Building Beautiful in Beautiful British Columbia!

Canada is a nation blessed with staggering quantities of natural beauty.  With the longest coastline in the world, vistas of the Atlantic, Arctic and Pacific oceans, along with views over the stunning Great Lakes, and innumerable majestic rivers, Canadian cities have inherited glorious real estate!  Natural beauty of all kinds abounds, but surely no part of Canada can boast of so much natural beauty as British Columbia!

Vancouver, for example, is home to every kind of waterfront; beachfront, oceanfront, riverfront, harbourfront, creekfront and if that isn’t good enough they even threw in mountains!

Vancouver waterfront

Photo: Vancouver Waterfront, 2013 AJG

But it takes more than natural beauty to create beautiful cities, towns, villages and indeed communities.  Actually some very beautiful cities have very little natural beauty.  Paris, for example, has limited natural beauty.  Paris, however, has incorporated beauty and the contemplation of beauty in every metre and measure.  This beauty is not just architectural, it is also natural as they have brought the beauty of trees into the streets, parks, nooks and crannies of the great metropolis and thus demonstrated to the world the benefits of building beautifully and harmoniously with nature.

Vancouver is a city that has also built beautifully and in harmony with nature.

Vancouver tall buildings

Photo: Vancouver Streetscape, 2013 AJG

Architecturally Vancouver is much different than Paris, but the creation of green, tree-lined streets and ample parks prove that modern skyscraper-filled cities can be beautiful.

The contemplation of beauty, or perhaps the profound desire to maintain beauty and views of the beauty is what truly sets Vancouver apart.  This contemplation of beauty resulted in a new way to build, and this new way is even called Vancouverism!

It is generally believed that the following famous sketch by Vancouver architect Arthur Ericson provided the first glimpse of what great, modern, high density cities can look like.  Rather than follow Le Corbusier’s vision of large concrete slabs that block out views and light and life, Erickson envisioned the tall tower surrounded by a podium base.


Image: Arthur Erickson 1955 Sketch

The tall glazed tower rising from a surrounding podium is one of the hallmarks of Vancouver.  The street-level is filled with mixed use retail and commercial space while the tower provides the residential density.  Most importantly for Vancouverites, the views of the surrounding mountains and waterways are maintained for the greatest number of condo and apartment dwellers!  This design concept also allows for variety in heights, facades and uses along the streetscape and therefore a much more animated experience for pedestrians.

Vancouver green building

Photo: Vancouver 2013, AJG

At the heart of building beautiful cities, towns and villages is the need to build in harmony with natural beauty and most especially the need to plant and preserve trees

“Given a limited budget, the most effective expenditure of funds to improve a street would probably be on trees… trees can transform a street more easily than any other physical improvement. Moreover, for many people trees are the most important single characteristic of a good street.”
Allan B. Jacobs, Great Streets

The basis for the need for trees is the human need to be in touch with nature.

“It is the main duty of government to provide means of protection for all of its citizens in the pursuit of happiness.  It is scientific fact that occasional contemplation of natural scenes increases the subsequent capacity for happiness and the means for securing that happiness.”

Frederick Law Olmstead, creator of Central Park in NYC, from report for the establishment of Yosemite National Park, 1863

The following photograph taken at the Othello Caves in Hope B.C. is of an abandoned rail bed.  Nature has reclaimed its space and it now affords a window in time where we can see an example of primordial forest and ancient footpaths such as humanity once walked upon.  These forests and footpaths provided shelter, and the canopy of trees reminds our spirits of our connection to nature.

Othelo caves tree lined allee

Photo: Othello Caves, Kettle Valley Railway bed, Hope B.C. 2015 AJG

From this ancient truth comes the foundation for building beautiful cities, towns, villages and communities.

Vancouver tree lined sidewalk

Photo: Hornby St. Vancouver 2015, AJG

The tree lined path or allee has been an integral part of architectural, landscape and garden design for centuries.  The tree lined street and boulevard is the primary element of beautiful cities.

Vancouver has declared it will be the greenest city in the world and has embarked on a multifaceted program to achieve this lofty goal.  Planting trees, in addition to implementing carbon free transportation are among the elements.

Vancouver greenest-city-action-plan

Walkable, cyclable mixed use streetscapes are fundamental to green sustainable cities.

Vancouver cycle lane

Photo: Hornby St. Vancouver 2015, AJG

Vancouver streetscape 1

Photo: Nelson & Hornby St. Vancouver 2015, AJG

Vancouver streetscape 2

Photo: Burrard & W. Hastings St., Vancouver 2013, AJG

The following photo is of a rather interesting Vancouverist development.  A “big box” Home Depot is transformed into an urbanist’s dream.  Higher densities are achieved by upper level condos while vibrant commercial space on street level fulfills one of the basic needs of the community.

Vancouver Home Depot

Photo: Vancouver 2013, AJG

A lower density residential dreamscape…

Vancouver tree canopy

Photo: Vancouver 2013, AJG

Of course, Vancouver is not perfect.  Homelessness and indeed home affordability has become a significant challenge.

Also, Vancouver and the Provincial Government unfortunately allowed their government owned electrical utility to continue to operate with above ground utility lines.  In Vancouver as in many other B.C. cities the utilities were mercifully placed behind buildings in utility corridors and back alleys, but today this short sighted vision has created extraordinarily ugly spaces where crime and the detritus of a wasteful society have festered.

Vancouver utility corridor

Photo: Vancouver utility corridor, 2015 AJG

Fortunately, Vancouver planners have begun to look to these forgotten places simply because land has become so precious.  Backlot and ally in-fill projects are requiring the undergrounding of the ugly utility lines which can be paid for from the proceeds and return on investment offered by converting these expensive wastes of space into productive space.

