Monday, January 23, 2012

CITY BRIEFS: On Replicating Vancouver’s Charms In The Hearts Of Dubai And Beijing…

CITY BRIEFS: On Replicating Vancouver’s Charms In The Hearts Of Dubai And Beijing…:

by Ellen Johnston | Ten years ago, a strange vision rose up from the sands of the Arabian peninsula: a brand new neighbourhood in the heart of a city on steroids. Known as Dubai Marina, it is a place that would be strange to us because it is so familiar. The Dubai Marina is a district comprised of skinny condo towers placed on top of townhouses, all lining a seawall-style walking path and a man-made reproduction of False Creek. There, in the desert, lies a replica of Vancouver (or at least the Concord Pacific version of it).

Now, in Beijing, a different Vancouver is influencing urban development. Whereas the builders of Dubai were looking for ways to create a dense urban centre out of nothing, developers in Beijing are attempting to create an oasis of calm in their already sprawling and massive megacity…which is why they were not inspired by False Creek, but rather by the single family, well-to-do neighbourhoods of Vancouver’s Westside.

The new development, known as “Vancouver Forest”, is the brainchild of a company called EKISTICS, which has offices in both Shanghai and Vancouver. According to their website, “Vancouver Forest is a luxury residential complex comprised of approximately 800 ground oriented low density single family houses and town houses, complemented with a commercial town center which services both local residents and the general public. The architectural design of the buildings is based on Canadian traditional styles of residential architecture that embodies the “quality-of-life” values and living features found in Canada.” All of the homes are two stories in height, have small private back gardens, and are connected to a public greenway system. The neighbourhood includes a community recreation centre and commercial buildings with offices, shops, restaurants, a post office, a bank, and a daycare facility attached. For all intents and purposes, its could be Dunbar. The homes are built in a variety of styles, including Craftsmen and faux-Tudor, and they even have big front porches and big trees out front. They are exactly the types of houses that are being bought by people from China in Vancouver right now, buyers who comprised 60% of MLS home sales on the West Side last year.

It may be somewhat ironic that while Vancouver is attempting to densify, there are developers in Beijing recreating models of Vancouver’s most notoriously NIMBY-ist neighbourhoods, but it is also not hard to see why. It is for the same reasons that immigrants love Vancouver’s single family neighbourhoods to begin with. The high street model found in neighbourhoods like Dunbar and West Point Grey is one that encourages walking and community (NIMBYism notwithstanding). They offer a luxury of space and privacy that most other places in the world do not, and so are primed to be replicated the world over.


Above all, Ellen Johnston considers herself a wanderer, whether she be tramping through the rain soaked streets of Vancouver and attempting to pry loose the layers of our urban fabric, couch-surfing across America, or getting lost in the souks of Marrakech. Since wandering is sadly not a full time gig, she also fills her days with the study of African dance and drumming, writing, piano, and running her own cookie company, Cookie Elf. She grew up in Vancouver, studied in Philadelphia and London, and hopes to see even more of this great big world in the future.


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