Gastown Tomorrow Sketches – Gastown

We reached out to Gastown creatives to ask them what they would like to see in our community. Each one envisioned a key area of the neighbourhood and shared their ideas for #GastownTomorrow.

Ben Leavitt

Gateway to Gastown

PlaidFox Studio

The Chairs of Gastown 

Many of life’s best moments are had while seated. From the barber’s chair to the bistro chair, these places of temporary stillness define much of what makes our daily life. The Chairs of Gastown celebrates the differing forms of Gastown commerce, while also providing a space for diverse communities to mix and interact with one another. By celebrating local designers, business owners, and communities through interactive public art, it strengthens the community overall. I have chosen four chairs, though the possibilities for collaboration are endless to celebrate those who make up what is Gastown. 

The Designer 

The Park Lounge chair, a modern take on the classic wingback was designed by Niels Bendtsen of Inform. Since I was a child, coming to Gastown has really motivated by my love for design. In part, early trips to Inform motivated me to both pursue a career in design as well as move to this neighbourhood. This chair to me represents the past and the future of Gastown and happens to sit in my living room. 

The Barber 

The many barbershops and hair salons of Gastown should not be overlooked. These talented artisans of hair draw so many people to this area and are a large contributor to what makes this neighbourhood a true community. The historical lines of the classic barber chair, similar to the architecture of Gastown, is unchanging and classic in its design. 

The Restaurant-Goer 

The gastronomic wonderland that is Gastown is celebrated by the most classic of chairs, the No. 14 bentwood bistro chair. From coffee shops and spaghetti houses to world-renowned restaurants such as L’Abattoir, there is no denying the celebration of food is part of what makes this neighbourhood special. 

The Shopper

An effortlessly draped coat forming the body of a chair is one of the more creative interpretations in what would make the Chairs of Gastown. The design celebrates the lover of fashion and the many unique shopping destinations of this neighbourhood, such as Neighbour, Roden Gray, Oak and Fort and many others. 

Further Thoughts 

An important part of this design would be the way it is lit at night, often darker streets can seem unwelcoming or dangerous. Unique to the Gastown neighbourhood, and one of its most charming design elements, are the twinkling light-filled trees. The Chairs of Gastown will be located in what is known as the Gateway to Gastown, it is vital this area is energetic and recognizable, as well as lit at night by coloured lights. These lights, including the street lanterns, could change colour on the hour to echo the famed steam clock’s whistle. 

Goals for the installation 

1. To increase opportunities for people to gather 

2. To celebrate the diverse communities of the neighbourhood 

3. To create interactive streetscapes 

4. Creating a space that is inclusive, safe, educational and representational of part of what makes the commerce of Gaston unique

5. To combine public art and street furniture in a thoughtful way 

6. Provide opportunities for local communities and artisans to collaborate on future chairs 

7. A photographable location for tourists entering Gastown 

Design elements 

Series of brightly coloured chairs spaced in such a way to encourage public as well as private interactions and conversations 

Chairs are made of outdoor material such as metal, wood or Polyethylene and finished in bright colours 

The area is lit at night with brightly coloured lights that change colour periodically, lighting methods would include tree lights, u- lighting and changing street lantern light. 

The notable juxtaposition between the heritage and the modern elements of Gastown through graphic lines and colours.

Jocelyn Fortier

Blood Alley

Pour L’air 

Blood red fragrant roses, red florals, red berry-bearing trees and grasses climb the walls and drip from the rooftops playing up the name and playing down the downside of alley smells as you meander through the changing scent experience. Gastown lights light the way to a working greenhouse restaurant where you can work or lounge. It’s a community gathering and an ever-changing attraction.

John Fluevog

Water Street

Fluevog Shoes

To create a visual representation of the history of Vancouver. This story would not only be present in the buildings but also in long-lasting art which would depict the spirit of historical events from which the city of Vancouver was built. It would honour the pioneering men and women who came before us and built up this city to what it is today and create a legacy for generations to come. 

We have the space and we have the interest. This could be a world-class outdoor museum giving tourists, both domestic and international, a pacific west coast experience to be remembered. 

One of the things about living in the current Gastown is seeing the constant and sometimes mysterious crowd of people around the steam clock. My idea is to build on the intrigue that the steam clock has by creating more moving pieces of art down along Water Street.

This would be a long-term project .. maybe a new art installation once a year or more or less. Make a call for submissions from artists from across Canada. Each one should be an amazing piece of movement and art. 

