A pop-up village at the University of British Columbia

A promotional photo from DiscoverWesbrook.com showing new high-rise development at UBC

In just seven years, the University of British Columbia has created a highly densified residential neighbourhood on its southern perimeter.

Not everyone loves the Wesbrook project. The University sits outside the City of Vancouver, and there is no local government to put the brakes on the University authority. The University Board develops its lands as it pleases, with some provincial government oversight.

It’s another  example of convoluted governance in Fraseropolis.  UBC is part of what’s called Electoral Area “A” within the Greater Vancouver Regional District. This entity is made up of a bunch of disconnected bits including  Barnston Island in the Fraser River and a few residences on the highway to Whistler. Together, these voters send a single representative to the Regional District council, a part-time assembly made up mostly of municipal government leaders who gather to meet and greet and to set the budget for regional parks and sewer lines.

Anyway. Longtime residents of the UBC lands, some living in detached homes valued at $3 million or more, resisted the push for high-rise development when the Wesbrook plan was updated in 2016.  To the extent that they could resist, that is — through writing critical comments at an open house, which took place just as the updated plan was being adopted by UBC. The map on the left shows the potential for a dozen highrises at in the Wesbrook precinct.  At this date the streetscapes look okay to me, pedestrian friendly and nicely scaled; but we’ll see how it goes as more towers are added.

I walked the area recently with three co-tourists. The village core, a modest six storefront blocks or so, was bustling on a Saturday. We enjoyed our lunch at Biercraft. What we noticed in our walk was the size of the UBC campus — it’s a 10-minute walk from Wesbrook to cross the playing fields to the north, and another 10 to the historic campus centre.

The core of the Wesbrook development combines office, retail and residential uses.

Tens of thousands of people travel to UBC every day to study or work. This is creating traffic congestion across the west side of Vancouver and a big push for rapid transit. Wesbrook, if earlier projections were accurate, should have a population approaching 7,000 by now, almost all of them living in apartments. The target population at completion is 12,500. This will permit some fraction of the University community to live close to work or school, although there will competition for these residences from people working elsewhere.

Fraseropolis Wesbrook core UBC

A pedestrian zone in the Wesbrook core

Fraseropolis UBC Wesxbrook connection

A pathway connecting Wesbrook to the campus centre

Fraseropolis UBC campus centre

University of British Columbia – centre of the campus

[This is post #40 in our Urban Villages series.]

Riding Vancouver’s fast train to nowhere

Adam Fitch’s rapid transit map. His LRT line would run from a proposed new Emily Carr SkyTrain station in east False Creek to UBC. The red line on the map, with marked stations, traces TransLink’s SkyTrain route plan as of about 2012. In the real world, stations from Arbutus are to go into service before 2025; stations west of Arbutus have been delayed indefinitely. Adam posted a video on YouTube in October 2018 to advance his proposal.

My thanks to Kamloops-based planner Adam Fitch. He invited me to join him on a May 4 “Jane’s Walk” to consider a cheaper alternative to the Broadway Extension rapid transit project.

Fitch’s proposal would take advantage of a corridor owned by the City of Vancouver, and would avoid most of the tunneling costs associated with the Broadway scheme. It’s an entertaining concept, but it won’t get built, largely because it won’t take people where they want to go.

Continue reading

Vancouver’s Chinatown: heritage site, urban village, tourist zone

Gore Street at Keefer in Vancouver’s Chinatown.

Vancouver City Council voted in November 2017 to seek World Heritage Site status for the Chinatown district. This founding neighbourhood began as a segregated zone for Chinese-speaking labourers and merchants outside the railway and lumber camp that covered today’s Waterfront and Gastown areas.  It functioned for many decades as a commercial and cultural hub for Chinese-speaking immigrants, and takes a prominent place in the modern English-language literature of  the Chinese-Canadian community. The retail hub, it should be said, has been supported by apartment housing, Chinese seniors’ housing and small-lot detached housing, either in the core or in the old Strathcona neighbourhood to the east. Continue reading

Yaletown encore

We last visited Vancouver’s Yaletown district almost five years ago, in early 2013. We noted that the Yaletown brand was so hyper-trendy that developers were making use of it across a wide swath of what used to be called the South Downtown.

With its towers, cafes and rapid transit, Yaletown is now the prototype for much recent or proposed pop-up development in Vancouver’s suburbs, for example in Coquitlam Central, the still-pending Coquitlam waterfront project, and the rumoured Metrotown 2.0. Continue reading

Pedaling on the Central Valley Greenway

Under the SkyTrain guideway just east of Rupert station, Vancouver.

It would be nice, perhaps, if cycling was the dominant mode of transportation in our West Coast urban world. We’ll never know. In reality, most people cringe at the idea of riding side-by-side with cars and trucks.

Winston Street through industrial Burnaby, 11:30 a.m. Saturday

When I told a 60-something friend about my plan to pedal across Vancouver and Burnaby for fun, she said, “That’s dangerous!” I said, “No, we’ll be riding an off-road trail. Local governments built a safe route from downtown Vancouver to New West.” Continue reading

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

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. Continue reading