Vancouverism – Plan 56 and all that


Erickson's Plan 56 sketch for Vancouver

Erickson's Plan 56 sketch for Vancouver

They say that you should always be wary of isms. What happens when you live, work and play in one?

Vancouver is characterized by tall, but widely separated, slender towers interspersed with low-rise buildings, public spaces, small parks and pedestrian-friendly streetscapes and facades to minimize the impact of high-density population.

The New York Times, December 28, 2005

There’s a new-ish word in town to describe this new-ish town. Vancouverism has been used for about ten years to describe the high-density, planned, mixed use city. It sprang from the mind of Arthur Erickson whose pencil sketch ‘Plan 56’ has entered the mythology of the city’s architectural community. Most laypeople associate Erickson with the single-family West Coast post-and-beam homes of the 1950s and 60s. So it was enlightening for me to become more aware of the idiosyncrasy of his masterplan for a hybridized Asian, European Vancouver through a local exhibition at Woodwards. (Kudos to our neighbouring experience design firm Cause + Effect.)

On a recent project, I got to musing over where Vancouver was in its journey to becoming a true world city. I imagined travelling back in time to other new-ish cities.

The first skyscrapers in the world were built not in New York but in Rome. And that was a city that wasn’t built in a day, apparently. Walk the streets of the Italian capital and you will see history like a layer cake rise from the sidewalk – Etruscan, early Empire, late Empire, early Christian, Medieval, Renaissance. Easy to forget that there was a time when Rome was just 100 years old. Like all great cities, Vancouver is beginning to create its layers. We are probably at the very early Empire stage.

Rome was at the centre of the only sea that mattered in the years BC. Now BC is on the only sea that matters – the Pacific. Rome was all about trade, a strategic hub that reached out to every known corner of the earth, east and west across the Mediterranean. The middle of the world has been moving west for centuries, from Europe to New York to Asia. Vancouver is one of those coming cities of the world, with Brasilia, Mumbai, Shanghai and Beijing. The population is growing, emigrants are bringing human and financial capital, and a new multi-culture is developing a spirit of independence.

It’s easy to walk the sidewalks of Vancouver without seeing the city for what it is. We live here. So we see it on our terms, on our domestic scale. What the world sees is opportunity writ large. Even The Economist, perhaps the most hard-bitten and cynical publication in the world, rates Vancouver as the world’s most liveable city, again. This time, Vancouver beats Vienna and Melbourne.

The world wants to live in Vancouver. So it’s a good time to build homes for the new colonists. Yes, they want to keep their home culture. But they also want Vancouver to be Vancouver. To be of Vancouver and for Vancouver is huge. As the cliché goes: when in Rome, do as the Romans do. In time, to be an authentic part of Vancouver’s early heritage will be a priceless accolade, sought after by every new generation of Vancouverites. Vancouverism eternum.

About elevated pitch

When I was young, I imagined that I would be producing thin volumes of desperately dark, but ultimately uplifting, volumes of verse in those dinky wee books you never see anyone actually buying. But I guess marketing is my poetry - yuk, yuk. View all posts by elevated pitch

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