Sunday, October 24, 2010

On View Corridors and One Way Stairways

We’ve been hearing very little about the proposed changes to the height restrictions that have been in place in Vancouver for more than 20 years. What we do hear is couched in bland language, lending a positive spin to what such changes might do for the city. From the display boards prepared by the City and currently being dragged around to open houses:

WHY CONSIDER HIGHER BUILDINGS?
• They play a critical role in city shaping by providing landmarks in the skyline.
• They help achieve sustainability goals
∙ By building higher in the city centre, more residents and workers can be accommodated near existing infrastructure and amenities, thereby reducing the need for sprawl and the financial drain of infrastructure
expansion
∙ Higher buildings will showcase leading edge green building and energy saving technologies
• They deliver needed community benefits
∙ Higher buildings generate additional benefit capacity which helps to support the provision of public amenities
It all sounds so reasonable, even I almost buy it. Ditto the few news items I’ve seen comparing, for instance, Vancouver and Dubai (really?) and suggesting that wouldn’t it be swell if Vancouver had the sort of architectural landmarks that draw international attention. And never mind that the view that is more or less threatened here is a physical landmark for which the city is internationally known.

The thing is, like so many of the smoothly oiled building schemes that dot Vancouver’s history, a very few people stand to gain a great deal if all of this goes through. And once it’s done, this will not go away: the city will be stuck with whatever towering monsters are approved here for a long, long time. Witness, for instance, Vander Zalm’s gift to the waterfront at False Creek north, which is forever damned to look like the late 1990s.

Meanwhile the view corridor approach Vancouver adopted in 1989 is admired and emulated in other places. San Francisco, for instance, is considering a similar approach, just as Vancouver gets ready to throw hers out the window.

I’m not offering answers here. I’m only asking questions. If you have questions or comments, I’d love to hear yours, as well. But do it fast: we might not have much time.

The City of Vancouver’s Views Page is here. Details of open houses currently being held in the city are here.

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