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June 5, 2014 at 11:38 AM

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Big Ideas for the City: Re-Imagination of Granville Island

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Image Credit: Wikipedia

Image Credit: Wikipedia

In 1979, Vancouver welcomed a redeveloped Granville Island to the shores of False Creek. Transformed from an old industrial site, Granville Island was designed with the vision of being an urban park that promised to be something different. Its vision was to be an active public realm that would include cultural and artistic spaces, non-traditional retail, event and celebration spaces, an educational facility, all while still maintaining its overall industrial feel. The island was an instant success with both residents and tourists alike. Ever popular, Granville Island is currently one of the most frequented tourist attractions (and public markets) in Canada.

Since its redevelopment, Granville Island has been heralded as a major success throughout North America. Its active public realm, preservation of industrial history, as well as its continuing popularity and economic success, have made it a valuable case study for many cities trying to revitalize their own declining industrial districts. Due to the Island’s success and its positive reputation there have been little to no major alterations to the site’s original design. This, however, will change in 2016, when two prominent buildings, totalling approximately 200,000 square feet, will become vacant.

In 2013, it was announced that the Emily Carr University of Art + Design – one of the mainstays of Granville Island – will be leaving it’s current site and relocating to a new campus on Great Northern Way. Accordingly, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) – Granville Island’s federal caretaker – has hired Vancouver based planning firm, CitySpaces, to develop a preliminary plan addressing the future programming of these spaces and to recommend prospective tenancy.

Image Credit: Emily Carr University


The forthcoming departure of Emily Carr University will undoubtedly leave a considerable void, altering the landscape of Granville Island, while having uncertain repercussions on the utilisation of the surrounding spaces. Consequently, the VPSN believes that this impending vacancy provides an unprecedented, and unique opportunity, to not only re-imagine the Emily Carr site, but the Island as a whole. Future programming of these significant buildings has the potential to act as a catalyst for an important destination in our city. Therefore, careful consideration and meaningful dialogue between a variety of stakeholders needs to occur, in order to ascertain what type of activities will be beneficial to the future of Granville Island.

The VPSN asks that the CMHC maintains the original vision of the island and uses the new space to uphold an active public realm. Although it is too early to say what will eventually fill the Emily Carr site, we at the VPSN have a few suggestions of what the space could transform into:

  • An expansion of False Creek Community Centre;
  • A public space centre;
  • A space for public engagement;
  • Another educational institution that maintains an emphasis on arts and culture;
  • An expansion of the public market;
  • An incubator space for small startup businesses.

For further reading:

ECUAD relocating to a new campus on Great Northern Way

A project to maintain the original vision of the island

Commentary on reimagining Granville Island

The Big Ideas are 12 Priority Areas we see as an early release of the VPSN Manifesto on public space policy. We’ve made online access to the Routemap 2012-2014 and the original Manifesto 2008-2011.To learn more about this initiative and to get involved, please write us an email.

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