Archive for the ‘cringe list’ Category

Vancouver Airport plans “luxury outlet” mall, bastard child of Disneyland and Bouncy Castle

Thursday, January 30th, 2014

YVRLuxury-Outlet-Centre-Main-Entrance

OMFG. That is all.

Or perhaps you want to read the Storify archive of the Twitter conversation that ensued when I first posted the article where I first learned of this design abomination.

Best Twitter response:   “Where’s Mickey and Goofy?”

 

 

The steady creep of sports bars across Vancouver

Thursday, January 31st, 2013

too many sports bars in Vancouver

From my friend Jonathan, who posted this Google Maps screenshot along with the assessment “No comment.”

It would please me to blame this sudden proliferation of sports bars on the damn Vancouver 2010 Olympics. However, though I’m sure the Olympics didn’t help, the causes predate 2010. For starters we have the pricing out of non-corporate culture through the condo-ization of the city and related real estate speculation and astronomical commercial rents. Skyrocketing property values and rents have made it extremely difficult for restaurants to make a profit. Then there’s the intensification of hockeymania through corporate PR and broadcasting. There’s the aggressive expansion of generic restaurant chains taking over older venues which have trouble paying inflated rents and competing with said hockeymania. There’s the whole culture of aspirational consumer aesthetics and the insecure anti-cultural swagger of what was historically a resource extraction town. Maybe too there’s just laziness and lack of imagination in the restaurant industry. Not doing well? Put up a TV screen.

It’s very difficult for any venue or event to compete with the juggernaut of hockey marketing and hype. Restaurant bars seeking for scant revenues in a town with a median income lower than Windsor—we are Canada’s Detroit—will most often resort to profiting off that hockey fan market. Chronic lack of provincial/local contribution to the cultural realm doesn’t help counter any of this, in a town still noticeably suspicious of ideas and remarkably incurious about its own history. PR is key for arts non-profit culture just as it is for hockey etc., and it costs money. Money that arts organizations and restaurants don’t have because too much of their budget goes to rent.

Anyway, as a friend pointed out last week, if you’re looking to hang with guys who look like metrosexuals but who talk like hockey fans at megaphone volume about “kicking ass,” even when the game’s not on, it looks like you have about 55 choices.

Another friend joked about the map above, “The map is not yet entirely obscured by red. There’s still opportunity for growth in this sector.”

I’m not even going to go into the design of these places; but look.

Finally, I think you will enjoy this. (This Party Just Took A Turn For The Douche, by Garfunkel and Oates)

What I’d love to see on Google maps for Vancouver is a visual guide of every restaurant that contains no TV screen. And if you could add in a filter to exclude any place with fluorescent lighting, you’d really be getting something useful.

Photo below from UBC Thunderbird story about Sin Bin Sports Bar, restyled as sports bar after  nearby Olympic Village became ghost town post 2010. Look at that place. 

Sin Bin Sports Bar Vancouver

RIP Waldorf Hotel, another Vancouver cultural hub killed by condo interests

Wednesday, January 9th, 2013

Another Vancouver institution falls under real estate development hatchet

 

This is a disaster. Vision Vancouver, are you really going to allow more speculative condo development to take out one of the last good mixed cultural venues in the city? For those who don’t know about Vancouver’s historic Waldorf Hotel, see its site or an article here . The hotel represents a key piece of built heritage, but it is also an important site of Vancouver cultural history. Famed acts have played in its famous tiki bar and other rooms. Its eviction is a final act in Vancouver’s long saga of throwing culture under the bus, then rolling out the red carpet for condos built for an investment market.

This city’s ship rudderless. Why not just make a condo developer mayor? Truly, the result would be the same. Mark Carney, Bank of Canada head, has long warned that there is a surplus of condos in both Vancouver and Toronto and that real estate development needs to be slowed. Condos worsen rather than relieve unaffordability, and their rampant development is killing culture, more quickly than slowly. Culture needs affordable older buildings, history, and protection from rampant speculation. And this when the selling market in Vancouver has slowed to a standstill. Pointless destruction. RIP Waldorf.

