Where's the urban design excellence in Vancouver?

Post by Mike Klassen in

1 comment

skytrain station
No beauty contest winner, says Michael Geller, of the 49th Avenue Canada Line station

Most people I talk to who've had a chance to ride the Canada Line have a pretty favourable opinion of it. Mainly, that it is fast, clean and suitably spacious during non-peak periods. I confess that the stations are not exactly eye-popping examples of great urban design, and I'm thankful that in most cases they're barely noticeable above ground (for example, King Edward station).

Michael Geller posted up on his blog recently what he thinks about the stations, and it's actually kind of funny and worth sharing with our readers.

Above is the station at 49th and Cambie. COULD IT BE ANY UGLIER? Surely we can do better. I, and no doubt others, would love to build a townhouse project on the vacant lot beside the station since that would help to partially hide it, and generate some money to improve its appearance. But somehow, I doubt this will happen in the near future.

I don't know what it is about Vancouver's obsession with plain concrete surfaces. Clearly, it was an inspiring texture for Arthur Erickson, arguably our most famous urban designer. Vancouver is really GREY a lot of the time. Skies are overcast most of the year, yet we seem to invite more and more of this neutral tone in our design.

I'm not a builder, but I know that concrete can be injected with colour. Most paving bricks for example, are just concrete with a bit of dye in them to give them earth tones, reds or blues. How about some of our many office towers or condominiums getting into the habit of adding colour. Why indeed, must it always be grey?

Moscow cheerA couple years ago I blogged about some amazing, vivid murals that were appearing on Moscow apartment blocks. They were, in my eyes, an antidote to the overuse of natural colours on our streets.

Since the Canada Line stations are so plain, what's to stop us from eventually make them into canvasses for public art?

This image on the left from Moscow is kind of striking to me. Sure, it's gaudy in several ways, but the idea is sound. The chap clinging to his bottle in the foreground stands next to some ugly scribbles. Can you imagine how much more depressing this image would be if the walls were beige?

Vancouver has made some strides in terms of improving the public realm. The waterfront beside the Olympic Village is something to be proud of, for example. But, in relation to the number of talented visual artists and architects that live here, Vancouver really does seem to favour safe, conservative and drab exteriors.

There's lots of evidence to prove that attractive streetscapes can inspire a city, such as this living document by Victoria's Transport Policy Institute.

Surely, we can do better. What are the impediments to creating better urban design, and how can we raise the standards here?

1 Comment

The complete failure of design on the RAV stations is what happens when profit is the main motive. We could have parks in place of concrete. Here's another photo of the bland, uninspired station designs. Whoever designed these eyesores should be ashamed of themselves. http://transview.wordpress.com/2009/09/08/all-concrete-wheres-the-park/

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