What’s up with Vancouver real estate prices?

December 9, 2011 at 8:26 pm | In affordable_housing, vancouver | 2 Comments

In a kind of  yang-ish counterpoint to my last post about yin-ish Portland (and Victoria), here’s a pointer to a BC Business article, Housing has become Vancouver’s toxic asset, by Tony Wanless, that makes me think Vancouver’s yang is just a tad out of control. Wanless points to a blog post by Vancouver independent city council candidate Sandy Garossini, Unaffordable (That’s What You Are), which presents the truly jaw-dropping insights she gleaned during her recent campaigning in Vancouver.

What really jumped out for me was an eery parallel between suburban developments blighted by the sub-prime mortgage crisis and what’s happening in Vancouver. In the former, you have those underwater developments that have been turned into virtual ghost towns, with perhaps one family holding down the fort on a block of otherwise empty houses.  In the latter (according to the articles), you have west-side Vancouver neighborhoods where there are blocks of houses kept empty by their off-shore investor owners, while a single family remains on the street as an actual resident.

You’ve got to read Garossini’s post.

And check out what Gregory Henriquez has to say about Vancouver’s real estate market:

Many see Vancouver in a housing bubble, and it may well be. Others however, such as celebrated architect Gregory Henriquez, think our prices still have far to go to reach that point. Amazingly, Henriquez says that Vancouver is still under-priced. He is not looking at local economic conditions, however, but at the international forces in play. Viewed globally, Henriquez says that our market has become the “safety-deposit box for the world.” (source)

Interesting, how Victoria (across the Strait) remains relatively immune.

Must be the yin.


Hey, only $2.5million for about 2800 square feet – what a deal.


Why a bridge to The Mainland would benefit Vancouver

August 31, 2011 at 9:00 am | In just_so, vancouver, vancouver_island, victoria | Comments Off on Why a bridge to The Mainland would benefit Vancouver

Sure, one might assume that a bridge from Victoria BC on Vancouver Island to Vancouver BC on The Mainland would wake up Victoria – which is exactly why NIMBYs everywhere in the Capital Regional District who want to keep Victoria “sleepy” resist the notion with objections galore – but maybe it’s actually the case that such a bridge would benefit Vancouver by making it more livable.

Why? Consider this item, just in: Vancouver loses top spot on most liveable city list.

One of the reasons cited (in all seriousness) by The Economist Intelligence Unit’s liveability survey  for Vancouver’s slip from first to third place (behind Melbourne Oz and Vienna Aus) is congestion on a stretch of Highway 1 known as the Malahat.

For those of you who are geographically challenged by these terms, get an atlas (or go to Google), or simply realize this: the City of Vancouver is on the continent (aka The Mainland) and the ‘Hat (aka The Malahat) is a stretch of Highway 1 that’s part of the Trans-Canada Highway which runs from Victoria to Nanaimo …on Vancouver Island.

Island, as in: not attached to The Mainland unless you can swim ridiculous distances or have a boat. There is no bridge, no fixed link. The ‘Hat is on Vancouver Island.

Why would problems on a highway on an island 60 kilometers away from Vancouver impact livability in a city that’s not even on that island?

Well, first, it seems that The Economist’s study took into account “increased traffic and congestion problems in Vancouver and [the] Malahat” [emphasis added] (although, if you ask me, that’s bogus reasoning by any measure). Second, the folks at The Economist only took the Malahat as an example of worsening traffic conditions. (And a screw up of an example it was: sorry, folks, you goofed big time here.)

But what intrigued me in the whole kerfuffle was this: integration of Victoria into Greater Vancouver could actually benefit Vancouver insofar as a fixed link (aka “bridge”) would alleviate traffic congestion on Highway 1 simply by eliminating it as a needed route. After all, if you had a bridge from the Greater Victoria peninsula, why would you bother driving all the way up to Nanaimo/ Departure Bay in the first place? I never thought of it in those terms before, having always pondered how a fixed link could benefit Victoria. A silly “most livable cities” list made me see that it could benefit the other guy city, too.

The other thing that became more salient for me: Canada, that huge-huge land so sparsely populated and so dependent on a massive system of mostly government-funded infrastructure – railway, highway, tele-, radio-, and television-communication, fiber-optic cables, etc. – is committed to that infrastructure because it represents national unity. The Malahat, now largely a commuter highway between Victoria and the bedroom communities of the Cowichan and Duncan, is not part of any necessary route to get from Victoria to Vancouver. But it is part of that near-mythic national-unity-creating infrastructure. It is part of the Trans-Canada Highway, impossible to shunt aside.

