Vancouver vs. Vancouverism. Last week Bob Ransford asked Vancouver Sun readers to rethink the practicality of what is commonly known as Vancouverism architecture. He argues that the tendency toward building high-density, glass high-rises, actually prevents more innovative, people-based designs from springing up. As his interviewee, architect Gair Williamson, suggests, "The trouble with architecture in Vancouver is that many architects are failing to look at the substance of how people inhabit buildings. They’re looking at how buildings appear. It’s about style over substance." In this context, dear MOVers, what do you think of the new proposal for development of 2220 Kingsway by Henriquez Partners Architects? Does this represent the future of our neighborhood strips? Of Vancouverism? Is it more stylish than substantive? (5 points per question)
At the MOVeum:
September 13 - Art Deco Chic: Talk & Tour with Ivan Sayers | Design Challenge Winners Panel
September 19 - Opening Night - Object(ing): The art/design of Tobias Wong September 20 - Built City @MOV: Urban Evolution, Retold
[Image: Brockton Point 18th Annual Inter High School Sports programme, c. 1929. From the MOV Collections H2008.23.437]
Gentle readers, we’ve reached the conclusion of the Painful Crushes Vancouver series but what have we learned? Well, for starters, there’s no such thing as a fairytale romance with Vancouver (surprise!). As Charlie Demers told us last month, you can be head-over-heels with Vancouver but living here still sometimes feels like dating someone in rehab.
Counterintuitively, it seems that knocking Vancouver off its pedestal can actually help us get over our painful crushes. Once we realize that Vancouver’s not perfect we can begin repositioning ourselves in the city, reimagining the kinds of relationships we’d like to have here, and challenging Vancouver to be a better place.
This is something that my final interviewee, writer and journalist Charles Montgomery has thought a lot about in researching his upcoming book, The Happy City, which focuses on the connections between urban design and emotional wellbeing. Like other critical, outspoken Vancouverites, Charles loves the city but believes we have a lot to work on. In a fitting end to the series, he talks about how to cultivate the kinds of trusting relationships that make us happy even when the city itself sometimes gets in our way.
When it comes to Vancouver there seems to be some discrepancy between what we think will make us happy and what actually does. What makes a city truly happy?
Well, I recently spent the last day of summer at Wreck Beach, drinking cold beer, eating what turned out to be a poorly cooked Bavarian smokey, and watching the hippies cheer and dance the sun as it disappeared. It was a moment of sweetness followed almost immediately by convulsive vomiting. In some ways it’s a metaphor for the city: Vancouver looks like everything you ever wanted and yet somehow it produces a kind of unwellness.
For the past few years I’ve been researching the connection between the science of happiness and the ways in which we design and live in cities. Vancouver gets so much right and yet we know that people in small towns such as Windsor and St. John’s claim to be more satisfied with life. What are we doing wrong? We know that in places where people say they’re the happiest there’s a high degree of social trust which suggests that the most powerful contributor to our happiness is our relationships with other people.
You say happy cities “guide people into intersecting moments” by providing public spaces where people can meet and connect. Why is Vancouver so bad at this?
People in Vancouver have to work harder just to pay for the places where they live. When you’re working harder you don’t have as much time for personal relationships. And for a variety of reasons Vancouver has been actively designing these experiences out of people’s lives. There’s a tremendous demand for two-bedroom plus apartments but one-bedroom apartments are much more profitable to build. We end up having these towers filled with ‘isolation units’ downtown where you eat alone, you sleep alone, you wake up alone.
But we’re also making an effort. I think the Woodward’s development is a really optimistic expression of what it means to live in a city together and to take chances. For the first time we have a roof over a public space so that people from the neighbourhood have somewhere to come when it’s raining. There’s market housing right next door to social housing. We know that Vancouver’s reliance on its supermodel good looks and natural amenities hasn’t fulfilled us but maybe these kinds of experiments can lead us in that direction.
What can we do, short of redesigning the city, to make ourselves happier here?
John Helliwell, an economist at UBC, insists that we just have to try harder. You know that elevator in your apartment building? That’s an opportunity to create new relationships. I’ve also found that spending more time biking has really helped. I used to complain about rush hour and despise other drivers on the road. I began interacting with people in a different way when I started cycling to work. When the city built the Dunsmuir bike path I found that we cyclists began experiencing our own rush hour but rather than avoiding it I timed my trip so that I could ride with all these other people. It’s not that we’re all going to become best friends but a morning culture of conviviality has definitely emerged.
What spaces make you happy in Vancouver?
It’s funny, when I lived in the West End I was a block from the beach and I was a block from shops and services, but I felt inexplicably unhappy and terribly lonely. And that feeling didn’t disappear for me until I found my home in East Vancouver. I don’t have a mountain view, no seawall, no architectural icons, no Vancouverism. But somehow by turning my back on that famous city I found a place that embraced me warmly.
