A Setting Lost to the City, Part 2 (City Conversations No One Else is Having #9, Brian Palmquist)

Brian is a guest writer for CityHallWatch. An architect whose career in Vancouver has spanned four decades, with projects ranging from first proposing the laneway-housing concept to serving as the managing architect on major multi-building development plans, personally designing more than 1,000 social and co-op housing units, and consulting on thousands more. Please visit this page for a list of all his articles, including this 2021 series “City Conversations No One Else is Having.”

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City Conversations No One Else is Having, #9
A Setting Lost to the City? Part 2

By Brian Palmquist (first published 14-May-2021)

This much earlier City Conversation is being reposted in the lead-up to City Council’s consideration of a proposal by city staff that will destroy False Creek South—I will be speaking against the report on October 21st and my remarks will be published as Part 2 of an earlier Conversation about False Creek South. Meanwhile…

Brian is an architect whose Vancouver projects range from first proposing the laneway housing concept to managing the community planning design team for the North Shore of False Creek. He lives in Vancouver and sadly, has never had a mountain, city or water view from his home.

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Part 1 of this article reviewed the role that view cones or corridors played in the evolution of Vancouver’s downtown and False Creek areas. Parts 2 and 3 look at what we will lose if they are removed, as proposed by city staff and the development community, what I fear will be “a setting lost to the city.”

“I’m beginning to understand what this view cone thing is, why it’s a now issue and how serious it is!” I had just walked the length of the False Creek South sea wall with my wife, from Granville Island to Olympic Village, stopping to take photographs at each of the seven official view cone locations along the way. We were sipping happy hour drinks at the Tap & Barrel before retracing our steps on an unseasonably warm day for April in Vancouver—no complaints!

I told her that the existing view cones have done a pretty good job preserving views through the downtown peninsula, but much of the views east of the Cambie Bridge and west of the Burrard Bridge are toast, based on what’s been published. “And don’t even ask me about False Creek South and Fairview Slopes!” At a gut level I knew this was a fair statement, but I needed to do a bit more work before writing about it.

Everything Looks Better from the Air

In researching this article, I quickly noticed that now, whenever it comes time for city staff or development proponents to illustrate what their words mean, most pretty pictures, sketches and model views appear to have been taken from those planes that fly around English Bay during the Celebration of Light. There are lots of words describing exciting happenings at ground level, just no pictures or sketches from the perspective of those facing this new development.

Why is this important? As an example, the pair of buildings inside the red box above are each about the height of Vancouver House, about 50 storeys high—hold that number as you read on. By the way, the aerial sketch comes from the Northeast False Creek Plan already approved by City Council.

When you look at what this means from the ground, you get an entirely different feeling:

Apologies for the crudeness of my markup—the city doesn’t maintain or make available a comprehensive map of what’s existing, let alone what’s planned, so I am limited to my Sharpies. It’s interesting that city staff repeatedly insist that except for the twin towers planned for just east of the stadium (the dotted, +/- 50 outline), future development in Northeast False Creek will be below the height of the view cone. Given the large space between the twin 50s and the left edge of View Cone G (the existing view cones are labeled, some with letters, some with numbers), pardon me if I don’t wonder what might happen in that void:

The diagonal solid line illustrates what +/- 30 storeys might look like behind the NEFC parks. Thirty storeys might seem like a lot of floors, but there are already many high-rises on the north shore of False Creek and behind that equal or exceed that height. Thus, the mountain views up to the edge of View Cone G might disappear, even if the existing view cone is preserved.

Views we can Talk About

It may already be too late to preserve much of a view east of Cambie Bridge. The city’s own Protecting Vancouver Views web page has this to say: “As a part of the Northeast False Creek Plan, consideration will be given to three future towers that strategically punctuate a portion of these views east of the stadium spires.”

“Without exceeding the ridge line of the mountains, the future Georgia Gateway will add visual interest and become a part of the contextual framework. The buildings will be required to establish a significant and recognizable new benchmark for architectural creativity and excellence, in addition to other criteria regarding public objectives set by Council.” Say what? “Strategic punctuation” was not included in any of my urban design courses. Maybe this is planner talk for “who cares about the mountain views as long as we have a ‘recognizable new benchmark for architectural creativity and excellence.’” Well, that’s a relief.

Although the Northeast False Creek Plan has been approved by Council, its details have not, requiring rezonings, then development permit applications. So there’s hope we can have a think about what’s happening on the ground or rather, from the ground up.

Views we can Mostly Still Retain

Full disclosure and marks to the city: the views from False Creek South appear to have been preserved so far, namely views “A,” “B,” “D,” “G,” “H,” “J” and “10.” “10” is a view from Granville Island to the northwest, specifically from the northwest corner window of the Blue Parrot mezzanine—I kid you not. I had to discreetly climb over the chain across the stair, there being no seating allowed at the moment. “A” through “J” move progressively from west to east along the sea wall, “J” being most easterly, from Creekside Park. All good, aside from the silliness of the location of “10.”

We were tired enough after going from “10” to “J” and back again that I decided to visit “F” the following day—my wife decided she had fulfilled her urban-planning mandate, and gave this second day a miss. I also visited and photographed “3” (Queen Elizabeth Park), “9” (Cambie), “20” (Granville Street) and “E” (Cambie Bridge)—suffice it to say these latter locations held no concerns for me.

View “F” from Choklit Park at 7th and Spruce is another story—see Part 3.

Brian Palmquist is a fully vaccinated Vancouver-based architect, building envelope and building code consultant and LEED Accredited Professional (the first green building system). He is semi-retired, so not beholden to any client or city hall. These conversations mix real discussion with research and observations based on a 40+ year career including the planning, design and construction of almost every type and scale of project. He is the author of the Amazon best seller “An Architect’s Guide to Construction.” He is also a member of team for a livable Vancouver, a new political party dedicated to restoring a livable Vancouver starting with the 2022 civic election.

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