October 22, 2019

Broadway: Awaiting Transformation

As noted below, the Expo Line, which opened in 1985, has transformed the corridor along which it runs, especially at many of its station areas.  In that same time, nothing much has happened along Central Broadway.  Some of the blocks between Granville and Broadway seem curiously untouched since the 1970s.

The blocks between Granville and Burrard have some of the widest sidewalks in the city – and some of the least active street life.

This block from Burrard to Cypress has never had street trees, for no apparent reason:

At six lanes, it feels more like an urban highway than a streetcar arterial.  This is Motordom 2.0 – a redesigning of the city for the car and truck.

Because of the width of the road at six lanes and the height of the buildings at one and two storeys, there is no sense of enclosure, no ‘village’ feeling.  The Broadway subway offers the chance for a complete reordering when the train comes through  – a case where higher heights and densities will actually give the street a more ‘European’ feeling.

A classic example is in central Paris, where the ratio was set by Baron Haussmann in a 1859 degree that determined the height of the buildings as a function of the width of the street:

Six lanes allows five storeys, plus mansard roof (and no doubt higher storeys than our nine to ten feet for residential).  Even without street trees, it works.


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  1. I doubt that the Broadway Subway will result in a transformation of Central Broadway to anything like what is shown in the last photo – of Baron Haussmann’s Paris.

    What is more likely to happen is that the areas immediately around the stations will be quickly redeveloped with clusters of 30-40 storey condo towers with a bit of chain and big box commercial at the ground level, ala Marine Gateway and Lower Cambie Village.

    These clusters will be approximately one km apart. The increase in property values and taxes will kill the remaining small commercial in between – that which has been able to survive the 4-5 year construction period. These storefronts will empty out, awaiting redevelopment. There will be some redevelopment with 6-8 storey mixed use projects, ala Broadway and Maple, but not enough of this redevelopment to fill in all the empty holes along the street.

    Once this trend sets in, developers will move on to more attractive areas, and the rot will set in, like on Kingsway, from Main to Boundary.

    1. I noticed that there are no references to actual sites or urban design principles in Adam Fitch’s opinion post. The subway construction will be bored, except at station excavations pits which will have to be decked over. There is no comparison with the Canada Line trench warfare fiasco. Despite the construction debacle, the CL is a success story, and the Cambie Village is not just intact, but thriving.

      One of our favourite bistros, the Tomato Cafe moved to Bayswater off Broadway in Kits. We asked one long-time staff member how the move went. She said it was a big mistake. Whereas they lost 40% in revenue from the open trench method without any form of construction compensation, it was less than what they, lost in Kits due to the competition and poorer UBC student population. She said they would have survived Cambie and then thrived after the CL was opened.

      I predict the subway will be a roaring success and will bring more residents, offices and institutes to the corridor, which is already the second densest in office floor area, jobs and population in the entire Metro.

  2. Could be because of the other nearby neighbourhood arterial retail strips.

    The West 4th retail strip west of Burrard is only a five blocks to the north.
    A few blocks to the east, there’s the South Granville retail strip. Those blocks on Broadway are bit too far to the west to be an extension of the South Granville retail area, although there is that development with the Pier 1 Imports and Bed Bath & Beyond (formerly Future Shop).
    To the west there’s a fledgling retail strip along Arbutus from Broadway to 12th or 16th.

  3. Unless people really rise up and hold the city’s feet to the fire I’m not expecting much. Not quite as dire as Adam’s prediction but too many overly tall buildings creating too much shadow is not unlikely. I hear a lot of complaints on PT that we’re not building tall enough around our SkyTrain stations but everybody conveniently ignores that Paris is 5X the density without towers.

    Not that I’m opposed to appropriately placed towers.

    But we’ve seen the post Canada Line rebuild of Cambie and it was a great big nothing. The “showcase” Main Street rebuild was a great big nothing. The Granville Mall and bridgehead rebuild was a great big nothing.

    Why would anybody expect different on Broadway? What is anybody gonna do to ensure it is different? Much as the city gets some thing right, don’t expect a great new street to come from them. Unless they are willing to remove at least 3 MV lanes I don’t see a big, beautiful transformation coming.

    1. Seems to me there has been quite a lot of positive change on Cambie, especially considering it has only been 10 years….and the number of proposed or under development buildings is pretty significant. Could it have been more, sure. Could it have been better, sure….change has to start somewhere.

  4. In 2003, over 500 people in Paris died as a result of a climate change induced heat wave. Many of those deaths occurred in the upper floors of buildings resulting from Haussmann’s public realm building guidelines that set a ratio of street width to building height, a guideline motivated by the desire to create scenic views, with little consideration for the residents of these building forms.

    The Paris tragedy was repeated across Europe in 2003 ultimately resulting in over 50,000 heat related deaths which might have been prevented with a bit more consideration other than how good things look.

    Here we are 236 years later, in the midst of a climate emergency, and we find ourselves debating the design of the public realm and again we do so with zero consideration for what this means for the occupants of these constructions or what the consequences to the environment will be. We continue to be obsessed with scenic views and with little else.

    1. Okay, let’s see if I have this right. “Many of” 500 deaths occurred in the upper floors of Paris buildings “resulting from Haussmann’s public realm building guidelines…” . Now I’d certainly like to see evidence of causation here – not just about the “upper floors” but also that they are a direct result of building guidelines. Meanwhile 50,000 heat related deaths occurred across Europe. Were they predominantly in upper floors? I’ve never heard of such a thing.