So does wanting to change Vancouver make the city a bit of a "project" or a "fixer upper"? Maybe, but then again maybe that’s not such a bad thing in this case.
This series might be over but the conversation doesn’t need to end here. Find @Museumofvan on Twitter and share your own #PainfulCrushes in our city. What expectations have changed for you since living in Vancouver? What places make you particularly happy or sad?
MOV Guest author Anna Wilkinson is a museologist and oral historian living in East Vancouver. Her Chestbursters blog is a collection of endearingly awkward, cringe-inducing, and heartbreaking crush stories.
New MOV Blog series: Painful Crushes Vancouver
Guest MOV series by Anna Wilkinson
photo by Paul Clarke
As someone who’s had a lot of painful crushes in my life—so many that I curated an art show and created a blog around the idea—I’m pretty familiar with pining after someone who seems just out of reach.
You’ve probably felt it at least once. There’s the good: a fantastic conversation or a shared glance from across the room. And the not-so-good: awkward side hugs, night sweats, not knowing whether they like you “that way”.
Weirdly, I’m starting to think I have a painful crush on Vancouver. Like so many emotionally distant relationships, the city keeps giving me the hot and cold treatment: I endure two months of non-stop rain, then suddenly I'm riding my bike through canopies of pink cherry blossoms. I watch as young ruffians light cars on fire and steal Pringles (seriously guys, worst looting ever), and then see a bunch of lovelies clean up the mess and write sweet love notes to the city. I just can’t seem to quit you, Vancouver.
But then again maybe it’s not so surprising that I have such a confusing relationship with Vancouver. I mean, it is consistently ranked one of the most livable cities in the world and one of the saddest cities in Canada.
Maybe part of the problem is that some of us come here with extremely high expectations. We’ve heard rumours about how good-looking Vancouver is. We see people falling head over heels for it. We hear that the legendary Leonard Nimoy loves it so much he might live here (I want to believe that he watches over us from his West End penthouse. Please don't take that away from me). So how can we help but feel a little heartbroken when we never quite see the Vancouver of our dreams?
Over the summer I’ll be exploring what makes this city so attractive and heartbreaking and asking Vancouver “experts” (that includes you!) about how to get over a painful crush on our Heartbreak City.
Find @Museumofvan on Twitter and share some of your #PainfulCrushes in our city.
Painful Crushes Vancouver, Part One: Heartbreak City
Holly Flauto Salmon on Granville Street during the 2010 Olympics
For the first of this series, I had a chance to sit down with Holly Flauto Salmon, one half of the writing duo behind Holly and Holly, a blog dedicated to “un-hating Vancouver one grey, cloudy, drizzling, dizzy day at a time.”
If you’ve read their recent posts you’ll know that since undertaking this mission, one of the Hollys has actually started to like it here. Ms. Salmon is that Holly and she opened up about finding an intellectual community, unexpected Google searches, and how she ended up falling for Vancouver on her own terms.
How did you get the idea for the blog?
The other Holly and I met because our sons were in the same class. We were both living out at UBC and felt pretty isolated. We just kept saying, “But we should like it.”
And so we started the blog, but decided, “We can’t say we hate this place. It’s so negative.” So we decided to “un-hate” it. That was my goal. I’d lived in a lot of cities before and I’d always found a niche but for some reason it was harder in Vancouver.
From reading your Dear Johncouver post, there’s an image of the city as really attractive but sort of vapid. What were your expectations before you came here?
Well, my spouse got a job here when were living in New Haven and neither one of us had been here before. My friend said, “You’re moving to Vancouver? You’re going to love it!” This was coming from someone who had been here on a trip once and whose favourite book was Stanley Park.
I think it’s definitely seen as being spectacularly beautiful, very international, and culturally diverse.
What are things that come up most often in your blog about Vancouver’s heartbreaking qualities?
It seems to be that sense of isolation, the aloneness. Sometimes commenters on the blog insist that people here are mean but I don’t know if that’s exactly true. For example, it was my second year here, and I would talk to other people who had been here longer than I had, and they would say, “Oh yeah, I didn’t like it when I first got here either. Don’t worry about it.” But then they wouldn’t invite me places. I’d say, “I feel really alone.” And they’d be like, “Oh yeah, I felt that way too.” And then, “Okay bye! Good luck!”
How exactly did you start un-hating Vancouver?
I think finding an intellectual community was definitely part of it. I took a writing class with Lee Henderson at UBC last spring and we became friends. And then one of my stories was published in an online literary journal and I became friends with the editor there, who started introducing Holly and me to people. I call him “Mr. Vancouver.”
I love the writers I’ve since met and how they all support each other in a way that I haven’t seen another group of artists do. They’re all very proud to be here and really identify as “Vancouver writers.”
Through your blog it seems like you’re building a community of “jilted lovers.” Has it been cathartic?
