Architecture
October 16, 2019

Daily Scot in Victoria – 3: Harris Green

From Daily Scot:

Walking through Victoria’s Harris Green neighbourhood located just east of downtown, you witness first hand the city’s density boom as construction cranes and development-proposal boards proliferate. I noticed an intense cluster of projects around the Cook and Johnson Street corridors.

A new Bosa development on Pandora has condos built above an urban Save-On-Foods location, a new precedent for mix use in Victoria:

There is also preservation of heritage for two developments (Wellburns Market and The Wade)  which incorporate existing landmark structures with new apartment living.

 

Keep your eye on this area as Victoria pushes for more options to address the housing crisis.

 

 

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By Daily Scot.  (Click on title for images.)

One of my favourite neighbourhoods in Victoria is Cook Street Village, a leafy three-block collection of shops, restaurants, services and a pub strung along a bus route.

More a neighbourhood ‘node’ within the larger Fairfield district, Cook Street is a bucolic human-scale streetscape – nestled between Beacon Hill Park, adjacent pre-war bungalows and the Sea.  A magical setting.

Within the village is a development that I am constantly drawn to on each of my visits, a superb example of site planning, scale and program.

I am not aware of the name or history of the collection of buildings located between Sutlej Street and Oliphant Ave, but Google shows the site was redeveloped between 2005 and 2011. (Anyone from Victoria able to provide some insight?)

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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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This week, selected items and observations from a short trip to Victoria.
Back in 2016, Dan Ross reported on Victoria’s first protected bike lane on Pandora Street here.  Since then, as reported here, the City has moved towards a complete active transportation network in the core – notably on Fort Street, just now nearing completion.

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While I didn’t have a chance to get on a bike and explore it all, here are some shots which demonstrate the commitment the City is making:

Pandora at Government

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Pandora looking west to new Johnson Street Bridge

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Fort Street lane waiting to open

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Frontage lane at 525 Superior Street – a new provincial government office building

Inside the building, there are large bike rooms with lockers – but the designers provided parking capacity based on counts of use in other buildings with departments that were consolidated in this new one.  Guess what?  With better facilities, the numbers of cyclists so increased that the architects are trying to figure out to repurpose space for the demand.
Another lesson: this nicely designed bike ramp in the centre of the stairs leading to the bike rooms isn’t used all that much.  There’s a car ramp immediately to the left, and cyclists use it instead of having to dismount and carry their bike up the stair ramp.

 

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This week, selected items and observations from a short trip to Victoria.
The Victoria I grew up in was a product of the 1940s and ’50s.  Literally: this was the house my father had built in 1946 on return from the war.  Cost: $7,000, with a Veteran’s loan.  (In 2017 dollars: $102,000)

It is astonishing to me how much of that era is still intact.  Almost nothing has changed on the surrounding blocks, not even the corner store down the street.

 
Bringing my Vancouver eyes, I can see that era is coming to an end.  Land values are rising as the decades-old housing stock decays.  In some neighbourhoods, like Cadboro and Cordova Bays, it means the original house, regardless of condition or suitability, must be demolished and replaced with a development that maximizes the allowable density and provides all the amenities expected for million-dollar-plus accommodation.
One:

Two:

Three:

The same conundrum: the loss of more affordable housing (small houses on large lots, especially), a change in scale and character of the community, discomfort with speculation and empty homes – but a resistance to anything that might lower property values or tax the spectacular gains that one generation lucked out on even as they complain that their children can’t afford to live in the neighbourhoods they grew up in.
This is not the Victoria that established residents want, but it looks increasingly like the one they will be getting.

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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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While in Victoria last week I checked out progress on the city’s first on-road protected cycle lanes on Pandora Street. After public consultation last year, stakeholders approved this two-way, $2-million concept on the north side of the road from Cook Street in the west to Store Street/Johnston Street Bridge in the west – about 1.2 kilometres.

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2015 approved concept

 
After a public RFP process last year, the city commissioned Boulevard Transportation to deliver final designs, which are due this spring (Full disclosure: my transportation design team bid on this project and scored second. I’m 100 percent over it. Doing fine.).
The city ran a successful pilot project for this concept last year to test the idea out, both for operational logistics and public engagement. I’m a big fan of pilot projects; and am generally impressed with how the city got its ducks in a row, communicated its impact analyses, and delivered this initiative along a major arterial roadway with a loss of 75 on-street parking spaces. Commercial Drive cycle lane opponents take note: the world did not end and nobody was driven into penury.

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2015 pilot project – temporary lanes

 
At present, Boulevard and the city are working through the details; including what type of physical separation will exist. Two options are:

Planters

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Raised concrete curbs

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So what progress has been made? Designs are nearly complete. Construction is to start this summer. Ultimately, this stretch east of Blanshard Street will look something like this:

facing west toward Quadra Street

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And this:

Facing east toward Blanshard Street

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Council’s ‘sort of last-minute’ instructions that the cycle lane be “fully protected through intersections” is throwing a little kink in the designs and cost, but it’s nothing that can’t be overcome. As seen in downtown Vancouver, this means: 1) installing cycle signal heads and 2) replacing and redesigning all signal phases and signal heads to hold right and left turns when cyclists have the green.

It’s only money.

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Simon Button, a young engineer and urban chicken enthusiast in Victoria, sends this dispatch on the topic of gentrification in the country’s oldest Chinatown. 

The ‘g-word’ has long been a topic of heated debate in the world of neighbourhood development.
One project in Victoria seems to have rejected the negative connotation of the ‘g-word’ and presents its heritage building conversion to the public as “a gentrification project”. This is either an extremely tin-eared development team or one willing to embrace the positive side of the debate. Maybe both.

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The conversion project will be connecting a group of heritage buildings in Victoria’s Chinatown, providing street level commercial space on both Pandora and Fisgard. The buildings on the two parallel streets will be connected by an interior courtyard and their height will not change. The condos upstairs will apparently be priced around $300K, a price tag which is likely achieved by having a floor area of only 400-500 square feet and not providing any parking.
To me, the advertising of this as a gentrification project seemed to be either a misuse of the word gentrification or alternately a very honest declaration of intent from the developer. Or perhaps the word has developed a broader use and is not quite as provoking as it once was.

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