Welcome to the 2016 Top10 Watch List! Vancouver is a growing, vibrant and dynamic city, but the rush for new development can present major challenges in the conservation of significant aspects of our historic legacy.
This year we are seeing particular threats to our neighbourhood’s character, culture and history ranging from a loss of individual architecturally significant homes to the potential loss of entire communities—and perhaps more importantly the community nodes that hold them together.
Chinatown, False Creek, “The Drive” and areas of the Downtown East Side are all present on this year’s list. Each represents a unique piece of Vancouver’s history and remain the heart of distinct cultural communities, yet all are also facing the same threat: development pressure.
Approval of unsympathetic and out-of-scale projects can irretrievably alter the very sense of uniqueness that made these areas attractive for development in the first place.
Single family neighbourhoods—particularly on the westside—are also in the news. Orange snow fences that indicate a forthcoming demolition are becoming a daily occurrence.While not every home can be or should be saved, we should strive to retain our most important sites.
Significant character homes, represented this year by the largely unprotected Townley and Matheson portfolio must be retained or renovated both to reduce the amount of waste going to the landfill and to provide an anchor for a neighbourhood’s character.
Many of our landmark heritage schools are still threatened. We are encouraged the Vancouver School Board has started work on a long range facilities plan, and has engaged the heritage community in this process, however project funding from higher levels of government remains in many cases dependent on demolition, rather than adaptive reuse of historic facilities. It has just been announced that Sir Sandford Fleming School will be demolished. Which one is next?
Many of our heritage schools and churches – critical community nodes that provide neighbourhoods a “third place” to gather – continue to be threatened. Many churches continue to grapple with declining congregations and revenues, and increasing land values, forcing many to sell their assets for redevelopment. Vancouver will lose crucial community gathering space if this trend continues.
But it’s not all grim news.
In 2015, the City of Vancouver introduced the Heritage Conservation Area policy tool, with the first HCA established in First Shaughnessy. We look forward to the selective use of this tool to manage threatened neighbourhoods well into the future. 2016 will see the continuation and implementation of the Heritage Action Plan, including Heritage Register and Building Code updates as well as recommendations to address the neighbourhood character crisis.
There are many ways to participate in this ongoing process and we look forward to seeing you in 2016 at our community engagement tours, lectures and events in support of Vancouver’s heritage.