Arts

New condos at BC Place, Rogers Arena kill False Creek entertainment district

By Kenneth Chan | 8:20 am PST, Thu January 24, 2013 | Speak Up

The recent controversy and firestorm with the Waldorf Hotel’s closure for redevelopment into condos is perhaps evident of a city reaching a breaking point over its dwindling cultural and entertainment venues. There is no doubt the core of Vancouver’s entertainment district lies in and around the Downtown peninsula, and it is no secret either that rampant condo development in the city centre has severely hampered the ability of entertainment-based businesses and zones to flourish. This now impacts Vancouver’s premier entertainment venues, BC Place and Rogers Arena, as well as the False Creek entertainment district that had originally been envisioned for the stadium precinct.

The Waldorf’s closure has certainly received the attention it deserves, but more importantly it has ignited a much-needed discussion of what kind of city we want to be and a collective awareness of what we are now becoming. Many cities have built strongly established and vibrant entertainment districts by using their sports and event venues as the anchors of such districts…

 

The False Creek Entertainment District vision that never came to be

Vancouver’s False Creek entertainment district, centred around BC Place Stadium and Rogers Arena, is no exception. In fact, it had immense potential – it was only natural to turn the stadium precinct (which includes the recently renovated 2,700-seat Queen Elizabeth Theatre) into an flourishing entertainment district.

Few cities have been fortunate enough to have two large world-class stadium facilities located adjacent to each other right in the heart of a metropolitan area’s Downtown core. Vancouver’s stadiums also happen to be immensely accessible to public transit with direct access to the city’s SkyTrain lines. This has helped turn BC Place and Rogers Arena into the highly used year-round facilities they have become for events and concerts. They are also together home to three major sports franchises – the CFL BC Lions, the NHL Vancouver Canucks, and the MLS Vancouver Whitecaps.

Both stadiums were built from lands that were formerly railyards and industry, lands that were awaiting re-imagination as the city has done today by turning the former Expo ’86 site at False Creek into a new neighbourhood of generic parks and condo towers. These same lands, particularly those surrounding BC Place and Rogers Arena, could have been easily re-imagined into a vibrant entertainment zone if the city and its developers had stronger willpower and maintained with their original vision.

Mixed-use developments (mainly buildings that are commercial/businesses at the bottom floors and residential at the top floors) in Vancouver have been the dominant development form of the city’s new buildings for the past quarter-century. This Vancouver fixation with mixed-use developments for every area of the city has been touted by urban planners as a great “success.”

However, mixed-use developments have been a tragic failure in the sense that residential usages and concerns in these mixed-use buildings and mixed-use neighbourhoods have been given much greater priority over other interests and have ultimately turned our city (especially its Downtown core) into a sleepy, bedroom community. Vancouver is unique given that its planners and politicians have been unable to acknowledge the need for distinctly different districts with distinctly different characters (specifically for entertainment zones) to allow for certain usages and zones the full flexibility to grow, innovate, and flourish.

Residential development and entertainment venues do not mix well in Vancouver, yet residential continues to be built without any restraint in our entertainment districts – next to stadiums, music venues, nightclubs, bars, pubs, etc. New residents are moving into an active major city with unrealistic “small town” and “suburban expectations” of living a quiet life, residents have effectively suppressed the character of the entertainment districts they live in: those moving into residential developments located in our entertainment districts have been highly successful in limiting aspects that make for a successful and vibrant entertainment district.

This has been the case even in Vancouver’s designated entertainment zones, and it will only get much more worst as the concentration of residential developments increases in the entertainment districts.

For instance, condo residents have complained about light and noise coming out of such zones, venues, and businesses. This includes recent complaints by vocal residents of the light emitted from video billboards around BC Place, despite that such signs are usually welcomed in areas like the one BC Place is in – an entertainment zone – as a sign of liveliness in the area. Pavco, the operators of BC Place, had even offered to turn off the billboards at 4 pm on most days, but residents were still unsatisfied with this significant concession. Excessive limitations on noise and light, often spurred by local area resident complaints, have severely hindered and limited Downtown Vancouver’s nightlife and the vitality of our entertainment institutions.

 

The Tragedy of Rogers Arena

When Rogers Arena (formerly known as GM Place) was in the planning stages during the early-1990s, a vibrant and active entertainment district had been slated for the area around the new hockey arena and BC Place. In fact, Rogers Arena was to have been the centrepiece of this planned entertainment district. The arena’s original design had even included a large underground shopping complex beneath the stadium floor. Of course, the mall at the arena, which would have also included restaurants and bars, was never built and instead an underground parkade took its place.

The entertainment district around the two stadiums never came to be when condo towers began to encroach the area – condo developments that have included Spectrum, Espana, Cooper’s Lookout, Flagship, Mariner, Cooper’s Pointe, and The Max. In addition, in lieu of entertainment district-based businesses, an elementary school for 500-students has even been approved for a site on Expo Boulevard directly across from Rogers Arena at International Village. Construction on International Village Elementary will begin this year for a 2015 opening. Although demand certainly warrants for an additional elementary school in Downtown, this was certainly the wrong place to put it in.

Location of International Village Elementary, just across the street from Rogers Arena on the bottom left. (Image source: The Thunderbird)

 

In 2008, the Aquilini Group (owners of the NHL Vancouver Canucks and Rogers Arena) proposed to build a 22-storey office tower as an addition to the Rogers Arena building complex. The tower had also been originally envisioned as part of the original Rogers Arena plans in the 1990s, and previous variations of the arena complex in the past have also included a major hotel tower component. Such commercial uses would have been highly compatible for an entertainment district.

A rendering of the original GM Place office tower proposed in 2008 also included two spires that would be lit up with different colours during NHL games to indicate the score of the home and visiting teams. (Image source: Vancouver Sun)

 

Commercial buildings, especially offices, are the most ideal buildings to flank any entertainment district given they are only occupied by workers during the working hours of weekdays and are vacated when activity and noise peaks during evenings and weekends. Residential buildings, daycares, and elementary schools in the entertainment zone are certainly anything but ideal for an entertainment district.

Instead of a commercial/office-only (entertainment-zone friendly) development, a multi-tower residential component has now been added to the Aquilini Group’s development vision for Rogers Arena. Vancouver City Council has approved 3 mixed-use towers, with office/commercial usages slated for the lower floors and residential rental units in the top floors. In total, 614 rental condo units will be built in the three towers wedged between Rogers Arena, the Dunsmuir/Georgia Viaducts, and Expo and Pacific Boulevards. Construction has already begun on the North Tower, which will utilize the first five floors of the building for an much-needed expansion of the cramped Rogers Arena concourse and in-arena food services. The remaining 17 floors will be residential.

What is troubling about this project, which now includes a very dominant residential component, is its impact on events at Rogers Arena. The Aquilini Group has openly admitted there will be less concerts and events at Rogers Arena in order to appease the arena’s future residents. According to Aquilini Development president David Negrin, an arrangement has been made “to ensure that the company doesn’t put on too many events at the arena that would disturb the nearby tenants. ‘We will lose some concerts, we know that. But we need to rent the places (condo units). It is in our best interests to control [the noise].'”

A rendering of the city-approved Rogers Arena condo rental towers, totalling 614 condo units. A fourth tower, pending city approval, is also slated for the future on the north side of the arena. (Image source: James K.M. Cheng Architects)

 

This has surprisingly received very little attention, despite the highly unusual and regressive nature of the entire situation of requiring Vancouver’s long-existing and premiere concert and sports venue to succumb to new restrictions that hinder its flexibility as an active entertainment venue located in what was supposed to be a vibrant entertainment district.

If you moved next to a hospital, would you complain about the noise made by ambulances at night? If you moved next to the airport, would you complain about the noise made by the low-flying planes? If you moved next to a highway, would you complain about the noise coming from the cars and trucks speeding along the road? If you moved next to SkyTrain, would you complain about the noise coming from the passing trains? If you moved next to Playland/PNE, would you complain about the noise and traffic coming from the roller coasters and crowds? Most people would say “no,” especially for the responsible and unselfish homeowners who have done their due diligence in peforming proper research into the property.

Returning to the subject matter, if you moved into a new building next to a pre-existing restaurant, bar, pub, nightclub, and/or stadium (or to put it simply, a lively entertainment district), why would you be complaining about the noise and light emitting from such venues and businesses? Why have we continued to allow a small minority of individuals (local neighbourhood residents) to trample on things that hundreds of thousands (all of Metro Vancouver) enjoy? Why have our planners and politicians continued to allow major residential developments to encroach our cultural and entertainment venues and zones?

Many cities have built proper entertainment zones around their stadiums. For instance, in North America these entertainment district developments have been achieved in cities that include Los Angeles, Columbus, San Diego, and Indianapolis. Their stadium districts have maintained commercial, office, and hospitality uses as the vastly dominant forms of these entertainment zones, whereas Vancouver has decided to be regressive and has built almost nothing but residential in its stadium districts.

