Reflecting Vancouver

Urbanism and Life on the West Coast


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Coffeehouses of Vancouver: Prado

Cafe Prado Vancouver 2Vancouver can rightly call itself a coffee town. Not thanks to our many chain outlets — Starbucks as well as home-grown mediocrities Waves and Blenz — but to the artesianal coffeehouses of our city that have dedicated themselves to quality. This care often extends to the bricks-and-mortar storefronts, some of which approach design statements. Old or new, there’s always an intriguing café to visit and savour in Vancouver.

I’ll start with a stalwart: Cafe Prado on Commercial Drive. Using local 49th Parallel to avoid the guesswork, Prado’s espresso champions serve top shots in a casual, minimalist interior that begs you to hang out with a paperback. It’s cool without reaching hipster levels of obnoxiousness, neighbourly without being too homey. It’s the perfect third space, provided there aren’t too many Macbooks, which somehow there seldom are.

In addition to the street-facing benches, Prado recently installed a parklet that makes their stellar location even better. You have to put up with the traffic, but the inimitable people-watching makes up for it.

Cafe Prado Vancouver

A second location has opened in Gastown, with another expansion in the works at Fraser and 26th. The downtown cafe has adopted a shabby-chic-meets-loft feel to reflect its colder surroundings. I’m curious what variation the Kensington-Cedar Cottage spot will take — perhaps a future feature on the Coffeehouses of Vancouver. Until then, it’s hard to imagine topping the original.

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Changing Chinatowns

Propaganda Coffee Vancouver 2

The hipster invasion of Chinatown continues with Propaganda, a sleek new establishment on Pender brewing Elysian coffee. Next door, a gaping hole in the ground will soon sprout condos akin to Keefer Block.

I suppose I’m part of the problem. In addition to seeking out coffee and steamed buns, I frequent a whitewashed record store around the corner, Pacific Rhythm, which opened earlier this year. Chinatowns across North America are under strain from attractively cheap rents and central locations. In San Francisco, long a holdout against gentrification, Chinatown is being eyed by tech workers and developers alike as the real estate frenzy of the Bay Area escalates. In Toronto, boutiques and cafés have opened up along Spadina north of Queen amid new developments with faux-eastern motifs.

Toronto Chinatown condos

Will Chinatowns gently fade away with current trends in demographics and zoning? Taking the bus from Pearson Airport along along Lawrence Avenue last week, I caught sight of the now-legendary ethnic strip malls that blanket Toronto’s periphery. Still larger ethnic communities are found in Markham and Mississauga, central Canadian analogues to our Richmond and Surrey. Immigrants to Canada are no longer landing in the old inner-city enclaves, and pressures of land use weigh ever heavier. Should we actively protect our historic Chinatowns, or will this inevitably lead to a kind of totem multiculturalism designed for tourists? Should we instead embrace the rapid turnover of storefronts as a welcome urban renewal? Or can a balance be achieved that is somewhere in between?

Vancouver Chinatown


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Wisteria in Bloom

Kitsilano Wisteria

Wisteria is blooming across Kitsilano. Somehow I never noticed how much there was until this year. Perhaps there are more blossoms than usual because of the pleasantly warm spring? The climate of the Lower Mainland seems to become more like vintage California with each passing year, whereas the real San Francisco Bay Area is increasingly struggling to provide drinking water to its residents.


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Seawall Bike Path Improvements

False Creek bike path improvements

The city has finally separated bike and pedestrian traffic in front of Edgewater Casino and Plaza of Nations. In summer especially, this undulating section led to conflicts along the shared pathway. I assume the original plan was to redesign this stretch of the seawall at the same time as redevelopment at Plaza of Nations. But since the 750 Pacific project seems dead for the time being, the City probably decided to go ahead with spot improvements anyway. Now the pathways more closely resemble the section further west, where pedestrians and bicycles are fully separated by a median.

Good to see that the city continues to make improvements across our bike network. More trips by cycling and fewer by driving are largely to thank for Vancouver meeting 50% non-automobile mode share in 2014, ahead of 2020 targets. Trips on Burrard Bridge were up about a third in Sep-Nov 2014 over the previous year, probably thanks to the Seaside Greenway improvements in Kitsilano. Total vehicle kilometers have fallen an estimated 16.5% since 2007. We probably would have been even further ahead of the Transportation 2040 goals had senior government enabled needed investments in transit along our major corridors and across the region.