Detail from 1910 map in: Vancouver: A Visual History (1992) by Bruce Macdonald.
The plan shows the footprint of development in the City of Vancouver 25 years after the railway arrived, and just four years before the opening of the Panama Canal. The latter triggered a building boom in Vancouver in 1908 the full extent of which is represented here. The 1910 Macdonald map presents an enigmatic portrait of a city about to escape the orbit or limits placed by total reliance on walking and horses, and already embracing the possibilities for extension presented by electrified rail transportation. The values of the walkable urbanism are fully on view. Yet, as we compare this map to the growth of streetcar tracks below, it becomes clear that a new set of values is already expressed in the map. Bruce Macdonald comments via e-mail how the walkability of Vancouver’s named urban villages show a keen resemblance to the quartiers. Continue reading
Princess Street, Strathcona
If we were to draw one conclusion from our findings in the Vancouver Historic Quartiers research, it would be that urbanism is a phenomenon of our own creation spanning across several scales all at the same time. These findings are consistent with the work of others. The quality of the street environment, or its “livability,” became the test for urban functioning at the local level; at the scale of the neighbourhood we found the measure of urban functioning in the walkability, or scale of the quartier’s footprint; and we used the affordability of housing as the measure for urban functioning in the region as a whole. Continue reading
Social Housing should be part of the regional system, incorporated into neighbourhood planning from the outset. Lewis N. Villegas, The Gastown Principles, March 2011.
Alexander Street in Gastown, pictured above, presents a microcosm of a workable housing strategy. In this photo we see co-op housing, social housing, affordable housing, and hi-end condominiums all on the same city block. There is a higher level of social mix taking place on the street than inside any given building. Continue reading
The Vancouver Historic Quartiers presents a new planning paradigm grounded in the human experience of place. We believe that the resulting quality of urban spaces is the right measure for sustainable, or “good” urbanism. In the new paradigm, we design at the scale of the neighbourhood, or quartier, rather than the individual building site. We shape quartiers as places that have lasting social value, with urban rooms that are active around the clock.
Prior to the arrival of railway, Gastown was as a one-street commercial district serving the Hastings Mill population, and all who arrived over the False Creek bridge from New Westminster, or by boat to any of its rickety floats. With the first railway station located immediately to the west, and the surrounding land a timbered wilderness, Gastown was the first beneficiary of the forces unleashed by the transcontinental.
Maple Tree Square
The Figuration of Place & the Urban Room
Inside the urban room we stand in a space in the city where we can see the buildings all around. It is a place where the linear tyranny of the street is finally broken, and where the distance separating the buildings can be set to resonate with the mechanisms of human sense perception. When the ratio of the building height, to the distance between the buildings can be described by small, whole-numbers, then a powerful and lasting impression is created in our memory that we term the urban room.
In the long city streets of a regularly platted grid one place can look very much like another. The experience of the urban room is something altogether different.
CPR Survey of Hastings Mill Site in 1886
Maj. J.S. Matthews, Early Vancouver Vol. 3 (Vancouver, City of Vancouver, 2011) p. 78.
The 1884 map of the Hastings Mill townsite, annotated in the 1930’s by Maj. Matthews, shows the buildings that housed and serviced the resident work force, and the curving Railway Avenue platted by the CPR mirroring the bend in the railway’s main trunk. The bend follows the contours of the land, tacking to the sea to stay on level ground. The north side of Railway Avenue replaced cottages and structures numbered 1-13 and 66-68. The railway tracks demolished most of the rest. The mill remained in operation into the late 1920’s..
The significance of the Hastings Mill Townsite is that it provided the focus for the new settlements forming around it. Continue reading
1929 Proposed Re-Zoning, The Old East End
In 1929, as the City prepared to amalgamate with the municipalities of Point Grey and South Vancouver, the St. Louis Planning Firm of Harland Bartholomew was hired to draw an urban design plan for the city after expansion. Titled A Plan for the City of Vancouver, British Columbia, the Bartholomew plan spells out the strategy to eradicate the old East End. Zoning the entire area as either industrial or commercial, the Bartholomew plan envisions wiping out 65 years of continuous settlement in the old East End—longer if we consider aboriginal sites. Compared to the John Aitken plan of the same area in 1890, the place is barely recognizable. Continue reading
2011 Vancouver’s Historic Quartiers
Using historical analysis we have identified five key settlement areas in the era immediately following the arrival of the Canadian Pacific Railway—the corporation that picked the name “Vancouver” for its pacific terminus:
- The Hastings Mill Townsite and Japantown (the townsite was re-platted as Railway Avenue by the CPR).
- Gastown (The Granville Townsite).
- The cottage lots, including those dubbed “Strathcona” in the 1950’s.
- The Industrial quartier.
Aboriginal people were among the groups denied land ownership rights. Although their presence preceded European and Asian settlement by millennia, because they did not own land, today no district or neighborhood carries their name.
The Charrette Intensification Plan
The final results of the charrette show the potential intensification for the area as:
The final Charrette plan shows incremental intensification in the Historic Quartiers with 15,500 units, housing 35,000 new residents, for a total area population of 55,000.
The East End in 1890
The old East End is the cradle of our city, the origin of the City of Vancouver, Canada’s capital on the fiery Pacific Rim.
The future of Vancouver’s urbanism hinges on establishing a new “Vancouver Special”: a building product that is adaptable, fee-simple, and can build incrementally. The urban house adds 6 times more density per lot than suburban cottages, yet retains the hallmark characteristics of residential neighbourhoods, including: an address and door on the street; gardens and yards; rear access parking; affordable rental unit(s); and human scale.