Monthly Archives: November 2007

Erickson’s “Graham House” demolition moving ahead

The latest on the Arthur Erickson “Graham House” saga is that the District of West Vancouver has decided to go ahead and issue a permit to the site’s owners.

A last minute request to have the house put on the city’s heritage registry was sadly denied this week. And according to the North Shore News, the city’s mayor, Pam Goldsmith-Jones, denied the plea because she was afraid of setting a precedent in her city.

Let me reiterate: this is a bad decision. Letting the demolition go forward is something West Vancouver will regret for years.

What’s surprising is the relative quiet over this matter, however. Perhaps it will take the sight of bulldozers to make people realize the significance of this matter?

December 3 UPDATE: The relative quiet is giving way to a bit of noise. West Vancouver resident Ari Mensurian has made statements to various media in Metro Vancouver that he will be chaining himself to the Graham House property before the demolition crews arrive — and invites like-minded heritage enthusiasts to do likewise.

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Filed under Architecture, Heritage, Protest, Vancouver

2010 Mascots: Hello Kitty meets the Great Outdoors

Interesting development from the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics Committee this week. They just launched their Games mascots — who are named Quatchi, Miga and Sumi.

Miga is a snowboarding sea bear apparently inspired by the legends of the Pacific Northwest First Nations – tales of orca whales that transform into bears when they arrive on land.

Quatchi, a shy and gentle sasquatch (the mythical “big foot” creature that lives in the British Columbia forests) dreams of becoming a world-famous goalie.

Aned Sumi is an animal spirit who wears the hat of the orca whale, flies with the wings of the mighty thunderbird and runs on the furry legs of the black bear. We’re told that Sumi is passionate about the environment.

I’m a fan of these three. The characters are smarter than the cookie-cutter and often hoakey mascots that tend to make an appearance at these kind of events.

I’m particularly compelled by Quatchi — the spiritual forest creature with a penchant for hockey. But really, I like them all.

All three characters were designed by the Vancouver-based company Meomi Design — and were inspired by local Aboriginal mythological creatures.

Then there’s this little twist from the Olympics organizers:

“Joining the three mascots is a friend, or ‘sidekick,’ by the name of Mukmuk. Mukmuk is a rare marmot unique to the mountains of Vancouver Island. While he’s not officially a mascot, Mukmuk is considered an honourary member of the team and enjoys surprising his friends by popping up on occasion to share in the spirit and fun of the Games. Mukmuk’s name comes from the Squamish word for food (‘muckamuck’) because he loves to eat – when he’s not playing with his mascot friends.”

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Filed under 2010 Winter Olympics, British Columbia

Turfed from the Tube

If you’ve travelled on London’s Tube, you’ll know the voice of Emma Clark, who pleasantly asks passengers to “mind the gap” — among other typical public transit messages. But now she has been fired by her employer, the London Underground, for creating spoof messages that have some fun with American tourists and  local blokes too.

Clark actually maintains a blog, called “Mind the Gap”,  which is currently down due to massive volumes of Internet traffic since her firing — though her MP3s have been posted elsewhere to satiate the worldwide demand for her playful takes on standard subway announcements.

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Filed under London, Transportation

Museum memberships: Due for a rethink?

The Vancouver Art Gallery, which enjoys a prominent location in the city’s downtown core, is looking to rebuild and relocate. It seems the VAG is running out of space — and the works of such high-profile British Columbia artists as Brian Jungen, Jeff Wall and Stan Douglas aren’t being displayed publicly because of this square footage crunch.

If they’re serious, and it appears they are, we can expect a frantic fundraising push anytime now. The gallery’s director Kathleen Bartels — formerly of the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Los Angeles — will have to make a compelling case for private and public investments that could reach staggering sums of money — given today’s real estate climate and the costs for major building construction.

Meanwhile, one source of revenues for art galleries in general, and museums across the board, is annual memberships. I used to have membership in a major art gallery (not the VAG), and in retrospect never really felt like it was worth the time or money. And that’s probably because I didn’t feel very engaged with the institution. Apparently I wasn’t alone.

Museum 2.0 has published a quite thoughtful post on how to rethink museum memberships — arguing that many of today’s arts memberships are not much different from gym memberships.

Gym memberships, like museum memberships, are often bought based on future intentions rather than current activities. If you are not someone who works out, you assume that buying a gym membership will motivate you to attend. But the gym experience, like the museum experience, doesn’t welcome you into a social, supportive environment that rewards your membership. It just offers services and equipment, to be used or ignored. And the reality is that 9 out of 10 gym memberships are abandoned.

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Filed under Culture, Real Estate, Vancouver

Port of Vancouver: Canada’s Pacific Gateway (Interview with CEO Gordon Houston)

I wrote this magazine article about the Port of Vancouver, including an interview with chief executive Gordon Houston, for Asia Inc. magazine earlier this year:

Captain Gordon Houston, President and CEO of the Vancouver Port Authority, is looking to Asia’s fast-growing economies as the engine for continued growth at Canada’s largest port, as well as Canada’s most westerly province of British Columbia.

The port fits prominently into the government of Canada’s “Pacific Gateway” strategy, fostering ramped-up trade linkages between Canada’s West Coast and Asia, and strengthening Canada’s position in international commerce.

Collectively with other terminal operators, labor unions, railways, and other transportation bodies, the port is building the necessary linkages to make Vancouver, and by extension British Columbia, a competitive and efficient port environment.

“Vancouver is the gateway into Canada for Asia-based goods,” says Houston. “We’ve  been very successful at that. 95 percent of Canadian cargo (to and from Asia), comes through Vancouver. That is a significant amount of cargo.”

