I live in Vancouver,
a city that scores high in international lists of
most enjoyable cities around the world.
In this first episode of The Nots,
I try to explore why that is.
A hundred and twenty-five years is the age now.
Young compared to cities in other parts of the world,
where the history can be easily a thousand years old.
And in those hundred and twenty-five years, the idea,
the identity of what Vancouver wants to be,
has changed several times.
And these changes did not always happen voluntarily.
It had to adapt.
I'm Gordon Price, was born in Victoria in '49.
So, [I was] asked to run for office in 1986 by Gordon Campbell,
and was in office six terms from '86 to 2002.
And then, now, since 2005, I've been director of the SFU city program.
You know, you got to remember, fundamentally,
this is one of the best places on the planet,
in so many ways.
Location above all:
■ Ice free,
■ deep water,
■ right next to a remarkably fertile delta,
■ close to Asia,
■ in a stable country that is not the United States,
(but still benefits from the advantage of
living next to a neighbour that is going to keep you safe
under its nuclear umbrella.)
■ And it's new. It's new.
■ Even its infrastructure hasn't really basically decayed.
And is pretty well maintained.
So that we don't even have those kind of problems.
■ We don't even have biting insects.
I mean, this is a pretty good place to be.
But fundamentally, high density and mixed use.
And very high quality, um, public spaces.
Modernism, certainly, after the second world war
was the dominant architectural and design ideology.
Made a lot of mistakes, learned a few things.
Uh, and then...
What were the mistakes?
Well modernism was based, I'd say,
just fundamentally on the idea that you can do things
that are big and simple and flat and square.
You are just looking for an ideology.
So whether it's a freeway or a high rise public housing project.
They are done on a massive scale.
Machines for living.
The esthetics of modernism:
■ Strip of the detail.
■ Use technology.
■ Form follows function
■ Building should be honest and express itself.
So you have this emergence,
whether it's in Toronto
or the Banlieue of Paris
of tower housing blocks:
■ typically slab construction
■ poured concrete
■ reinforced concrete
■ high-speed electric elevators
A way of providing a lot of housing, very quickly,
with an ideology that said, uh:
"We can create equality.
This is Corbusier's idea of um, of the um,
oh, now I have forgotten, outside Marseille, classic example...
Mixed use, but um...
The idea everyone would share
more or less the same kind of urban form.
Eh, people divide themselves up by class and ethnicity,
and just a whole bunch of things,
and they want to express that kind of individuality.
And so you get these small, relatively small, very simple,
big and simple, flat and square,
high rises emerging by the dozens in the 1960s.
Almost every building over five stories in the West End
got built between '62 and '72.
And that's probably the fastest change
a neighbourhood went through in Canada
with the exception of places like Saint Jamestown and Toronto.
But boy, it was fast, and it was brutal.
So, Vancouver is lucky, but also not so lucky.
When it started growing
it quickly ran into the ocean on the one side of the city
and the mountains on the other side,
and later in its development it ran into the border
with United States of America.
So quite early on Vancouver had to find
a solution to getting busier and busier.
A principle that everyone I talked to for this documentary mentioned:
"Densification"―what can a city do when its population keeps
increasing to avoid its street from becoming one big mayhem.
There is always this option to spread out.
That's what the out automobile allows.
And you get this car dependent urban form.
I call it motordom, M O T O R D O M,
a word that would have been used in the 1920s,
at the time the automobile was emerging as a popular form of transportation.
Well, because of cheap oil and, and this uh, effusive technology
that was, for the first time in human history,
available to the average working person, [and hence] land-use followed.
So you end up at the fundamental forms of what we call the suburbs.
And again, it gets back to big and simple and flat and square.
But the key is
■ cheap land,
■ cheap oil,
■ cheap water,
■ cheap money,
Ha!, and the best quality of life human beings have probably ever had.
And so every other culture that looked at North America announces:
Well you guys are at the top of the food chain,
that's the way -you- did it, I guess we got to do it -too-.
You know, why else would they be building
freeways in Shanghai, for god's sake.
Um, it doesn't even make sense on the surface, much less.
But it touches something profound: People like space.
And when they get rich enough, uh, they buy more of it.
So, you know, you got to,
uh... certainly from a governmental and planning level,
What Vancouver had: no choice, because it was imposed by nature.
It couldn't expand.
It very quickly came up against its boundaries.
So downtown Vancouver in 1890,
eh, we build out the downtown peninsula,
about 2 square miles, having taken Stanley Park out of it, uh,
probably by about World War I. No, earlier.
So, where are you going to go?
Well, you can still go out, obviously.
And that is the first instinct.
But I think Vancouver recognised right across the spectrum,
rather like the Dutch did: uh, we are going to have to make
density livable for all classes of people.
If the dykes come down, uh, everybody drowns.
If we are going to continue to be a growing city,
we have got to find a way to do it.
Still, the rich always aspire to space.
But they also recognise that there's got to be
a range of livable communities, uh, as you rebuild the city.
And by the 1970s, when that spirit was fully embraced, I think, uh,
we figured out a way to do it that at least met a pretty broad range of needs.
But what made us exceptional? Well, uh, we had to go up.
So we found a way to take the high rise form, that had been rejected,
uh, because it was associated with
■ the poor,
■ and social failure,
■ and modernism,
and, and found a way to make it aspirational
for people right across the social spectrum.
And you've only got a couple of choices:
you crowd more people in the same amount of space,
or you find a way to accommodate more people in more space.
One of the ideas of densifying downtown and building high-rises
was to create more urban life in the streets.
And so, we get mixed development with buildings partially as
office buildings and with their upper portions as residences,
creating this urban life downtown so that the streets are not
empty at night and presumably unsafe.
Architect and real estate agent Jon Lightburn sees little
evidence that this has really worked as the city had imagined.
You know you can still drive downtown [on] certain streets
and there's nobody on those streets,
whereas you can drive out to an area like Commercial Drive,
where there is absolutely no density, it's basically suburban,
and yet you have a street which is the most...
one of the most liveliest streets in Vancouver.
It's, uh, chock-a-block with
■ uh, Italian bistros,
■ uh, speciality food stores,
and every manner of person walking up and down the street,
riding their bike, skateboarding, rollerblading.
It is quite an interesting street.
