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Moving Through The Paths Not Taken: Viaducts, Freeways and Almost Vancouvers
April 26, 2011 7:05 PM   Subscribe

Despite the federal election focus on BC ridings, Vancouverites are having a hard time looking past the municipal. Things are quite dramatic in the urban planning scene. The city's regional growth plan was recently paralyzed by disagreement from Coquitlam. TransLink announced permanent cuts to bus service during Earth Week, describing it as "service optimization," highlighting its own chronic funding issues. The city successfully stopped a "megacasino" project after community backlash, but the $3 billion freeway Gateway Project continues despite ongoing protests. As the city struggles to find its way to the goal of Greenest City 2020, it's a good time to look at the paths not taken, via this excellent podcast on Vancouver's relationship with roadways. Part of a series called "Moving Through" from the Museum of Vancouver.

Unexpectedly, a one focus of the podcast is Salt Tasting Room and other urban experiments by Sean Heather of The Irish Heather, a whole 'nother can of worms. The second part in the series is Speed and the Shape of the City: Vancouver’s Evolving Transitscapes. The third should drop at the end of the month.
posted by mek (26 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
As a Vancouverite, I'm very interested reading through this post, however, good Christ!
The hockey game is on right now!!!!
posted by DonnyMac at 7:11 PM on April 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


I know, right? See you in a couple hours.
posted by mek at 7:14 PM on April 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Vancouver must have scored -- I'm 26 floors up in the Hyatt downtown and I hear cheering from... everywhere below.
posted by LordSludge at 7:21 PM on April 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


If they win, prepare for a sketchy night's sleep....
posted by jokeefe at 7:32 PM on April 26, 2011


That beautiful, rich Vancouver delta farmland disappearing under suburbs and highways brings a little tear to my eye.

Ah well, when it's Canada's turn for a 9.0 earthquake, the Gateway highway (and most of Richmond & Delta) will return to the murky deep.
posted by anthill at 7:44 PM on April 26, 2011


The Evergreen line, for the love of god, UBC (and the broadway corridor by association) needs that bloody Evergreen line.
posted by Slackermagee at 8:40 PM on April 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


Oh my god what a goal.
posted by Flashman at 10:07 PM on April 26, 2011


I live in Victoria, and worked for a Vancouver-based provincial government agency at Georgia and Bute for three years until recently.

I've never understood the entire "Vancouver the Greenest City" thing. I guess there is good bus service, but there are hardly any train lines compared to your average European city. Vancouver's economy is, to put it nicely, backward. The bright point is a film, game, and animation industry that survives at the whim of its California overlords - it doesn't actually create or publish anything unique, unlike Toronto, Montreal or Seattle.

The main economic driver of the town is the port, which ships one hell of a lot of metallurgical coal and other commodities, causing huge air-quality issues. The town itself is run by a lot of Bob Rennie-type real estate salesmen, lawyers, and miners.

It's a beautiful city, and it's a great place to retire or buy your second multi-million dollar home. But Vancouver is just not on the cutting edge.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:26 PM on April 26, 2011 [6 favorites]


Flashman: "Oh my god what a goal."

Did it have to be Burrows? Ugh. [weeps into beer]
posted by Copronymus at 10:33 PM on April 26, 2011


Agree with KokuRyu. It happens to have a stunning natural setting - but Vancouverites seem to think that was the result of some kind of civic project. Well no, they just got lucky. In terms of civic society (not hipness, but real civic and cultural engagement) Vancouver is way behind a place like Saskatoon, or even Toronto. But hey, you can sail and ski on the same day, right, so who gives a shit?

(Victoria, where I live, is even worse, but at least it doesn't claim to be some kind of "world class city")

Also, the effing gateway is going to have a serious impact on one of the most important archaeological sites in the province - 9,000 years of continuous occupation - and Vancouverites could really not care less. Philistines.

Also, yeah, Alex Burrows
posted by Rumple at 10:34 PM on April 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


Dey won da Turd!

and overtime
posted by mannequito at 10:55 PM on April 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


The town itself is run by a lot of Bob Rennie-type real estate salesmen, lawyers, and miners.

