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Big Lies About Tall Buildings

People Gather for a January 11 Forum

by Joseph Jones

Possible Burrard Gateway and Davie Towers
Possible Burrard Gateway and Davie Towers
Shadows That Could Fall Over Chinatown
Shadows That Could Fall Over Chinatown
Chinatown at 3:00 PM on New Year's Day 2011
Chinatown at 3:00 PM on New Year's Day 2011

Also posted by Joseph Jones:

Unnecessary new tall buildings threaten Vancouver's livability and sustainability. Despite a snowy evening, a forum on 11 January 2011 brought a capacity crowd of over a hundred people to Vancouver Public Library Central Branch. During the evening several people remarked that the charged atmosphere recalled the 1970s grassroots uprising against politicians' love of freeways.

Sponsor CityHallWatch has already issued a brief report on the meeting. Randy Helten, a mainstay of West End Neighbours, used his opening remarks to stress the on-the-fly nature of the rough-edged event. For two to three hours, people hungry for perspective on backroom stealth planning paid close attention. Attendance continued to grow.

The centerpiece presentation came from Stephen Bohus, a professional qualified in landscape architecture and 3-D modeling. Since the city's report (item 3 on agenda) emerged 10 December 2010, on extremely short notice, Bohus has devoted many volunteer hours to reviewing and critiquing City of Vancouver plans.

Bohus repeatedly demonstrated the visual deceit that city planners use on open house boards and in report documents. A picture has more impact than ten thousand bureaucratic words. City planners craft sweet images to lull and cajole their audiences into swallowing big lies and tall buildings.

Bohus opened up a big bag of dirty graphic tricks:

  • Perspective distortion to make tall buildings look shorter. Few if any people would ever approach the Burrard Bridge at the height shown in a planner graphic.
  • Context elimination – the urban core from Spanish Banks with only sky behind, no mountains to be obscured by taller buildings.
  • Color flimflam – imaging big buildings in a blendy good-associations green, rather than a standout magenta.
  • Situating a view from the Olympic Village from a point that a human being would never be likely to occupy.
  • Panorama stitching at Creekside to produce a view that no human eye would ever see.
  • Seasonal spin – showing a view of the mountains that would be cut off by trees with leaves.

Bohus highlighted nasty features of tall buildings: canyon creation, aggravation of wind effects, serious loss of sunlight, and the consequent shifting of pedestrian life to an underground city.

Three brief talks rounded out the formal presentation. Jean Swanson called attention to the Downtown Eastside's own community vision, and that area's ability to accommodate an additional 9,000 persons under current allowed density. Proposed height measures would destroy that vision. Residents are now fighting both for the life of their community and for their own lives.

Rand Chatterjee spoke from a single graph about how poorly taller buildings rank among various housing types, both in ability to accommodate numbers of people and in ecological performance.

Ned Jacobs stated that current zoned capacity in Vancouver can accommodate many decades of future growth without the addition of even one more tall building. Jacobs also pointed out the horrendous financial implications of needless upzonings that lock the city into a density bonusing that starves out amenities.

The far-too-short remaining time allowed for a few comments and questions from the floor. Almost at the end, Director of Planning Brent Toderian said that the City of Vancouver would be making a public presentation on the height issues ahead of the January 20th council meeting. The details for that meeting were announced the following day.

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