I would argue that the only reason The Malahat was included, even as a mistake, in the data crunched by The Economist folks is because this highway is part of that highly symbolic highway infrastructure system. I mean, I bet they literally had no idea where it’s actually located.

But The ‘Hat remains significant and symbolic even though most of the actual transportation that goes on between Victoria and Vancouver takes place not via The Malahat and its endpoint of Departure Bay (from whence ferries leave for Vancouver), but from Swartz Bay (from whence ferries leave for Tsawwassen near Vancouver). Or, more directly, the money-intensive business traffic happens via air- or floatplane, either from Victoria International Airport to Vancouver International Airport, or, even more expeditiously, downtown-to-downtown, from Victoria’s Inner Harbour floatplane airport to Vancouver’s Coal Harbour floatplane airport.

None of the preferred (or fast) options include the Malahat or Departure Bay, Diana Krall’s wonderful song notwithstanding.

Now, given Canada’s self-image, imagine the consequences of lopping off the Trans-Canada Highway as a branded (TCH1) link between Victoria and Vancouver…? Suddenly, all sorts of issues heave into view. A direct fixed link from Victoria to Vancouver would undermine the symbolic significance of the Trans-Canada Highway running from Victoria to Nanaimo. And, weirdly, a fixed link might do more to raise Vancouver’s livability than Victoria’s.

Another reason why it’ll never happen.

Parenting. Such a riot.

June 17, 2011 at 11:36 pm | In canada, leadership, social_critique, vancouver | 2 Comments

I want to tell you a story of parenting, as I’ve observed it among my Canadian peers. I’ll try to convey how and why this parenting style shocked me. It’s just a story (albeit a true one), but perhaps it illuminates a small part of the dynamics at work in this Wednesday’s Canucks Riot that erupted in Vancouver.

It happened about seven years ago, when my daughter, then ten years old, was singing in a local Victoria BC children’s choir. If it was seven years ago, it was only two years after my family and I had left the US to move to Canada.

The parents of the children in this relatively expensive and well-regarded choir often hung around during evening rehearsals, or else they returned early to wait for their children, which allowed for a lot of casual chit-chat among the parents. One night, the father of a pair of kids in the choir – a girl around 14 and a boy around 11 or 12 – complained to another parent about his son’s school.

I’ll call the dad Don and his kids Caitlyn and Ted. These aren’t their real names, but it makes telling the story easier. I want you to focus on Don, a reasonably educated and relatively feisty man – the kind who knows what he likes – and his son, Ted, a somewhat clunky pre-teen who was often sullen and not particularly co-operative about being in a choir.

But his parents had paid for the privilege, and by gum, he was going to sing and learn about music and about being part of a group, because everyone knows that sort of stuff can give you social advantages.

Don, who had choir pick-up duty that night, was telling another mom about Ted’s troubles at school. Apparently, Ted often caused disruptions in class. There was nothing “wrong” with him: he wasn’t labeled with any of the alphabet-soup-style afflictions so often ascribed to boys – no ADHD, no ADD, and none of the Autism Spectrum Disorders. He was just ill-behaved.

That week, the school had phoned Don to say that Ted had again disrupted the classroom (which meant that every other kid in that class was denied an opportunity to learn), and the teacher had marched him to the principal’s office. From whence came the phone call to Don, asking him to pick up his offspring, whom the school wanted to suspend for the day.

Well! That didn’t sit well with Don, who didn’t want his brat child at home. As he told the story to the other mom:

I let them have it. I told them, “You have to keep him, it’s a school day and you HAVE  to keep him in school, you can’t send him home!”

You have to keep him. I-the-parent can’t be forced to deal with him.

