Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Granville Street’s future begins today

with 3 comments

Ultan Kampff in the Vancouver Sun

Ultan Kampff is vice-president of the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association and general manager of Cadillac Fairview/Pacific Centre.

And things have certainly changed at Pacific Centre. The debates and arguments over the future of Granville Street have been going on for many years. I used to go to meetings at the DVBIA of a working group – or some such – as the solitary representative of the transit agency. So of course all I could talk about was transit, and how important is was that any street redesign paid attention to its role as a transit exchange. I also noted that it was the only place in the region (let alone the City) where transit had any priority.

Of course it was Pacific Centre that pretty much killed off the retail activity of the street. It provided a parallel, enclosed street where the retailers moved to. Not that its representative on that group ever acknowledged their role. And it was John Fluevog who, by sticking to his street location in defiance of that trend, eventually led the street’s revival. And Blaine Culling, who brought the over development of “entertainment” to the southern end of the street, which remained open to traffic, who was the most vociferous opponent of what he called “a bowling alley for buses”. It pleases me greatly that this strip of booze cans is now closed to cars, just to cope with the crowds at weekends.

If history has taught us anything, it’s that you can build a street — great or otherwise — but if you don’t nurture it, program it, plan it, clean it and engage people in it, all the shiny furniture, clean sidewalks and bright lights won’t sustain it.

Great streets, by design, lend themselves to people gathering, socializing and engaging with each other. But great streets are also purposefully programmed and well used to encourage visitors to linger and enjoy the space.

The adage “build it and they will come” may be true, but program it, and they will stay.

This is one of the most intelligent things I have ever seen written about this street and is a very hopeful sign for the future. Long may Ultan Kampff remain in charge down there.

Written by Stephen Rees

December 1, 2008 at 12:06 pm

3 Responses

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  1. Personally I think that the current revitalization could have been accomplished without cutting down all of the existing street trees – many of which were over 1 foot in diamter. At least most of the trees north of Georgia are being preserved (apparently they can straighten the street there without cutting down too many). Essentially, the trees south of Georgia were cut down just to straighten the street so that double rows of street trees could be planted (a cosmetic change). Other cosmetic improvements such as lighting, etc. could have been accomplished around the existing trees and bus drivers have been driving a curved street for 30 years without a head-on collision that I know of.
    I wonder how many of the young trees to be planted will survive the weekly nighclub crowds to grow as big as the ones that were cut down – or will the City be constantly replacing them as they are broken or macheted. I see a lot of young trees downtown that don’t survve their first year.

    Ron C.

    December 2, 2008 at 1:21 pm

  2. It’s actually kind of neat to see Granville St without the trees – you get a nice view of all the neon signs that are left…

    I’m also very hopeful upon reading that quote – we’re terrible at programming our public spaces in Vancouver. Victoria’s inner harbour puts us to shame really as an example of a vibrant area with lots going on in a place where people naturally want to gather. Hopefully Granville St will step up to the plate and be the place to go and linger and people watch!


    December 3, 2008 at 10:26 am

  3. I noticed that too – that the street more closely resembles the historic photos because of the absence of the trees. In fact, there is more of a lively urban “vibe” because there aren’t any trees.

    Now, if the revitalization was touted (or marketed) as a means of urbanizing the street – i.e. removing greenery, then maybe what is being done would have been more honestly presented by the City. i.e. remove the trees, allow the buildings and neon to be at the forefront rather than hidden by large trees. But I don’t think that is what the City has in mind, as they are planting double rows of new street trees – and I don’t think the new trees will just be short ornamental trees.

    Ron C.

    December 3, 2008 at 2:38 pm

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