Vancouver city council will vote Thursday on whether to construct a separated bike lane on Dunsmuir Viaduct seen here February 2, 2010. - Vancouver city council will vote Thursday on whether to construct a separated bike lane on Dunsmuir Viaduct seen here February 2, 2010. | John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

Vancouver city council will vote Thursday on whether to construct a separated bike lane on Dunsmuir Viaduct seen here February 2, 2010.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

City limits

Bridges, swimming pools, unicorns – just think what the viaducts could be

Stephen Quinn | Columnist profile | E-mail

From Saturday’s Globe and Mail
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“We propose to flood False Creek back to its 1898 boundary. An archipelago of over 800 fixed and floating islands and a flexible network of 1,500 bridges occupy the flood zone. Islands and bridges re-assemble in multiple ways creating a flexible, open ended, self-governing spatial and programmatic system.”

That is the actual text that accompanies submission No. 106 in the City of Vancouver’s invitation to imagine what life might be like with the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts either torn down or repurposed.

The competition is called re:CONNECT.

The idea of doing away with the viaducts was embraced by city councillor Geoff Meggs, who noticed that closing the viaducts to traffic during the Olympics significantly reduced traffic on the viaducts.

“The 22-day shutdown required by 2010 Winter Olympic Games security rules gave neighbourhoods east of the viaducts their first traffic-calmed days in more than a generation, a real-life test of what life without the viaducts might be like,” Mr. Meggs argues on his website.

That may be sort of true, but the 2010 Winter Olympics were also accompanied by lane closings and restrictions that made it virtually impossible to navigate Vancouver’s streets by car.

Further, Mr. Meggs argues that the viaducts are the remnants of a freeway no one wanted and was never completed, and that they limit development opportunities and sever vital links that could connect neighbourhoods.

Whatever the reason, the competition has sparked the imaginations of people for whom the practical consideration of getting to work must be a totally abstract and bourgeois concept.

How else could you explain submission No. 114, which shows the viaducts covered in an undulating wooden lattice with cyclists riding on what appears to be a red carpet.

The accompanying text reads as follows: “The complexity of initiating a paradigm shift in how we operate Vancouver’s economy will gain momentum at the community and localized scale, where intricacy is most manageable. The word economy, derived from the word home, brings a call to the domestic, where green discourse and collaboration can take root and prove that spaces we inhabit actually reflect the culture of its time.”

See, I was just going to say that.

Or the submission that imagines dismantling the viaducts as though they were made of Lego and clicking the pieces back together to form a gigantic cone-shaped cavern.

No. 113: “Like the monuments of ancient cities, the viaducts could be disassembled and used to make new monuments. New public spaces, more exciting and mysterious, could take shape where the viaducts stood. A grotto, filled with water from False Creek, is also filled with strange echoes; its walls drip with water, cleansed by a natural landscape and ready to return to the sea.”

Clearly written by a person unfamiliar with the fecal coliform counts of False Creek.

Not to be outdone, submission No. 67 imagines swimming to work as a practical commuting option. The illustration shows one of the viaducts as a kilometre-long glass-bottomed swimming pool: “The urban outdoor public pool is a node that sparks play, fitness, and communal well-being. The elevated concrete structures of the viaducts are a unique resource, and they may be creatively re-purposed to create such a node in downtown Vancouver. Let’s pool our resource.”

The submission has sparked serious debate in the website’s comments section. “Suspect maintenance would be a major issue,” says one commenter. Another complains that the concept is devoid of trees and greenery. “No grass, flowers or food. Too much like the downtown core.”

Water in fact is a major theme.

One submission imagines the land beneath the viaducts as some sort of water park, looking not unlike the viaducts of today after a heavy rainstorm. The difference is that the people standing in deep puddles are dressed in colourful swimwear and appear to be happy. Also, hot-air balloons hover overhead.

I know. Only a true vulgarian would fail to appreciate these efforts. I applaud them all.

Sadly, my own submission to replace the viaducts with rainbow-coloured cotton candy topped with unicorns and fairies didn’t arrive in time to be seriously considered.

I bet it would have not only passed muster, it would have sparked some serious debate.

The most commented-upon submission is also the most simple. It consists of seven words, printed in black on a grey background. It reads simply: “Please, leave the viaducts as they are.”

Crazy talk.

Stephen Quinn is the host of On the Coast on CBC Radio One, 690 AM and 88.1 FM in Vancouver.

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City planner Brent Toderian said some themes are emerging for how the land around the viaducts could be used. - City planner Brent Toderian said some themes are emerging for how the land around the viaducts could be used. | Jeff Vinnick/The Globe and Mail

City planner Brent Toderian said some themes are emerging for how the land around the viaducts could be used.

