Six measures of ‘good’ urbanism

 

Our highest priority in designing the city must be to make places that will resonate with human sense experience, and support social functioning. Yet, that will require a shift away from the Modern planning paradigm to the longstanding urban tradition that shapes cities according to physical, social and ecological human needs.

In Vancouver, when we speak about ‘urban design’. For example, when a project goes to the Urban Design Panel for review. However, what we are dealing with is Modern urbanism, rather than the longstanding tradition of urban design. We have argued here that Modern urbanism is bereft in one all important area: it has failed to produce any places of lasting value.

Focusing on just one aspect of ‘good’ urbanism, we list here several characteristics in the built form that are fundamental in shaping the human experience of place. Continue reading

The New Planning Paradigm

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 serving as hubs of social mixing, shops, services and transit.

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Simply the Best

We have lost sight of the social, economic, and environmental values embodied by the tradition engendered in the urbanism of the Vancouver Historic Quartiers. If we have forgotten how to look at the city, perhaps it is because we are driving by too fast, or because we are labouring under the false nihilism of the ‘Degree Zero’ doctrines of Modern urbanism. Everywhere we turn in the Historic Quartiers we discover another place, another space, another set of architectural elements honed to embody the values of community, and the values of place. Thickly encrusted by layers of benign neglect, here in our oldest and most venerable places, we can recover the longest, continuous tradition in urbanism, and secure a sustainable future.

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The Figuration of Place & the Urban Room

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 streets of cities platted with regular orthogonal grids one place can look very much like another. In sharp contradistinction, the experience of the urban room is something altogether different.

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Modernity and Modern Urbanism

“The construction of the Distributor Street and the absence of skyscrapers will spread business evenly over the area and prevent undue traffic congestion.”

Harland Bartholomew. A Plan for the City of Vancouver, British Columbia. 1929.

In 1929 the Bartholomew Plan sounded a warning about skyscrapers that has gone generally unheeded in the modern world. While on the one hand, a general consensus was established after 1960 that tower districts would make up the business district of most cities; on the other, towers as the default option for neighbourhood intensification typically face strong opposition. More puzzling still is the view that towers, or skyscrapers, are the proper expression for sustainable urbanism. A position that carefully avoids answering certain irrefutable facts. 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

4 New Transit Lines


Four New Transit Lines & the Historic Quartiers

The charrette proposes using the implementation of four transit lines to support the intensification of the Vancouver Historic Quartiers, and the revitalization of Main Street, Hastings Street, Chinatown, and Japantown, together with transit implementation on the Broadway Corridor.

Through transit implementation and urban design we hope to achieve livable streets, walkable neighbourhoods, and housing affordability in the , and region wide.

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The Quartier Street Types

Urban Spine 1 : 3

The Charrette recommends transportation implementation that will double trip capacity in the new urban spines, and street revitalization to enhance their social functioning. Transit implementation will mediate traffic volumes on the urban spine, while adding sufficient trip capacity to make possible the removal of commuter trips from local streets nearby. Public investment in transportation, and street revitalization combine with private sector intensification to produce the new street types in the quartier. The new public realm caters to transportation needs, and supports social functioning.

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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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The Urban House: A New Vancouver Special

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.

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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