A development surge in Vancouver’s River District

The River District, in Vancouver’s extreme southeast corner, offers a quiet riverside walk, lunch at a good pub restaurant overlooking the water, and a feeling of imminent transformation.

The area was identified for conversion from industrial to residential use at least as early as 2004. At that time, residential development was already proceeding in a former industrial area to the west, in a two-block-wide band between Marine Drive and the Fraser River. Continue reading

In the shadow of Vancouver’s traffic viaducts

Vacant lands next to False Creek in downtown Vancouver. The city government’s plan will see the removal of two elevated roadways, the extension of a waterfront park and up to 20 new residential towers.

The first Georgia Street automobile viaduct was built in 1915 as a bridge over railways and industrial lands. The current Georgia and Dunsmuir Street viaducts are orphan remnants of a failed plan to run a freeway from Highway 1 into downtown Vancouver.

2011 study reported that the viaducts carry about 40,000 vehicles every day. However, Vancouver Council voted in 2015 to tear them down and tidy up the underlying street network. The viaducts are ugly, and they’re a waste of land: it’s estimated that their removal will enable the development of housing for as many as 10,000 people. Continue reading

Pitt Meadows 1 — Osprey Village

The recently completed commercial core of Osprey Village. The brick-faced structure in the foreground was approved as a live-work development, with shopowners living above their businesses.

The city of Pitt Meadows, British Columbia, population 18,500, has shown how a small municipality can function effectively in a large urban region. Residents enjoy relatively low property taxes and much the same services as  Surrey, a nearby city with a half a million people.

Osprey Village, a Pitt Meadows neighbourhood overlooking the Fraser River, was built over the past decade with patience and (I think) good taste, at least compared with the competition in other Fraseropolis suburbs. The commercial zone pictured above is short on everyday services and heavy on dog spas and craft galleries, but it’s attractive and cozy, and is now a mini-tourism destination for cyclists and for families looking to walk along the river. (Osprey is at the western end of a regional pathway network, and not far from the Golden Ears Bridge; cycling links to Coquitlam and Langley are excellent.) The 2009 land use plan adopted by City Council in 2009 provides for up to 25 live-work units on the main street or immediately behind, and the community hall by the river park acts as a regional conference centres, so there’s continued pedestrian traffic in the Osprey village centre even on weekdays. Continue reading

They’re stackin’ ’em in at Brentwood

Space between apartment towers off Rosser Avenue in Burnaby’s Brentwood district, looking to Gilmore

A rendering of the Shape Properties “Amazing Brentwood” development plan as published in VanCity Buzz

The City of Burnaby is on track to win an award, if it exists, for the most extreme residential densification in western Canada.

Tower development at Metrotown has leapt into an affordable rental housing zone and displaced hundreds of long-term tenants. People protesting against these “demovictions” occupied the office of Mayor Derek Corrigan in early March. At Lougheed Town Centre further east, Shape Properties has set up a site office for “The City of Lougheed”, promising 23 or more “stunning high-rise towers” in close proximity, stretching as high as 55 storeys. The same developer has started construction on “Amazing Brentwood”, depicted here, to include 11 residential towers as well as a redeveloped shopping mall and street-facing retail space. Continue reading

Semiahmoo: 2030?

A 2008 proposal for the Semiahmoo core, looking up 152 Street from 16 Ave. captured in early 2017 from the Amanat Architect website

A 2008 proposal for the Semiahmoo core, looking up 152 Street from 16 Avenue. This rendering was captured in early 2017 from the Amanat Architect website

The City of Surrey’s 2014 official plan contemplates a city of 300 square kilometres organized around a city centre, intended to rival downtown Vancouver as it grows up, and five large-scale town centres.

Semiahmoo Town Centre within South Surrey, 2014 city plan

The Semiahmoo Town Centre within South Surrey

Each town centre is supposed to act as “the distinctive social, cultural commercial centre for its community… Support transit-oriented development…and build complete, walkable and green neighbourhoods.”  A successful town centre offers housing choice, walkable services, business and employment opportunities, and frequent transit. Continue reading

Traffic deaths and urban design

An Iowa street, posted by a Montreal traffic engineer on urbankchose.blogspot.ca

An Iowa street, posted by a Montreal traffic engineer on urbankchose.blogspot.ca

Public Square, an online urban affairs news digest from the Congress for the New Urbanism, has listed its 10 most-read posts for 2016.

2016-08-cnu-chart-fatalitiesTop of the list is “The morbid and mortal toll of sprawl,” by contributor Robert Steuteville. The writer draws a link between high crash rates and wide, fast suburban roadways, based on a study of California cities. He suggests that if you choose to live in a post-1950 suburb with wide arterials and high speed limits, watch out. If your Main Street is narrow with lots of traffic lights — like Main Street, Vancouver or Columbia Street, New Westminster — you’re more likely to survive as a driver or pedestrian. It’s obviously an appealing argument for readers of Public Square. Continue reading

Transition and uncertainty in the Phoenix arts district

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Arizona is a fine place for climate and landscape, but the big-city points of interest are dispersed. Metro Phoenix has a slightly larger population (3.3 million) than Metro Vancouver with 10 times the geographic area. Development rambles across  low-rise, single-use residential and industrial tracts, often walled and sometimes gated in the newer zones, carved up by broad, high-speed arterial roads.

At the historic heart of the region, “downtown Phoenix appeared [in 2012] as one of the top results in a Google search for Arizona ghost towns.” The city government is working to shift this perception, accelerating a long-standing effort to create livable neighbourhoods on the downtown perimeter, especially around Roosevelt Row, a modest cluster of art galleries and cafes. Output from the City includes area design guidelines, the establishment of an Economic Development Commission to build a Roosevelt Row brand, and a survey-based report from the Commission on community priorities. With new housing, a newish rapid transit line with an Arts District stop, and an intensive program of public events, the American Planning Association was moved in 2015 to declare Roosevelt Row one of America’s “great places.” Continue reading