Los Angeles, in particular, is well-known for the active stadium entertainment district it has built around the Staples Center. Known as L.A. Live, the entertainment zone around Staples Center was built in 2007 and is the city’s newest hub for live music and cultural events. This includes the Nokia Plaza (a large outdoor plaza that serves as a central meeting and event place for L.A. Live, and it features giant LED screens); the Nokia Theatre and Club Nokia (a music and theatre hall with 7,100-seats, and a club venue with 2,300-seats); the Grammy Museum; a giant 1,001-room hybrid hotel by JW Marriott and the Ritz Carlton; the ESPN Zone and ESPN Broadcasting Studios; a 14-screen movie cineplex with a combined 3,772-seats; and dozens of restaurants, from mid to high-scale dining. There are also significant expansion plans in the works for L.A. Live (none residential), which include additional major office and hotel towers as well as an 72,000-seat $1.2-billion NFL stadium (named Farmers Field).

An image of Nokia Plaza at L.A. Live during Christmas. Image source: AE Hospitality

An aerial photo of L.A. Live that includes a conceptual rendering of the new 72,000-seat Farmers Field stadium. Image source: Ballertainment

 

Another example of a proper stadium entertainment district is Edmonton’s ambitious plan for the Edmonton Arena District. The plan is modeled after the success of L.A. Live and although it will include a residential component, Edmonton district’s commercial, office, retail, and hospitality components are significantly larger than the residential aspect of  the project. The new district will be focused around a new 20,000-seat multi-purpose arena for the NHL Edmonton Oilers; a community ice rink; 300,000 sq. ft. of retail and entertainment space; 370,000 sq. ft. of hotel rooms split between 2 hotels; 1.5-million sq. ft. of office space; a 90,000 sq. ft. casino; and the Winter Garden, a large covered public plaza that will be used by events. A major museum, the Royal Alberta Museum, is also slated for the Edmonton Arena District.

Rendering of the Edmonton Arena District. The new NHL arena for the Oilers is also depicted. Image source: NHL Edmonton Oilers 

 

Rendering of the outdoor public plaza at Edmonton Arena District. Image source: NHL Edmonton Oilers

Rendering of the Winter Gardens, a large covered public plaza for events, at the Edmonton Arena District. Image source: City of Edmonton

 

Goodbye, Plaza of Nations. Hello, Mediocrity.

While Edmonton is gaining a large covered public plaza (the Winter Garden) for the city’s new stadium district, Vancouver has taken a few steps back by losing its very own – the Plaza of Nations. Additional large-scale condo developments, beyond the scale of the aforementioned Rogers Arena rental towers, are also planned for the Plaza of Nations site (located across the street from Rogers Arena and BC Place on the False Creek waterfront). The Plaza of Nations has lost much of its original and full utility as an cultural and entertainment venue ever since the demolition of the outdoor amphitheatre’s glass-paned roof in 2008. What remains today of the former World’s Fair centrepiece is nothing more than a barebone skeleton structure that very few event planners would desire to use for an event.

A photo of an event at the Plaza of Nations amphitheatre in 2006 when the entire building and glass-paned roof was still intact. (Image source: Expo Museum)

A photo of an evening outdoor concert at the Plaza of Nations amphitheatre depicting the glass-paned roof from another angle. (Image source: Clubzone)

At the time prior to demolition, the Plaza of Nation’s owners (Canadian Metropolitan) claimed the outdoor glass-paned roof was leaking and that roof repairs were not possible. In reality, it was a question of money: Canadian Metropolitan had no desire in making capital investments to repair and preserve the Plaza of Nations as it had already set its eyes on the site’s eventual redevelopment potential into more condos for the area.

A rather bleak photo of the Plaza of Nations in its current form today. The glass-paned canopy roof over the plaza no longer exists. Most of the plaza’s buildings have also been demolished. (Image source: Mark and Andrea Busse)

 

For a young city with so little roots and history, the quick demise of the Plaza of Nations was not only a huge loss for the city’s entertainment scene but also its historic past. It was a landmark from Expo ’86 and, more importantly, it was one of the largest and busiest functional event spaces the city offered. Its covered outdoor space allowed for large events for up to 10,000 people, and its glass-paned roof also made it a highly attractive and functional year-round facility to use.

Last year, Canadian Metropolitan made public its redevelopment plan for the Plaza of Nations site. Known as 750 Pacific Boulevard, the residential component is the overwhelmingly dominant aspect of the entire project: it will cement the failure of the entertainment district and the growth of conflicts between residents and entertainment/events/businesses/nightlife in the area. Similar to the impact of the new Rogers Arena towers on the stadium’s event schedule, 750 Pacific Boulevard will likely also have an adverse impact on the operations of both BC Place and Rogers Arena.

750 Pacific Boulevard holds little bearing as an real “entertainment district” as it is merely a copy and expansion of the mixed-use, residential-focused built form that already exists everywhere in False Creek. The project calls for:

  • 1.4-million sq. ft. of residential space spread over 1,700 to 2,000 condo units;
  • 355,000 sq. ft. of commercial space, for a large hotel and some ground-level retail and restaurants;
  • a 57,000 sq. ft. community centre that will include a 69-children daycare and public ice rink (the rink will also double as the new practice facility for the NHL Vancouver Canucks during certain hours of the day);
  • and a 4,000 person capacity outdoor plaza for small and large local events. This new uncovered outdoor plaza will be bordered by condo towers, which we already know are not compatible with entertainment venues.

The proposal also offers no new home to Gossip Nightclub, located at one of the Plaza of Nations last remaining buildings. Gossip is Vancouver’s largest nightclub and has one of the city’s largest patron followings. As well, the design of the redevelopment has little consideration for respecting the skyline sight lines of Vancouver’s recently renovated landmark world-class stadium: BC Place.

Renderings of Canadian Metropolitan’s vision for the Plaza of Nations site, otherwise known as 750 Pacific Boulevard. (Image credit: James K.M. Cheng Architects)

Land use diagram of 750 Pacific Boulevard at the Plaza of Nations site. The proposal is largely residential – highlighted in yellow. (Image source: Vancouver Market)

 

These details so far are limited to Canadian Metropolitan’s plans for the area. It does not include the plans by Concord Pacific for its large undeveloped waterfront property to the east of the Plaza of Nations site, which will be another significant residential development. It also does not include another proposal by Concord Pacific to build more condo tower developments on the north end of the Cambie Street Bridge immediately west and across the street of BC Place: another 900 condo units. Concord Pacific is Vancouver’s largest developer and has of course been responsible for virtually all of North False Creek’s condo tower developments.

The proposed residential developments by the Aquilini Group, Canadian Metropolitan, and Concord Pacific will bring a further 7,200 residents to Northeast False Creek, the site of the BC Place and Rogers Arena stadium entertainment district.

 

Endless green lawns; Vancouver’s seawall is an obligation to exercise

The Plaza of Nations gave the False Creek central inner waterfront area the proper cultural and entertainment venue it deserved and needed. It broke up the monotony of the endless condo towers and green lawn “parks” that line the waterfront, “parks” and spaces that are completely unused 7-months out of the year when cold and wet weather takes over the city

More generic and functionless green lawn parks are even slated for the BC Place and Rogers Arena entertainment district. The City of Vancouver is pushing for a very significant expansion of Creekside Park into the undeveloped Concord Pacific property at Northeast False Creek. Area residents claim that the “much needed” park extension is needed (as the many existing parks that already exist in the area are supposedly not enough).

This is in addition to the City of Vancouver’s plan to demolish the Georgia and Dunsmuir Viaducts, to make way for even more generic green lawn park space. Somehow, the City believes more of the same, of what already exists at False Creek and Coal Harbour, is “a bold new concept” (the tagline on City produced renderings below). Did I also mention this proposal includes more condo towers for the area?

More of the same. These renderings show: an monotonous expansion of Creekside Park on Concord Pacific’s undeveloped waterfront property as well as more of the same park space on lands that used to be the Georgia and Dunsmuir Viaducts; a lot more condo towers for the area on land owned by Concord Pacific and on space that used to be the Viaducts; and road traffic that once used the Viaducts is now diverted into existing city streets – how does more car traffic make Vancouver’s streets more pedestrian and cycling-friendly? How does this proposal make sense for the stadium district, which sees surges of tens of thousands of people when events are held in and around the two stadiums? (Image source: City of Vancouver)

 

Given the lack of year-round functionality and utility, and the failure to turn waterfront spaces with so much potential into vibrant and exciting locations, Vancouver’s waterfront parks/spaces and seawall in this sense have been poorly designed. While other cities have focused on building vibrant cultural, arts, commercial, and entertainment spaces at their central zones, such as along central waterfronts, Vancouver has largely done the complete opposite.