That’s a great analogy. It’s like a group of people who have been dumped by the same bachelor. You ask yourself, “Why didn’t this work?” And when you meet other people who’ve had the same experience, you can say, “It’s not me! He’s just a jerk.”
If you looked in the search results for our blog, you’d find “I hate Vancouver + want to die.” Now, at what point does a person sit down at their computer and want to Google that? What exactly are you looking for? Holly and I gain some satisfaction in knowing we might have made a difference for some of these people, that they don’t feel so alone.
For now, it seems like at least one Holly has gotten to first base with Vancouver. Some of us, of course, are still just waiting for the city to send us another cryptic text. Stay tuned for the second installment of “Heartbreak City.”
Anna Wilkinson is a museologist and oral historian living in East Vancouver. Her Chestbursters blog is a collection of endearingly awkward, cringe-inducing, and heartbreaking crush stories.
On a bright and sunny Saturday morning in February, 75 Moving Through participants embarked on one of three architectural walking tours organized by MOV, as part of a multidisciplinary exploration of Vancouver's built environment, called "This is Not an Architectural Speaker's Series". As some of you know, the groups were completely full, so not everyone was able to join. The good news is, we recorded each walk, and the podcasts are now available for listening and download!
Three concurrent walks and groups set out from Stadium/Chinatown Skytrain, Commercial/6th, and King Edward Stations, and joined together for lunch and an all-group Q&A and wrap-up session lead by Gordon Price at SFU Woodwards. Our intrepid guides report:
Mini-Walk A: The Path(s) Not Taken: Viaducts, Expressways, and Almost Vancouvers.
(*Guides: Vancouver Public Space Network, Michael Green, mgb architecture)
Most Vancouverites rarely spend any time in the parking lot across from Rogers Arena, but standing there looking up at the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts, it is easy to feel like you've been transported to the overpass wasteland more typical of LA or Detroit.
Demian Rueter and Brandon Yan, transportation coordinators from the Vancouver Public Space Network and Michael Green of mgb architecture have thought a lot about these overpasses and about what could have been if the downtown freeway started in the early 1970s had been completed. Walking through Gastown, it is easy to see what would have been lost. The European style streetscape that was jeered for so long as a tourist trap left behind by Expo 86 has become in recent years a dependably fun spot for a night out and home to some of the city's best restaurants. If the freeway had been built, not only would this be lost, but also large chunks of Strathcona and Chinatown. By passionately opposing this plan, the residents of these neighbourhoods prevented this plan from occurring. A widely forgotten casualty of the project was Hogan's Alley, the neighbourhood Vancouver's Black community called home.
When we start to think about these great neighbourhoods surrounding the viaducts, it's easy to imagine that parking lot becoming something really exciting if the viaducts were to come down.
Mini-Walk B: Speed and the Shape of the City: Vancouver’s Evolving Transitscapes
(*Guides: Andrew Curran/Translink & Graham McGarva, VIA Architecture)
Graham McCarva sees transit stations differently than most people. Graham was the lead architect behind Commercial/Broadway station, it is informative to walk with him through the station and surrounding neighbourhood. "A subway station is a place to buy flowers," he told us, a place where everyone should feel comfortable walking past at any hour. This idea informed the of this station, which responded to neighbourhood concerns of unsavoury characters commanding the intersection. Previously the location of the busiest pay phone in the region, it is now home to the busiest Shopper's Drug Mart. The main action on the Drive used to be north of 1st Ave, but since the station was renovated the neighbourhood has grown right down to 12th Ave.
Andrew Curran, senior planner at Translink, introduced the concept of Marchetti's Constant, and helped put the station into historical perspective, explaining that this, the highest traffic station in the system, serves the same function as did the former streetcar station (now a post office) at 6th and Commercial. Like the streetcar station before it, Commercial/Broadway Station connects two suburban lines to lines bound for Downtown (and UBC), moving thousands of people each day.
Andrew and Graham sparked many questions among the group, making the ride to SFU Woodwards a lively one. We were better able to see the role that transit has played in the development of the lower mainland, and puzzle over the role that the Canada Line and other future lines will play in the area's ongoing growth.
Mini-Walk C: Evolution in Station-Area Planning the Cambie Corridor
(*Guides: Jim Bailey, City of Vancouver & Peeroj Thakre, pH5 architecture & Urban Republic Arts Society)
Tucked beneath the streets at King Edward Skytrain station, Jim Bailey, senior planner for the City of Vancouver's Cambie Corridor Station Area Planning project, led us through an engaging discussion about this interesting, and perhaps under-discussed area of Vancouver. Ranging from the Cambie Village to Marine Drive, Bailey divides the area into 5 Precincts, suggesting each has room for development of a unique character and livelihood. However, while single family homes are currently at a market value of $1.5million near King Ed station, it is clear that increased density will be necessary for more affordable living situations. As we walked through the laneways surrounding the station, Peeroj and Jim discussed with the group, how optimizing transit, cycling, and walking opportunities, as well as increasing public amenities, and opportunities for community engagement will be key for the future of the Cambie Corridor.
