Sunday, January 8, 2017

The downside of green

West Vancouver has been planning for 40 years to open up the Ambleside waterfront, creating vast areas of green space interspersed with plazas. The plans include removal of a number of buildings, including the house on this little lot on Argyle, right next to the community garden. 

Another recently cleared lot on Argyle.

Also expected to be demolished is my favourite West Vancouver building -- the Silk Purse Arts Centre. I think it should be kept as an example of an original West Vancouver waterfront cottage; besides, it's too pretty to tear down.

Here's the view that will be opened up by removing most of the waterfront buildings. 

A walk along Vancouver's Point Grey Road is mostly a walk alongside massive houses, hedges, garages and gates. But every once in a while, there's a reward; a sudden, magical revelation of ocean, sky, sailboats and freighters, with the North Shore mountains as a backdrop. The views are thanks to the city's policy, many years ago, of buying up land along the north side of the road so all Vancouverites -- not just those in the houses that hug the shore -- could enjoy the views. But the policy had to be abandoned when prices soared out of sight. Instead of being joined into an open waterfront, the lots became "pocket parks" -- gaps in the pricey smile of Point Grey Road.

I thought of our local example when John and I were in West Vancouver on Saturday, where two houses and an artists' studio have recently been bulldozed as part of the city's long-term plan to turn most of the Ambleside waterfront into open green space. The buildings were among the last of the little waterfront houses. It was sad to see them go, but the resulting views -- even with debris and demolition equipment on site -- showed how much we'd been missing.

But there is always a downside. Among the other buildings slated for demolition is one of the prettiest in West Vancouver -- an original waterfront cottage that's now an art gallery and home to the West Vancouver Community Arts Council. I've written about the Silk Purse before -- the old-fashioned windows opening on three sides to the ocean, the grand piano, the fireplace, the cozy window nook. It's so close to the water that when a huge freighter sailed past during our visit, it blocked out the windows for a minute.

I'm not the only one who adores the building. The attendant on duty Saturday said people fought hard to keep it. "You can talk, you can write, you can cry, but nothing will change their mind," she said of city authorities. "They have a plan, and they won't change it."

Thanks to that long-term planning, West Vancouverites will have unimpeded views from wide-open green space on the Ambleside waterfront instead of having to make do with the pocket parks of Point Grey Road. But urban activist Jane Jacobs argues strongly that green space is wasted unless there are numerous points of interest to engage people and attract them to make use of it. The ocean views are their own draw, but I would argue that a charming waterfront cottage bearing a whole lot of West Vancouver history on its tiny shoulders would be a valuable asset to any piece of green space.

Interior of the Silk Purse on Saturday. The grand piano is used for classical concerts, held in the mornings.

The fireplace was on, creating a cozy scene in the art gallery. 

The Ferry Building on the Ambleside waterfront is to be kept.

One of the signs along Argyle relating to the removal of the house on the lot and the future plans for the area. 

1 comment:

  1. I just learned about The Silk Purse from your blog and now it's going! It does seem a shame that some of these cottages aren't kept. There is something quite wonderful in having large spaces like this will be and Stanley Park mostly free from commercial enterprises but I still feel there could be more for people to engage their interest. The Vancouver Parks Board has taken baby steps with the English Bay Cactus Club and the restaurant at Kits Beach but I think much more could be developed and the revenue used to create free parking, other amenities, etc.