Few Vancouverites know that a replica of Vancouver’s False Creek exists in Dubai. Dubai Marina is an uncanny replica of False Creek, right down to the handrails of the seawall, made by the exact same manufacturer. It also has the same skinny condo towers on townhouse bases. Of course, being this is Dubai, it is also larger in scale and an improved version of False Creek. Several years ago, Vancouver’s Trevor Boddy (a curator and historian of architecture/urbanism and consulting urban designer) summarized and compared Dubai Marina to False Creek in this way (from BC Business):

“The UAE version of the [Vancouver] seawall may nonetheless be a greater success than its Vancouver source. It boasts a wider diversity of people on and around it than any local shopping mall, and compared to Vancouver, their seawall is substantially wider and lined with dozens of restaurants and cafes. After my Middle Eastern trip I visited our seawall in False Creek and Coal Harbour, and it looked a little stark and Presbyterian, a narrow band for walkers and bicyclists to pass through, a kind of aerobic expressway, but almost nowhere a place to linger, with barely a half dozen restaurants along its whole length. One small strip of the Dubai Marina seawall can have that many dining options at all prices serving up a baffling variety of global cuisines, along with waterparks for children, temporary art exhibitions, live musicians and strollers in every colour and cut of national dress going – from the dishdashes and abayas of the Arabian peninsula, to South Asian dhotis and kurtas, to tank tops and Air Jordans. Dubai Marina’s seawall is an obliging urban festival; Vancouver’s seawall is an obligation to exercise.

Shops, restaurants, and cafes line the wide Dubai Marina seawall. (Image source: Maraya Projects)

 

For Vancouver, getting its two standalone beachfront restaurants at Kitsilano and English Bay has been an immense struggle alone given the Vancouver Park Board’s highly limited and conservative preconception of what a beach experience should be and what should be at a beach in order to maintain the “idea” of a “public” space. Many local area residents also held the same limited, narrow-minded views (if not, NIMBY-based arguments). The two restaurants being referred to are The Boathouse at Kitsilano (formerly Watermark Restaurant) and the recently opened Cactus Club Cafe English Bay. 

Avoiding the “big picture” benefits of what such beach restaurants could do by increasing activity on the beach and providing beach goers with an improved, more diverse and interesting experience, instead heated discussions and consultations on the Cactus Club location at English Bay ranged from topics such as opposition to “corporate branding” of public space to even the affordability of the menu. One park commissioner, who later cast the sole “no” vote, went as far as saying that “we’ll be looking to Sunset, Second Beach, Locarno, and even Spanish Banks next…will we be seeing a Red Lobster or an Earls or even a McDonald’s at those locations?”

The Watermark’s approval faced the exact same fervent opposition and tedious/strenuous process as the Cactus Club. The restaurant buildings at both beaches are owned by the Park Board (construction paid by the restaurant businesses), while the restaurant businesses lease the building space which provides the Park Board with a new stream of revenue. Opposition still existed even when the restaurants were also required to provide public amenities as part of the condition of their lease. This includes operating concession stands as part of their business and providing new beach amenities like public washrooms/change rooms to replace aging facilities.

If you have traveled to other public urban beaches elsewhere in the world (beaches with many more businesses than Vancouver’s standalone restaurants), you would know that beachfront restaurants are welcomed and embraced there as locals acknowledge it adds to the beach experience (whereas vocal Vancouverites and NIMBYs instead believe it takes away from the beach experience). Restaurants at beaches are not exactly a brand new concept.

The Boathouse Restaurant at Kitsilano Beach (Image source: Stephen Hui)

Cactus Club Cafe at English Bay (Image source: Clayton Perry

 

In 2011, I visited Singapore and one of the aspects that I quickly noticed about the city’s Marina Bay central inner harbour was the waterway’s striking natural resemblance to False Creek. Like Vancouver’s False Creek, Marina Bay is a part of the city’s Downtown core and it flanks the central business district. However, it was also anything but like False Creek. In my mind, Marina Bay is what the eastern end of False Creek should be like.

While Vancouver’s city planners and politicians allowed virtually all of False Creek (particularly the aforementioned entertainment district around BC Place, Rogers Arena, and the Plaza of Nations) to become a private sleepy residential community, Singapore instead created a firm and unchanging masterplan and vision of turning Marina Bay into a 24/7 destination for the public. It is now the city’s largest and most significant entertainment district.

Singapore’s Marina Bay is edged with a wide pedestrian seawall, as if the entire circumference of the Bay were lined by a large continuous plaza. I walked the entire circumference of the harbour, and I have to say it was one of the most enjoyable and interesting urban walks I have ever had, even during the middle of the night. It was vibrant around the clock, filled with both locals and tourists. Its well-planned design, central location (just like False Creek), and appeal made it a natural fit to be the main site of the city’s major events and festivals, including the National Day Parade, Singapore Fireworks Celebrations, New Year’s Eve Countdown, and the Formula 1 Singapore Grand Prix (You may recall that False Creek was the site for Molson Indy Vancouver from 1990 to 2004; residential noise complaints for the mere 1-day race event played a part in its cancellation. It was one of Vancouver’s largest events, attracting 300,000+ people each year.).

Unlike the condo towers that line False Creek, commercial-based development (offices and hotels) largely dominate Marina Bay (as mentioned above, commercial development in entertainment zones is most ideal). Marina Bay’s attractions and venues have also played a vital role for the area’s success in becoming the city’s main entertainment district. This includes the Esplanade (a major concert hall and  theatre), The Float (a 30,000-seat stadium with the world’s largest floating stage), Singapore Flyer (the tallest ferris wheel in the world), museums and outdoor exhibits, numerous shopping centres, convention centres, covered outdoor stages, and countless restaurants.

The most significant attraction and venue at Singapore’s central inner harbour is Marina Bay Sands – the world’s most expensive standalone casino property, built by Las Vegas Sands and designed by Moshe Safdie (the same architect behind Vancouver’s Library Square). Marina Bay Sands is the hub of the entertainment district and since its completion in 2010 it has become Singapore’s most renown landmark building. While it is billed as a casino, in reality it is a entertainment destination and resort first: the casino floor makes up just 161,000 square ft. of the 10-million square ft. development. This includes:

  • 2.8-million sq. ft. for 2,560 hotel rooms spanning 3 towers;
  • 107,000 sq. ft. rooftop SkyPark that brings together a public observatory, jogging paths, gardens, restaurants, lounges, and an infinity swimming pool. The three hotel towers are interconnected at the top (200-metres/656-feet);
  • 800,000 sq. ft. of retail and restaurant space, largely focused around The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands (a shopping centre);
  • 240,000 sq. ft. for two theatres, with a combined seating capacity of 4,000, which recently showcased a live theatre production of The Lion King;
  • 1.3-million sq. ft. of convention and exhibition space, including one of Asia’s largest ballrooms;
  • 64,000 sq. ft. of nightclubs.
  • and a 54,000 sq. ft. outdoor event plaza capable of hosting up to 10,000 people for a diverse range of international and live performances.

An aerial photo of Marina Bay, the hallmark of Singapore’s entertainment, taken from the top of the Singapore Flyer ferries wheel. To the left, Marina Bay Sands; in the middle, ArtScience Museum and the Helix pedestrian bridge; on the right, the Float stadium and Esplanade. (Image source: Kenny Teo)

The crown jewel of Singapore: Marina Bay Sands. (Image source: Alan Chia)

The Esplanade’s covered outdoor amphitheatre at Marina Bay delivers a stunning performance to a large crowd. (Image source: David Ng Soon Thong)

Nightly laser shows entertain local and tourist crowds at Marina Bay. (Image source: Kenny Teo).

 

“These streets will make you feel brand new; Big lights will inspire you.” Let’s [try to] hear it for Vancouver.

Instead of turning the eastern end of False Creek into a true entertainment zone, one that is lively and vibrant like Singapore’s Marina Bay, we have instead built a quiet, sleepy residential community. Residential developments dominate the area, and it now defines what was supposed to have been an entertainment district. Residents living in these immediate areas have also been given the power and voice to suppress the character of what was supposed to have been a true entertainment district. Instead of being a part of the entertainment district and Downtown area they have moved into, many vocal residents have instead decided to suppress it.

Over the last several years, the provincial government has kindly reminded the City of Vancouver of the original vision for an entertainment district around the BC Place and Rogers Arena zone. In 2008, the provincial government announced its plans to revitalize BC Place into a world-class stadium facility with major aesthetic renovations and a new retractable roof. In its announcement of renewing BC Place’s lifespan with these renovations, the provincial government made explicit its vision of retaining and enforcing the entertainment zone around BC Place. Included in the stadium renovation announcement was even a proposal to relocate the Vancouver Art Gallery to a new location right across the street from BC Place at the Plaza of Nations site on the False Creek waterfront. This would certainly have further re-enforced the area’s purpose as an entertainment district, however, the art gallery proposal was canceled due to the concerns of building the museum’s underground art storage facility so close to False Creek.