See the Moving Through photoset here.
Vancouver Matters is less a book than a bound exhibit, which may partly explain its appeal to us. Using photographs, illusrations, and short essays, the various writers (mostly artists, and students and faculty from UBC’s School of Architecture + Landscape Architecture) present Vancouver as an unfinished work rather than an accomplishment (a subtle dig at “Vancouverism” proponents?).
Each of the 16 chapters explores a particular material condition—stucco, hedge, sugar, blackberry—and explores its imprint on the city’s built-form and culture. The opening chapter on andesite stone, for example, details the history of the Haddington Island quarry—stay with me—and how the stone was brought to Vancouver and used to clad key financial and government buildings that called for a resilient, permanent character. Picture the Royal Bank building at 675 West Hastings St., the former Provincial Court House (now the Vancouver Art Gallery), and City Hall. That many of these structures still stand in a city where redevelopment is very much a part of our identity, may indicate their intended goal has been met.
Beyond history lessons, it’s a beautifully rendered portrait of the city that presents the familiar in a bright new way.
Vancouver Matters was published in the fall of 2008 by Blueimprint, a division of the local publishing house, Simply Read Books.
We’ve reached the halfway point in our “Vancouverism by Bicycle” tours, which examine the recent history of urban planning and architecture downtown and around False Creek. (The tours run Saturday mornings at 10 a.m. from now til August 22. Click here for details or to register.)
Condensing decades of history into a two-hour format—including riding time between stops—has been a fascinating, challenging project. We’ve been forced to reconsider how people, be they tourists or locals, experience the city’s built form. One recurring discussion point has been the role public art plays in creating a sense of place, particularly in shiny, new neighbourhoods that have been all but wiped clean of their past, or were previously undeveloped. Two examples stand out.
The work Red Horizontal (pictured above) by Montreal-based artist Gisele Amantea is a featured stop on the tour, and was embedded in the seawall near David Lam Park in 2005. Essentially, it’s a bright red strip of porcelain enamel panels that depict 228 interiors of nearby apartments, condominiums, converted lofts, and seniors’ housing; 29 images repeat, a reference to the recurring unit sizes and layouts, and the uniformity of the spaces. Red Horizontal serves a documentary function, freezing those living rooms and kitchens in perpetuity. It also poses an important question: once stainless-steel appliances and granite countertops are no longer in fashion, what will False Creek North—and indeed, Vancouver’s many other master-planned communities—look and feel like? Will False Creek North go the route of Science World, representing a vision of the future from the past?
Just beyond the city limits, a new art installation lends context to another new neighbourhood. Last week, UniverCity, the residential neighbourhood at Simon Fraser University, unveiled Yellow Fence, a series of 15 gates fronting the townhouses of a just-completed building (one of them is pictured left). (Full disclosure: I’m related to Jonathan Tinney, their director of community development.) Here, Vancouver artist Erica Stocking references yellow wire-meshed construction fencing—something as much a part of local material culture as glass and concrete. Each gate bears a different grid pattern; a Crayola-yellow delineation of public and private space. As Stocking described in a release: “I wanted to use the material of the temporary fence as a metaphor for shifting boundaries and as a reference to the site’s built history.”
Both projects push traditional approaches to public art. They are not only integrated into their sites in compelling ways, they also challenge the very neighbourhoods of which they are a part, capturing a particular moment in their development, history, and story.
This Saturday, the Museum begins an eight-week run of cycling tours that examine the term “Vancouverism”—that mixture of urban design, architecture, and city planning that this city has become known for globally. Vancouverism encompasses everything from the architectural vision of the late Arthur Erickson, to green-glass towers that dot the north shore of False Creek, to developer-funded public parks and schools.
Where did the term originate? Best guesses indicate it came from architects and city planners who visited Vancouver in the 1990s and were inspired by its success luring people back downtown. A decade or so later, Vancouverism has become a political ideology, a lifestyle, and an export (see Dubai, San Diego, Toronto, and Seattle). It has also become a success story: Vancouver has more than doubled its downtown population in the past two decades, bucking the trend of many other cities.
The MOV tours deconstruct “Vancouverism” by looking at the term in practice, and the people behind the major examples. It starts at the Museum, crosses over the Burrard Street Bridge into the West End, then wraps around False Creek to Yaletown, Southeast False Creek (the site of Vancouverism 2.0), False Creek South, and back to the Museum. Our Velo-City exhibit is a fitting conclusion, exploring similar themes of livability and progressive city planning.
We hope you can join the conversation. Click here to register.
Image credit: Kenny Louie