What struck me about his story:

  • he was puffed up with pride at having told the school “off”
  • he was indignant that the school was asking HIM to discipline HIS child
  • he was absolutely convinced, without any shame WHATSOEVER, that it was indeed the school’s obligation to deal with his brat child
  • the school CAVED and acquiesced to Don’s demand

I can’t say I was so much in sympathy with the school. Hey, we were homeschooling our kids, and considered schools a mixture of toxic peer pressure, jail, and industrial-style conveyer-belt rote “learning,” armed with massive budgets and an arsenal of institutional power to shore up their status. Hooray for a tiny David who aims his slingshot at that Goliath. But Ted didn’t strike me as any sort of tribe worth defending, that’s for sure. He needed parenting, from parents who acted authoritatively (not authoritarian). He didn’t need palming off on authorities (eg. school) – yet that’s exactly what Don thought was the right thing to do: the school should deal with him.

Amazing. Don’s little conversation made my jaw drop. He was serious: he wanted the school essentially to do the parenting of his child, a job that he and Mrs. Don should have been doing.

Fast-forward seven years, and Ted is now about 19 years old. He’s a hockey fan, but most of all, he still hasn’t learned about accountability. Sure, the schools have tried to drum it into his head, but what the fuck does he care? His parents insist they’ve spent good money on him, made sure he had advantages, and made sure they always sent him to schools where they could expect other people to exert the heavy-lifting authority that they themselves shunned.

Ted breaks a few windows along Granville, helps tip a car over, sets a few newspaper boxes on fire.

I blame the parents.

They’re probably the ones screaming for more police action, too. It fits with their earlier demand for more school action. Anything to get them off the hook.

I’ve seen some amazing parenting around here. People with the patience of saints, making a difference and helping to shape their kids into terrific young adults. I’ve also seen some outrageously bad parenting here, made worse by a (imo) crazy belief that it’s somehow the responsibility of others (institutions, cops, schools, CCTVs, television, Ministries, governments, Health Authorities, etc.) to provide authority in their children’s lives.

We boomers mostly hate authoritarianism. I know I do. But the one Big Thing that becoming a parent taught me is that there’s a huge difference between being authoritarian and being authoritative. Some of my selfish boomer peers have let others be the authorities. In my experience of raising kids, that doesn’t work so well.

See Identify the Rioters for images of Wednesday night’s event.

The Times-Colonist also has a page, called The 40 most dramatic photos of the Vancouver riots, which kind of smacks of salaciousness, as if there’s a competition to find the photos that drip with the most mayhem. Includes dramatic, if representative, shots. This video (also linked to in the first paragraph) is graphic in showing the ugliness of the crowd. Another good read: Vancouver Riot: Psychology (Not Hooligans) Responsible for the Chaos by Bobbie Brooks. See also 2011 Stanley Cup riot “worse” than 1994 in the Vancouver Sun.

Update 6/19 – More links: On Youtube, A Billion Dollars Worth of Bad Publicity for Vancouver, says 94 Riot Investigator, worth a look; and a historical video, from 1968, of Vancouver Mayor Tom Campbell calling out “the hippies” (historical and somewhat hysterical), Mayor Tom Campbell versus the Hippies.avi. This video is of interest to some people critical of the current mayor, Gregor Robertson, who has tried to paint the 2011 rioters as isolated “anarchists” and louts, a tactic that resonates with then-mayor Campbell’s. One additional link (newspaper article), View from Calgary: Seedy side was there before Cup riot in Vancouver, can’t say I disagree, having lived in Vancouver in the early 80s.

Power/ Influence

November 3, 2010 at 11:41 pm | In arts, authenticity, fashionable_life, guerilla_politics, ideas, social_critique, vancouver, victoria, women | Comments Off on Power/ Influence

A few days ago the Vancouver Sun published BC’s top 100 influential women – it’s entirely possible that I would have missed the Sun‘s report if not for Alexandra Samuel‘s extensive blog post, Vancouver Sun list of 100 influential women in BC shows influence beyond Twitter.

This evening I came across Are you an influencer? on The Next Web Shareables. There are two videos in this post – one is a short trailer, the other is a 14-minute version. The influencers are almost all – and I mean all – men. Young, too, and often pretty macho. There’s one woman who gets interviewed more extensively, and aside from her (and a brief image of Marilyn Munroe, of all people) it’s men, men, men: discursively, it’s a world where women simply don’t exist, except for exotic exceptions that serve to rub in how absent we are otherwise.

From my not-so-in-depth examination (so far) of the Vancouver Sun piece (I have some ambition to pick it apart later, but haven’t done so yet), it seemed to me that the top 100 influential women in BC are almost all from Vancouver: it’s as if anything beyond Metro Vancouver doesn’t exist.

