Design & Development
October 15, 2019

Giving Thanks

When experiencing the glory of a double row of street trees in fall, it’s a good time to give thanks to those who had the vision to realize the city we have today.

Give thanks to the landscape designers of the 1970s, beginning with Cornelia Oberlander and her allee of trees along Hornby next to Robson Square.  Or, as above, the double rows along Georgia Street from the park to Cardero – a consequence of the Greening Downtown study of 1982 (by the Toronto firm of Baird/Simpson in collaboration with Hotson/Bakker).

Approved by council in the 1980s; planted, development by development, in the 1990s; only maturing now, with the final blocks still to come.

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Dean A recommended this piece in the New York Times:

Among the safety measures proposed by car companies are encouraging pedestrians and bicyclists to use R.F.I.D. tags, which emit signals that cars can detect. This means it’s becoming the pedestrian’s responsibility to avoid getting hit. But if keeping people safe means putting the responsibility on them (or worse, criminalizing walking and biking), we need to think twice about the technology we’re developing. …

 

Peter Ladner was motivated to write this response with respect to our bike routes:

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While enjoying a few days in our provincial capital, I was pleasantly surprised to discover more separated bicycle lanes in the downtown core with the recent completion of the Humboldt and Wharf Street routes. (Click on title for pics.)

 

There are some great road diet and public realm measures taken here in addition to providing cycling infrastructure.

 

A street closure where Humboldt met Douglas giving way to an urban plaza complete with seating, bike racks and a ping-pong table.

Before:

After:

 

Further down the route, a rework and calming of the vehicular travel lanes where Humboldt, Government and Wharf meet connects to the Wharf street separated bike lanes.

 

There’s even a bike traffic counter in this new plaza which no doubt will keep ticking over as ridership grows.

 

And of course, the usual controversy and commentary: ‘I’m not against bike lanes, it’s just that everything you did or would have done is really stupid.’

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From the ever-insightful Guest:

Two places that are worse:

– Robson Street (north side) just west of Richards outside the Jinya Ramen restaurant, where Jinya has a patio railing (and a line-up), there is a washroom kiosk, a new digital sign has been installed, and the Telus garden office building has a glass sidewalk which some people avoid walking on.

 

Granville Street (east side) just north of Robson where Cafe Crepe has a patio railing, there is a poorly placed bike rack , often a sidewalk vendor with a table and a metal Canada Line ventilation grill in the sidewalk that some people avoid walking on.

 

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Well, this post was a trigger: “Just possibly the worst sidewalk to navigate in downtown.”

PT readers think there are worse examples than Dunsmuir at Pacific Centre.  So we’ll take nominations, and then vote.

Here’s Ron van den Eerden’s nomination: Nelson and Cambie:

Several of these eyesores are set behind the sidewalk so you get the crossing *and* the ugly hole: Robson and Howe, Robson and Hornby, Howe and Smithe, Costco entrance off of Beatty and the ugliest of them all, Nelson and Smithe at Cambie at the SAP building. The worst of both worlds.

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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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Chris Son and Patrick found it:

Almost everyone thought this little park with roundabout was on the West Side, the North Shore, UBC or False Creek: upscale Vancouverism-style  neighbourhoods all.    “One thing for sure it’s not on the East Side of Vancouver,” said one.

That’s exactly where it is:

It’s part of the greenway network that runs through Collingwood Village – the forgotten megaproject, one of the seven that were underway pretty much simultaneously, from Coal Harbour to Fraser Lands, in the late 1980s and 1990s.

The City, the community and Concert Properties undertook a consultation process that worked so well, residents were willing to entertain one of the largest growth spurts in the city between 1986 and 2011, in the form of Collingwood Village on an old industrial and warehousing site, immediately southeast of Joyce-Collingwood SkyTrain Station.  The result was “a highly successful transit-oriented mixed-use development,” in the City’s opinion, now reputed to be Vancouver’s densest residential area.

To repeat: Vancouver’s densest residential area.*

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