Vancouver Central Waterfront Redevelopment

Waterfront between Canada Place and Centerm

These are some of my ideas for the the Vancouver Central Waterfront, the area between Centerm and Canada Place. The railyards on the waterfront are an anachronism that beg for redevelopment proposals, and there have been a few over the years like a casino, stadium, bland office towers and transit hub. I started these ideas when the casino was proposed in the 90s, and I have revisited them over time. This time spurred on by the return of the Icepick, a office tower many people seem to loathe, but I don’t think is too bad. I promised to post my scratchings, so here they are.

The principal principle of my proposal is bridging the railyards to connect downtown to the water. To do that I propose to build out a triangular area and bring the street grade to water level.

Rough Area to be Redeveloped

On this triangle I propose a tight grid of narrow streets around small blocks that get even smaller toward Crab Park. The park is expanded but directed inward. Looking at the image above, the grade descends from downtown to the water at the right. On the bottom chord of the triangle, the grade must be high enough to clear the railyards, and along the left chord of the triangle, the downtown grade is preserved to the northern point as the vantage point should be a bit higher than the wharves on either side. The Centerm expansion is assumed and shown in blue, and completion of the Harbour Line and removing the Seabus terminal is also assumed.

The Core of the Plan

Here are some proposed building heights. As you can see, the theme is to match the city that they are adjacent to, so the building heights get lower going east. The red dot is a large observation tower, 200m to 300m, but more subtle interventions are possible. In any case, it is a good location for a public edifice of some kind.

Proposed Building Heights

Some key features:

  • CRAB Park is wrapped around itself. I’ve always thought that the park felt neighbourly and closed in, and I’ve just accentuated that. For the harbour views the northern point is less occluded by Canada Place and Centerm.
  • I am assuming construction on fill, not on pilings in the water like the Convention Centre Expansion, but both are possible.
  • Part of the area under the street deck is occupied by the railyard and Waterfront Road, but the area beyond it will be available for some loading bays and building mechanicals. But in the main, there is minimal room for parking. That drove my thinking toward a pedestrian only urban pattern (save for some taxis and deliveries).
  • A minimal parking development means lower cost development and lower rent tenants. I’m thinking start-ups, language schools, brew pubs, and eateries closer to the park.
  • The large area of street frontage could mean a significant retail area as well, something that could be sold off in several large blocks and then managed like an outdoor shopping and eating mall. (Like it or hate it, managed retail areas have some advantages in controlling store mix to keep things interesting and avoiding everything becoming a cheque cashing shop or a nail bar.)
  • The purple area denotes a glass space-frame canopy over a public square. I wanted to include public space, but the issue with this site is that it is north facing with a whole pile of tall buildings to the south blocking yet more light. I doubt that this is the best recipe for a successful public square. So I’m proposing a large canopy over the square. This will take out even more natural light, but it will dry it out and warm it up slightly (though I don’t propose closing this in at the sides at all). The canopy also allows for some artificial lights on the particularly grey days. The dense network of streets to the north opening out to the square feeds it with people. The cover allows for more rain sensitive public art too.
  • The round pink circles are taller towers extending beyond the canopy height and also doing double duty in holding it up. I always saw these as probable hotel locations.
  • The stairs, escalators and elevators to the Skytrain and WCE come up directly to the covered square where people can go whichever direction they choose. They don’t actually have to go through the Station.
  • For architectural style, I was thinking more brick to the east, to match Gastown, and less brick to the west for a more contemporary look.
  • The port area behind Centerm and next to Crab Park will only be able to handle boats, not ships, but it only seems like modest boats ever go in there now anyhow.
  • Of course Granville needs to be restored as a through street with part of the parkade cut away. I take that as a given in any proposal. We will be able to see the sides of the Station again.
CPR Station as Nature Intended.
CPR Station as it Ended Up

The following illustration is for a similar proposal I did before the Centerm Expansion was in the works. I only put it here because I think I did a better job of the street pattern with small blocks and very narrow streets. The oval madness next to the cruise ship berth was just a previous scheme in my head whereby the ovoids would hold up a huge floorplate that could serve as further area for convention centre expansion. So the building would be the canopy over this part. (Think OCAD in TO but bigger.) I think this is bonkers now and actually walking among the ovoids would be bonkers confusing.

