Saturday, September 22, 2007

Best of Best of Vancouver 2007

Excerpts from this week's Georgia Straight issue, the 12th annual Best of Vancouver.

Best political sand trap

Maybe you can explain this to us. So Vancouver park board commissioner Marty Zlotnik, an avid golfer, is displeased that the Musqueam have been given the UBC golf course as part of a land-claims settlement. Zlotnik - did we mention he's a park board commissioner? - has a better idea: trade the Musqueam a second-rate chunk off the ass end of Pacific Spirit Park to get the approximately 50 hectares back. Yeah, Marty, let's de-protect managed parkland so we can enshrine some AstroTurf you have to pay to caress, and that requires endless watering and weeding. Now there's a park board commissioner talking. Oh, wait, he was speaking as a private citizen. Course he was. Fellow commish Loretta Woodcock, in asserting that COPE board members won't support Zlotnik's suggestion, said: "I find it disrespectful that Marty is telling the 1.5 million users who visited Pacific Spirit Park last year that that property is of lesser value than a golf fairway." Zlotnik must have thought he had a gimme, not the double bogey this is turning into.

Best Example of Municipal Rebranding Gone Wrong

When municipal politicians voted in early August to change our region's name from the Greater Vancouver Regional District to Metro Vancouver, it was no doubt well intentioned. "GVRD" sounds like, say, a gastrointestinal disease. But why choose a moniker that's just advertising for one of the local commuter papers? (Have you tried Googling "Metro Vancouver"?) And won't Metro Vancouver fool tourists into thinking we have a fully fledged subway system like Paris or Moscow does, instead of just good ol' SkyTrain? Maybe it has more to do with our sucky-boo-ba councillors suffering from performance anxiety during overseas junkets, as they told reporters at the time, and GVRD just didn't seem, well, engorged enough.

Best place to live the need-for-speed dream

The streets of Vancouver
Just ask Fast and Furious wannabe Xiao Zhang, paroled in August after killing a New Zealand tourist in a hit-and-run at the corner of Granville and Drake. Though he fled the scene (and the city) and never even showed for his sentencing, he served only four-and-a-half months for the crime. The lesson? Regardless of how many lives you ruin, your carelessness, smugness, and refusal to accept blame will always be rewarded. Oh, Canada.

Most Bewildering bus-riding behaviour

Although there are always street people who talk to themselves and display strange behaviour (hey, we've been known to giggle to ourselves when the stress just gets too much), what is more confusing is the behaviour of riders who seem normal and display logical yet thoughtless behaviour. For example, the ones who board an almost empty bus, yet stand directly in front of the exit, even though they're not ready to get off, thereby blocking anyone trying to disembark. WTF?

Best place to go blind

Downtown Vancouver on a rainy day
Contrary to popular belief, the best place to go blind in Vancouver is not Wreck Beach. (Though there definitely are a few shrivelled body parts flopping around there that could do permanent damage if stared at too long.) No, if you are longing for an excuse to sport an eye patch, simply head downtown the next time it rains (don't drive - there's a catering truck in the city's last street-parking spot) and take a stroll under any of our hundreds of awnings. Once there, you will find that roughly 90 percent of those carrying umbrellas will also be fighting to get under that awning in an effort both to keep their umbrellas dry and to jeopardize your depth perception. Why do they give out tickets for jaywalking, but not dry-walking?

Most annoying doggone trend

Dogs play in dirt, sniff each other's bums, eat off the ground, and are often smelly and unhygienic. So why are people increasingly bringing them into stores, particularly ones that have food products, instead of leaving them outside as they should (or in the case of food premises, as they must, according to B.C.'s Health Act)?

Best things not to think about while shopping for your pampered pooch

While you are waiting for Fido to finish his time in the spa, or browsing to find Fifi the most marvellous luxury stroller, do not, on any account, let your mind stray to the fact that there are more than 1,000 children in government care in British Columbia, waiting in temporary foster homes for someone to adopt them.

Best decorated bridge

The Burrard Street Bridge, inaugurated in 1932, is the oldest existing bridge in the city, and also the most decorated. Massive concrete pylons, embellished with marine motifs in art-deco style, hide part of its steel superstructure. At either end, the bridge is flanked by huge representations of the cylindrical glass and wrought-iron braziers that Canadian forces in the First World War used to keep themselves warm. Its popularity is also its millstone: to increase capacity, city council has chosen to expand its sidewalks. The original cost of $14 million has since been disputed; Heritage Vancouver's Donald Luxton pegs the true bill at closer to $50 million. The battle - and the bill - seem to be taking on Olympic proportions. Forgotten in the brouhaha is the fact that the undercarriage of the bridge could accommodate a second deck - way back in 2002, architect Peter Reese suggested the creation of what he called "Snauqway", combining a pedestrian and cyclist bridge with a mix of First Nations interpretative kiosks, commercial enterprises, and art studios.