And yet, we get that life on the streets,
and it's happened in spite of a lack of density
whereas part of the program for all of the downtown has been:
'Let's create density and have
■ lively downtowns,
■ and lively streets,
■ and lots of restaurants,
■ and cafés.'
Well, you know... it's... it's...
it's touted as a principle of urba... urbanism,
but, in fact, you know, there is no real logical connections...
not necessarily a logical connection between the two.
As most cities, what now is Vancouver's centre
was where the city originally started.
Because of the challenges of being on a peninsula
with a usable surface of less than 6 square kilometres,
valuable lessons have been learnt about densification.
With populations growing globally,
other countries want to learn from Vancouver.
I talked to someone from the government
of my own country of birth, The Netherlands.
Ik ben Eline Toes, ik ben 29 jaar,
en ik ben rijkstrainee bij het Ministerie van VROM [...]
My name is Eline Toes, I am 29 years old
and a trainee at the Dutch Ministry of infrastructure and the environment.
Our chief architect studio sent me to
the Dutch Consulate [in Vancouver] to research
In Nederland is er een grote interesse om te kijken
hoe er in plaas van, of misschien wel ook in plaats van,
van het zo maar nodeloze [...]
Holland has great interest to, besides expanding our cities,
see what we can further develop in the space that we already occupy.
[...] die blijken er gewoon in grote getalen te zijn, zeg maar.
Dus je kan denken aan de transformatie van oude industriegebieden [...]
One could think of regions previously used as industrial areas,
or, for example, train yards.
[...] er schijnt dus in de binnensteden van Nederland
gewoon veel ruimte te zijn waar heel goed...
die heel goed ontwikkeld kunnen worden. En, en [...]
Ya, we see a lot of space in the Dutch cities that still can be developed.
Because in Holland we do not have a lot of room.
[...] dus daar zit eigenlijk de parallel.
En de rijksbouwmeester, die is nu een aantal keer
hier naar Vancouver geweest, enne [...]
Our chief government architect has been several times to Vancouver,
that, despite having quite dense areas, still remains a pleasant place to live.
It are the key decision moments, the defined course of action
that possibly could be copied to The Netherlands.
[...] het handige daar aan is dat je, uh, zeg maar,
electriciteit, riool, openbaar vervoer, [...]
When we build in existing cities, the facilities like
■ public transportation,
they are already present.
Perhaps not enough, you do need to properly distribute or strengthen them.
But still, building not outside but inside the city is also just cheaper.
[...] waarschijnlijk voordeliger dan bouwen buiten de stad.
Particular attention goes to the West End, a residential neighbourhood
covering 35% of the downtown peninsula.
Gordon Price talks about its history.
And in the 50s, particularly in 1956, when the zoning and
development bylaw was passed, (for first time
a zoning code that we think of in a contemporary way,)
and it had this mechanism called "floor space ratio",
that was a very simple way to calculate density
based upon the size of the site.
So, in the West End, which was just rezoned overnight,
(I'm quite sure council didn't realise what they were doing,)
along with many of the other old streetcar neighbourhoods,
they allowed for this emergent form of the small point tower.
They didn't change... (and this is what saved our ass, I think,)
they didn't change the street grid,
they did not create super blocks, which is the form
that the Europeans use, particularly in their Banlieue suburbs.
Uh... they used a late 19th century urban grid, you know,
66 foot rights of way, based upon the first surveys.
You could acquire a lot, 33 [by] 66 feet,
but you had a lane in the back.
So you had basically a small site and a relatively low at FSR,
Floor Space Ratio, plot ratio. Somewhere between about 1, 2, 3,
somewhere in there. That's pretty low density by world standards.
Well after the boom, the high-rise boom [in] 1972,
([in] '71, the population would have been around, oh, 38 thousand,)
population didn't even double,
even though the housing stock increased five times
with all those high-rises.
So what happened? Well, the West End uncrowded.
People were living in these two-and-a-half storey,
what looked to be a single family house on the surface
but from the attic to the basement it had all been cut up into suites.
People would share the washroom down the hall, and [would be]
fortunate to have kitchen at all if they did.
So when all this housing stock was demolished, almost overnight,
people could move into, well, a one-bedroom apartment,
■ 750 square feet roughly,
■ sliding glass door,
■ little balcony,
■ maybe a swimming pool
[A] different kind of people, but nonetheless,
it was a massive housing response to the exodus of young people,
baby boomers, out of the suburbs and into downtown
and the service jobs that were emerging.
A massive increase in... good quality,
although from an architectural point of view pathetic, ha,
I mean slab high-rise towers,
but affordable to young people who
■ had jobs nearby,
■ kept Downtown alive,
■ provided retail base,
but didn't fundamentally change the urban form,
in this sense, that you:
■ still had that street grid,
■ same sidewalks,
■ same boulevards,
■ same street trees,
■ now trolleys running down where the street cars would have gone,
■ but basically the same urban form,
■ one and two storey retail [on]
□ Robson [Street],
□ Denman [Street, and]
□ Davie [Street].
All that street car fabric was still intact; converted from street car to electric trolley.
But no freeways. And that was the most important thing that didn't happen.
So, a tranquil residential neighbourhood right downtown,
right next to the business district.
Jon Lightburn and I go for a drive through the West End
together with architect Niels von Meyenfeldt.
You got to admit: this is pretty, uh, lackadaisical driving.
Here I am in fairly dense urban area and I'm just sort of cruising
around and not paying too much [attention] to street signs or anything.
People are walking across the street.
There is very little traffic here.
There is almost no traffic.
There are lots of people walking, though.
Ya, lots of people walking.
So here there is a totally different character from, you know,
any other urban neighbourhood in Vancouver.
Like, this is a neighbourhood that..., it's...
The relative density is fairly high.
It's very close to downtown Vancouver.
And, you know, you see people biking riding and...
There is one street with traffic on it, which is Denman Street,
which is the commercial Street.
And that subdivides the West End into two... two halves, basically.
We are in the most quiet half, and, literally,
there is almost nobody driving on the streets.
Now this is a really nice street.
Look at all the window boxes that people have in their windows here.
If you look carefully there [are] all sorts of little fun details
to these old buildings.
Like that column stuck on the outside of the corner is wonderful.
Another thing that, I think, has had a real influence on Vancouver
is that the original settlers were... they were Brits.