There are two petitions you can sign:

1. Gregor Robertson: Deny rezoning of the Waldorf Hotel site to condo development
2. City of Vancouver: Save the Waldorf Hotel

Press Articles
Day 1, Jan 9
Georgia Straight
, Globe and Mail (utterly disagree with last sentence, barring a couple of developer philanthropists who get it only half right) and Scout Magazine. And a smart analysis on this blog and a summary on Frances Bula’s blog.

Day 2, Jan 10
NME Grimes criticises hometown over plans to close local recording studio ‘Vancouver is so fucked’ she says in angry Twitter post
Metro News: Waldorf Hotel’s new owner responds amidst public outcry
CBC Waldorf Hotel could be saved, says developer
Mainlander The story behind The Waldorf’s displacement from the Hastings Corridor

Later days

Jan 15  Opinion: Solterra Group should cut deal with Waldorf operators and let them continue their program
Jan 14  Lament for the Waldorf: A looming development leaves the historic Vancouver hotel’s fate in jeopardy

For urbanism nerds, read the last two paragraphs here on “stroads” (street/roads) and the correct way to develop them.

WALDORF’S PRESS RELEASE
January 9, 2013, Vancouver, British Columbia

East Vancouver’s cultural institution the Waldorf Hotel has been sold to real estate development company forcing imminent closure.

The Waldorf Hotel re-opened its doors on October 31, 2010 with a vision: create a welcoming cultural hub in the heart of East Vancouver. Prior to this, the complex, which was built in 1947, had seen better days, and was just one of many dilapidated Eastside dive bars. But in the summer of 2010, a 15-year lease was signed by a group of partners led by Thomas Anselmi, Ernesto Gomez, Scott Cohen, and Daniel Fazio. They proceeded at great financial and sweat equity costs, with no assistance from the landlord, to restore the building to its former glory.

A restaurant, hotel rooms, a world renowned tiki bar, two nightclub spaces, a recording studio, and an art gallery were housed under the re-imagined Waldorf’s roof. It was embraced by the community and dubbed “a Cultural Oasis in the middle of nowhere” by the Globe and Mail.

The Waldorf was well on its way to growing into an economically viable and profitable business. But, given the scope of the project and its “middle of nowhere” location, it should come as no surprise that the first year was a financially difficult one. The landlord, Marko Puharich, was sympathetic and understanding and some rent was forgiven to give the project breathing room. But in August 2012, the landlord’s attitude changed overnight and it was baffling. Phone calls stopped being answered. Emails and texts were unreturned. A smug litigator, rather than the jovial landlord, became the point of contact. The property was on the market and the landlord was using the Waldorf’s growing pains to break the lease.

In early January 2013, Anselmi and Gomez were informed that the complex had been sold to the Solterra Group of Companies, a condominium developer. “Solterra were unwilling to sit down and discuss negotiating long-term lease possibilities. We were offered a week-to-week lease until September 2013, when the property must be delivered vacant. We obviously can’t move forward under these conditions as our business requires commitments to artists, organizations and entertainers months in advance,” Anselmi explains. He then adds: “This has cost 60 people their jobs. This has destroyed our business.

“The irony that the Waldorf was taken over by a condo developer in the very area we helped reinvigorate is obvious to anyone. The Waldorf filled a void. People responded because they needed it. We tried to stand for something authentic and real in a city with thousands of empty condominiums and a community starved for cultural spaces,” says Anselmi.

During its tenure, institutions like the Cheaper Show, the East Side Culture Crawl, the New Forms Festival, the Polaris Music Prize, the Presentation House Gallery, the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival, the TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival, the Vancouver Art Gallery, and the Vancouver International Film Festival all held events at the Waldorf. And the city’s top culture producers like Black Mountain, Douglas Coupland, Rodney Graham, Grimes, Japandroids, Michael Turner, and Paul Wong all headlined events here as well. “On top of international entertainment programming every weekend, the team was constantly working towards the next big event, such as Food Cart Festival and our legendary hotel-wide Halloween and New Year’s Eve Parties,” Fazio recalls. “We were always trying to out-do ourselves.”

