Granville Street

Disrupting Granville Street


For months, teams of designers, students and regular folks have been hard at work re-imagining, re-configuring and re-designing Granville Street. Finally, on Saturday, July 13, their design dreams will be revealed as MOV and our partners invite the public downtown to participate in the transformation of the 700 Block of Granville.

Their designs will become a reality through the use of hundreds of super-sized polystyrene building blocks salvaged from construction sites around Metro Vancouver.

The material is part of pioneering work by Langley-based Mansonville Plastics, which rescued polystyrene and ground it down for use in new blocks. After our event, materials will be returned for a third round of recycling and re-envisioning.

The entire Upcycled Urbanism project came together around just such ideas of 'upcycling.' Way back in January, the project was born from a common aspiration of UBC’s School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture (SALA), the Vancouver Public Space Network, Maker Faire Vancouver, Spacing Magazine and MOV to offer people new ways to re-envision public design. As we've been reporting since then, teams of students, artists, designers, and makers have been talking about and planning public interventions that juxtapose unexpected forms and ideas against otherwise mundane spaces.

So what can you expect to see on July 13th? We don't want to give too much away, but you might see a giant living room, a super-sized game zone, or, as one team member put it, an "all-out public hallucination." As Zanny Venner of VPSN explains, the idea of disrupting expectations is intrinsic to the project: "I think people will be surprised at how much of an impact the material of polystyrene can make. You wouldn't necessarily think so, but it has inspired people to transform a street space into a unique and unexpected social landscape."

Excited? There's still time to join a build team by emailing us at And on July 13th everyone is invited to watch, encourage builders and engage with this interactive landscape between 10:00am and 8:00pm.

See you there!

[All images from our Volunteer Orientation Night on June 26, 2013]

MOVments: Bike Pumps, Nighttime Economy, and 'Old' Chinatown

This week we delve into stories that take us along the Adanac bike route, from the downtown core, over to the Eastside. But what do the new bike pumps, clubs on the Granville strip, and Chinatown SROs have in common? Each has a not-so-obvious (secret, if you will) story behind it, illustrating once again that Vancouver's streets are littered with multiple layers of meaning.
Bumpy Road to Bike Pumps? A couple weeks ago this opinion piece came out on the Province blog in response to news that the City had installed Vancouver's first two public bike pumps along the Union-Adanac bike route. The gist? Cyclists, not taxpayers, should be paying for the pumps themselves. Unsurprisingly, there's been a bit of backlash. Charlie Smith makes an informed, rational argument for the importance of these pumps in the Georgia Straight. He also highlights a fact that isn't exactly a secret (but is perhaps taken for granted): amenities for private automobile users are also heavily subsidized by taxpayers.
Granville, Stripped Down. In her recent piece for Vancouver Magazine, Frances Bula explores the current culture and economics of partying on Granville Street. In the process she also lays bare the fascinating historical shifts that lead to a five-block strip becoming the densest drinking destination in the city. She explains how "In May 1997, city councillors changed the official plan for downtown to create a Theatre Row Entertainment District. The policy, considered revolutionary then but prim by modern lights, said that up to 1,000 lounge, cabaret, and pub seats would be allowed in the blocks from Georgia to Nelson." Thus leading to the Granville we know today. But has the current configuration harmed other businesses on the strip? Check out Bula's article for a variety of perspectives on the topic.
Secret Lives of Chinatown Seniors. Finally, over at The Tyee Jackie Wong begins a series of articles on a group you most likely don't know much about: Chinese seniors living in low-income housing. She explains, "While much is made about the seemingly flamboyant wealth of some Chinese immigrants to Canada, those who live at the May Wah [hotel] and other privately owned SROs in the old Chinatown area share a very different experience." It's a complex and humane exploration of a marginalized community's struggle for resources. And for more coverage on the subject check out the current issue of Megaphone.
At the MOVeum: 

April 26 - Brothels, Strolls, & Stilettos: Histories of Sex Work in Vancouver
April 27 - Strolling the stroll: A Tour of Sex Work History in the West End
May 2 - Special Curator Talk & Tour: Designing Sex w/ Propellor Design

