Policy & Planning
January 31, 2008

Victoria Visions

Vancouver wasn’t the only B.C. city with plans for freeways and ‘urban renewal’ in the 1960s. Over in Victoria, they wanted to transform the decaying Inner Harbour, still largely industrial, and what came to be known as Old Town (note the “skid road hotels” on Johnson Street at the centre top of this 1967 map).

First thing – you gotta have a freeway, preferably running through a poorer part of the city and cutting off the waterfront:

(This view is looking south towards the Parliament Buildings in the upper left corner.)
The proposal came with the usual assurances:

This will inject new prosperity into the older and blighted area of the core. In addition, valuable capacity on downtown streets now being taken by through traffic, including lumber  trucks, will be free when these vehicles can reach James Bay on the West Victoria freeway without touching downtown.

Then you build some highrise towers right next to the water:

This is the infamous Reid Centre proposal for the old Ocean Cement site off Wharf Street.  Victoria still hasn’t figured out what to do with the location:

After two contentious years, the towers were reduced to two semi-circular towers of 11 and 14 storeys but this failed too. The Province bought the land in 1974 for $1.7 million and imposed a freeze on development. It was followed by two more failed plans by Bawlf (in 1978 and 1987) and a failed plan by Hancock, Nicholson and Brook in 1988.

Thanks to Robert Randall for these images and quotes, collected by UVic geography student Jesse Dill.

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Greg Hamilton sends along an article on the latest plan for St. Petersburg:

“The heart of the city quarter will be a new civic space under a unique glazed roof. ”

“This unique crystalline glass tensegrity structure will imbue the space with a delicate lightness and changing light, reflecting the weather, time of day and the passing seasons. This will be a major destination in the city where people can meet, shop, eat and be entertained whilst being protected from St Petersburg’s hostile winter climate.”

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January 30, 2008

The Terrace Restaurant at the Mission Hill Family Estate Winery is, according to Travel and Leisure magazine, one of the five top winery restaurants in the world. (Imagine researching that story.)
The food is good, but the Okanagan winery itself is spectacular. 

More pics and views of the surrounding sprawl here in Price Tags 85.

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After a couple of years of blogging, taking the big view, writing about issues of significant import, from our urban future to climate change, what gets the most response?
A set of stairs. 
At least it’s something people have an opinion on.  Or a question.   What, some of you wondered, is the story behind the ‘stairs to nowhere’ in George Wainborn Park?

You wanted to know – so I asked a principal of the firm that designed the park, Jeff Philips of the PWL Partnership.  Here’s the scoop:

The PWL design premise for George Wainborn Park, which was lead by Bruce Hemstock, was to develop a downtown, urban, formal waterfront park. The basic components that make up the park are the upper plaza area with its formal wall and lookout, soft, passive lower green and seawall walkway bikeway edge. The general organizing principles were based on the symmetrical parti of the Beaux Arts with some latitude to respond to playfulness of a park setting. The symmetry and formality of the park wall was quite important to the design especially when viewed from the seawall and lower passive green. A great deal of effort was taken to ensure that the grades, layout, plinths, lights, beacons, etc. were mirrored on the centre axis of the lookout to ensure that this formal Beaux Art organization was carried out.

A practical issue arose when the grading for the second stair east from the western edge revealed that in order to accommodate the grade change and the number of risers required, the stair would need to extend into the path of travel of the east west walkway that allowed the city sidewalk parallel to Beach Crescent to move through the park. We felt that this would not be appropriate and after careful thought proposed a design solution that maintained the overall design symmetry and created a folly within the park. We proposed to build only the stairs that we could fit within the space allowed ending them in the balustrade, essentially creating a folly. We thought this would be a great spot to sit given its south facing aspect. We thought that this wonderful sun trap would provide park users a place to sit and enjoy the great view to False Creek and beyond in a protected and very warm location. We discussed this with the VPB staff and all agreed it was an interesting solution.

I am pleased to say that this has been embraced by the public and we have, on many occasions, seen people sitting on the ‘stairs to nowhere’ enjoying the sun and the tranquility that this little place in this park has to offer.

I hope that this helps to explain the George Wainborn Park “stairs-to-nowhere folly.”

Thanks, Jeff!

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A few weeks ago in the Vancouver Sun, John Mackie wrote about “What Might Have Been.”

The most mind-boggling plans were for the freeway systems in the late 1950s and 1960s….
The wackiest proposal was to build a giant trench through downtown so that cars could vroom non-stop from the Burrard Bridge to a new third crossing of Burrard Inlet in Stanley Park.
A 1960 drawing of the big ditch at Comox and Thurlow shows a dizzying complex of roads and cloverleafs. Try to imagine the Trans-Canada Highway in Burnaby plopped down in the middle of the West End, only bigger (it was eight lanes wide, and 10 metres deep).

The big ditch was one of the elements in a $340-million plan to build a freeway system in Metro Vancouver, including an ocean parkway that would have run along English Bay….
Many Vancouverites were incensed at the proposal, and packed public meetings in the late 1960s to denounce it. The only element of the plan that was built was the Georgia Viaduct…
Project 200 drew its name from the $200 million that was supposed to be invested in the scheme by Canadian Pacific, Woodward’s and other investors. It was an incredibly ambitious plan, including a highrise forest of office and residential towers, a hotel, a department store, enclosed malls and a waterfront freeway.

