Oakridge Centre SHAVONNE YU ENDS 220
I remember being devastated when the movie theatre in Oakridge closed down five years ago. It was the best place to catch good movies in a decent theatre without having to trek through downtown traffic. It had its own history too, dating back to 1985 (Sacha). Dunbar Theatre, while close, was quaint at best - their seats were cracked and worn from use over the years. Oakridge Empire Theatres closed alongside the disappearance of Rogers Video and Blockbuster stores, marking a new era in how media was now being consumed. Nowadays, the stores in the mall are high end and catered to an older demographic. The short visits I made there were to visit friends who had found retail jobs, and I found myself there often in senior year for prom dress shopping.
A fountain used to run through the centre atrium of the mall – I remember peering over the edge to catch a glimpse of the bottom glittering with copper pennies. The fountain has now been covered up and is used as a display stand, leaving visitors with nowhere to put their wishes – except, perhaps, into cash registers.
History Oakridge Centre was the first shopping mall in Vancouver, established in 1959 by Woodward’s due to demands for postwar development (Woodward’s Stores Ltd). Their vision was to be the envy of the country and they wished to compete with the commercial success of downtown. It featured an outdoor mall with storefronts facing garden courtyards. Located in the geographical heart of Vancouver, the area is known to be the least historical - though merely in a colonial sense - as it was covered in shrubbery prior to development (CBC). In 1984, the mall was eventually turned into an indoor mall using glass, creating an atrium that brought lots of natural light into the space. Woodward’s was bought by the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1993 and their store was converted into The Bay (HBC Heritage). Following a 250 million investment into the Hudson’s Bay Company by Ivanhoé Cambridge in 2015, the redevelopment of Oakridge was left in the global real estate firm’s hands (Bourré). In 2017, Oakridge Centre was sold to QuadReal Property Group, which is owned by Vancouver’s British Columbia Investment Management Corp. QuadReal is partnering with Vancouver developer Westbank to redevelop Oakridge Centre, which has been tentatively forecasted to be completed in 2025.
Current Offerings Oakridge Centre is the second most productive shopping centre in Canada (Korstrom), producing sales around $1,533 per square foot every year (Retail Insider) and welcoming 8.7 million visitors annually (Oakridge Centre). The core players in Oakridge Mall include a 182,000-square foot Hudsonâ€™s Bay, as well as a 50,000-square foot Safeway. Target was originally meant to move in to replace Zellers, but was cancelled when Target stopped Canadian operations. Retail is focused on more high-end jewelry stores and world-renowned brands, attracting an older audience.
2014 Rezoning The 2014 rendition of the plan was for the mall to be on the third level. The tallest tower stood at 44 storeys, which would be the City of Vancouver’s highest outside of downtown. Key concerns from the public included traffic density, shadows caused by tower heights, strain for local services, the impact of the long duration of construction, and maintaining an intimate sense of community (Chan). Some conditions for approval made by the city council included reducing shadowing, increasing articulation and terracing, better integrating greenery into the buildings, and strengthening concepts of their ‘hilltop town’ and ‘earthwork’ concepts.
The design rationale behind the park design included four phrases: hilltop town, garden city, radiant city, and urban streetwall. These concepts focus on using the existing topography, bridging the urban and landscape, integrating nature, freeing ground plane, allowing in more light, and providing a retail streetwall (Vancouver.ca).
Scaling Back in 2016 While the 2014 rezoning plan was approved, the city staff recommended the development to be scaled back, resulting in a 20% reduction in housing units. The residents in the neighbourhood had heavily contested the development, though the core reason for the scaling back was due to construction problems – such as the discovery of an underground aquifer (Caddell). Ivanhoé Cambridge has also stated that it was difficult to keep tenants as the development had a projected 8-year construction timeframe. Other reasons included lease implications, and keeping the shopping centre open during construction.
2017 Development Proposal The once bold vision of the 1960s has been upended by the new vision for the 21st century – a 5-billion-dollar redevelopment plan aims to make Oakridge “Vancouver’s Cultural Hub”, and the “largest single attraction in Western Canada (Retail Revolution)”. Featuring a 9-acre city park as its highlight, the new design boasts a community centre, dance school, and library, with office space and culinary delights aplenty. Rather than including these elements as separate entities, the new Oakridge promises to overlap these elements, revolutionizing retail space as co-creative spaces that “act as living, breathing physical portals into brand and product experiences.”
The main website lists technological milestones and big-name companies such as Uber, Airbnb, and Facebook as the context for their ‘retail revolution.’ Oakridge also goes as far as to describe their plans as ‘audacious,’ though one might argue a more suitable word to be ‘flamboyant.’
Key changes made to the development application include lowering the roof and creating the parks closer to street level so the park is more integrated into the urban fabric. The second retail level has been taken out of the plan, allowing existing storefronts to continue operating while construction occurs above (Retail Insider). Circulation and foot traffic to the site is improved â€“ the majority of commercial businesses will be on the first floor, while the food court and The Bay will be on the second. The civic centre was also moved to a more prominent and accessible corner site. The overarching form is to organize the park into zones, connected by a looped pathway that will serve as a running track. Reducing the retail program of the mall allowed the design to create better connections through moving park space to be at grade. The residential buildings have been redesigned to â€œemerge out of the landscape, blurring the transition between nature, podium and tower into an organic wholeâ€? (Vancouver.ca).
Proximity to Transit Alongside the recent developments in the Cambie corridor, redevelopment has been focused around major transit nodes. Oakridge Centre is one of such as it is already connected to the Canada Line. Because of its connection to transit, there is an anticipation for a smaller demand for parking and a hope that more people will transit and bike â€“ a nod to Vancouverâ€™s Greenest City 2020 vision.
The ongoing phase 3 of the 2009 Cambie Corridor Plan focusses on densifying the areas within walking distance to Canada Line stations. Oakridge Park is to join four other planned parks to fulfill demands for park space in the Cambie Corridor (Vancouver.ca). Transit-oriented density has been criticized for skyrocketing the prices of properties surrounding transit stations, leaving lowerincome renters out in the cold despite their higher use of transit (Denis).
Public Engagement Open houses on the new park and updated Oakridge Centre Design were held Dec 6 and 9th this year. I attended one and to my happy disbelief, many members of the community came to attend. However, the representatives of Westbank, Vancouver Parks Board and QuadReal seemed hesitant to approach community members and opted for socializing amongst themselves.
The event didnâ€™t include a panel or presentation but had posters for people to read in their own time, and people were encouraged to leave feedback online as well as through sticky notes, and a written feedback form. Between the 2014 to 2017 redesign, many concerns were addressed, such as the shadows that would be caused by the towers. The new design reimagines these towers to be more organic, twisting towards the sun and maximizing green space using terraces.
Conclusion Seniors sit idle and watch the flow of people walking by. Ladies strut along the tile floors in sunglasses and fur coats, flitting in and out of Coach, DKNY, and Armani. Oakridge as it is now has been deemed outdated, with stores that cater to a higher price bracket than what most members of the community are willing to pay. Cracked floors, leaking ceilings, and cratered asphalt betray Oakridgeâ€™s age, though efforts are still being made to decorate the place nicely for the holidays. There is much left to be desired, leaving Vancouver waiting with bated breath to see if the new Oakridgeâ€™s exuberant promises will be fulfilled.
An exploration of history of Vancouver's first shopping mall in light of recent redevelopment plans.