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It’s closer than you think: A DVA forum on Northeast False Creek

Dec 02, 2009

by Naomi Buell, VIA’s Marketing Assistant

“It’s closer than you think” was a forum put on by the DVA (Downtown Vancouver Association) and organized by our own Graham McGarva. The forum’s speakers were Brent Toderian, the Director of Planning for City of Vancouver and Michael Gordon, the central city planner for Vancouver. The topic discussed was the future of the Northeast False Creek (NEFC) area.

NEFC is a neighbourhood that currently contains two stadiums, a casino, a skate park, the Plaza of Nations (which hosts a number of events) and a few restaurants and bars. It has long been designated as Vancouver’s entertainment district but has never jelled as a meaningful people place since Expo ’86. Decisions now being made about NEFC not only affect those that plan to live there but also the thousands of event goers that currently flow in and out of the area. The neighboring areas also have a vested interest. Ask anyone between Burrard and Main street (a 20 block span) about the Molson Indy or the Madonna concert and you will hear a number of accounts of how people could hear the entire event from their living rooms. The forum’s name “it’s closer than you think’ therefore refers to the future of NEFC being closer to us both in terms of time and proximity.

Those of us that have been reading the local Vancouver newspapers have become quite familiar with BC Place’s new retractable roof, which will begin construction after the Olympics. The $458 million dollar roof and renovations have caused quite a stir as most of the funding will come from a 40 year loan from the provincial government. City council has also endorsed a plan to create a high-density, mixed-use neighbourhood of about 7,000 people¹ around the stadium.

This high density neighbourhood, as stated by Michael Gordon, is proposed as a family friendly area with an anticipated 400 children living in the buildings. However, one challenge faced by city council is how to address the needs of those with families and provide them with the necessary amenities and security while dealing with the thousands of people going to and from the stadiums, restaurants, clubs, pubs and casino. The dichotomy caused by these groups with seemingly different interests and needs is just one of the many issues surrounding the area’s plan. City council recognizes these challenges and plans to address them.

As Brent Toderian pointed out, although the future residents of NEFC will be warned about the noise and high traffic nature of the area, there will need to be more done to try and rectify anticipated complaints. He referenced a recent and similar situation in Whistler in which a residential building was built near an industrial plant. The residents were all notified about the existence of the neighbouring plant and were required to sign binding covenants acknowledging the existence of the plant. However, residents have still begun to voice concerns and frustrations, thereby putting political pressure on the city officials.

Another of the challenges of the NEFC area will be to provide a high density neighbourhood without obstructing views. NEFC, not surprisingly, is across from Southeast False Creek, which includes the 2010 Olympics Athlete’s Village. This area has been recognized globally for its environmentally focused design and drive to create a self sufficient neighbourhood, and includes some of the most expensive land in the city. The residents, who will most likely be paying a premium to live there, will no doubt have an interest in the view that currently looks out past NEFC to the mountains and sky. Because of these amazing views that the City has protected through designated view corridors for the past two decades, ideas are being discussed to ensure that there are only minimal view obstructions arising from new development. One such idea is to have an articulated skyline, so that the height of the buildings would vary with relation to the mountains in the background. Another idea is to place the larger buildings in areas outside of the specified view corridors. This was the idea behind the approval and placement of the Shangri-La building, which at 62 storeys became the tallest building in Metro Vancouver.

Brent mentioned that the planning of NEFC must look at the area in terms of the associated opportunity costs. That is to say that for every structure, amenity or public space that is built, there is one less area to build something else. With a finite land area and a multitude of stakeholders and proposed land uses, the planning and development of the area will be challenging. However, there is also excitement to see what will become of the last waterfront property in Vancouver. So raise your glass to Expo ‘86 (which is the last time the land was used for anything besides a racing track or show tent) and be prepared to create new memories. The shape of the city will inevitably continue to change to respond to the pressures of each generation it serves. The challenge now is to play a meaningful role in shaping this change at the heart of Vancouver’s urban frontier.

Image 1: from L to R:  Michael Gordon, Graham McGarva, Brent Toderian
Image 2: link

One Comment

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