Connecting a City to the Water: Baker Program’s Inaugural Trip to Vancouver, Part One

 

JW_SHATour Van_Thursday-8692

Larry Beasley, center, leads the group along the waterfront walkway

By Jason W Henderson

This article was originally published on the website of Cornell University’s Baker Program in Real Estate

In March 2016, second-year students in the Baker Program in Real Estate embarked on a trip to Vancouver, British Columbia to meet with the people and companies that have played a hand in shaping Vancouver into the celebrated international city it is today.  Starting with a bold plan hatched in the 1980s to connect the city to its waterfront, Vancouver has spent the following decades on a transformation spree that is the envy of urbanists the world over.  Throughout a five-day itinerary, students visited the projects and neighborhoods that epitomize this transformation.

The trip began by meeting at the waterfront with Larry Beasley, former Co-Director of Planning for the City of Vancouver.  Beasley was instrumental in driving the City’s efforts to build the seawall, the pedestrian and bike paths along the water, and in crafting the zoning and developer requirements that would allow for the appropriate density, housing types, and public spaces.  The resulting development has been coined “Vancouverism,” a planning movement that has spawned inspiration in hundreds of other cities across the globe.

Beasley spoke of specific measures such as mandating the right amount of space between towers so that occupants aren’t uncomfortable (90 feet), and requiring ground floor uses of retail in the right areas, as well as townhouse-style housing product along the edges of residential towers that are popular with families moving from less-dense neighborhoods.  Underground parking also provides for efficient land-use without the impediment of parking lots or lost floors above-ground.  The urban form along the waterfront has also been carefully designed to allow for large view corridors so that residents along the waterfront and further-inland are able to see the water.  The spaces are ideal for streetscapes, parks, and openings that enhance the pedestrian experience, and provide residents with public amenities right at their front doorstep.

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                     View corridor                                          Split bike and pedestrian paths

Another challenge is how to manage the two modes of travel along the waterfront.  No- not cars!  But pedestrians and cyclists.  The waterfront paths are split between bike and pedestrian modes, with the pedestrian path along the edge of the seawall, which is embellished with ample trees, planters, and benches so that residents may enjoy the water at their leisure, or get to where they’re going with ease.  The split helps to keep accidents to a minimum, and the flow of travel at the right pace.

In addition to parks and open space, the waterfront development included the construction of a new school and playground so that local residents could easily raise children in the area without the need of a car or bus to deliver their children to school.  The convenience factor and space programming was intended to “crack the nut” on getting suburban families into the City- and it succeeded.  Beasley, the team at the City, and the waterfront developers came together with the public at large to determine what was necessary to drive interest in families to move to the City through hundreds of public meetings, thousands of private consultations and conversations, and a marketing effort that played directly to each housing group.

JW_SHATour Van_Thursday-8878

Through a strategy of transparent and open engagement, Vancouver developed the model for comfortable and sustainable urban living.  Though a City of over 600,000 (2.3 million in Metro-area), Vancouver can be comfortably traveled across by foot or bike in the fraction of an afternoon, and the City is consistently ranked as one of the most livable cities on the planet by a range of publications.  Newer developments such as the Olympic Village area even incorporate their own greywater-recycling and efficient power and heating as a whole integrated system- the City even boasts its own steam district, and new transit stations have recently opened to continue expanding the light-rail network.  The City is a shining example of what can go right in a City’s development when parties come together collaboratively, and effectively.

Part Two will explore the history behind the 1986 World Expo site, and Concord Pacific’s development along the waterfront.

Exit interview: NCC adviser Larry Beasley on surviving the Harper government

 

"The last government looked at the NCC and its role of custodianship of capital interests differently than previous governments," Larry Beasley says.

This article was originally published in the Ottawa Citizen on March 27, 2016. 

By Don Butler

When Larry Beasley stepped down earlier this month after 12 years as chair of the National Capital Commission’s advisory committee on planning, design and realty, he posted this tweet:

“Through all the trials of the last government, the @NCC-CCN remains strong, caring and innovative. I am sad to finish this assignment!”

Since joining the advisory committee in 2000, the 68-year-old Beasley, one of Canada’s most eminent planners and urban designers, has quietly helped shape virtually every federal project in the capital. He’s no Larry-come-lately. So both his departure and his parting words are worth noting.

That reference to the trials of the former Conservative government, for instance. What’s that about?

“The last government looked at the NCC and its role of custodianship of capital interests differently than previous governments,” Beasley says. Previous governments often delegated responsibilities to the NCC. “The last government felt they wanted to pull some of those things back to the centre of government.”

One of those things was the management of new monuments, notably the proposed Memorial to the Victims of Communism. Another was responsibility for programming, which, Beasley says, “was a very strong and innovative part of the NCC for many, many years.”

The period of Conservative rule, he says, was a “difficult time” for the NCC. The highly political victims of communism memorial is a case in point.

Beasley had never encountered a government that just said: “We’re deciding on the site and we’re carrying forward and we’re not going to go through the normal process that makes sure those things are the right scale and the right nature and the right quality.

“They had their own agenda, they carried forward with it, and they did that in part by how they shifted responsibilities for those things,” Beasley says. “But they also did it in part by just deciding they were going to do it in a particular way.”

Beasley, who lives in Vancouver and works on projects around the world, is pleased the Liberal government is relocating the victims of communism memorial to another “decently high-profile” location. “And, frankly, I’m very happy there will be a new (design) competition.”

Monuments and memorials, he says, “tell a story about our country and about us as a people. And we have to be careful about that.”