This is the interesting bit though, to followers of Vancouver municipal politics. It certainly has been true, and those people are still hugely influential in the city - but the political tide seems to have been turning away from them - and oh boy, are they mad.

The NPA* used to have this city locked up, but the last 10 years have seen two terms for Vision and the most recent administration has driven the old guard to apoplexy. The lightning rod for these guys have been, of all things, the bike lanes - presumably because they have limited the ease of negotiating the city centre in a Bentley Flying Spur.

The NPA is all over the map - but it seems like they are taking a sharp turn to the right in the face of a left leaning party claiming the centre. Just for example, recently announced candidate Mike Klassen (one of the guys who runs the City Caucus blog) seems to uncritically believe the theories of Vivian Krause, who claims that many left-leaning organizations in Vancouver are funded by US oil interests in a bid to derail Canadian oil development.

I do want to take issue with the argument that Vancouver's current position is pure luck. It does seem to me that if were not for the efforts of the TEAM party in the early 70s, Vancouver would be a very different place. Have you seen the original freeway plans for the city centre? It would have been a crime even greater than the Seattle's Alaskan Way viaduct.

You do also have to distinguish between the City of Vancouver and it's suburbs, some of whom still think it's 1960.

As for the appeal of Vancouver, I can't help thinking of the intro to the first episode of Portlandia, where Fred Armisen describes Portland as a place where young people go to retire. It's something like that.

* for non locals, the NPA is the "non partisan association", which is a political party that has managed to convince itself that it not a party but instead a brand under which the best and the brightest are selected for public duty. Yeah, right.

FWIW, I am a non-native and have only been here 10 years.
posted by pascal at 11:31 PM on April 26, 2011 [7 favorites]




Ah well, when it's Canada's turn for a 9.0 earthquake, the Gateway highway (and most of Richmond & Delta) will return to the murky deep.
posted by anthill at 7:44 PM on April 26


This attitude has always kinda fascinated me, as it seems to be almost gleeful the prospect of the loss of life and property. It's always uttered with a bit of an "I told you so," sneer. Can you illuminate any further.

Also, most coastal cities have sections built in areas prone to liquefaction, is there a corresponding anticipation by citizens in these cities or is it a Vancouver specific phenomena?
posted by Keith Talent at 8:30 AM on April 27, 2011


Can you illuminate any further.

All that liquefaction makes us a World Class City!
posted by Phlegmco(tm) at 8:46 AM on April 27, 2011


In terms of civic society (not hipness, but real civic and cultural engagement) Vancouver is way behind a place like Saskatoon, or even Toronto

This has a ring of truth to it for me, I've been here 5-ish years and have to take some of the blame and admit I haven't been terribly engaged in civic or cultural affairs here.

I appreciate this post, it gives me some background on what the longer-term and more in-the-know Vancouverites consider important. When I first arrived here I lived in Yaletown with some folks and moved over the bridge to Fairview/VGH to a lowrise as soon as I could get on my feet. I loved that area, and would walk to Cambie St and to Main St whenever I got the chance just to walk around and browse (I didn't have money to do much actual spending). And that's where I began to discover my interests were out of line with the locals--soon after arriving Cambie was dug up for the train and Main has been undergoing a major "up-scaling." I like having the train there, but as someone who grew up in Ontario and Quebec I'm fond of older brick buildings and don't feel great about tearing the older buildings down to build new condos and iron and glass retail space. Everyone else seems to love the new squeaky-clean stuff with the higher price tags. More recently, it was the casino thing. There's a casino right near there right now anyway, and while I don't even like gambling my feeling was a giant casino would inject a bit more fun into downtown and spread the nightlife options out a bit past Granville and Robson. Also tried Salt once for an in-law's birthday and felt guilty sitting in this bougie restaurant in Blood Alley eating expensive cold cuts and cheese in the presence of well-dressed people doing their best to avoid the "communal" vibe, while out front were a bunch of junkies and homeless people. My experience is that this City is becoming less and less hospitable to those with average or lower incomes, and it's to its own detriment as places start to lose their character and history and become less vibrant even in the short time I've been here.
posted by Hoopo at 10:29 AM on April 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Hoopo: Vancouver could do with more cultural engagement, but personally I couldn't see how that would be improved by a gigantic windowless box filled with 1500 slot machines. So I signed the petition and was glad to see the Casino proposal defeated. Perhaps it's a sign of how poor the current options are that there are many who would see a proposal like that as a positive.

