The ‘Walkable Neighbourhoods’ or Quartiers of 1910

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

Livable streets, walkable neighbourhoods, affordable regions

Princess Street, Strathcona

If we are to draw a single conclusion from our the Vancouver Historic Quartiers working process, it would be that urbanism is a phenomenon of our own creation built across several scales of place and spanning centuries of time. Our findings are consistent with the work of others. The quality of the street environment—its “livability”—became our litmus test for measuring urban functioning at the local or district scale; we used the level of “walkability and social mixing” as the measure of urban functioning at the scale of the neighbourhood or quartier; and we used the “affordability of housing” as the measure for urban functioning at the scale of the region as a whole. By establishing different measures for urban functioning at different scales we were finally able to make sense of the urban whole. In the Vancouver’s Historic Quartiers we discovered the finest single piece of urbanism in our region. Continue reading

The Charrette as Environmental Learning Space

The urbanist charrette was the first challenge issued to the Modern planning paradigm. Striving to inject transparency, urban design principles, and meaningful participation into the planning process, the role of the charrette has evolved from exposing professionals to the subject site, to Educating about Sustainable Development (ESD), or ‘good’ urbanism.

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Urban Re-use and Incremental Redevelopment

The plan above shows the full extent of industrial build out in the Historic Quartiers fueled by the 1920’s vision of sea ports, new railways (CPR 1886; CN 1915), and the opening of the Panama Canal (1914):

[F]irst and foremost Vancouver is a great seaport and… practically the sole ocean port of half a continent, inhabited by a progressive and increasing population, has on its outskirts a river valley with great agricultural possibilities, with a hinterland rich in minerals, lumber and raw materials for manufacture, and adjoining at the moderate distance of five hundred miles the greatest granary of the world. (Bartholomew 1929 : p. 29) Continue reading

The Hastings Mill Townsite

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

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. Continue reading

Historic Districts and Quartiers

2011 Vancouver’s Historic Districts

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:

  1. The Hastings Mill Townsite and Japantown (the townsite was re-platted as Railway Avenue by the CPR).
  2. Gastown (The Granville Townsite).
  3. Chinatown.
  4. The cottage lots, including those dubbed “Strathcona” in the 1950’s.
  5. 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, quartier or neighborhood carries their name.

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The Charrette Plan

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.

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1887 CPR Plan for Vancouver

1887 CPR: Plan of the City of Vancouver  

Maj. J.S. Matthews, Early Vancouver Vol. 1 (Vancouver, City of Vancouver, 2011) p. 7.

John Atkin describes how the Vancouver Plan was drawn as follows:

[T]he railway had surveyor L.A. Hamilton draw and register the official townsite plan for Vancouver. The survey was done solely on paper and not with stakes and measurements on the ground, so the streets were laid out with no regard for the existing topography. The streets of Granville [Gastown] and the Oppenheimers’ earlier City of Liverpool scheme were incorporated by Hamilton into his drawing. Gore Avenue, the one street that did not conform to the new grid, was the original skid road for logs to the Hastings Mill, and its odd angle was allowed to remain. The streets east of Main were named after landowners in the area (mainly the directors of the soon to be incorporated Vancouver Improvement Company) and on the west side, for the most part, after CPR officials, including Hamilton himself. Continue reading

Early Subdivisions & Platting

C. P. R. plan shewing site of bridge carrying railway across False Creek, Vancouver, B.C. 23 October 1886.

R.C. Harris Collection. Reproduced in D. Hayes  Historic Atlas of Vancouver and the Lower Fraser Valley (Douglas & McIntyre Ltd. 2005). This is one of the first plans by the CPR of their new terminus on Burrard Inlet.

Discussions about the Vancouver plan usually center on the “crank in the street grid”. Hugging the shore of Burrard Inlet, the Vancouver street grid turns as we move from the West End into downtown; and from downtown across Carrall Street into the East End. It is seldom mentioned that a “Plan for Vancouver” was never drawn. What we experience today in the city’s layout is the confluence of three different plans joined together at the most critical moment in the city’s history—some two years ahead of its incorporation on 6 April 1886. Continue reading