I will start this off by saying that I am a flaming preservationist. I worked for a year in a small downtown in Oregon leading a Main Street program with a focus on business development but from a preservationist approach. It’s easy to do that there, in a small town setting that thrives on its history. In a place like Vancouver, or any other large city with inflated housing and development markets, the preservation approach is much more difficult to use as a reason for keeping buildings, and it is clear that usually new, higher use buildings get the go ahead from developers and city council, replacing the few existing historical gems we have left.
[Thanks to Illustrated Vancouver for the images!]
Yes, cities like Vancouver must plan for the future. Yes, there is a housing crisis, and the demand and dire need for more housing is absolutely a priority for municipal policy. Yes, Vancouver is pretty much built out, and higher densities are needed as more and more people choose Vancouver as their home. But where do we draw the line?
As a relatively new Vancouverite, I struggle finding very many historical buildings in the city, and often I wonder what was located on particular sites before the high-rise “green” condo buildings and same old modern style structures that define the Vancouver skyline today. Vancouver continues to be known worldwide as one of the greenest cities. A new report from the National Trust for Historic Preservation in the States has concluded that, “when comparing buildings of equivalent size and function, building reuse almost always offers environmental savings over demolition and new construction.”
Being green is great and not being discounted, but when the issue of greater residential and commercial demand exceeds the capacity of existing heritage buildings, the dilemma arises. Demolish the old building for something higher capacity? (See the new plans for 720 Robson St) Keep the building, but build around it, maybe with a new tower soaring above? (See the Patina/YMCA in Vancouver) Or keep the historic building, maybe with a few renovations, but no major capacity changes?
These are the issues cities are facing today and in the future. Keep these historic gems that are part of our cultural pasts and tell stories of a Vancouver that once was, or make way for new density that attempts to solve problems of high demand and bring more tax dollars to the city and profits to developers.
What’s your take on this? Is there a right or wrong answer?