Everyone at the Waldorf takes great pride in the fact that the complex was operated as a community-oriented cultural institution. The Waldorf had an open door policy. Countless emerging artists, non-profits, and community groups were facilitated. The Chef-in-Residence program devised by Gomez and Cesar De La Parra hosted international culinary stars, Bob Blumer, Rodolfo Sanchez, and Pedro Martin. The Waldorf hosted an international artist-in-residence program for musicians and visual artists in collaboration with the Goethe-Institut and the French Consulate.

“We would like to extend our sincere gratitude to all the people who supported the Waldorf since we reopened our doors. We’re extremely proud of all the artists and events that we’ve hosted over last two and a half years. We’re extremely proud of our incredible staff who helped to execute world class events,” says Gomez.

The Waldorf will be vacated on Sunday, January 20, 2013. The Waldorf was nothing without its creative team and they are currently looking for a new space where they can continue to develop the high quality and eclectic arts and entertainment programming that the complex has become known for and that Vancouverites want and deserve.

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“Contempo” – my term for the insincere faux-modern design style infecting our lives

Saturday, October 20th, 2012

There is a particular type of contemporary design that I deeply hate but for which there is no terminology. About six years ago, out of frustration, I came up with “contempo.” It is a deliberately cheesy term for a cheesy aesthetic, an aesthetic of dumbed-down, cutesy faux-modernism. The made-up word “contempo” somehow had the correct sound—the idiotic, faux-Italian, marketing-ish, self-conscious jauntiness that this style cried out for. It seemed the sort of term condo decorators might use on a target audience that believe it wants edgy, urban, modern design, but that really wants softened, comforting, domesticated  objects faintly reminiscent of children’s toys, or of an earlier, mustier era.

You know contempo when you see it. It often has a forced, strained expressivity or an almost wacky attempt at playfulness. Look at me! Look how creative and quirky and snaky I am!

Contempo makes no attempt to be true to materials or function. Nor does it abide by modernism’s ethic of minimalism and simplicity. It’s brushed nickel aping stainless steel, it’s Edwardian shapes but made from faux-industrial materials, and above all it’s elaborate and pointless curves instead of straight lines.


IKEA, which sometimes gets design right, does now produce a lot of contempo. Brushed nickel/plastic triffid fixtures and curved tracklights are the worst type of contempo design.

Why does contempo involve all those saucy, expressive curves? As my friend Michael put it, “why can’t we be the curve?” Is all this snakiness meant to make us feel more alive? Or is it in fact busy doing all our slinkiness for us? Did it ever consider that we might want some straight, restrained edges to be slinky in contrast to? Is it because people are desperate to make their objects offset the  experience of living in urban boxes by aping the fluidity of the natural environment? The thing is, if you want to make environments more sensual and human, why not just add a few soft, high-quality handmade textiles with some integrity, rather than this loopiness that’s doomed to failure?

Manufacturing-wise, it is more difficult to make curves than straight lines (though with algorithmic-based architectural software and with 3D printing this could, sadly, change. Look out.). But of course curves are only one of the ways contempo design trumpets that it’s trying too hard.

It’s generally accepted in cultural theory that aesthetics are not an autonomous realm separate from other pieces of the social puzzle. Aesthetics and culture are not subordinate to “more significant” components like economics and social relations, but are in fact an important player in the social enactment of our dominant patterns of thought (philosophy, politics, ideology). If you believe that, then you have to believe that all this “contempo” stuff has a meaning. So what is that meaning? Furthermore, why does this stuff always have a faintly creepy aspect? In its attempt at liveliness, why does it seem to have something deathly about it? Is that a paradox or does it only look like one? Is it because this stuff pretends to be organic and lifelike but is actually crassly commercial? Is it because these weak attempts to imbue commodities with “life”—the sense of life that we are slowly losing via the process of commodification—are inherently doomed?

Alessi (most of it) is contempo. Click the link for an extended discussion of some possible meanings behind the Alessi aesthetic. If Alessi products are “playful,” why do they all have a deathly, zombie sort of quality? Even Alessi knows, on some level, that its playfulness is married to death, to the inanimate or to zombies and robots. See for example its anthropomorphized human-shaped tools that often have deathly X’s for eyes, such as its suicide corpse bath plug.

