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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Gastown : past, present and future Moodie, Robert James

Abstract

The old Vancouver townsite offers the community planner an excellent study area in which to observe the cyclical nature of urban development. As well as being able to define the rise and fall of particular uses, the planner is able to identify criteria which dictate these trends. The hypothesis or point of departure for this study was that, traditionally, economic values have been the prime determinants in setting the physical form of the urban environs. As this Gastown study indicates, this indeed has been the case, and, in fact, is continuing in the present restoration project. The conclusion of the thesis is that a much wider and more diverse perspective is needed in order to preserve the great variety of interests in the old townsite. Towards this end, a development programme has been suggested which would include inputs from all the groups or individuals in the community. The first chapter outlines the history of the Gastown area. Growth patterns and development modes are traced from 1880 until the present day. A number of factors have been identified which affected the townsite's early growth, these include the geographical location of the settlement and the nature of its early industry, as well as the decision to locate the western terminus of the CPR in Vancouver, and the Great Fire of 1886. The city of Vancouver, from its incorporation in I89O, through to the present day, has continued to expand and diversify. As the population increased, the business district shifted to areas which were in closer proximity to the major markets. Once the townsite lost its importance as the central business district, it entered a period of transition. Various service oriented industries began to dominate Vancouver's once fashionable 'downtown area'. Gradually, the old townsite declined, buildings deteriorated and were vacated. During the depression years, the unemployed workers flocked to the coast and sought out this area because of its low rents and plentiful accomodation. From this time on, Vancouver's birthplace existed as a 'skid-road' - a community of pensioners, transients, and vagrants. In the past three years, much attention has focused on the old townsite. The experiences of other cities with the restoration of historic areas has found form for its manifestation in the Gastown district. The problems and opportunities which the restoration project has encountered are outlined in the second chapter. The impact of the rapid redevelopment was felt first by the residents of the area -as some rooming-houses were closed, and rents in others increased, they were forced to leave the neighbourhood.

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