Valuing our Built Heritage’ addressing environmental, economic, and social sustainability.  
  • Dan Roberts:  Existing Buildings and Green Up
  • Three new Vancouver case studies demonstrating best practices in sustainable rehabilitation of older buildings with poster exhibit
  • Greenest City 2020, Andrea Reimer, COV Councillor
  • Presentation of NOW house, Lorraine Gauthier, CMHC

    November 5, 9 am- 5 pm – Wosk Centre for Dialogue

    Register Online at:

    Heritage and Sustainability Nexus is organized by the Vancouver Heritage Foundation.

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    It’s back!


    The 2009 inaugural tour was sold out and saw over 600 ticket holders visit five homes open on tour. Feedback was so positive that the Vancouver Heritage Foundation has committed to holding this event annually.

    Saturday, September 25th, 2010 – 12-5 pm

    Register here.

    PRE-TOUR LECTURE Tuesday, September 21st, 7 pm

    Unitarian Church, 949 West 49th Avenue (@ Oak Street)

    (included in the price of your ticket when purchased in August*)

    Architect Stephanie Robb of Pechet and Robb Art & Architecture will present her perspective on 10 years of work on Vancouver Specials including a preview of one of the houses on tour. Coupled with the presentation of Robb’s latest project will also be the story of a Do-It-Yourself Special renovation on E 22nd Avenue by homeowner and photographer Scott Massey.


    *Pre-tour lecture is $10 if purchased without a tour ticket

    Sign up for the pre-tour lecture here
    or by calling 604.264.9642

    Don’t know what a ‘Vancouver Special’ is?  Now you will:

    The ubiquitous Vancouver Special is a fixture in our city’s landscape, predominantly an east side phenomenon. With their flat fronts, boxy shapes, and low pitched roofs, these homes are regionally unique as they were designed to optimize the use of a 33 ft. wide city lot under the RS-1 District Zoning Schedule in the 1960s and 1970s.

    The Specials first appeared circa 1965 and multiplied to over 10,000 (est.) examples by 1985. The original stock-plan design, probably drafted in collaboration with local builders and often adjusted to adapt to various lot sizes or client needs, maximized the floor space the City’s zoning would allow at the time and was sold in vast numbers.

    In the late 1970s, a house plan for a Special could be bought at a stock plan office for about $65. In those days, all the information required for a building permit (including elevations) could fit onto one sheet. Given the regularity this design was submitted at City Hall, permits were issued in no time. In the 1960s and 70s it was not unusual for a Special to be built in just a few weeks.

     More here.     Read more »

    This is impressive:

    Sharing the honour with the Smithsonian Institute, the City of Burnaby Archives is the winner of ArchivesNext’s “Best Re-purposing of Descriptive Data” award for “Charting Change:” An Interactive Atlas of Burnaby’s Heritage” initiative.

    Go ahead, click here.  It’s Friday afternoon; kill an hour.  And find out something new about something old.

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    John Atkin, civic historian and author, writes:

    After having so much fun with Velopalooza this summer, I’ve added a bike tour to my usual Wednesday Night Heritage walks schedule on August 25th. We’re biking the Hastings Townsite from the Burrard Waterfront to the Grandview Highway. It starts at 7:00pm til dusk at 9:00pm and it will be a gentle pace, nothing too strenuous. Details here

    As well I’ve been asked by Mountain View to do a bike tour on the 22nd. of the cemetery, here’s the text from their press release:

    Join us for a bike tour of Mountain View Cemetery. It’s a chance to wheel through 124 years of history and take in all of the cemetery’s 106 acres.

     $10pp. 15 yrs and under = free!

    August 22nd, 10:00am

    Meet at Celebration Hall in the cemetery

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    An update from James Johnstone:

    This past Monday I made a presentation at the City of Vancouver Archives, a virtual walking tour of the old West End, using 260 of the City of Vancouver  Archives and Vancouver Public Library’s archival images. 45 people attended and as a result of that show I have been asked to re-present the talk sometime in August for the West End Neighbours group. Time and place TBA.

    As a follow up to the presentation, I will be debuting my West End Neighbourhood History Walking Tour this Saturday, July 24th at 10 am and 2 pm. I will be using quite a few (but not all 260) images I used at my presentation during the tour.

    It costs $20 per person for about a 2 – 2.5 hour tour.

    The starting point for both tours this Saturday is from in front of O’Doul’s (SW corner of Robson and Jervis) and the tours end up at The Sylvia Hotel on English Bay.

    Here is the link to my Walking Tour blog.

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