And, all over the world, actually, the Brits brought their love of gardening.
Here is an old cottage that remains...
It's done sort of Tudor style, almost. Arts and crafts.
There are some lovely arts and crafts houses here.
And the stone work at the stairs is made out of river rock.
Local river rock.
And look at the incredible flower garden.
And there's a big urn also sitting on a portion of the steps, and um...
So this was something that the original people brought with them.
A love for nature, and a love of gardening.
And I think that has found its way into...,
into the streetscape of an old streetscape
like this in Vancouver.
I am not so enthusiastic about it, frankly.
It is what I would call oubollig.
Do you know that word, Niels?
Yes. Well, it is. What he is saying is that it is old-fashioned.
And there is some truth to that.
It's... it's... uh, it is something that so rooted in here
that people don't even notice that it's getting a little bit fusty.
Yeah, well we..., we in..., Vancouverites call this 'character houses.'
They tend not to think about what the architectural style is.
It is simply a 'character house,' or a 'heritage house.'
These are preserved houses, ya.
I..., myself I like it because I find a lot of the modern architecture
is so bland, and as Niels calls it: 'anonymous,' that I do like these
little old funny houses.
Little old lady neighbourhoods, I call them.
These are little old lady neighbourhoods.
And..., but that's... there was a lot of that around in the old days.
So, we are sitting in a little traffic jam now.
And, um, this is the price we pay for not having built freeways.
And we probably [would] have traffic jams on them even if we had built them.
Well yeah, because you know what happened when cities like Seattle built freeways:
the growth... growth of suburban neighbourhoods leapfrogged outside of the city centre.
And the city cores in major US cities all, kind of, deteriorated.
Vancouver, as I say, blocked this uh..., idea of freeways into the city.
"Stop the freeways."
And so it's always had the most...
The best... The best neighbourhoods have always been
those closest to the downtown Vancouver,
and, whereas the wealthy neighbourhoods in cities like Seattle
and Los Angeles are those that have gotten away from the downtown.
And, of course, the leapfrogging of tra... of suburban development,
and then if..., and another..., which created immense amounts
of traffic and traffic jams.
And then further leapfrogging beyond that.
So, uh, the structure to the city of this is, sort of like,
the urban structure of Vancouver is different even...,
is different from American cities
and is actually even different from Toronto.
We do have this vibrant core that has never been sliced into pieces.
And the best neighbourhoods are those closest to the downtown.
Period. It's..., they are easiest to get to.
And I don't think traffic is any worse than anywhere,
cause I have driven through Seattle many times at rush-hour,
and it's..., it's a nightmare.
A nightmare. 'Motordom' as Gordon Price calls it.
The exodus out of downtown to the green fields where:
■ land was cheap,
■ where you could build post-war suburban housing,
■ shopping centres,
■ office parks,
■ college campuses,
■ everything separated,
■ everything too far apart to walk,
■ too dangerous to cycle,
■ and transit too infrequent.
You had to drive.
And it was designed that way.
And of course the people fully embraced that.
So what's..., what's happening is that, the fact that, um...
We have relatively few routes
in and out of the central business district,
in and out of the downtown.
Um, the fact that there is limited capacity has, I think,
affected the course of development in a way that does not really
increase the amount of traffic coming into the centre.
Because people find other means of doing it.
Or, people find places to live were they're not so dependent on
having to do the daily commute.
Quite normal for European cities but rather unique in North America,
here we see the urban paradigm of making a city not car friendly
but walk, bicycle and public transportation friendly.
Jan Timmer is an urban planner and architect.
He is also a Dutchman, though working internationally and locally
in Vancouver for 35 years.
It is really a reverse of what the system used to be,
where the engineering department of the city,
in true North American fashion, really dictated what is going to
happen and what the street profile would look like.
That is totally changed.
And one of the good examples is very nearby where we are,
uh... Granville Island, which is one of the most popular tourist
attractions in Vancouver where there is a happy mix of pedestrians,
bicycles, public transit, and the cars are tolerated.
But it is a real mix.
And it is not dangerous at all.
So, it can be done. And it is...
And, speaking here from a North American perspective...
Because in Europe, these things,
especially in the downtown areas of the major cities,
are quite normal.
And also, in Europe these things took a while
for the local merchants to agree with.
Once it was done, like in Copenhagen and in Germany and so on,
it has been a great success.
And so that's always been brought home
here in North America as great examples.
Even [in] New York City right now,
we just had a lecture from the woman who is,
uh, took the paint can,
and Times Square and so on,
they are all very much bicycle oriented.
There are outer terraces now.
It used to be just cars, taxis, and so on.
Right now it is totally transformed.
And Bloomberg and Mrs. Sally Kohn did an incredible job
convincing the local population that this was a good idea.
And it works.
Granville Island, a successful bit of urban engineering.
A famous section where nobody lives.
Although called an island, it is in reality a piece of landfill,
right at the entrance of False Creek, underneath the Granville Bridge.
Once an industrial manufacturing area,
the federal government decided in the 1970s to transform
it as an amenity area centred around a market.
A number of old sheds were converted
■ to workshops,
■ to retail businesses,
■ a restaurant,
■ and a couple of hotels.
But the architectural vocabulary was maintained.
■ The wood post and beam structure,
■ metal siding,
■ and metal roofing
giving the area a quite unpretentious personality.
So, there is a young... a young architect named Norman Hotson,
who really hadn't done anything before in Vancouver,
was given the assignment of coming up with a
plan for Granville Island.
An urban plan.
An urban plan.
And he did a brilliant job.
He... Apart from retaining just about anything that could be retained,
he put forward the idea of having an environment were cars and
pedestrians were really not in any way separated.
Uh, it was intended that vehicles should move slowly enough
so that people could walk safely at the sides of the roadways or across them.
And I don't know whether this had ever been attempted before
anywhere in North America.
He introduced the idea of bollards to, more or less, uh,
demarcate were cars would be and where pedestrians would be
and where parking zones might take place.
The parking happens everywhere.
It happens in open spaces [and] within sheds.
It is actually a huge parking lot today, Granville Island.
Granville Island has grown from modest beginnings to what is now,
I would say, one of the most cleverly disguised shopping districts
you will ever..., you will ever find.
In the beginning, farmers from outlying districts
could come in and sell their goods and also, um, artisans and...
