October 16, 2006
Carrall Street Redevelopment
The city of Vancouver is trying to complete a seawall circuit around the downtown peninsula but it has to go through one of the city's most historically rich and socially complex streets: Carrall Street.
To complete the Seawall walk, Carrall Street will go through a makeover.
It's refered to as the "Carrall Street Greenway Project".
Carrall Street will be the final piece of a puzzle creating a waterfront walk going from Crab Park in Gastown, all along the Burrard Inlet, around Stanley Park to a seawall along False Creek through Livingston Park to the border of Chinatown and Downtown or International Village.
The design is meant to attract tourists and encourage a vibrant street life for residents in the area.
It may not be the most expensive project in the city, it's only $5 million, but it is one of the major undertakings by the city even when held against major infrastructure projects such as the $1.7 billion RAV line.
Like the Woodwards development, the Carrall Street Greenway is situated on a site steeped with Vancouver's history. One can follow Carrall Street and move north to south and literally walk through the strata of architectural archaeology and community heritage.
On the north end are traditional landing points and settlements of First Nations. Some of the earliest industrial development took hold here in the 1800s including a mill at the north end. Then there is the growth of Gastown immediately south of it. Further south is Chinatown. Then there's the Expo 86 lands now being developed by Concord Pacific and eventually it will connect with the 2010 legacy with the athlete's village at False Creek South East.
It's a rich site and an intriguing site. Students at the school of architecture and landscape architecture at UBC have a studio class located on Carrall Street and their focus this semester will be studying and coming up with design solutions to connect the history, the sociology and the geography of the site through design.
Carrall Street blogger Carol Sill, who lives and works in the neighbourhood and is a member of the Carrall Street Stewardship Committee says, "Carrall Street is a microcosm of Vancouver."
Part of the microcosm includes drugs. Carrall Street is one of the hot zones when it comes to drug-trade. Pigeon Park on the corner of Hastings and Carrall has been historically thought of a place to sell crack or heroin. But there's also an alley way that has a notorious reputation. It's between Pender and Hastings. Roger Bayley, a principal with Merrick Architecture and chair of the Stewardship committee, says, "It is the worst alley way in the city."
Still, there are no calls to use architecture and design to remove the drug trade in the area. Instead, there is a soft, live-and-let-live approach.
Jessica Chen-Adams, a planner with the city, says the focus is strutural and physical. The sidewalks will be wider. There will be three rows of trees running north-south along Carrall and there will be possibly a street motif in the shape of a cresting wave or a spiral that will be found on bike racks, drain covers and lamppost.
The spiral motif has received some derision. In part it's inspired by the golden section, a geometric calculation dating back to the Renaissance that defines the most pleasing proportions to the eye. Many designers I've spoken too don't like it because it's out of place. Many would prefer historical references derived from the local (ie First Nations, early industrial development and Chinese Canadian heritage).
The other critique I've heard is the design may encourage motorists and cyclist to blow through the community. It won't provide adequate opportunities for business development and legal street activity.
But despite the criticism, Bayley says, "The project will be a mechanism for regeneration."
I'm not sure.
Along Carrall there is a green-cut that connects Carrall Street to Shanghai Alley.
Aesthetically, it's a nice looking space until you become familiar with it social use. In the words of one local storekeeper, it's a place where people get stoned and have sex and this is in front of a seniors home.
So this may be just the moving of deck chairs - or even just the painting of deck chairs. And once the project is done, this heritage-laden strip may only accomplish in demonstrating the limits of architecture's social impact.
Will Carrall Street become beautiful and still a dive at the same time? It is possible.
That said, the city should be commended for restraining any impulse to socially engineer the zone.
Who knows, the project may be at the tipping point. The area is experiencing lots of commercial and social housing development with the work of the Portland Hotel Society and the designs of Merrick Architecture.
Perhaps, if the makeover is done well, maybe we will have a great Vancouver street.
Construction starts in January.