      Now there *is* a connection to heat related deaths in Paris “upper floors” that has nothing to do with the height of the building nor to height guidelines. Most of those “upper floors” behind the mansard roof were designed as attics and not meant for habitation. But as with all big cities and housing crunches there was pressure to find creative ways to provide more living space. Those attics were a no-brainer. But they also lead to lots of poorly built renovations with terribly inadequate insulation. They were hot houses at the best of times but people put up with it because they had little choice. Crank up the heat another ten degrees in summer and people started dying. This can be rectified with deep energy retrofits and light air conditioning.

      But this points to the real issue. We need to get the climate back under control. High performance building envelopes and much higher density in our cities is a major step in the right direction.

    2. How would you develop the subway enhanced Broadway corridor? Like Paris with 6-7 stories max? Or like Yaletown ie 20 stories more or less ?

  5. We have to look at the Broadway subway as a transit oriented development project with perhaps a 20-40-year buildout based on current zoning. We all know that in 20 years we will have a new idea leading to rezoning and even more density, a current example is NEFC. So in terms of planning we are embarking on a development scheme, a demolition / construction project that has in fact no foreseeable ending. We do this with a straight face and with the full knowledge that our carbon emissions must reduce to zero within 10-years or we will be causing irreversible damage to the biosphere.

    Traditionally in Vancouver, we plan the public realm and control its form and appearance with the application of urban design guidelines. In doing so we affirm civic values of safety, beauty, economy and so forth. This is all business as usual except that now in 2019 the climate system is carbon loaded, weather systems have changed, glaciers are retreating, the oceans are rising, species are going extinct, eco-systems are failing, and we are receiving dire warnings from climatologists that we need to change our behavior.

    In Vancouver there are various city policies in place that aim to reduce carbon emissions, while at the same time we turn a blind eye to the environmental consequences of land development. It’s hard to see how this will get us anywhere as an expanding population continues to settle air parcels on offer in the sky. Business as usual. Emissions as usual. Future risks somewhat predictable.

    1. The latest science says we need to cut emissions in half in ten years. Not zero. A formidable task nonetheless. But increasing density along Broadway does not require the wholesale rebuilding of everything. We will need to learn to do energy retrofits for much of it.

      The environmental consequences of land development are not as large as the environmental consequences of poor building standards and long commutes by car.

      1. More concrete buildings and continued mass immigration by folks that wish to better their lifestyle aka consumption aka CO2 emissions – there goes your carbon footprint reduction in Metro Vancouver.

        1. Or they could be wood buildings that sequester CO2. They could house people from Langley and reduce their long commute to a walk. Not everything need be negative.

        2. The largest emissions profile in BC comes from transportation.


          Building subways and buildings will of course produce emissions during construction , but when life-cycle accounting is practised along with Vancouver city hall’s latest energy efficiency and reduced emissions requirements, a century of operations will result in a net reduction in emissions compared to sprawling suburban development rife with automobile dependency.

          Moreover, I’ve worked on projects where up to a net 35% of the carbon in concrete is offset by displacing Portland cement with industrial waste products such as fly ash and smelter slag from Trail. And just where is the research into low emission steel and concrete using electric arc furnaces and induction kilns using clean renewables?

          Hello Alberta … opportunity alert!

          1. No, absolutely wrong to ‘believe’ that life cycle costing is a legitimate view of reality when the entire biosphere is threatened by current and ongoing human activities.

            No, absolutely wrong to think that a ‘century of operations’ is a meaningful phrase given the urgency of today. Another century of emissions at a little less than what they might have been plus an increase in population and never ending (endless) building means disaster for the planet and for us.

            To quote Greta from your reference article: “We should no longer measure our wealth and success in the graph that shows economic growth, but in the curve that shows the emissions of greenhouse gases. We should no longer only ask: ‘Have we got enough money to go through with this?’ but also: ‘Have we got enough of the carbon budget to spare to go through with this?’ That should and must become the centre of our new currency.” – speech to U.K. House of Parliament, London, April 23, 2019

          2. Jolson, the GHGs from buildings and their use is about 70 times as much as from their construction.

            http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/soe/indicators/sustainability/ghg-emissions.html (see the spreadsheets)

            It’s true that we need to build to a higher standard than current code but those same codes are taking us there in a series of steps. By 2032 most buildings will need to be net zero ready and achieve about an 80 to 90% reduction in current heating/cooling demand – among other efficiencies. Doing that makes the CO2 payback for building new or doing major energy retrofits absolutely worthwhile – maybe just a few years. Doing nothing will not lead to a better result.

            Greta wants us to act.

  6. Very wide covered sidewalks should be included in public benefit density negotiations—–space for density above the sidewalk—- existing sidewalk could be used for future bus or tram lanes

    1. I like the idea of letting some development happen above the pedestrian realm a la the Lee building at Broadway and Main, but I’d hate to see pedestrians stuck in a dark tunnel like that for miles. The covering of the sidewalk would need to be more clever to keep it and the ground level shops behind it bright and inviting without being so tall as to allow our frequently diagonal rain to penetrate.

      But interesting as such an idea is, it’s completely unnecessary. Even if the future demands both a subway and a tram line, we’re not going to destroy pedestrian space to make room for more transit when we have 6 lanes of asphalt available to convert to more efficient uses.

  7. A 20 foot ceiling with retail on one side & a bus or tram lane on the other would would not feel like a tunnel & be more pleasant than walking ( or waiting for a bus ) on the existing sidewalk in heavy rain

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