Before seeing the Are you an influencer video tonight, I had been thinking, tangentially, about the importance of location / place in determining who gets to be counted as an influencer (and why), and about how location concentrates and drives influence and power. Specifically with the BC’s top 100 influential women piece in mind, I had been thinking about Vancouver and how it seems unlikely for that location to share power and influence with other locations in BC.

At the same time, I was recalling that 25 years ago Vancouver was for all intents and purposes a hick town, really: when my friend and fellow grad student Steve at the University of British Columbia announced to faculty that he planned to write an Art History Master’s Thesis about a Canadian art movement, one of the senior professors – an Englishman who studied Tiepolo, regularly removing himself from Vancouver as often as he could to pursue his studies in situ in Italia – warned Steve that, by limiting himself to such a provincial scope, he was burying himself “in a very shallow grave.” In other words, young man (or young woman), if you didn’t study Pollock or Picasso – or any of the other big-name brand-name all-male stars – and if instead you chose a new (but obscure!) topic that you cared about (or, gasp!, a woman artist to study), you were not going to be an influencer yourself. You could only become an influencer by attaching yourself to a Big Name.

Fact. Honest truth. The Tiepolo scholar was telling Steve that he could not, within the framework of the Academy, become an influencer if he chose to study something un-influential (sotto voce, that meant “study an important male artist, it will pay off for you – do not choose to study an insignificant movement or heaven forbid a woman artist”).

Do you see the contradiction? Sure, you might say, “well, hip influencers these days don’t want to work in the Academy,” but I’m telling you that there is no “out there,” and that instead, the academy is all around us, morphing to provide the context of power every time. Call it Academy 2.0, call it Influencer Academy: it’s still a power structure. If you’re outside that Academy, good luck flopping around in your shallow grave.

So the question with regard to the “top 100 influential women” article and its Vancouver-centrism might be, “how does a place become the sort of framework that allows certain things / people to achieve influence?” Vancouver has become that sort of place. Is it the concentration of capital and power, which in turn conveys some sort of benediction on those who do manage to achieve success within it?

As for the continued existence of the Academy, just watch the Influencers video and be amazed at how tightly it’s still controlled by men – but then realize that the video was created by two men. So, no big surprise, eh? If women don’t step up and make these kinds of documentaries, well, then, tant pis pour nous, as they say might say in Quebec. In that sense, I applaud the Sun‘s B.C.’s Top 100 Influential Women series and I’m thrilled to see every single woman on there.

The issue of place keeps nagging at me, of course. Victoria can certainly be the most shallow of graves…

I don’t know what became of Steve, who “sacrificed” becoming an influencer (aka, joining the Big Men) by instead studying obscure Canadian socialist art of the 1930s.

But how superficial would our culture be if we only studied the Big Men, amplifying a power structure that trades only within the Academy? We don’t need another hero, and we don’t need a fancier Echo Chamber either.

Do green and make green

October 11, 2010 at 10:45 pm | In architecture, green, housing, land_use, real_estate, vancouver, victoria | 1 Comment

There are times, I think, when having a tumblr (vs a blog) would be cool – then it would be enough just to post, free-standing, the smack-down that Peter Busby (“one of Canada’s leaders in green architecture”) gives Bob Rennie (“the influential Vancouver condo marketer who is the last say for many developers on what will sell”).

In this conversation recorded by Frances Bula, Busby and Rennie have just started talking about Victoria BC’s Dockside Green:

Mr. Busby: It [Dockside Green] did not make money because it was priced competitively against non-green product. Dockside was competing against buildings that weren’t trying to do anything in terms of green, so [the developer] didn’t get much of a premium in the marketplace for his green features. And that came out of his profit. And that’s why the project’s dead right now. And that’s why we have to have improved building codes. They must pay for a better envelope. Everything else is greenwash. If you don’t make a better building that performs better, you’re just putting green fuzz on buildings. (source)

I’m not heartened by reading Busby’s assessment of Dockside Green (that it’s “dead”), but he is so right to talk frankly to the marketer. I’ve been to developer luncheons – where there actually were developers who did real green projects – and their marketers (whom I spoke to as well) couldn’t get the facts, or push them into the marketplace. And I have no doubt that by the same token there are plenty of developers who continue to convince the moneybags and the marketers that it’s not possible to do green and make green.