What is an artisan?
An artisan is somebody who makes crafts.
And also people that had food..., different kinds of food...
processed food products:
and that kind of thing.
But in a h..., quite a highly finished environment.
So, this was immediately successful.
And assignment by the market, it went upscale.
What was originally a fairly good imitation of a market
became in fact a shopping arcade for high-end,
shall we say, experiential shopping.
Ya, and smack dab in the middle of all of that,
there is still an industrial plant here, which is a cement plant.
There is a cement plant here with many...
In the very middle.
...cement trucks parked right in the parking lot.
And attempts have been made to move the cement plant
and replace it with something, uh, perhaps more revenue friendly
to the owners.
But actually this is being resisted, strongly resisted.
We've got 25 large cement trucks parked here in front of the plant.
And these move...
Roar in and out, all day long.
...move in and out, and it does not cause any problems, as far as I...
In fact, I am not sure of... Have you ever heard of anybody
getting hit by a car or truck here on Granville Island?
Oh, just the people I have run over today.
Everywhere there are little nooks and crannies for people to sit.
There is some music being played here, in the little square.
Yeah, the buskers come out in the summer, and the fall and spring,
and they are, you know...
[Whispering:] Lower the window.
...doing magic tricks and playing, playing uh...
playing their instruments.
Oh, here is a French guy.
Those people are sitting around listening to this music eating,
uh, fish and chips and things of that nature.
Hey we got parking down here, guys!
Let's bring the microphones.
No, it is a sensitive microphone.
So, a group of French urbanists came
to have a look at Vancouver not too long ago.
And they made the comment that Vancouver is like a giant resort.
And there's some truth in this.
This city continues to grow.
No one quite understands what's making... what's making it go.
Um, it hasn't stopped growing since the 50s.
And I think one of the reasons may be is because...
it... it is such a success in creating a lifestyle setting...
that offers many options and many ways to enjoy 'le dolce vita.'
I am just heading towards the washroom, ha ha.
Yeah, you are going to the washroom?
Alright, well you talk in this direction, okay?
Test, one, two, test, test. Okay.
We are now passing, uh... We are inside the market,
and we are passing a boutique where you can buy chocolates.
Six... Twenty chocolates for sixty dollars.
I will meet you back here?
Oh there? Yeah, sure. Ya.
So you call this a success but you also say it's,
kind of a..., a shopping mall in disguise.
You mean that in a... in a sneaky, negative way?
No, I was uh... slightly cynical about the fact that...
What this market now offers is... is really beyond the financial
reach of a lot of people. Mind you, you can still come here
and have a slice of pizza and enjoy an ice cream.
Right, and that opposed to what a market is normally,
or traditionally: it is a place where the simple people buy their goods.
Where ordinary people can get a good deal.
You don't get any good deals here.
But as a lifestyle enhancer, it's fabulous.
I once heard a guy say that the first generation in a country...
the first successful generation in a country...
I once heard a guy [Gurcharan Das quoting Thomas Mann] say that...
■ The first generation makes money.
■ Then the second generation has got money, so they don't want more money, they want power.
■ Then the second generation has power and money, so the third generation does not want that, so they go for art.
...and the third generation wants art.
And it seems that you can see that here.
You can see that in what you can buy at the local market.
I have lived on Pender Island, and there all you see is,
not even apples, as what you see here, but it is only
pieces of art and massages and esoteric...
As opposed to what you would see in India on a market.
It would be the essentials of life.
That is correct, yes.
So, we are standing now in a little waterfront square.
Uh, the market wraps itself around.
It's a lovely, lovely day.
There are hundreds of people sitting here on benches
enjoying the warmth, and the breeze.
The water in the creek is reflecting the blue skies.
It is slightly ruffled.
And across the water are very glamorous array of mostly light,
light coloured high-rise buildings.
...is glowing in the sunlight.
There are beautiful, uh...
The little ferries are crossing the creek.
There is a whole network of these that connect
the downtown peninsula to where we are now.
And for a modest fee people can cross to come here to relax,
enjoy themselves and do some shopping.
And lining the shore on the other side are,
and this is some... another feature of Vancouver,
an ever-growing armada of expensive yachts
and vessel, sailing vessels, of all descriptions.
And, we are uh...
Granville Island is surrounded by small yacht basins.
And, uh, they, of course, add a very colourful element to the scene
as they reflect into the waters. But...
And no one ever seems to be on these boats.
That is true, ya, ya, ya...
It is an indication of the wealth of the city
that so many people have the privilege of owning boats.
Um, it's simply, uh...
You can't imagine a more refreshing and uplifting
scene than what we are experiencing here today.
Do you agree?
Life is good.
Life is good.
Well, let's have a break.
Let's have a bite to eat.
It stays on, but um... which is fine.
Ya. It stays on.
One cold Pepsi, please.
And I will have a ginger ale.
Nothing to eat, no.
Oh, a dollar six....
Ginger..., ginger ale.
No, that is two for one.
Oh, that's two, ya.
And yes, life is good.
But not everywhere in Vancouver,
In Vancouver's social history,
the western side of the city was considered
to be the wealthy White Anglo-Saxon Protestant part.
And East side was traditionally a place for the working class
and it was the dumping ground for immigrants.
Nowadays the immigrants end up living in the suburbs
because that is where the housing is least expensive.
The poorest neighbourhood, where I live,
is known as the Downtown Eastside,
which is where Niels, John and I drive next.
Look at this!
I mean, there is people in wheelchairs.
People laying on the street.
People have set up a market here.
There is..., there is people
selling all kinds of different things.
There is some garbage around, but I don't think
there is anywhere these people
can put their garbage, as, you know, ya...
So these are all street people.
And there's, like, actually this is the busiest street
in all of Vancouver as far of number of people on the sidewalk.
And people are really interested.
When I am talking into the microphone here,
as we slowly cruise by, people are looking in.
And you don't find that happening in many other places.
Nobody would take any notice of me.
But, actually, interestingly enough, they do notice it.
Well, living in this neighbourhood...
Uh, this is...
A lot of people see this neighbourhood also as a museum.
They come here to take photos, and, kind of,
not realising that the people here actually live here.
And uh, and so...
I often see people not being happy
when people come here with film cameras.
Because they might think they are freaks or something.
What we are looking at here is...