My feeling about improving downtown's "fun" is that ISTM that current licensing regulations around liquor and live entertainment are far too restrictive - and if this were relaxed and entertainment in the city were allowed to grow more organically (as opposed to either the City or the Province attempting to build controlled "entertainment zones") we would have much better outcomes. I think Seattle and Portland show the way forward for this. The Casino proposal, to me, was the opposite of that kind of growth - it was a government sponsored public-private partnership boondoggle that was going to be about as much fun as a tax form with smiley faces on it.

I'm fond of older buildings in Vancouver too (up until 3 months ago I lived in a 1912 heritage building in Kits) but I don't think it's true to say that great old buildings are being demolished in favour of new development. Most of the buildings being torn down are post-WW2 wood and stucco crap. I do think what's being put up in it's place is often awfully unimaginative though and really don't know how well it's going to age. Unfortunately most of the good stuff was torn down a long time ago - when I go to Seattle and Portland I am quite envious of how much better a job those cities have done at preserving their early-20th century heritage housing.

That said, the fires that just coincidentally opened up a large chunk of land close to Main and Broadway for development were *extremely* suspicious and the fact that this just seems to have been allowed to slide does not look good.
posted by pascal at 11:03 AM on April 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


This attitude has always kinda fascinated me, as it seems to be almost gleeful the prospect of the loss of life and property. It's always uttered with a bit of an "I told you so," sneer. Can you illuminate any further.

Vancouverites have a situation: They are next to the Ring of Fire subduction zone, and much of the easily developed land is sandy silt near sea level. The last major earthquake was an 8.1 in 1949, well out of memory.

As with all North American cities, Vancouver has a large commercial pressure to sprawl over farmland. This exposes buyers to risk in earthquakes, and expands the societal risk for coping with major disasters.

Vancouver has countered the urban sprawl pressure with effective land use policies like the Agricultural Land Reserve. Comparing its growth pattern to Seattle shows some of the differences. Part of the land use policies were the limiting of highway capacity and expansion of rail and bus rapid transit.

However, recent political developments have relaxed the policies that contained sprawl, hence the highway developments we're talking about in this post.

I'm not gleeful about the increasing risk to life. I'm just frustrated at what I see as a poor choice in infrastructure investment.

Looking forward 100 years, sea levels will rise and a major earthquake will eventually occur. Smart investments would focus on densifying high-lying ground and expanding rail transit.

This is what 'i tell them so', but I don't begrudge the realities of politics. It's just sad, is all.
posted by anthill at 12:38 PM on April 27, 2011


I like Vancouver compared to Victoria. It's a littler farther north (and obviously more rainy), so you get beautiful stands of broadleaf maples, especially along Spanish Banks, etc. It has better food than Victoria (although not as many bookstores), but it's no eco-capital at all.

Now that Gordon Campbell is out of the picture, hopefully things will change. I can't imagine Vancouver city council standing up to him on the casino issue.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:49 PM on April 27, 2011


Most of the buildings being torn down are post-WW2 wood and stucco crap.

That's *affordable* post-WW2 stucco and wood crap, thankyouverymuch. I actually like those, too--living in Japan for a while I developed a taste for the all-over-the-place zoning and mish-mash of architectural styles and the patchwork of different construction materials. I can certainly see how it's not everyone's cup of tea, but without some older, perhaps less desirable stuff among the glass highrises you wind up with a fairly insular area. I just managed to get a great deal on rent in Yaletown near my work, and I've definitely become a lot more class conscious since moving back to the downtown area from a mere short walk across the bridge. When I hear about how areas like this are encouraging community and maintaining the City's "lifestyle" and "liveability", I don't feel like they have me in mind at all.
posted by Hoopo at 1:02 PM on April 27, 2011


That's *affordable* post-WW2 stucco and wood crap

Touche. I have to concede you point since I recently moved into a post-war wooden rancher on the North Shore, due to reasons of... ummm... affordability.

