The right height for Victoria (and Selkirk)

March 7, 2008 at 11:09 pm 3 comments

A little over a year ago, the Victoria Urban Development Institute asked me to speak at their monthly luncheon alongside architect Franc D’Ambrosio. It was billed as a “point/counterpoint” debate but as Franc said later, it was more of a love-fest, with both of us expressing a willingness to see increased height and density in certain Downtown locations.

Afterward, Mike Kozakowski from asked if he could put my speech on his website under the “Articles” section and I agreed. As the population of the CRD increases, I think it’s vital that we engage in an intelligent dialogue on densification. So click on over and give it a read. I was pleased to see they added some links to the text so that you can get some extra info.

The speech seemed to go over quite well and there was a thoughtful but brief Q and A session after.

If there is one regret, it’s that I didn’t playfully take Franc to task over his Selkirk Waterfront neighbourhood. Walking through it again last weekend I felt that the lack of density on the site made it feel emptier than it should be. Although the last residential building, 365 Waterfront, is under construction, I feel that there still isn’t the residential density here that makes the area economically viable and dynamic. The cafe was closed on Saturday and many of the commercial spaces on the “main street” have long been vacant. Weekdays bring office workers and the activity surrounding Selkirk’s Montessori School, and weekends bring the brunch crowd to Glo restaurant and rowers to the waterfront docks. But Selkirk still seems to lack that critical mass of people that would make it a unqualified success.

Now, D’Ambrosio is one of my favourite local architects, and we’ve spent a lot of time discussing architecture and urban planning.

I’m not saying that the addition of a modest midrise would have transformed Selkirk into Yaletown or False Creek, but the addition of a few hundred extra residents would have made a visible difference.

Entry filed under: architecture, Uncategorized, urban design. Tags: , .

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. roominant  |  March 8, 2008 at 8:32 pm

    Even though all of the Selkirk’s waterfront sites are accounted for now, I think there’s still plenty of potential in the area extending east to Bridge Street, and also along Gorge Road itself. Aerial photos reveal a considerable amount of surface parking, for example.

    Personally, I would love to see two or three slightly taller residential buildings, maybe in the range of 8-12 stories. Some people might freak out at this but we should remember that there are already some older residential buildings of this same height along the Gorge just to the west of the trestle bridge.

    There’s a condo building downtown on Cormorant Street called “Corazon” that would be a good fit in the rear areas of the Selkirk community. The new buildings under construction at Dockside Green would also be a good height/size for the Selkirk area.

    Like you say, a few more residents wouldn’t turn the area into Yaletown, but it might just give it that extra kick to keep it alive all week long.

  • 2. VicHockeyFan  |  March 8, 2008 at 11:26 pm

    When Dockside gets built out, maybe Railyards, Dockside and Selkirk will sort of make up that critical mass ie. walk across the bridge to have dinner etc.

  • 3. robertrandall  |  March 9, 2008 at 2:27 am

    Yes, the neighbouring developments will surely help, even though the heavily trafficked Gorge Road arterial may be a psychological barrier for some.

    Selkirk has a dream list of amenities–a restaurant/pub, a rowing and athletic club, two cafes, a small grocery along with the elementary school. All that’s missing is the bodies. Filling up the remaining retail spaces is critical, too. I don’t know why they haven’t given potential businesses discounted lease rates to get them started.

    My ‘debate’ with Franc was about height, not density, so D’Ambrosio (and Peter DeHoog [?]) may have boxed themselves into a corner so to speak by specifying low-heights in Selkirk. But they may have been right all along–the other side of Gorge Road may turn out to be a more appropriate place for height.


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