'View Corridors' from across False Creek don't add up

Post by Mike Klassen in


View corridors from the old Mayor's office (the red lines on this map) need to go

When I’m visiting Vancouver’s lovely Fairview Slopes neighbourhood I envy the postcard view of our downtown skyline. However, it never occurs to me for a minute that I might not be able to see the ski slopes of Grouse Mountain.

I think many people know that Vancouver limits building heights downtown so that residents living across False Creek can get a glimpse of mountains. If you stop someone on the street and ask them should if those views should remain, about nine out of ten people say ‘yes’.

But did you know that one of the locations where you are supposed to be able to view the mountains is the old mayor’s office? That’s the one Gregor Robertson didn’t like so he spent $260,000 building a new one.

So I have to ask, why would we bother to keep that view corridor from City Hall open?

I bet that if you ask fifty people walking the seawall on south False Creek what they like about the view, none of them would say the mountains. They’d talk about the water, the evidence of wildlife, the people walking by, or the beautiful city skyline.

But as soon as you suggest changes to those view corridors, people go nuts.

I think some of us fear we’re losing something, but in my opinion we are potentially gaining something by adding new structures downtown.

Some of the most talented architects and urban designers live and work right here in Vancouver. There’s no question they can enhance our urban skyline, so why not let them try?

This week Jimmy Pattison announced a proposal to build a 48-storey building in Vancouver’s downtown, and the City seems to approve. It won’t be the tallest tower in downtown (the Shangri-La is 62 storeys), but it looks as though City planners are looking favourably at the idea of even higher buildings.

The benefit to Vancouver’s sustainability is huge. Downtown density has far less impact on the planet than does living in the suburbs. A downtown resident reportedly produces 1.5 tonnes of greenhouse gases (GHGs) per year. Move to Fairview Slopes just outside of downtown, and on average you produce three tonnes of GHGs.

Move to neighbourhoods south of 16th Avenue and you’re producing on average six to eight tonnes. Someone living in a sprawl community outside Calgary it’s estimated produces up to 15 tonnes of greenhouse gases per person annually!

It’s as simple as this. If you really want to save the planet, you give people the option of living in well-designed but denser neighbourhoods. This allows them to opt for transit over cars.

This is not to say we get rid of views downtown. The policy about “street ends” is one the City shouldn’t tamper with. If you live downtown and look up streets like Burrard, you should be able to see those mountain views.

But if you live outside of downtown, it makes sense that your view is that of Vancouver’s beautiful city skyline.

- post by Mike. Originally published in 24 Hours newspaper on Thursday, Oct. 28th


Other cities need a nice skyline because they have nothing else to look at. Vancouver is fairly special because we have the North Shore mountains.

As scientific as "I bet that if you ask fifty people..." I'm not sure that I believe you. In my highly scientific study of my wife, her first response was "The mountains" Since my high scientific really talked to a person, unlike your's, I think we should go with mine.

There is plenty of room to build without having to go to 40+ stories.

And really, Vancouver's skyline is nothing to write home about. With the style most of these new buildings are being built in, I don't hold the local architects in the high regard you do.

I'm not sure that I want to let them loose on the skyline. It's not like we can get rid of the buildings when they turn out to be ugly.

As a huge fanatic of the architects and urban designers in Vancouver (some of which are also from my home province, Manitoba) I think the farthest thing from being the greenest city is building new. We definitely need to assess what the need really is before we go crazy and have an abundance of new buildings that may not have the quality of structure or living we expect it to be (ex: Olympic Village).

Vancouver may not have as long of a history as Manitoba, and older buildings to show for it respectively. However I think it is still just as important to focus on what you have right now. Not to say there should not ever be anything new. I love the relationship of glass & nature as it is, and a lot of the newer buildings contribute to that.

Thanks for the insight on the view corridors, very fascinating.

I saw this in the paper today:


Is that the same as the 260k you continually refer to?

As for views, one of the best is near my house--Kensington Park from the ball diamond on the slope--you can see all three north shore mountains, downtown, everything...

I love the way the Vancouver defines itself and its viewscapes in terms of what is not in Vancouver. Turn away from those hazy, snow-clad mountains and look behind you to the south and east. What do you see? Oh shit. Demoines, Iowa.