Yaletown does demonstrate the positives and negatives of the City's approach to development. Bear in mind that 30 years ago that area was basically a rail yard, and Homer Street a place to pick up gay hookers more recently than that. Hardly a surprise that most of it is new. But even in the decade I've been in the city, I've seen that area (which I worked in up until last year) turn from something pretty sterile to something that could reasonably described as bustling. The fact that you got a deal there suggests that it can't be that unaffordable.

The problems really come for families - that area has been very successful in attracting people who want to bring up their children there, but they are pushed out by lack of amenities like schools (or rather availability of school places) and daycares, and a lack of desire on the part of developers to build homes appropriate for that use (i.e overwhelmingly, the new units have been 1 bed and small 2 bed suites, with very little larger than that.) This mistake would be more forgivable if the City didn't seem to be set on allowing it to continue to be made.
posted by pascal at 1:38 PM on April 27, 2011


Kokoryu: your understanding of the "Greenest City" thing would be improved by.. ahem.. reading the link.

It's a goal, not a statement. And the goal is laudable, is it not?
posted by pascal at 1:46 PM on April 27, 2011


where Fred Armisen describes Portland as a place where young people go to retire.

Bullshit. Who can retire when the cost of living is so high?
posted by docgonzo at 3:03 PM on April 27, 2011


Regardless of what was there before, I don't see a lot of positives to how Yaletown has been developed. That neighborhood still caters pretty exclusively to a certain kind of West Coast yuppie. From what I've seen on Craigslist, rent is consistently hundreds of dollars higher there than in other parts of town. Even just walking around, I find it much less welcoming than other neighborhoods. The shops and restaurants tend to be expensive and/or "boutique," the condo towers feel hostile at street level, and the people are socially homogeneous. You see a much broader cross-section of the local population on, say, Denman.

From what I've seen, that's a common trend all over Vancouver. The big private developers and real estate investors cater to the upper end of the market because that's where the biggest profits are, and it seems like the city in turn caters to the developers and investors. Instead of addressing the affordable housing shortage, they encourage "revitalization" in places like Chinatown. The list of gentrified neighborhoods gets longer and longer: Kits, Gastown, Yaletown, Strathcona, increasingly Commercial Drive and Main & Broadway... The people who no longer fit into those neighborhoods (mainly the less affluent) get pushed further and further out, increasing the strain on the city's already burdened transportation infrastructure. The Gateway Project turns out to be a necessary adjunct of a "livable" urban centre, and livability itself becomes a code word for high prices and social stratification.
posted by twirlip at 4:53 PM on April 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


Kokoryu: your understanding of the "Greenest City" thing would be improved by.. ahem.. reading the link.

I read the article. However, Vancouver *already* identifies itself as some sort of green, livable world-class city.

Instead of addressing the affordable housing shortage, they encourage "revitalization" in places like Chinatown.

From what I understand, the local residents association favours redeveloping Chinatown - they're unhappy with their status as a slum and social services hub.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:52 AM on April 28, 2011


Well, the local business associations certainly favour the city's model for redevelopment. Maybe there's a local residents association that does too, I don't know. I do know that at least some residents are against it.

When I look at the revitalization plan, I don't see much talk about affordable housing or the needs of low-income residents, even though Chinatown makes up a huge chunk of the Downtown Eastside. I think we're going to see more of the sort of development that happened around the Woodward's site: businesses and residences that cater to the well-off, and security guards to scare away the riff-raff. I don't believe that's what's best for Chinatown or the DTES.
posted by twirlip at 1:38 AM on April 29, 2011


The fact that you got a deal there suggests that it can't be that unaffordable.

Well, yes and no--our current arrangement has allowed us to cut out all transportation costs because we both work within walking distance of our apartment, and we no longer have to pay for laundry or taxis when we do a big grocery shop. Basically despite the rent being a couple of hundred more here than in Fairview, we budget roughly the same amount for the cost of living due to the happy coincidence of being in close proximity to both of our workplaces. So it's doable for some, certainly.

The deal we found though--the owner of the suite is a friend of ours and can't live there due to a family situation in Hong Kong, so it doesn't have much to do with the renter's market or local prices.
posted by Hoopo at 11:56 AM on April 29, 2011


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