April 3, 2016

Beasley on View Corridors


A view of the Lions from the south shore of False Creek.

While checking in on Twitter yesterday, I caught an interesting tweet by Larry Beasley on view cones and corridors. I thought it was worth a post:

If Vancouverites were to weigh in on what public amenities matter to them, the view cones will be right up there with the seawall and beaches as a treasured public asset. Instead of cramming more housing in where it is crowded and blocks views, lets open up some new communities.

As always, Larry provides a insightful and thoughtful perspective (filtered, as always, through his own distinctive point-of-view). My own take is similar as I’ve come to truly appreciate the value of the view corridors. Although I am less enthusiastic about their value in maintaining specific views (the views you see when you stand in just the right spot), they have a hugely valuable role in creating a dynamic quality to our downtown towerscape. View corridors are part of a wonderful Vancouver tradition of maintaining a sequence of views, from the intimate (outside the window) to the neighbourhood, to the broader (city and nature) and they create variation in the towerscape that would be difficult to achieve otherwise.
I am sensitive to arguments to rethink the view corridors. Many people are speak with are surprised that they are as intensely enforced as they are, but in a City with a great tradition of discretionary planning and where the spirit of the law is more important the the specifics of the letters, view corridors are often absolute. Speaking from the perspective of a member of Vancouver’s Urban Design Panel, there are often projects where we are frustrated by the specific application of the corridors. But on the whole, they serve the city well and must be vigorously defended.

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  1. I’m very happy to see Larry weigh in on this important and currently hot city-shaping topic. There are very few large urban places in the world that can rival our natural setting, and shaping our built form to complement rather than (further) block or rival it is the right direction, IMO. His voice still carries a lot of weight among working planners in the Hall, and I also imagine among councillors and the general public. Kudos!

  2. However, being intellectually honest means admitting these view corridors do not come free.
    They constrain housing supply, and raise the cost of housing as developers must build twisty odd structures to accommodate the regulations when they can.
    Under reasonable assumptions, these costs will be passed on to consumers, and they may not be trivial.
    The same people whinging about housing affordability favor many policies which contribute to the problem.
    I also have a problem with them because they contribute to the culture of nannying boredom plaguing the city. It says we have “a great tradition of discretionary planning”. I guess you could put it like that… we also have a ghastly tradition of unnecessary hectoring.
    I believe a little more dynamism is worth the cost of some sacred views.

    1. Yes, it’s either symptom or cause.
      We have a culture where extravagant displays are regulated away. The flat skyline mirrors the city’s somewhat flat personality.
      First step: stop letting planners and bureaucrats design our buildings. Allow architects and capitalists to build whatever they fancy. Maybe some of that creative, risk-taking energy will leak elsewhere in society.

  3. I tend to think that it’s a bit of an absurdity when prime downtown sites are so constrained by view cones that their development massing is forced to an extreme.
    – one example is the much maligned proposed “ice pick” tower next to the CP Station
    – another is the BCIMC redevelopment of the Main Post Office.
    – another upcoming one would be Holborn’s redevelopment of the Bay Parkade site (adjacent to Granville SkyTrain Station (which sits under Seymour St.) – it is constrained by view cone heights similar to the Main Post Office.
    Here’s the Main Post Office proposal which would look much better with fewer, but taller towers:
    Image: Musson Cattell Mackey Partnership / Bentall Kennedy