Below, the “Bookend” building by Paul Merrick of Merrick Architecture in Vancouver’s Olympic Village (or “Millennium Water” condo complex). It’s totally contempo. But then contempo and condos do, so often, go hand in hand.

Condos are, generally speaking, the Ur example of contempo.

Above: The contempo Bookend Building. Below: great 1970s townhouses in Vancouver’s False Creek: the doors’ geometric pill-shapes are not an attempt at wackiness, and the effect is not contempo. See how fantastic art looks in the windows of the townhouses below? Compare to the above. The difference is obvious.

South False Creek low rises, Vancouver

Addendum: Thanks to reader Laura Cochrane of Make Magazine for pointing out the building below, which I want to rename “Contempo General Hospital.” Because when you’re rushing to Emergency, you will appreciate the feeling that an inappropriately jaunty, heavy curved roof is going to collapse on its bad, skinny circular columns and fall on you. From this Youtube video at 1:18:

On Rize (Or Forcing A Luxury Highrise On A Neighbourhood That Really Doesn’t Want It)

Thursday, April 5th, 2012

UPDATE: This disastrous, precedent-setting development was passed by our City Council, dominated by supposedly “green” Vision Vancouver, in a 9-1 vote.  It was not sent back to design; only vague requests to the developer to make it smaller and less ugly were uttered. They mean nothing and have no weight; they were only meant to appease community rage. The only vote against was from Councillor Adriane Carr, the sole Green councillor on Council. Which is ironic, don’t you think?

Please not that the developer, Rize Alliance, made campaign donations to Vision Vancouver and it seems likely there were favours above and beyond recorded donations, as this is the way it works. We need electoral reform in this province IMMEDIATELY. City Councillors should not be considering development applications from the developers who donate to their campaigns. I supported candidate Sandy Garossino in the November 2011 civic election not just because she’s at least as good a candidate as all the others (that’s putting it mildly), but because she refused all campaign donations from developers. And I know for a fact that she was offered money by many developers. Vancouverites should be prepared to fight for electoral reform. In the meantime it should also prepare to fight the next tower/podium to be forced on its neighbourhoods. The development industry can’t win the next one.

____________________________________

This post is about a proposed luxury highrise development known as “Rize” (no comment on the name) in the heart of Vancouver’s historic Mt. Pleasant district. Like many other Vancouverites I see this development as setting a very worrying precedent for the city if it goes ahead. The desire to maximize profits off every plot of land in the city in an unchecked manner has contributed to a massive level of unaffordability and a climate of hot property speculation. This intrusive, tall luxury condo sitting on blocky big-box stores will bring this development behaviour out of Vancouver’s downtown core and into a vulnerable residential district.

[If you live in Vancouver and care about the way this city is increasingly un-piloted now that developers run the place, NOW is the time to write your letter. It’s easy—even one sentence is enough. Click here to send an email to Vancouver’s mayor and council. Just say no.]

Before I start, please see the following arguments against this development, far more authoritative than my own:

• Visit the RAMP (Residents Association of Mount Pleasant) website for many excellent resources on this topic.

Letter by Glenn Alteen, Exec. Dir. of the Grunt Gallery in Mt. Pleasant

Letter by Brian McBay and Allison Collins of 221A Artist-run Centre

Letter from Lorna Brown, Vancouver curator and Director of Other Sights

Letter by Federal MP Libby Davies & BC MLA Jenny Kwan

• Comments by Journalist Frances Bula and also read the comments by Vancouverites experienced in planning issues

• “What the hell is going on in this city?” by developer Michael Geller

• “Unaffordable, that’s what you are” by Sandy Garossino (on general unaffordability issues)

MAIN OBJECTIONS

Many Vancouverites have made excellent and detailed arguments regarding technical planning and zoning matters. I don’t need to reiterate those here, even if I could. They are all available on the RAMP Residents Association of Mount Pleasant website and in the arguments above. Instead I would like to address the way broader problems afflicting our City bear upon the Rize application:

CONSULTATION & LACK THEREOF

I’ve only opposed Vancouver developments twice. I’m not sure it’s a coincidence that both were in the last year. Vancouver is a turning point. Not only is it famously, drastically unaffordable, but developers have run out of empty industrial land in the downtown core and are greedily eyeing old neighbourhoods. Furthermore developers have an unprecedented stranglehold over City Hall.

