Architecture
October 17, 2019

The Grand Bargain, Illustrated

 

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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Shaping Vancouver 2019: What’s the Use of Heritage?

Conversation #2: What do we do about neighbourhoods?

Some argue that “neighbourhood character” must be maintained to preserve the diversity of the city. Others note however that “neighbourhood character” frequently serves as an instrument of exclusion, making people feel unwelcome and marginalizing them.

Neighbourhoods that do not evolve risk stagnation, while neighbourhoods that change too rapidly erase the attributes that make them unique.

Are there then qualities of neighbourhoods that should be cultivated or protected? As Vancouver faces a housing crisis, how do we go about discussing neighbourhood change?

Four panelists share their insights about their local places:

Richard Evans – Chair of RePlan, a committee of the False Creek South Neighbourhood Association

Scot Hein – adjunct professor in the Master of Urban Design program at UBC, previously the senior urban designer with the City of Vancouver

Jada-Gabrielle Pape – facilitator and consultant with Courage Consulting

Jennifer Maiko Bradshaw – renter, pro-housing activist and director of Abundant Housing Vancouver

 

Wednesday, October 9

7-9 PM

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

Free, donations appreciated.

Tickets here.

 

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This clip from a local news station in New York City is labelled as “the city before gentrification.”  What now provokes nostaligia wasn’t all that great if you actually had to live in a city of rapid decline – and this illustrates how sad it was.  And now funny.

Worth listening to just for the accents and attitudes of the New Yawkers.

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Josh Kepkay is a realtor, and now a podcaster – an opportunity, of course, to increase his profile while having conversations with “thought leaders, personalities and interesting people in the Vancouver Real Estate world with a story to share.”

As someone who always enjoys a little thought leading, I took him up on his invitation.  And here’s the result:

Click on the second podcast on the list: “What the future holds with Gordon Price”.

And yes, we go well outside the topic of the local real-estate market.  Of special interest to those interested in the strategies of city council in the ’80s and ’90s (as well as backstories on the West End) for lessons that might apply to the city’s future.

 

 

 

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Imagine the West End in the seventies and early 80s.  After the highrise building boom, before Expo.  And before AIDS.

The West End was a welcoming neighbourhood for gay men who decanted into Vancouver from everywhere in Canada, from the world – the post-Stonewall generation of suburban-raised boomers.

For gay men, the West End was a paradise of one-bedroom apartments, even its own shopping street.  Clubs for every branch of the emerging LGBT communities. Beaches and park trails. Restaurants and bars. The streets were yours for your own parades.

 

Max Baker captured that time.

He used his colour camera like a camera phone today.  He was selective, reflected the in this retrospective taken from his personal photo albums.  His eye was for the beautiful, especially the men.

Max was photographing the beautiful boys of those days when it seemed there were hot guys on every block.  The sex mostly free of consequence, except emotional.  The city mostly affordable and the sky mostly blue.

Thanks to Jamie Lee Hamilton and volunteers, those pictures of Max’s from his albums are on display.

REMEMBER WHEN…” is a retrospective of personal photo albums created by photographer Max Baker.

The show is a the Mole Hill Gallery (who knew?) in the basement suite of a beautiful Mole Hill home – geographically near the centre of the gay population as it was in the 70s and 80s.

The images also show LGBT parades, parties and events from 1984 to 1994. Many of the images are identified, but the organizers are hoping visitors to the exhibition will be able to put names to some of the unidentified youthful faces from the 80s.

Sept 20 and Sept 27 only – at the Mole Gallery.  1-7 pm.

The Mole Gallery is located in the Jepson-Young lane between Bute and Thurlow, and between Pendrell and Comox streets. Official address is 1157 Pendrell in the rear.

 

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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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