This complex here...
Oh you stupid woman, just go around me.
Well, look at..., look across this vacant lot here,
and we see the backs of a new condominium building
right stuck in between two run-down,
rather derelict older buildings.
And then we go another block that way
and we're into the heart of Gastown,
which is again a tourist area.
So, it's got this... this...
We've got this sandwiched.
But the centre of the sandwich is pretty seamy.
Ha ha ha.
And now... If you are a...
sort of a nice middle-class person,
the first reaction you might have, is...
Look at the graphics on that wall.
...isn't this awful.
But, I think, um, that would be a very slanted view...
This is my building.
...of what's going on here.
I think, there is..., what's going on here is a tremendous
exp... effort at both rehabilitation and at...
I don't know, I don't think there is much in the way
of rehabilitation here, Niels.
I think what it is, is just the city is grow...
I think there is, a lot of people...
You were talking about the city is growing eastward?
Well here it..., here it's, you know...
There is the new urban... edge right there.
No, pushed eastwards.
It has pushed its way in to the poorest part
of the Downtown Eastside.
And it is going to continue to do so.
And, I guess, basically it is gonna crowd those people...
Well, it's a g..., actually...
...somewhere. Who knows.
I am... I am perhaps not the best person to talk about this
because I don't live here, and I do not mix with the people here,
so I don't have a very clear viewpoint of what's going on.
But I'm... What I'm trying to say is that this is their place
where they can, you know... be.
Where they can gawk back at the tourists.
And, I guess their view of normal society,
uh... they've... however...
If I were in their position I'd st...
I'd look at normal society
as a pretty strange bunch of people.
Oh yes, yes, yes.
You know, and... um...
I'm finding... that, the fact that it
sits so smack in the middle
of huge development trends in Vancouver,
and that there are people... um...
buying condos in new developments here,
right in the middle of...
of all the dysfunction, is... is...
is very interesting.
And I think...
It's quite interesting, yeah.
I don't think that the situation here
is as bleak as it could be,
because, um, people are...
There is a certain level of acceptance
of what's happening here.
Otherwise people would not move in here.
And there wouldn't be, uh, these developments cropping up
right in the middle of all the street misery.
So, I think there's connecting happening here.
And, um, I think a huge amount of international and national
attention is focused on... on the Downtown Eastside.
And it's a problem that nobody seems to have any answers for.
But, I do see a lot of channels
that are there for communication
and for some way forward for people.
I think if you want to try
and get yourself out of this situation,
I think there's a lot there that could... can help you.
You may not be able to, but...
There's f..., it's kind of interesting.
Like, here we are back into this new urban development.
It is just a half a block away.
There's this... Ya.
It's just squeezing its w...
Well, maybe that's the part that I am trying to,
uh... be positive about.
This is the new urban renewal.
It is not institutional or government funded.
It's private development [that] is funding it.
And a lot of it is international money that,
sort of, comes into Vancouver, and uh... say:
"Hey, we can profit here," or,
"We can park some money here, it's a safe place."
You know, you can't say that it's your fault
that you wind up this way, because a lot of people have so
many strikes against them from very early age onward that...
A lot of people, but I know...
You see, I used to come down here to hire a guy
to work for me, and he lived down in the [Downtown] Eastside...
It was cheap. He was getting his welfare.
He was getting paid under the table by me.
And he was being able to spend all his money,
uh, on drugs and gambling.
But he is an addict.
You have to know that nature of addiction.
Addiction is something that is really, really difficult to fight
because you are wired to it. You know, it's like...
It's... it's... if you are really...
You have a memory for addiction.
Guys, I am going to cut all this out.
We are... None of us here is an expert on...
Yeah... We're just bullshitting.
We're just bullshitting at this point.
Well, we look at some of these Eastside... Downtown Eastside
residences with disdain, but, uh, you know, I have known some,
and, some of [th]em actually like their lifestyle.
Of course they do.
Most of them do.
Sure. Ya, I mean, that's... that's also been determined,
that not... uh... people... whatever stage of life they are in,
they don't want to change.
Can't go right, can't go right!
Oops! Here we are in Gastown going the wrong way!
Niels, do you know, uh, Richard Florida?
Yes, I do.
Okay, I heard him talk about how the... the... the young generation of
inventors and... and, especially nowadays, the creative engineers
moved to these areas where there is a lot of diversification.
And, strangely enough, also the cities where they are...
that are welcoming a gay communities.
Um, so ya, the... the... the cities with the...
that are welcoming creative artists, and uh,
alternative lifestyles become breeding grounds for
[...] that the artists are the first in there.
And then that... because they often select the nicest spots
and they create...
...and are creative essentially.
And then that those communities attract,
or, are supplanted by other creative groups.
I think you could say that about Commercial. When they um...
...Commercial Drive, because the initial...
I don't think the initial, um, transformation was by artists.
It came later. It came when the Italian community, uh,
matured and began to move out into the suburbs
and became less of a factor in the...
in the cultural life of Commercial Drive.
What came then, as was in the 70s and 80s,
um, a new alternative... people
who were into alternative lifestyles,
uh, lot of, uh, not only, uh, creatively
(but also with respect to sexual orientation,)
a lot of gay people, lesbian people, settled in the
Commercial Drive area.
And also, uh, a lot of, uh, creative people
with not a lot of money but who needed to be in the city
and saw it as a..
as a place where you could buy cheaply
and fix up and improve.
Well, my daughter Shelley likes to say that when you're,
in gentrification, (actually, she did her thesis
on the gentrification of Harlem,)
and actually, she had a little expression.
She said, uh, that:
'First comes the gays. Then comes the gals...'
Because, the gays go there because
they're... they... they find
a place where they could live
where they are not going to be,
you know, uh, uh...
...bruised, ostracised, whatever.
The girls go there because they can relate to the
gays and they feel somewhat safe with these gentlemen.
And, uh, then, ha ha, then the yuppies show up because, you know,
here's... here's... here's an interesting neighbourhood
where they can live,
where prices have not gotten too high, and uh...
It's got character.
So, there is kind of a, ya, there's kinds of a process that
goes there that, (that Niels is referring to,) has happened
in Commercial Drive. You know, and artists, of course.
And the gays, also, make more interesting homes.
They are better at decorating, and, and um...
Ya, and they are willing to fix up something funky and...