I’d like to start something in the space between their arguments – work on retrofitting existing housing, for example. So much work needs doing there.

In case that Globe and Mail article link goes dead, here’s one to CTV News, which carries the same interview/ text.

n.b.: I do appreciate Bob Rennie’s last (literally) word:

Mr. Rennie: I’ll be there. But we can’t just tell the consumer to pay more. This has to work for them and, if it doesn’t, they aren’t going to buy it. They’ll move somewhere else, out of Vancouver. And, in the end, that’s what we have to look at, not just what rich people in the city are willing to pay for.

He gets it from the marketing p.o.v.: it’s no good if what you’re doing drives people away. Getting more people into your city is actually a good thing (something that too many people in Victoria absolutely do NOT get, sadly).

Vancouver has it going on

September 4, 2010 at 11:23 pm | In just_so, vancouver | 2 Comments

I spent the last 36 hours traveling to and from Vancouver, taking the daughter back to UBC. She volunteered to help orient incoming new students, which meant that she got to check in a day early. Nice. Very low-key move-in, no stress.

The weather was fantastic – we made a reservation for the noon ferry leaving Swartz Bay on Vancouver Island, but, arriving 7 minutes before the 11a.m. departure, we found we were able to take that earlier boat instead. (So we forfeited the nearly $18 reservation fee to save one hour.) When we arrived at Tsawwassen terminal about an hour and a half later, we first thought we’d drive straight to campus to get Emma settled.

But somehow, 15 minutes into driving, we all decided that taking a lunch break would make sense. Kerrisdale seemed like a good mid-point, so we opted for that. I used to go to Kerrisdale every year on my birthday, right after Christmas, to shop for shoes. Canadian stores used to have weird rules about when they could have sales, but the post-xmas sales were always a big deal. And for some reason, Kerrisdale always had pretty good shopping, including nice shoe stores. And of course my birthday, on Dec. 27, fell right into that xmas sales thing (this was before post-xmas sales started in bloody October…).

Kerrisdale hasn’t changed much – except it has become so much denser (and better), and even more richly furnished with retail diversions. And yes, we found a nice lunch place, too!

On to UBC, where moving in was a breeze. After some time figuring out whether or not the fridge should go under the bed (raise the mattress) or next to the desk (lower the mattress enough to create a head-rest), everything was sorted and we said our good-byes.

Werner and I left to check in at our downtown hotel, which ended up infuriating me to the point (nearly) of tears. The Marriott Pinnacle has a ridiculously tiny approach to its lobby, and because of some idiotic honking huge tour bus taking forever to decide whether it was actually leaving, I was told to leave my (parking) spot thrice by clueless (and not particularly caring) valets (or bell-hops or whatever). Further, it took my husband forever to check in because the lobby was mobbed – which is why I was in the “check-in” parking apron in the first place. In short, the visit started with pandemonium – and it didn’t improve once we got in the elevator to try – emphasis on “try” – to reach the 31st floor.

Someone told these guys that “security” would be improved if access to floors is controlled by guests shoving their key-cards into a slot in the elevator. Problem was, there was just one slot (on the right-hand panel) even though there were two panels for pushing floor buttons (one on each side of the door). The consequence: you couldn’t reach the panel in a crowded elevator. On our first try, there was a gaggle of UK tourists whose key-cards didn’t work for them (didn’t for us, either, as we found out when we finally got a chance to try it). Instead of making room to let other people try, these Brits stood around the damn slot like a bunch of seagulls flocking to a slice of toast: there was no shifting them. So we all rode up the elevator (without being able to get off) …and then all rode down again (without hitting our floors).

The employee who “explained” the idiosyncrasies of the idiotic elevator didn’t help either (“you have to jiggle the card ‘just so’,” he opined), and by the time we finally got to our room I was fuming. It gets better though: I then discovered that the hotel does not offer wifi in the rooms, and that accessing the internet via an ethernet cable means getting dinged $16 daily. WTF? (I later learned that there is free wifi in the lobby, but as for the rooms? Nada.)

The room was nice, but lack of free internet and vicious elevators (in a later episode we witnessed the elevator trying to kill a guest by snapping the doors on him prematurely), as well as bedlam at checking-in with a vehicle in tow ticked me off.

