Architecture
November 16, 2016

The "Santana Row" effect coming to your commercial area


There is a new “mall reinvention” in town-and you may  find it on a street near you.As reported in the East Bay Times there is something called the “Santana Row” effect, named after the San Jose California location which attracts people to stroll and linger around the area, even if they are not purchasing goods at the luxury shops, or sipping French coffee in the cafes. The emphasis is on a “gathering place and sense of community, not just a place to shop”.

There is something similar in Aurora Colorado where there are streets of pretty sidewalked and gardened retail stores anchored by a pseudo campanile which also housed the area’s library. The Santana Row effect in  California is embracing what is a nationwide planning trend that seeks to undo the great American enclosed mall and the cars that come with it.

The Santana Row effect uses a centred square in the middle of the city centre encircled by retail shops and restaurants. Mixed use residential buildings are above the ground floor retail. There are often offices, theatres and offices incorporated in the area as well. The original Santana Row in San Jose was based upon La Rambla in Barcelona, a fabulous strolling and commercial street. Prominent architects for this new form include Renzo Piano who is planning a similar high street experience with a centred plaza in San Ramon California.

As one store owner stated about the Santana Row effect: “It takes a lot of money to enter the door at Disneyland, but it’s free to walk around here, enjoy the fountains and enjoy all the architecture”. These new city centres are a reaction against the suburban drive to mall that predicated half of the 20th century.  And people seem to love these new urban pseudo commercial spaces. Alan Hess, the East Bay Times architectural critic states that Santana Row spaces “channel(s) consumerism’s impulses into the creation of a living, breathing neighborhood. It took away space from retail and gave it to people for parks, narrowing streets enough to slow down cars, he said.  People became part of the action as they walked around, or sat at outdoor cafes, people-watching and taking it all in.Santana Row realizes that we want to be with our fellow humans for reasons other than selling or being sold to”.

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The New York Times suggests that smoother immigration policies and Vancouver’s ambitious technological hopes can spark a “Cascadia Innovation Corridor”, noting that Microsoft has already located a Vancouver office here with 750 employees and salaries totalling 90 million annually.
But wait a minute-Nick Wingfield’s article then describes the downer.“One serious obstacle to Vancouver’s tech ambitions is its head-spinning housing costs. The median price for a detached home in the metropolitan area in August was 1.4 million Canadian dollars (about $1.06 million), a 27.8 percent increase from a year earlier, according to the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver. In the San Francisco metropolitan area, the median single family home price was about $848,000, according to Zillow.”

The pay is also not as good. Median pay for tech related jobs  in the San Francisco Bay area is  $112,000 a year. In Vancouver it is just under $49,000 in Vancouver, adjusted to the American dollar.  Director of the City Program at Simon Fraser University Andy Yan says it best, stating  “We have San Francisco real estate prices with the incomes of somewhere between Reno and Nashville.

Last month, the Premier of British Columbia and the governor of Washington signed an agreement “affirming their shared interest in creating regional economic opportunities for innovation in the technology sector”. Suggestions  include the development of a high-speed rail line between Vancouver and Seattle, and/or a dedicated lane for driverless cars on I-5 and 99, the highways linking the two cities.

Vancouver has had only 1.78 billion dollars in venture capital going to local tech start-ups compared to 8.9 billion dollars in Seattle. But with immigration policies that can bring highly skilled tech workers in from other countries makes Vancouver an attractive place for big tech companies on the move. Hootsuite is an example of an early adapter, with the social media giant creating a start-up valued at over one billion dollars.

If we can provide more affordable housing and better salaries, will tech flock to the city?

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How many times have you thought: I’d love to sit outside but it’s kinda noisy and stinky with the cars right there?

This is my fourth post in a series on transforming our shopping districts into more pleasant places to get to safely and hang out in.
We’ve reached an awkward moment in Vancouver’s history where trips by active transportation and transit are increasing without updating our shopping districts to accommodate those modes as well.
If as of May, 2015 50% of all trips in Vancouver are made by walking, bicycling, or transit and we haven’t updated the safety for those modes in any of our shopping districts yet, is this affecting how well businesses are doing? It seems it must be.
Janette Sadik-Khan, likening a City to a business for a moment, said about updating streets: “If you didn’t change your major capital asset in 50-60 years, would you still be in business?”
Now that an interesting amount of data from best practices elsewhere confirms these changes are good for business, it is time for the City to plan improving the streets in our shopping districts with updates such as wider sidewalks including bulges, raised crosswalks, mid-block crossings, protected bike lanes and intersections, better bicycle parking, car-free plazas, space for transitioning between modes, and other additions.
Successful business owners like Jimmy Pattison always talk about exceptional, friendly customer service being the most important step for companies. What they really mean is that the whole customer experience – from the first website visit, to ease of getting there and getting through the door, to the impression the place is clean and appealing indoors and out, through the direct customer experience until the good-bye/see you soon – should be at least safe and pleasant or even fun.
Every successful business also adapts to the times to continue to be desired. They adjust to new ways their customers reach them (both online and via other modes of travel). Businesses are not served well by being seen as on the wrong side of history on the issue of safer streets.
Reach out to the successful ones who intend to be there throughout and after these transitions. The businesses who do well for many years do the following:

  • keep their awnings clean, readable, and free of green fuzz,
  • ask the City to install bike racks near them by tweeting details @CityofVancouver #311,
  • make sure the doors, floors, tables, chairs and bathrooms are clean,
  • greet customers with a smile,
  • make an effort to get to know regulars,
  • are in tune with what menu items or stock their customers really want,
  • have great relationships with their suppliers to get those items on a consistent basis,
  • handle complaints graciously – often with follow-up check-ins,
  • and always say please and thank you.