An early rendering depicting the conceptual design of the new BC Place roof and the new Vancouver Art Gallery at the Plaza of Nations site. (Image source: Government of BC)

 

The provincial government could very well have made the decision to sell the BC Place lands, demolish the stadium, redevelop the site into condos, and build a smaller 40,000-seat replacement barebone stadium in Surrey. The site holds a value of approximately $300-million, but this was not the path the provincial government took.  While property developers and the City of Vancouver have often chosen the condo development route for easy and quick profits and tax revenue, the provincial government saw the non-monetary value of retaining and enhancing what was already there. It saw the much greater value of having a stadium located in British Columbia’s financial, business, cultural, and entertainment centre: Downtown Vancouver. Instead of building a new facility in the middle-of-nowhere, the provincial government also saw the value of having a pedestrian-friendly stadium that is widely accessible by foot and public transit. It saw the value of the stadium’s pedestrian-based crowds to the businesses of Downtown Vancouver, and as iterated before it wanted to re-enforce the area’s original vision as an entertainment district. Altogether, a stadium located in Downtown Vancouver had much more potential for the entire region and province than a facility located elsewhere, such as Surrey.

The provincial government also took the opportunity to remind the City of Vancouver again of the original vision of the stadium entertainment zone with its 2010 proposal to build a destination entertainment complex at BC Place – a miniature version of Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands. The proposal also included a casino that would become the new and expanded home of Edgewater Casino, currently located across the street in one of the last remaining buildings at the Plaza of Nations. Like the Singapore example mentioned in an earlier section of this article, this is an entertainment destination first and a casino second. The 24-hour casino gambling hall is just 110,000 square feet of the 800,000 square feet proposal. The remaining space in the $500-million development would comprise of 650 hotel rooms within two international-branded hotels in two towers, six restaurants, a show theatre and lounge, spa, convention and meeting space, and retail space. The entire entertainment complex would be fully integrated into BC Place with direct access into the stadium concourse.

However, this proposal (which included an expanded Edgewater Casino) was rejected by Vancouver City Council in April 2011 due to vocal opposition by local area residents and anti-gaming activists during public hearings. Instead, later that year, City Council approved the entertainment complex development but with the condition that the casino gaming floor be the same size as the existing Edgewater Casino.

Paragon Gaming, the complex’s developers and operators, desired for a destination casino with 1,500 slot machines and 150 gaming tables; Council’s approval gave the green light to only retain Edgewater Casino’s existing size of 600 slot machines and 75 gaming tables. Given that the development was located on crown lands, the provincial government was not required to submi to the City of Vancouver for development approval but it chose to out of good faith. The construction of the entertainment complex, which would have generated revenues to contribute towards the construction and annual maintenance costs of the new BC Place, is currently on hold in hopes of a future City Council that will be more favourable towards an expanded casino.

A rendering of the $500-million casino-entertainment-hotel complex at BC Place Stadium. (Image source: Paragon Gaming)

 

On the other hand, with BC Place’s new design, the province opted to not engage the city for consultation and approval with the stadium renovation development. With that said, the stadium’s new design was certainly not half-hearted nor tamed. Its design has given new life not just to the facility but also to the area as an entertainment district and Downtown skyline. The four-storey tall stadium light display (dubbed the Northern Lights) that circulates the upper sections of BC Place as well as the outdoor electronic billboards outside of the stadium are a sign to the liveliness of the area as an entertainment district. The Northern Lights display is lit up every night (until 10 pm on most nights), and in different colours for holidays, occasions and events inside the stadium. You may have recently seen a giant candy cane or even a giant British flag circulate the stadium’s brilliant light display system.

BC Place Stadium lit up as a giant Union Jack for Paul McCartney’s sold-out concert on November 25, 2012. (Image source: Ann Hung)

 

As mentioned earlier in this article, another feature of the renovated BC Place are the new electronic video screens that have been installed outside the stadium. Some of these new giant screens replaced existing older aging screens, while others were new additions to the stadium. These screens are common outside stadiums around the world, and like the giant Northern Lights display it all plays a part with indicating the liveliness of the zone as an entertainment district. However, stadium officials at Pavco have received vocal complaints from local condo residents who are irked over the bright light emitted from the stadium’s new high-definition electronic screens. This is yet another example of the clash Vancouver has between its entertainment districts and its encroaching residential developments, and why residential does not belong in such areas. However, the City of Vancouver unfortunately does not seem to see this matter in the same manner.

With regards to the residents who have been complaining about the Terry Fox Plaza screen on Robson Street, they have been hostile and unwilling to compromise with Pavco on the operations of the screens. Pavco has turned off the contested Terry Fox Plaza screen from 4 pm to 8 am everyday as a significant compromise to these residents, but despite this these vocal residents still want to see the billboards gone. No compromise, whatsoever. To them the screen is, in highly sensationalist terms, the “Eye of Mordor.”

The “problem” new electronic billboard at BC Place, located at Terry Fox Plaza on Robson Street. (Image source: Squeaky Marmot)

 

With the BC Place casino-entertainment complex project, public opposition also amounted to local residents complaining that “it’ll bring increased traffic…[as] right now it’s a fairly quiet neighbourhood, and it’ll take away from the neighbourhood feel.”  In response to this view, one former area resident put it quite aptly: “If you live in downtown and you want peace and quiet, you’re stupid, you’re really stupid.”

Vancouver is one of the few major and rising cities in the world where such vocal complaints arise, and where the “concerns” of the few (often “Not In My Backyard” or NIMBY activists) are valued much more than the views of the majority (what might also be called “the big picture”). In contrast, in other major cities where such a situation exists (whether it be light or noise) people have accepted it as a fundamental aspect of living in a busy, vibrant big city and there is no outrage as a result (whereas many Vancouverites have bought a condo for a view and the convenience but have failed to adjust for the other factors of living  that preside in a dense urban environment). 

Vancouver’s regressive nature has been a big part of its history. It may be difficult to believe that Vancouver at one point during the mid-20th century had the most neon signage and displays in North America. Before the advent of the great lights of the Las Vegas Strip, Vancouver was one of the first cities in North America to explore the usage of neon lights. Over several decades, beginning in the 1920s and particularly along Hastings, Granville, and in Chinatown, streets were lined with a mass of continuous glowing neon signs. At its peak in the 1950s, there were more than 18,000 neon signs in the Downtown Vancouver peninsula. Most of these signs were located along the “Great White Way” on Granville Street. According to John Atkin, President of Heritage Vancouver:

“Opinion-makers and civic leaders were making noises about the ‘neon jungle’ and the ‘hideous spectacle’ neon created. Debate reached absurd proportions when one alderperson blamed neon for litter and prostitution problems.

Bylaws were passed and severely limiting the type and size of sign. The unexpected result: a new lack of ambient light. Few realized the color and movement from these signs played in creating the spectacle of a lively street (especially in the rain) and it’s not surprising that shortly after the sign bylaws were passed people began discussing the dying downtown.”

Photos of neon Vancouver in the 1950s. (Image source: Fred Herzog)

 

In a dark, grey, dreary city like Vancouver, a shot of colour is a great reprieve during the many wet and cold months. While some might call it light pollution and a waste of energy, more lighting is what Vancouver needs, particularly in the Downtown area. Lighting breathes life into the night: this is common in many city centres around the world and it is absolutely essential for entertainment zones.

However, Downtown residents have been frequently riled up over the installation of new lighting features. Like BC Place’s uncompromising neighbours, local residents made vocal complaints over the public art lighting fixture on the recently completed West Pender Place (read more about this below).

Prior to the 2010 Winter Olympics, the City of Vancouver gave Granville Street (another entertainment district) a $20-million makeover. Part of the intention of the makeover was to re-animate the strip – to give the street an urban design that would acknowledge and renew Granville’s historic past of being “the life of the city.” In particular, the large and bright tubular lights installed on Granville Street have re-enforced the strip as an active, vibrant, and lively entertainment zone.

The newly redesigned Granville Street in Downtown Vancouver becomes the life of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games street party. Also depicted, the street’s new large and bright tubular lights. (Image source: James Sherrett)

 

The City of Vancouver has come full circle today, and in an attempt to correct its past wrongdoings it is now encouraging the return of the city’s neon signage – both new and historic. However, given the high-cost of modern neon signage and the continued local area resident opposition to outdoor lighting features, this policy has gained little traction. Some of the last few historic neon lights the city possesses have been preserved as an permanent exhibition at the Museum of Vancouver. The fact that it now deserves to be an museum exhibit symbolizes how far we have regressed.

To iterate again, in a dark, grey, dreary city like Vancouver, a shot of colour is a great reprieve during the many wet and cold months. Lighting breathes life into the night: this is common in many city centres around the world and it is absolutely essential for entertainment zones.

Vancouver is fortunate to be the natural and scenic recreational “playground” that it is renown for, but the truth is it cannot depend on this alone. It has become far too overdependent and self-aware of its natural surroundings to the point that it has become grossly complacent and arrogant with its self-development. It is my hope that Vancouver can become a truly vibrant, interesting, dynamic, diverse and cultured place where people know how to enjoy themselves; a City Centre, Downtown stadium, or entertainment area ought to attract the type of residents that would not complain about developments that would be expected there. Simultaneously, the City of Vancouver cannot afford to nor should it continue to conduct policies and approve development proposals that continue to give Vancouver its “No Fun City” moniker. The big picture is at stake. 

