Fireworks light up the sky in front of the Patronas Towers in Kuala Lampur
Vancouver is known for its beautiful scenery, mild climate and stunning views. It’s what helps set it apart from so many other North American cities and is a key factor in why Vancouver is often cited as one of the most liveable in the world.
Over the last 10 years, the skyline of downtown Vancouver dramatically changed. Dozens of new buildings, including the new 62-storey Shangri-La Hotel, have risen out of the ground. Despite all this change, I would say our downtown skyline still lacks character and definition. It most certainly could use a few more taller towers in strategic locations throughout the downtown.
The only problem is the City has zoned only a few sites whereby developers can propose taller structures. It comes down to what I believe is a phobia regarding tallish towers in Vancouver’s downtown core.
What is wrong with taller towers? Why is it taboo to consider building 80 or 90 storey towers in the heart of Vancouver? In Chicago, they have a tower that exceeds 110 stories. In Kuala Lampur, the Petrona Towers are over 130 stories high. Many of these towers have become iconic architectural wonders.
To his credit, former COPE Mayor Larry Campbell spearheaded Council support for development of the Shangri-La. At 62 stories, it was considered much taller than what Vancouver was normally prepared to accept. Today, the tower is complete and almost everyone agrees it is a wonderful addition to the skyline.
One of the main impediments to building taller buildings in Vancouver has been the City’s view corridor policy. No structures can be built in the downtown core if they impact in any way an “official” view corridor.
For those familiar with Vancouver, I’d like to ask you the following skill testing question. Can you name which of the following is not an official view corridor?
- The view looking toward English Bay from Denman and Davie.
- The view looking northward from Science World
- The view looking toward downtown from Jericho Beach
- The view looking toward downtown from Queen Elizabeth Conservatory
The answer is...none of the above. That’s right, these are all great views, but none of them are considered official view corridors. In fact, you probably wouldn’t be able to name a single official view corridor if you tried.
However, development and planning decisions are being made every day to protect “official” view corridors that most people don’t even realize exist. What if I said that one of the view corridors was on Cambie Street, looking north from Broadway. Would that surprise you?
With development coming to a standstill, the time may have come for Vancouver to revisit the whole view corridor policy. With global warming, shouldn’t we be encouraging more densification of the downtown in order that more people can live closer to where they work? Cutting red tape by eliminating the view corridor policy, but keeping good views, might be more palatable today than it was five years ago.
I suspect that many Vancouverites would be prepared to give up a few “official” view corridors if they knew it was going to save the environment and produce a world class iconic structure. What do you think?