This is all well and good if one could live one's entire life downtown. But the reality is that the bigger and denser downtown gets, the larger the suburbs become.

Even those magnificently dense places like Manhattan where 1.8 million people work, only 600,000 or so live AND work in the same borough. The remaining 1.2 million (each day!) commute into Manhattan to work. (2000 US census figs.)

How is Vancouver going to be any different? With the entire city having only a population of 580,000 and the rest of the region holding the remaining 1.6 million the demographic is unshakable. Plus where's that intricate rapid transit network that can get you all over the city? Great if you want to commute to Burrard and Dunsmuir, or Granville and Water St. not so good if you work at 12th and Oak or UBC or anywhere on Kingsway.

BTW - L.A with it's endless sprawl and no downtown density- (in the USA) 2nd lowest per capita carbon emissions from transportation and residential energy use.(Brookings Inst. 2005)

The view of downtown Vancouver is far more interesting when viewed from the North Shore than it is from Fairview. This is, I think, as it should be. When looking towards the mountains let nature be the star. When you are at the mountains, look south and see the beautiful city.

I don't think it makes sense to obliterate the view of the mountains just because the mayor is moving his office.

Mike, very interesting. Could you please let us know the source of the data for the GHG emissions numbers, and for this statement "Downtown density has far less impact on the planet than does living in the suburbs"? It's certainly a topic worth discussing more.

Here's the latest staff report. Lest anyone think that *their* view will suddenly disappear should look at the report. The vast majority of these view corridors I discuss are all located at the water's edge in False Creek, not in any outlying neighbourhoods.


For example, if you're on 8th Avenue by Columbia Street (Rogers Park) your view is stunning - lots of mountains http://bit.ly/bhXb6W

@Ryan, without looking at the list below name two view corridors legislated by the city. I think my suggestion was much more specific – stand on the shore of False Creek, then ask someone what they like about the scenery.

@Boohoo. The city budgeted $260,000 for third floor renovations including the overhaul of Robertson's office, and the city council dining room. See Jeff Lee's analysis http://bit.ly/bTXXYl

I'm sure his staff are spinning that it was just his office that cost 50K to renovate. But of course his staff took over the City Manager's newly renovated office, and she's having a whole new office built upstairs which is not even covered by the 260K.

@Usta. There was a recent study published that showed the cost of living downtown over a larger single-family home in the suburbs was actually cheaper than in the Valley. http://bit.ly/bQynAP

As for Vancouver becoming Manhattan, what should prevent the same levels of sprawl is our limited land thanks to the mountains, ocean and ALR. I suspect that the increasing cost of energy and bridge tolls are definitely going to change the patterns of commuting.

@Ooga. Will post those findings in an upcoming post.

The bottom line is that the vast majority do not know that these corridors exist, where they exist and some think that you could be living in Kensington, Kits or Quilchena and don't know that it won't affect you one bit. Street ends are safe, so living downtown still provides you views. But if we can densify some locations now in these corridors the economic and environmental benefits are clear, and it could make Vancouver's skyline look even more spectacular.

don't underestimate how passionate we are about our mountains. This past week I spoke with at least 5 people (the oldest being a 92 year old mom who has lived here all here life) - topic- 'did you see the snow on the mountains this morning?

I appreciate that sprawl is a concern, but we are dealing with a motherhood issue here - don't mess with the view.

Excellent points.

This whole metro area will continue to grow, and with it the infrastructure needs. It is an endless, endless game. I suppose at some point that downtown penisuala will be stuffed full, like Manhattan.

But consider the "rest" of the city as the other NYC buroughs. I don't think that Brooklyn and Queens have the height of buildings that Manhattan proper has---and even in lower Manhattan there are pockets like SOHO and the Villages, etc, where "tall building sprawl" hasn't taken over, retaining the flavour of each neighborhood. Let us preserve that little jewel, the West End, please.

As for views, I agree with Julia. What the heck is Vancouver if not for mountain and water views? Just a bunch of very, very poor architecture that could be Anywhere, USA.

