Kingsway: Block types
Text and map by Laura Kozak, re:place magazine
The urban ‘bones’ that make up a city – streets, sidewalks and blocks – have a startling impact on the way things work. This plays out at every scale, from the arterial traffic patterns that traverse the city down to the arrangement of shelves in a store. This is because urban geometry is nested – shapes form within shapes. When early surveyors working for the CPR drew up the plans for the streets and blocks that cover much of Vancouver, they established an important skeleton of small, regular bocks (typically about 396’ x 264’) that make up most of the city’s grid.
Until 1929, South Vancouver (between Cambie and Boundary, and north of 16th Avenue) was a politically independent municipality. Looser regulations meant that the street grid emerged not from a master plan, but slowly and as a result of speculative real estate ventures and the division of agricultural land. The resulting blocks have irregular shapes; streets jog and come to dead ends and circulation patterns vary greatly.
One of the places where these two grid systems meet is in the neighborhood of Kensington-Cedar Cottage, roughly around Kingsway and Knight Street. The master-planned blocks tend to be small, oriented on the east-west axis and more square, whereas the South Vancouver blocks are often elongated, irregular and oriented on the north-south axis.
This vertical orientation points directly to the history of Kingsway as an important early route between Vancouver and New Westminster. As farmers and speculators claimed land along Kingsway (then called New Westminster Road), they tended to survey roads straight off this major route and then sell lots on either side. Today this variance in the grid pattern stemming from Kingsway (itself an original deviance from the regular grid) contributes to the street’s arterial importance as well as its disorienting quality.
Laura Kozak is a cartographic enthusiast and bibliophile. She has a BFA from Emily Carr and a BEnds in progress at UBC.