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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Price Points:The Beginning of Vancouverism?

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Did “Vancouverism” start here?



What’s ‘Vancouverism,’ some recent arrival might ask?  Our friend the Wiki says:

… an urban planning and architectural technique pioneered in Vancouver, Canada. It is characterized by mixed-use developments, typically with a medium-height, commercial base and narrow, high-rise residential towers to accommodate high populations and to preserve view corridors.

Pacific Palisades fits the definition, doesn’t it?  And since it was built almost 50 years ago, it may be the earliest iteration of what evolved in the 1990s as the recognized Vancouver Style:  slim condo towers on top of a podium of sidewalk-hugging townhouses, with commercial storefronts along the shopping streets.

Save for the townhouses, all the elements are there.  The towers are certainly typical of Sixties design: squared blocks with simple floorplates and a balcony per apartment.  But the podium is special, with its modernist arches now wonderfully restored except for the necessary rain canopy along Robson.

According to Steve Ballegeer, who has a terrific shot on his photostream, the 20-storey tower on the southwest corner (Robson and Jervis) was completed in 1966, while the 23-storey tower to the north was completed in 1968.   A third 22-storey tower was imploded in 1994 to make way for the Palisades condominium tower  – a dramatic example at the time of the rip-roaring condo boom – along with the demolition of a nicely proportioned medium-rise office building that faced Bute Street.

This complex, built before the strata-title act, was a luxury rental project when the West End was associated with the Swinging Sixties – populated by young people who would be working in the corporate towers a short walk away.  The Palisades was later converted to a hotel, and, in a sign of the rejuvenation of the rental market, is now converting back, appealing to the latest iteration of downtown dwellers.

Or at least that’s whom the marketing department is targeting, as revealing in its own way as any demographic analysis.  Take a look:



A few fun minutes can be spent at Robson and Jervis, comparing the people who walk by with the stereotypes in the windows.  To be honest, I think PaPa nailed it pretty well.


One image in particular:

Transportation cyclists …  in their 30s … wearing street clothes and helmets.   Maybe without car parking in the Palisades … but certainly with bike storage.

… Vancouverism is evolving.


One comment

  1. This is interesting. And contradicts the history I was given recently by a Vancouver architect that Li Ka-shing brought the podium/tower model to Vancouver post-1986, after being unable to sell it anywhere else. Is that true or false? [For those who don’t know, Li (Concord Pacific) bought much of the Expo ’86 lands at bargain prices (paid $125 million for 12.2 million square feet of development, or $10 a buildable foot) and proceeded to fill those lands with the tower/podium form, which is fundamental to the urban planning concept known as “Vancouverism.”]

    I guess it would be off topic here to get into criticizing podium/tower Vancouverism or asking whether it’s past its due date, but the ‘young people’ I know in those condos are just desperate to get out of them, and whole swaths of North False Creek are windswept, pedestrian-unfriendly, family-unfriendly, non-functioning neighbourhoods with an inadequate level of demographic mixing. The posters above are soooo optimistic.