Nature & Public Spaces
December 9, 2019

Santa Sets Up On Kitsilano’s 4th Avenue

If you are on the 2200 block of West 4th  in Vancouver there is a striking transformation at Leis de Buds which gets you thinking about Seasonal Stuff. Firstly right beside a handy bench is a mailbox waiting for your letter from Santa.  And west of this mailbox is the best ever little geodesic dome housing seasonal~and not so seasonal fragrant plants.

The whole effect at night is simply magical with the glow from the dome. It also talks about the importance of having different articulation on commercial storefront facades to allow such a temporary transformation with the glowing dome. It also provides light in the tiny plaza with a scale comfortable enough to sit in and relax.

 

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Last week, the City of Vancouver hosted a free public workshop on the Granville Bridge Connector project.

Currently, there are six design options being considered, with hopes of bringing forward a preferred design to council in early 2020. In theory, feedback from public engagement and workshops will be used to inform the selection of a preferred design.

In an effort to apply a lens of equity to this project, the city organized a Mobility Equity workshop, facilitated by the ever-insightful Jay Pitter.

To kick-start the workshop, Jay offered insight into what equity is, what equity can look like, and how that relates to transportation. Key takeaways:

Streets are contested spaces. Streets have been designed or re-designed for the efficient and high-speed movement of vehicles, often at the expense of people. As a result, aspects pertaining to safety, both physical and social (e.g. personal security), are often an issue.

This begs the question: to what extent has efficiency been prioritized over safety and security? To what extent do women, elderly, LGBTQ, visible minority and immigrant groups (among others) feel safe and secure on our streets? To what extent have such groups been overlooked in planning and design?

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We have a new downtown neighbourhood – or at least a new name for a neighbourhood.

The Chandelier District.

 

The blocks between the Burrard and Granville Bridges, south of Pacific, are labelled as “Beach” on some city plans, or Granville Slopes.  Maybe it’s south Downtown South.  Or west Yaletown east of the West End.  No one calls it any of that.

The Hornby-Howe blocks serve as the squared-out equivalent of a cloverleaf off-ramp from the Burrard Bridge to get vehicles to the West End, or as a bypass to avoid Pacific.  Wait til Vancouver House opens. Wait til the grocery store and other services go in under the bridge.  One guess what the identifying graphic will be for this commercial hub.

 

Ian Gillespie of Westbank consolidated the public-art requirement to fund the $5-million price tag on Rodney Graham’s artwork.  The media immediately grabbed on to a presumed controversy, thereby achieving what progressives believe art is supposed to do: create a conversation.

So far the conversation consists of a lot of swipes and doubts: bling for the rich, a slap in the face for those who can’t afford the unaffordable city, a gesture of contempt on the day after the homeless count was released.  It will be vandalized.  It will be a target for the stoned, the drunk, and the pigeons.  It will get dust covered*.

Could the money have been better spent on housing for the homeless?  Of course.  So could the money we spend on flower gardens.  That’s zero-sum budgeting.

Development-required public art is not, strictly speaking, funded by taxpayer dollars, nor is the extraordinary collection that comes with the Sculpture Biennale.  But the perception that there’s tax dollars involved or the millions could have been better spent is a consideration when political leaders are asked to devote more to the arts and they’re wondering if they’re going to end up on the wrong side of a microphone.

Artists, on the other hand, cry out for more – more public art, more protected studio space, more galleries and even more housing.  They assume the public wants a city with art and a place for them.

Fortunately, the city does.  Particularly if its Instagram and selfie-friendly.

 

 

Graham did get an ideal location: lots of room for the work to breathe, perfectly balanced on all sides, high enough to avoid vehicles, with a backdrop of uninterrupted sky to the east that will not change, thanks to the park beyond.

 

So if not ‘Chandelier District,’ what’s better?

 

 

  • *Fair warning: art with moving pieces will have to be scrupulously cleaned and maintained. This one drops and spins.  Unfortunately, I can’t think of an artwork with moving pieces that still does. Except the Steamclock, and it gets a lot of care and attention.

 

 

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The conversion of Brentwood into a municipal town centre is really about the conversion of car-dependent development from post-war suburbia into the transit-oriented centres of today.  It’s the fulfilment of the regional vision that began in the 1970s.

This is the Grand Bargain in action, concentrating development on the brownfields: the asphalt parking lots, the obsolete industrial sites, the empty lots, all within walking distance of a SkyTrain station.  (Debate: Can the same thing happen along the Frequent Transit Network or even a light-rail line?  Or is grade-separated rapid transit – concrete, trains! – a necessity?)

 

The success of these station areas is unquestioned.  There is a lot more of them happening, a lot more to come, as evident at the next SkyTrain stop to the west – Gilmore:

Today:

Tomorrow:

 

The bargain so far has been a push to extremes: highrise sacrifice zones to protect the iconic single-family neighbourhoods (regardless of the number of units within those houses).

And it leaves untouched the vast stretches of Motordom in between the station areas:

Lougheed Highway at Gilmore, looking west

 

The City of Vancouver has taken the first steps to rezone the blocks just beyond the arterials and transit corridors for medium-density rental, and there are a few, but very few, examples where a whole single-family district has been rezoned, bulldozed and rebuilt (Moodyville) to offer the middle-missing choices for which there is general agreement of their necessity.

This region’s ability to plan, approve and build complexes on the scale of Brentwood makes us an urban leader, certainly in North America.  By comparison, here is Miami Worldcenter, said to be the second largest real-estate development in the US, next to Hudson Yards:

More commercial, denser (and eventually underwater) – but not that different from what we do in our distant suburbs.  Okay, way more jobs, highly desired in places like Coquitlam, but in form and size, it’s just another megaproject.

