© 2011 by Cityscape Design Inc.  

JULY 23, 2017

Developers’ “Race to the Top”? Is Vancouver the Urban Design-City Building leader in North America?

 

Many new mixed use developments  in the City of Vancouver have a strong public realm component to it, on the site proper , enhancing the project itself. While negotiated, we take these public realm enhancements as a “given”. The architectural edge programming in Vancouver  is an integral part of  the “public living room”. “Streetscape vibrancy” design elements are implemented in varying degrees in contemporary projects on a consistent basis. Is Vancouver the North American leader in producing contemporary , mixed use, people-friendly, walkable, vibrant  developments? Has the City of Vancouver’s early vision for pedestrian friendly urban design spurred a symbiotic ( sometimes problematic)  relationship with the development community   resulting in a developers’ “race to the top”?  It appears that the local Vancouver development market is very competitive in product quality and reputation but is head and shoulders above their North American counterparts in city building savvy and delivering walkable urban design projects.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mixed Use, Melville St., Downtown Vancouver . Great building edge programming  with retail/shops. Always filled with people.  Photo: Gloria Venczel 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mixed Use, Fourth Ave, Kitsilano, Vancouver. Building designs that invite window shopping as well as opportunities to pour people into cafe seating.         Photo: Gloria Venczel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mixed Use, Broadway Ave, Kitsilano, Vancouver . Adaptable storefronts that can be modified by retail tenants to mimic the successful  former streetcar  suburban retail  format.        Photo: Gloria Venczel

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mixed Use, Fourth Ave, Kitsilano, Vancouver . Urban design that facilitates  creature comforts for the “outdoor living room” like Adirondack chairs, trees, shade, window shopping. Photo: Gloria Venczel 

 

 

Comparing Manhattan-Old

As a pedestrian oriented urban designer, I was eager to revisit NYC and walk through as many of the streets of Manhattan as humanly possible in two weeks in March 2016. New Yorkers could not be deterred from using their public spaces by a dusting of snow, they were out there sitting on benches, window shopping, etc. regardless. There was very evident in the well established, older neighbourhoods on the West Side of Manhattan along Broadway.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

West Side Manhattan along Broadway + Mid-Town. People were out enjoying the sun in the parks just after the snow dusting melted.  Photo: Gloria Venczel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

West Side Manhattan along Broadway + Mid-Town New Yorkers adapt to the cold , put out bistro sets and drink coffee. Photo: Gloria Venczel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mid-Town Manhattan, selling used books in a mixed use neighbourhood. Apparently, permits required to sell books. Photo: Gloria Venczel 

West Side Manhattan along Broadway + Mid-Town, mixed use early last century. Vibrant shopping  Photo: Gloria Venczel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

West Side Manhattan along Broadway + Mid-Town. Times Square area was quite safe even at midnight, St. Patrick’s Day.  Photo: Gloria Venczel

 

There appears to be a culture around the “public living room” in this US winter city, enhanced by building edge programming  for everyday needs like fruits, cafes, clothing etc.. They are the urban design ingredients for a “vibrant streetscape”. How  does this compare to Vancouver’s newer developments from a pedestrian oriented urban design perspective? Livability? Vibrancy?

 

 

 

Comparing Manhattan –New

In a PowerPoint  analysis of Manhattan’s  urban design successes at a  developers’ networking forum in  Spring 2016, one of the members asked whether Manhattan’s newer developments had the same level of care on the ground floors, with people friendly “edge programming” for the “public living room”. I had to think for a moment. We can all be dazzled by the streetscape vibrancy of older Manhattan neighbourhoods and its overall safety. But, as seen in the picture below, the recent developments appear to make maximum use of the zoning envelope, the square footage, and “hive-off” the public space amenities to a green park in the next block. The fourteen storey development coming straight down to a narrow sidewalk  would be difficult to categorize as a  public realm that is people-scaled and pedestrian friendly. My impression of the places that my feet took me in Manhattan was that the newer developments had not embraced the public realm successes of the older neighbourhoods; had not translated them into contemporary materials, construction economics and design on a consistent basis. How  does this compare to Vancouver’s newer developments from a pedestrian oriented urban design perspective? Livability? Vibrancy?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“New” Manhattan development with a 14 storey setback and a park amenity that appears to be hived  off site at the park on the foreground

 

 

 

 

Comparing Toronto- New

I was also able to visit Toronto in the humidity and heat of the summer 2016. It is also a winter city with a plethora of underground shopping complexes downtown Toronto with edgy contemporary  architecture. But the streets seem to be for people/car movement with limited public realm vibrancy. How  does this compare to Vancouver’s newer developments from a pedestrian oriented urban design perspective? Livability? Vibrancy?

“One York”  Gardiner Expwy ,  great architecture but nothing to do on the street  as all the shops & services below ground. No edge programming that would make the street more vibrant and safe.  Photo: Gloria Venczel    

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Financial District, Toronto. Minimal building edge programming like cafes or shops  to actually give people a reason to stay. Planters do not in and of themselves create vibrancy. Photo: Gloria Venczel

 Greater Toronto Area (GTA) City Hall . No recognition of people in the urban design in the forecourt, ironically a very anonymous and dangerous space.   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Downtown Shopping , Toronto. Barren streetscape, no trees, benches  or concept of a “public living room” . Just people and goods movement- utilitarian-close to the Eaton’s Shopping Centre.                             

 

 

 

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

Typical Residential on the Tourist’s Queen’s Quay. No mixed use , one entry only- doesn’t encourage vibrancy nor “eyes-on-the-street”  safety. Missed economic opportunities-No Shops/Ice Cream

                                                     

 

Comparing Toronto-Old but Revitalized

The older Toronto neighbourhoods and the tourist/heritage oriented neighbourhoods seem to be the exception, embracing the public realm notion of “public living room”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Revitalized Tourist/Mixed Use Distillery District w/ Mid-High-Rise Residential w/a strong “Public Living Room”   Photo: Gloria Venczel   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Revitalized Tourist/Mixed Use Distillery District w/ Mid-High-Rise Residential w/a strong “Public Living Room”   Photo: Gloria Venczel      

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Public Living RM” close to St. Lawrence Market, a Tourist/Local Destination, T.O. Should only tourist areas benefit from good streetscape design and public spaces? Photo: Gloria Venczel  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 “Public Living RM” close to St. Lawrence Market, a Tourist/Local Destination, T.O.

 

How  does Toronto’s  Distillery District compare to Vancouver’s newer developments from a pedestrian oriented urban design perspective? Livability? Vibrancy?

 

Should Tourists Have All the Fun?

Vibrant streetscapes with people pouring out of cafes, markets and pubs, shopping , people watching  and having a good time- should tourists have all the fun or could locals in their own  neighbourhoods, as well as at work in the Financial Districts have fun at lunch?