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DIALOG x UBC SCARP and SALA Design Recap: Conceptualizing a Vision for Vancouver’s Railtown District

January 16, 2024

On Monday, December 11, DIALOG’s Vancouver studio opened its doors to a group of students from the University of British Columbia’s (UBC) School of Community and Regional Planning (SCARP) and School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture (SALA) to present their final urban design proposals that reimagine the historic Railtown district in Vancouver.

15 masters students from the SCARP and SALA enrolled in an urban design studio focused on applying the theory, principles, and processes of urban design to a selected site in Vancouver; where they strategically organize major urban design elements such as, buildings, open spaces, streets, transport, and other relevant infrastructure, with a consideration of several socioeconomic and environmental factors. In this course, students were tasked to develop a vision and proposal for the growing creative district of Railtown, home to local shops, design studios, venues, restaurants and cafes, and the rich local history of Japanese-Canadian culture.

Back in November, the students were invited to the DIALOG Vancouver studio for an interdisciplinary design charrette. The students were paired with DIALOG urban designers, planners, architects, and landscape architects. Each student presented their vision for Railtown to their respective charrette groups where team members and DIALOGers then provided feedback and ideas to help synthesize a refined concept for their final plan.

Together, students and DIALOGers addressed questions: What is the vision for Railtown? What would the built environment look like to facilitate that vision? How can design respond to the existing urban fabric and local history? How can Railtown evolve over time?

The students returned to the Vancouver studio on Monday, December 11, to present their final urban design proposals.

The students’ final framework plan included an overall vision, principles, site plan, and visual representations that will guide the physical development and organization of Railtown district, focusing on the future growth, form, and function of the neighbourhood. Solutions included additional public space through parks and plazas, pedestrianization of local streets, using shipping containers for local business incubation, highlighting views of the active railway, and additional food and beverage opportunities to serve the growing community. A strong emphasis was placed on equitable development and creating a more vibrant, complete community that works for the diverse users of Railtown.

Much like how we operate at DIALOG, the interdisciplinary approach allowed students from urban planning, landscape architecture, and architecture to collaborate and learn from each other, coming up with some really creative and innovative design and development ideas for Railtown! Throughout the term, I was constantly impressed with the student’s ability to think critically and thoughtfully, especially in terms of how urban design can promote social equity and resilience in neighbourhoods.

—Maren McBride, DIALOG Senior Landscape Architect and UBC Adjunct Professor

Listening to the students’ final presentations proved to be an insightful and thought-provoking session and we’re thrilled to connect with the UBC to focus on purpose-driven design and innovation in our community.