Vancouver, BC – July 2006

I made a quick trip up to Vancouver, British Columbia via train and bus. The Amtrak train from Portland to Seattle is quite nice; both stations are well-located, there are only a few stops, the views are nice, and the price is good. For some reason there is only one train a day from Seattle to Vancouver, and the other connections are made via bus. The bus is OK, but going through customs is a drag.

Anyway, I hadn’t been to Vancouver for a tourist visit since about 1990, so quite a bit had changed. Mostly, lots and lots of 20-30 story apartment/condo buildings, built of concrete and glass.

Vancouver - Yaletown

Almost all the buildings you see here are new, built in the last 10 years (that’s the Granville St bridge and the Yaletown area behind). There are great views in most directions in Vancouver, so it’s understandable to build up. But somehow I found a lack of planning down at the ground level. In very few spots did I see a lively mix of commercial uses on the street. Mostly it was just entries to these buildings. Most of the public use areas are concentrated on the ‘seawall’ next to the water, where they have great bike paths and walking paths (separated usually, which is nice) all along the Stanley Park, the beach, and these newly built areas.

Vancouver - towers

The place is starting to feel a bit like Hong Kong to me – so much vertical living space. Personally I don’t find it so appealing, to live in a high-rise (too much exposure to J.G. Ballard I guess), but obviously many do, especially when there’s a view of water or mountains or both.

Vancouver - towers

Ideally though I think it can be done with more attention paid to the street and the pedestrian experience. The newest parts of Vancouver are too close to the Le Corbusier ‘contemporary city’ for my taste.

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