Streets Radiate from CRAB Park

The following is another illustration of the canopy. In this scheme the canopy extends north over the lower buildings, something I toyed with in the past but now don’t think is right for this site. But it does show the canopy’s relationship to the CPR Station.

Cable-Stayed Canopy

I have pencilled this in with narrow streets because this is essentially a pedestrian only precinct. The following are some images to illustrate what I am proposing. The shorter the buildings, the narrower the streets.

The port authority has designated the area for non-port uses, in blue:

Port Land Use Plan

Central Waterfront Port Lands Policy Statement of February 17, 1994 anticipates fill in this area:

The policy statement also anticipates building height stepping down going east and toward the water:

This is Centerm expansion that I assume will be completed:

As part of the Centerm expansion, ship handling consultants ran studies on the room needed for very large cruise ship berthing manoeuvres which shows that the area intended for fill does not appear to be needed:

The previous proposals have assumed that development over the railyards is possible, even for very large buildings. Certainly there will need to be pilings between the individual tracks in order to support the deck and buildings above. But there is space toward the north to shift Waterfront Road and space out the railyard as well as add a few more tracks:

I quite like the 2nd CPR station, and it appeals to me if that were recreated in some way around the main public square, probably to the north or east:

2nd CPR Station Adjoining 3rd and Current Station

Here are some images of the area to be redeveloped to show what is at play:

The edge of the trees at CRAB Park is the eastern edge of the deck.
The heliport will have to be relocated to the top of a building.

And here are some images of CRAB Park showing the areas that will be significantly changed:

The area beyond CRAB Park is proposed for decking over.
This scene will not be as quiet if there are dense urban buildings built right out to the park’s edge.
In front of the current skyline will be a lot less water, several layers of midrise buildings and a few more tall ones in front of Granville Square.
This scene facing more toward the south will not be as greatly changed to the left of Harbour Centre but will have many additional buildings to the right, but only shorter ones to the right of Granville Square.
CRAB Park will wrap around to the right.
The east side of the Granville Square parkade will be cut away, a deck will be constructed over the railyard at around the height of the walkway to the Seabus and a canopy will be built over that at around the height of the top of the Station.
This view will be looking down mostly on top of the glass canopy over the public square.

The following image is the edge of Gastown toward the railyards. I’m not sure how to handle this transition. Obviously the deck can’t come right up to the facades of the buildings. There needs to be a gap. Also, it would be better if the edge of the deck will filled in slightly with a shop or an art studio so that the existing Gastown buildings weren’t just looking under the deck.

This is the best transition I could come up with.

Even with a more harmonious transition between Gastown and the newly built areas, this would be a huge change for the Gastown offices and apartments that face north. They might not be best pleased.

The last section is about the Central Waterfront Hub Framework of June 11, 2009 which is the current guiding policy and planning document. Unfortunately it isn’t very good.

Key to the plan is a transportation hub:

But absent from the plan is much attempt to make transportation better. No new services, no new connections, minimal improvements to passenger access. Only some sidewalk connections and a promise of a grand concourse. But it isn’t obvious that the majority of transit users would even benefit by this. Making connections better is certainly welcome, but adding concourses that actually add to the travel distance is not useful. There is a hint of a better connection between the Expo Line and Canada Line, but that’s it.

The increase in usage of the station is entirely due to the Canada Line and there isn’t any further transit improvement anticipated:

In a section named “Transportation Needs Assessment” there very little assessment of transportation needs. For public transit, there is none. The two columns are “Current Conditions” and “Planning Considerations”. And the authors don’t seem to realize that the Expo Line and Canada Line are metros and not light rail.

The Framework ends with an Illustrative Concept Plan. Now this is just a concept, and I think the authors felt constrained in proposing schemes on land that the city does not own, but even as a concept it is lacking. The one sound idea is cutting back the Granville Square parkade to bring Granville through to the waterfront like it ought to be, but everything else is just a continuation of the status quo development pattern to the west.

The Bland Leading the Bland

None of this is new, different or “dynamic”, the Framework’s favourite word:

All good stuff that the Illustrative Concept Plan fails to illustrate.

The Framework does include some useful plans and sections that show how the Station, railyards, Seabus and roads fit together.

Concourse Level
Platform Level
Section Through Station and Platforms

The Illustrative Concept Plan does not really connect the city to the waterfront, it only moves some viewpoints a few hundred metres north:

The office buildings are ok, but nothing more than that:

A 44 page planning document to get to this:

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *