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

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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 Dollar-Cost of Housing the Homeless

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 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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Gassy’s Town

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.
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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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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