Architecture
September 17, 2019

Just possibly the worst sidewalk to navigate in downtown

A major entrance to Pacific Centre Mall off Dunsmuir Street:

Scaffolding clutters the space, but that’s temporary.  The real problem is permanent: the ramp to the underground parking:

It must have seemed like a small intervention when Pacific Centre was being designed in the sixties.  The project was three blocks long; underground parking spaces numbered in the thousands.  Taking up so much sidewalk space for a necessary exit wouldn’t have been a serious worry.

On the Dunsmuir Street of 2019, it looks like a scar.

 

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September 16, 2019

Via Durning, a  gentle black-and-white video from the CBC Vancouver program the 7 O’CLOCK SHOW special series on “Urbanism.”  (Click title for video.)

This footage depicts the oldest neighbourhood in Vancouver (near the Port) Gastown and the Downtown Eastside area of Vancouver.*

Older buildings (many vacant) on Alexander, Columbia, Carrall and Powell Streets are featured. In 1964 this was an area of the city in transition, where heritage buildings were neglected and vulnerable to idea of modernism.

*In the days when it was necessary to inform people where Gastown was, and before part of it was renamed the Downtown East Side.  And in the days when the fabled ‘7-O’clock Show’ would commission and run a visual essay without narration.

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In the recent history of Vancouver, it’s unusual when the built-out parts of the city – places where people happily live and work – suddenly change scale and character, when a new urban form, usually larger and different in use, replaces the local urban landscape.

Sudden change was the way we used to do it: when a single rezoning swept away the architecture (and many of the people) in early streetcar neighbourhoods, and converted them into the concrete highrise versions. (See Kerrisdale Village, Ambleside, the West End).  It can also happen where obsolete uses and rising land values come together, when industrial lands convert to residential megaprojects.  (See Collingwood Village).

Or where new transportation infrastructure aligns with new land use. See the impact of the Canada Line on Cambie Street.

Here’s the northwest corner of Cambie and King Edward in May, 2015 – a half decade after the Canada Line opened:

And in September, 2019:

Along the Cambie boulevard, the shift in scale is dramatic.

… compared to what was there just five years before:

 

It won’t take too long to get comfortable with this scale of change.  In fact, the spectacularly treed boulevard will be so much more appreciated now with gallery walls of apartment buildings, all about the same height and setback.  The parkway becomes more an elongated arboretum, less a well-treed highway median.  The entire landscape shifts with your viewpoint on the elegant curves that so gently rise and descend over Queen Elizabeth Park.  On the Cambie Boulevard, the tradition of  Olmstedian landscape architecture lives on.

When Oakridge was laid out, this was the best of Motordom in the City Beautiful, designed for the aesthetic and practical experience of moving by car.   Now, underneath, real change has come but out of sight.

The consequences of planning done after the Canada Line corridor have accelerated; the transformation is apparent, and a little jarring.  But because what was best about the boulevard looks like its being respected, what could have been traumatic change looks like it will be just fine.

When you’re hoping that Vancouverites will come to accept more sudden change in scale and character of the city and its neighbourhoods, it’s helpful to have something done well to show them.

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Once there were sheep in the aptly named ‘Sheep Meadow’ of Central Park – an historic gathering place for New Yorkers since Olmsted and Vaux designed the park in the 1860s.  The sheep served as lawn mowers until the 1930s.

This is what it looked like on Tuesday:

Perfect temperature, a painterly sky, flocks of New Yorkers, and three significant changes: the trees are bigger, the skyline is taller, there are no sheep.

 

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Retired city planner Michael Gordon, featured in this recent PriceTalks, edited the summer issue of Sitelines, the journal of the BC Society of Landscape Architects. 

The theme – Pavement to Plaza – is about converting modest sections of streets to neighbourhood places.

The lead story by the designers Norm Hotson and Don Vaughan backgrounds the pioneer Pavement to Plaza vision in the early 1970’s with their concept for the West End mini-parks.  Unless I’m unaware of similar traffic-calming projects, the West of Denman maze of miniparks and diverters was the first traffic calming of its kind in North America.  Hey, let’s say the world!

Price Tags did a post on the origins of West End traffic calming back in 2013, but these authors were the actual designers.  Here are some excerpts:

In 1973 the City of Vancouver established the West End Planning Centre, the first of its kind in the city, staffed by Planning, Social Planning and Engineering Departments. … Norman Hotson Architects was retained by the City to prepare an Open Space Policy for the West End. …

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Vancouver historian Michael Kluckner is putting together a presentation on historic railway hotels to be held at the Hotel Vancouver. So appropriately he came across this image from the 1950s:

That’s Kitsilano Pool in the foreground, with a remarkable shot of the old beach pavilion behind it.  Long gone, of course.  But we still got the Hotel Van.

Here’s the closest comparison I could find:

 

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John Davis Jr. with Pat Davis

It seems only fitting on this civic holiday which is called “British Columbia Day” in this province that we celebrate the remarkable Davis family and Pat Davis who passed away last week.  Over a period of five decades the Davis Family stewarded a group of Edwardian and Victorian  houses on Mount Pleasant’s  100 block of West Tenth Avenue just east of city hall, restoring them. At the time in the late 70’s and early 80’s renovating old houses and fitting them with rental units was not the thing to do. The Davis family fought pressure to turn their houses into a cash crop of three-story walk-ups  on their street, and proudly display a plaque indicating that their restoration work was done with no governmental assistance of any kind.

But more than maintaining a group of heritage houses that described the rhythm and feel of an earlier Vancouver,  the Davis family extended their interest and stewardship to the street. In the summer a painted bicycle leans on a tree near the sidewalk with the bicycle basket full of flowers~in season there is a wheelbarrow to delight passersby full of  blooming plants. An adirondack chair perches near the sidewalk. And every morning, one of the Davis family was out sweeping the sidewalk and ensuring that no garbage was on the boulevards or the street.

As author and artist Michael Kluckner notes the Davis Family’s stewardship profoundly altered the way city planning was managed in Mount Pleasant. As one of the oldest areas of the city with existing Victorian houses, zoning was developed to maintain the exterior form and add rental units within the form. The first laneway houses in the city, called “carriage houses” were designed for laneway access and to increase density on the lots. And when it came time for a transportation management plan, residents threw out the City engineer’s recommendations and designed their own. That plan is still being used today.

John Davis Senior passed away in the 1980’s but his wife Pat and his sons John and Geoff maintained the houses and managed the rentals. Michael Kluckner in an earlier Price Tags post described the Davis Family as being strongly in the tradition of social and community common sense.

They championed street lighting for Tenth Avenue, with the street’s residents  choosing (and partially paying for) a heritage type of lighting standard. The City’s engineer at the time thought that the residents of Tenth Avenue would never pick a light standard that they would have to pay for . The City’s engineer was wrong.

Pat Davis also single handedly changed the way that street trees were trimmed by B.C. Hydro. When I was working in the planning department I received a call from B.C. Hydro indicating that trimming work on the Tenth Avenue large street trees had to be halted due an intervention from Mrs. Pat Davis. Pat was horrified that hydro crews were cutting back street trees down to their joins (called “crotch dropping”) to ensure that hydro wiring was not compromised. A spritely senior, Pat Davis had taken the car keys away from  B.C. Hydro personnel  and refused to give them back until the hydro crew agreed to leave.

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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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