"2012 could be the year that China begins its journey into a "balkanized" collection of smaller autonomous parts, which is the big fat trend line for all the nations of the world, including the USA."
James Howard Kunstler: Jan, 02, '12.
Vancouver Re-boot recognizes a new reality, Vancouver is no longer (if it ever was?) an international, world-class, modern city: quite the contrary! The city! The view! The latter gets the attention. We look outwards neglecting introspection: avoiding reality.
Jim Kunstler couches "balkanization" as a pejorative. I see it differently. To wit: Is balkanization necessarily bad? Indeed I see it as a safety valve.
With that in mind this essay re-jigs Vancouver's neighbourhoods within a preconceived vision of semi-autonomous, "balkanized" easily identified, urban villages.
Hopefully, a "balkanized Vancouver" has the potential to encouraging communities with unique identities: stress-free living, less auto-dependence, and modest prosperity.
May 1951 I arrived to a hot summer. Forest fires' smoke filled the sky: English Bay sunsets were breath-taking, glowing red!
I first berthed in Kerrisdale: later Kits. After a brief stay out of town I returned in 1957 to live and practice in what was quite a different place!
TO SEE THE CITY THRU A SHARPER LENS
For two years prior to the 2010 Vancouver winter Olympics much of the city, especially along Cambie street was in upheaval.
The games are now long gone the city is in limbo: most of us oblivious! Great projects are discussed, shiny trinkets mooted.
How to pay always devolves to higher taxes, while the city is in denial of international socio-economic trends (compound interest/fractional reserve: the most pernicious system of financing!).
The corridor is experiencing "land lift" fancy jargon for inflated (bubble economics) land prices.
Resulting from Olympic hysteria, the circles are just that: circles on paper: no socio/economic, in depth, reasoning behind them except to say, "A ha but, the Canada line is always full of passengers" to which the obvious reply is, the lifeboats on the Titanic were full of passengers too: there was no alternative!
A new Planning Paradigm is necessary if Vancouver is to survive the massive econo/social changes looming on the international horizon. To wit: stop relying on off-shore real estate speculators and currency hedgers and start generating a bit of real money locally.
Vancouver City Summit Feb. 1-2. '12. TWINKIES. Doug Coupland had the right idea: no not the TWINKIES idea! That is someone else's idea. Something equally original, though. Popular in the market place. Something to shove out the door that someone needs.
But the biggest goal of the convention is to sell Vancouver as a place to do business, especially in the emerging clean-tech and high-tech fields that Mr. Robertson talks about constantly. And especially in a world where, in the eyes of economists, it's cities that compete, not nations.". Frances Bula: Globe and Mail, Feb. '02. '12.
If Mayor Robertson's wants results he'll need come up with ideas more creative than that! Every city in the contemporary world is seeking the same: Mayor Phillip Owen tried in on the flats years ago.
Mr. Mayor get serious. Stop exporting raw logs. Stop exporting oil sludge. Build an economy that makes things, builds things. Create real value. Trade in real goods. Stop the pretense!
Interesting: the early 1950's, when I entered the profession, the buzz was "accept modern, look to the future". Today heritage and yesterday pretty well command the conversation.
"Changing Vancouver then and now images" is an interesting example of our preoccupation with what was: i.e. the message being, are we relevant or nostalgic!
This thesis contends that while nostalgia is interesting, it has little to offer future trends.
European trade and migration, especially with and from the UK, was the city's early driving force. Opening the Panama Canal in 1914 was a huge boost.
This is now century twenty-one: the canal is no longer a boost.
Everything has become too big! Look to China.
China is important to Vancouver: 25% of her population speaks Chinese as their first language. East moving trade diminished long ago. West moving trade is over taking south moving US trade. Huge unwieldy tankers ply tar sludge to China and the US thru Vancouver"s Second Narrows and a hard fought battle to stop the Enbridge pipeline thru wilderness north of the city is raging.
Vancouver's is a FIRE economy that long ago forfeited wealth creating resource industries to plying real estate off shore and speculation. Speculating in condo towers hasn't worked. Inventing jobs hasn't worked. If the city expects to see rapid prosperous economic activity driven by the so-called "land lift" as on the Cambie line, it is in for a rude awakening. No matter inflating land prices, if the land is not put to good use it is worthless: it will indeed drag the economy down!
So what to do?