As for Vancouver: fantastic. We spent the evening at Sura and then wandered back up Robsonstrasse to Granville and the malls. Everywhere something was going on, people were about, not a square inch was dead.

It made me wonder how they did it. One thing struck me: when I lived in Vancouver in the early 80s, Robson was lively – although nowhere near as vibrant as it is now. But at one end of Robson lay the lively and dense “village” of Denman and the West End, while at the other end lay another hub, namely downtown itself. Somehow, planners encouraged a pattern of development that added residential density to this connecting “spine,” which in turn allowed commercial development that could be supported to grow alongside it. I don’t think it was “overthought” – as can be the case in Victoria, where we talk a big game about “spines,” but have no clue how to let development actually take place or how to encourage residential growth. Heck, growth here is all still happening in the sprawling suburbs (for residential) and in Uptown or Langford (for commercial). And it’s sucking the life out of downtown.

When, in contrast to Vancouver, we drove back into Victoria at 6:30pm today, the city was for all intents and purposes like a graveyard, with dead “spines” and nary a soul on the street. Sad. So sad.

Earlier today, still in Vancouver, we had a nice lunch at Kamei Royale (love all the second story restaurants in Vancouver that allow one to “spy” on the street from a high perch), after which we drove to Commercial Drive to check out the neighborhoods where Werner used to meet friends to practice Aikido, after which they’d all go for espresso at Bar Centrale. I could imagine living there – certainly Kitsilano and other chi-chi west-side ‘hoods are completely out of reach. But East Van has a nice vibe, and it’s spreading.

One last thing: tree amenity. Vancouver does trees incredibly well. Whether downtown or in the neighborhoods, whether old areas or brand new developments: tree amenity is a big deal in Vancouver, and that’s a good thing.

Gentrification 2.0?

June 5, 2010 at 11:22 pm | In affordable_housing, architecture, cities, homelessness, housing, innovation, jane_jacobs, land_use, social_critique, vancouver | 2 Comments

The title of my post is semi-serious, semi-ironic. I’m ambivalent about gentrification: if it means unslumming, I figure it’s good; if it means homogenization toward a single class (typically privileged) at the expense of economic diversity, it’s probably not-so-good, right?

When I write “Gentrification 2.0,” I’m saying that I’m not sure how this particular example – The Woodward’s Project in Vancouver – will play out. It’s 2.0 insofar as it’s not unslumming in Jane Jacobs’s sense, nor is it private market gentrification. It’s an interesting hybrid.

Canada’s National Post newspaper has started a series of articles about the Woodward’s Project. The reporter is Brian Hutchinson, who focuses on the neighborhood (Downtown East Side) and the social implications of putting a spiffy mixed-use high-rise development into its center. This is an unusual development, however: it has “125 fully equipped apartments reserved for low-income singles, and 75 spacious units reserved for families; 80% of the family apartments are rented at below-market rates” (source), while at the same time it also boasts market-rate condos valued at over $1million and provides the better-off residents with rooftop luxuries that afford (to use a word Hutchinson used) “bacchanalian” excess.

I wrote about the Woodward’s Project after taking my daughter to lunch in Vancouver for her birthday. It’s a fascinating project, and I’m looking forward to reading the entire series. Hutchinson is “embedded” at Woodward’s for a whole month.

Vancouver Day-trip

March 12, 2010 at 12:18 am | In architecture, vancouver | Comments Off on Vancouver Day-trip

A daughter doesn’t turn 16 every year, so I made a special effort to get over to Vancouver to have lunch with E., who’s studying at UBC. She had enough time for a leisurely early lunch at Vij’s Rangoli, followed up by coffee and (birthday) cupcakes closer to UBC.

Then I hied myself as fast as I could to the Woodward’s. (Wikipedia entry here, commercial website here.)

The still-under-construction atrium showcases Vancouverism, an exhibition subtitled “Architecture builds the city” (till 3/27). I had to see that – and it was worth it.

But the real thrill was the atrium itself, which features a huge (seriously huge) back-lit photograph I initially took to be by Jeff Wall. It is, however, a “30 by 50 ft. piece by Vancouver artist Stan Douglas. named Abbott & Cordova, 7 August 1971 depicting the Gastown riot in 1971 and completed in 2009″ (source).