And the artists do nice things with the dwellings they are in,
And the artists, of course, don't have as much money,
so they go to where... urban areas where properties are cheaper.
Plus, not as mind numbing as the concrete uh...
Ya, concrete towers.
My journey through Vancouver with Niels and Jon continues.
We drive to Vancouver's latest development, Olympic Village.
So here we are at the Olympic village
which is just built for the... built for the Olympics, uh, athletes.
And the scale and nature of the development,
even though it's, uh, in terms of its time frame,
Wow, I'm just... we're just going in.
It's not different... you know, it... it's... it's... it's immediately following
on the development on the North side of False Creek, which is still going on.
And here we are into a development on the South side, which,
West of us, was done in a completely pastoral fashion.
And here we have this density which is almost draconian in some respects.
It's a different... it's actually a totally different urban model from...
from what we've been... just been looking at and discussing.
And what we have here is a very rigid urban planning,
considerable density and instead of wide boulevards,
there is these very narrow streets with...
They remind me of alleys actually.
Ya, they are very much like alleys,
but with the... but with the... very high... buildings.
Relatively high building.
How high... how high are these buildings?
Well, they are about eight storeys.
One, two, three, four, five, six...
Yeah, about eight storeys.
And, of course, there is these squares.
There is one square in the middle of it.
Yeah, which is definitely a square square, ha ha ha.
With modern art.
With a wall of buildings around it.
And it is not a big square.
No, it's a...
It's like a quarter of a city block maybe.
Two hundred feet by four hundred feet, something like that.
Well not even four hundred feet.
I think it might be...
There's a... There are some funny things here, Jon.
There's... there's some artwork.
There's a giant, um...
Wor... Are they worms?
And a big... Well there is a big giant bird there!
Well, there's a... there's a tiny... there is a little bird.
Well, normally it would be a junco, or some kind of little sparrow,
that's been, um... rendered to about uh, hundred times its natural size.
No, a thousands times, ten thousand times.
I mean it's... it's... it's fifteen feet high, ha ha ha.
There is another one there in the [indecipherable].
Oh, ya, there is two of them.
So, there are these massive blowups of tiny songbirds.
Looking at their feet here, their claws, um... emanating from
the feet are about five inches long.
So this is quite a strange kind of statement.
I'm not quite sure what it... what it tries to say.
These big birds, could it have been an attempt to, um,
create an optical illusion to make everything look smaller and more intimate?
He he, you could sure look at it that way.
Ya, I mean, if you took at look at...
if y... if you took a photograph of that bird against the buildings,
you might think that, that the buildings are just... models, ha ha.
Something I'm noticing is that it's really actually quite quiet in here.
I can... I, there is a couple of boys there skateboarding.
And the sound of their skateboards is... is... is about the only noise I can hear.
Uh... the other things I am noticing is that the traditional
separation of street and sidewalk has being done away with here.
It's just one... one...
Except for on the corners were the streets meet,
it tends to be one continuous surface of, um, paved pavers.
So, there is a lot of unusual elements to this project.
There is a girl sitting now doing some sketching.
Uh, quite a variety of... of seating is available.
And the square is open to the Creek, I'm happy to say.
Gordon Price looks at the Olympic village project
from a historical context.
Olympic Village is just basically another variation,
and a direct continuation, of the ideas that emerged in
this remarkable period in the 70s.
Uh, I mean, think of the risk that was involved down here.
You got to remember, the... False Creek was just a polluted industrial basin.
It was awful. And people have no idea how bad it was.
They built the seawall on the South shore of False Creek
so you couldn't touch the water.
You go along there and see how it is slanted.
Uh, so bad was the water quality.
The air, unbelievable, from Broadway,
you would not even be able to see, sometimes,
the downtown office towers, much less the
North Shore mountains.
There were beehive burners, just burning, you know, wood.
Right into the environment. Just dumping nasty stuff into the water.
Well, that's all changed. And it changed very, very fast.
But, back then:
The idea that you would build a residential development?
A place where families could raise children?
On the shores of False Creek?
■ Some people felt that that was just nuts.
■ Some wanted to keep it purely industrial,
like Harry Rankin; basis for jobs.
■ Some, like George Puil, head of the Park Board at that time,
wanted it nothing but park.
Very few people thought the risk of trying to provide a
residential neighbourhood down there would pan out well.
Uh, and yet it turned out to be one of the genius things we did.
Let's give credit to Walter Hardwick; back then, geographer
at UBC, who got elected as one of the first team counsellors.
When they were in the majority, uh, they really pushed ahead with it.
Well, they were acquiring land, the city was acquiring land.
That's the only reason they could go ahead with the development―they owned it.
Uh, and the same with the Southeast shore of False Creek.
But when I was in council, there we wanted to raise the bar on sustainability.
So, that was put into the... kind of the direction
that the Southeast project would have to, uh, pursue.
The Olympics wasn't even on the table at that point.
And so, it has reflected itself.
First of all in the spirit that the city will direct development
and use its land base as a way to do it.
It will try to achieve social and environmental goals.
And it will try and push the bar.
It will try and do something only the city can do.
Otherwise, you might as well just sell the land off
and... and put in terms of the contract the
Just more or less, in this case the way it happened.
But only because the city could lever that.
Now, mistakes were made, obviously.
But if... if someone could have predicted
■ a global financial crisis,
■ and a developer who unwisely overbid,
■ and constructions costs that, you know, were very high at that point in time,
Ya, you'd probably make different decisions.
But, the city followed through on the spirit,
I think, of the seventies.
And established that it was appropriate for a civic
authority to try and do something that would
■ reflect our values,
■ and raise the bar,
■ and provide more housing stock in a city for whom that is always going to be a fundamental issue.
Now, does it meet everybody's expectations?
Did it work out well financially?
■ So, we should never do anything like that again?
■ Is that really the conclusion you want to draw from it?
■ The city should get out of business?
■ Sell off its land holdings, let the market determine what's abideable?
■ Put it terms of bylaws those things you want to meet in environmental criteria rather than actually lead the way?
Eh, I would have a different opinion, ha.
Back in the car with Niels and Jon,
Niels notices something about the aesthetic appearance
of the plants and trees.
The other things that I have noticed
that the... the landscaping here, because the streets are so narrow,
consist of very, um, narrow varieties of trees.
