Posted by: VPSN | January 17, 2011

View corridors, higher buildings in Downtown and Heritage Areas under review

Granville Gateway

Concept drawing: Higher buildings at the Granville gateway

On Thursday, January 20, 2011, Vancouver City Council will be reviewing two staff reports on the inter-related subjects of downtown and heritage area building heights and view corridors.  Tonight, Monday, January 17, the Planning Department staff are holding a public meeting and Q&A session on the subject.

7:00 – 8:30 pm
Empire Landmark Hotel (1400 Robson Street)
Crystal Ballroom (lobby level)

The first report – Implementation of “Vancouver Views” and Opportunities for Higher Buildings in the Downtown – recommends that Council formally adopt the changes to the view protection guidelines that were approved in principle in January 2010 (adding three new view corridors and affirming the 27 already in existence).  It also recommends that Council adopt a revised General Policy For Higher Buildings, which would allow consideration of higher buildings outside all but one of the protected public views in the Downtown area.  

The second report – Historic Area Height Review Policy Implementation – looks at height issues in portions of Gastown, Chinatown, Victory Square and Main and Hastings.  It recommends that Council support the rezoning of portions of Chinatown to allow for the creation of mid-rise development upwards of 120 feet in Chinatown South and Hastings and Main, as well as the creation of limited opportunities for larger buildings up to 150 feet.  The report notes that any rezoning undertaken in the Historic Area would need to comply with the protected view corridors.

The VPSN has written an Issues Note (PDF) on the subject that outlines some of the history of Vancouver’s view corridors policy, considerations around public benefits, and a synopsis of what’s at stake in the two reports currently being contemplated.  There’s an array of commentary already in circulation and we’ve attempted to distill some of the key points down to a useful synopsis.

Among the many things for people to think about with these issues:

  • Currently, taller buildings are utilized by planners as one way to generate needed public benefits or economic revitalization. Where do you stand on this trade-off?  Are there other ways to achieve the benefits associated with higher buildings?
  • Would the city’s key gateway areas – Granville and Burrard – benefit from stronger sense of architectural definition?  Would higher buildings in these areas help with this?
  • While iconic architecture can contribute to a sense of place, care must still be taken in evaluating a buildings’ impact on their immediate vicinity (e.g. street fronts, shading, pedestrian flows, etc.)  If these impacts can be reasonably accommodated are higher buildings acceptable?
  • Where do you stand on view corridors?  Vancouver’s ‘view culture’ has shaped the actual urban form of the city, but is there a point in which a focus on distant, however beautiful views, sacrifices ‘in the city’ benefits and architectural/urban design opportunities?
  • How high is too high?  Are there social and health related considerations that should be taken into account with the creation of higher buildings?  For example, one body of literature suggests that buildings over a certain height cause a disconnect between the home and the street and that this, in turn contributes to socio-spatial problems in neighbourhoods with lots of high rises.  Another body of literature notes that increased density (characteristic of downtown residential development) increases walkability and can foster social capital.  How might this development affect quality of life issues?

:: Downoad Issue Note – Vancouver Views, Downtown & Historic Area Height Considerations (PDF)

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