Reflecting Vancouver

Urbanism and Life on the West Coast

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July Dreaming

Vancouver Spring 2016 003.JPG

Found at Broadway and Larch. The earliest flowers of spring have emerged, marking the way to 33 Acres on a sunny patio.


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Vancouver Pillow Shots: Summer Sunset at Kitsilano Pool

Kitsilano Pool Pillow Shot

Kitsilano Pool at closing is a world-class panorama. What has always inspired me most about the place is not the unrivaled view, but the tremendous ambition of constructing a public pool along one of the most scenic plots of shoreline in the city.

Sometimes I wonder: is real estate freakishly expensive in Vancouver in part because the world has realized how rare and spectacular a place this is?

See previous Vancouver Pillow Shots here.

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Ending the Day at Horseshoe Bay

Horseshoe Bay

We took a welcome rest at Horseshoe Bay this past Saturday evening, after an ambitious full-day hike along the Baden-Powell Trail. We started at Capilano Dam around 9am, heading west to Cypress Bowl and continuing through to Eagle Bluffs. After a steep descent from the viewpoint, we plodded our way to Horseshoe Bay village by 6pm.

The village was full of Canadian flags and outfits, in a dusky mood after the Woman’s World Cup loss. “Why so many fans at Horseshoe Bay?” we asked a nearby family. “We weren’t here, we were all at BC Place,” they replied. “We took the ferry over this morning!”

Eagle Bluffs Baden Powell


Earnest Questions at Earnest Ice Cream

Earnest Ice Cream Vancouver

Looking for a cool treat to endure the heat wave? My guess is that Earnest Ice Cream’s newish location at 2nd and Quebec will have an especially long line throughout the weekend. Yesterday I tried Honey Chamomile and Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip, but I think my favourite so far has been Cedar Tips.

Some bourgeois speculations that arose during our visit: is organic gardening decadent in the same way as artisanal ice cream? At what point is money spent on garden supplies better spent on absurdly cheap produce at Persia Foods? Can urban farming truly be done for free, given the prerequisite of land? Can “urban crop failures”, such as our withering beets, be mitigated given the typically limited soil space?


Passage to the Gulf Islands

Queen of Nanaimo

This past weekend I returned to Mayne, some six years after my first visit to the Southern Gulf Islands, and reached further to Saturna. This island-hopping was made possible by an ambitious community event, Tour des Iles, which provided free sailings between neighbouring islands. Some boats took routes we landlubbers might otherwise never see: from Retreat Cove in the north of Galiano to Salt Spring Island, and in a triangle from the eastern side of Mayne, to Saturna, to Hope Bay on Pender, and back again.

To keep things simple, I planned a Saturday morning arrival on Mayne followed by a bike ride across the island to Horton Bay. A Tour des Iles boat would then ferry me to Saturna in the early afternoon and return me to Mayne in the evening for camping near Miner’s Bay. Sunday would allow a meandering journey back to Vancouver.

“Are you headed to the Campbell Bay Music Festival?” a cool dude asked me at Bridgeport, hoisting his bike onto the 620 Tsawwassen Ferry bus beside mine. His hair was buzzed on both sides and combed long on top. “I’m meeting my girlfriend there.”

I had no idea what he was talking about. I think I’d seen Campbell Bay mentioned on the Tour des Iles website. It wasn’t the last time I was asked, being a relatively young person headed to Mayne Island with a tent. At Village Bay, the Queen of Nanaimo disgorged backpacks, textured clothing, and boomers in sandals. The dry, sunny weather, maritime scene, and eclectic cast fused into a postcard Gulf Islands moment.

Mayne Saturday Market

The Saturday Market near Miner’s Bay started calmly, with obvious regulars and bunches of organic greens. I cycled in from the ferry with my camping gear, and locked my bike by reflex even though no one on the islands seems to. Slowly — perhaps hinting at a riotous night before — the hippies and hipsters of a younger generation flooded in. It turns out the Campbell Bay Music Festival is, locally, a big deal.

A series of folk bands and experimental musicians took the stage. “We’re here from the Campbell Bay Music Fest, and I’m sure many of you are, too!” called out one bearded lead to a colourful, disheveled crowd. Six years earlier, I remembered Mayne as a quiet place, beautiful but faintly suburban. I had instead disembarked on a Gulf Island mythology that I thought no longer existed.

For me, the Gulf Islands have always carried layers of fantasy. Well before I visited, I heard stories of American draft-dodgers and back-to-land earthers that fled the modern world for a simpler life in the Georgia Strait. I heard of Canadian counterparts to California communes, with the added abandon of an international border and the Trudeau government. As much as any cultural significance, I was also intrigued by the microclimate of the islands within the Olympic rain shadow, a golden Shangri-La of mild weather and gentle ecology to remind me of Marin or Sonoma many latitudes south.

