Tag Archives: revitalization

Into the Belly of the Beast

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Dear Bob


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Neighbourhood Horrors Checklist

The Neighbourhood Horrors Checklist

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The proposed new tower development at Broadway and Kingsway:

Fails to incorporate or follow most of the guidelines set out in Mt. Pleasant’s Local Area Plan (still unpublished).

Check.

Fails to adequately inform local residents of planning workshops, design meetings, consultation, etc. Project seems to appear out of nowhere.

Check.

Grossly out of scale and character with the surrounding neighbourhood.

Check.

Disregard for historical plat and heritage, including the demolition of historic buildings.

Check.

Includes tower and podium design.

Check.

Tower has maximum glass exposure on all sides, requiring extra energy to heat and cool.

Check.

Tower blocks existing views and physically fragments neighbourhood.

Check.

Tower has lone obligatory tree planted on roof, enabling the project to market itself as “green”.

Check.

Building density increases developer’s margins without providing meaningful community amenities or civic infrastructure.

Check.

Rezoning establishes a precedent for more over-height buildings on nearby blocks (Main and Broadway fire site, Kingsgate, etc.).

Check.

Project demonstrates that “land-lift” CAC’s = Easy Money for Planning Department, reaffirming the Money is God mantra that eclipses all neighbourhood visioning.

Check.

Inflates surrounding real estate values, residential and commercial rents (having the opposite effect to that which is intended with STIR).

Check.

Exceeds 1 parking space/1 unit, encouraging continued proliferation of automobile use in urban environment and multi-car households. Full parking inclusion uniformly raises unit costs, which compromises the stated STIR goal of greater affordability.

Check and Check Again.

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In conclusion, this development scores very high on the Neighbourhood Horror Meter, and will result in another new monstrosity looming on the skyline that will haunt local residents for decades.

Needless to say, the project will recieve the full and ringing endorsement from Dr. Frankentower, our City’s quack DoP.

Scaaaary kids!

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Powell Street Festival Returns to Oppenheimer

The Douglas Coupland School of Marketing

What the heck is this box doing at the corner of Carrall and Cordova, next to an old disabled couple camped out on the stoop of the empty Rainier? What is “House in a box”, a new form of housing for the poor? Is some charity collecting appliance boxes and giving them to homeless people? Is this so crazy that I should visit the website, or drop by the address on the box to check it out?

Well, it was only a block out of my way, so I walked by, and it was a bloody “concept” furniture store having a grand opening, and this box in the street was their cynical little marketing ploy to generate foot traffic on a block where there generally isn’t that many pedestrians owning new condos that need professional design and furnishings, if you know what I mean…

I found this marketing ploy to be totally disrespectful and sickening (and I fully realize that I’m playing right into their hands by posting pictures), but unless the owners were just simply too clueless about their new neighbourhood to see why this was not ethical advertising, they should be ashamed of themselves. Then again, if they knew the neighbourhood and the high rate of business failures in Gastown, especially since the recession, well, they probably wouldn’t have moved here in the first place….

As if that brush with guerrilla advertising wasn’t enough, I was walking along later that night and there appeared to be another opening at the old kicks store that just went belly up on Powell after 3 years. When I saw the sandwich board with “RootsxDouglasCoupland” in black and white beside a rainbow banner, I thought, hmmn, maybe he’s launching a new book.

Admittedly, I have a love/hate relationship to Douglas Coupland as a writer. On the one hand, I thought Generation X was boring as hell when it first came out, and couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about. This is supposed to be the defining novel of my generation? Compared to Trainspotting or Fight Club or American Psycho, Generation X was embarrassingly cute fluff. Pffft. I could write a better novel than that, no sweat, and I have a drawer full of unpublished fragments to prove it!

But on the other hand, Coupland is only a few years older than me and grew up just up the mountainside from where I did. His locally-set novels and non-fiction reflect an eerily similar geographic perspective on the city to the one I grew up with. Vancouver is one of those places where geographical location can play a big part in shaping your psyche, and Coupland has captured that sense of ironic distance to the city one gets from growing up across the water and high up on the side of the North Shore mountains. As Rudyard Kipling once mused, “Vancouver is a beautiful but fickle woman, best admired from afar….” Well, the North Shore mountains are an ideal place to admire her from.

