Vancouver vs Valencia: Geller compares the two cities

Post by Michael Geller in


Our foreign correspondent Michael Geller reports in from his holiday in Spain

During our four days in Valencia, we often found ourselves wondering why Vancouver did not copy some of the things that we found so appealing about the city. Some are small things, others are more significant. However, all would seem possible with some changing attitudes on the part of our civic officials and the citizenry. Here are a few things I would like to see in Vancouver

More waterfront restaurants

While we like to boast about our extensive new waterfront walkway system surrounding Coal Harbour, English Bay and False Creek…the fact is, compared to parts of Valencia’s waterfront, it is really quite boring. While we can count on one hand the number of waterfront restaurants that were allowed either inboard or outboard of the walkway/bikeway, portions of Valencia’s waterfront, like many other waterfronts around the world, are literally lined with restaurants.

Now I realize that it is probably too late to modify much of the existing south and north shores of False Creek, as well as Bayshore and Coal Harbour. But it is not too late to create new, vibrant restaurant and retail precincts on the remaining Concord Pacific waterfront and the undeveloped city owned lands next to the Olympic Village in South the seawall. While we are at it, we might want to change some of our ridiculous liquor laws too, so that people can enjoy these restaurants and cafes.

More Restaurants serving Tapas and Pintxos

Walk into many Valencian restaurants and you are invited to help yourself to a wide array of small ‘nibblies’ served on thin slices of crusty bread, along with other snacks held together by toothpicks. You take want you want, but save the toothpicks, since this is how you are charged. In some restaurants, the price varies by the type of toothpick…in others the price is the same. In some places, the food is beautifully arranged; in others it is more basic. However, this is a wonderful way to start a meal, or indeed, to create an entire meal…although often there are other ‘tapas’ to be had to complement the pintxos.

More plazas, public spaces and public art

Throughout Valencia streets have been closed off or laid out in such a way as to create numerous small public spaces, often lined with restaurants and outdoor seating areas. While we are starting to think about this in Vancouver, often as temporary arrangements, it is time for us to be bolder and create more permanent installations. While many people are enjoying the new food carts around town, we could be doing so much more.

More Festivals

Valencia and the surrounding region are known for various festivals that have developed over the ages and become a major part of the region’s annual life. In March, the city celebrates Las Fallas in which giant papier mache sculptures are erected in the crossroads and squares and subsequently burned on St. Joseph’s Day; near the end of April, two costumed armies march into the city of Alcoi and stage mock battles; throughout the region there are festivals featuring bull running in summer; and on the last Wednesday of August in Bunol, thousands of participants pelt each other with ripe tomatoes.

Now I can appreciate that we might not want to copy any of these particular festivities, but notwithstanding the problems associated with the final game of the Stanley Cup finals, I would like to think we could do more in Vancouver. One possibility might be something like Caravan which was and may still be celebrated in Toronto where each major ethnic group celebrates its culture in different neighbourhoods around the city.

- Post by Michael Geller. He is a Vancouver based architect, planner, real estate consultant and property developer with four decades’ experience in the public, private and institutional sectors. Follow @michaelgeller or @CityCaucus on Twitter. He also regularly appears every Tuesday on the Bill Good civic affairs panel on @cknw radio in Vancouver.


Wasnt Valencia the city that had all it's main streets shut down last weekend for a Formula One auto race?

Vancouver's been there and done that with the Indy. Will never happen again with the "Bicycling Mayor" we currently have.

The Thought of The Evening

'The only similarities between Vancouver and Valencia are...there are no similarities. And as the Valencianos would say 'Gracias a Dios por eso!''

Valencia - the city of Santiago Calatrava. I would call it that way, not only because it is the city where this great Spanish Architect was born, but because in the past two decades or so he redefined it through the use of his Modernist approach.
Valencia - would be the third city in Spain, by size.
Its story is simple, it goes like a love-hate menage a troix story between the River, the City and the Sea. One day in the 1950's the River wanted out of this relationship and after a devastating flood burst the river banks and destroyed much of the City, Valencia built a new river bed diverting the old away from the city. What was once the banks of the old Turia River have been transformed in one of the biggest park complexes in Europe, almost 11 km of children's playgrounds, gardens, fountains, running trails, sport fields, outdoor cafés, forested areas, and of course the works of their beloved son, Santiago... the Music Palace, Opera House, Science Park, Oceanarium, with all the original bridges being left in place... making Valencia, IMHO the Europe's Greenest City.

Vancouver is still waaaay, waaay, away from claiming that...2020, if you believe Vision. LOL

The luck of Vancouver, as I would call it, was in its natural surroundings... that initially came at no cost to the people living in the city. They were just there. Mother Nature,eh!? All we needed to do was to build around it.
Enter Bob Rennie... whose fixation with selling mountain and ocean views killed the potential for great architecture in Vancouver. Now after the waterfront has been covered in concrete and glass, he has no choice but to start selling 'city views' hence the Net Zero buildings, LEED Design and Green Roofs.

Enter the end of Affordability for the Locals and the beginning of the end for the nice cozy neighborhood of people that knows each other.
Where people used to know your name...

Money talks and Donkey walks.
In twenty years you'll be looking from your balcony (most definitely)and not recognize your neighborhood, because it is not your neighborhood anymore. You are out. Someone else with more money is in.

You thought Gentrification was bad? Wait for the Yuan Multiplication.