Vancouver utility corridor with trees

Photo: Vancouver utility alley, 2013 AJG

New housing options which include non-market public housing, as well as cycle lanes and transit lanes are all possible in these valuable publically owned spaces!  Underground vacuum garbage and recyclable systems can eliminate the need for garbage bins, to say nothing about the emissions from fleets of diesel garbage trucks!

Vancouver started this lost space conversion with the innovative development at Granville Island.

Granville Island Under-bridge 3

Here the wasted space under a bridge was converted to a wonderful streetscape.

Granville Island Under-bridge 4

The new and much acclaimed Vancouver House development by Westbank has taken this idea to another level!

Vancouver House Underbridge Chandelier


At the heart of these wonderful developments is Streetscaping.  There are only 5 Elements to Streetscaping and the return on investment is extraordinary.

1.  TREES AND PLANTINGS include considerations for plant species, shade, spacing, canopy, color, root chambers, fixed or movable planters, as well as green storm water management plans.

2.  UNDERGROUND UTILITY LINES include considerations for joint trench design, at-grade or below grade equipment, Smart meters and fault detection, lamp posts, WI-FI, fibre capacity, Smart sensors etc.

3.  STREET DIMENSIONS AND PAVING include considerations for “Complete Street” designs for pedestrians and cyclists with widened sidewalks, cycle lanes, accessibility, traffic volumes and patterns, traffic calming measures, medians. parking requirements, transit requirements and surface materials and design.

4.  CURBS AND SIDEWALKS include considerations for sidewalk widths, cafe seating, bulb outs, dedicated or integrated cycle lanes, sidewalk materials, accessible curbing, storm drainage choices especially green storm water management utilizing planting swales, rain gardens and permeable surfaces.

5.  FIXTURES AND FURNISHINGS include considerations for LED lighting, Wi-Fi, Smart Sensors, flexible seating, waste receptacles, water fountains, movable planters, public art, way-finding and signage.

While Streetscaping and the principles of building beautiful are evident throughout Vancouver, they are also evident throughout British Columbia.

In the nearby community of Chilliwack, it is the work of one particular company that truly raises the bar on urban design and development.  That company is federal crown corporation Canada Lands Corp. and the development is Garrison Crossing.

Garrison Crossing Main Gate

Photo: Garrison Crossing, Chilliwack, B.C. 2015 AJG

Video from Canada Lands Corp

See link to Canada Lands website

Canada Lands Corp. acquired the lands of the former Canadian Forces Base Chilliwack and implemented a truly wonderful vision.

Natural elements and mature trees were preserved whenever possible.

Garrison mature tree protection

Photo: Garrison Crossing, Chilliwack, B.C. 2015 AJG

Mixed media facades and elegant medium to high density urbanism create wonderful neighbourhoods

Garrison town houses back alley detail

Garrison condos

Photo: Garrison Crossing, Chilliwack, B.C. 2015 AJG

Utility corridors provide wonderful walking paths.  Again, note how the mature trees were preserved.

Garrison walking corridor

Walkability is key and the entire development is interlaced with walking and cycling trails.

Garrison walking corridor from woods

Photo: Garrison Crossing, Chilliwack, B.C. 2015 AJG

Within easy walking distance is the commercial cluster…

Garrison sign detail

Density is maintained by including residential and commercial office space in the upper levels while retail provides for the needs of the community.  Note the high quality of streetscaping elements.


Photo: Garrison Crossing, Chilliwack, B.C. 2013 AJG

Innovation and clever ideas abound…

Garrison mail box

And always a wonderful attention to detail.

Garrison maple detail

Photo: Garrison Crossing, Chilliwack, B.C. 2015 AJG

Canada Lands Corp and the City of Chilliwack have created a truly wonderful community. Congratulations for this extraordinary contemplation of beauty and harmony.

This article cannot pay tribute to all the beautiful communities of B.C., it can only point to perhaps one of the reasons; the extraordinary natural beauty of B.C. demanded that lucky residents build in harmony and thus beautifully!

The following photos are from a couple of wonderful visits to British Columbia.  Everywhere, attention to beauty, harmony and to detail have created a truly wonderful place to call home.

Mission Hill winery Kelowna

Photo: Mission Hill Winery, Kelowna, B.C. 2013 AJG

Kelowna waterfront British Columbia 2013 161 (2)

Photo: Waterfront Kelowna B.C., 2013 AJG

Kelowna British Columbia 2013 176 (2)

Photo: Streetscape Kelowna B.C. 2013 AJG

Othelo caves

Photo: Othello Caves, Kettle Valley Railway Hope, B.C. 2015 AJG

“Rough quarries, rock and hills whose heads touch heaven.”   William Shakespeare  (Posted on trail signage honouring Andrew McCulloch, chief engineer Kettle Valley Railway built 1913-1916.  He would recite Shakespearean Plays to the workers and named the caves after his favourites)

MOA Long house

Photo: First Nations architecture, UBC Museum of Anthropology, 2015 AJG

 The original builders of harmony…

MOA Long house detail

 Photo: UBC Museum of Anthropology, 2015 AJG

MOA carving detail

 Photo: UBC Museum of Anthropology, 2015 AJG

NK MIP main street

 Photo:  Nk’ip, Osoyoos, B.C 2013 AJG

Fort Langley train station

Photo: Historic Fort Langley Railway Station, 2015 AJG

Fort Langley waterfront

 Photo:  Fraser River Landing, Fort Langley, 2015 AJG

BC Large Tree

Photo: British Columbia 2013, AJG

“The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. Some see nature all ridicule and deformity… and some scarce see nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself.”   William Blake

Congratulations British Columbia for building beautifully and in harmony with your spectacular landscape!

Build beautifully Canada and honour our glorious heritage.

Author: AJ Good, Streetscape Canada

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