Let’s never let Vancouver or the world forget the humble beginnings of this specular city and province and we do that by turning Steamtown into another world-class art experience. 

Charles Guan

Trounce Alley

Mighty Canvas Studio

Gastown is where I spend my workdays making art, being inspired by the energy from the streets below, and being a small part of the historic story of the neighbourhood from my studio above in the Dominion building.

 

This sketch represents the transformation of one of the many alleyways that cut through our neighbourhood, where pedestrians will feel invited to stroll, take a breather, and enjoy some car-free moments while exploring the many shops and restaurants that call Gastown home.

After a tough 2020 year, thinking of our neighbours, small businesses, and the community as a whole, I jumped on the opportunity to contribute to this project to envision plans for an exciting optimistic future in Gastown.

Anna Kosturova

Maple Tree Square/Water Street

Anna Kosturova Designs

Gastown was Vancouver’s first downtown core, first neighborhood. It’s a national historic site. It’s unique and as such it deserves our expanded protection and care on a national level. Reducing traffic and its environmental impact is my number one focus when thinking about the future of this important Canadian heritage landmark. I believe that the current traffic levels and congestion caused, is a major detraction from what Gastown can be. Dealing with traffic must be the first priority before making other improvements to the area. 

I moved to Gastown in 2001. As I lived & worked in the area, I have firsthand “user experience” in this neighborhood. I have witnessed many changes. Some better and some not so much. And some much-needed changes that have never been addressed. As a long-time resident, I see the potential and I also see a big room for improvement. Based on my experience and observations this is what I believe can be implemented to improve & enhance the appearance, functionality and the overall experience of Gastown.

OBSERVATIONS

Gastown is a unique neighborhood, and an important Canadian historic area. Changes and improvements to the area must consider that Gastown includes residents, people who work here/businesses, visitors and tourists. 

During my nearly 20 years of living in Gastown, it became increasingly apparent to me that the traffic and congestion was becoming a major problem and there is an urgent need for change. Once life returns to the way things were pre COVID, the situation will only get worse. 

Before the COVID pandemic, the tourist season brought an influx of people. Gastown always seemed to be working over its maximum capacity. The hospitality service was lagging behind the demand. There was simply not enough patio’s and restaurants to accommodate the locals and the visitors. 

This neighborhood’s central vein is Water Street. It was bursting at the seams in an incredibly dysfunctional way. Cars, trucks & tourist busses being bottlenecked. People, whether residents or tourists were squeezed into narrow sidewalk space. The area around the Steam Clock was the worst. People spilling into the traffic, blocking the sidewalk. Diesel/gas fumes and loud engines of the big tourist & the hop on/hop off busses (how did they pass air pollution test?), fire trucks, idling loud refrigerator trucks, or just cars being stuck in slow moving traffic on Water street was contributing to unbearable air and sound pollution. 

LET’S NOT GO BACK TO IT!

Here is what we already know: 

Gastown is an important tourist destination beside being a residential & business area. This fact will not change and it should be fully embraced. We should plan accordingly as the number of tourists will go up each year in the post Covid era.

Gastown is inevitably becoming one of the sought-after shopping, entertainment and dining destination of Vancouver. It’s bringing in visitors from other parts of Vancouver and the suburbs. Again, these numbers will go up post Covid. 

Sure, things have slowed down now. Definitely not at the level of what it was at pre Covid times. But that presents a perfect time and opportunity to start doing something about what is surely going to occur after life returns to normal. We need to start the process of making the necessary changes now! We need to start planning, implementing changes, getting ready for when life comes back to normal. 

I believe creating a CAR-FREE ZONE in Gastown is absolutely vital and would be a simple solution that would lead to an overall improvement. By Car-Free zone I mean no cars, no motor bikes. Bikes and scooters are ok (without any bike lanes restrictions).

 The Car-Free Zone would be set up either permanently or seasonally (tourist season) on Water street, leading from Cordova St. all the way to and including Maple Tree Square. It can start as a seasonal set up which could then lead to a permanent one.

I think it’s important to re-establish Maple Tree Square as a center / core of the neighborhood. But also a town square of Vancouver really. It would honor and elevate the well-deserved historical importance of this area and setting the overall tone and the esthetics of Gastown.

Here is what I’m picturing the Gastown Car-Free Zone should look like: 

It should have plenty of communal long tables with benches for people to be able to work, have a picnic, enjoy their lunch or a drink – yes, this would be an Alcohol Allowed Zone too – you know, like they do it in the rest of the civilised world….