Coupland’s writing grew on me over time, as did a shared fascination with historical minutae. And then, about ten years ago, I went to a VIWF event featuring Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh and local boy Douglas Coupland in an intimate conversation. I thought the foul-mouthed, hard-living Scot would make a meal of Coupland, but it turned out to be the other way around. Coupland disarmed Welsch immediately by taking off his sweater to reveal a Hearts jersey, and then proceeded to have everyone laughing and enthralled for two hours, including Irvine. Since then, I’ve gained a definite appreciation for Coupland’s work. Although I still don’t like everything he creates, there’s no denying there’s a certain genius at work behind it.

Well, the small group of smokers and texters milling around on the sidewalk outside the store looked just like the impeccable hipsters on the rainbow RootsxDouglasCoupland posters I had seen in a couple of places around town earlier in the week. In contrast to the fashion slaves, I was three days unshaven, flying the flannel, and sporting twelve-year-old Docs worn razor thin at the sole – clearly a local and not on the guest list.

One of the chics rolled her eyes at me as I walked up and poked my head in the door just to see if Coupland was actually there. He was talking to a small group, the last few left in the store, which I now noticed was full of Roots clothes that I would never wear, mainly because I couldn’t afford to these days, but also because if I were to buy some new clothes, it wouldn’t be these ones, yunno, cause they looked kinda touristy. Though I might have gone in and dropped $20 on a book…

But oh, Doug, you can’t be serious! You designed a clothing line for Roots? And you’re launching it here in Gastown because, what, it gives you some kinda cred? You make me wanna puke! And so does your technicolour yawn of a marketing campaign, complete with the obligatory photo collage (like Rennie’s Woodwards ads) and the flurry of canned tweets it links to. I dare anyone to view the RootsxDC splash, marketing video and click through to the collage and not feel immediately nauseous and the need for a hot shower.

I’m sorry, but I’m not sensing any irony here, just a pure, unadulterated shill.

Thankfully, it was a one-off event, and Roots isn’t opening a store permanently on Powell. I guess they have a little more business sense than MAD, no matter how questionable their latest clothing line may be.

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Octogenarian Architect Speaks Out Against City Planning

Roger Kemble, aka Urbanismo, is a mariner, but he’s all about the land. At 82, he appears to be having the time of his life. He clearly doesn’t give a shit what anyone thinks about him, nor does he like bullshitters — he challenges people all the time to be truthful. But where other commentators like old Gassy might come off as fucking hacks or partisan wonks, Urbanismo has literary gusto, writing wildly punctuated fragments in a high modernist style. And he frequently drops cultural references into his blog comments that would make Douglas Coupland’s head spin.

After a long career as an architect in Vancouver and educator at UBC that stretches back to the 1960s, Urbie isn’t afraid to call out the current Vancouver Planning Department as dimwitted and drunk on power. He strongly believes the current direction of City policy — and the public consultation process — is badly in need of a new planning paradigm. In my own isolated experience with the Historic Area Height Review, I found myself agreeing with Urbanismo more and more.

While his take on Vancouver being a failed city? may lead some to scratch their heads, there’s no doubt a lot of truth to what he says. And while I and others dither over the details, Urbanismo just went ahead and plotted a new planning paradigm over the course of a couple of rainy afternoons. If you like cities and urbanism, and non-pedantic writing, it’s worth taking a look at the pages.

Prolificus Vancouveritis

(L-R) Gassy Jack’s Ghost, Lewis Villegas, Roger Kemble (Urbanismo), Michael Geller, David Mah.

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I had coffee at Woodwards with a group of long-winded blog commentators/architects last week to discuss a research project we’ve been trying to develop. A very fun meeting, though somewhat odd as text-based avatars converge with their flesh and blood creators in real time under the towers that should not be.

For the first time in a long time, I was the youngest in a group; just a wide-eyed babe compared to these well-respected and accomplished folks, who have all had a direct hand in building the Vancouver we see today.

Can these guys save the world, or at least the city, from the grips of rabidly increasing DENSITY?

Well, we’ll see….

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