Best East Van summit

From the intersection of Lakewood and East 4th Avenue, the roads in all four directions go downhill. You're at the highest point of East Vancouver's Grandview Ridge, with fine views west across the city to the Point Grey peninsula in the winter months.

Best $600,000 the Canucks Ever Spent

Signing Trevor Linden for 2007–08
For less than half the price of Jan Bulis, Linden proved to be a great fit with the Sedin twins on the power play and tied Mattias Ohlund as the Canucks' leading point scorer in the playoffs last season. Plus, Linden - known to spend extra time when visiting fans at BC Children's Hospital and Canuck Place - is legendary for his community service.

Best defier of suburban death

Gordon Scott
The audacious Newton resident is often the squeaky wheel at bike events like Critical Mass. But when about 50 cyclists (including Surrey councillor and former mayor Bob Bose) descended on Scott's home turf on March 24 for the inaugural Surrey Critical Mass, few expected Scott's near squashing on the Fraser Highway. An impatient overtaking dump truck almost pasted Scott to the two-laned tarmac as he hailed the eager riders on his sound system. Documentarist Robert Alstead digitally shot the whole incident -
link to video.

Best adult toy store

221 Abbott Street
Elevate your mind - this Gastown shop isn't that sort of adult store. But it is a fun find to turn friends on to - adult and otherwise. Occupied is packed with sweetly clever kawaii (anything cute) Japanese toys, sock monkeys, notebooks, stationery, and bags. Owner Miss Jenelle says that gifts from Occupied will distract you, make you happy, and comfort you. They make us smile.

Best sign that you've really made it – Japanese

Northwest corner of Burrard and Smithe
We reported on this cool hot-dog cart last year (owner Noriki Tamura arrived in Vancouver in early 2005 and had the cart operational by May), at which time it operated on a somewhat chaotic schedule. We've been thrilled to watch as Vancouverites and tourists joined Japanese students - who knew a good thing when they tasted it - in lining up for Japadog's Japanese-style hot dogs. How successful is Tamura? Hours now are almost regular, Tamura has staff, he's got a Web site, and he's planning to expand in Vancouver, to other parts of Canada, and then to Japan.

Best Vancouverisms on-screen

Although Vancouver is readily recognizable in any number of Hollywood blockbusters (particularly ones involving Marvel superheroes such as the X-Men and the Fantastic Four, who are often mistaken for local residents now), the city had the rare chance to play itself in the Douglas Coupland-written Everything's Gone Green. From Expo 86 shirts to oversize black sunglasses for sun-sensitive Asians, it delivered an endless parade of Lotusland in-jokes. But will anyone who isn't from Vancouver get those references too? Who cares - we looked fabulous.

Best sign Vancouver is a reunion hot spot

Band reunions have been all the rage this past year, with Vancouver lucky enough to be chosen as the launch pad for not one but two mega-act reunion tours: the Police and the Spice Girls. What could possibly be the reason for the choice of Vancouver? Geography? The cheaper Canadian dollar? The answer is probably somewhere between ah di di di ah da da da and ah zig ah zig ah.


It’s tricky, but KCC is prettying up its ‘hood
by Anne Roberts

Kensington-Cedar Cottage

One of the best views in the city has always been heading north on Knight Street, just before you plunge down the Kensington hill at East 37th Avenue. The mountains loom larger there than anywhere else. There's a gorgeous vista of downtown, the orange cranes in the port, and the tree-lined streets of Kensington-Cedar Cottage. Driving that route this summer, I was startled to see high-rises, nearly as big as the mountains, sticking up like sore thumbs into my view.

As a long-time resident of the area, I knew the towers were under construction at Knight Street and Kingsway Avenue. In fact, I'd chaired the residents' committee supporting the project and gone on to be a city councillor when the project got approved.

But like many other KCC residents, I still find myself surprised when I'm out walking and buildings eight, 12, and 19 storeys tall jut into a view down a side street of single-family homes. "Omigod," we say to one another. "They are so much bigger than what we thought they would be! What have we done?"

Dubbed King Edward Village, the high-rises are being built on the triangle of land where Knight, Kingsway, and King Edward Avenue converge. The project will contain almost 400 condos in both high- and low-rise buildings, plus 114,000 square feet of retail space and a 7,500-square-foot branch of the public library.

What residents hope we've done is set in motion forces that will transform this strip of noodle shops, nail salons, and car dealerships into a lively, attractive neighbourhood shopping area. We hope it will become the heart of KCC.

It's part of a civic-planning exercise that started with CityPlan in 1995. Kensington-Cedar Cottage was one of the first two neighbourhoods to develop a local vision, a way to put CityPlan into action in the neighbourhoods.

