Vancouver’s Historic District

  • Historic sites restored (black)
  • Historic sites needing restoration (red)

There are many reasons to support historic preservation including civic pride, celebration of place, respect for the past, and the joy of stepping into a zone that seems to march to a beat long ago forgotten. However, the imperative to conserve historic districts whole—retaining all original buildings and urban landscapes—stems from the will to preserve urban memory in order to better understand the present, and plan the future.

The imperative to retain all the original buildings is best understood at the scale of the historic district as a whole, rather than one site at a time. Seen from the point of view of the individual property owner, historic preservation presents clear economic disadvantages. All else being equal, maximizing floor area on any given parcel realizes the greatest economic return. However, historic districts present special opportunities.

In these places difference is the competitive advantage. The birth of a city is a unique moment in time never to be repeated. Historic districts preserve that legacy in its original place. People seek out historical places. Communities typically embrace the cradle of their city in a spirit of pride, celebration, and self-assertion. Thus, the greatest benefit flowing to any individual site in the historic district originates from being a part of a greater the whole.

Our interest in the Vancouver Historic Quartiers goes beyond historic preservation. In an effort to understand the measurable characteristics of a sustainable, or ‘good’ urbanism we study places built in an era when walking was the primary mode of transportation. Before 1930 cities were conceived at the human scale, and designed to function as a set if cohesive, walkable neighbourhoods, or quartiers. 

However, planning to achieve overall effects at the scale of the block, and the quartier is the antithesis of Modern planning. Yet, today, it represents the most logical way forward. Thus, the preservation of 19th century historic districts will help the recovery of a lost urbanism, along with its methods for social mixing and functioning.

© Lewis N. Villegas, Vancouver, January 2012.

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