Digital Dishonesty at Commercial & Broadway

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Last night, the monthly meeting of the Grandview Woodland Area Council was devoted to a discussion of the latest revision to the massive development proposal for the Safeway site at Commercial & Broadway.

After a quick historical survey by Steve Bohus, showing that the current proposal is a world away from the one approved in the Citizens Assembly Report, urban design teacher and scholar Erick Villagomez took the group through some of the ways in which the developer’s renderings are deliberately false, misleading, and designed simply to sell the product to citizens and Council members.

“It’s important to recognize that visuals are not value-neutral, they are ‘designed’ products, consciously manipulated through the use of visual techniques and forms of ‘distortion’—camera lenses, choice of framing, sun angles, to name a few—in order to show ‘ideal’ conditions that have limited ties to as-built realities. Urban planners, municipal officials, and decision-makers who are in charge of advocating for the public good and serve as city-building gatekeepers have minimal, if any, knowledge of the degrees to which imagery is manipulated to influence public perception, while those in charge of the production of visuals are neither held accountable nor explicit about the assumptions used to create their images.

Taking the developers’ plan views (which are legally required to be accurate), Erick showed that the renderings are anything but accurate representations of the reality. Focusing on the plaza area, the renderings show it as significantly larger (about 45% larger) than it will be when built:

He also notes that views from E. 10th do not relate to reality in that the Medical Building opposite the development has been eliminated from the images (with a different building substituted in some images) and the street is about double the width of the real thing. This form of manipulation makes it impossible to understand the actual scale of the proposal. This distortion is enhanced by having most of the towers cropped out of the images as here.

This image also eliminates the SkyTrain that runs along the right side of the picture, and shows the plaza bathed in sunlight while in reality this area will mostly be covered in the shadow of the towers.

More details on all these manipulations can be found in Erick’s excellent articles in Spacing magazine — “Decontructing Visuals” and “Deconstructing Visuals 2.0” which I can thoroughly recommend to anyone interested in how developers seek to sell through deception.

The meeting also discussed the lack of affordable housing in the proposal, the fact that the promised childcare centre has been abandoned, the existence of a gated green space not open to the public (against the entire ethos of Grandview’s vibe), and the significant increase in traffic on what is already a heavily congested set of intersections.

This was one of those meetings where GWAC comes into its own — a large group of intelligent and interested residents learning from experts and fully engaged in civic politics. Grandview could well hold the key to success in next year’s Council elections, and prospective candidates would do well to understand our concerns.

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