March 24, 2014

Why is Vancouver drunk on highrises?

Well, we certainly like our architectural highballs – but there are a lot of people who think we have an addiction.

“You guys do high-rises very nicely, but you’re sort of drunk on high-rises,” ULI  expert Dick Reynolds said when visiting Vancouver in February, noting they just don’t fit in some neighbourhoods. “You don’t need towers everywhere.”

I ran into a chap over the weekend who was convinced that the City is approving almost nothing else.  Highrises everywhere.  I suggested, if he could, that he might take a look at the agenda of the Urban Design Panel, to see what is actually getting built in addition to the high-profile projects like Vancouver House and Oakridge.

So here, for his convenience, are all the recent projects that came before the panel on March 12, as reported in Novae Res Urbis:

Medium 4

Medium -rise 1

Medium 2 Medium 3


And here’s a prediction: as the Cambie Corridor gets built out, with a consistent row of medium-rise buildings for block after block after block, critics will be disparaging the monotony of a single form, the failure to take advantage of topography and views, and the need for, yup, the occasional highrise consistent with our architectural heritage.

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  1. Kang: High rises for all.
    [crowd boos]
    Kang: Very well, no high rises for anyone.
    [crowd boos]
    Kang: Hmm… High rises for some, miniature Canadian flags for others.
    [crowd cheers and waves miniature flags]

  2. As long as the Cambie midrises are sufficiently ground-floor activated with short Main-street-like frontages, so that they’re interesting to walk past, I don’t think people will mind if the floors above are similar.

    The key issue with the Cambie plan is passive acceptance of its stroad status. Look at this ridiculous asphalt desert, and that poor little cyclist

  3. Neil, If you’re talking about mixed use as on much of Main Street, the Cambie Corridor Plan doesn’t propose such a change in land use as far as I can see. Mixed use will still be located at existing nodes like King Ed, 41st and Marine Drive. The great remainder will still be largely residential, as in the sketch.

  4. This does not have to be mixed-use all along Cambie. I doubt that there would be the demand for that in any case. But the buildings are more interesting to walk past if they have some finer detailing or materials at ground level. Plenty of European walking streets are entirely residential but are charming to walk along because it looks like the builders took some time with the ground floors of the building. The actual form and style of the building can be quite similar without it being monotonous.

  5. Let’s be honest: this post is a little misleading.

    What the ULI expert meant by drunk on highrises wasn’t that we were only approving high rises, but that we were approving them everywhere, and in places they don’t belong. It’s our go-to strategy for reviving a neighbourhood, and that’s true. High rises dominate neighbourhoods, they draw the attention; while New York’s metro area is on average less dense than L.A., nobody cares because L.A. doesn’t have that attention grabbing mass of high rises. Compare perceptions too of New York and Paris.

    We need not just variety of building types, but variety of neighbourhoods. Downtown is a high rise neighbourhood, so is Collingwood and many other town centres. Should Grandview Woodlands be a high rise neighbourhood too? Do we want to be Sao Paulo? That’s what we’re getting at here, and this post does nothing to address that question.

  6. Downtown, there’s limited space, so highrise makes sense.

    The real reason that there are highrise clusters in other oddball areas away from the downtown or other growth concentration areas, is because going up reduces the need to spread out. If you built the same density in midrise or lowrise form, you’d need to tear down some single familiy houses for a bigger footprint. Neither developers nor politicains want to face that wrath…

  7. The real problem is that we have an Urban Design Panel. You can only build what they like. What kind of craziness is that? How can anybody innovate in an environment where a panel of ‘experts’ have the power of life and death over your project?