I should also note that this is the second time I’ve opposed a rezoning that Vancouverites overwhelmingly don’t want, an unpopular development that looks like a done deal before it’s even been properly presented to the public. The first was a mega-casino proposed for downtown. The second is “Rize.”

My objection is exactly the same for Rize as it was for the Edgewater mega-casino that I helped defeat last year. The supposed community consultation process is a manifest failure. Had it successfully encapsulated community values there would not have been historic and widespread opposition to this proposal. Dramatic shifts in zoning allowances should only come with a mandate from the community. That is missing here.

It’s the lack of sincere, effective consulation that has led to this pitched battle with the developer. The behaviour of the developer is not surprising; branding oneself a “community developer” and then calling the community NIMBYs when they oppose your plan is what you would expect a profit-maximizing developer to do. Despite the developer’s cynical chess game, the problem is fundamentally a failure at the City level. We need a better process for the sake of everyone involved. Does City Council—and do developers—really want to run the gauntlet of an irate community with every spot zoning? Should the community have to spend thousands of hours fighting wrong-headed developments that don’t serve their needs? This is fantastically expensive, undemocratic, and politically incendiary. Mt. Pleasant is Ground Zero of Vision Vancouver voters. Do they really want to risk their Van East base?

And as many have argued, there are better ways of building the city. If developers were made to work with the community from Day 1, made to find out what it is the community actually needs, both sides would benefit. Ward 20 in Toronto works this way; if a developer’s project wins early community approval, it is fast-tracked through City Hall’s permits process. Did the community consultation process impede development in Ward 20? No. That single Toronto ward enjoys the most development East of Winnipeg. And it won both development and community happiness in one go. Ours is not an anti-development, NIMBY position. It’s the position of people who would like to have a say in what building forms and housing supplies are plonked in their neighbourhood. Quite frankly, “NIMBY” ought to refer to the behaviour of those who don’t actually have to live around the consequences of their actions. Or around the impoverished architecture they’re forcing on others.

The only healthy end to this proposal is to listen to the community, send the project back to the design stage, and lower its height to a level the community can tolerate. 8-10 storeys. Remove some parking, remove the big box stores and the loading bay threatening historic Watson Street’s pedestrian and cycling life.

And then fix your consultation process, City Hall!

LUXURY CONDOS AND SPECULATION

Is this the right development for this neighbourhood, let alone this city? Do we need more luxury (ie. view) housing in this town, let alone highrises? No. As a friend of mine pointed out, all this talk of “supply” solving the unaffordability problem ignores basic economics. Remember market segmentation in Economics 101? Making more Lexuses simply does not bring down the price of a Prius or a family minivan. The supply we have been producing is expensive view properties in tall towers. However I notice the supply talk is becoming more muted, and maybe this is because the community is cottoning on. I certainly hope so, because we have to quickly face the fact that 20 intensive years of condo tower production has only been concurrent with skyrocketing property prices, not more affordability. How do the proponents of more towers explain this? It’s no coincidence.

In Vancouver, condos are widely considered to be great places to park money. They’re too small to park families, but they’re a great place to put your cash. And the more we build of them, the more appetite grows for them as investment units, for both locals and foreigners. Add to this the complete and unusual lack of regulations on property buying in Vancouver, and you have a perfect speculation climate.

Furthermore, towers do not add the density percentage their proponents claim. Local experts say towers don’t actually house very many people for all their impact on a community, including skyrocketing property prices. Vancouver’s West End, when it was lower rise, had 21,000 people. Then it went to towers, and now it’s only 32,000. Not even double, yet the effect on property values has been deleterious.

Glass towers are not green, Vision Vancouver. They’re cheap for developers to build, but they are not sustainable. The claim that they are is a canard, and in the last year alone visiting architects from Harvard and across Europe have shaken their head at what’s going on in Vancouver. See this post on why these towers are not green: The End of the Age of Tall Buildings.

