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Vancouver’s Granville Island, inspiring virtually — Corbett scholar Colin Carter

Granville Island, reimagined by Colin Carter for Introduction to Digital Design.

April 9, 2021

During winter quarter here at the University of Washington, I was able to take Introduction to Digital Design which prepares urban planning students to produce publicly facing visuals. As a part of this class we were encouraged to choose a single study area to focus our efforts on and in the spirit of the Corbett Program I chose Granville Island in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Having visited Granville Island several times throughout childhood and my college days, I always found Granville Island to be a cornerstone in my mental notion of what Vancouver was like. Historically, Granville was home to industries such as lumber and steelworks due to the proximity to the city and navigable waterways. Granville Island was an island that was loosely connected by a sandbar but in the early 1900s in an effort to support rapidly growing industries, the island was connected to the mainland by filling in the sandbar. Today, Granville Island is not an island but rather a peninsula with many of those industrial buildings still standing with most being converted to host a public market and a sleuth of other small businesses. Additionally, Granville Island now possesses a community center, a series of parks, and other public and private assets.

In researching Granville Island, I came across the vision statement the island uses to guide policies and development: “ The most inspiring public place in the world.” Reflecting on this vision statement and the requirements of my course, I started to think about the large amount of parking on the island and the tension that exists between pedestrians and automobiles. It was this tension that led me to produce a pedestrian map, an axonometric view of the market, and a redesign of a parking lot on the west-end of the island.

The first assignment for our study area was to create a “circulation” map. It was left to students to decide which mode of transportation to capture and how best to illustrate that movement. Granville Island, with its low-rise buildings, emphasis on commercial retail and art, and location underneath the Granville Bridge, has a distinct scale that most aligns with experiencing it as a pedestrian. For this reason I chose to ‘map’ the circulation of pedestrians across Granville Island.

Above you can see the different iterations of design and product. Taking inspiration from other digital artists, this ‘wispy’ style aims to demonstrate the non-linear movements of people across the island. While sidewalks generally direct pedestrian movement (as shown by the higher density of paths and darker color), people are not bound by these paths unlike other modes of transportation such as cars. Thus the paintbrush-like style shows these “unbounded” paths that people may take. Additionally, the map makes it possible to identify “hot spots” of congregation.

The next assignment was to produce an axonometric view of the study area. This exercise in 3D modeling aims to understand the angular perspectives other than the traditional top-down view of most maps. By examining these different perspectives one can gain the sense of scale, the quality of architectural character, and the spatial relationship between the different elements that comprise the study area.

Inspired by the cornerstone building of the island, the public market building, I selected a viewpoint that showed the relation between water, land, pedestrians, vegetation, vehicles, buildings, and even light.

Here we see two perspectives centered around the public market building. We can see the popularity and connection between the market building and its surroundings. It was during this project that I saw a conflict between the large parking lot in front of the market building and the density of use by pedestrians; this would become the basis of my next two assignments.

For the third assignment, we were asked to make a plan view. For this project, this perspective aims to be more technical than a simple map view due to its use as a 2D tool to imagine an intervention in an urban space. Reflecting on my own experiences on Granville and seeing the relationship between this west end parking lot and its proximity to the market building, I thought about developing a more intensive use of this space via a park. This end of the island has no public green space and yet acts as the visual and physical “gateway” to downtown Vancouver via its clear views of downtown buildings and the pedestrian ferry. To better serve this gateway function, a park that would preserve some existing functions, like the ferry terminal, but invites broader civil use may be the right approach. It should be added that this type of design is what is considered landscape architecture within the urban planning field. While I have no formal background in landscape architecture, the purpose of this assignment is to broadly imagine a well-loved and used public space and not its specific design characteristics.

The subsequent step following the plan view assignment was to use another powerful tool that planners rely on to pitch possible changes to a community: Photoshop. By producing an eye-level perspective of what this intervention may look like to a visitor is critical in developing community and stakeholder buy-in. Here we see a screenshot taken from Google Maps from October 2020 and underneath is the same exact photo but with the park implemented and being used. Additionally, this is the first time the “West End Park 2035” verbiage is used. By doing so, it produces a project identity and timeline that can be easily understood and imagined by anyone who views these plans. Additionally, we can visualize the change in use for this area. In the before photo we see it as a transitory space, one where you park your car to access the surrounding amenities. But with the West End Park, it itself turns into the destination and asset in addition to the existing ones that surround it.

A rapidly growing theme in planning is also the implementation of multi-mobility spaces. In the before photo we see a covered walking area but lack of additional pedestrian infrastructure (like crosswalks) and the single plane of brick produces a zone of vehicle dominance. In an effort to enter this conversation, the West End Park reclaims that same space to become pedestrian and bike friendly.

While Granville Island does not currently have any plans to convert any parking lots in their published plans, I hope this set of illustrations and visuals expand the reader’s perception of possibilities for this beloved and unique Vancouver landmark.

The Corbett British Columbia-Washington International Exchange Program Fund provides an opportunity for undergraduate students at the University of Washington to spend two semesters at the University of British Columbia or University of Victoria; and for students from the University of British Columbia and University of Victoria to spend three quarters at the University of Washington.