Reflecting Vancouver

Urbanism and Life on the West Coast

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Perils of CD-1: Arterial Shadowing on West Broadway

West Broadway shadowing
Several months ago, Frances Bula did some scouting about a recently completed five-story rental building on West Broadway. The investigation was prompted by a reader question, since the existing zoning (C-2C) only permits four stories yet this development clearly exceeds that. I may be reading the C-2C zoning bylaw incorrectly, but I think the maximum permissible height is even less. Sure enough, the building is a special CD-1 rezoning under the Rental 100 program. And it highlights a problem that we’re wandering into regarding CD-1 development along east-west arterials.

For those who don’t know the neighbourhood, West Broadway is the quintessential Kitsilano high street, and a popular leisure stroll for residents. This is partly because of broad sidewalks and a quirky mix of Greek markets, restaurants, boutiques, and services. But the other major draw, particularly on the north side, is the sun.
Vancouver Solar Altitude
If Vancouverism emphasizes the view first, it emphasizes the sun second. As a city at high latitude — 49°14′ to be precise — the sun never approaches zenith (90°, or directly overhead). The maximum she climbs is 64.2° on the summer solstice, part of a leisurely loop around the sky that never crosses directly above. In the winter, depressingly, the sun struggles near the southern horizon, failing to reach 30° at solar noon for over three months. (That’s roughly the angle of a fascist salute.) Partly for this reason, the City of Vancouver requires detailed shadow studies of all proposed point towers, usually for different hours of the day on the equinox. In my nonprofessional opinion, it’s worked pretty well. I lived downtown for three years, and never felt uncomfortably shaded. Perhaps it’s all the glass.
West Broadway shadowing
Bringing this back to West Broadway, and the sudden winter chill I felt while walking one sunny November afternoon to my favourite Greek bakery at Trutch. The inviting patios at Calhoun’s and Banana Leaf, once sunny spots in winter, now seem consigned to the shadow of the facing building for much of the day. The Banana Leaf patio will probably be in near-perpetual shadow for at least four months of the year — you can’t even see the trademark tropical green façade in my photo. Calhoun’s has lost about half of its outdoor seating over the same period of the year, not to mention a reduction of natural light in the spacious and popular interior. The massing of the building, which could perhaps have been split into two corner towers or incorporated more setbacks like the recent Pinnacle Living on Broadway, is instead a monolithic east-west slab rising directly from retail front to its highest floor. There’s even a cornice, possibly sacrificing a few minutes of spring and autumn sun yet too small to shelter the sidewalk from rain. Above all, the building has cast a shadow on what used to be an pleasantly uninterrupted stroll in the sun, so rare on city streets in colder months. I hate to cast a villan, but CD-1 seems to blame (the bylaw amendment arbitrarily allows a height of 18.5 metres on the site, whereas the previous limit was both lower and required an angled taper of the upper floors).

I predict that north-west arterials will not suffer the same problem, since a midday sun will beam down Cambie or Main even on the shortest days. But the idea of rezoning our east-west arterials with CD-1 low-rise should proceed with caution. I cannot help but note that if the West Broadway building were placed just one block off the arterial, not only would the residents have to suffer less noise, but the problem of shadowing on the commercial sidewalks would nearly vanish. We should make our high streets as inviting as possible, not transform them into canyons where no one wants to linger. Spot rezoning likely does not demand this level of consideration, whereas thoughtful zoning bylaws often do.

As Frances notes, there are now over 600 CD-1 sites around Vancouver. I think it’s time for us to talk about the bigger picture of upzoning in Vancouver, with an understanding that arterial low-rise isn’t necessarily better than scattered tower-and-podium.


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The Other Vancouver Autumn: Hastings Mill Park

Hastings Mill Park
Just as rainy autumn days can be dreary in Vancouver, clear ones can be enchantingly beautiful. Slanting sunlight paints the coastal mountains teal and purple. Fallen leaves burnish amber against grass and evergreen. As usual, it takes a sudden clearing of the clouds to remind us how fortunate we really are to live here.

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Muddied Desires in Kitsilano Beach Park

Kitsilano Park dirt bike path
While we’re worked up about the pressing issues of our city, I predicted back in May that the desire line connecting Point Grey Road with the paved pathway in Kitsilano Beach Park would become a soggy, rutted mess. I guess it can just stay that way forever?
Kitsilano Park dirt bike path
I’ll ask again, since it also features in the photo: why do we need the chain-link fence along Cornwall?

(If you prefer actual civic issues, this timely Frances Bula post about housing deserves a read. The comments will probably be lively.)

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Vancouver Pillow Shots: Kitsilano Pool in Autumn

Birds in Kitsilano Pool
The birds have returned to Kitsilano Pool, taking station until next spring. In autumn, more than any other season, low clouds cling to the North Shore mountains like veils. The mush of decaying leaves, the increasingly sodden earth, and the dim light of afternoon seem far removed from the seaside frolic of summer.

Some leaves have not yet turned, yet I am already dreaming of cherry blossoms. On an especially wet ride down 7th Avenue, between Cypress and Maple, I found solace in the clear memory of pedaled hanami. This alone is enough to lighten my spirits in January, but the buds seem impossibly far away in November.