And I am actually noticing that some of them are
planted close to the buildings and bumping their heads
up against uh... overhanging balconies,
which is a really strange sight to see.
Uh, a new tree, maybe fifteen feet high,
bumping into a projecting overhang.
And it's been um... generously planted so that in time,
uh... this will give a completely different sheltered aspect of the square.
Well, it's hard to say, because these look like,
kind of, dwarf species of trees.
These are not like the London plane trees
that grow into giant specimens that, you know,
that shelter even, you know, five-storey buildings.
But I've noticed that, we've got this uh... reminiscence of Canadian,
the Canadian myth, because, in the landscaping,
is reflected in the landscaping.
Because here we see there... uh... we've got wheat grass,
which [has] been planted in these square boxes.
And wheat is in bloom. It looks like you could go out there
and harvest and... harvest and grind the wheat and make bread.
Ya, ya, ya, there are...
There are planters that actually do have... only grasses
growing in them. And they [are] somewhat reminiscent of what you might
find along a... a pond or a bog.
Uh, there's different varieties, so...
Well [it] immediately gives me images of the prairies where,
you know, where the wheat used to grow, you know,
It's like a little reminder of... of somewhere...
So, I decided to talk to one of the landscape
architects working on the Olympic Village.
Here is Peter Kreuk who talks about his involvement in the design
for this neighbourhood.
They had to design an atmosphere where people feel
comfortable getting to know their neighbours.
As designers we created the stage where
these interactions can happen:
■ there's plazas,
■ there's court yards,
■ there's waterfront,
■ there's community centre.
These are the places where people
■ are going to gather,
■ get to know each other,
■ and build a community.
So, hopefully, in five, ten years times,
you can walk down the street and
say hello to Bob and Jane, and, you know,
there are the grand kids over for the weekend again, and...
That's what we want to happen in our spaces
and we have to create the spaces for it.
Um, the attempt at the Olympic Village is one of to create community.
The objective there is... was to have a commercial core,
which included, you know, your needs for
■ and... and banking
■ and coffee shops
■ and restaurants
...as a core, supported by a fair density of residential, which,
in Vancouver, the objective here is... is to have a...
a wide range of... of housing types so that the wealthy,
as well as the poor, can now live in a neighbourhood...
Not all of one type, so you don't create rich ghettos
and you don't create ghettos for the poor,
but you... you have a blend of people.
Uh, there is a community centre that... that is supposed to
function as the heart.
What we are doing is... creating something from nothing.
[Be]cause there was nothing here to start with.
And, communities are ver[y]... y[ou]... I don't think can be created overnight.
But as planners, landscape architects, architects,
we try to put the bits and pieces in place
which allows the community to evolve over time...
So, there's facilities there...
Uh, without the people you don't have community.
Without d... density you don't have community.
Niels and Jon, with whom I'm still at the Olympic village in a car,
take note of the character of the buildings.
Uh, from the outside it looks, uh... singularly,
shall we say, uh... machine tooled.
It... it's a... the architecture is... can...
High tech. Very high tech.
It's... it's... it's the new modernism again,
which we've had around for about twenty years now,
We see a lot of glass. We see a lot of metal.
We're actually beside a drugstore, while it hasn't opened yet.
Um, but I... I wouldn't have guessed that it was going to be a drugstore.
Uh, because the fenestration is... the sort of... again, kind of anonymous.
It's as if they're made to look, uh...
They're tucked away with enormous,
shall we say, uh... uh, well, I guess I am
getting a bit at a loss for words now...
But, there is an attempt not to make commercial activities
look like commercial activities:
■ they are looking...
■ they're concealed,
■ they're downplayed,
■ they're made to seem less... there, (and I wonder if that's an attempts to maintain the privacy of these type of... types of new developments,)
■ they don't want people from the outside coming in and animating these places,
■ they are intended for the local residents only.
Nobody wants to have, uh... a party here, it looks like.
It looks like this is...
It is a very low-key... uh... living, where there's...
Mind you, not many people are here yet,
because this is... this is another little bit of history that, uh...
perhaps we should mention, Jon, which is um...
how this project ran into financial difficulty.
All right. From where... uh...
Look, there is a... electric vehicle charging station here.
Oh, heavens, yes.
Now the other thing that should be noted about this...
Oh, no kiddin'.
...this project is that it has... it is extensively green,
uh... and it has uh... conforms to some of the highest,
uh... rankings for sustainability and eco-friendliness.
You would never get that impression, though, from looking,
because everything is hard surface, hard edge.
The plaza is at least ninety-five percent, uh, paving stones.
And... the landscaping is, you know, like I say...
A few grasses in... within, uh... some planted...
square planted areas... pla... planters.
And, uh... the trees are miniature.
So it is kind of funny that this is
representative of green architecture, and...
And in the sense, Jon, that, we're...
...green urbanisation, because it...
...we're not growing anything here, are we?
Ha ha, ya, cause it's...
Or are we? Are we inside these...
Some of these, uh... um... el... um...
We have, sort of, mini-blocks.
The buildings that... that line the... the streets here are...
create interior courtyards.
And, I know that the... the roofs of those...
into... or... which themselves are somewhat raised up
above the ground, these courtyards.
And the roofs of these are private green space for people.
And yeah, indeed.
We have a lot of green roofs in the latest developments in Vancouver.
I talked about this with Peter Kreuk.
Our marching orders are... are...
through planning... are to create a... a village that is...
in plan, there is fifty percent green.
So, uh... to look down on the site, fifty percent of the area you see has to be...
From above. So if you look at the...
Where nobody looks.
Where nobody looks.
But, that... the idea there is that it has to be green.
Which means it has to be living...
There has to be plant material. There...
And I... I have a thirty-year time frame to look at this
as a landscape architect. When I first came here,
the amount of landscape on a project was fairly limited.
Uh... 'scrubbing out the edges' is what we called it.
Uh... we had... definitely had some commercial
buildings which would have plazas and such.
But, uh... to develop roof podiums,
to... to develop green roofs on... on various levels to...
to have the sense of kids play[ing and] urban agriculture...
Urban agriculture wasn't talked about three years ago.
And now, pretty well every project we do
has some component of... of... gardening, uh, for...
So, people who live in the building can go there and participate in gardening.
