Urban Freedom Fighters Help Inch Vancouver’s Failed Freeway Revitalization Closer To Daylight

625-777 Pacific St
Hopefully the Urban Design Panel’s volunteers enjoyed their winter break, because their first review of 2022 lasted for nearly three hours. The Omnicron-forced return to a virtual format was partially to blame for this, but as Hannah jokingly pointed out, some people like torturing themselves, and I willingly attend these sessions. Her words haunted me when one city engineer confessed they could happily talk for hours about the plan to replace the Granville Bridge’s northern loops (pg 5).

The panel literally asked for this punishment too, as last summer they recommended this one million square foot mixture of strata, rental, and social housing return to them for further review. This time the city’s Real Estate and Facilities Management Department was clearly better prepared, with a far more illustrative framework for these publicly-owned lands that claimed to advance the work of Jane Jacobs. Yet this body’s opening remarks ran counter to that renowned urbanist’s core message.

A self-described cycling proponent criticized shrinking road widths to pay for more housing, overlooking studies showing motor vehicle traffic volumes into Vancouver have been decreasing for years (pg 42). Conversely, those who evaluated this application previously applauded the improved public realm, particularly along Pacific Boulevard where a freeway was planned decades ago. That said, re-orientating a series of retail stores to face it, and establishing a plaza that extends under the Seymour Ramp, only served to deepen their ambitions for this block.

A landscape architect questioned why parking was underneath this space as they would have preferred a grass park here in lieu of a hardscaped feature. The bigger puzzle for many was why the area under the Howe Street onramp wasn’t treated similarly, and instead was left as a small private-like area lined with townhomes. This was seen as a missed opportunity to create public art, as well as a connection to the seawall and urban realm around Vancouver House.

That desire was summarized in a recommendation to add more outdoor public open space, however a specific instruction to ensure it was “natural” was deleted after some discussion. Maybe they recognized it would be hypocritical to be this specific, as most had railed against this site’s guidelines which they felt the Planning Department had made far too prescriptive. They emphasize this overreliance on symmetry only limited the creative, bold, and visionary ways that could have resolved its deficiencies.

One architect stressed they couldn’t be more opposed to this process as it effectively hampered professionals like them from doing their job. The city’s indecision on whether to retain ownership of the two taller strata buildings only worsened matters, and tempered this anger into a recommendation for further exploration of massing. It was hoped this would encourage future designers to be more visionary, rather than adopt this indicative form, as the former was needed to solve this proposal’s biggest fault.

While it was suggested rearranging these buildings would better illuminate the public realm, the main goal was to provide more sunlight for the daycare atop of Building C’s podium. Though separated like church and state, the city’s Planning and Real Estate Departments both offered a plethora of evidence, highlighting there was no better location on this site to achieve that goal. For some of these volunteers, that was enough, as they acknowledged shade wasn’t a bad thing in a heatwave.

Still, some remained committed to their prior instruction, and the recommendation for the daycare to meet the City of Vancouver’s design guidelines for sunlight access reflected this lack of consensus. That effectively punts the mater to another regulatory body to decide, and this compromise is what allowed the panel to unanimously approve a motion to support this improved application. Of course, it’s your opinion that will matter most of all, so make sure to leave it here.

You can view more images from this meeting here on our Instagram.

Applicant Team Information:

Developer – City of Vancouver – Real Estate and Facilities Management

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