All things environmental

Musings about the environment and all it touches, from education to city planning

Urban Vancouver: Commercial Street

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There is a street in my neighbourhood that I’m quite fond of, without knowing quite why. It is one of the Vancouver streets that has a totally urban feel, without being in the downtown core. I reminds me of Montreal’s plateau, somewhat.

the Gow block

the Gow block

It’s called Commercial Street, and if it is an extension of its more famous namesake, Commercial Drive, the feel is completely different. My favourite section is the two blocks between 19th and 22nd. The street features a combination of 3 or 4-story appartment blocks, some very recent, some that date almost to the turn of last century. Interspersed in between are a few old houses, as well as light industrial older building. Some look long in the tooth, others (the Gow Block notably) have been restored. Though the buildings are very close to one another – most touch – it’s quiet and very walkable: a Portuguese restaurant, cafes (in particular the Commercial Street Café), good grocery stores (including Famous Foods) a few blocks away.

When I researched the area a bit, I found that this was originally a prosperous area served by the Interurban tramway (on its way to new Westminster); but as the interurban was abandoned, the shops closed, light industry moved in…and then not much happened, until recently, with new residential development.

There’s nothing all that remarkable about the area – except for its feel. The mix of spanking-new stainless steel facades, heritage blocks like the Gow Block, and old small-scale light industry has a grit and unpretensiousness that is pretty unique. That’s probably why I like it so much; it reminds me of the Plateau or Hochelaga in Montreal. It is truly urban.

New and old, cheek by jowl

New and old, cheek by jowl

From a sustainability perspective, this is a winning area: perfect for walking and cycling, being close to Skytrain and buses; the buildings have the right density to promote energy efficiency; and yet it’s still an affordable pocket of Vancouver (relatively speaking), with old-fashioned shops such as tool rental or lighting supply providing local jobs, and space for newcomers (there’s a dog grooming boutique, sign of the times) to start up a business.

Maybe this type of neighbourhood is a salutary antidote to Vancouverism, a trend now often taken to mean tall condo towers parachuted in the middle of a single-family housing neighbourhood. Why do I love this bit of street?  I don’t know, but I wish I’d see more like this in Vancouver: higher density with a real urban feel, but on a very human scale. Maybe, just maybe, with neighbourhoods like these, Vancouverites would agree that densification can be good…

Commercial Street Café

Commercial Street Café

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Written by enviropaul

August 24, 2014 at 4:48 pm

2 Responses

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  1. […] There’s a new building project in a neighbourhood that I particularly like for its urban character, the north Commercial Street area. […]

  2. […] right harmony between prospect and refuge, what we call human-scaled. Commercial Street is one of my favourite Vancouver street, and now I realize it’s because it has the same […]


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