I took some photos (also all in an album here, with the last 2 photos from an SFU student show at W2):



This one is much the same, just framed a bit differently:



I was completely underwhelmed by the historic facade left standing at the corners of W. Hastings and Abbott – I can see the point of keeping it, but the thoroughness with which everything else beyond the facade was erased really made me wonder how exactly the rationale behind keeping it worked.

The old facade is basically directly outside/ attached to the (new) commercial building that faces inward on this atrium (not visible in my photos). I couldn’t enter the new building, but presumably it’s of the same caliber and feel as the atrium. The old facade meanwhile is four or so stories of brick. Again: I’m not against saving it, but the contrast is a bit out of synch right now. There might still be some work that needs doing before the marriage between exterior facade and new innards appears consummated.

If you were to walk straight through to the doors below Douglas’s photo-mural, you would reach an open courtyard, which is flanked by the new SFU arts center on your left and a very funky, engaging-looking new condo tower on the right. Here are a couple of views of that courtyard and the new condo tower, which is rather breath-taking – if only because it’s so different from the usual clear-glass and steel condo construction in Vancouver. This one is openly …decorative, perhaps playful, and seemingly allusive. Very different.

Some final pictures.

First, the courtyard with a view of the exterior image of Douglas’s photo-mural:



Next, the new building’s modern touch in meeting the podium and courtyard area, followed by a reveal of its decorative tower:



Architect: Gregory Henriquez

The treachery of tethers…

September 2, 2009 at 11:01 pm | In johnson street bridge, just_so, vancouver | 5 Comments

Ceci n’est pas un vacance – that could be my personal variant on Magritte‘s This is not a pipe.

I’m in Vancouver, and it’s supposed to be a break from my island exile, but digital tethers ensure that I’m plugged into all the usual concerns.

Earlier today I wrote a blog post for Johnson Street Bridge dot ORG, called Heritage value, once more. It’s about how the City of Victoria is ignoring an important heritage assessment, which states that the bridge has “significant heritage value.”

And as usual, there are plenty of other digital tethers to ensure the hiatus isn’t a complete break. But it’s still fun.

Vancouver is a riot, and I do love it. But it’s a funny town – it talks a big green game, for example. And a lot of it is green – but holy cow, is the oh-not-so-green car culture ever alive and well here. I mean in particular a car culture driven (sorry, bad pun) by young men (very young men), who – through lucky breaks (ahem) or inheritance – possess cars that are worth a small fortune (say, $80,000), and who enjoy nothing more than to parade their vehicles through downtown, parking them in front of brightly-lit shops so that those of us out for an evening stroll can admire the buff metal and languid embodiment of all that privilege.

There’s also an unbridled aggression (again, mostly coming from younger male drivers, especially if they’re driving costly cars) against the tightness of the core city: its density and its traffic congestion. Lots of aggressive driving, which is pretty comical to watch, especially if you’re familiar with driving mores in truly densely populated areas. Naturally, the young men are frustrated at every pinch point (i.e. corner, traffic light, pedestrian crossing – you name it).

Car culture in Vancouver shows how much the city is still inbetween – but what a glorious inbetween it is. It’s beautiful, fresh, energetic.

Tonight, I ambled through Holt Renfrew (we don’t have a Holt Renfrew in Victoria, sadly). The Vancouver store is quite beautiful – sort of like an Apple store for clothes: white on white decor, with jewel-colored objects of desire in stark but seductive contrast. Very tasty.
Holt Renfrew in Vancouver
I found myself drawn to one mannequin, dressed all in Fendi. I admired the tattered scarf tied around its neck, but did a double-take when I saw the price tag for the shabby-chic piece of cloth (nearly $300). The mannequin wore a woven jacket that I thought looked really sharp; I walked to the rack where 2 or 3 of the same jacket hung. The price? $3,550.

I considered licking the jacket’s lapel or sleeve, because an object basically so utilitarian (and a not especially couture one, to boot), yet so expensive, struck me as some kind of fetish. I thought, I bet there’s some kind of primitive impulse that would justify ingesting or incorporating this absurdly magical object that’s capable of commanding such a high price …but then my reason got the better of me, and I held my tongue. Literally.

But it made me wonder whether I should get out my sewing machine and run something up. Three thousand five hundred and fifty dollars is an awful lot of money for a simple little …coat.

But so is $80,000 for a car that merely travels on the same roads as everyone else.

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