As I mentioned on CBC, when I first saw the view corridor report and the proposal for 4 strategically located ‘tall buildings’ I was reminded of the New Yorker cartoon of the man and woman looking at the New York skyline with all its construction cranes. The woman turns to the man and says:
“I just can’t wait until the city’s finished.”
No one should deny that views of the mountains and water are exceptionally important in Vancouver; they are. And in many cases, the view corridors have been beneficial in keeping open certain public views that might otherwise have got lost. But in other cases, the view corridors (which were established at fixed intersections or points along the waterfront and bridges) have been eroded by trees and low rise buildings. In a couple of instances they have become little more than tiny vertical slivers.
One might say, so what…surely they are better than nothing. The problem is that those slivers are sterilizing, if you’ll pardon the pun, the development potential of some key properties. Why the pun? Because one such property is the St. Paul’s Hospital Site, which one day will need to be redeveloped in whole or part, to fund new hospital facilities.
This, in my opinion, is a very good example of why it was called a ‘View and Capacity study’. Unfortunately, and this is not a criticism of anyone in particular, I don’t think many people fully understood the trade-offs that needed to be considered.
Do you want to protect views? Of course!
My advice? While an important decision has been made (for the time being), some independent entity should be charged with the responsibility of carefully filming with movies, not stills, the view corridors that we have decided to maintain (and the new ones we have just created) so that over time we can properly evaluate their benefits.
Indeed. I would suggest that if we were to sit together in the Fifth Avenue Cinema and look at the film version of some of the view corridors we have just protected, and then be told of the building design and financial consequences for some of the property owners (like St.Pauls and a few of the recently designated office building sites ) we would not likely be so adamant or joyful that the right decisions had been made.
As for the proposal for 4 tall building sites, I was opposed to this for two reasons: as the New Yorker cartoon so beautifully illustrates, the city is never finished. Yes, we established a few sites a few years ago (including the Shangri-la and the Ritz Carlton sites) and we might establish 4 more now, but realistically there will be and should be many more to come over the years. (Some might even violate a particular view corridor.)
However, I think it will be better to evaluate each one on its merits at the time. (We weren’t really able to evaluate the trade-offs for these 4 sites).
The future evaluations could be accomplished with the aid of dynamic view analysis and hopefully one day in a CITY URBANARIUM with a giant model of the city and life-like visuals. Singapore and Shanghai have such Urbanariums…why even Havana has a wonderful giant model of its Old City to review and evaluate what’s happening and likely to happen.
Ray Spaxman proposed this concept for our city decades ago, and as a former director of the Urbanarium Society, I would like to see the city, community and private sectors start to again plan for such a centre now…perhaps as part of the new development around BC Place, or wherever…(There’s a report going to Council this Tuesday requiring a $522,000 contribution from the property owners to the city to fund the planning work for this area….let’s see if we can’t use some of this money to investigate the requirements and financing structure for an Urbanarium as part of the development.
(Ironically, if it was built, it would likely support some different planning visions for this area including, yes, some taller buildings protruding into current view corridors in order to allow better major park designs!)
Finally, with respect to Heights in Heritage areas, I was and am still opposed to the proposals for taller buildings. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure I like the 12 and 15 storey heights.
While there are some nice 12 storey buildings in Kerrisdale surrounded by mature trees, depending on the floor plate dimensions, sometimes it is difficult to tell whether a 12 storey building is a short tall building, or a tall short building.
I still prefer a 10 storey height limit with a more continuous 'street-wall' building form for these neighbourhoods for aesthetic reasons. While the number may seem arbitrary, anyone who has been to Washington DC or many European cities knows this is the upper limit for a mid-rise character.
( I initially supported this character for SEFC (and feel that it was compromised by going up to 13 storeys)
To those Chinese merchants who said this isn’t enough ‘density’ to revitalize the area, I would say you are wrong…you can achieve very high densities within 10 storeys…
To get a sense of how this character works, just look at some of the fine 10 storey buildings developed by DERA and others in the area, and imagine them continuing along the streets, with some of the older important heritage buildings maintained.
So I am a bit nervous about the recent approval for greater heights, but we can monitor the situation, and maybe I’ll be proven wrong. I am glad that we did not agree to a few really tall buildings in this area now, since that would have compromised the possibility of creating neighbourhoods with a different character.
As to the social implications of the decisions, while I do not agree with those who feel more condos will be the end of the DTES, I do agree with the call for an overall master plan and defined socio-economic vision for the area.
I would like us to try and determine what we collectively think is the right mix of new market and non-market housing over the next 20 years; where new parks should be built along with other amenities; and where new commercial can be encouraged. I don’t think any of us really know how we want this area to turn out.
Unlike the former director of the UofT School of Architecture, Peter Pragnell, who once said good planning is simply good architecture, side by side, I believe there are benefits in overall master plans, even though they will need to be changed over time as the city is ‘finished’.
PS. Here's the actual Council decision.
A. THAT Council affirm the View Protection Guidelines and the critical role that they have played for the past 20 years in protecting public views that enhance Vancouver's world-renowned image of a vibrant city in a unique mountain and ocean setting
B. THAT in order to strengthen and improve existing protected public views, Council approve the View Strengthening for existing View Corridors from Granville Bridge to Grouse Mountain (Views 12.1.1, 12.1.2, 12.1.3), Charleson Park to the Lions (View B1), and Alder Terrace to Mount Seymour (View A), generally as described in Appendix A.
C. THAT in order to protect additional important views as the city grows, Council approve in principle the New Views, generally as described in Appendix A, and direct staff to report back on implementation following further technical analysis and Council’s direction on the Heritage Area Height Review.
D. THAT staff assess and report back to Council detailing available higher building opportunities within existing policies and past practices that consider potential community and economic benefits.
E. THAT Council affirm the current, rigorous application of Cambie Street and Cambie Bridge view corridors (Views 9.1, 9.2, E1) and allow “build out” to occur up to the existing, flat plimsol line, generally as described in Appendix A – Varied Building Line – MAINTAIN CURRENT POLICY
F. THAT Council direct staff to report back with an amended General Policy for Higher Buildings that expands requirements for potential higher building sites to include the “demonstration of green building design performance (in particular energy performance) that significantly improves local knowledge and results in green design beyond prevailing policy” and “that establishes a significant and recognizable new benchmark for architectural creativity and excellence, while making a significant contribution to the beauty and visual power of the City’s skyline”.