Previous Vancouver Pillow Shots here


On Becoming a Canadian

Canadian citizenship
“Have fun pledging to the Queen,” one coworker joked on my way out.

“And all her heirs and successors,” I said, hopping on one leg to attach a reflective ankle strap. “That’s the important part!”

A deep autumn downpour had passed through the night before, leaving the ground sodden beneath startling blue skies. I pedaled down Heather Street, toward the False Creek skyline. The glass of Vancouver shimmered in pale November sunlight. Flowing grey clouds obscured the North Shore mountains, like a tidal cascade, and the air still smelled of rain. Rain, that defining scent of Vancouver, clean and nearly odourless.

Inside the CIC hall, a cacaphony of voices, a blur of skin tones. Guests are seated first, then those taking the oath. It is the same room where I took the test a few months earlier, showing I could identify Atlantic provinces and the basic principles of constitutional monarchy. We queue for registration, a reliably organized show of our aspired citizenship. As we take our seats I notice a window-cleaner starting at the exterior right, dangling in front of BC Place.

A young clerk in black court gown appears, nervously explaining the ceremony protocol from behind a lectern. We are to stand when necessary, listen attentively, and recite in English or French. “Please inform Judge Kains that we are ready to begin the ceremony!” she cries out. Even to this moment, the ceremony remains mysterious to me. The word carries a shamanic quality. The ceremony.

The judge bears confidence, candour, and splendid golden hair. She asks us to be seated, welcoming us from the central podium. She begins speaking to us directly, first to congratulate us on joining Canadian history, then, surprisingly, about the military. “On November 11th we will mark Remembrance Day, in memory of all those who have died in service of Canada.” She brings our attention to the the deaths of Patrice Vincent and Nathan Cirillo, and begins to list the many wars in which Canadian Forces have participated. Our military is a prerequisite of peace, she explains. I am vaguely disquieted. The tethered window-washer has completed another three panes, seemingly oblivious to the assembly. “I ask that you stand,” — we do — “and observe a moment of silence for all those who have sacrificed for the peace we enjoy.” Peace. I hear her speak of ordered tranquility through strength, not of blandly amorphous freedom, a word Americans enjoy repeating. Enemies of Canada are enemies of peace; enemies of the United States are enemies of freedom. I begin to hear Toby Keith sing, ’cause freedom don’t come free.

Free? “They are not free,” she continues. The subject has changed. “Taxpayers must fund them. What better expression of our desire for you to belong than for us to provide language classes at no cost? We want you to learn English or French so you can participate most fully in Canadian society.” The nationalism seems to thin, like a lifting fog. She dives into themes of inclusiveness and personal responsibility that have repeatedly struck me through this process, so unfamiliar to partisan America.

“I hear many people say they love the benefits of Canada. It is so beautiful here, they say. The free education, the free health care. Make no mistake — these are not free. If you believe they are free, they will not be there for those who come after you. They were built through hard work, dedication, and compromise. You must do your part to maintain them for future generations.” ‘Cause freedom don’t come free. I try to imagine Toby singing about nationalized health care.

We are implored to know people of different backgrounds and faiths. “Ask questions. What do they do in a mosque? What do they do in a temple? The first thing you will find is that they are not trying to convert you.” Welcome laughter through the room. Do not keep company only with those like you. “Because that person you think is so different is who makes the food you buy at the store, the person who services the airplane you are about to fly, or the person who works in your child’s school. And the first thing any Canadian wants to ask the person at an emergency room,” she takes a strident tone, “the only thing — regardless of how they dress or what they believe, is: can you help me?” The departure from American patriotism reaches its zenith: “we need each other.” The window-wiper is finished.

A pause. “Who complained about the rain this morning?” There had been a lot. “More than a few of you, I would guess! We always complain about the rain. It’s November! This summer I even heard people complaining that we weren’t getting enough!” Everyone laughed at the truth of it.

“I think people complain about rain in Vancouver because we have so little to actually complain about. Remember that the next time you are in the elevator, or in the store, and hear people complain about the weather.” People in sunny states sometimes ask how I tolerate the rain and cold in Vancouver. Maybe I should reply that it’s because I have little else to worry about here.

So I pledged to Elizabeth II, and her heirs. Yes, it was strange. Judge Kains coated the bitter pill. “She’s 88 and still works. She attends four different engagements a day, meaning she always does her homework. She’s never late and never calls in sick. That’s who you’re pledging to!” A matronly portrait beamed down from the wall across her new Canadian subjects.

The mythical character of the Queen is telling. Few realize that personal ethics feature so prominently in Canadian society, for they are seldom made explicit. The very short list of obligations of citizenship includes responsibility for yourself and your family, alongside obeying the law and respecting the rights of others. As an American, I am accustomed to a narrative of right-wing demands for self-sufficiency, inherently at odds with public services. In Canada, the two are incongruously married. Canadians support ourselves and also support each other. Americans will think I’ve bought into seductive propaganda. Canadians may instead insist I am ignorant of the incompleteness of this ideal.

My partner hugged me after I received my certificate. “Welcome home.” It feels that way to me now. I feel I am somewhere I can aspire to be a full person. I feel I am planted in the right soil. DESIDERANTES MELIOREM PATRIAM, states the Royal Coat of Arms of Canada. “They desire a better country.”