The Conservative government’s strong-arm tactics had no impact on the advisory committee’s deliberations, Beasley says. “We were very clear that our job was to give the best advice for the country, not to meet any political agenda of the day.”

Not that there was never any pressure to toe the line. “There’s always a sense of pressures,” Beasley acknowledges. “Governments are powerful. Prime minister’s offices are powerful.”

But the advisory committee’s members are independent-minded and “a little immune to pressure,” he says. “We’re not there all the time, we don’t have vested interests (and) we don’t have really anything to lose.”

Beasley never felt any direct pressure. “No one ever came to me and said, ‘Boy, you’d better do this right or you’re out of here.’

“But there were times when people said, ‘This is a top government priority – you don’t want to stand in the way of this,” he said. “We said, ‘Yes, but getting the best should also be a top priority,’ and we would stand our ground.”

Though it only advises the NCC and has no decision-making power, the committee’s expertise has made it extremely influential. Its advice is accepted most of the time.

The committee took the plan to develop LeBreton Flats from a “fairly mundane project to a much more sustainable concept,” Beasley says. It had a big impact on the Zibi development in its conceptual stages and had input into signature projects, including the rehabilitation of the Parliament Buildings.

“I know that we have improved the urban design of many, many projects,” Beasley says. “The aspiration is that the capital be a bit of a model in the country for an intelligent, sustainable development of a city, and I think we tried to do that.”

One high-level project Beasley and the committee considered numerous times was 24 Sussex Drive, the official residence of the prime minister.

“There’s no question it needs a complete overhaul,” he says.”It’s been an embarrassment to the country that the prime minister’s residence has portable air conditioners in the windows and things like that.”

Though the NCC is still trying to decide whether the house should be fixed up or replaced, Beasley strongly favours renovation.

“I’ve heard the argument that it’s an opportunity to express the best architectural mastery in the country, and there’s some merit to that,” he says. “But I think there’s a strong symbolism in 24 Sussex that’s very important to reminding people of the long history of our country and our democracy.”

If it was purely Beasley’s decision, he’d happily carry on with his work on the committee. But his term had already been extended by a couple of years. “They felt it was time to bring other representation.”

He’s hardly retiring, however. He’s doing work in Dallas, Rotterdam and Scandinavia, and is just starting a project in Canberra, Australia’s capital. “I’m a busy person.”

He hopes to have some continuing involvement in Ottawa, as well. “I’ve come to love the city,” he confesses, “and anything to contribute to the capital is a good thing to me.”

The thoughts of (ex) Chairman Larry

  • City building is a very complicated thing and you can’t guess it all right. You have to be courageous and try things.
  •  When a development is in the phase that LeBreton Flats is in right now, a lot of people are critical of it. If the first move isn’t absolutely splendid, they become negative about the whole thing. Once the thing builds out and they can begin to see the formation of a real community, all that starts to change. I think that will change there.
  • Victims of Communism was a contentious monument. It did not make sense to a lot of people. It certainly did not make sense to vest that kind of image, regardless of what it was trying to say, next to the most important images of our national government.
  • Capitals are always in a process of transformation, because the culture and governance of countries is always in a process of transformation, and the capital needs to reflect that. A capital city is always an unfinished art.
  • Parliament Hill, to me, is an extraordinary thing. It needs to be protected and nurtured. In 150 or 200 years, people need to be able to see the same thing and remember where it came from.

dbutler@postmedia.com

twitter.com/ButlerDon

Opinion: Canada needs an new vision for the suburbs

The following article appeared in the Vancouver Sun on October 30, 2015.

By Larry Beasley

Suburbs — they are the most dramatic phenomenon of city growth since the onset of the Industrial Revolution. Enabled by the mass availability of the automobile and growing household wealth, they stretch out over the landscape in almost every modern city as far as the eye can see and the mind can comprehend. They have a vast footprint and very low scale and intensity. They waste space; they gobble up nature; they homogenize the urban experience. Professional planners and city designers speak of them as profoundly unsustainable, impossible to provide with services, socially exclusive, and personally alienating. For the last half century, they have been anathema to any progressive, forward-looking view of how to build cities for the future. Even the name has been a negative expression: “SUB-urb”, less than a city, not quite what it should be, a lower form of living.

Read more: http://www.vancouversun.com/business/opinion+canada+needs+vision+suburbs/11481268/story.html#ixzz3qB2BuH1e

Check out Larry Beasley’s interview with Property Biz Canada

By David Allison:

http://renx.ca/uber-urban-planner-larry-beasley-writes-book/

“After decades as one of the most high-profile urban planners on the planet, Larry Beasley — retired chief planner for the City of Vancouver, professor and global city-planning consultant —  along with co-author Jonathan Burnett, have written a call-to-arms for cities and suburbs.”

“Their book, Ecodesign for Cities and Suburbs tackles the two most pressing issues facing our industry: how to build/rethink where we live so that we are making places that are both environmentally sensitive and livable. It is both practical and fascinating.”

David Allison works with executive teams in real estate development and other industries to craft the early-stage vision and brand for projects of all kinds. He crystallizes the most interesting version of any story for early stakeholder engagement, internal audiences, regulatory approvals, consultant briefings and investor recruitment. His award-winning work in the real estate sector alone spans decades and continents. His most recent book, The Stackable Boomer, examines the movement of baby boomers to multi-family homes, and includes research results from a 1,000-boomer survey. He can be reached at david@davidallisoninc.com and on LinkedIN