Vancouver's neighbourhoods are as various as there are neighbourhoods
Downtown: 2 is the city's traditional business hub, transmogrifying lately into a quasi entertainment district. Indeed siting BC Place arena in the early 1960's was a fatal mistake recently compounded by applying a retractable roof. I have personally enjoyed listening to rock concerts, performed under the dome, while sitting in Vanier Park. Excessive noise pollution, throughout the city, is conveniently ignored.
Mount Pleasant: 12 has become a pivotal location and Champlain: 25 is noteworthy for its uniqueness. Most of the city comprises sprawl relieved by occasional human scale shopping streets in limited locations: West Broadway, Commercial Drive, South Granville etc. Traffic noise everywhere is untenable, the consequences of hectic road traffic!
These are my opinions, and mine alone.
Mount Pleasant: 12, amber ellipse on the aerial photo, is the confluence of three major thoroughfares; Main, Broadway, Kingsway, has recently become Vancouver's neighbourhood likely to feel development pressure most, increase in density and added facilities.
It is the central urban hub of transportation (Canada Line, west, and Broadway Skytrain, east, are walkable) with a variety of important civic facilities close by: City Hall, VGH, with integrated ophthalmological services and UBC's medical teaching center. False Creek Village and Science World are, essentially, serviced by MP facilities.
It is close and convenient to every part of the city.
With UBC and SFU at both civic extremities the movement along Broadway will be alleviated, in the interests of greening the city, if both institutions were to plan for their future facilities to be located in Mount Pleasant.
Mount Pleasant is Vancouver's epicenter.
Downtown East Side: 4 has garnered attention over the years: recently it has become focus of HAHR in, essence, gentrification that raises the question, what will happen to the health and welfare infrastructure that has built up over decades: what will happen to the people it services?
Kerrisdale: 20 has acquired its own character: it must be careful how many more towers it lets in.
Champlain Heights: 25 is unique. Designed in the sixties by Architect Barry Downs it is almost self-contained with its own health facilities and shopping center. A pastoral walking experience.
West Point Grey: 9, Kitsilano: 10, Southlands: 13 and Shaughnessy: 15 are posh areas. Any definition from me would be interpreted as condescending. They can look after themselves, power-wise, city hall influence.
Riley Park: 17 has recently lost several hundred affordable housing units: Holborn's recent redevelopment plans, displayed at the public meeting, is hardly affordable. And given the abundance of profligate, conspicuous astronauts arriving from Asia with their international finance the city will be hard pressed to replace the recent wilfully demolished.
There is little hope Holborn's proposed development will replace what was there. Indeed, don't expect the recent affordable task force to have much impact. The usual atrophied hopes, the usual smiling faces: they have no solutions to affordability, they are, essentially, the problem. We know them, we know what they do and what they have to say. How many times have we been here before?
Accordingly, it would be the height of crass for me to dictate, moralize and define each neighbourhood: that is why I suggest each be given local autonomy to work out it own way.
Let each neighbourhood define it's own purpose and future course.
1. The Canada Line does not serve Vancouver as it traverses one of the least populated areas.
It was built for the 2010 Olympics (probably with no other consideration).
On any given day parking lots are full as YVR serves Metro, not just the city. The question arises, who benefits from land-lift is a non-starter: hopeful developers have expectations but obviously it should go to the taxpayer since their penny went into the excavation.
2. Mount Pleasant. the amber central ellipse, Broadway @ Main, is the epicenter of movement within the city. It is also the locus UBC's health research, VGH, Vancouver City Hall. During the academic year traffic intensifies to and fro UBC and SFU, therefore re-direct all future development of these institutions into the epicenter.
Vancouver neighbourhoods were decentralized and unplanned: they evolved thru historic precedence, as urban villages should evolve. That may answer why vehicular movement never improves: downtown traffic has abated, not for lack of SOV usage, commuters have other destinations. Traffic elsewhere, on the Cambie catchment in particular, is as intense as it was before the line was installed.
Vancouver's TX conversation needs take another direction before we waste billions of federal/provincial tax money on more white elephants!
Vancouver's potential modal split.
It is fair to say, rhetorically, the best transportation is no transportation. Which begs the question: if we are in such a hurry to get there, what do we do when we arrive?
Vancouver is a medium-size, culturally isolated city: maybe it is not ready for a new look.
I have lived in cities large and small: Scarborough and York UK; Vancouver, Victoria and Nanaimo Canada. I lived in Mexico City, (Centro Historico, for almost two years. and visited one or two others: London UK (Putney, Tower Hamlets etc.); Paris Fr. (Charenton-Écoles, Neuilly-sur-Seine); São Paulo, Curitiba Br.; Buenos Aires (San Telmo, Palermo Viego) that have grown and prospered around urban villages. Most where there before they were subsumed. Even Nanaimo has University Village in Harewood. So . . . errrr . . . why not Vancouver?
