The Smoking Gun

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.

In the manner characteristic of Modern planning, after the Bartholomew plan gives an excellent historical analysis of urban development in the region in the “Introduction”, the primacy of historical preservation in urbanism is dropped.

The principle of zoning is the new concept in Modern planning. Reproduced here with color enhancements is a detail of Plate 50 “Zoning Map” from the Bartholomew plan. Compared to the John Atkin plan of the same area in 1890, the old East End is barely recognizable. It has been ruled over by a pattern of slashing lines denoting either new “Heavy Industrial”, or new “Light Industrial” land uses. A district zoned “Commercial” spans Main Street. No lots are designated “Residential”.

We can trace the history of the planned eradication of the East End right into our day:

    1. 1915—False Creek Flats east of Main Street are filled to build railway yards.
    2. 1930— The new Zoning is approved.
    3. 1950’s and 60’s—Construction of Social Housing Towers; areas south of Hastings are renamed “Strathcona”.
    4. 1960’s—The Freeway Plan.
    5. 1970’s— Freeway plan defeated; traffic is re-routed onto local streets.
    6. 1980’s to present—Areas north of Hastings renamed “Downtown Eastside”, then DEOD: “Downtown Eastside Oppenheimer District”. Social housing is mixed with warehouses; high traffic levels; and low neighborhood amenity.

The urbanism fought back. The neighborhood held out, presenting today a unique opportunity. We believe that the Charrette’s incremental intensification plan will bring a new sustainable urbanism to a venerable residential area in our city. It will also bring the City millions of dollars per year in unrealized property tax.

© Lewis N. Villegas, Vancouver, January 2011.

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