The Third Annual Bell Urban Forum


Vancouverism in a World of Cities


Nearly twenty years ago, ‘Vancouverism’ began to circulate as an internationally-recognized label for a distinctive set of practices of building, representing, and marketing the virtues of urban life. From planning, development, and architecture to cinema, transnational social movements, and increasingly cosmopolitan currents of migration, the Vancouver city-region has become a reference point for new configurations of density, diversity, and new relations between humans and the natural world.

At the same time, Vancouver has become the second or third most expensive housing market on the planet, and it’s all built on the unceded indigenous lands and communities that long predate British North America and Canada. Vancouver provides a unique vantage point from which to view the transformations of space and time — of past, present, and future — in an urban world.

Where have concepts of Vancouverism traveled? How have the images and narratives of Vancouverism evolved? How have these trends co-evolved with changes in the material lived realities of society and nature in the Vancouver region?

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An opening op-ed from Gord, celebrating 60 years of the Planning Institute of BC, and highlighting some of what came to influence Vancouverism in the period 1986-2010.

The main segment features a housing discussion between Josh Gordon, Assistant Professor at the School of Public Policy at SFU, and Tom Davidoff, Associate Professor of the Strategy and Business Economics Division at UBC Sauder School of Business, hosted by Price Tags Managing Editor Colin Stein.

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Even the magazine The Economist is weighing in on the importance of Vancouver’s Chinatown as a historic and very special cultural place deeply rooted in the birth and development of this country.  One of the positive things that has happened with the impetus to build condominiums in Chinatown is the rise of  a new generation of articulate, smart and savvy young professionals that grew up in or coming to Chinatown,  understanding the essence of this place in a very rooted way.
Urbanist Melody Ma is one of those young professionals interviewed by the Economist, and talked about the Chinatown neighbourhood not really changing until after the 2010 Winter Olympics. At that time “the downtown area was forested with new condominiums” and prices have risen by close to 60 per cent in the last three years. While Chinatown was avoided by developers in the past, development applications such as the nine storey luxury apartments proposed for 105 Keefer threaten to undermine Chinatown’s cultural identity.

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Further to talking about twisty buildings, the design is in for a 36 storey highrise at 1133-1155 Melville Street between Thurlow and Bute Streets. Carlito Pablo in The Straight has written that “According to the design rationale prepared by the architectural company for the rezoning application, the concept for the skyscraper is a series of stacked boxes with different floor plate sizes and angles.” 

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As describes it there is a push for “supertalls” in New York City, those buildings that exceed the 984 foot height limit. As they note “These soaring towers aren’t always popular—many have actively fought against the buildings sprouting along 57th Street and Central Park South, worried that they’ll cause shadowing over the storied park—but it’s hard to argue against their status as marvels of engineering.”

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From Brette’s platform~Running under the “Your Political Party” banner,  Brette holds a degree in business, certification financial, project management and works for PHSA (Provincial Health Services Authority) as a Project Manager and Business Analyst. His passion is to work for the people, so the natural step in his career is to work for Vancouverites and support the gap between the people and the government.
Brette’s commitment to the people of Vancouver if elected:

  1. Donate $60,000 every year in office to Carnegie Community Action Project (CCAP) to help fund food for Vancouver’s homeless
  2. Be accountable for any failure and accredit all accomplishments to the public
  3. Accept zero donations or any influential funding
  4. Host community meetings once a week at City Hall and available online for open discussion about current policies
  5. Turn the mayor’s office from a secured, locked room to a kid friendly space to accommodate speakers with children
  6. Simply do the right thing

You can read more about the platform of Your Political Party on Housing, the Opiod Crisis, Community and Environment here.


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Gord Price: Spent a few days in Victoria to deliver a talk for the District of Saanich as they begin local area planning revisions for Cadboro and Cordova Bays.  In my extra hours, I had a chance to check out a few places in my home town.
The first observation: in some ways Victoria has changed not at all.  It still seems to be demographically weighted to the older and retired.  (At a restaurant in Broadmead, an affluent suburb of Saanich, among the hundred-or-so diners almost all were in their 50s or above, and 100 percent were white.)  On Government Street downtown, Murchies tea shop still looks like the setting for a Barron cartoon*:

The extraordinary landscape of southern Vancouver Island, with Gary Oak and Arbutus prospering in the drier, milder landscape of rock outcrops and ridges, is still the defining feature of this self-conscious Eden.

However, the built city is changing, particularly in the blocks on the immediate west side of downtown:

Victoria, when I was growing up there in the 60s, knew what it didn’t want: anything that looked like downtown Vancouver and the West End.  Understandably, given its first taste of highrise development:

But after downzoning James Bay and providing no alternative for residential growth (and certainly not tall buildings), the City saw its downtown suffer with the growth of retail elsewhere, cutbacks in provincial-government employment and the economics of seasonal tourism.  It then looked to Vancouverism as a model, and the results are evident.

*Sid Barron was an editorial cartoonist for Victoria and Toronto newspapers, who had a gentle touch and a sharp pen, able to delightfully caricature the British-influenced culture of post-war Canada.

The site proposal being referenced in this decades-old cartoon is a waterfront parking lot on the Inner Harbour – still, as far as I know, contentious and unresolved.

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A comment under Our Looming Tower by Ralph Segal that’s worth bringing forward:
This intriguing 497 ft. high tower by Bjarke Ingels (Westbank is the developer) is a worthy demonstration of the intent of the City’s Higher Building Policy in delivering not merely outstanding architectural design at specific locations that avoid protected view corridors but further, a development that addresses an array of city planning and urban design objectives and requirements.
Included in the development (which replaced a mini-storage warehouse and vehicle repair shops) is a 98 unit rental housing component (lower podium) and soon to emerge unique, green-roofed, low scale buildings between the bridge and on/off ramps that will transform this bleak under-bridge area into an active retail/commercial hub for the neighbourhood. In addition to the rental housing, a further $13.5m CAC developer contribution will fund City cultural, heritage and off-site public realm needs.
Another notable example is the striking, Bing Thom-designed 556 ft. high “Butterfly” (rezoned in 2017, in conjunction with the West End Community Plan, 2013) on 1000- block Nelson behind the heritage First Baptist Church on Burrard St., which will be restored and seismically upgraded as part of the development.
In addition to this highly acclaimed tower design and Church rehab, the development, again by Westbank, will include 66 units of TRUE, much needed social housing to be owned and managed by the Church, a 37 space daycare and cash contributions totalling, in all, a CAC package valued at $93.3m.
Such needed public benefits, provided by the developer in exchange for additional density and height, are, frankly, beyond the budgets of governments to deliver. So long as a thorough, robust assessment against City policy and guidelines of the urban design quality and “fit” of proposed developments in their context, along with public consultation, confirms that the additional density and height can be accommodated, such proposals, in specifically identified areas, should continue to be considered.

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