An extraordinary shot from the Vancouver Archives:
Buildings along Nelson Street at Thurlow Street, 1966
Extraordinary for two reasons. First, here are two whole blocks without a modernist highrise as late as 1966. And there’s a good reason for that: the City was buying up the whole block for the creation of Nelson Park:
Secondly, this is a fascinating mix of residential buildings at different scales: single-family-homes, no doubt divided into boarding houses, interspersed with purpose-built apartment buildings. Rather delightful to our eyes – and perfectly illegal in most of the city.
Indeed, that was the largely purpose of zoning as it evolved from the early 1900s: to prevent the mixing of multiple-family apartments with single-family homes. The intrusion of apartment buildings prior to World War I was one of the reasons the West End lost its ‘Ward 1″ cachet, and became the ‘bad example’ to be avoided by other neighbourhoods first developed as single family.
As the rich moved on to Shaughnessy, which very explicitly prevented such mixing, the West End began a steady decline, its ‘blight’ to be swept aside by the bylaw introduced in 1956 that allowed for the modern concrete highrise – accompanied by open space for the new residents.
Today, every one of those buildings above would have heritage value, if not designation, and the streetscape would be pointed to by urbanists as a model for the appropriate densification of the city.
UPDATE: There’s a good chance the 1966 view was on the north side of Nelson, opposite Nelson Park, in which case today’s view looks like this:
Just a hunch, but I’d bet the population density of the block in the historic picture is greater than the present one. In the West End as a whole, the population in 1951 was about 21,000. Twenty years later, near the end of the highrise era when the housing stock had quintupled, the population was less than 40,000 – it hadn’t even doubled.
What happened? The West End had uncrowded.
Jane Jacobs made the point that people confuse over-crowded environments with high-density ones. The first is too many people in inadequate spaces. But many of the same people may choose a high-density neighbourhood if they can find the kind of accommodation they need and can afford.