I do love lights on the trees that are in Gastown, but I would also like to see string lights going from building to building above Water street and Maple Tree Square. 

There would be lots of greenery, potted plants, flowers, all kinds of trees. I love bamboo and fern palm trees as they are see through, they don’t completely block the view but add insta ambience. I think the lamps decorated with hanging flower baskets is an amazing signature Gastown look. It should be perhaps adopted by other areas of Vancouver… 

There should be some area dividing planters with shrubs especially around the patios… speaking of patios… The restaurants can expand their patios well into the street as there is no traffic. Creating amazing space for meals and drinks and enjoying watching the world go by…The fencing, needs to be made in a way to not be visually obtrusive. Aesthetically, the fencing should incorporate planters with shrubs, or trees, perhaps some from of hedges. An example would be Jules restaurant, or open metal fences with hanging floral boxes like the original Old Spaghetti Factory. Or – just no fence at all. The tables and chairs positioning sufficiently outline where the patio is… 

However, I would not like to see those robust wooden fence boxed up patios that were built in Gastown during covid – they are unattractive and a horrible eye sore! They look like some kind of corral. After the people leave the restaurant, these patios look like abandoned ship containers, or construction waste removal bins ….not an uplifting image at all. 

Additionally there should be performance micro stages, food stands, fresh flower stands, Makers/artisan stands,  …a farmer’s market every saturday? The events/programming potential is incredible here! 

The culmination point of the Car-free Zone would be the core of the neighborhood… Maple Tree Square! It would be the epicentre and a showcase area of Gastown. It would be like a town square in the same spirit as the old European towns where the town square is a center of the town’s life.  Again – it could have a center stage featuring local and international talent. It can have theme markets ….maybe a space for pop-up restaurants or bars … or pop up boutiques showcasing Canadian or international companies. Perhaps even a space for a temporary art gallery…again, endless programming ideas really….

And let’s not forget the jazz festival!!! Can we have it come back to the neighborhood, please?

Can we also have roof top patios?!! I really love the rooftop space of the INFORM building… I remember them having a movie night there before … that looked so magical… 

Another important area that Gastown should improve on is some form of weather proofing of the public space. So we can all enjoy Gastown even during the rain or winter. Perhaps there should be an awning expansion along the building facades. Umbrellas or sails stretched above the patios and communal tables will definitely help. But even simple lightweight gazebos or pergolas with retractable sail would be amazing. I remember a few years ago being in Europe during the winter (which is harsher then Vancouver’s climate) and I was amazed to see patios and open space restaurants buzzing and thriving even though it was snowing or raining outside. Of course they were equipped with patio heaters and the seats were decorated with plush padding for extra warmth and comfort and the blankets were offered to customers. 

Some of them even had cozy patio gas fire places….

Further, in order to make all this work, I believe a pedestrian overpass is crucial. It can be either at the North end of Carral Street or the North end of Abbott street. So it’s more centered (let the engineers figure that part out) It should be wheelchair accessible, but no bikes. 

I’m picturing something simple, more rustic, made of wood, a pier style (google it) thing to reflect the esthetics and logging history of the area. Doesn’t need to be too wide, min width accommodating two passing wheelchairs would be sufficient. It does not need to be a huge structural undertaking, so it could be also easily dismantled or upgraded, if necessary. I honestly can’t wait to see the sunset pics people would be posting from this overpass. And  also the railroad below! What a fascinating thing to see! 

An overpass would connect Gastown with plenty of parking space and an additional destination space – Crab park. That entire area is, in my opinion, completely underused. It feels like the parking space just sits empty there every time I look at it. The only time I see it busy is when movie companies have their food trucks set up. 

Parking space by Crab park would accommodate all the tourist busses and thus take the traffic load off the Gastown area. The overpass would be an additional tourist entry point to Gastown beside the entry from the west Waterfront station side. It would be great for locals too as it would be a faster pedestrian access to Crab Park to enjoy the only seawall park that’s available by Gastown. But also, an additional access to the Seawall at Coal Harbour. 

I hope you agree that the Free-Car Zone concept is the way for Gastown to achieve its potential. There is so much more I can say but hopefully the above vision gives you a start, a cloud to dream on and makes you all as excited about Gastown tomorrow as I am.

 

Learn more about our Urban Design Study and share your voice here. Tomorrow’s Gastown belongs to the community.