Condo towers were fine downtown perhaps (though as it turns out their production has undoubtedly fuelled speculation, and I’m not going to get into the problems experienced by our downtown tower neighbourhoods). At least we tolerated them there, green or not, livable or not. They were built on relatively empty industrial land. But now that these downtown lands have filled up, the megadevelopers who built that forest of glass towers wants to push them into existing neighbourhoods. Problem is, every time a tall tower is built, there is an immediate rise in surrounding property values, taxes and rents. This could quickly make every old neighbourhood in the city that much more unaffordable.

In the midst of what is either a bubble, or not a bubble but perpetually skyrocketing prices (and it’s hard to say which scenario is worse), introducing more luxury condo development into neighbourhoods already facing real dislocations due to rising prices is unwise.

Mount Pleasant is forward-looking. Unlike all neighbourhoods in Vancouver’s tonier West Side, Mount Pleasant made the bold step of agreeing in its community plan to accept more density. But when it gave an inch, developers attempted to take a mile. We are asking City Council to check the kind of profit-maximizing opportunism that got us into this affordability mess in the first place. There is a way of doing development that works for both developers and communities—but it’s City Hall that must lead the way. Developers will follow.

THERE IS MORE THAN ONE WAY OF DOING DENSITY

What’s the City’s objective? It’s to increase density & increase supply of affordable housing. But given the reality that the community overwhelmingly hates towers in its historic neighbourhoods for a number of good reasons, can density & supply be increased in some other way? Yes. It can.

The other night we heard urban design expert Lewis Villegas show how we can do plenty of density without towers and that city hall’s own provision to put mid-height development along arterials has never been acted upon. Why not?

I have assembled a list of developments worldwide, including in expensive cities, that fit into the category of density but at a lower human scale and that ensure a degree of affordable housing. It will feature in an upcoming post (will link to it here).

Thanks to Vancouver’s famous speculative climate, Mount Pleasant already contains a huge stock of houses over $1 million. The more units it adds at the higher end—such as luxury view properties with high ceilings and fancypants amenities and parking—the more you drive prices up.

As Jane Jacobs advised, let’s do density properly. Let’s see lower building height (as is seen all over Europe), less parking, fewer luxury amenities, and a wise, attractive manner of fitting buildings into existing local history and texture. We can still get an astonishing amount of density while avoiding distorted real estate economics and aesthetic ruination.

FALSE COMPARISONS TO VANCOUVER’S WEST END

Councillor Tim Stevenson and others have been talking about the West End: its successes, its heights and its density. They are comparing Rize to the West End as a means of promoting Rize’s proposed design. However, this comparison is based on a lack of understanding of Vancouver’s history. The West End was carefully developed over many decades. The development was carefully stewarded by the city with distinct policies ensuring affordable rental, and it was done in an orderly manner—carefully stepped back from the water and generally well-planned. The West End’s livability today is a result of that careful vision enforced out of City Hall. That is not even close to what we are seeing here.

ARTS: WHICH WILL IT BE—DIVERSIFICATION OF VANCOUVER’S ECONOMY, OR BRAIN DRAIN?

I am very worried about the unprecedented, rapid defection of cultural workers from Vancouver. At least 45 friends and colleagues have left in the last couple of years, taking with them experience, training and education. BC invested in those assets which now benefit Berlin, New York, Toronto, LA, Calgary. We now even have a wave of people going to Saskatchewan—and they’re not even originally from Saskatchewan. And I should point out that my comments on brain drain aren’t relevant only to the arts or to our narrow sectoral interests. It’s just that the arts are the canary in the coalmine. The flood of talent out of Vancouver, which is worryingly twinned with our failure to attract new talent here, is tied to Vancouver’s status as one of the most unaffordable cities in the world relative to median income. When things get unlivable, artists tend to leave first, because they already tend to live very close to the financial wire. Stressed too far, they leave. And then others follow.

