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

Mount Pleasant Community Plan hits the 19-storey Wall

Presentation to the Rise Tower, Mount Pleasant Public Hearing:

I have been a property owner in Mount Pleasant since 1988. I attended the open house at the community centre last year, had an extensive discussion with the lead planner, and came away perfectly impressed with the fact that it would be… business as usual.

Mr. Mayor, there is a cancer spreading over our city.

Unless it is stopped, CD1 zoning will ravage our neighborhoods. Not just Mount Pleasant, but all our neighbourhoods. 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 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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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

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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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