Uh... uh... the outdoor patio spaces on roofs have become much...
much larger than they were before.
Developers never saw the opportunities in these outdoor patio spaces,
which are... Now they realise that people will pay a lot more
for a unit that has a nice big outdoor patio space that...
that overviews the city, uh...
It's exciting. It... it opens up so much to us.
Vancouver is now trying to bill itself as... as...
uh... one of the world's foremost green cities.
Ya, and to... to me this does not feel green at all.
I mean, you know...
The idea was to reduce the load on the larger systems
by using high-tech approaches to minimising consumption of energy
and... and resources.
So, that's a, kind of, invisible aspect of this project.
Yeah, definitely invisible because it doesn't have a...
doesn't have a green feel to it, in my...
Except for this electric vehicle charging station that is...
...stuck, uh... like a, sort of, large transformer box, uh...
into the uh.. into the square that we are sitting next to.
So, I guess if you want to charge you car, you've got bring it here.
And, uh... rather than doing that from your... from your residence.
Ya, it's kind of interesting, the graphics on that station there.
Because it kind of looks like a flame from a natural gas source to me, ha ha.
Doesn't it, though? Ya. Ya.
I am noticing several things too.
The... the reeds that are part there, of the grass...
Now, uh... coming from Holland, I immediately
recognise them from, uh... the type of grass that
grows in... in canals, where the water is not...
...running very fast.
So, it... it gives me a Dutch impression.
Yeah, Tristan has felt that this is a, kind of,
(when we drove through the other day)
this is really reminiscence of the new towns in Rotterdam,
I think you said...
Well, it started in Rotterdam, because there was, uh...
They had to start building new stuff after the war.
But also in m... more modern neighbourhoods elsewhere in The Netherlands.
Ya, I certainly get that impression by the... the intimacy,
uh... that we have here. Uh... and also the... the... the...
This may all be new, this... this square, but they look...
It looks like it almost, uh... was planned to not be completely straight.
Uh... of course you want the... the running water,
the... the rainwater to flow towards...
...the drains up there.
But I think they, kind of, overdid it, maybe on purpose,
to make it look not so new, maybe. Not so sterile.
Also, the gutter in the street is in the middle of the road.
I've never seen that anywhere in North America yet.
The people that we have seen walk here, on this piece of the road,
have all walked in the centre of the road, and not on the sidewalk.
Right, that's interesting.
Noteworthy details that journalists
from all over the world would see
when the Olympic athletes arrived in the winter of 2010.
It makes sense that the city wanted to create
a neighbourhood that was not something 'just okay',
but something -very- special.
In the last hour, we have looked
at several of Vancouver's neighbourhoods;
some obvious choices when profiling Vancouver.
■ The West End,
■ Granville Island,
■ Downtown Eastside,
■ and The Olympic Village.
The total picture is of course much more complex.
Greater Vancouver, a mosaic of urban curiosities.
Here, a last remark by Gordon Price, emphasising that
it could be easy to overlook interesting development
happening in the suburbs surrounding Vancouver.
Because Vancouver, yeah, it's by and large done.
We built it out. It will change, but the real issues,
I think, are the emerging, um... change in the post-war suburbs.
Places like Surrey, that are going to go through their
own form of urbanisation, their own form... ways of dealing
with, quote, sustainability issues.
Uh, this remarkable change [that] is going to occur
between the post-war era and whatever era we are going into.
And I think that is where the suburbs are, more than Vancouver.
I think they are much more willing to make changes in
■ uh, parts of the North Shore,
■ certainly Surrey,
■ maybe... maybe the Northeast sector once Evergreen Line arrives,
■ Certainly Port Moody did.
Um, Port Moody took a lot of the, quote, Vancouver Style,
and really took uh... a risk in concentrating
in its downtown core; remarkable scale.
Far more of interest to many of the people who
I show around, often, than downtown Vancouver.
Uh, it's going out into the suburbs and seeing
how that change is occurring.
How they have learnt urban skills and techniques
from what we did down here,
and then begin to apply it, quote, out there.
All part of the same region.
But, uh, if we are going to get eighty percent
of our growth inside that boundary...
They are the guys who really make the difference.
And then they will take the pressure of Vancouver.
Uh... the idea that someone should show up here
and they can expect to live in Vancouver.
Eh, it's going to be tough to pull off.
There is something distinctive about this...
this bit of the... of the downtown.
■ Stanley Park,
We are standing on the seawall,
the tide has gone out,
we've got this rocky foreshore in front of us...
...more than worthwhile to fix and repair
and turn into their little urban uh... uh... cottage.
■ and Chinatown.
At one time, just about every corner grocery store
in... all over Vancouver would be owned by Chinese people.
But also interviews with both of them individually.
Jon Lightburn talks about his time
as an architect working in Saudi Arabia.
They kept rejecting it, because they kept seeing
hidden, uh... Christian symbols in the planning of the university.
With architect Niels von Meyenfeldt, whom I interviewed in Dutch,
we discuss the city of Amsterdam.
Ja, Amsterdam is altijd zo afgemaakt, he?
Als een klein kind heb ik mijn fiets gereden in Boschplan.
En dat vond ik heerlijk.
Here is an excerpt of my recording with Jan Timmer,
who describes how he first got interested in architecture.
I'm very much, um... inspired by, um... being alive as a human being
and beinmg part of human nature, so I'd like to express that in my profession.
We hear Peter Kreuk describing parallels
between his personality and his work as a landscape architect.
Everything in our house had a place.
So, everything, you know...
I can still go home to my house now and I can tell you
where the towels are, everythings is put away.
And it is still very much how we approach the landscape.
Everything has a place. Everything has a function.
And in particular, I recommend
checking out my 45 minutes together with
urban planner and a former politician Gordon Price.
The... the net-result, when you add up all the buildings,
done by all the individual architects reads as a cohesive place
that functions well for the people who have to live in it,
and can adapt to change over time.
[I am] not sure how well we [have] done on that.
And lastly, also in Dutch,
my talk with Eline Toes from the government of The Netherlands.
Ik vind Vancouver een hele... een hele...
hele prettige woonstad. Het is... het is wat braaf, zeg maar.
All recordings are available along with the show notes
and a transcript at thenots.com/0
And remember, it is The Nots, not Knots.
T-H-E-N-O-T-S dot com.