Posts about Vancouver
A fleet of tiny ferries zigzags back and forth between neighborhoods and major tourist attractions on both sides of Vancouver's False Creek. Could the same work on the Anacostia River, connecting sites on Buzzard Point, Near Southeast, Poplar Point and Anacostia Park?
When visiting Vancouver a few years ago, Greater Greater Wife and I took a hop on-hop off bus tour. When we got to the city's aquatic center, the guide suggested catching a small ferry to Granville Island, where a major food market draws locals and tourists. After we took in the market, we rode the ferry to other neighborhoods where we could get back on the bus.
Most ferries we're familiar with in eastern US cities are huge 1,000 passenger, car-carrying ferries like the Cape May-Lewes ferry, or 150-250 passenger water taxis like in New York. These ferries are far, far smaller, closer to the size of a van and hold only 12 or 20 passengers.
Top: The Spirit of False Creek 3. Bottom left: Cape May-Lewes ferry.
Bottom right: NY water taxi. Images from Wikipedia.
An operator stands on a platform in the center and drives the boat with a few joysticks and handles, while passengers sit around the edges. It operates a lot like a bus; in fact, the drivers even cruise past some of the docks and won't stop if nobody's waiting to get on or off.
The False Creek ferries only ply a route about 2 miles from end to end as the crow flies, or 3 route miles, zigzagging back and forth across the waterway.
Besides Granville Island and the science museum, they stop at a maritime museum, science museum, and a space museum with a planetarium and observatory. A stop in Stamps Landing takes you to a neighborhood with a lot of restaurants, and another, Yaletown, is a district with many new condo towers.
Each stop is only about 2-5 minutes apart, and costs $3.25 to $6.50 CAD depending on how far you go. The most popular route, the aquatic center to Granville Island, runs every 5 minutes from 7 am to 9 pm, or 10:30 pm in the summer. The other routes run every 15 minutes from about 9 am to 5-6 pm (depending on destination) in the winter and 7-9 pm during summer.
Is this relevant to DC? It turns out that False Creek is about the size of the Anacostia:
False Creek (top) and Anacostia River (bottom) at the same scale. Images from Google Maps.
While not very wide, the Anacostia is a mighty gulf separating two sides of the river. For a long time, there was little on the banks of the Anacostia, on either side. But that is changing. We already have the ballpark, and Yards Park. Buzzard Point could get a soccer stadium.
On the east, Poplar Point is slated for development, possibly including a boulevard from Anacostia Metro to the water's edge. Historic Anacostia is not far from the river. Plus, if DC builds the 11th Street Recreation Bridge, we could have a significant attraction right on the river.
A ferry bouncing back and forth across the river, with stops at all of these attractions, could bring the two sides closer together than ever before and make the water a public space. These 7 stops cover a route about 2 miles long, or about the same length as the part of the the False Creek Ferries route network east of Granville Island.
Potential ferry stops on the Anacostia. Image by the author on Google Maps.
The Buzzard Point stop would be near a future soccer stadium and the Poplar Point stop at the end of a retail-lined avenue leading to Anacostia Metro. A stop at the 11th Street recreation bridge would connect directly to the streetcar and to all of the activities on the bridge, as well as being a short walk to Historic Anacostia.
A set of office buildings is going in the triangle east of the 11th Street Bridge and south of the freeway, and once the freeway segment to Barney Circle gets turned into a boulevard, there could be a pedestrian connection from the water up to Capitol Hill and Potomac Avenue Metro. Sadly, the CSX railroad bridge is too low for boats to travel under, so the ferries couldn't reach Hill East.
None of this precludes other types of ferries, like the longer-distance water taxis from places like Alexandria or Georgetown, or even farther south in Virginia, if those make sense. Those would use larger boats, running much less often.
Could this ferry system work here? I'll give my take in Part 2. Meanwhile, what do you think?
Last night, Vancouver planner Larry Beasley praised tall buildings, but also praised Washington's lack of them. He argued it could benefit DC to allow height in narrowly circumscribed areas outside downtown, but cautioned DC to be very mindful of the consequent risk.
Tall buildings transformed Vancouver into a world-class city, attracting tourists, knowledge workers and financial investment and accommodating many people comfortably on a small peninsula. It's created a beautiful skyline, with elegantly sculpted towers piercing the sky, but also walkable neighborhoods and active streets.
Vancouver has achieved this through their own breed of tower-building, "Vancouverism." This involves giving great care to all three parts of a tall building: the base, the tower, and the top. The base must directly address the street, filling space at a modest height compatible with other buildings.
In residential areas, they places townhouses in the base, while in commercial areas maximize the transparency of ground-floor windows. In all areas, they put as much retail into the base as the area can support. As Beasley put it, the base must be "gently giving to the street, rather than harsh, brutal, and awesomely out of scale."
The tower itself is then set back to limit its impact on pedestrians, to make it "float out of consciousness." It must slim down as it rises, rather than blindly duplicating each floor plan on successively higher floors. And the top is where some extra artistry comes in, to avoid the bland flatness of many modern buildings while also not becoming "clownish."
Vancouver also clusters the buildings into "constallations," in an artistic "composition that makes a statement" and also ensures views of the sky through the cluster. Vancouver's clusters of towers seem to point into the sky, but not blot it out.
Separated by acres of empty land and interconnected by high-speed expressways, they did the opposite, but in Vancouver, this basic aesthetic lives and succeeds because the towers are only a small piece of the puzzle.