Public dialogue is making a profound mistake positing new, heavy duty technology on hi-level tracks or under. Municipal councils (minus Burnaby) have approved, irresponsibly IMO, Evergreen: downtown to Coquitlam. That does not mean it will be built, nor should it be. The technology is profoundly expensive, inflexible, limited access, disruptive to install and does nothing for neighbourhoods. Piling debt on debt does nothing to green the city.
Therefore, to rationalize the city's TX plan: discourage auto travel by making it as inconvenient as possible; prioritize cyclists and pedestrians; prioritize emergency and movement of goods. Recognize water born TX: the thriving False Creek ferry system is a stroke of genius! Recognize taxi cabs as a major TX component.
Make top priority a network of light rail, street level, emissions free trams for public use.
An urban village? The concept village has changed considerably even in my short lifespan.
My early experience of a village, I'm talking Yorkshire early 1930's, was Lebberston, a tiny North Yorkshire farming hamlet. I don't know the population, probably in the dozens: it was home to my life-long friend's farm workers: it's still there.
Lebberston has a village green, pump, pub and a beck: for anything more villagers have to walk across the fields to Gristhorpe or Filey. A far cry from Greenwich Village, NY.
When England began to take bureaucratic planning seriously, after WWll, the Town and Country Planning Act then described a village. To wit: 5,000 population within a quarter mile of a center (5 mins walk) comprising high street shops, pub, post office, church, school and petrol station.
This was a best-case theory, I have no idea if it ever materialized: not in the new towns I visited. In fact, the last new town, Milton Keynes had a very large central shopping center, the purpose being self-containment: in practice it has become a London dormitory.
Oakridge Shopping Centre: 1999.
After a century of Edward Bernays one cannot say people come to these places of their own free will.
Color, texture, ambience, street presence,
An urban street scape village contrasting
Generally speaking it's hard to distinguish Vancouver's neighbourhoods: without identifying features, they exist in name only. Cherry blossoms in east Van, for about two weeks in spring, are delightful. The west side, for some reason, is more green.
There was, mooted, a Norquay Quay village in the Cedar Cottage neighbourhood that seems to have lost traction. It's identifiable shopping locus was busy, noisy Kingsway: hardly an attracting amenity.
As for the traditional concept, English country village! Existing platting, a land speculating ethos, and land prices preclude that! At least in that village one could expect to afford a life time of living and neighbours who speak your own language.
All neighbourhood residential areas, those listed above, are monotonous gerry-built stucco boxes with few out standing monuments or artifacts: those few that have survived the wrecker's ball are from early in the last century.
There are no villages squares or greens. I'm surprised for in the early days of the indomitable Gerald Sutton-Brown that may have been possible. No gossiping ladies at the village pump. That is just as well: the social implications back then (lord of the manor etc.,) were untenable.
Shaughnessy has the only public space focus, The Crescent, surrounded and faced by enclosing buildings. Indeed I lived within a block for fourteen years: I saw no lounging or gossipers: indeed, its ethos discourages loitering!
Vancouver is the second most expensive city in the world to live in: so the world press says. I believe it. Vancouver's council constantly proposes legislation to provide affordable accommodation: wishful thinquing extreme and they know it. Council has no control over in-migration or international finance that determines the cost of housing. AFFORDABILITY . . . Pah!
By and large Vancouver is a pretty grim city to be yourself in. Good only for astronauts (people who buy and maybe park the kids but go home to make money). The rest of us go live up the valley!
CAVEAT: pubic participation has it's draw-backs. Is there still an ownership animosity toward rentals (a sort of snobbishness)? The now defunct STIR program gave an insightful answer, evidently ownership and rental are not compatible. Yet.
This has to change. Regarding neighborhood control it may have to! Vancouver housing is beyond reach of home ownership for most. What will the die-hards' kids do?
Furthermore, the public has become accustomed to the city picking up the tab for every planning instigation. Yet most of the public isn't interested, rather spending time and money on other pursuits, leaving a small covey of die-hard enthusiasts: easy prey for dedicated single-issuers. Beware that needy, controlling neighbour
I do not propose semi-autonomous neighbourhood control in the interest of smooth government: I propose incrementalization of decision making as an antidote to the sweeping effects of decision making of a larger base: decisions that often get warped in the lengthy bureaucratic process.