What’s distinct about creative brain drain, however, is that it has a serious impact on the whole city. It’s well documented that you can’t diversify an urban economy in a city without cultural vibrancy. In Vancouver we have a double problem: not only do new businesses not set up cities without housing affordability, they don’t set up in cities without busy cultural life. Some may say we’re plenty culturally vibrant, but quite frankly, they don’t see the cracks in the facade. We may still have arts organizations here, but they are almost all carrying massive deficits that grow every year, and unaffordability is a contributing factor. Not only are their own spaces expensive to maintain, but Vancouverites spend so much on rent or mortgage that they simply don’t have enough disposable income left to support arts in any significant way. Revenues and employment have fallen as a result. Individual artists, musicians, curators, arts workers and academics are leaving in droves. They’re the people who actually produce a region’s culture—and remember that they produce much of our shared culture mostly on their own dime. The brain drain has become so noticeable even the mainstream press is covering it now. Ask any cultural worker why he or she is leaving; they’ll all tell you the main reason is lack of appropriate, affordable housing and studio space. That’s another thing: most of the great old buildings that art’s generally made in—new ideas need old buildings, as Jane Jacobs said—have been demolished or converted into condos thanks to the investment market.

What does this have to do with Mt. Pleasant? Well, unlike Vancouver’s West Side, Mt. Pleasant is one of Vancouver’s cultural incubators. This has been true for many, many decades. The Western Front, the Grunt Gallery and many other venues, organizations and artists live and work in this neighbourhood. Much of Vancouver’s huge international fame in visual arts (a fame that sadly goes unnoticed in Vancouver) was gestated in Mt. Pleasant. Many of its non-art residents live there for that reason (look at the West Side: utterly sterile, culturally, if you exclude UBC). Mount Pleasant is a neighbourhood that deserves some protection from opportunistic production of luxury housing in the middle of an affordability crisis. Other cities do this; why is this carelessness rampant in Vancouver? Do we have no cultural pride?

CITY HALL SHOULD BE CITY BUILDERS, NOT RUBBER STAMPERS

I want City Council to be true, intelligent city builders, not rubber stampers for the very development industry that is choking every other sector out of our city. Its collusion with property speculation has produced an unaffordability that has made every other sector non-viable. The West End isn’t a successful neighbourhood today because City Hall just allowed a rampant free market to do as it would. It’s livable because City Hall interceded in the market to create livable, affordable housing. City Council, please work with your new Director of Planning—and I sure hope you find someone visionary, not just someone obedient—to find a workable consultation and development process, and to find a way to have smaller developers build a myriad of smaller developments affordable for families and couples and workers and seniors. Start with Rize. Send it back for a new design, and ask for a reasonable scale and housing that makes sense for the community. The developer can and will do this if you tell it to. It will find a way to make money. Developers always do.

Lastly, the idea of removing parking from the building altogether has been bandied about. Our City Council claims to be green. Take out the glass tower, take out the parking. I dare it to be that green.

Above, the pedestrian-unfriendly, big box store-containing monolith. It will also destroy historic Watson St, currently a cycle street, with truck loading bays for the big box stores at street level.

Postscript: Urban expert Lewis Villegas gave a good talk a couple of weeks ago outlining a better plan for densification in Vancouver, using many illustrations of successful low level density from other cities in North America and beyond. He proposes the following model:

NEW PLANNING PARADIGM:

1. Measure density at the scale of the Walkable Neighbourhood or Quartier

2. Devise a new “Vancouver Special”: fee-simple, high-density, human scale (not currently allowed in Vancouver. Often seen in Quebec City).

3. Design streets and squares to support social functioning.

4. Transportation: add trips, remove cars, revitalize streets

5. Regional Transportation: deliver affordable housing

 

Most confusing Christmas decoration of the 2011 season

Monday, December 26th, 2011

ew

Santa Nutcracker Christian Puppet Theatre

Please take a number and ponder how The Nutcracker—you remember, that’s the story of a seven-headed Mouse King and a kingdom of dolls who come magically alive, among other pagan details—is actually a Christian-run story secretly enacted by a Jesus-like white Santa Claus operating marionettes hung from gold crosses.

Wanted to steal the tree to save it from further embarrassment.

Santa Nutcracker Christian Puppet Theatre