Monthly Archives: February 2008

Province column: British Columbians are voting with their feet and heading to the burbs

The Province
Sunday, February 24, 2008

Move over, cigarettes and fast food, “suburban sprawl” is quickly becoming society’s public enemy No. 1 — taking the
blame for everything from air pollution to obesity and social disorder. According to a 2004 report from the advocacy group Smart Growth B.C., “there is an emerging consensus that sprawl is damaging the environment and eroding the quality of life in B.C.” South of the border, the Sierra Club refers to the phenomenon as the “dark side” of the American dream.

If car-dependent subdivision dwellers are feeling under siege, they should prepare for more than just the disdain of special-interest groups. Soaring oil prices are pinching their middle-class wallets like never before.

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Filed under Environment, Health, Immigration, Real Estate, Transportation, Urban Planning, Vancouver Province Columns

Vancouver Province column: Let’s show the world that West Coast buildings do not have to be boring

Sunday, February 10, 2008
The frenzy of construction taking place across Metro Vancouver might lead some to believe this region is getting the urban equivalent of a personal makeover.

But as the highrise condos sprout up from the ground, locals are left grumbling about the vanilla results — including a downtown skyline that is less breathtaking than it is banal.

In a recent interview, renowned local architect Arthur Erickson simply referred to it as “blah.” At a Feb. 1 forum hosted by Simon Fraser University’s City Program, leading city designers and planners debated the need for “iconic” architecture in Vancouver — the kind of impressive structures that make a statement about the cities in which they stand. Continue reading

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Filed under Academia, Architecture, Nimbies, Urban Planning, Vancouver, Vancouver Province Columns

Falling leaves in Chiyoda Eki

Some eye-candy from the Tokyo subway system — courtesy pingmag — which takes readers to “some of the brighter corners, as we focus on… elaborate train station murals and art tapestries that represent nature in more or less abstract ways.” 

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Filed under Culture, Tokyo, Transportation

The density debate goes sideways

It looks like the EcoDensity bashers in Vancouver are winning the war. They’ve changed the nature of the density debate, so that instead of talking about how to build more compact neighbourhoods with enhanced public transport in the name of sustainability, we are instead debating whether or not real estate developers are driving all of this.

The Globe and Mail’s Trevor Boddy rightly argues that the density dialogue needs to be reinvigorated. But how? The issue has become a political volleyball over the last year, to the detriment of those who are actually trying to address the issues of environment through urban planning.In my opinion, some folks who know better have thrown the issue off course in order to score easy political points against Vancouver’s ruling political class. And that’s a shame. Here’s what Boddy has to say.

Until the sour turn over the past few months, Vancouverites have been fans of increasing residential density for the best of all possible reasons: our city works better because of it; it has added value to our houses and apartments; and most of all, it makes for a green and healthy place to live.What a strange world if Vancouver derails its experiment with density in the very areas of the city that need it most, just as the rest of the planet has turned us into a verb, speaking of “Vancouverizing” their sprawl into compact urbanity.It is time to make the positive case for how density has made this a better city, and if carefully managed, will continue to do so. In the face of the culture of complaint that has arisen, there needs to be a clear declaration of how our city has improved through doing more with less.

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Filed under Architecture, Commuting, Environment, Neighbourhoods, Nimbies, Politics

More on the fallout from the demolition of Erickson’s “Graham House”

Kevin Vallely, who works as a consultant for the West Vancouver practice of Kallweit Graham Architecture, has written a compelling article in the North Shore News asking what buildings we chose to preserve in the name of heritage, and why.

The recent demolition of the Graham residence, designed by Arthur Erickson, forces us to consider what truly defines our architectural heritage…
It’s a particularly poignant question here on the North Shore where our heritage is very different than what one might think.

After the Second World War, the North Shore saw a period of rapid growth, with families from Eastern Canada and abroad moving to the region in search of a new life and a new beginning. The West Coast was seen as a place of opportunity, a place where the pioneering spirit could flourish and innovative ideas could thrive. The stunning natural beauty of Vancouver’s mountainous backdrop immediately drew people to it, and before long West Vancouver became a Canadian hot spot for contemporary architectural expression.

… Understanding our architectural heritage and making efforts to protect it is critical for all communities. The traditional-looking homes of our past — the craftsman bungalow for example — seem to have an easier go of it these days. People recognize their value and understand the importance of preserving them for future generations. But one must also realize that the “modern home” is also an important piece of our architectural past, and here on the North Shore might be our most important architectural legacy of all.

Meanwhile, Adele Weder, writing for TheTyee, has juxtaposed the Graham House destruction against Vancouver’s booming real estate market and more to the point, the new Ritz-Carlton “twist” tower designed by Arthur Erickson.

We should not so mindlessly celebrate the Erickson brand that we tend to forget what the architecture itself is (or was) all about. At the Ritz-Carlton launch there was hardly a word about the poetics of space or anything else that once distinguished Erickson from the run-of-the-mill master builders, the Erickson who created not just the MacBlo building but Robson Square, the Eppich House, the Museum of Anthropology, and a legion of other masterpieces. All are far more purely expressive of the great architect’s unique vision than is the glamorous Ritz-Carlton.

We’re not doing our West coast maestro any favours by celebrating his name more than his very best works.

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Filed under Architecture, British Columbia, Heritage

Price Tags Turns 100

Gordon Price, who heads up the Cities program at Simon Fraser University, commemorates the 100th issue of his Price Tags publication with a terrific resource — an index that spans the publication’s existence. This includes urban journalism and photography covering everything from Vancouver’s history of freeway resistance to architecture in Australia’s leading cities to the new challenges facing American metropolises such as Denver, Washington D.C. and Tampa Bay.

Price Tags 100

Those who don’t currently subscribe to this free publication, which is delivered via email, would be advised to do so — especially folks with an interest in how people interface with the streetscape, commuting. cycling, architecture and other urban topics.

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Filed under Academia, Architecture, Commuting, Cycling, Journalism, Neighbourhoods

Lamenting the NYC “Yuppie Ghetto”

Is Manhattan essentially a “gated community”? That is how it is described by the Economist-Free Exchange blog this week in a post sure to raise eyebrows with those who follow these kind of urban gentrification discussions.

The writer, a 7-year resident, notes that “the upper middle class aspire to stay in cities. This is true in cities elsewhere, but Manhattan’s geographic constraints make the gentrification more obvious.

The more gentrified cities become the more desirable they are to live in. Edward Glaeser and Joshua Gottlieb found cities became more desirable from the increased social interaction and consumer services they provided as crime decreased. This means poorer residents must move further a field. Many people priced out of cities are not homeless or criminals, but working families.”

“If we factor in increased commuting time and expense, has their compensation effectively decreased? The homogeneity of my neighbours makes me unable to know for certain.”

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Filed under Commuting, Gentrification, New York