 

WRITTEN AND RESEARCHED BY KENNETH CHAN, A COLUMNIST AT VANCITY BUZZ. FOLLOW KENNETH ON TWITTER: @kjmagine

Featured image credit: Vancouver Canucks

 

WEST PENDER PLACE LIGHTING FEATURE

This was yet another example of Downtown area residents complaining about something that was meant to enhance our experience of the city: This light installation on the recently completed West Pender Place in Coal Harbour was designed by Dutch artist Tamar Frank at a cost of $400,000 to building developer Reliance Properties. It is designed to change colours while illuminating the building’s blank, grey wall. It was a refreshing touch in a city where blandness and monotony was running rampant.

The LED lights were originally meant to be turned on all night, but are now shut off at 10 pm due to complaints by neighbours. One neighbour remarked that “light is very intrusive, and it basically overpowers everything else in the view…as evening comes in, it becomes darker, the mountains turn different shades of green, the water goes silver, the lights come on in various buildings, it’s nice and peaceful, all of a sudden I’ve got this disco scene happening right smack in the middle, and that’s all you see.” In response to these complaints, Brent Toderian, the City’s Director of Planning at the time, had this to say: “The art was intended to play a role in the city’s public art landscape, as well as improve some architectural conditions of the proposed building…[so] we’re not contemplating requiring the art to be shut off. What we do believe is that its neighbourliness can be improved.” Local area residents, like BC Place’s neighbours, did not want to compromise to Toderian’s suggestion of lowering the brightness of the LEDs and shutting it off at 10 pm. Instead, they argued to have it turned off completely at all times.

As iterated in this article above, this is a model example of residents moving into the Downtown area with unrealistic expectations. They have not accepted what life in a busy centre is: lights, noise, traffic, and everything else that you get from living in a dense urban environment. To put it quite bluntly, “if these fools were forced to live in Shinjuku, Manhattan or Berlin for two weeks they would go completely batshit insane.” (Image source: Tamar Frank)

 

THE ORIGINAL DOWNTOWN CONVENTION CENTRE PROPOSAL

One of the first proposals for expanded convention facilities in Vancouver included architect Bing Thom’s 1995 vision to build the city’s second convention centre in and around BC Place Stadium, Rogers Arena, and the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. The project would have further cemented the stadium precinct’s purpose and utility as an entertainment district. It would have built 800,000 square feet of meeting and convention space, including the integration and renovation of BC Place into the new convention facility. The stadium floor was to be raised, reducing seating to 50,000, to build a new level of underground exhibition halls under the stadium floor. The proposal also called for the integration of the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Rogers Arena, and the construction of a 1,250 room hotel in addition to public space with shops, restaurants, and cafes. A large fountain and lighting feature in the middle of False Creek was also part of the vision. However, while it was a unique idea, the provincial government at the time rightly favoured the idea of building an expanded convention centre facility (the expansion of the existing Vancouver Convention Centre at Canada Place) on the Burrard Landing Site in Coal Harbour. (Image source: Bing Thom Architects)

Speak Up

  • Gorin

    Wow and you wonder why this city is full of spineless politicians ready to get donkey punched by developers. Gregor doesn’t care about the city. He cares about looking good in the eyes of environmentalists and artistic people. Nothing wrong with that but you know what this city is still NO FUN. Two days a week it has some action the rest it sucks and I blame the city and it’s lack of resources for event planning (FYI they don’t have any) and all the old white people in city hall running the show. They have no clue about anything when it comes to entertainment because well they are too old and have been raised in the hallows of shelter white suburban city life. 

    What this city needs is a full on ENTERTAINMENT AND EVENTS Staff or else we’ll always be a no fun city. Oh and scrap those liquor laws, they fucking suck!

  • Stevejimbojones

    what a loss losing Gossip nightclub! where are these douchebags doing to pop E and dance now?

  • http://twitter.com/GrahamBingham Graham Bingham

    Smashingly well researched and written piece.  This truly illustrates what’s wrong with the so-called Vancouverism and it’s reliance on condos.  While it has perhaps served us well in the past, it cannot be applied homogeneously to the city.  Our city council of current as well as that of the past seem to favour a sleepy, tucked in, city culture that is fearful of entertainment.  If the 2010 Olympics taught us anything, it’s that Vancouverites love a good time, and can be well behaved in a large groups, notwithstanding the anomoly that was the Stanley Cup Riots of past.  The biggest issue here is cowing to the NIMBYs.  Why give such power to a small vocal minority boggles my mind.  I hope more people like Kenneth Chan speak out on this.  Man, if EDMONTON can do it, why can’t Vancouver? 

  • mrza

    Thank you, for talking some sense.

    And before you complainers judge me. I live in one of these lifeless tower towers right next to BC place. I was there when the workers woke me up during the renovation of BC place every single day, but I stayed because I knew the view from my bedroom was about to get better.

  • http://twitter.com/GardinerHanson Gardiner Hanson

    Great article!! Very thought provoking in raising some very serious issues regarding this area. Although I’m no longer a resident of Vancouver (and therefore not able to comment on proposed applications), I would encourage others who are concerned about losing the original entertainment focus of this area to more condos, to provide feedback to council regarding the pending Plaza of Nations rezoning application here: http://former.vancouver.ca/commsvcs/planning/rezoning/applications/750pacific/index.htm
    All of the information regarding the proposal can be found there as well. 

    Beyond that, I’d like to say enough is enough in the no fun city though. We’ve already lost too many important venues across the downtown core and we only stand to lose more the way things are going. Richards on Richards was devastating back in the day and places like The Waldorf will also be if nothing can be done to save them. Here we’re not talking about one single venue, but an entire district that was always supposed to be for entertainment and is now being pushed aside for more waterfront condo’s. Now that I’ve read this, I feel much more enlightened to the potential irreversible loss that may be seen if we allow more condo’s in this area. 

    Personally I would love to see a dedicated pub/club stroll around the stadiums. I’ve always loved that vibe down in Seattle when you’re heading through Pioneer Square district on the way to their stadiums and the whole strip is packed with sports bars brimming with people who weren’t fortunate enough to get into the game. It’s fun, it’s vibrant, it’s a great atmosphere and there’s no reason we couldn’t have something similar in Vancouver. One could argue Robson and Beatty serve that function, but I’d argue it’s nowhere near as good. 

    In my opinion, this is also a question about competitiveness. Every large scale city in the world is fighting tooth and nail to attract new talent and employers into their boundaries. So far I would say Vancouver is losing in this regard. If Vancouver wants to continue to attract and retain premier talent to the region, they need to start being more open to opening up more possibilities for having interesting events for younger generations who are very interested in not only a green, sustainable and urbane city, but also a fun one (and let’s not even start about affordability). Let’s see some less liquor regulations, less stringent zoning land use controls, more adaptability for events and in the end a greater, diverse city. Until such things change, Vancouver will continue to only have the ocean and the mountains to attract people and that’s only good enough for so long. 

    As an aside about the lighting issues in the article. I agree with most of the points raised in this article. We do need to move forward and promote some excitement on the streets through interesting visual stimulation and I hope we can. But I did used to date a girl in Victoria who lived near the new Save on Foods Centre and man that electronic sign board was soooo fricking annoying inside an apartment. When it would turn on – BOOOM – you were awake and couldn’t get back to sleep. So I do sympathize with the locals, but I also do enjoy them when they are not bothering myself (so I guess that’s my own little nimbyism). But like you said Kenneth – big picture right!!

  • Asdk

    Mr. Kenneth Chan. Vancitybuzz is very fortunate to have a columnist such as yourself. Keep up the great work.

  • Guest

    Amazing article….

  • kaler

    This is a well researched article but your title is link bait.  Development in False Creek has nothing to do with The Waldorf. Non sequitur.

    I currently live in False Creek and have lived downtown for more than a decade.  Your war against green spaces is misguided.  My Vancouver friends are much healthier than my friends that live in other urban centres.  They are also much healthier than my friends that live in the suburbs.  This is a direct result of being within walking distance of parks, community centres, gyms, and yoga studios.

    I work in tech.  I live in Yaletown and work in Gastown.  This is the future.  Tech employees will not work at a company that they can not walk to.  Separating residential from commercial developments is a terrible idea.  You end up with sprawling suburbs like LA.  You end up with monstrosities like the Port Mann Bridge.  Suburbs are the past.  Dense, multi-use urban cores are the future.

    NIMBYism is rampant in Vancouver.  The Plaza of Nations is terrible and it should be torn down and rebuilt.  However, the hotel and casino proposal for that area was not adequate with regards to safety and policing.  Casinos are a net loss for most communities unless you are a Las Vegas style resort.  This is why casinos are usually put along freeways away from everything else.

    Your premise that downtown Vancouver is sleepy bedroom community is a strawman argument.  I was out until 2am last night after the Canucks game.  On a Wedndesday night.  There is something to do every night and people to do it with.  Say hi to your neighbour.  Plan a night with friends.  There isn’t a shortage of things to do.  There is just an excess of complaining.