With that being said, Houston’s ambitions are clearly global. The port is a huge player by global standards: In North America, the port ranks number one in total foreign exports, and along North America’s West Coast, it ranks number one in total cargo volume. In total, the Port of Vancouver trades $43 billion in goods with more than 90 trading economies annually.

Not that things have always come easy for the B.C. port.
Houston notes that the ramping up of two-way trade (in addition to importing numerous goods manufactured in Asia, Canada also exports a high volume of raw materials to China, Japan and other countries in Asia) at one point posed a challenge for the Vancouver port.

“Two years ago, it put quite a stress on our port, and our ability to handle that kind of growth was in jeopardy for a while,” he says.

The situation has since changed. “We are now able to handle the growth in China and the rest of Asia, and we have the environmental approvals to expand our facilities.”

“For the first time in our history, this year we will have handled 2 million TEU (twenty-foot equivalent units),” he notes.

All the while, he emphasizes the importance of smart growth for the port and surrounding infrastructure in Greater Vancouver.

“It’s partially infrastructure, but it’s also efficiencies,” he says. “We have driven many efficiencies into the system.”

Like other global ports, the Port of Vancouver is dealing with its own ownership structure changes. In late November, the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan announced that it had signed a US$2.35 billion agreement with Orient Overseas of Hong Kong to acquire the operating rights for two Port of Vancouver container terminals (as well as one in New York, and one in New Jersey).

Houston is quick to point out that much of the media fanfare over port ownership changes in North America and Asia is simply misled.

“One of the misconceptions is that ports are selling their terminals,” he says, “when all they sold is the operating rights. The infrastructure still belongs, and always belongs, to the port.”

“In the case of the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan,” he says, “they bought operating rights; these are not infrastructure sales. These operating rights are attractive to funds or financial institutions, because they are long-term contracts, and represent a reliable, long-term source of cash flow.”

Moving forward, Houston points to the port’s sustainability strategy, which he says fits seamlessly with the growth strategy necessary to reach Asia.

“Sustainability has three legs,” says Houston. “One:  environment. Two, financial sustainability — you have to be capable and sufficient.”

“And three, there are the communities. You have to have sustainable communities around you,” he says,  underscoring the fact that a port and its host community have to find a sustainable working relationship. “Ports operate at the leisure of the community around them.”

Meanwhile, the Asian continent continues to loom large for Captain Houston, and by extension, a nation increasingly looking to Asia for economic opportunity.

“We’re very dedicated to the business that comes from Asia, and we will do everything we can to make sure that cargo will come in through our port.”

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Filed under Asia Inc. Articles, British Columbia, Industry, Trade, Transportation, Urban Planning, Vancouver

The bobo sanctuary, exposed

The Economist’s Free Exchange is caught up in the debate this week about the possible downsides of urban renewal and gentrification. Case in point: a New Yorker magazine article about Red Hook, Brooklyn, described as somewhere between “hipster outpost and bobo sanctuary” — where rising real estate prices have pushed out the starving artists and other creative types. And that has left the community at a development standstill.

In rapidly developing urban areas, even the neighbourhoods untouched by significant developments appreciate, presumably based on the possibility that future growth will add value to the land. This could conceivably cause the hipster pioneers–the valued but price sensitive artists and other creative types–to skip outlying areas of the city all together in favour of other, cheaper cities.

Of course, we all know of a Red Hook. Another hipster enclave that was invaded by Starbucks and yoga studios and SUVs.

It’s the same story in cities across North America. But what is the alternative, and is there anything we can really do about it? Afterall, we are talking about presumably free markets to buy and sell property.

But, the Economist goes one step further and points out that perhaps our real estate markets aren’t fluid enough — and that as a result we are letting valuable urban resources go to waste.

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Filed under Gentrification, Neighbourhoods, New York, Real Estate

Erickson: ‘The skyline is getting much too blah’

The Globe is on a roll these days. There is a short but rather interesting interview with Arthur Erickson about his views on his career, concrete, Vancouver’s skyline, and his latest 60-storey highrise, the Residences at the Ritz-Carlton.

Personally, I’m a big fan of this project. It may not be the first “turn tower” of its kind, but it is a first for Canada’s West Coast, and as Erickson alludes to, it does break up some of the monotony of the usual office boxes and glass condo towers the city is known for.

Here’s an excerpt from the interview:

This will be your tallest building in Vancouver. What impact did you want this building to have on Vancouver’s skyline?

To show change. The skyline is getting much too blah. The one thing that seems to be the force behind general design is height. This started in New York and now it’s Abu Dhabi, where records are broken every time an architect gets his hands on a building.

I remember starting out in design and looking at Chicago, which had the tallest buildings in North America at the time. That gave me an impulse I wouldn’t have otherwise had to take advantage of the engineering of the moment and push it as far as possible.

I’ve always felt architects have to be the breakers of convention and surpass whatever has gone before. But I didn’t know how technology would allow us to do that. The whole experience of building over the last century has been accomplishing the obstacles of height and view. People have always been interested in the “wow impact” of height.

They want to be at the very top, to get the best view and Vancouver is the ideal site for that.

Vancouver’s skyline, and that of many other cities, is dominated by glass skyscrapers. What do you think of the use of so much glass?

I’ve always been for glass. I like seeing out. I like the light coming in and the view.

You’re 83 now. Will this be your last project?

It will be my highest project. But not my last.

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Filed under Architecture, Real Estate, Vancouver