Vancouver's scenic natural setting presents unique opportunities and constraints for new growth potential. The City recognizes the need to accommodate development — which because of land scarcity often takes the form of highrises — but there's also a general appreciation that its plentiful mountains and bodies of water should maintain a ubiquitous presence from key vantage points. As a result, Vancouver's planning staff has taken multiple measured steps to foster a mutually beneficial relationship between skyscraper construction and the preservation of view corridors.
Bounded by the sea, mountains, and the United States border, the Vancouver metropolitan area is geographically contained. While unprepared cities now struggle to curb the prevalence and impact of urban sprawl, Vancouver was historically ahead of the curve. In the 1970s, the Agricultural Land Reserve was developed. Covering a total of 47,000 square kilometres, the collection of public and private lands restricts non-agricultural uses in order to protect arable lands. The move made planners and lawmakers more cognizant of the realities of urban development, while also having the effect of containing sprawl and intensifying development in well-established neighbourhoods.
Vancouver's geography has generated a city-specific built form, architecture, and urban design, a phenomenon now widely known as Vancouverism. Characterized by a large downtown population serviced by a mix of uses, Vancouverism signifies a high-density cityscape of residential towers, which are often attached to a large podium with commercial uses inside. Combined with the aforementioned traits, the ideal also refers to reliance on public transit, the abundance of parks and green spaces, and the preservation of view corridors. Vancouver has 27 protected view corridors designed to maintain vistas of the North Shore mountains. Though it's a made-in-Vancouver solution to the pressures of urban development, cities around the world have attempted to emulate and implement pieces of the concept.
In a podcast with the CBC, late architect Bing Thom described Vancouverism in his own words: "It's a spirit about public space. I think Vancouverites are very, very proud that we built a city that really has a tremendous amount of space on the waterfront for people to recreate and to enjoy. At the same time, False Creek and Coal Harbour were previously industrial lands that were very polluted and desecrated. We've refreshed all of this with new development, and people have access to the water and the views. So, to me, it's this idea of having a lot of people living very close together, mixing the uses. So, we have apartments on top of stores. In Surrey we have a university on top of a shopping centre. This mixing of uses reflects Vancouver in terms of our culture and how we live together."
With Vancouverism largely entrenched in the local planning doctrine, the city's proliferation of glass-walled condominiums of similar height has attracted criticism from architects and urbanists, who have derided the purported monotony of the skyline. Reflecting the sky, water, and mountains, floor-to-ceiling glass is meant to provide a certain invisibility to tall buildings. The planning department makes a calculated effort to limit the intrusiveness of a development through height, material, and massing. The debate over the glass of the One Wall Centre is emblematic of the City's proclivity for clearly defined planning rules.
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