Just another version of Brentwood.

 

 

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From William Whyte to Jan Gehl, there have been many attempts to find the formula for great public spaces.  And we do have a good idea of what goes into them. And yet really great spaces remain illusory, or we’d have so many more.

Here’s the one soon to be opening at ‘Amazing Brentwood’:

This is only a segment of the main plaza, still under construction.  It can’t fail insofar as there is a SkyTrain station on the south and lots of appealing attractions in every other direction.  And it feels like it has the right proportions given the way the height and curve of the buildings frame the space.

As Ian Wasson observed, the developer and designers have used really fine materials to realize their vision.

There’s a fountain off-centre that occupies a good percentage of the plaza.  You can see it from almost anywhere, but you have to walk around it – like a cog in the elaborate machinery of humanity in motion.

As night it’s a place that plays with light – ostentatiousnessl well done.  Here are some shots taken from Skyscraper Page by vanman:

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You’ve seen this before:

It’s a 1975 sketch of “Cities in a Sea of Green” – the phrase that captured the intent of the original Livable Region Plan.  In Burnaby, they took it literally (see more in ‘Cities of the Future‘).

Brentwood is SkyTrain scale, amped up.  The combo of towers tightly clustered around a rapid-transit station, connected to a shopping centre and community services, also strikes me as Asian scale – characteristic of station areas in Singapore and Hong Kong, where the planning and design go back to the housing booms of post-war modernism.  These are the urban environments in which so many of us grew up before coming to Vancouver, and to whom the projects are now marketed.

This is West Pacific.

The towers, in particular, take us to new heights – not to everyone’s taste, but very much part of the Grand Bargain.  (For an analysis and prediction of the impact of Brentwood, here’s what I said back in 2014: “Brentwood growth could help maintain quality of life: Price”

As detailed on David Pereira’s blog, the architecture of Brentwood Town Centre also goes back to 1960s with its initial highrises and mall (and, oh yeah, used car lots).  Today, ‘Amazing Brentwood’ takes the cliche of the moment – stacked and angled glass boxes – to climb the slope to the north of the station and animate the many thousands of square meters.

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Burnaby at Brentwood has gone full urban.

This is the Lougheed Highway at Willingdon – one the signature crossroads of our region.  On the right, a massive mixed-use development called (awful name) Amazing Brentwood.

Ian Wasson at Burnaby City Hall gave me a heads-up:  Brentwood was ready for a walk-through.  And easy to get to – seamlessly connected to one of the most beautiful SkyTrain stations in the region.

At the same time Brentwood Mall was under redevelopment, the City rebuilt Lougheed into more of a complete street.  There are at least four modes of movement integrated but separate, with great materials, thoughtful landscaping and exciting urbanism in three dimensions.

We’ll explore Brentwood this week.  But here’s the judgment:

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In the Grand Bargain that has shaped growth in Metro Vancouver for the last half century, brownfield sites have played a crucial role: Usually large in area, often under single-ownership, located near waterfront or transportation corridors, capable of being comprehensively planned without requiring significant displacement, offering the prospect of new amenities and connections while also triggering environmental clean-up, and, since separate from established communities, capable of accommodating density and development often unacceptable elsewhere. . While the City of Vancouver has been the location for many of the high-profile brownfield conversions in the last few decades, opportunities are emerging throughout Metro and in the province.  This webinar explores examples here and elsewhere in Canada (like the West Don Lands in Toronto, below) and how to achieve best results. . . PIBC 2019 Webinar #9 – Brownfield Renewal: Local Government as a Catalyst for Change . This webinar explores how local government can be the catalyst for the renewal of contaminated and derelict land.  Through a number of case studies, our speakers will share best practices and lessons learned that would be applicable to any under-utilized brownfield or waterfront site in the province.   Speakers will also discuss funding incentive programs available through the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM).

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Carla Guerrera   CEO & Founder, 
Purpose Driven Development & Planning

Benjamin Koczwarski, Advisor, Programs Outreach
Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM)

 

November 27

12 – 1:30 pm

CPL Units: 1.5

REGISTER HERE

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How do we improve the delivery of extraordinary public spaces in Vancouver? In what way can we approach the study of public life? How do we ensure inclusive placemaking?

With the City of Vancouver’s recent release of the Gehl Report on Public Space and Public in Downtown Vancouver and the upcoming Downtown Public Space Strategy (as part of Places for People Downtown) due in early 2020, the Urbanarium has invited a panel of urban planners and equity specialists to explore issues and opportunities around Vancouver’s public life including considerations for initiatives such as VIVA Vancouver and the soon to be launched Vancouver Plan.

Jay Pitter, author and placemaker whose practice mitigates growing divides in urban centres.

John Bela, Gehl Studio

Kelty McKinnon, Director / Principal, PFS Studio, Adjunct Professor, UBC

Derek Lee, Moderator

Thursday, November 21

6:30 to 8:30 pm

Robson Square

Register here

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If you’ve already seen these posters around Vancouver over the past year-plus, then your Vancouver street cred is showing…

Coming Soon!” is a series of hand-made prints from artist and Emily Carr University instructor Diyan Achjadi, commissioned by the City of Vancouver Public Art Program.

Installed on fences and hoardings that surround construction sites in the city, these prints were created by Achjadi as she began to take note of the way construction sites interrupt pedestrians on their day-to-day travels.

As she says in a video produced for the project, she started to ask questions about these spaces, one of which was: can a hand-made artefact interact with commercially-made spaces that are about desire and selling things, and present images that aren’t about commerce, capital, or selling anything?

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