Like most of us interested in the way Vancouver develops I've been watching with interest the discussion happening around the proposed Marine Gateway project. The first time I really began to sit up and take notice was when I saw the image on the left posted on Gord Price's blog. Subsequently I began to follow Frances Bula's excellent reports on the project, and the many blog comments on both Price and Bula's blogs.
I admit the rendering of a "stacked" set of floors tilting to the north was to me a turn off. The fact that the very talented people at Busby, Perkins + Will designed it surprised me. It looks like starchitecture to me, like the boot of the 1970s Telus building on Boundary Road but with a lot less surrounding greenery.
It's possible that many people had the same reaction to the rendering above, because as hard as I've tried to locate this image on the development's website, or anywhere else, I've come up empty. This image was also nowhere to be seen at the open house I attended on Tuesday evening.
Introducing large developments such as Marine Gateway involve a significant mobilization of resources to help convince the public the project is the right one. So it was not completely surprising to me that James Hoggan and Associates are involved in communicating the aspirations of the project on behalf of the City.
Blogs have been the places where many comments on the project have started. I was surprised by some of the reaction on both Frances' and Gord's posts – it seemed a little too boosterish and in some cases conspicuously well-researched. One commenter on Pricetags also noticed this and said:
"Tessa and Voody – I could be wrong – but you both sound like you have inside information and speak as though you are handling PR issues for this project."
On Tuesday night I attended the Marine Gateway open house – their third apparently – in a small, poorly marked building with very little parking down on Cambie south of Marine. A tiny sign no bigger than a letter-sized sheet was set next to the door, which was about 100 feet back from the street. You'd be forgiven for getting completely lost without an address.
I was struck by how many people were in the room when I arrived, and the continuous flow of people coming and going. The make-up of the crowd I knew was pretty representative of the immediate community. The ethnic makeup was very diverse with both strong Chinese and south Asian community presence, young, old, affluent, and low-income folks. One of the presenters spoke Cantonese and held court with some of the older Chinese men and women.
Given that it finding this space was like an Easter egg hunt, it was an impressive attendance. While I didn't speak to many people, I perceived some anxiousness about the design and scale of the project from conversations I overheard. Some nearby neighbours raised fears about the loss of low density rental properties on the north side of Marine. The fact that models showed all those properties with high rises on them as part of a 20-year projected view of the site, probably didn't put their minds at ease.
Frances Bula has been providing ongoing coverage on this story – read her account of the Urban Design Panel meeting where the design didn't pass by only one vote. She's right to suggest that whatever the outcome of the decision by council on this new development is, it will have a significant impact upon future transit-oriented planning. The Vancouver Sun also has a good report on the project featuring quotes from the Director of Planning.
As for the building itself, I wondered why it was so cramped around the Canada Line station along Cambie Street. The reason was explained to me was that they want to keep the residential as far back from the Kent Street waste transfer station. In fact, the "leaning" building has the symbolic effect of trying to pull away from the possible odors and unsightliness of that site. That might not be why they designed the building that way, but it's the impression it gives.
The project has its supporters, but there are concerns about the impact it's already having on land prices for industrial property. It feels as if Vancouver is trying in vain to retain some of its land for jobs. Higher density is coming to neighbourhoods nearby rapid transit stations – there's no stopping it. But whether Busby's design is a good starting point for such a significant rezoning is still an open debate. A revised design is forthcoming from the architect soon.
- post by Mike