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Cities evolve in fits and starts, in unanticipated ways, often for reasons that have less to do with wise planning than with political exigency and financial might. Take Southeast False Creek, for example. Not long ago it was a wasteland of forlorn buildings and industrial detritus. Today it’s being transformed into a dense, high-rise community that will remind us of 2010 for decades after the Winter Games have moved on. Will it be our version of the Big O (aka the Big Owe), the Olympic Stadium that has burdened Montreal taxpayers since the 1976 Summer Games? Or will it become a model of vibrant, sustainable urbanity to the watching world?
Much has been written about Southeast False Creek—who’s responsible for the cost overruns, how the mess came about, and how it might play out—but two voices have been largely absent. Shahram and Peter Malek are the brothers behind Millennium, the development company that paid $193 million for 17 acres of city-owned property between the Cambie Bridge and Telus Science World, promising to build 1,100 units that would house the Olympic athletes in 2010 and then be turned into mainly high-end condos. Though the Maleks are wary of media exposure, they recently sat down with Frances Bula for several hours. Bula’s column, “Up False Creek,” sheds valuable light on the Maleks and their precarious city-making.
Anthony Perl, director of urban studies at Simon Fraser University, is an expert on city-making, and in a discussion with executive editor John Burns (“Off the Rails”) he makes clear that Vancouver, appealing as it is, lacks many elements of a great city. We have much to learn, he argues, from the European capitals. For instance? Broad pedestrian boulevards, says Perl, and a downtown city university, and a train station that introduces visitors to Vancouver’s warm embrace (rather than its backside).
This month also marks the opening of the expanded and reimagined convention centre, another piece of the ongoing puzzle every city is trying to solve. Already lauded as a major piece of green architecture, derided as a white elephant, hailed as a complement to Canada Place, and criticized as an unsightly example of design by committee, it takes its place on the south side of Burrard Inlet in plenty of time for all the world to see. Michael Harris offers his assessment in “Unconventional Wisdom.”