NAOIBH O'CONNOR (VANCOUVER COURIER) - The old Mount Pleasant village at Main Street between Sixth and 12th avenues, combined with the triangle block formed by Main, Broadway and Kingsway, form what Heritage Vancouver Society refers to as “The Heart of Mount Pleasant,” which has acted as the “hub” of the neighbourhood since it began to develop in the 1880s.
Its ongoing value lies in the older buildings, diversity of longtime businesses, affordable artist spaces and the diverse demographics, according to Bill Yuen, the organization’s executive director.
Like many, Yuen appreciates the quirky mix of what's offered.
“You have the book store, which I really enjoy going to — Pulpfiction books. It’s great that people walk in there and they all know the owner or the people working there. It’s almost familial,” he said.
“I quite enjoy the triangle building. It’s rather important. Obviously, there’s a lot of history in the building, but upstairs there’s a lot of artist studios that are affordable for artists. Downstairs, there’s Gene’s [café], of course, which is quite a beloved space. It’s a wonderful corner that people can use. People sit outside — there’s a lot of activity outside. It’s quite a wonderful building.”
What the area will look and feel like in the future remains uncertain, however. That concern, along with its importance to a lot of people, is why Heritage Vancouver Society (HVS) ranked “The Heart of Mount Pleasant” as No. 1 on its 2019 Top 10 watch list. The list — the organization’s 19th — was released June 20.
2019 TOP 10 WATCH LIST
“The heart of Mount Pleasant and the other Broadway Neighbourhoods are key areas that are distinct and beloved,” the watch list states.
“The combinations of small local businesses, streetscapes, public gathering spaces, demographics, more affordable spaces and older buildings make them significant for the benefit of the public.”
But advocates worry about what could be lost if heritage concerns, including the idea of “living neighbourhoods,” aren’t given due consideration during the city’s planning processes, Yuen said.
Launched in March, the Broadway Plan, which will take two years to complete, covers the Broadway corridor from Clark Drive to Vine Street between West First and 16th avenues, traversing four neighbourhoods — False Creek Flats, Fairview, Mount Pleasant and a corner of Kitsilano. It will address subjects such as housing, job space, and social and cultural amenities around the future subway route — an extension of the Millennium Line from VCC-Clark Station to Arbutus Street. Six stations are planned — five on Broadway, potentially at Main, Cambie, Oak, Granville and Arbutus. Conservationists fear the stations could intensify development pressure.
The Broadway Plan is not the only large-scale planning program underway that will impact neighbourhoods. A city-wide plan is also in the works. Council directed staff to start developing it last November.
“We’re talking about big impacts on neighbourhoods — on what constitutes a neighbourhood. We’re not just talking about historic buildings that people care about. This is much bigger,” Yuen said.
“With Mount Pleasant, we’re talking about the nature of the small businesses and the type of commercial identity that’s there. We’re talking about the demographic mix that is already there, there’s income mix and businesses that serve those different demographics. There’s artists, there’s affordable spaces. All those things come up when you think, ‘OK, is everything going to be demolished to make way for bigger buildings around the station area?’ This is really important for, not just people who are interested in local history or historic architecture, but for people who care about that neighbourhood and use that neighbourhood.”
HEART UNDER THREAT
Important historic buildings in the heart of Mount Pleasant include:
Alyssa Myshok, co-founder of Mount Pleasant Heritage Group, is as concerned as Heritage Vancouver about the buildings, how they contribute to the neighbourhood and the area’s future. The group helped the society put together the position paper on “The Heart of Mount Pleasant.”
Position papers for the Top 10 list outline why particular entries were chosen — the threat against them, their significance, HVS’s position and actions the public can take.
For Myshok, the heart of Mount Pleasant’s “human-scale” buildings and long history combine to produce its character.
“There’s such a story contained in all those buildings about how Mount Pleasant came together. It was built around the streetcar so it’s almost like the first suburb built around public transit,” she said.