Jeff Vinnick/The Globe and Mail

Plans envision transformation of viaduct lands

frances bula

VANCOUVER— From Monday’s Globe and Mail
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Vancouver is developing detailed options for the land around its downtown viaducts – if those major commuter connections are eventually torn down – that include public open space, low-cost housing, business projects, or a combination.

In a sign of how seriously the city is considering the ultimate removal of the viaducts, the land-use plans, being worked on jointly by the architecture firm Perkins + Will with city planners, were going to be presented at a city urban-design panel next week. That presentation has now been cancelled and pushed to an undefined later date, but only in order to incorporate ideas from the city’s parallel design competition on the viaducts. Awards for the best ideas will be announced on Dec. 1.

City planner Brent Toderian said there are some themes coming forward among the designs in the competition that might be included, like ideas about including water features in this former tidal-flats area.

Ultimately, though, it’s the detailed planning being done by the city and its consultants that is setting the stage for what use to make of the 4.8 hectares that are under and around the viaducts.

The city plans are looking at how the land could be used under several different scenarios: leaving the viaducts as is; altering the eastern end to bring them down to street level at Main; closing one viaduct or another; keeping the viaducts but converting them to other, non-car uses.

“Council could decide to make it open space. It could be social housing. It could be rental housing,” said Mr. Toderian. “And, if it’s sold, it may not all be to one developer.”

A previous engineering report had said closing both viaducts – they’re 822 and 670 metres in length – if council chose that option, would not be feasible for at least 15 years. That’s because better transit and alternative truck and car routes would need to be put in place.

The city owns almost all of the land under and around the viaducts – 4.1 hectares – and Concord Pacific owns the small amount remaining. That’s about half the size of the Olympic Village site.

There’s been a perception among some that the proposal to tear down the viaducts is some kind of giveaway to Concord Pacific, the mega-developer that has built thousands of units on the former industrial land of False Creek since Expo 86.

But since the city owns most of the land, the real question is what it could do with that land, if the viaducts were fully or partially removed, that’s of most value.

Even if the city did nothing but alter the eastern end of the viaducts to bring them down at Main Street, something that its engineering consultants said would be easy to do immediately, that would free up two huge blocks of city land next to Chinatown that could be developed into housing – what that land was used for before the viaducts were built.

The city’s detailed land-use planning with Perkins + Will has been proceeding quietly – so quietly that even Vision Councillor Geoff Meggs, who has been seen as the public champion of reconsidering the viaducts’ future, was surprised to hear it was going on.

Mr. Meggs said he’s waiting to hear about the design-competition winners Dec. 1 and how the planning department will mesh those ideas with its existing consultation.

But, he said, it’s clear to him that the public will not support doing anything different with the viaducts unless they’re persuaded that there won’t be a negative impact on transportation or that it isn’t just a bonus for some developer.

But, most important, he said, “Not a lot of people are very interested if there isn’t a big benefit to the public.”

That benefit could be more open space or more affordable housing.

Mr. Meggs said some of the stakeholders in the area – landowners like Concord Pacific and Aquilini Developments – as well as neighbourhood groups need to get involved in the debate about the viaducts’ future.

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With Council’s recent approval of Millennium’s 210 foot tower at 1215 Bidwell (33 market rental units and 50 condo units – 5.67 FSR) and the pending approval of Westbank/Peterson’s 216.5 foot tower at 1401 Comox (6 townhomes + 180 apartments, all market rentals), the rhetoric and blogsphere have heated up:

Westend resident and former Councillor Gord Price blogs about it here.

Frances Bula’s article in Tuesday’s Globe and Mail is here:

Vancouver council dumbfounded over backlash to rental program

Somewhat in consternation to what she heard during last week’s Council session when the 1401 Comox project was being considered, her blog post is here:

Vision rental program generates backlash, raises questions about future solutions

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Follow up article on yesterday’s Council decisions regarding the Planning Department’s recommendation that four sites it identified on the downtown peninsula be allowed to penetrate existing view corridors and increased building heights in Chinatown/Gastown.

via CBC News – British Columbia – Vancouver rejects downtown high-rise proposals.

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Rising to New Heights – Part 3

Brent Toderian, Director of Planning, sells his staff report recommendations in this follow up article by Doug Ward of the Vancouver Sun.