Mayne Island Farm

I left the Saturday Market to set up camp, passing grassy shoulders of island people along the street. Traversing a tunnel of ferns and cedars at the edge of town, I found the Seal Beach campground nestled beside the sea with a plain view of Active Pass. Remarkably, the snowpack above Howe Sound was visible beyond Galiano Island, so close yet seemingly so unreal and distant. The eclectic market and dramatic scenery endowed the day with a magical quality. I set out for Horton Bay after setting up my tent, stopping for lunch near the centre of the island.

A comfortable woman sashayed beside me as I bit into my sandwich, roasted vegetables on chewy sourdough. “They’re great, aren’t they? You have to stop yourself from getting one every day when you live here!” She let out a hearty laugh. At first I was taken aback by the persistent greetings, but soon began to return them. More twentysomething hippies rambled by on bicycles.

The shuttle to Saturna was really just a powerboat, operated by a punchy Englishman named Andy. My only fellow passengers were a pair of retired women who went to high school together in Newfoundland. We motored along Plumper Sound and some of the lesser Gulf Islands on the way to Lyall Harbour. My first memory of Saturna is of a sunburnt, shirtless band of young mariners at dock. They wore rough trousers and a few dreadlocks, drinking beer between hauling dinghies and rope. Saturna was no suburb.

Saturna Island

I walked further along the road to a secluded neighbourhood at the base of Lyall Harbour. Curiously, everyone waves at you on Saturna when they drive by. In a large garden of raised beds, two older men in shorts and worn t-shirts ambled about as I approached.

“So what’s growing well this year?” I called across the fence. Al’s beets had to be seen to be believed, whereas he explained that some of the broad beans had been planted too late. We compared notes between the Kitsilano Collaborative Garden and their own community plots, speaking an unexpected common language. He knew exactly where the Kitsilano Collaborative Garden was. (It’s between the Community Centre and the ice rink, by the way.) In fact, most people I met on the islands seemed to know Kitsilano intimately, as if it were a neighbouring village.

I stole away to the beach for a nap in the afternoon sun, followed by a hike through the Gulf Islands Natural Reserve. The few homes I spotted along the way — about 350 people live on Saturna year-round — appeared a class removed from those on Mayne or Pender, more ramshackle and less self-conscious. In the human ecology of the Gulf Islands, Saturna occupies a casual, far-flung niche at the edge of Canadian waters. I hiked back to Lyall Harbour, taking up a quiet waterfront spot at Lighthouse Pub near a woman and a man speaking alternately in English and Québécois French. The solstice evening sun burned hot in the Western sky. I ordered a cold Lighthouse Race Rocks ale on tap and a perfectly crisp veggie burger, taking in the midsummer vision of paradise.

Saturna Lighthouse Pub

Andy met me again at the dock sometime before 8pm, the sun still shimmering across the Salish Sea. I was the only return passenger to Mayne. A man who I spotted at the pub came down to meet us, and soon introduced himself as one of the organizers of Tour des Iles. I thanked them for giving us the chance to see the islands in a different way. Apparently this was the first year, with a few typical mishaps. I hope the event happens again — I’ll be a regular.

My ride back to the Western edge of Mayne island was a fuzzy delerium of hops, evergreens, and fantastical 9pm sunlight. I felt as though it were a living dream, one I might have nurtured in December weather, or in my past life south of the border. The peaks of Howe Sound turned a dark lavender in the falling light. I read of the first European explorers of our Pacific refuge, seeking riches rather than sanctuary, and drifted into a deep sleep, contented that I had found this place.

Gulf Islands Sunset

The following day, I was joined at breakfast by two women at the Sunny Mayne Bakery. “Oh yes, it’s changed. We’ve had declining student enrollment for years. There aren’t very many jobs, and rents aren’t as cheap as they used to be.” I learned halfway through our conversation that one was the chair the Gulf Islands school board. “The boomers who used to visit weekend homes are now coming full-time, and families can’t make it.” Surprisingly, she voiced a familiar Vancouver worry: gentrification.

“Galiano still has a community of artists and creative people,” she commented. “Mayne and Pender have always been a bit more white collar,” said the other. But they shared a sense that the eccentric character of the Gulf Islands might not last. I’m still surprised that the Gulf Islands have never stepped into the spotlight. I never heard of them while living in the United States, and only periodically from longtime Vancouver residents after I moved here. Whistler is mentioned dozens of times by tourists before a slightest mention of the islands. We can only hope it stays that way.

Mayne Island Bike Camping

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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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A Seaside Greenway in Summer

Heard much complaining about Point Grey Road and the Seaside Greenway lately? Yeah, neither have I. Wasn’t a crush of summer traffic supposed to paralyze the corridor? I’ve yet to see a backup on the turn to 4th Avenue, even around major events like the fireworks.

Point Grey Road Summer 2

Point Grey Road Summer 1

And these were taken on a weeknight. Someday, when attitudes have sufficiently aligned with the magnitude of the change, active transport along Cornwall will become obvious. Let’s call this year one.