[More renderings on page 12 of Price Tags 20.]

These days, it’s hard to find anyone who was in favour of these proposals. In fact, it’s amazing the number of people who say they were on the front lines in the fight to oppose them.

Public outrage contributed to the demise of the freeway plans. But (heritage expert John) Atkin says the deciding factor was probably the bickering between the federal and provincial governments over who would pay for the freeway system.

“The feds finally said, ‘Forget it. We’re taking our money and going home,'” says Atkin. “So they left, and the whole Project 200 collapsed because of that. They walked away.

John, I think, has it right. The freeway proposals died for lack of fiscal oxygen, not directly from the vociferous local opposition.

“There’s a total reinvention of history going on within the world of early politicos in Vancouver: They talk about how Vancouver made the decision not to have a freeway. Well, no. If the feds and the province had agreed, we would have had a waterfront freeway. “

Of course, the provincial and federal politicians were aware of the stakes locally, but much of the support was coming from North Shore officials, for whom the idea of a Third Crossing was most appealing. By 1972, when the NDP were elected provincially, senior governments had pretty much decided that it was far more popular to lay asphalt in the hinterland than spend tax dollars to serve the ungrateful wenches in the city. No final vote was necessary.
When TEAM under Art Phillips got a majority that year at Vancouver City Hall, that was the end of the debate. Every council since has affirmed that there will be no new roads to serve traffic coming into the city – which has, in fact, started to drop. And will likely continue to do so, as both population and transit service within the city increase.

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It looks as though we may have another capacity crowd for this Friday’s Paradise Builders’ panel, hosted by the SFU City Program:

The Challenges of Today’s Vancouver
Friday, February 1, 7 pm
While Vancouver’s urban design generally gets high praise, many are critical of its architecture. Where, they ask, are the iconic buildings? Why do our highrises all look the same? To discuss this, we’ve asked a panel of Vancouverites to address the nature of contemporary architecture and urban design.
Join Planning Director Brent Toderian, Globe-and-Mail critic Trevor Boddy, architect Bing Thom, and journalist Hadani Ditmars at SFU Harbour Centre (515 West Hastings Street), 7 pm, on Friday, February 1st.
Also: an update on how the City deals with design in the public realm, with Scot Hein, senior urban designer at the City’s urban Design Studio.

Book now: It’s free, but reservations are required. Email cstudies@sfu.ca or call 778-782.5100. Assigned reading: Brent Toderian did his blog post at Planetizen on whether Vancouver suffers an icon deficit. Lots of response. And Trevor Boddy in his Globe and Mail column took on the question of whether Robson Square (certified iconic) needs a clamshell. Read more »

The B.C. Cycling Coalition has a great idea: a province-wide network of cycling routes, similar to La Route Verte in Quebec.  Working title: Soaring Eagle Cycling Routes.
The Province has said, okay, show us what you have in mind.  So BCCC is working up concepts for three routes, one on southern Vancouver Island, one through the Lower Mainland, and this one for the Okanagan:

Details here – where they’re also asking for your input.  Think wine.

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As James Kunstler would observe (see below), you can tell a lot about a civilization by the quality of the “public realm” – the spaces jointly shared by every citizen.  As opposed to the privileges of “the consumer,” who has no repsonsibilities for the commonwealth except, of course, to consume it.
Here’s a particularly nice addition to the public realm at Yaletown Park:

These steps, gracefully proportioned and substantially built (with a glass balustrade!), do nothing more than connect the pedestrian right-of-way between the hard-edged Yaletown Park at Nelson Street  and an allee that runs through the complex of towers to the north and joins up with Smithe Street. 
In fact, these steps may not even be on public land.  Chances are, they’re owned and maintained by strata corporation, with a convenant allowing for continual public access. 
The point is: this is public, it is well done, and it says, as Kunstler would commend, that this is a place worth caring about.

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January 25, 2008

Kudos to Anthony Perl and my colleagues at SFU Urban Studies for bringing in James Kunstler (author of “The Long Emergency”) as their first Fellow. That meant he had a week to tour the region, speak to students, staff, politicians and the public in a variety of settings (from the Carnegie to the Vancouver Club in one day).
Those familiar with his writings and blog wouldn’t be surprised to find that what were once fringe opinions, bluntly expressed, are now almost mainstream. The world is moving his way. Some senior developers in this city, after the Vancouver Club presentation, said they found his analysis bleak but not out of line with their own observations.
If you missed Kunstler this week, despair not: you can hear him in full flight at the TED site (Technology, Entertainment, Design) here.

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January 25, 2008

Here’s another sign that we should be thinking about how to get out of the mine shaft: a huge and sudden ice fracture in the Beaufort Sea, as documented by the Canadian Ice Service (did you even know we had one?)

Click here to go to the CIS site, and then click on the second image down to see the fracture evolve over a month.
And just to give some perspective, here’s the Beaufort Sea in the context of Alaska on the left and the Canadian Arctic.

Huge Fracture in Beaufort Sea ice pack worries scientists
The fracture, first discovered in December, occurred in the Beaufort ice pack off the west coast of Banks Island in the Northwest Territories….
“It’s the first time we’ve seen it happening so dramatically like this because we lost so much ice last summer,” said (David) Barber, who last year led a team of scientists aboard the ice breaker Amundsen to the Beaufort Sea to study the changes.
“We’re starting to think this is what the future’s going to look like,” Barber told CBC News.

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