[Image: Nighttime on Granville Street. Photo by Danielle Bauer via Flickr

MOVments: Schooling, Social Housing, and Shopping

In this instalment of MOVments we're taking a look at some pretty momentous happenings in the city. From a North Vancouver case that concluded in a landmark decision by the Supreme Court of Canada, to an unprecedented move forward by the provincial housing strategy, some key moments unfolded in civic history this week. And as a bonus, we're exploring some crucial junctures in something that, from a cultural standpoint, may be equally as important: the history of department store shopping.
Support for Special Education. A fifteen-year legal struggle with the North Vancouver school system is finally over for Jeffrey Moore and his family. The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Jeffrey, who had been diagnosed with dyslexia, was discriminated against when he was not given the help he needed with reading and literacy at his North Van school. As the Globe and Mail suggests, the implications are much broader than Jeffrey's case alone: "Advocates for the disabled were overjoyed by the judgment. They said that school boards that cannot furnish compelling evidence to justify under-funding must henceforth provide genuine help to children with learning disabilities." However, in his opinion piece for the The Tyee Crawford Kilian responds to the ruling, problematizing the way that school boards in the province have had their budgets rerouted. It seems that as always, the story is a bit more complicated than at first glance.
Hopeful Housing. The opening of the Sanford Apartments last week was a monumental occasion indeed: it is the seventh of 14 supportive housing developments planned for city-owned land in Vancouver. The housing complex also provides facilities such as a library and computer room for Vancouverites at risk of homelessness. As Mayor Robertson said it, “Safe and supportive housing is one of the most urgent needs of residents living with mental-health challenges, especially for those who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.” And it looks the former Ramada Hotel may be next in line for redevelopment as a social housing complex for seniors. It's the first non-downtown property the city has bought for conversion into low-cost housing.
Bay Day. And finally, David Look spends a day at the The Hudson Bay Company at Granville and Georgia and in the process weaves together a thoughtful piece on history, shopping, and memory for Ballast magazine. As he explains, "My idea was to get to the root of the 21st-century lifestyle that the Hudson’s Bay Company and its flagship stores throughout Canada represented. What became apparent was how deeply that lifestyle was entrenched in my own sense of personal history, and how my day spent there was, in part, an attempt to connect with it." Read it and you may just learn a thing or two about the shifting culture of department stores in Canada, the new Top Shop store, and the author's lived experience of it.

At the MOVeum:

November 18 - SALA SPEAKS @MOV: In Praise of Ambiguity
November 25 - SALA SPEAKS @MOV: Children in the City
November 28 - Evolving Geographies of Immigration in Vancouver: History and Horizons
December 8 - Love You Forever Tattoo Parlour

[Image: Pedestrians on Georgia Street outside the Hudson's Bay Company, 1940s. Courtesy of the City of Vancouver Archives, CVA 1184-1005]

