Back on Kingsway

South side of Kingsway one block east of Knight

A few years ago, the launch of a lone high-rise project at Kingsway and Knight Street provoked debate over the City of Vancouver’s management of tower development.

A Parisian touch? The inner lane at King Edward Village, with designer lamps, a public library (coloured letters) and animal gargoyles overhead.

Critics protested that  King Edward Village would ruin the character of the nearby communities of Cedar Cottage and Kensington. Optimists predicted that the development  would become the heart of a “lively, attractive shopping area.” A few grumpy urbanists saw a future dead zone, and this, arguably, is the current state of affairs, although in my view the design could have been worse.

I visited this part of the Kingsway with co-tourist Nathan Gowsell because a young nephew of mine is sharing an apartment close by and says the district is cool. In fact, it’s hard to see a pattern. The influence of King Edward Village is hard to see beyond its perimeter. The detached housing on the south side is untouched, a row of Vancouver specials dating from the 1970s. There is one-block jumble of commercial uses on Knight, with two condo-commercial combos added in recent years. Northwest on Kingsway lies “Little Vietnam”, where Asian shops and cafes take advantage of some of the last remaining low-cost real estate in the city.

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Housing on King Edward Ave. facing King Edward Village

Kingsway is a 19th-century highway that connected the Granville waterfront and the colonial capital at New Westminster. With the automobile it became a very patchy affair, featuring low-rent motels, car repair services and strip malls. In Burnaby, to the east of Vancouver, city government has promoted tower-dominated redevelopment, especially in the Metrotown and Edmonds precincts. Change along the Vancouver section of Kingsway has been more low-key, possibly related to the King Edward Village experience. However, the truth is that most of the older one- and two-storey structures aren’t very good. They will likely be replaced with generic four-storey apartment buildings.

Early-20th-century triplex housing, 21st near Knight

We stopped for brunch at the Lion’s Den, a mile or so from Knight Street at the corner of Fraser. Sitting at a retro video game table, I ordered an English muffin with egg and tomato. Nathan chose a scrambled egg, sausage and white toast. When the food came, I mentioned to the server that we had waited close to an hour. It would have been gauche to point out that Tim Horton’s could produce the same bland fare in two minutes. As we paid at the counter, the manager said, “This isn’t a restaurant. Don’t come in here expecting a restaurant. It’s an eat-in.”

Typical Kingsway land use just east of King Edward Village

Abandoned shop next door to the Franks building

Shop display, Kingsway west of Knight

Property restoration, Kingsway west of Knight

N. Gowsell

A remnant of the time before Little Vietnam

Returning from Fraser to Knight, we passed through quiet residential streets with plenty of architectural interest. As in Kitsilano, the City-sponsored densification south of Kingsway is occurring mostly by stealth, with every major home renovation leading to the creation of basement or top-floor apartments.

I was reminded of an argument presented by Sam Sullivan, a former mayor of Vancouver (2005-2008), at a housing forum I attended on April 26. He insisted that the extreme cost of housing in Vancouver is entirely due to a shortage of supply; and the short supply is due to can be blamed city residents and a city government that have blocked high-rise development. Whether the argument is true or not, I don’t expect to see many towers built along these leafy streets.

East 15th Ave.

Renovated vintage apartment building, Windsor St.

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Kingsway near Glen. “I bet those condo apartments are tiny,” said Nathan.

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New development, Fleming St. off 21st

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Looking south on St. Catherines St.

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

Skytrain-oriented development at Joyce/Collingwood

Aberdeen Park, Vancouver

Aberdeen Park, Vancouver

Metro Vancouver’s elevated rapid transit system, Skytrain, is now 30 years old. Over time, Skytrain development — real or promised — has supported construction of at least 150 residential towers, some of them located in isolated, pedestrian-unfriendly clusters away from services.