What we can do to help local businesses – especially through this transition:

  • make an effort to thank and support local businesses and their owners – especially the ones who support safer streets for all,
  • avoid lecturing (or “You should…” sentences to) business owners who have no intention of changing; it’s a waste of energy; they will learn the hard way,
  • go to the business manager or owner before complaining elsewhere if you have any problems: Assume If you like us, tell your friends; if not, tell us! is the motto of every business,
  • spread the word about great experiences in person, on social media, and with your friends and co-workers,
  • every time you visit, casually mention to the server what mode you took to get there,
  • notify the City if you see loose bike racks, street lights out, plastic bags stuck in street trees, etc. by tweeting the details to @CityofVancouver #311,
  • and always say please and thank you.

The City, together with residents, business owners, employees, and our visitors will need to pitch in to improve the health, safety, economic viability, and delightfulness of our shopping districts.

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In May 2013, the old Eaton’s block at Pacific Centre looked like this:

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Just weeks from Nordstrom’s opening, it looks like this:

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The Howe Street side from Robson Square looks good – a complementary composition:

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Unfortunately no design intervention was able to overcome the dismal relationship with the street due to the parking ramp that serves the vast garage below and the exit doors and blank walls that alienate the frontage for almost a full block.

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You see it in the comment sections all the time – whenever a story is run on an item that gets cast as a ‘war on the car.’*  You know, bike lanes, street closures, the Viaducts.

Vancouver, say the critics, is bleeding because the powers that be don’t understand that people are fed up, they aren’t driving downtown, and so jobs, business, retail are all heading for the ‘burbs.

Is that true?

Andy Coupland at City Hall crunched some numbers:

In terms of jobs: In 1996 there were an estimated 132,000 jobs on the Downtown Peninsula; 38.6% of the city total of 308,700 jobs. This includes a proportional allocation of the ‘no fixed workplace’ employees.

Using the same methodology, there are an estimated 171,700 jobs on the Downtown Peninsula in 2011; 43.3% of the city total of 397,000 jobs.

So Downtown has actually increased its proportion of jobs in the city.

Regionally, it looks as if Downtown Vancouver had 14.4 percent of all the region’s jobs in 1996 and 14.6 percent in 2011. So steady – and if anything a slight increase.

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There are other indicators that correlate.  Like this:

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The vacancy rate is a little higher in the last few years, probably because new office buildings are coming online, but the rate is considerably lower than a decade ago.

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Here’s another indicator:

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For data geeks:

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You can see from the two charts the strong link between job growth and transit ridership.  Which explains why even though it is more difficult and more expensive to drive downtown, transit has more than made up the difference.  Even luxury goods and specialized jobs (hello, Nordstrom and Microsoft) want to cluster in the core, making Pacific Centre one of the most lucrative malls in Canada.

Today’s Sun:

A new study has found that four of Canada’s 20 most productive shopping malls are located in Metro Vancouver, with Vancouver’s Pacific Centre and Oakridge Shopping Centre earning first and third spots respectively on the overall productivity rating.

The study was conducted and released this month by Retail Insider after an assessment of Canada’s top shopping centres. They calculated the rankings by dividing the overall annual sales (as reported by the landlords) by the overall square footage of the mall, excluding department stores and anchor tenants.

“We’re basically looking at the middle part of the mall,” Retail Insider editor-in-chief Craig Patterson said in an interview.

Vancouver’s Pacific Centre topped the list with annual sales of $1,498 per square foot. Oakridge Shopping Centre was rated third at $1,395. Metropolis at Metrotown came in 12th ($886) and Richmond Centre earned 17th spot ($833).

You’ll note all the best-performing malls are connected to transit.

But not to worry, critics.  If there’s a No vote in the referendum, the region’s commitment to more transit will be capped, the Province will commit to more roads and bridges, and Downtown Vancouver will finally get what’s coming to it.  It will bleed.

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*  If there ever was a war on the car (and there arguably was from about 1915 to 1925), the car won.

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One of Vancouver’s most prolific architects, James Cheng, has up to now taken only tentative steps towards incorporating colour into his work.  Best known for the cityscapes of Concord Pacific and Coal Harbour, plus prominent towers like the ShangriLa, his work has typically been rectangular compositions with the most subtle variations of blues, whites and grays.