MOVments: Alternate Realities and Theoretical Futures

This week we're exploring some things that could have been (and then weren't) and things that should have been (and still possibly could be). Confused? Don't be. Just get ready to delve into a few of the controversial, up-in-the-air, keep-you-guessing situations that have been popping up all over our fair city. 
Wide Streets to Remain Wide. Remember the "thin streets" proposal that aimed to increase density in laneways and underused roads? Looks like our streets are going to remain just as spacious as ever, at least for now. As the Vancouver Sun reports resident opposition at a recent city council meeting has meant that the proposed densification of streets in Grandview Woodlands, the West End, and Marpole has been deprioritized until more consultations can be made. During the meeting complaints centered around the logistics of the plan and how residents may lose natural light and green space on their properties.
Partying, Hard? And the 'No Fun City' debate rages on. After last week's Huffington Post article disparaged Vancouver for its apparently non-existent night life, Jason Sulyma provided a rebuttal, telling us that if we're bored here, it's our own fault. He admits that while there are problems with the city's archaic liquor laws, transit system, and funding for art spaces, there are plenty of positive things happening on the scene too. Indeed, from Granville Street gems to East Van grunge-dens, there seems to be a venue for everyone. Well, almost everyone. As The Tyee reports, partying is still very difficult for the under-nineteen set. However, a future with a permanent all-ages venue may be on the horizon. The Safe Amplification Site Society has high hopes for moving into the old Astorino's building on Commercial. 
The Future of Transit. And finally, Vancity Buzz just brought our attention to this nifty little map of the future of Vancouver transit. You might ask how long we have to wait for some of these upgrades? Oh, only about 100 years. With a wait that long, the projected transit routes seem to be firmly in the realm of fantasy. Another factor that makes the map a bit fantastical? Translink was recently accused of making a number of "faulty forecasts" with regard to their projected expansions. With Translink dealing with decreased revenue from the Golden Ears Bridge toll, a smaller tax cut from its levy on gas, and money guzzling projects like the Evergreen Line to Coquitlam and its ongoing support of the U-Pass program, we'll have to wait and see how fast the future arrives.
At the MOVeum:
October 10 - MOV Legacy Dinner
[Image: BC Transit Vancouver and Victoria touring guide booklet, 1994. Courtesy of the Museum of Vancouver collections, H2008.23.1004]

MOVments: On Urinals, Vertical Living, and Liminal Spaces

This week we're getting liminal, exploring the edges of what we consider public and private, indoor and outdoor, and social and solitary. From the Great White Urinal, rooftop (and indoor) gardens, and designs for more social living, this instalment of MOVments is playing and engaging with Vancouver's in-between spaces.

Great White Landmark. Since the early 1970s, the corner of Granville and Georgia has been dominated by what some claim to be the "ugliest building" in downtown Vancouver (nicknamed the Great White Urinal for its large, white, windowless exterior). But not any longer. The plans for a new building designed by James Cheng were revealed yesterday. The new development will see Sears leave its long time home and a new Nordstrom's department store open in the heart of the city. Some city planners are hoping that the modern, glass building will help connect the feel and aesthetic of Robson Street, Robson Square, and the Vancouver Art Gallery to the rest of the downtown core. As architect Michael Heeney told the Globe and Mail"One of the reasons Robson dissipates and loses its energy is because of that block."

Gardens in the Sky. Another new addition to downtown Vancouver? The first "urban vertical urban farm" in North America. Alterrus Systems is building a garden that will run on hydroponic technology and is expected to produce more than 150,000 pounds of leafy green vegetables and herbs annually. And yet another leafy answer to Vancouver's density dilemmas? Gorgeous rooftop flower gardens like this one featured in Forbes magazine. The owner of the house, Nick Kerchum seems like he has the right idea when it comes to gardening: his flowers are completely self-sufficient, and don't need to be watered or pruned.

Growing Up, Growing Together. In response to a recent Vancouver Foundation survey that looked at the increasing loneliness and isolation felt by many Vancouverites, architects Bing Thom, Michael Heeney, and Andy Yan, have written a manifesto that calls for more community-oriented urban planning in our city. Their piece is chalk full of quotable quotes around the need for creative responses to our evolving skyline: "Higher density residential living is ultimately unsustainable if the end result is simply the construction of gated vertical suburban communities in the sky." And the shortage of public spaces that encourage dialogue and promote comfortable interactions between strangers is an undercurrent throughout. Drawing an intriguing parallel, Thom, Heeney, and Yan bring attention to the in-between spaces that may need some tweaking, "Before (and probably long after) Facebook and Twitter, public spaces and streets were the original social network and, once in a while, this network could use some upgrading." On the other hand, sharing space on the streets may take some getting used to, as illustrated by this little story about recent food cart feuding.

Business Time. And lastly, Toby Barazzuol, chair of the Strathcona Business Improvement Association and upcoming Interesting Vancouver speaker, explores the intersections between business and community development in this fantastic opinion piece from the Vancouver Sun.

