By Christina DeMarco
Much has been written about the forlorn southern end of Granville Street in the downtown, dotted with empty shop fronts and looking more like a street in Detroit than Vancouver. But what about the northern end of Granville Street?
This end definitely has a “Motor City” look too, dead-ending in one of the city’s largest underground parking lots. This parking lot is now half empty, even at peak periods. (See photo above.)
To add insult to injury, the parkade is stuck onto one of our finest heritage buildings, Waterfront Station, and blocks our views and access to Burrard Inlet.
But Granville Street at one time was a majestic, great street. See, for example, the wartime photo below when Granville was open all the way to Burrard Inlet and lined with substantial buildings of beauty and function.
Many of those buildings are still standing but on the west side of Granville Street, they are scarred by the hideous elevated walkway leading over Cordova Street. Pedestrians use the overpass because the sidewalk level is so unpleasant. The sidewalks can be brought up to Vancouver standards when a new office building replaces the multistorey parkade on the southeast corner of Granville and Cordova and when the overpass is demolished, improving access to Sinclair Centre.
Over a year has passed since we formed the Downtown Waterfront Working Group. We citizens got together because we were concerned about the future of the central downtown waterfront. We were alarmed by the bulky, un-neighbourly steel and glass building proposed for the surface parking lot on the east side of waterfront site (555 West Cordova Street). We were also troubled that no one was talking about the need to consider the development in the context of the entire waterfront.
The developer of the proposed building on the east side of Waterfront Station, Cadillac Fairview, is also the owner of Waterfront Station, the Granville Street right of way north of Cordova, and the parkade, as well as the office buildings on top of the parkade.
In 2009, the City of Vancouver endorsed the Central Waterfront Hub Framework—a boring name for an exciting vision for the downtown waterfront. One of the most innovative and insightful aspects of the hub framework was reconnecting Granville Street to the waterfront. This would open up the potential to develop the woefully underused lands north of Waterfront Station for an exciting mixed-use development with public spaces and greenways overlooking the harbour.
It would also provide the opportunity to link the east side and Gastown area to Coal Harbour via Canada Place—and the extension of Granville is necessary to achieve this. When the convention centre was being planned, similar thinking and proactive planning led to the bicycle and pedestrian connections from Coal Harbour to Burrard Landing.
The sketch below is from that Central Waterfront Hub Framework, showing an idea of what Granville Street could look like if part of the parkade and the pedestrian overpass were demolished and Granville was once again connected to the harbour.
Making it happen
First of all we citizens need to aspire to a much improved waterfront. The potential public benefits for residents, workers and tourists are enormous, with thousands passing through the busiest transit hub in the region. So far, the city has not told us how they are going to secure the Granville Street right of way nor how the hub framework is going to be implemented. Cadillac Fairview shared some new design concepts for its building on the east side of Waterfront Station back in December. But these concepts did not include any mention of the opening up of Granville Street. None of us has heard anything more since December.
The governance is really messy but so were many other great city building achievements around the world. The city, Port Metro Vancouver, TransLink, Cadillac Fairview, Carrera Holdings, CP Rail, the province, and the federal government need to find a way to work together.
In the meantime, the Downtown Waterfront Working Group has asked the city to put a pause on any development north of Cordova Street until a comprehensive implementation plan is developed for the Central Waterfront Hub Framework.
When council endorsed the Central Waterfront Hub Framework back in 2009, we are sure that it did not intend it to collect dust for years on end. Council realized the federal government would need to be actively involved, especially with significant land holdings owned by Port Metro Vancouver. With a change in federal government and its interest in sustainable, vibrant cities, transit, the environment, heritage, and culture, now is the opportune time to get going on implementing the hub framework and reconnecting the downtown to the waterfront.