Take Manhattan's SOHO for example. The neighborhood had been full of merchants, lofts, and manufacturing. When commerce left for New Jersey, or out to the Island, the artists were suckers for the big empty spaces and low rents. And then it happened. They started to change the place around them, making it artsy, cozy, posh, they made it trendy (in translation they shot themselves in the foot) and so the real estate sharks moved in, changed the name to SOHO (ridiculous when one thinks that in London, UK, SOHO does not mean South Of Houston Street) and the rents went through the roofs. Artists and their lifestyle OUT, high end boutiques, and art galleries...selling the work of the artists that could not cover their debts otherwise, IN. The whole place it been 'touristed' up and it doesn't look like New York at all. It looks like a movie set from Singing in The Rain.

And here is where I wanted to arrive. If it wasn't enough that Vancouver's been called names before...Hollywood North, Vankong, The Best Place on Earth, now it's becoming clear to whoever visits, that there is no reference to almost anything that could help with Vancouver's image.

With its Face made up from out of a Las Vegas (the casino potential is still here BTW) make-up kit, lipsticked green on a Monotonous background with its feet soaked in the English Bay and False Creek.

It's nice if you are retiring here.
Or if you plan to die here. When there are no riots, it's really quiet.

Vancouver is becoming a Millionaire refugee city. And this city administration doesn't have a clue how to manage a city like that. Well, in all fairness the current administration doesn't have a clue how to manage a city. Period.
A village, a county, an island...yeah, maybe. Not a City.

Vancouver was build inside out.
Valencia was build outside in.
There, I said it.

We have great talent here. In no particular order, old or young, dead or alive, we have some great and some not so great architecture from this guys: Arthur Erickson, Bing Thom, James Cheng, Stuart Lyon, Jim Hancock, The Henriquez Father and Son... and many others.

For more than a decade we as a city were at the hands of the Planning Department and at the hands of the Developers who apparently we have to thank for some of the 'Free' public amenities. The architecture, the public space, the little comfort creatures that form the intricate web of urban design was always looked at as an afterthought, left in by an absent minded participant in their quest for a mightier buck.

And as long as they'll come and be eager to pay the premium, the focus will remain on the profit making, and not on the Vancouver's well sought after experience. Enjoy your neighborhood for now.

It's not about how many festivities you can fit into an area and how many times per year you can do that, it's about what is left behind, to be experienced, after these dog and pony shows are long gone.

Not so much in Valencia, their shows are there to stay and be enjoyed throughout the year, through the numerous installations and public buildings and amenities built with just that in mind.
There is a catch though, they do have a requirement, there has to be a professional city administration, in place,at the helm, to steer them in the right direction, to administer and not make politics.

Till then...

We live in Vancouver and this keeps us busy...they live in Valencia and that keeps them happy.

No thanks. Spain is drowning in debt, unemployment is running rampant and everywhere you turn there are major economic problems.

But it sure is pretty! (and they have Tapas...)

Well, judging from the photo they at certainly do better quality architectural megalomania than us. Of course combined with an unbalanced economy floating on a real estate bubble, deficit spending and unprecedented personal debt the results can be problematic.

I agree with the tenor of the article but, looking at the Olympic Village, have no faith whatsoever in the ability of our governments, planners and architects to come anywhere near being able to achieve such aims

Nice Editorial Glissy!
Spain is nice to visit. I guess. Never been there. I suppose Valencia, Barcelona, Madrid are nice cities, old cities, to compare Vancouver with them is like comparing passion fruit with coconuts. And yeah, we are the ones in a tough shell!
As for what other said about those European countries being in an economic bubble. Wait till that hits Canada. People from all over the world would want to go there to visit again soon enough, let's see who,s going to visit us! Good article and commentary.

You can keep Valencia and it's debt at all 3 levels of it's old styled and corrupt governments. Vancouver is a better place on all accounts.

I think we are all having sunny skies and blue water longing.
That picture makes us feel really envious.

I love this City and i just wish we could find a way to keep it from collapsing on itself.

Finally you say something I both understand and agree with! So what would you do about the unsustainably high housing costs in Vancouver?

"So what would you do about the unsustainably high housing costs in Vancouver"

If housing costs are not sustainable, then they will presumeably decline. Then what's the problem?

The Thought of The Day

'So what would you do about the unsustainable high housing costs in Vancouver?...Steven, I could tell you, but then I'd have to...bill you!'

This first one is for free though...
Start here:


Penny Ballem - $315,000+;
Aufochs Sadhu - $210,000+;
Peter Judd - $190,000+;
Brent Toderian - $180,000+;
add to this two another dozen of newly hired Hollyhock first cousins for a $1,000,000+ worth of incompetence and top it with...
Gregor Robertson $149,000+;
Seven Vision Councillors - $455,000+; Two COPE Councillors $130,000+;
One NPA Councillor - $65,000+;...
Have I mentioned Jimmy Chu Chu?
yeah, let's talk about cutting these subsidies!"

Not One $ Cent of all this monies was used to buy the Brain Cells necessary to deal with the 'before and after' Gregor's Riot! The outcome would have been identical if we would have spend $0.00 on them! Go figure.
Actually,more money was wasted... What a heck, I even foresee a Riotson Debt looming on the horizon!

Told you, every successful city has a Catch 22 clause, they do have a requirement, there has to be a professional city administration in place,at the helm, to steer them in to the right direction, to administer... and not to make politics.

Let's bring that in first, ease on the taxes, cut the cheese with the developers, look into the foreign investment/ residency/ immigration policies...then I'll tell you.
Still, I'll have to bill you!
If all the above "public servants serving themselves" can shamelessly accept the big bucks for actually no work what-so-ever, then...why not?
Till then...

...and remember:

"We live in Vancouver and this keeps us busy."

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