The 105 Keefer project proposed by the Beedie Group doesn’t work for the location or for Chinatown as a whole. The basic problem is that the developer and the architects still have not taken the time to engage in, and with, the community they want to build in.
The starting point should have been, and still should be, to produce something that honours, celebrates and enhances the neighbourhood.
With the removal of the viaducts and the impending North East False Creek park and associated development, the Keefer/Columbia corner is poised to become an important new gateway for Chinatown. Imagine this gateway as a vibrant, active new public space for the community and the city, a space for the night market, street food and events… except there’s the 105 project looming over the square and the intersection.
Apart from incorporating the right-of-way that runs along the north edge of the existing Memorial Square, the community gains nothing in the way of real enhancements to what has become an important point of memory and celebration. And Columbia Street gains a couple of storefronts… it should be better, way better.
So how? Move the entire 105 project 50′ to the east up against the Keefer Block. With that a 50’x120′ space is opened up along Columbia which provides so many opportunities for placemaking when combined with the existing Memorial Square.
Yes, the 50′ lot would have to be purchased but land swaps have already been discussed so why not think of a swap for the smaller parcel? Moving 105 eastward gives the architects an opportunity to play off the existing Keefer Block, rearrange the massing and maybe look at some additional height in return for some meaningful housing options. Because with the project shifted east some of the issues associated with the original rezoning request go away simply by being that much further away from the Dr Sun Yat Sen garden/park and the monument. And it would be much better urban design for everyone.
And, taking it one step further, raise Columbia Street to curb level and you have a large level surface to play with and a tangible connection to the park and garden for larger events and community celebration. It is a case of build it and they will come.
Developing in Chinatown should be hard, it should require deep thinking and appropriate responses to a place that is a distinct cultural landscape. Sticking a few colour swatches found in the area (or a Chinese film) on the building or incorrect Chinese characters on a wall isn’t doing the neighbourhood any favours.
Chinatown is unique, it deserves to be treated with care and sensitivity. So, send 105 back to the drawing board, think beyond the existing site, make some really imaginative choices and celebrate the neighbourhood you’ve chosen to build in.