I was down walking through the beautiful fall foliage in the West End yesterday, on my way to the seawall. Low-rise buildings, beautiful 30's, 40's and 50's architecture, trees, trees tress. You have a sense of scale and eighborhood as the strollers and skateboarders and people are out and about. Then I croseed Georgia and suddenly I was thrust into shadow, on a lovely fall day. Nothing but towers at 10:30 am, blocking out the sun.

Chilling. In more ways than one.

@Julia. I agree with the 92-year old mom, and we're not talking about taking away her view of the mountains. We're talking about a "corridor", or a view between buildings standing at a specific spot located by the water on south False Creek. If you move a few yards in another direction, that view goes.

You make my point about what happens when you ask people about mountain views. People instinctively react that this is about cutting them off. It's not. This is about a policy set in place decades ago that is now under review.

If more people understood the pros and cons of that policy, it's possible your 92-year old friend might react differently.

actually, she would likely keep her opinion (LOL, I know her well) Our mountains and ocean are 2 things stupid politicians can't mess with and never go out of style. They are also the 2 things that help me find north and west! They define us. The moment when the clouds lift after weeks of rain in February and we can see those white peaks... all the dread of winter leaves us. We are refreshed, we are inspired, we can carry on. The joy of seeing fresh snow never becomes old. That opportunity for wonder and pleasure should be protected like we protect our children.

Whatever we do, this is the time when quality of life for all citizens should trump efficiency. Squeeze the view if you have to but only as a last resort and be very clear what you are giving up to do so.

I like that! That is precisely correct: those mountains are the compass in Vancouver, our own "North Star".

Stand in David Lam park and try to find them,when you are at ground level.

I don't agree with you about the view corridors, but even more important is the effect extra tall buildings have on wind and shadow at street level.

A lot of effort has gone into making downtown pedestrian friendly, tall buildings are counter productive.

View lines are like the old rubic cube
Think of churches
Water and oh yes mountains!

I'm sure Mike has other sources but I'd recommend checking out the Urban Land Institute's 2007 report 'Growing Cooler: The Evidence on Urban Development and Climate Change':

"In a comprehensive review of dozens of studies, published by the Urban Land Institute, the researchers conclude that urban development is both a key contributor to climate change and an essential factor in combating it.

They warn that if sprawling development continues to fuel growth in driving, the projected 59 percent increase in the total miles driven between 2005 and 2030 will overwhelm expected gains from vehicle efficiency and low-carbon fuels. Even if the most stringent fuel-efficiency proposals under consideration are enacted, notes co-author Steve Winkelman, "vehicle emissions still would be 40 percent above 1990 levels in 2030 -- entirely off-track from reductions of 60-80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050 required for climate protection."

"Curbing emissions from cars depends on a three-legged stool: improved vehicle efficiency, cleaner fuels, and a reduction in driving," said lead author Reid Ewing, Research Professor at the National Center for Smart Growth, University of Maryland. "The research shows that one of the best ways to reduce vehicle travel is to build places where people can accomplish more with less driving."

Depending on several factors, from mix of land uses to pedestrian-friendly design, compact development reduces driving from 20 to 40 percent, and more in some instances, according to the forthcoming book Growing Cooler: The Evidence on Urban Development and Climate Change. Typically, Americans living in compact urban neighborhoods where cars are not the only transportation option drive a third fewer miles than those in automobile-oriented suburbs, the researchers found."


"As of the 2000 census, the Los Angeles region’s urbanized area had the highest population density in the nation.

At 7,068 people per square mile, Los Angeles is considerably denser than New York-Newark, which ranks fourth at 5,309 people per square mile..."


Miquel,If you count the entire urban LA area (1667.9 sq mi) the pop density is actually 8854 people per sq. mi.

I guess I wasn't clear in my point that Los Angeles's downtown isn't a relatively small dense area as it is in Vancouver or New York. People aren't streaming in and converging on a small dense job filled area. The population and jobs are spread over a wider area.

And, based on anecdotal evidence, people seem to drive a lot in the L.A. area. Way more than seems sensible. Yet they produce less carbon per person than Seattle or Portland or San Francisco. Not a result I'd expect, but there it is.

So I'm skeptical when someone says that living and working in Downtown Vancouver is some sort of utopian eco existence. There maybe many other good reasons for living downtown but not that it's a "greener" lifestyle than the suburbs.

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