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Gregory Henriquez’s plan for the Oakridge mall incorporates 2,800 houses and apartment units.

Henriquez Partners Architects

A cloud-like canopy floating over one of the city's main streets. A giant park built on the roof of a shopping mall. Towers that look like terraced Chinese hillsides rising above the park.

Those are some of the striking images in the plans for a massive redevelopment of the Oakridge mall – a redevelopment that marks a new generation of mega-projects in Vancouver with a new approach. "The criticism of some of the earlier projects in Vancouver was that they were like residential resorts," said architect Gregory Henriquez, who just submitted two massive books of plan details to the city as part of the development application. "The idea here is this is a real city."

The Oakridge mall, built in the 1950s, now consists of about a million square feet of space that is mostly dedicated to retail, surrounded by parking lots. At 30 acres, it is almost double the size of Vancouver's Olympic Village.

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But, situated in a relatively affluent and single-family area of south Vancouver, it's a far cry from the industrial land on the downtown Vancouver waterfront that has been the main site of major mega-project developments the past 20 years: the village, the north shore of False Creek and Coal Harbour.

In Mr. Henriquez's design, Oakridge has been recreated as a small city that will incorporate 2,800 townhouse and apartment units, a high street, a public commons on the mall roof that includes everything from a wedding pavilion to tai chi spaces, a chunk of office space, a community centre, a library, and street connections to the neighbourhoods around it. Plus an even bigger mall than already exists. "It is going to be more complex than places like north False Creek because of the retail component," said Mr. Henriquez.

The city had just approved a rezoning for the Oakridge property in 2007. But that was before the Canada Line was built and before developers and city officials realized the dramatic possibilities the new rapid-transit line would bring for attracting people to live and shop along the line.

Mall owner Ivanhoe Cambridge paired with developer Ian Gillespie and his Westbank Projects Corp. to pitch a redevelopment with significantly more density.

The proposal is already attracting some negative response from border neighbourhoods.

But the development is also part of a construction boom happening all along Cambie, as other smaller builders have raced to take advantage of a recently revised city plan that will allow much more density all along that corridor.

The Oakridge proposal, which is suggesting that some of the nine towers on the site reach 45 storeys, is the largest.

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"This is the centrepiece of density that's already occurring," said Mr. Henriquez.

Unlike the mega-projects of the 1990s, the Oakridge proposal has a big focus on reducing car use. Only 1,300 parking spaces will be provided for the 2,800 units. The expectation is that many residents will take transit at the stop underneath the mall, use shared cars, cycle or walk.

As well, it will incorporate low-cost housing in a different way.

In the 1990s, developers were required only to leave 20 per cent of their land for future housing projects that were paid for and built by provincial or federal governments. That funding has disappeared. So the city is going to demand the developer build that kind of housing.

The complex will be required to incorporate a range of lower-cost housing options, including rental family and seniors' housing and affordable home-ownership units. Mr. Henriquez said the amounts and types are still under negotiation between the developer and city, but that everyone expects the city will demand a "very large" contribution from Westbank.

There are open houses scheduled for the Oakridge project next week.

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After that, it will have to go through the next steps in the city process, including an urban-design panel review and a public hearing.

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