Insular megacasino would add no value to Vancouver's downtown businesses

This Saturday and Sunday, Vancouver City Council is holding rare weekend public consultations on the controversial proposed megacasino project adjacent to BC Place.

Council’s ultimate decision on the project will test the fundamental values Vancouver has worked hard to achieve and will set forth a vision for the city’s future.   

Vancouver has made great strides distinguishing itself from most large North American urban centres. It’s a city where urban-planning techniques and architectural styles are based on the core values of sustainable, economic, social and ecological development.  Vancouverites see these values reflected in the growing collection of innovative green architecture, vibrant neighbourhoods, transit options, green space and lack of highways bisecting the city.

The proposal by Crown-owned BC Pavilion Corporation (PavCo) and Las-Vegas-based Paragon to build this mega-casino, boasting a gambling floor the size of two NFL football fields and 1500 slots, does not reflect a city renowned for its lifestyle, natural beauty and diverse cultural integration.

The presence of this megacasino in the downtown core threatens to undermine Vancouver’s values while running contrary to the vision of a municipality that aspires to be the greenest city in the world in less than a decade.

The project does not align with Vancouver’s vision of pedestrian and cycling-oriented neighborhoods and mixed-use architecture that integrates and enhances the surrounding communities. Instead, its massive floor plates will make it the bulkiest building downtown, a dominating form in a city that prides itself on its livable urban scale.

Inwardly focused and insular in design, casinos are by their very function a narcissistic drain on society. Through a combination of financial incentives, including inexpensive food and alcohol, casinos create tempting scenarios that dominate a visitor’s reason for travelling downtown. As a consequence, casinos have limited benefits for surrounding neighborhood restaurants and businesses.

This is evident in the PavCo/Paragon proposal, with its vague and limited street-level retail, which it describes as being located to draw pedestrians into the facility as opposed to enhancing the community fabric. In fact, only one of nine eating/drinking venues is accessible from the sidewalk. This plan removes existing pedestrian access on the street, inhibiting movement and access in the heart of the city, leaving the area devoid of human scale and texture.

As part of the development of a provincial property, this site should make significant contributions to the public domain, adding to the vibrant atmosphere Vancouver currently enjoys. Instead, above the ground floor, a multi-storey blank wall becomes the most dominant feature of the proposal, running along an entire city block. The proposed exterior illumination schemes discourage pedestrian thoroughfare and will become outdated quickly. The casino has essentially made this block of Smithe Street its own – an unfortunate terminus for the world-renowned urbanism of the Downtown South neighbourhood, known for its extraordinary livability.

The proposal fails to advance the area with regards to housing diversity, office space, or mixed use development. It would however require a great deal of infrastructure that doesn’t currently exist there and would increase the need for water, energy and food without providing a net increase to the overall sustainability of the area. The amount of parking the proposal recommends anticipates that many patrons will drive to the casino and will exceed the minimum parking requirements by a few hundred parking spaces, increasing vehicle traffic in the downtown core.

Provinces like Ontario and Quebec have documented the severe gambling addiction problems associated with their casinos and more often than not, affecting the financially vulnerable. One study published by Cambridge University Press suggests that for every dollar earned by a casino, it will cost society three dollars to manage problems like addiction, extra policing, bankruptcies, and family breakdowns related to gambling debts and other factors. Vancouver has a myriad of social problems pertaining to poverty, substance abuse and homelessness. Building an edifice that will amplify our existing social problems seems counteractive.   

Land in Vancouver’s downtown is finite. A mega casino is not an appropriate use of this limited, valuable, waterfront area. There are numerous and better options for this site. The Costco store by BC Place and Home Depot near Cambie St. and Broadway demonstrate how larger retail stores can provide a community-appropriate amenity to a neighborhood. Vancouver’s downtown should be brought up when people talk about Melbourne and Portland, young cities with fresh perspectives on livability and sustainable development, not mentioned in the same breath as Las Vegas, Windsor, or Atlantic City. 

This opposition to the PavCo/Paragon Casino does not signify anti-development. Rather, it reflects a demand for urban development that is consistent with Vancouver’s civic values of social, ecological and economic sustainability.   

Vancouver City Council must not approve the expansion of a gambling industry that can be socially toxic and economically dubious. It must reject the expansion of the Edgewater Casino. Vancouver can and must do better.

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