With the aim to generate a broader discussion of possibilities for Vancouver’s affordable housing crisis, Jessie Andjelic, Albert Dijk and Philip Vandermey submitted their Meta Vancouverism and Vancouver Islands proposal for the Re:think Housing competition held by the City of Vancouver. These concepts are focused on on being grenade projects in response to perceived contradictions within dominant themes of Vancouver urban planning – affordability, sustainability, nature, speculative urbanism, sprawl and the condo rush. More images and architects’ description after the break.
Vancouverism – Urbanism by Real Estate Speculation
Affordability and high quality urban space are incompatible with the prevalent urban design model of the day – Vancouverism. While Canadian master architect Arthur Erickson envisioned large megastructural towers with the intention to build up rather than sprawling out, therefore preserving the city’s nature, his ideas have been warped and re-presented as Vancouverism: a flashy combination of slick blue/green/grey towers, low plinths filled with high end walk ups and shops, and protected view corridors to ensure high property values. These high rises are the vertical equivalent to suburban speculation; profit driven pro formas constrict the quality of the city to what fits on a real estate sales sheet – number and types of rooms, floor number, and area.
As such they are made popularly agreeable by predictability – monotonous, neutral, boring. To some politicians and most developmental lobbyists these towers are a boon; they can easily be pitched as green since they do provide a viable alternative to sprawl. Yet, the promised goals of affordability and a better quality urban space are not actually attainable within this model of speculative urbanism. And, in order to negotiate higher building limits, sterile and empty public spaces with token plants are provided at grade; privatized outdoor plazas lined with franchise shops. Gentrification occurs over the scale of the entire city by pinching existing urban fabric between high end towers and high end suburbs. These contradictions must be addressed both within and beyond the context of Vancouver, as Vancouverism has been anointed the urban model of the beginning the 21st Century, and can now be found afflicting cities on every continent.
Vancouver – Immaculate Holy City of Nature
Vancouver is energetically and creatively marketed as a city surrounded by untouched raw natural beauty. Clean, green and invariably livable, Vancouver isn’t recognizable for its urban space and civic monuments as much as for its panoramic views towards towering mountains, impenetrable forests and glistening bays. Yet, although dense in comparison with other Western North American cities, Vancouver’s suburbs are creeping inexhaustibly over irreplaceable farmland and ecosystems. The resulting commutes and extended infrastructures are highly wasteful, reducing the quality of life of Vancouverites who cannot afford or prefer not to live in the inner city, and creating enormous amounts of waste while using huge amounts of energy and material. Although the Board of the Greater Vancouver Regional District is attempting to enforce an “Urban Containment Boundary”, allowable development outside of The Boundary includes “low density residential development, small scale commercial, industrial and institutional uses [...], recreation areas, ski hills and other tourist recreation areas”. It is clear that some types of nature count more than others – specifically those that provide expansive and exclusive views to the North from the downtown and inner city suburbs.
Project 01 – Meta Vancouverism
Cities that lack long term structural vision to direct physical growth, tackling issues as independent rather than complex interrelated ones, become slaves rather than benefiters to their own chaotic processes. Beautiful cities balance planning and structure with flexibility to become functional and recognizable urban landscapes. Arthur Erickson, one of Canada’s greatest architects, envisioned large megastructural towers to make the most of the city while preserving the nature. Vancouverism is hot. Shimmering glass towers, plentiful green space, an efficient use of land, and expansive views of the natural landscape have pushed Vancouverism into the international spotlight. Some say that after mayor Tom Campbell was succeeded by TEAM, downsizing forced the suburbanization of Vancouver to accelerate. Land ran out and prices went up. In addition to affordability issues, and like many contemporary cities, Vancouver experienced increasing socioeconomic polarization and segregation.
Project 02 – Vancouver Islands
Rugged mountains and pristine bodies of water surround a metropolis that boasts diverse cultures and industries. These endearing natural qualities are part of the equation that ensures Vancouver remains consistently at or near the top of livability ranking lists. But the very qualities that draw tourists and new residents have limited Vancouver’s capacity for spatial growth. As a result, Vancouver’s density is high for North America and the region. The results are mostly positive; spatially constrained cities tend to be more dense and walkable, which is the case in parts Vancouver.Yet, Vancouver also has the most expensive housing market in North America; it’s cheaper to live in New York City. The question is, how to maintain the quality of life Vancouver offers while finding possibilities to grow and cool the housing market?
Vancouver’s original boroughs began near the water and expanded inland over time. Since the centre is located near the water, those Vancouverites living at the perimeter have to commute for more than an hour each way if they work downtown.What if we considered expanding the city in the other direction? Artificial islands could provide new space for development directly adjacent to the centre, including affordable housing schemes, while also providing new connections between neighborhoods. Such schemes have been proposed and realized in cities with spatial growth constraints around the globe. In fact, Vancouver has already reclaimed space for growth from the sea. Granville Island was formed by adding 760 000 cubic meters of fill dredged from False Creek. Sustainable strategies including renewable energy generation and on site waste processing, as well as providing a growth alternative to sprawl, can make Vancouver a world leading innovational city.
Further, by relocating port activities from their existing location to optimized shipping islands, 16.7 kilometers of coastline around Vancouver Harbour, some of the most expensive real estate in the city, can be reclaimed for housing, clean industries, recreation spaces, educational and cultural institutions.