September 8, 2019

West Pacific: Where We Gather

The Blue Parrot, Granville Island

A fall afternoon in 1979; Granville Island had recently opened.  A year earlier I had arrived from Victoria.

Sitting exactly here with an unexpected view, sipping one of my first espressos, looking out on to a still-industrial creek False Creek, watching boats and people, I thought: Yup, this is the right place.


(For full image, click on title.)

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Pan flutes by Edgar Manuela, Granville Island.

The sound of Muenala`s pan flutes vibrating in the reverberating spaces of the Granville Bridge will always be the sound of Granville Island for many. The Ecuadorian has been playing those spaces below the bridge for … how long?

(For full image, click on title.)

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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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As a consequence of the West End Community Plan of 2013, there is a massive rebuilding of the blocks on Davie Street from Jervis to Denman.  But the West End is used to that.  The district has already seen such transformations throughout its history.

It began with the ‘New Liverpool’ subdivision prior to the incorporation of the city, bringing with it an explosion of development: mansions of the elite and professional class, along with the ‘Vancouver Specials’ of the 1890s you can still see on Mole Hill. Inserted were the first apartment blocks with the arrival of the streetcar on Denman and Davie in 1900.

Then the crash of 1913, a war, a Depression, another war.  It wasn’t until the late 1940s when redevelopment again transformed a decaying and overcrowded district with dozens of those three-storey walkups.

A rezoning in 1956 brought the most significant change of all: over 200 concrete highrises.  That concrete jungle – the postcard shot – is the West End today: the scale and character of one of Canada’s densest neighbourhoods.

It turned out okay.

Now, the current and expected changes are happening on the border blocks, from Thurlow to Burrard, Alberni to Georgia – and very obviously on West Davie.  Faster than planners anticipated.  The most significant phase of West End development in the last half century.

Here’s an example on one side of one block from Cardero to Bidwell – three towers at the stage where the raw concrete makes a more powerful architectural statement than when the glass and spandrel panels get attached:

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Has anyone at City Hall (hello, Transportation Advisory Committee) said anything about the wave of electric scooters that are starting to wash over Vancouver?

Here’s an example from yesterday on the Seaside at English Bay.  Notice the speed differential; the scooter on the bikeway is going faster than any vehicle on Beach Avenue.

Download video: Scooter at English Bay

We still have time to deal with the issues that have already emerged in other cities – notably San Diego, as reported here in the New York Times:

Since scooter rental companies like Bird, Lime, Razor, Lyft and Uber-owned Jump moved into San Diego last year, inflating the city’s scooter population to as many as 40,000 by some estimates, the vehicles have led to injuries, deaths, lawsuits and vandals. Regulators and local activists have pushed back against them. One company has even started collecting the vehicles to help keep the sidewalks clear. …

San Diego’s struggle to contain the havoc provides a glimpse of how reality has set in for scooter companies like Bird and Lime. Last year, the services were hailed as the next big thing in personal transportation. Investors poured money into the firms, valuing Bird at $2.3 billion and Lime at $2.4 billion and prompting an array of followers. …

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A pedestrian roundabout …

Paths throughout the neighbourhood come together here.  Everyone circles around the centre.  Or sits down and watches the circulation.

The space is beautifully proportioned; it feels comfortable.  And hence safe.

It`s an opening in the urban forest, ideal for the inhabitants who live underneath.

This place creates community.  Where is it?


Comment below, answer tomorrow.

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Bob Ransford got it right: the public art piece – ‘Off Centre’ by artist Renee Van Halm – is at the Joyce-Collingwood Station.

It’s a small but colourful piece of the just-completed station upgrade funded in the blandly named TransLink Maintenance and Repair Program – a $200 million program of 70 projects that have been rolling out since 2016.

As these small and large improvements continue, it feels like a golden age of renewal for TransLink, reflected not only in physical changes but also in additional capacity and ease of use.  Like these, as reported in The Sun:

On Tuesday, 24 new Skytrain cars will increase capacity by five per cent on Expo Line and nine per cent on the Millennium Line during peak periods.

As well, commuters can expect more frequency on 12 key bus routes with the addition of 40,000 service hours. On Seabus, sailings are being increased to every 10 minutes during peak periods. …

The regional transportation authority has implemented a new artificial intelligence algorithm that improved the accuracy of bus departure estimates by 74 per cent during a pilot project.

It can even seem excessive:

When headways are every two minutes on a Sunday afternoon, passengers don’t really need a schedule.  But hey, it shows they care.

Let’s remember this as we reflect back on the 2015 referendum – a totally cynical move by the BC Liberals, which delayed the inevitable funding and cost millions, only serving to demonstrate how easy it is to trash government if you make the price visible.  The Liberals have barely acknowledged (and never apologized) for imposing that referendum on the region.

The least they could do now is to recognize how TransLink has improved, helped shape the region, and is more necessary than ever.

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