Op­ti­mize lively pub­lic wa­ter­fronts around Vic­to­ria’s In­ner Har­bour

Times Colonist - - Islander - CHRIS GOWER Chris Gower is an ar­chi­tect and ur­ban de­sign plan­ner.

It is laud­able that the City of Vic­to­ria is look­ing to im­prove wa­ter­fronts around our In­ner Har­bour. Em­pha­sis on some green space has value, but at the same time, why hold back on vi­tal mixed uses — on in­clud­ing more lively and ur­ban­ized fa­cil­i­ties and spa­ces for city fore­shores?

Here are two ex­am­ples stud­ied in my time as a Vic­to­ria city ur­ban de­sign plan­ner: 1. Ship Point

In­stead of a land­scaped slope, why not in­clude a siz­able cul­tural or com­mer­cial build­ing for the por­tion of this site ad­ja­cent to Wharf Street? There is a drop (over six me­tres) from Wharf Street to the grade be­low, ad­e­quate for a lower level of park­ing and stor­age, as well as a sec­ond­floor level — all be­low the Wharf Street side­walk.

This lo­ca­tion has a rock un­der-grade — en­abling a new build­ing to help seis­mi­cally but­tress the walls sup­port­ing Wharf Street. This build­ing could feature a pub­lic green roof at the side­walk level — of­fer­ing ex­cel­lent panora­mas of the har­bour.

Be­low, pro­vide pub­lic or restau­rant spa­ces with har­bour-ori­ented ter­races — to add to the year-around en­liven­ing of the area.

Add eco­nomic gain to the usual list of plan­ning ben­e­fits. A build­ing floor-level of about 2,700 square me­tres could fit this area, in ad­di­tion to the lower level of park­ing and stor­age.

Con­vert the ex­ist­ing south­ern green knoll into an amphitheatre over­look­ing the In­ner Har­bour, and main­tain the re­main­der of the site’s open space as an adapt­able multi-use plaza, in­stead of a se­ries of small, fixed-in-place land­scaped ar­eas.

When not em­ployed for fes­ti­vals or sea­sonal dis­plays, a por­tion of this plaza area could con­tinue to serve for park­ing and ve­hi­cle ac­cess — uses serv­ing the ad­ja­cent float­plane de­pot and suited to win­ter­time when out­door events are un­likely.

Park­ing to bol­ster down­town com­merce and city rev­enue should not be dis­missed as an as­set. Many Euro­pean cities have such convertible sec­ondary pub­lic plazas — which adapt to down­town park­ing when not in use for mar­kets, con­certs and week­end ac­tiv­i­ties.

In­cor­po­rate a dec­o­ra­tive paving pat­tern — to de­fine an at­trac­tive pub­lic wa­ter­front plaza area, and as well in­di­cate, when needed, park­ing lay­outs.

Ur­ban de­sign ob­jec­tives should in­clude: mixed uses; sea­sonal adapt­abil­ity; flex­i­bil­ity over time; eco­nomic ben­e­fits; pub­lic and vis­i­tor cul­tural vi­tal­ity and en­joy­ment; and over­all ur­ban en­hance­ment to the vis­ual iden­tity and ac­tiv­i­ties of Vic­to­ria’s har­bour. 2. West of the new John­son Street Bridge

For the pub­lic site west of the new bridge, in­stead of sim­ply a park, why not use the drop in grade from the old rail­way right-of-way to the road­way un­der­neath (five me­tres clear un­der the E&N bridge) for a pub­lic, cul­tural build­ing — with the park on top?

With my man­ager in plan­ning, we con­sid­ered a va­ri­ety of po­ten­tial ideas for such a build­ing here, in­clud­ing: a fire hall, a com­mu­nity cen­tre, an art gallery, a sta­tion for rail tran­sit and per­haps a new site for the Mar­itime Mu­seum. A build­ing area of about 3,000 square me­tres could read­ily fit the site.

The drop in grade would al­low most of the build­ing to be buried, topped by a ter­raced green roof.

The ad­ja­cent un­used large har­bour wa­ter lot could al­low for docks — well shel­tered from wind and waves, and highly vis­i­ble for uses such as a Mar­itime Mu­seum. Load­ing, park­ing and bus ac­cess could be pro­vided by driv­ing un­der the old E&N bridge.

Planned park space could still be cre­ated — as an amphitheatre on top of the build­ing be­low.

Mixed uses could be in­cor­po­rated. This study, then con­cerned to re­tain a po­ten­tial fu­ture tran­sit con­nec­tion to down­town, looked at the ex­am­ple of com­bin­ing a Mar­itime Mu­seum with a commuter rail sta­tion above — both shar­ing a great hall in the mu­seum be­low, for a com­bined tran­sit mode theme.

Rail-tran­sit use is be­com­ing less likely — but con­sider other uses paired with a Mar­itime Mu­seum, such as a small art gallery or com­mu­nity cen­tre. Or reach fur­ther for in­no­va­tion: Com­bin­ing the Mar­itime Mu­seum with a small aquar­ium could add a won­der­ful new pub­lic fo­cus to Vic­to­ria’s In­ner Har­bour.

Vic­to­ri­ans should be look­ing to op­ti­mize the val­ues and the vi­tal­ity of the har­bour’s pub­lic wa­ter­front sites, not to in­hibit them with just a sur­feit of pleas­ant, but nar­row­pur­pose, static, green spa­ces. A com­bi­na­tion of lively, adapt­able, pub­lic uses is the best ap­proach for a down­town wa­ter­front.

Af­ter all, the his­tory of Vic­to­ria’s har­bour has al­ways fea­tured such com­bined com­mer­cial, cul­tural and com­mu­nity uses.

Ar­chi­tect Chris Gower sug­gests this al­ter­na­tive de­sign for Ship Point.

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