SHAPING VANCOUVER 2019: WHAT’S THE USE OF HERITAGE?
Event Description: On 9 October 2019, the Heritage Vancouver Society and SFU’s Vancity Office of Community Engagement co-hosted a panel discussion about some of the different facets of heritage (ie., neighbourhood character, community, place-making) which are often highly contested in a multicultural and rapidly changing society. The panelists explored the economic, political, and demographic forces which inform different interpretations of neighbourhood character and debated whether new types of conversations are needed to reconcile competing “world views,” urban design principles, and ordinary life forms.
Event Host: Heritage Vancouver Society, SFU Vancity Office of Community Engagement
Background: “Shaping Vancouver 2019” is a public discussion series that uses the lens of various planning processes to better understand the complex relationship between heritage, place-making, and the livable city. On 21 May 2019, the first panel discussion in this series examined the role that heritage plays in shaping local places. The third and final discussion will explore heritage within the context of Vancouver’s city-wide plan (see below).
VSIR Thinking Points:
- Vancouver resides at the complex intersection of geopolitical, demographic, economic, technological, aesthetic, and mobility forces which municipal leaders and urban planners have successfully leveraged as a source of competitive advantage. These urban design principles collectively known as Vancouverism (ie., mixed land use development, robust tree canopies, protected view corridors, waterfront access, gentle density, walkability, extensive consultation) are celebrated world-wide. For example, the Economist Intelligence Unit ranked Vancouver 5th out of 140 world cities in its 2019 Global Livability Index, a measure of 30 quantitative and qualitative factors across five broad categories.
- Vancouver is comprised of 22 neighbourhoods and communities that are distinguishable by their unique history, natural topography, building typologies, streetscapes, business services, ethno-cultural and spoken languages, and cultural festivals. Neighbourhood-based planning processes including the Cityplan, which have sustained an authentic experience that is attractive to visitors, employees, recreational users, business clients, shoppers, and tourists, are threatened by skyrocketing property values, business development costs, and housing affordability pressures. In December 2013, Vancouver’s City Council approved the Heritage Action Plan in an effort to preserve the local character and diversity of its local communities. As of 17 April 2018, Vancouver’s Heritage Register included 2,239 buildings.
- In addition to Vancouver’s built form (ie. West Coast modernist architectural lineage), it is important to understand how cultural identity is communicated in the different types of local knowledge disseminated between urban districts, social groups, and across generations. Creating space for active participation in future planning processes will help to optimize interdisciplinary knowledge transfers and community capacity. Research has shown that local communities with similar demographic profiles can vary tremendously with respect to their social capital, resilience to external “shocks,” and ability to participate in decision-making processes. The quality of the social infrastructure (ie., places and organizations that foster mutual trust, accidental encounters, and casual interactions) can often be a determining factor. Consequently, reconciling contested notions of cultural heritage will be a priority challenge for Vancouver when it launches the six month listening phase of its City-wide plan.
Vancouver’s “urban story” is revealed daily in cultural centres, community newspapers, laundromats, sporting events, art galleries, restaurants, planning meetings, zoning ordinances, and the personal histories of its 630,000 residents. It is important for urban planners to communicate that story in a way that is meaningful to community members, city residents, and the world. The City-wide plan, a three-year period of intensive retrospection and strategic planning, has great potential as a collective enterprise for cross-cultural engagement and productive disagreement.