Little Gems We Can Learn From Vancouver.
How Vancouver Creates Urban Sparkle
By Bob Chew
Anyone who has visited or lived in Vancouver can rattle off a list of why it’s called "the most livable city in the world."
A fundamental asset is the geography. Some liken the province it resides in, British Columbia, to “Maine on Steroids.” And it’s true. The massive rivers and mountains and forest and fjords are, well, massive. And Vancouver sits like a little jewel box on the bottom of this natural awe. And that helps when you want a little nature mixed in with your city.
We can all learn from how Vancouver does it. It starts with the general British-influenced love for design and nature and gardens. The city has started its own “Urban Design Awards” too, to honor the best in its urban building, architecture, public spaces, and landscape. Perhaps all cities should do the same, if for no other reason than to encourage some creative urban thinking.
The urban design awards are for projects that “demonstrate visionary thinking and support design excellence in Vancouver,” the award committee says. Ten “Urban Design Awards” will be presented at a ceremony held every other September starting this year. (I’ll detail the winners in the next story.)
“Vancouver has never held urban design awards before,” said Brian Jackson, the city’s manager of planning and development, when it was announced. Jackson is the man behind the competition.
One of the more interesting categories is “urban elements,” defined as “a single, small-scale piece of a building or landscape that contributes to the quality of the public realm, such as street furniture, lighting, memorials or public art.”
These little “discovery spaces” are what make a city. Jackson likens them to “little gems.”
“I think there’s all kinds of hidden buildings or buildings that people just don’t consciously think about,” he said. “They fit so well into the urban fabric. Sometimes people don’t even notice them but when you look at the detailing of the building, I think they really do contribute to our streetscapes and the positive attitude that we have towards our city.”
But these little “gems” make for a big attractive sparkle, too. Businesses of all sorts are finding Vancouver is better.
Recently, TED conferences moved its operation to Vancouver from Long Beach, Calif. Twitter plans on opening a “Global Center of Excellence.” Seattle-based online retailer Amazon plans to open a 91,000-square-foot office with enough space to employ nearly 1,000 people at the TELUS Garden development in downtown.
Facebook, the world’s largest social-networking site, signed a three-year deal for 20,000-square-feet office space in Coal Harbour. Vancouver’s own HootSuite, the social-media-management app, has expanded last year from a 14,000-square-foot office to a 33,000-square-foot building with room to grow.
Why are they coming? Just look around. The city is a marvel.
The West End is bounded by water: English Bay, Coal Harbour, and Lost Lagoon in world-famous Stanley Park. Recreational amenities are within walking distance for residents. The West End includes Davie Village and Denman Street, which together provide for local hip shopping and restaurants. This area also has high-end retail on Robson Street.
Then there is Fairview, home to Granville Island, and also to Gallery Row in the South Granville shopping district. Fairview is in the central section of the city, from Granville Island along scenic False Creek to Science World, and south to Shaughnessy. It’s all very walkable and livable.
Vancouver has a thriving live music scene. You can find intimate jazz lounges to raucous rock bars, but for music lovers looking to catch a big-name performer, The Commodore Ballroom is a “must” on the hit list. This historic venue has been open since 1929 and has hosted notable performers such as Sammy Davis Jr., Red Hot Chili Peppers, Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, Nirvana and Lady Gaga.
Let’s not forget the meditative side of urban living. As the birthplace of yoga wear giant Lululemon Athletica, the yoga culture is everywhere in Vancouver.
No matter what you’re into, Vancouver seems to have figured out some of the best in urban living, and it’s awesome.
Bob Chew is editor of Urban:Fix.