Like this: the transformation of the old Eaton’s block at Pacific Centre:

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It could, in my opinion, use a splash of colour (and the tarps don’t count).

To date, his most adventurous incorporation of colour has been the stripes on the Spectrum towers just west of the Rogers Stadium (right).  Pretty modest by international standards, particularly compared to Australia.

I suspect he (or his clients) have been reticent to use large blocks of bold primaries because of the cultural modesty of Canadians, at least expressed in its generic architecture, and because developers do not want to take a risk on anything that seems too extreme.  Best to stick, literally or figuratively, to beige.

As well, our most revered architect Arthur Erickson has had a huge impact: his belief that muted colours were an appropriate response to our northwest-coast climate, that concrete was “the marble of our times,” established an aesthetic norm for the profession.

Well, at least with respect to Cheng’s latest work, that’s going to change.

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From Novae Res Urbis:

Vancouver city council gave the go-ahead last week to Concord Pacific’s two-tower project on a triangular site beside the Cambie bridge …   The project on the site known as 5b west, will have 620 dwelling units in buildings of 28 and 30 storeys. Designed by James Cheng, the curvilinear buildings will be joined by three bridge structures containing residential and commercial uses, linking the towers.

“I love the design,” Councillor Heather Deal said. “It’s a lovely use of colour.

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Peter Ladner added a comment to The New Point Grey Road – 4 that I wanted to copy here – first, so it wouldn’t be missed; second, to add my own comment.  Which is this:

I never put any credence in the idea that a Vision council would close PGR at the behest of the rich – good ol’ Chip, in particular – to please their friends, contributors or the Mayor’s new neighbours.  So I was surprised when that kept being repeated as a presumed motivation.

It doesn’t make sense.  First, that a centre-left party would be willing to do such a thing. I’m pretty sure they didn’t get a lot of votes from the north side of PGR, and aren’t likely to now.  (Hello, Nelson Skalbania.)  They’d be more in danger of losing support from their base.

Second, in the face of local opposition, the first instinct of a party in power is to spend the money somewhere else, preferably closer to their supporters.  I well remember when I was on Council that as we were planning a Nanton Street greenway, it created some modest resistance on the West Side.  Given both opposition and other choices, the money ended up being spent on the East Side.  One need only walk or cycle the 37th Avenue Ridgeway to see the difference: almost no amenities west of Ontario; abundant traffic calming, public art, street furniture and pedestrian lighting to the east.

So why take the heat on PGR?  I presume because it’s part of a long-standing, cross-party commitment to completing the Seaside Greenway, creating a continuous car-free route as close as possible to the water – whether seawall and/or bikelane.  The NPA led the way, in my partisan opinion, with the work we did on the Seaside route on the north side of English Bay: a lane taken on Beach, parking eliminated or reconfigured, and yes, the paving of a separate lane through the greensward starting at the foot of Cardero Street. 

With clear opposition to extending the seawall on the foreshore below PGR (hell, today it would be impossible to build the seawall around Stanley Park), the current PGR creates the next best thing: a link between Kits Beach and Jericho, and there’s no real substitute for that.  It was worth taking the heat.

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Here’s Peter’s take on the same issue and the reaction of a local resident:

I sometimes wonder how much of the opposition is cover for a totally understandable screw-the-rich instinct. What would the reaction to this closure be if the adjacent residents were all lower income? Why aren’t people outside this area happy that disproportionately higher property values along PGR mean higher city taxes for those benefiting from this closure and therefore lower taxes for everyone else?

People overlook the fact that the ridiculously rich people on the north side of PGR are a small minority of beneficiaries of this change. I estimate that a majority of the beneficiaries north of 4th are tenants, not to mention other people from around the city who will now be able to enjoy this street and its five rarely-used waterfront stairways.

Other than the odd angry outburst, there’s no evidence that life is any worse along 4th Ave.

Here’s one PGR resident’s expression of relief, from the West Kitsilano Residents’ Association website:

“Regarding the impact of more traffic on these side streets due to the change of making PGR open to everyone in the city including those of us living on PGR who no longer are kept up at night to 11am with load radios blasting from idling cars backed up at the PGR & Alma traffic light.

“Nor do I have to wait to get into and out of my car when parking or leaving my home because of reckless speeding commuter traffic who had no regards for the fact that we live on the street. Also I can walk my dog on the sidewalk since bikers, who feared for their life riding on PGR (especially between Blenheim and Alma) were riding on the sidewalks!

“My question to those now regrettably having to live with extra ‘local’ traffic on their streets: Are you dealing with 9-10 thousand commuter extra speeding cars? This was the nightmare we were living with for years.

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Following the transformation of Pacific Centre, here from the north, with a screen capture at the time the mall was being rebuilt:

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November 9, 2013:

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From the original renderings, I hadn’t fully appreciated that James Cheng’s design squares up the curved bay on the northeast corner and makes it part of the Miesien-influenced composition of the TD tower:

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Renderings of the final product here.

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