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Naturally I’ll miss this view when it’s gone

June 12, 2016


Most people that I see walking to-and-fro along the south side of the 1400 block of West Broadway Avenue do not, as a rule, look anywhere but down—at the sidewalk in front of their moving feet, or at the smartphone in their hand.

If anyone looks up it’s the people waiting at the bus stop for the number 9 Boundary and that’s only if they’re sitting on the bus bench under the McDonald’s canvas awning and then only to nervously eye any pigeons that swoop in to roost on the awning’s steel under frame.

Otherwise, these would-be transit riders also tend to keep their eyes earthbound, either on their phones or the oncoming westbound traffic, for signs of their bus.

This is a shame. Anyone who does look up in a northerly direction will be treated to one of the biggest pieces of wide open sky that can be seen from street level along much of West Broadway Avenue—certainly, I think, from any of the 16 blocks between Arbutus and Cambie Street.

Seen, that is, without having to crane one’s neck and look straight up.

Like a block left over from the 1960s

Twilight, on June 6.

Twilight on June 6. It was much more impressive in person.

This happy circumstance of unobstructed sky is thanks to the anachronism of six old, low-rise buildings lined up on the north side and book-ended on either corner by six- and seven-storey towers. These six short buildings constitute 75 percent of their side of the 1400 block. One if them is a two-storey and the other five are only a single storey each.

What can one see in this big open patch of sky? Mostly clouds, of course; wispy or piled high, fluffy and light, or dark and rain-encumbered.

Sometimes, especially in high summer and winter, it’s just a big sea of intense blue disturbed not the least by the wakeless, curving flight of birds.

It’s a wonderful view to have anywhere in a city, not the least on a major shopping street. I find it both exhilarating and vaguely soothing and I enjoy seeing it whenever I have the chance, knowing full well that it cannot last in today’s overheated real estate market.

June the 9th. Only the clouds have changed.

June the 9th. Only the clouds have changed.

Developers cannot actually tear down the sky. What they can do, however, is build condo towers that impose themselves on the landscape and blot out the view corridors from the ground. In this way, developers can sell the sky (or at least the view of it) to literally the highest bidder.

Which is to say that the day is coming (and sooner rather than later) when those six little buildings on the south side of the 1400 block (which have a current combined assessment of $35.1 million) will be swept aside and replaced by a wall of six- to twelve-storey-high glass, steel and concrete, mixed-use, towers.

The result will be to permanently draw a veil across much of this lovely and lively street level view.

After this happens, I think that even some ofthe people who rarely, if ever, find the time to stop and look may notice the difference (perhaps only subliminally)—how some of the colour has drained out of the block and how the bright warm sunshine that made sparkles on the asphalt has been replaced by a drab coolness.

Maybe some of these people will stop for a moment and look around and wonder if anything has been lost or gained or if everything is still exactly the same as always.

Perhaps these people have their own places where they like to stop and admire the view, such as a park near where they live, or the Seawall.

Putting nature in its place

The point here isn’t that the natural world can’t still be seen in Vancouver but that the opportunities are being greatly and deliberately reduced. Nature is losing its traditional pride of place in the city—its everywhereness, if you will.

Developers are increasingly being allowed (if not encouraging) to build roughshod over the low-rise city, thus threatening the natural pleasantness of place that has always been one of the defining characteristics of Vancouver.

Through the 1980s and even into the 1990, the City of Vancouver seemed to care about controlling building heights, with an eye toward preserving the major impression of this being a gem of a city in one of the greatest natural settings on earth.

This certainly made Vancouver a nice place to live but it was done, I think, for the benefit of the lucrative tourist trade as much as anything.

The thinking appears to have undergone a fundamental change in the 21 century.

Perhaps someone at City Hall ran the numbers and realized that either visitors didn’t care to see the sky and mountains while they tramped  around the town, or that blocking the view actually encouraged them to spend more money on day trips, or that selling visitors “supernatural British Columbia” wasn’t a patch as lucrative for the city economy as selling them condos and homes.

Whatever the reasons (and no doubt the reasons all revolve around money), Vancouver city planners now seem willing to do what they wouldn’t for most of the 35 years that I’ve live in the city, namely, let builders blot out the sky in a wholesale manner and (by the looks of the downtown skyline) essentially “board up” the mountains to people at street level.

The first beneficiaries of this apparent new willingness to deprecate nature are certainly developers, who get to sell the mountains as another exclusive value-added “feature” of high-rise living, like stainless steel appliances, or gym rooms.

Putting nature in its place

For the curious looky-loos, who can’t afford to live in a highrise or on the rich heights of Dunbar, there will still be opportunities to view some nature through holes cut in the construction hoarding of the new taller, jam-packed Vancouver. These “holes” will be in the form of public park amenities, sprinkled here and there—located where it’s either uneconomic to build, or on a spot where a developer has consented not to build in exchange for being able to build even higher somewhere else.

The City will provide these parks because it knows that people need to have nature close by—even (and perhaps especially) if they live high off the hog ground).

Whether or not highrise dwellers care for themselves, it’s  understood that they have to care for their dogs, which, we all know, must answer the call of nature several times a day.

So how is tourism doing?

Unfortunately, I was unable to find broken-out statistics for tourist revenue accruing to Vancouver in recent years. Even good provincial numbers seem hard to come by.

B.C. Tourism growth from 2002-2013.—Destination B.C.

B.C. Tourism growth from 2002-2013.—Destination B.C.

A British Columbia government “Snapshot of Tourism” indicates that in 2014, the sector generated $14.6 billion in revenue, a 5.1 percent increase over 2013 ($13.9 billion), which represents a 37.7 percent increase from 2004. The website of Destination B.C., a B.C. crown corporation, has a chart showing tourism revenue from 2002 to 2013 (from B.C. Stats numbers I can’t find).

The growth looks surprisingly flat to me. I have to ask what  the long-term benefit to the province has been from the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and whether or not the numbers are adjusted for inflation? Nothing say they are and if they’re not, then the growth is even less impressive. Click  the images to enlarge them.

. Click the images to enlarge them.

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