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Rising to New Heights – Part 2

Back in December, I posted a link to Frances Bula’s article about the current consideration being given at Vancouver’s City Hall for a limited number of “intrusions” into the sacred view corridors.  In this follow up article in yesterday’s Vancouver Sun, Tiffany Crawford discusses the recommendations that were tabled in a staff report to Council on January 5th.  The article is here.  At the time I posted this today, there were already more than a hundred comments posted on the Sun website (why is it that the uninformed always seem to have the most to say…?) which is indicative of how passionately we Vancouverites are about our views and building heights.

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Despite howls of protest from residents at the Shangri-La, council granted Holborn Developments an additional 16′ of height in exchange for additional DCL’s, community amenities and reportedly $14.0 M in transferable heritage density.  That will put the Ritz-Carlton tower at 616′ versus 646′ for the Shangri-La. Frances Bula’s reporting on the Council meeting is here.

Original Approved Design for Ritz-Carlton Vancouver

Original Approved Design for Ritz-Carlton Vancouver

Holborn applied to amend the existing CD-1 zoning for this site to allow an additional 80,000 SF of residential FSR, increasing the total FSR from 17.74 to 20.8.  It also sought to increase the number of residential units (located on floors 25 – 67) from 124 to 193 and hotel rooms from 127 to 176.

This project is shaping up to be something quite different from what was originally envisioned. Construction has yet to start, so stay tuned for more changes ahead (brand, developer…?).

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Vancouver council endorses high-density plan to develop former Expo lands

BY TRACY SHERLOCK AND DOUG WARD, VANCOUVER SUN NOVEMBER 18, 2009

The view north over False Creek from the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games Athletes Village.

Photograph by: Ian Lindsay, Vancouver Sun

City council unanimously endorsed a plan Tuesday night to create a high-density, mixed-use neighbourhood of about 7,000 people around BC Place Stadium and GM Place on the final undeveloped section of the former Expo lands.

The controversial concept includes a new civic plaza plus four million square feet of residential space and 1.8 million square feet of office space.

What it doesn’t include is the 2.75 acres of park space per 1,000 people that city council holds as a goal.

Coun. Suzanne Anton, who unsuccessfully pushed for changes to the plan to include more park space, said she thinks residents will be shortchanged if the developers don’t provide the expected amenities.

“I am an advocate of density,” Anton told The Vancouver Sun. “I think it makes a city more interesting, I think it makes it more livable, and most important, I think it’s better for the environment.

“However at the same time, if you’re going to ask people to live in high density, you must, as a city, provide the right amenities.”

If the park ratio of 2.75 acres per 1,000 residents was to be met, it would require an additional 19.8 acres of park land for the 7,200 new residents, according to the staff report.

As proposed, densities in northeast False Creek will be among the highest in the downtown peninsula, the report said, noting the high-density push is being driven by the city’s goal of becoming the greenest city in the world by 2020.

Coun. Geoff Meggs stressed that the plan will take years to be implemented.

“This just the first stage of what is going to be a long discussion,” Meggs said. “The onus is now on the developers to bring forward proposals that meet the community test for amenities.”

PavCo, the provincial arm that manages BC Place, wants to cover much of the cost of the stadium’s new retractable roof through the development around the stadium.

“What the community is getting for that new density is the roof,” Meggs said.

The new neighbourhood, according to the staff report, would include rental and market housing — and would “appeal to those who want to live in a busy, vibrant area and who have a tolerance for noise, crowds and activities.”

Patsy McMillan, who lives in Citygate near Science World, said she isn’t happy with city council’s decision.

“Everybody’s very disappointed. There was nothing in [the motion] for the larger park or the community,” McMillan said.

“You’re going to get more of a transient, single population, which is okay, except 7,000 of them is not exactly movement towards a stable community.”

“We’re not in favour of that much density without the appropriate amenities and park space,” McMillan said.

The city’s plan for the new northeast False Creek isn’t exclusively for young singles or childless couples — it calls for housing suitable for families with children, including units sheltered from event traffic and noise.

The report also calls for child care centres. A new elementary school in International Village was also discussed by council, but there are no plans now for a new secondary school in the downtown core.

There is no other comparable development in any North American city.

Some cities have baseball parks or hockey rinks with one or two residential towers located nearby or integrated into the sports venue. No other city has multiple stadiums surrounded by a cluster of towers.

The strategy calls for building design requirements to reduce the impact of noise from the two stadiums.

The city will be reviewing height restrictions and view corridors in January. Buildings in Citygate near the proposed development are between 22 and 28 storeys high.

The five owners of property in the area are Concord Pacific, BC PavCo, Canadian Metropolitan Properties, Aquilini Developments and Central Heat Distribution.

The report, Northeast False Creek Directions for the Future, is authored by planners Michael Gordon and Paula Huber.

tsherlock@vancouversun.com

dward@vancouversun.com

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

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