Ideally the public should be involved in:
1. Local political control.
2. Local financial control.
3. Local development decision making.
4. Vigilant feed back . . .
Finance I don't understand: other than to suffer its effects. Generally governments take a cavalier attitude to borrowing passing what ever fiduciary back-log responsibility to the next election. It is the elephant in the room one day we must face: civic debt!
The gist of this essay explores "small is good" in a Vancouver neighbourhood context: wealth creating on a manageable scale, return to import substituting, incremental local industry in small, networked urban villages: Quartiers!
As for jobs in the FIRE economy Robin Silvester, Metro Port Authority President and CEO, tells us to build more port facilities on the ALR. If Delta Port is an indication, a pile of coal, machinery doing the work, not many jobs in that!
The Agricultural Land Reserve is a precious resource. Once its gone, its gone! It is the font of many potential jobs, incremental wealth creation, food growing, preparation and processing for Vancouver and communities in the Fraser Valley. A resource to replace trucking our food supply up I5 from California and Mexico.
Then there is global warming: AGW, and all the other alphabet soup. Surely a fertile ALR is the antidote. So far, the battle lines are drawn. Its the Sun! Its your fault? If you have staked your professional reputation on one or the other, you're not about to change your mind. We'll know in a hundred years and my bet is we'll still be arguing.
Putting aside the acronyms and alphabets, planning is nowhere near as influential as professionals suppose: it is too easily influenced. Indeed a pernicious money system intervenes at every DPA. Indeed what goes for urban design and planning is much wrought by happen chance, expedience and accident: who has the deepest pockets and loudest mouth.
Lip service is paid the public realm: real estate is way too expensive for that. IMO, public space amenity, or lack thereof, seems to be satisfied by, pay to use, community centers, vast parks, Stanley and Pacific Spirit, isolated on the extremities, and sports playing fields. The city appears not to be interested in integrated, connected, every-day useable public urban space. Leg-in-Boot Square, an example. So long as it is there it has fulfilled a political purpose, that it is not used: who cares?
Granville Island works, as you dodge the cars and chaos.
Pigeon Park is successful happen-chance: probably the best used, good weather or bad, public urban space in the city.
Open space exists, to be sure, but as a matter of political expediency. FCN's George Wainborne and David Lam Parks all serve the definition of open space for kids play: sit down, your bum gets wet. Charleston and Sutcliffe: sit down, again your bum gets wet. Throw a ball some one gets a black eye. Queen Elizabeth, Little Mountain, Park is a locus of residential areas were families picnic on sunny days. Hastings has the Exhibition grounds. But none account for the little square (Leg-in-Boot is always empty) to carouse with the neighbours. Victory Square? Sloping, difficult to relax on.
In fact bankers are the real planners. Like the elephant in the room no one wishes to acknowledge that usury, compound interest, and fiduciary corruption is endemic throughout traditional western culture . . .
. . . I am not predicting a cataclysmic financial failure. I do believe, however, the town will limp along inventing unsustainable delusions: essentially a city in limbo. Canadians, Vancouverites, have for decades languished in complacency, a media describing us as well mannered when IMO we are afraid to express our real thoughts.
Myths abound. The public has, evidently, a visceral dislike for towers aided and abetted by soi disant professionals who have never lived in one: time to take a more sophisticated approach.
Given the current crop, though, of colourless badly designed glass and gray concrete towers I get the point: the late architect Arthur Erickson did the cause no favour when he quipped, "concrete is the new marble" giving license to too many lack lustre talents.
Much of the dissension comes from inattention to figure ground amenity (the concept "private property" doesn't help): street level colour, texture, activity, acoustics (reverberations off hard surfaces) and above all integrated street level spaces, back alleys, little pauses etc.: and simply bad architecture! Every aspect of view is exploited when in fact, after much palaver, the neighbour's bathroom is the view!
A well integrated urban tower does have possibilities.
Vancouver's governance ethos is long past its buy date: actually rooted in British military organization (the imperious Sutton-Brown): fighting the last war, top-down hierarchy, over populated chain of command, unresponsive to field conditions, zoning, planning official/officer, divisions, numerical rather than spatial conceptualization all have military antecedents.
Add other irrational myths: lack of developable land, "green city", LEED building standards, hi-tech incinerators, shiny trinkets, inventing FIRE jobs, over supply of inappropriately developed/designed, over priced condos and exponential taxes the shibboleth, "world-class-paradise" has hit the wall big time . . .
Time to move on.
Roger Kemble ma (urban planning) rca maibc
An AIBC continuing education project.
Advice much appreciated . . .