No eyes on the street with five storeys of parking
Renowned urban theorist Jane Jacobs identified one of the three qualities that streets of a successful city requires as “eyes upon the street,” eyes belonging to those we might call the natural proprietors of the street.
“The buildings on a street equipped to handle strangers and to insure the safety of both residents and strangers, must be oriented to the street. They cannot turn their backs or blank sides on it and leave it blind.”
In Kelowna, we know the blank streets and pockets that attract illicit activity.
By contrast, there are many areas only a block or two away where we feel perfectly safe. Such is the stark difference between Leon Avenue and Bernard Avenue. Their land use and streetscapes define their perceived safety and activity.
As downtown Kelowna is rapidly growing upward, the connection of buildings to the street is increasingly important to defining the streets and the future of the downtown itself. While many may look up at the number of storeys being presented on projects, it’s the quality of the lower levels that is more critical.
Kelowna’s high water table poses significant restrictions to development — mainly the feasibility of underground parking structures. Many developments have successfully hidden parking with one level underground and upper levels behind housing and retail, preserving the streetscape.
By contrast, the three City of Kelowna parkades are large podiums rising four storeys. All have security to control illicit activity, and none hide their utilitarian purpose to house cars despite the presence of lower level commercial space and colourful accents.
With new towers proposed in the downtown, we are in danger of above-ground parking killing our downtown.
The soon-to-be-built condominium at Ellis and Lawrence challenges Jacobs’ theory with an imposing five-storey parkade podium as part of a 15-storey condo tower — 25 per cent parking, 75 per cent living.
Despite the project being touted as having the greatest walk score in Kelowna and being located within a block of car share, a transit hub and dedicated cycling corridors, the project has 22 per cent more parking than required by C7 zoning. It begs the question: if you can’t build within the zoning parking requirements in such an ideal location, then where?
The developer also rejected putting one storey of parking underground necessitating the high podium. Renderings of the initial submission show the quality of the design looking like a tower atop a parkade and only through iterations with city planning staff did the parkade begin to look more like a building and passable for approval.
Still, many of staff’s excellent suggestions were not implemented. It was, therefore, odd to witness open praise to the developer on the design by certain council members prior to their vote.
For Kelowna’s downtown, the implications on the street, affordability, and future development in the area are significant:
— While the ground floor of the project includes commercial space, there will be no eyes on the street after hours. Actual residents will be completely disconnected from the street setback high in their tower. Had residential units been included in the podium this problem could have been solved.
— Had the minimum parking requirements been used and the parking been a storey underground, the podium could have been three or four storeys. The new high-quality Westcorp design for its downtown hotel proposed half or 156 of its parking stalls underground.
Concerns of insufficient parking could have been mitigated by including a car share in the building or offering residents a transit pass program.
— The five-storey podium sets a precedent for podium height of future adjacent buildings creating a continuous wall in all directions. In Vancouver, famous for its livability and podium architecture, five stories is rare and care is taken to preserve streetscape and view corridors. Five storeys of exposed parking for condominium projects is non-existent.
— A recent article identified the slow death of urban parking due to the high cost, space requirements, and the availability of more affordable and convenient transportation options. Buyers to this optimal location have those options, yet will pay their share of the typical stall construction cost of $65,000 ñ a missed opportunity for providing housing affordability or allocating that money to enhance the energy efficiency of the building.
Kelowna is looking to grow up from its past planning blights to infilling into the best midsized City in North America. With this ambition, attention to the quality of its urban fabric is critical.
A high water table and an appetite for parking necessitates Kelowna to be proactive instead of letting parkades drive the streetscape and safety. Robert Stupka, Kelowna