Vancouver does not simply permit tall buildings. They extract significant public amenities from them. Developers can only build if they offer these amenities, and a system of bonus densities along with a more discretionary approval process that gives officials leeway to shape projects has helped Vancouver wring nearly every amenity they could think of out of developing their city in recent decades.
In most cities, Beasley teaches how to manage tall buildings because those cities are inevitably going to build tall. However, unlike most cities, Washington, DC has kept a low skyline through the 100-year-old Height Act.
It draws tourism, gives greater prominence to key national symbols, and created a "coherent frame of walls around ceremonial spaces." It also reduces the economic incentive to tear down historic buildings.
Of course, as we've discussed here and one questioner pointed out, the value for tourists and the framing of monuments and civic buildings doesn't require extending the height limit to the entire District. Few tourists venture beyond the central neighborhoods and few viewsheds extend past the L'Enfant City. Rosslyn has tall buildings and that hasn't diminished the uniqueness of downtown DC; in some ways, it's accentuated it.
Beasley argued that should DC allow greater heights, it should create a "no go zone" for certain distances from the monumental core. It should not allow heights in historic areas, or on high points in the city, which should remain either natural or host "important public edifices" like the National Cathedral.
If DC were to allow greater heights, Beasley's suggestion would be to do so in a single, small area where there is substantial community support and a desire for specific amenities. Any increases must be tied to those particular amenities. In addition, DC must engage in "thoughtful planning" and a "deliberate urban design analysis" to sculpt any cluster of towers.
For example, if it's not too close to the core, I could see this making some sense in NoMA where there are already tall buildings and few to no historic structures but a distinct lack of public parkland. Could a constellation of such towers make it economically possible to leave one or more areas completely empty and fund construction and maintenance of parks?
However, any height increase, Beasley argued, will need to be significant. DC could start pushing its envelopes slightly, such as allowing human occupancy space in the mechanical penthouses that current law allows over height limits as long as they are set back from the edges of buildings. It could give small density bonuses here and there in the more numerous areas where zoning, not the height limit, restricts buildings.
However, this would not yield meaningful community amenities. The cost of providing residential use in a commercial building is enough that a developer would probably not add it for only a floor or two of extra height, as Dan suggested.
Residents often oppose tall buildings, both because they can disrupt their "intuitive comfort" with the city and also specifically impact privacy, height, or views. However, in exchange for clear and desirable amenities, along with good design, in his experience many residents can ultimately support these projects.
Still, is it worth the risk? Beasley is not so sure. To him, as a visitor, DC has such unique qualities and such an extraordinary accomplishment in its height limits.
Beasley will be join us to continue the conversation for a live chat at 11:00 this morning. What questions do you have for him?
One of the perennial topics for debate in Washington, DC is the 1910 Height of Buildings Act, which limited tall buildings and created the current "low-rise" skyline. Now, the Act is 100 years old. Has it served DC well or poorly?
Tomorrow, former Vancouver Planning Director Larry Beasley will talk about the Height Act at an NCPC forum, 6:30 pm at the Navy Memorial. Then, Mr. Beasley will come online to join us for a chat at 11 am Wednesday.
Vancouver has achieved tremendous success specifically through building high-rises. This has allowed the area to grow and prosper without massive suburban sprawl, and Vancouver neighborhoods have become livable, walkable, and lively.
Supporters of DC's height limit, on the other hand, argue that the limit forces development of areas adjacent to downtown, like NoMA and the Capitol Riverfront for office districts, instead of concentrating jobs in downtown with dead areas and parking lots adjacent.
Who is right? Does the height limit make DC a more livable city or keep it from achieving its potential? Maybe DC should raise the limit in key areas outside downtown? After all, Rosslyn has tall buildings, and it's closer to the Mall than Anacostia or Fort Totten. Or is spreading out office space inefficient?
Sometimes, tall buildings turn into mere "towers in the park", gaining a lot of height but not much density. On the other hand, the limit makes developers mainly build giant boxes, to take maximum advantage of the limited building envelope.
Is it worthwhile to maintain a certain aesthetic of lower buildings? Vancouver's towers don't create "canyon effects" or dark streets, but do form soaring, glass slivers reaching into the sky. Some like that, some don't. How worthwhile is maintaining the look if it increase sprawl? Does it, or do people just want single-family houses even if they're two hours from downtown?
To attend the talk, RSVP at NCPC's page. They anticipate the event filling up, meaning walk-ins might not be able to get in. To attend the live chat, just come online here at 11 am on Wednesday.
claims one project consultant. I'd guess it's really about the young and the female, and talking about looks generates articles and mentions on blogs but really has less to do with it. (Minneapolis Star-Tribune via The Overhead Wire)
Bus riders opposing LA rail expansion: A proposed Los Angeles sales tax to pay for transit will mostly go toward subway extensions through the Westside and to LAX, causing anti-taxers in the San Fernando Valley to join with low-income advocates of the Bus Riders' Union to oppose the plan. But wouldn't reducing vehicle traffic in those central areas make transportation easier for farther-out drivers, too? (LA Weekly)
San Jose plans density along light-rail: The city wants to transform a low-density area of mostly office parks, with a fairly underutilized light rail line, into a denser, more urban, mixed-use community. If there's a place where a new city would make some sense and not rile up too much NIMBYism, this is probably the spot. (SF Chronicle)
Creative living arrangements in Vancouver: With sky-high housing prices, Vancouver residents are breaking the traditional single-family home mold: buying houses in groups, moving in next to friends to share backyards, and raising families in small, urban spaces. (Vancouver Magazine)
Many of these links via Planetizen.
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