At the MOVeum: 
September 19 - Opening Night - Object(ing): The art/design of Tobias Wong 
September 20 - Built City @MOV: Urban Evolution, Retold 

[Image: 700 Granville Street, west side, 1981. City of Vancouver photo, CVA 779-W02.16]


Rediscovering Granville: Car-Free Street


The other day my colleague Kaylin Pearce and I were discussing the difference between the car free experiment on Granville Street and other car-free events around Vancouver. We have both been to a couple of Car-Free Vancouver events around the city and are familiar with the vibrancy that a car-free event can bring to the street.

What we’ve seen over the past few weeks is that free activities such as yoga and dance classes do get a good turnout of people visiting Granville Street, but on days where there is no public programming, the number of people on the street can vary widely. Often the centre of the street is mostly empty.

Granville Street was last turned into a pedestrian mall between 1974 and 1988. Opponents of the current car-free trial are quick to point out that this previous car-free experiment did not produce the anticipated foot traffic and businesses suffered. However, the failure of the pedestrian mall could be attributed to the opening of Pacific Centre Mall around the same time and the fact that transit ridership and the number of people living downtown at that time was significantly lower. Times have changed and with increased transit and a greater population residing in the downtown core, presumably a pedestrian or transit mall on Granville Street could work.

So why do car-free days work elsewhere? Perhaps timing is an issue. Because Car-Free Vancouver is a day long event, it takes on a novel, festive atmosphere. Businesses, organizations and individuals put more effort into making the event a success. When the street is blocked off all the time there’s less incentive and less urgency.



But there seems to be more to it than the timing. The most successful car-free events are located in residential neighbourhoods and have a huge amount of community support and participation. They are largely the product of grassroots organization and the work of many, many volunteers from the communities where the events take place. Communities such as Commercial Drive, Main Street and Kitsilano have a well-established character and an active community and the organization for these events is comes from the communities themselves.


Granville Street in the downtown core is not embedded in a residential neighbourhood in the same way that some of these other streets are, which means that aside from the local business improvement association, there isn’t much of a population that actually inhabits it and feels invested in it in the same way. Because it is an entertainment district, Granville Street has a very different focus from a neighbourhood street. It has a lot of shopping, pubs and concert venues, but lacks a variety of other all-ages amenities and entertainment that would draw a wider crowd.

The impetus for this project has come from the top-down, which doesn’t make it any less worthwhile, but it does present certain challenges. While the City and local businesses are making the effort, the community doesn’t seem to be there yet to support it. Building that community where none is currently living is a challenge when there isn’t much else to do there other than shop and drink. But if the community wants Granville Street revitalized then they’re going to have to step up to the plate and contribute too.

Rediscovering Granville is a summer series on the MOV Blog about Granville Street. See the other posts in the serieshere.

Image credit: E. Brown-John

Rediscovering Granville: Shifting Audiences


Part of the justification for the current car-free experiment on Granville is the City’s desire to revitalize the area and encourage more people to use the space. However, Granville was far from empty before. The street already has a lot of animation and life, just perhaps not the most desirable kind.

From the 90s onwards city zoning encouraged the location of a high volume of bars and nightclubs on Granville Street, transforming it into an entertainment district. It has a relatively stable nighttime population of pub and concertgoers.

This demographic is much maligned, occasionally the target of news stories that focus on the challenges of policing the area. Most of these people are reportedly young and from the suburbs. Fights, public drunkenness, weapons and gang activity are frequently problems in the area, leading business owners to engage in controversial programs such as Bar Watch.

However, Rediscover Granville’s entertainment lineup reveals that the City is attempting to attract a different, more family-friendly demographic to the area. Whether this new group is compatible with the pre-existing culture of the street remains to be seen.

At the moment, the two populations seem segregated - one inhabits the street north of Robson and the other to the south, and at night they’re very different places. The programmed activities seem to take place mainly between Dunsmuir and Robson and don’t seem to be aimed at changing the culture of the entertainment district.