    Your opinion seems to be that the entirety of downtown Vancouver should be like Granville Street.  That is fantastic if you are a 19 year old kid that enjoys holding your friends hair back as they puke into the gutter.  Us adults go out for dinner in restaurants in Gastown.  Or we go to watch a concert at Guilt and Co, Commodore, Railway, Media Club, etc.  Or we watch hockey, football, or basketball at a bar or pub.

    Vegas is fine to visit for a weekend but it is a terrible place.  Don’t try to create Vancouver in its image.

  • Andrew

    impressive article

  • http://twitter.com/HungryCL ChrisL

    Well done. This was a great article and highlight the historic past of how we came to be. But what it’s lacking is what we can do as individuals to change or evolve the city so we have more fun, rather than relying upon city hall, or a generous benefactor, who would have to rely upon a “build it, and they will come” mentality.

    Other cities I’ve visited that have a good mix of urban residential, commercial and entertainment include: Sydney, Australia – Darling Harbor, Barcelona, Spain – La Rumba, and Hong Kong.

  • http://twitter.com/Phanyxx ♔ Nick Routley

    Man, Kaler really nailed it with his comments. Not much to add.

  • PepeAndy

    I think you need to travel buddy. A lot more.

  • KenChanVCBuzz

    I respectively disagree. The Waldorf is very much a symptom of a much larger problem in the city. Hence its relation. It might not be a relation of location, but it’s certainly a relation of the same pattern we are seeing. I probably would not have written this if it weren’t for the Waldorf.

    There is no “war” against green spaces, but surely we could design public spaces that see more utility in the cold, winter months. Apart from the summer months and a little of spring and fall, these spaces are virtually empty for more than half the year. Vancouver has had an all or nothing attitude with green space as being the same, monotonous green lawns. Being more creative with how we design our urban spaces doesn’t mean we’re sacrificing the health of our citizens. But the problem also lies with the fact that nearly all of Downtown is residential, hence the perceived “need” for these green lawns everywhere…which leads to my next point…

    With mixed-used developments, there are certainly benefits to what has been called “Vancouverism.” We’ve seen that in countless studies. But at the same time mixed-used certainly do not belong in certain areas that require a distinct character, in order for such areas innovate and flourish as in entertainment districts. I’ve criticized mixed-used developments as being on the tipping point of turning into a bad thing if it is applied to every area of the city. It certainly does not mean I’m opposed to density, if anything I’m a huge supporter of density and walkable cities. However, there are plenty of other areas that could be developed with residential besides encroaching on and killing our entertainment districts. Retaining a distinct use for certain areas in Downtown Vancouver doesn’t hurt its walkability and transit connectivity, the peninsula is tiny as it is and it is quick to get from one area of Downtown to another.

    The Plaza of Nations as it is today in its current form is indeed terrible and needs to be demolished. But the point of the article that you completely missed was to iterate that just a few years ago, it was anything but – it was a great facility that could’ve been revitalized if there was a will for it and had developers not set their eyes on more condos across from BC Place and Rogers Arena. Instead, we’re getting more condos for the stadium entertainment zone and an outdoor replacement plaza with little utility in the cold, winter months. Vancouver needs more covered public spaces. As for the casino, it will eventually be built in its desired form. And surely, the entertainment districts could see public spaces other than more green lawn parks. We’ve got that everywhere in the Downtown peninsula and we already have it at East False Creek’s Creekside Park and elsewhere in the area including the Olympic Village.

    Stuff to do on a night b/c of a Canucks game? Even you yourself pointed out that the city is heavily dependent on those game crowds for nightlife. What about every other night when there isn’t something? That’s what other cities offer and where Vancouver differs. What if people have other interests? The whole point is to create a city that offers a diverse spectrum of events and activities for all ages and interests. What Vancouver offers might be fine for its older adult populace, but its options for youth and young adults is very limited. Having fun things that appeal to younger generations is part of the solution to reduce the brain drain our city is experiencing.

    “Say hi to your neighbour. Plan a night with friends. There isn’t a shortage of things to do. There is just an excess of complaining.” …. You can do that basically anywhere. In any village, town, suburb, in a farming community, etc. Instead, I am talking about what the city’s built form offers you. What you’re talking about is a social life. This is very much a case of apples and oranges.

    I’m not saying the entire Downtown should be like the Granville strip, but there needs to be more of it. And where there should be more of it (and where there was supposed to be more of it), there isn’t as there are residential and NIMBYs in these entertainment zones. And they overwhelmingly dominate the character of such zones. I’m not even comparing ourselves to Las Vegas (the neon lights bit was just a quick fact), rather I’m comparing Vancouver to certain Asian and European cities. And perhaps a few North American ones too, but not Las Vegas.

    I think you’ve largely missed the point of my article.

  • kaler

    The largest problem with development in Vancouver is that you have only 2 choices:
    1) Vancouverism style condo
    2) Single family detached home

    The Vancouverism style condo works for me and mixed use should be the rule downtown.
    My parents live in South Van and the single family detached home works for them.

    There needs to be a diversity of development types. However Vancouverism should be the way forward on the peninsula.  Low rises and other development types should push forward along South Main and East Van.

    I have no problems with more lights and noise from concerts.  I can hear BC Place from my place and the large billboard shines into my place.  I sleep with earplugs and a mask.  I don’t care.  Just don’t turn the place into Vegas.

    > Stuff to do on a night b/c of a Canucks game?

    I’m headed to join friends at a Crossfit class and then heading to Guilt and Co to listen to soul music.  No Canucks game involved.  There is a ton of stuff to do every night.  Stop complaining.

  • Ergotron

    Yeah you really don’t get this article.

    And as the guy below said try traveling a bit more.

  • Trixahdeshade

    It’s always difficult to see the forest for the trees. I think your view is emblematic of many of the people inhabiting this overtly tier 2 city, that think this is how ‘city life’ should be…the same people that excitedly discuss “…how fantastic it was to listen to the music from the boats on the Seine as we enjoyed a bottle of wine on the Left Bank..’, but then call the city to complain when a cruise in False Creek dares to play music within the Harbour…or when a young couple dare to drink something on a bench alongside it. 

    Exercise is excellent, but not a vibrant city culture does it make. Mr. Chan rightly looks up to Singapore as an example of density/green living/modern social spaces, and I would agree with him, but even that city state is looked at by visitors as relatively boring in comparison to more vibrant hubs….and we aren’t even achieving their level of urbanity. 

    Our arrogance is retarding our progress, and it is clear to all except for those who haven’t had a chance to view this ‘town’ from afar. Vancouver certainly isn’t boring in comparison to Merritt, or Kelowna, or Brandon MB, but what about cities that we claim to be rivalling- Sydney, Shanghai, or Montreal? Boooooooring. 

  • http://www.anthonymaw.com/ Anthony Maw

    The condo craze in greater vancouver has just gone insane.  Property developers are recklessly putting up towers on every piece of land they can get their hands on.  In the 70s Vancouver City Council had the good mind to put a moratorium on high rise apartment development in the West End to help preserve it’s character.  I think today the cash strapped city councils are shortsighted in their planning approach. Even more sinister is that most condos are bought with bank mortgaged money further inflating Canada’s M3 money supply and driving consumer price inflation even higher….

  • Tamara

    This article embodies my feelings towards Vancouver’s
    Downtown quite effectively. I currently live in the so called entertainment
    district and as time passes I often wonder why. I moved here because I thought
    there would be “life” and a unique atmosphere to the area, however, it comes across
    quite dreary. I feel disappointed that there is no exceptional direction to which downtown Vancouver aspires. In recent years it feels as if personality
    and uniqueness of downtown areas have been replaced by a boring residential sameness.
    Why live here when suburbs or small towns feel culturally vibrant?  

  • http://twitter.com/adamnowek Adam Nowek

    Sigh.

    On the one hand, I see this ‘residential-next-to-stadium-districts-is-stupid’ rhetoric, which I literally can’t stand. This isn’t Hong Kong, nor should it be: ‘entertainment districts’ as such should not be the way that a city’s image is defined. Ever been to Lan Kwai Fong in Hong Kong or Leidseplein in Amsterdam? These are not places that you’d want to live close to for one reason: they suck. Rigidly defined entertainment districts effectively destroy a particular segment of the city, turning it into a vacuum of debauchery, largely for people that don’t even live there. It baffles the mind that anyone would suggest that diverse, inclusive neighbourhoods are not a good thing. Isolating segments of urbanity (whether it’s residential, commercial, industrial, or evening entertainment) is what leads to rampant suburban development. Greater Vancouver has enough of that already.

    On the other, I’m with kaler. The title is purely to generate traffic. If you think the reasons that the site covering The Waldorf will be developed with high-rise residential are the same as the reasons for placing high-rise residential in the stadium district, then you’re either completely delusional or you’ve never actually been to that part of town before.

    This article is nothing more than unnecessary exaggeration on the state of Vancouver’s development.

  • http://twitter.com/adamnowek Adam Nowek

    “Many cities have built proper entertainment zones around their stadiums. For instance, in North America these entertainment district developments have been achieved in cities that include Los Angeles, Columbus, San Diego, and Indianapolis.”

