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Legislating for urban aesthetics : a case study of the civic design panel Vancouver , B.C Vanin, Daniel

Abstract

In the past several years many authors and critics of the urban scene have denounced the visual chaos that is now many North American cities. This condition has been attributed to several historical factors as well as to some present negative policies and practices by governments which affect the quality of the urban environment. Despite this traditional lack of concern, current trends point to a new and enlightened interest in the aesthetic quality of our cities. Various legislative acts have been passed by senior governments to enable certain municipalities to adopt local regulations and ordinances based on aesthetic objectives in order to control the visual, character of both public and private development. The historical evolution of this type of legislation is outlined, as well as the judicial attitude affecting its legality in the face of traditional conflicts between individual property rights and the inherent regulatory power of the municipality. In addition, special attention is given to the administration of this type of legislation, normally effected by an architectural board of review system which is empowered to assess the aesthetic merits of a project's design before approval to build is granted. The author affirms, however, that contrary to traditional concepts urban aesthetics in the architecture-urban fields today are based on broader and more comprehensive design criteria than merely the arrangement of an individual building's form or architectural "style". He further hypothesizes that the role of architectural review boards must be broadened to include the functional as well as the aesthetic aspects of design review in order to improve the city's total physical environment. A case study of the Vancouver Civic Design Panel is used to test the validity of the hypothesis as well as to assess the merits of the design panel system in principle. Within the context of the case study, the conclusions reached generally confirm the author's original affirmation and hypothesis.

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