It's a stretch to call KCC - roughly bounded by Fraser and Nanaimo streets, Broadway, and East 41st Avenue - a neighbourhood. With a population of about 45,000, it's larger than most cities in the province, including West Vancouver and Penticton. You can't find a more multicultural population. More people speak Chinese at home (38 percent) than speak English (33). People don't share a history. The area doesn't even have a central business district like Kerrisdale or Commercial Drive. It's not much more than sprawling retail strips along Fraser and Victoria with Kingsway slashing through the middle.

Undaunted, a small group of KCC residents met for two years and came up with a plan that council officially adopted in 1998.

Unlike NIMBY types in other parts of the city, we supported zoning for new types of courtyard and row housing that would surround this new neighbourhood centre. And we backed large-scale retail and residential development at Knight and Kingsway - eco-density, if you will, long before the present mayor copyrighted the term.

Walking southeast down Kingsway, at Inverness Street, there's now a median planted with columnar trees and groundcover roses. Wow, something beautiful on Kingsway! The median, along with new pedestrian crossings, new sidewalks, more trees on the boulevards, and a gaggle of poles destined to display public art, are supposed to make motorists slow down and notice that this is a special place.

A block along, at Clark Drive, you can see a snapshot of what the community imagined might happen in the whole area: a pocket park planted with flowers and grasses on the boulevard, patrons sitting in the sun outside a coffee shop, and neighbours pushing strollers stopping to chat before crossing at the new crosswalk.

The idea was that businesses would benefit by sprucing up the neighbourhood. Even though the city spent $2.7 million on the improvements, hardly anybody shops on Kingsway. It's dotted with Vietnamese establishments offering more beauty, health, travel, and accounting services than the local population of 3,000 Vietnamese could possibly support. Indeed, the stores - I counted at least 60 between Fraser and Knight - are usually empty.

One more block, standing at Knight, it's hard to even think about these issues. The noise and the exhaust from the 60,000 vehicles that pass each day is brutal. The worst is the trucks: 2,000 to 3,000 18-wheelers clattering so loud houses shake and residents can't even hear their TVs. It's a shame that anyone should have to live near Knight, but at least the neighbourhood's new zoning encourages the building of houses that face away from the street and into an inner courtyard. The first project is at East 28th Avenue.

The city also plans to prettify Knight but not make any changes that would slow down or reduce the number of trucks. Traffic-calming gestures include a median north of the business district, more trees, and tiny boulevards between the sidewalk and the road.

If anything is going to matter at Knight and Kingsway, it will be the King Edward Village. Developed by Francesco Aquilini, whose ownership of the Vancouver Canucks is being challenged in court, the buildings are high-quality brick and concrete with rich architectural details that whisper West Side elegance.

What I like most about the project is that it doesn't turn its back on the community. Instead, the retail outlets have doors and windows on the street. You can see all the way through the widely arched entrances on Knight, Kingsway, and King Edward that lead into a retail mews, providing a quieter space for outdoor seating for restaurants and coffee shops.

Phase 1, which has been delayed for more than a year, will finally open this month - if city workers are back on the job to issue occupancy permits for the first 212 condos.

Inexplicably, after all this time, Aquilini is still negotiating with both T&T Supermarket and Save-On Foods to get a deal signed with a major anchor. Several large businesses, such as Starbucks and a bank, are waiting to see what happens before they commit to being part of Phase II. That adds up to at least six more months before a grocery store opens, and more than a year before other stores add to the commercial clout of the area.

It's a complicated game. Only when all the dominoes drop into place next year, or the year after, will we be able to measure whether or not it was worth it.

Best place to hang out

Cedar Cottage Neighbourhood Pub
3728 Clark Avenue
Renovated seven years ago when purchased by the present neighbourly minded owners, it lives up to its moniker with comfortable leather chairs, a fireplace, fantastic homemade food, and a year-round outdoor patio that floods the underground location with natural light during the daytime. It's the kind of place where people can get together and not have to shout. Two dozen TVs for sports events, two pool tables, darts, Keno, and wireless Internet keep you entertained. Owners Kerry Williams and Kevin Kleparchuk offer rooms for community meetings, support 20 ball teams, and organized a business association. The pub also operates an upscale liquor retail outlet and cozy corner coffee shop at street level.

Best place to recall Kingsway's glory days

2400 Court Motel
2400 Kingsway
The 2400 is a living museum from the 1940s and '50s, when the automobile was king. As people embraced the car trip, gas stations, garages, caf├ęs, and overnight accommodations flourished along Kingsway. Built in 1946, the 2400 is the last surviving specimen in Vancouver of a car court with furnished bungalows placed on broad open lawns and paved parking right outside the door. Now owned by the City of Vancouver, it is still in operation and downright cheap for out-of-town guests: $100 for two with a kitchenette, and $130 for four with a full kitchen in high season. But it may not remain so for long. The city wants to develop it, boosting its ranking to No. 5 on Heritage Vancouver's endangered list.

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