    This actually made me cackle maniacally. If you’re saying that Vancouver needs to base its urban design and planning decisions on what’s going on in these cities, then we’re all screwed.

  • http://twitter.com/seanorr SEAN ORR

    you must be new

  • Andre

    This article was a great read and a must read.  Today, I just found out about the two proposed towers as I went to the Canucks Store at Rogers Arena. I have never been more disgusted to be a born-and-raised Vancouverite than I am right now. Vancouver is on the verge of becoming one of North America’s ugliest cities, with no thanks to local and provincial politicians. Just imagine if we didn’t have the North Shore mountains, Stanley Park, and the surrounding waters. What’s just as bad is that these cookie-cutter condos have no character. Only glass. And more glass. Does every single block in the city have to have a bloody highrise? Look at what’s happened to the Ridge Theatre and its bowling alley. How about 50+ year-old single family homes with character replaced by monster houses and 6-story townhouses? Bottom line is this: Vancouver, which was once a beautiful city with heart and character has become an over-rated and over-priced city that only caters to rich developers, foreign investers, and the politically correct.  Very, very, sad.

  • Andre

    Here is a link to an excellent article I had read in Vancouver 24 Hours back in November.
    http://vancouver.24hrs.ca/2012/11/07/vancouvers-good-looks-rooted-in-geography

  • Tara Chee

    I agree with rebuilding the Plaza of Nations area to be something of a mini Marina-Bay, but we don’t need another sprawling entertainment district. Aren’t they planning to tear down the Georgia Viaduct and build a mixed-use residential/commercial area with green spaces? I can’t see why this can’t be incorporated in as an extension of our seawall into a beautiful and scenic neighbourhood with good restaurants and entertainment venues, with much of the outdoor entertainment/glittery lights focused around where the Plaza Nations is currently. The current proposal certainly lends to that vision in the future. What I’m more more concerned about is the propensity for restaurant groups (like Donnelly and Glowbal) to buy up prime locations and developing them into cookie cutter mediocre to slightly above average restaurants. We don’t need another Boathouse restaurant or Cactus Club Cafe along our seawall, not if we truly want to attract culinary and artistic talent to truly bring character to a new neighbourhood.

    PS As beautiful of man-made wonders Dubai and Abu Dhabi are, I do not ever want Vancouver to follow their example; they are monuments to artificiality created splendor and wealth, made for tourists and by the labour of imported indentured servants who nominally have no legal rights or representation in the UAE and work for room and board. Nor do I want Vancouver to be the sprawling messes that LA, Orlando, and *cringes* Edmonton are. Also having lived in New York for a couple months, I have to say Times Square might be pretty with all the lights and nice to walk (more like crawl) through once in awhile, it is nearly exclusively catered to tourists, and is full of mediocre and tourist trap restaurants and chains. Your average New Yorker frankly would only go to Times Square for the Broadway shows or if they worked in Midtown.

  • Alex s

    Perhaps if you travel more and visit cities like London, Paris, Dubai, Singapore, New York, and even in our own backyard, Toronto and Montreal you would not have such a closed minded interpretation of this article. No one is suggesting to turn vancouver into a Las Vegas, nor can you. It seems you are one of the problems with this city, your lack of vision for entertainment is very conservative and thus you seem to be satisfied with this beautiful boring city, unfortunately for the rest of us we see the lack of….and see what’s missing, so we intend to do something about it. Downtown core senior citizens and families with kids should not have priority over the liveliness of a city, Vancouver has way more potential than this, I believe billions of dollars can be invested to all aspects of this city to make it more appealing and entertaining only if allowed by the “party poopers”. Just to give you an example, when you go to California, south of France, Dubai and surrounding Persian gulf states, you experience creative ideas which makes you wanna come back, it enhances your exprience of the place, why don’t we have a beach in Vancouver where you can rent cabanas, and fresh towels with water during the summer months, why are we still leaning on mold infested lugs that are laid on the beach, what’s wrong with having nice music and entertainment on the beach. Perhaps you forgot the battle it took to build a restaurant on kits beach due to all the complaints, and the same for the cactus club on English bay. I can go on and on but I think you have a narrow point of view and are very biased on your stance and extremely defensive, so you are one cookie that won’t change his mind, but from the other posts its good to see the majority is on the same page.

    I do agree with you on the title of this article, it is somewhat misleading, but yet again your negative nature disregarded an exceptional, informative, and constructive article and focused on the title as irrelevant. You are right the title should have been, why Vancouver is so damn boring.

    Regarding the waterfront, I have a friend whom purchased two retail units on the sea walk to turn it into a lounge only to be shut down by the neighbours for noise and crowd complaints, if this was New York, Toronto, Dubai, London they would have allow the lounge, pub, whatever to operate thus generating millions in revenue, taxes, employment, etc and told the people complaining that if you are not happy with your environment, MOVE!

    Half a dozen old and boring seniors or in your case juniors should never dictate a life of the city, should not even be living in the city. That’s why we have west Vancouver, north Vancouver and a dozen other suburbs.

    And the last thing that came to mind, I remember when they were trying to widen the lions gate causeway, and a retarded environmentalists would tie themselves to the few trees that needed to be cut to complete the job. Well at the end they environmentalists won, the causeway remained three lanes, thousands of commuters are stuck in traffic every day in the same cause way emitting major CO2 to the environment; now here is the funny part, a year later the storm hits Stanley park and wipes out hundreds of trees. This is called Vancouver logic, this is why Vancouver is where it is, this is Vancouver!

    Lets change it, next time a silly boy climbs a tree, rather than playing the violin and cry him a river lets egg him, lets put a stop to this madness.

    Btw your irrational logic behind greenery on the sea walk and healthiness of the city is so baseless that I don’t even know what to say to that. Would you like me to list a dozen or more cities with very little greenery but much healthier population.

    Buddy my suggestion to you is rather than wasting your money on Canucks games, go travel, and if you have then you must of been blind.

    I think that was enough for your first session….

    Adios ;)

  • Alex

    Mr. Ken chan I applaud you, I respect you, and I see people like you as the change we want to see in this beautiful city. Your should be on the board of the city, you should be the consultant on the future planning of this city, thanks you for this article, This article was like a breathe of fresh air.

    The solution to all this….. “Ken Chen for the mayor”. :))

  • Dubai

    We get it – the writer favours soul-less, large, institutional structures and huge swaths of city devoid of people or park space – Dubai is a perfect place or him to live.

  • Paulgriffin35

    Actually to the contrary. You’ve clearly misinterpreted it. Our condos are what keeps Vancouver soul-less, and he’s arguing for residential development to stay away from the very soul-ful entertainment districts you are trying to preserve like Granville.
    We hardly even have institutional structures in Vancouver, they’re a part of every city yet ours are at risk or are being hindered.

    You clearly didn’t read the article. The Dubai bit was about Dubai’s literal copy of Vancouver’s False Creek, except that it’s also a bigger and improved version.

    Parks are more devoid of people than anything else. And it’s also hard to claim there would be “large swaths of the city devoid of park space” when there are parks everywhere in Vancouver, especially everywhere at False Creek.

    All these negative people need to travel a lot more.

  • Paul Griffin

    Typical Vancouver arrogance that it’s so perfect it doesn’t need to look at other examples.

    In general, Los Angeles, Columbus, San Diego and Indianopolis may be suburban cities but I can also attest that their entertainment districts are great and well planned. 

  • Paulgriffin35

    So you’re arguing that if we were to keep residential out of the BC Place/Rogers Arena/Plaza of Nations area that all of a sudden we’d see more sprawl? All the writer is asking for is a relatively tiny area of the Downtown core, along with perhaps the Granville and Gastown strips, to be preserved as entertainment districts and nothing more. Keep residential out of it because Vancouverites can’t handle it without tampering with the health of these entertainment districts.

    I’ve traveled to 19 countries and Vancouver is arguably the most homogenous city I’ve been to (I live here) because of rampant condos and “Vancouverism.” Mixed-used was good but there’s such a thing as having too much, it can’t be applied to everywhere in the city.”A vacuum of debauchery?” That’s so presbyterian.”Largely for people that don’t even live there.” Well of course, having a Downtown is about attracting people from all over the region and tourists as well.FYI, our industrial space is killing what little industrial space we have in the city. So yes, it is a problem and isolation would be ideal in a region that seems to lack sense of control and is run by greedy developers and public officials. That’s REALLY what Greater Vancouver has enough of already. Not your faux views.You’re ignoring the key points and arguments of the article with your delusional thinking. Yes,  you’re the delusional one here.

  • Paulgriffin35

    Your post made me really happy. It’s right on the dot of what I’m thinking too. Very well said! 

    People here have really backwards and regressive logic.

  • Paulgriffin35

    Well said Kenneth!

  • Paulgriffin35

    Well said. 

    Vancouver is like living in a hotel room in Banff.

  • Paulgriffin35

    And one more thing our condo neighbourhoods like Concord Pacific/False Creek and Coal Harbour are by far and large the soul-less dead areas of the city. The streets are dead, the parks are dead.

    It’s the entertainment districts, when built and planned properly, that are full of people all the time.