In a sense, the same separation was visible during the Olympics. The street between Dunsmuir and Robson was filled with lanterns and public art, and attracted a large number of tourists and families. Beyond Robson it was a drunken binge. At the time, that arrangement seemed to work. Perhaps it still does.

It will be interesting to see how the current project with it’s sustained programming works out and whether it changes the feel of the area. Certainly encouraging a greater variety of people to enjoy Granville Street is a good thing. The kind of programming that the City is putting on will encourage people to use the space at other times of day, rather than just at night. Hopefully it will attract people who are normally put-off by the entertainment district to return over the longer term.

Rediscovering Granville is a summer series on the MOV Blog about Granville Street. See the other posts in the series here.

Image credit: E. Brown-John

Rediscovering Granville: Endangered Heritage


The Holman Block/Golden Gate Hotel (1888-89), one of Vancouver's oldest buildings

This year Granville Street is number four on Heritage Vancouver’s Top 10 Ten Endangered Sites list.

Each year Heritage Vancouver compiles a list of buildings and historical sites that are in danger of decay or demolition. Certain buildings on Granville Street have made the list in previous years, but this year Heritage Vancouver took the step of placing the entire street on the list. Over time, many of the buildings on Granville Street have fallen into disrepair and there are currently few incentives to promote their restoration and upkeep. The organization is concerned that the current project to revitalize Granville Street will result in the replacement of several heritage buildings with new developments and the loss of the character of the streetscape. There are several reasons why the organization is concerned.

Several key buildings along the street are not currently listed in the Heritage Register, meaning that there is no specific bylaw in place to protect them from being demolished or significantly renovated. Being listed in the Heritage Register places several restrictions on renovations and alterations that can be made to buildings, with the intent of protecting the facade and streetscape. It also makes property owners eligible for grants and other financial assistance for repairs.

Heritage Vancouver has recommended that several buildings along Granville Street be added to this list. However, as the organization argues, though this is an important step, the focus of the Register and bylaws is on the exterior of buildings. There is nothing in place to ensure the protection of the interiors of buildings, leaving spaces such as the Vogue Theatre and the Commodore Ballroom’s horse-hair dance floor vulnerable to being altered or lost during renovations.


The Gresham Hotel (1908)

Another program in place to protect heritage buildings is currently on hold. The Heritage Density Exchange Program rewards developers who restore old buildings or build public amenities by giving them the opportunity to add extra density to other developments. This program has resulted in several successful projects, such as the Roundhouse, the Stanley Theatre and Christ Church Cathedral restorations. However, the amount of density awarded has outstripped the pace of development, leaving a large pool of potential new development that is not being built. In the downtown core there is limited space to absorb that density.

In the meantime there is increasing pressure to densify the downtown core and many buildings along Granville Street continue to decay. With the renewed focus on cleaning up the area several significant buildings could be lost. Important decisions must be made about the future character of the area, whether heritage features will be maintained, or whether the street will be transformed into something new.


The Yale Hotel (1889)

Rediscovering Granville is a summer series on the MOV Blog about Granville Street. See the other posts in the series here.

Images: E. Brown-John


Rediscovering Granville


Last week the City of Vancouver went ahead with the Rediscover Granville project, a plan to make Granville Street pedestrian-only until Labour Day. Five blocks have been blocked to traffic and the City has installed artificial turf and extra seating in order to encourage people to use the new space. There is a schedule of public events and activities planned along the street during the weekends.


The project aims to revitalize the streetscape and create community through increasing the amount of public space downtown and encouraging further use of the space including larger restaurant patios and more busking. Though this has not been the first time that pedestrian-only options have been explored or attempted for Granville Street, the City cites the success of street closures during the Olympics as the main reason why it has gone ahead.

The street closure was announced to much fanfare and media coverage and gained a lot of attention when crowds came to watch World Cup games on giant screens near Sears. However, now that the project is underway it is likely that it will get very little press until it is completed.

Over the next several weeks we intend to focus on what is happening on Granville Street and explore some of the issues around what we see.

Image credit: Kama Guezalova, (CC) via flickr

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