Public space, low-rise high-rise development, near Vanness Avenue

Public space, low-rise high-rise development, near Vanness Avenue

Joyce/Collingwood, at the eastern edge of the city of Vancouver, may be the most liveable of the post-Skytrain tower developments. The tower landscape has been softened by continued construction of four- and six-storey buildings, parks and pathways, and a neighbourhood house (social services and recreation centre) paid for from development charges. Retail and commercial services are available along historic Kingsway up the hill. But there’s also a plan to build more towers, and this is creating tensions in the community. Continue reading

The phantom Skytrain extension — a Vancouver perspective

Recent medium-density housing, 10th Avenue near Ontario St.

Recent medium-density housing, 10th Avenue near Ontario St.

Our previous post on the proposed Clark-to-Arbutus Skytrain extension was picked up by Price Tags, a definitive urban affairs site for the city of Vancouver.

This generated a number of messages to, including the following from MB, who supports a Broadway Avenue project rather than the 10th Avenue dig that was contemplated in our report. I have transposed one sentence for clarity, and added a couple of editorial notes.

The 10th Ave alignment has many challenges related to the disruption of an old, established community. I suggest severely disrupting resident’s lives over 25 blocks for cut and cover would have a much greater political pushback than disrupting traffic on Broadway. Using C&C on non-arterials in historic neighbourhoods is engineering from the Dark Ages. Continue reading

The Arbutus Skytrain extension – a phantom tour

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J Trudeau

During Canada’s recent federal election campaign, Prime-Minister-to-be Justin Trudeau promised funding support for transit in British Columbia’s Lower Mainland — “to extend rapid transit along Broadway to Arbutus, bring light rail transit to Surrey, and increase SeaBus service during peak periods.” It’s part of a commitment to invest C$20 billion in Canadian infrastructure projects over 10 years. This announcement may breathe new life into a transit project that, judging from online discussion, appears to have lost momentum over the past three or four years.

Track's end, near VCC

Track’s end, near VCC

The proposed extension of Skytrain into the west side of the City of Vancouver has been on the books since the Millennium transit line was built in the 1990s. The Millennium line runs west from the Coquitlam border through Burnaby into Vancouver, ending abruptly near Vancouver Community College, almost at the dividing point between the east and west sides of the city. The western extension of the line would relieve pressure on Vancouver’s Broadway Avenue bus corridor, home of the limited-stop B-99 services that had 55,000 boardings per day in 2013. Continue reading

The East Village — “the heart of East Van”?

New commercial + 3 structure at Hastings and Templeton, Vancouver

New commercial + 3 structure at Hastings and Templeton, Vancouver

Vancouver’s Hastings Street east from Templeton Street is seeing rapid change. Ageing one-story shopfronts are going down in favour of four-storey complexes like the one pictured above.

I walked through here recently with my sister Morna, who has lived close by for more  than thirty years. The big fruit and vegetable stores are hanging on, but the Italian deli is gone, and the shoe stores. Instead, the trend is to latte bars and niche veterinary practices. It’s becoming more like Kitsilano, an affluent and sought-after quarter over towards the University of British Columbia. Continue reading

On South Fraser Street

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My niece recently left home and moved to a different part of the world. From counter-culture Commercial Drive, she made the six-kilometre trek to South Fraser Street and found an affordable rental apartment.

A rare example of side-street excitement, South Hill, Vancouver

A rare example of side-street excitement, South Hill, Vancouver

They say the resident mix is evolving, although there’s no influx of trendy cafes or retail stores at this stage. The South Fraser area is beyond walking distance from rapid transit; in Toronto, many such areas would be served by streetcars, but this is not Toronto. There’s a standard Vancouver high street, heavy on ethnic butcher shops. There’s a low-rise condo project under construction; limited multi-unit housing on the side streets, with a couple of seniors complexes a bit further away; and rental mini-houses popping up in the laneways, Kitsilano-style. The park on 41st Avenue is the home of little league baseball in Vancouver. Continue reading