    Time to travel, buddy.

  • Paulgriffin35

    When Rogers Arena has to limit the number of concerts they have at the stadium because of new condos at the site, that should be enough to shut down all these absolutely delusional, narrowminded and insane arguments for mixed-used/residential in our entertainment zones. 

    That is all.

  • Ron

    I agree.  What about entertainment venues like a cool bowling alley concept like Lucky Strike in the states?  Its not all about Hockey and nightclubs

  • guest

    there is no lack of cultural and entertainment venues in vancouver.

    in fact this city is thriving culturally more than it has in the 20 years i’ve lived here.
    you just have to go out and find it. 
    i do not lament the closing of a bar like the waldorf that functioned as a way for lazy yuppies to feel like they were a part of something. 

    also, if vancouverites hate condos so much they should a) stop buying and renting them b)stop electing a developer funded mayor and council

  • skyoneder

    Awesome work!

    Good point about the whiny condo owners, there should be some thought put into those mixed use buildings or make less of them. I like the ideal of just creating entertainment only buildings! especially around BC Place/Telus Park, Rogers Arena, Plaza of Nations.

  • PFR

    What I seem to be getting from this article is that the City of Vancouver are a bunch of bitches, but so are all the people living downtown complaining about every little thing the city does.

  • We want solutions…

    Excellent article Kenneth. Well said. Exhaustive. I would vote for you.

    *I’m curious however of your opinion: This current city council seems aware and has apparently made ‘arts & culture’ a priority and a large part of their platform (and this topic does not even register among most members of the opposition NPA). So: where to from here?

    **Further inquiry: I recall City Hall throwing around the idea of zoning some industrial land (roughly South of Terminal, East of Main) for pubs, later-night artist spaces, music & pubs. What happened to that?

  • zil

    So happy reading this, to know someone’s LOOKING at the f*ing situation, but also terribly disturbed at these plans and the crazed by-law makers of this city. So right about those golf lawns that literally do go unused for months at a time. It’s just unpractical urban planning! If we want to be taken seriously as a global metropolis, some things need to change. What I worry about – though my friends tell me otherwise – is how many people actually support this view. Perhaps a lot, but I feel that folks don’t speak up…

    Now will someone in a decision-making role read the article and take the whole thing seriously? Or are we doomed?; it’s political zombie land…

    Say it isn’t so!

  • We want solutions…

    I also  would like to know more about the complaints process at city hall: how it actually works. I am under the impression one person can complain several times – and this will be viewed as several different complaints; it is skewed to favour the anti-social  as opposed to the silent majority.

  • Bobdobbsisdead

    While in general I agree with your statement about condos being built in entertainment districts, This particular example is silly. The area has failed at everything – not just being an entertainment district –  because everything about it was a horrible joke. From late 80s “hikers rash” that hit people who walked through the contaminated landscape to the viaducts reducing the property value below it so much that no one wanted to build anything, to the proximity to the poorest (and arguably most dangerous) neighborhood in Vancouver. 

    Just think about this for one second: to get there you have to descend through a skytrain station (well, next to one) or walk down Pender, past the parkades and SROs. On your North is (well, was) one of the nastiest parts of Hastings, on the south is Pacific blvd, one of the ugliest and most oppressive streets (even look how the storefront on it has failed in Yaletown, only a block from  trendy Mainland). On the east is a park edged with a power substation and a parking garage.So it’s a descent into a den of hardcore drug use, oppressive infrastructure and industrial leftovers. The area is abysmal – by which I mean it’s the type of place you could see Dante venturing into.You have four blocks to work with (two of which are under a viaduct I may add) in the shadow of a stadium (has entertainment district EVER sprung up at the base of a stadium?), crammed between a mini-highway and one of the poorest districts in North America. THIS is why the entertainment district failed. Not because they are building condos now, but because it’s one of the worst planned areas in North America.And the Plaza of Nations? Don’t get me started on that. The space accessible by the seawall, or by walking through four blocks of dark alleys then jaywalking across a four lane street (or wait, no you could climb around the other side of the arena then take the overhead walkway, which no one ever did because it would be faster just to walk down another block then walk back the seawall). The place that was never supposed to last?Yeah, 

  • http://twitter.com/pauldavidescu Paul Davidescu

    Smashingly well researched and written piece indeed. We’re lucky to have Kenneth on board the team!

  • Davis Love

    The reason that new condo development thrives downtown is because there are hardly any nimbys down there. The city is thriving from tax revenue and backroom deals with developers, its kinda scary

  • LuvinVancouver

    I think there are some good points in here – namely that having a permanent, outdoor, covered entertainment facility would be good and that Vancouver needs to continually work on making the city more fun – but I think the article misses some obvious points. Off the top is the fact that a lot of the comparisons in the article are to cities like L.A. or Singapore – cities which are much, much larger than Vancouver. I think you need a certain critical mass in order to create vibrant entertainment districts that will survive. Vancouver simply doesn’t have that critical mass, so even if you built an entertainment district, that doesn’t mean there would be anyone there. Secondly, the proposed area is not very accessible to encourage a large crowd. An entertainment district should be very central and very easy to get to. Right now, as one commenter pointed out, you have to take a convoluted route through town and across a mini freeway to get to this area. Not exactly an ideal way to attract a crowd and ensure the success of the area.
    I agree that having a vibrant seawall with more than just parks along it would be good, and the addition of the Cactus Club at English Bay and the Boat House at Kits are good. However, again, to have successful business along these routes requires a certain critical mass. Don’t think that there would be tons of patrons at a slough of new restaurants by the Plaza of Nations simply because you put them there. Look at the restaurants that have gone belly up west of the Burrard bridge downtown (between Burrard and Hornby). If a small handful of them can not survive now, how would the rest do if you built even more of them?
    And building an entertainment district is not a guarantee of success for the area. Calgary built one on 11th Ave back in the 80’s and it was a hub of activity for a while. Now it is a ghost town. The venues that used to be so popular lost their appeal and people just abandoned the area. And since there was not a ton of housing in the area, the only people propping up the area were people from other parts of town who came there because it was ‘cool’. When they stopped coming, no one went there. If you follow the Vancouver model, however, and build housing around these areas, you have a guaranteed, long term clientele.
    Montreal doesn’t have an entertainment area but has tons of fun events simply by shutting down streets in the summertime for various festivals and events. This is something Vancouver has begun to do and I think with some success – on Granville in the summer, Davie for Pride events, Robson street between Howe and Hornby. You don’t need a specific area of town with expensive venues to accomplish this, just a city that supports more of these activities which I believe the current municipal government is.
    I strongly disagree with some commenters that indicate Vancouver is the most bedroom community of any city they have been in. What cities are they comparing to? Cities that are 2 to 10 times the size, like L.A, New York, Singapore, Hong Kong, Paris, etc? Try comparing to cities of similar size. I just came back from Tel Aviv, which also has an enormous seawall but again, due to not achieving a critical mass of population, does not have a ton of restaurants or businesses along its waterfront. There is one every now and again as you go, but many are pretty empty. Perhaps as the City grows, those places will become more vibrant. They have a Marina area which is kind of a cluster of shops and restaurants, but mostly it is full of tourists eating at overpriced restaurants serving bad food. The locals eat elsewhere.
    I have also been to Zurich, which has no entertainment district either, because it is also a smaller city. I suppose some readers would call it a sleepy city too, but that is a function of its size, not the presence of any entertainment district. Zurich, like Vancouver, is also rated as one of the most livable cities in the world because of the way the city has been planned. Sure we can make Vancouver better, but don’t knock a city that is widely regarded as one of the best in the world to live in. The entertainment and events will ramp up as the city grows, but for now it is doing a good job.
    I have also travelled to other mid sized cities like Rome, Seattle, Portland, Orlando, Edmonton and Salt Lake City that also have no entertainment district to speak of. I think pretty much we are where you would expect the city to be for its age and size. We shall see what happens with Edmonton and its new stadium area. Maybe it will be a fun area, or maybe it will also be a ghost town when there is no game on and for the eight months of the year when the weather is not great for any outdoor activities.
    A permanent outdoor venue for entertainment would be great, but probably in a better area that the existing Plaza of Nations. I did like the previous facility, but honestly never went there that much. No convenient or easy way to get there. That area is too out of the way for most who live downtown. Something more central, like the Robson square area would probably work better.
    As for neon lights, I think those can be a giant, tacky mess if you have too many of them. I much prefer the current revamped look of Granville street than a Granville with neon lights tripping over each other.
    Overall I think Vancouver is doing a decent job for its size, and I do hope as the city grows and density increases that more restaurants and what not pop up along the seawall in various places. But that takes a certain critical mass. That will come, eventually, if we keep building more condo’s and packing in more people.

  • marleyb

    Hardly any nimbys downtown? This is where people moved into Coal Harbour and complained about the pre-existing seaplane terminal, a women poisoned trees because they ruined her condo view, people went on twitter to complain about recent fog horns in the harbour and the mack daddy of all. The waste of spaces that moved beside BC Place and then complained because the lights were too bright.