While the neighbourhood’s 2010 community plan emphasizes the importance of its character, Myshok maintains nothing’s been put in place to protect it.
“The heart really is under threat. Development has been really taking off in Mount Pleasant, of course, because it’s been more accessible for developers… It is heartbreaking that here is a really treasured part of not only Mount Pleasant, but of the city, [and] that the city hasn’t stood up to recognize [it],” she said.
“Now we’re going into the Broadway corridor plan. So far, nothing that the city has put forth has really said [that] this is a critical part of what Mount Pleasant means in the community, it’s important to the city, and we need to ensure it remains as such — at scale, with a community feel, [and] retains that character.”
Aside from getting involved with the Mount Pleasant Heritage Group, both Heritage Vancouver and Myshok encourage residents to take part in the Broadway planning process to share what aspects they think are important and should be preserved.
“Show up, attend the [Broadway Plan meetings], participate in them, and tell the city what is valuable about that area and what they feel should be kept,” Yuen said.
“I want to emphasize, even though this is Heritage Vancouver’s Top 10, this goes way beyond the historic buildings. It could be that the older buildings allow for more affordable rents — [it’s] anything that you value on that street. If you go to yoga, if you buy ice cream, if you sit and have a beer, if you have coffee — that local mom-and-pop business, they might get pushed out.”
REGARDS TO BROADWAY
“Broadway Neighbourhoods,” earned the No. 2 position on the watch list since numerous blocks along that route between Clark and Vine are subject to the Broadway planning process.
Heritage Vancouver says it supports “a progressive, performance-based planning process that truly listens to residents and does not have any preconceived notions of how transit-oriented neighbourhoods should look and feel.”
Yuen said residents’ participation in public consultation is key to ensure critical features are preserved.
“There’s a responsibility for residents to communicate properly what is important, aside from saying there’s a specific architectural look, which is important too, but that’s not the only thing,” he said.
“On the West Side, we hear that the neighbourhood is hollowing out, there’s less people there and [fewer] kids going to school, so how do you bring back what makes up that neighbourhood? What is really important in terms of neighbourhood character?”
Unique elements in the Broadway neighbourhoods, according to Heritage Vancouver, include the groceries in Kitsilano’s Greektown, the “pleasant” walkability of mixed-use Fairview slopes, Main Street’s “trendy” retail and casual street life, and the “dense leafy character of Mount Pleasant.”
The organization also calls attention to “First Nations’ activity on the slopes long before 1890 when the first road was built and became a major colonial thoroughfare.”
“This rich history has left numerous unusual architectural and place-making assets, along with many intangible patterns of daily use,” states the organization, highlighting the BowMac sign, the Main Street Triangle, the collection of outdoor stores around the old MEC site,“Dingbat” apartments — low-rise stucco walk-up apartments, often with parking underneath at the main level — at Granville Street, and one of Vancouver’s first low-energy townhomes at Vine Street.
“[They] all represent important times and movements that deserve attention and protection. These are just a handful of examples in a long list of important sites. Few of these areas, buildings, signs and stores are protected in any legal or policy sense.”
Heritage Vancouver insists it’s not against change, it’s not opposed to the rapid transit line and it’s not against the Broadway planning process. Rather, it argues, it’s important to retain and enhance neighbourhood character, while allowing growth to occur.
“We’re not saying you need to keep everything, but we need to identify what’s important to keep,” Yuen said.
For the society, “a successful Broadway area plan that respects existing neighbourhoods may require careful control of land use and block by black negotiation in order to retain important concentrations of intangible patterns.”
Heritage Vancouver’s overall watch list, meanwhile, varies from specific sites to particular parts of the city to how heritage, in general, can be protected.
Yuen said the society’s overall goal with its annual list is to show the range of heritage in Vancouver, to expand the definition of heritage to beyond the buildings themselves — although they are important — to include how they support life in the city, and to underscore that there’s a lot at risk if important sites and features of the city are lost.
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