Granville Island – A Different Vision for Davis?

by Tia Will

During this time when Davis is clearly in need of additional funding for maintenance of city infrastructure and discussion will be heating up on the proposals for “innovation parks” I had my summer vacation. We went to my hometown in the Pacific Northwest and on to Vancouver. There we visited Granville Island a favored spot of my partner, but previously unknown to me.

Granville Island is a unique tourist destination in Vancouver, but it is much more than that. From its beginning as the home of a single machine shop on a sand bar separated by a bridge from the city of Vancouver, by 1923 it was occupied by secondary industries such as roofing shingles, chain, barrels, wire rope, nails, paint, cement, rivets, and boilers in service of the regions primary businesses of foresting, mining, construction and shipping.

Having survived the depression, Granville Island eventually fell into decline and many of the structures, abandoned by those whose industries has been replaced by newer technologies and means of transport were destroyed by fire. The site languished until 1970 when the Canadian government stepped in and transformed the site into a multi- purpose space that has continued to thrive ever since.

The Granville Island of today is a unique combination of industry, a huge public market, a wide variety of maker spaces for artisans, the home of the Emily Carr University of Art and Design and a number of performing arts venues and groups.

Anchoring the industrial section is a fully working concrete plant and a machine shop. Maker spaces that we visited included a hand carver of totem poles, a broom maker, and a maker of one of a kind scarves and accessories. In this section were also glassblowers, printmakers, a master sake maker, jewelry makers, a potters guild, boat builders, and a wood working co-op. There is also the home of the Granville Island Brewery which has since moved its main facility but retains a presence on Granville.*

If you are still reading, you may wonder what this has to do with Davis. Davis is not, and never will be a huge city and tourist destination like Vancouver. But, when considering what vision we prefer for our city, we are, at least in the visioning stages, limited only by our imaginations. Some of the difficulties that I can see with the presentations so far on the “innovation parks” are:

  1. They lack a true sense of “innovation”. At the two presentations to date, they sound more like re workings of any business park, but dressed up by the allure of “high tech”. In 2014, the ideas that are being presented are based on models that were in their “imagining stages” decades ago.
  2. They lack a sense of inclusivity. One of the major problems that I see is in a city with many diverse interests and active vocal groups all attempting to promote their own interests, these “innovation park” proposals speak to a very narrow group, those who have “high tech” interests. But Davis has a wealth of other very creative people including those whose interests involve everything from the fine arts , artisanal crafts, medicine ( both human and animal) , agriculture, biking and transportation, athletics of all sorts and I am sure, many others.

We also have a very engaged community with a wide variety of opinions on the necessity and desirability of growth at all. These would include the Vanguard’s “One through Four” groupings, with the “ones” being the “grow as fast as possible” group, to the “fours” which would be the “no growth, no how” group. On this spectrum, I am a reluctant 3. I recognize the need for and some benefits of economic growth. I also recognize that with economic growth will come increased pressures for population growth and increasing costs for the ongoing maintenance for support for that growth.

The Davis Vanguard will host an Innovation Park Informational Forum at the DMG Mori Seiki Conference Center located at 3805 Faraday Ave. in Davis, on Thursday, October 16 from 6:30pm to 8:00pm. The forum will be a town hall style discussion with panelists who will answer questions from the community about the potential innovation parks.

My thought is that perhaps the best strategy to shift some of the fours and certainly some of the three’s towards economic development would be to take another look at the one dimensional strategy that has been presented by the developers so far .

Perhaps if we could shift to a more inclusive, truly innovative paradigm that would engage many more interests within our community ,we might encounter a true win-win situation in which the draw is not just “we need this to generate more money” but rather “our community will benefit from this proposal in as many ways as there are people who would like to contribute.”

In response to multiple posts of mine on Vanguard articles, I have falsely been represented as an opponent to all change. This is inaccurate. I am offering, with Granville Island, just one example, an alternative way at looking at the future of Davis and how we might choose to grow as a community in an inclusive, integrative way continuing to leverage the strengths of our university while meeting the aspirations of a far broader segment of our community and creating a truly innovative space unique to Davis the university and Davis the community.

*Historical information on Granville Island is from Wikipedia and conversations with some of the artisans and shopkeepers.

About The Author

Tia is a graduate of UCDMC and long time resident of Davis who raised her two now adult children here. She is a local obstetrician gynecologist with special interests in preventive medicine and public health and safety. All articles and posts written by Tia are reflective only of her own opinions and are in no way a reflection of the opinions of her partners or her employer.

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  1. Nancy Price

    Thank you Tia….glad you visited Granville Island. The problem with the proposals so far is the way this whole process started in the first place.

    The City Council is proud of the process, but truthfully, if the city had gone through a process to create a RFP that had real guidelines, creative thinking about use, design,architecture, etc., we might have gotten proposals that are not just dusted off concepts upgraded a bit. We all knew that developers were waiting in the wings. It’s hard to turn the process around now toward a process that would accomplish what Tia outlines. The city lost a real opportunity to do something truly innovative that reflected community thinking and needs, beyond just, maybe, bringing in some needed steady income, if that.

  2. Frankly

    Tia – Thanks for the thoughtful article.

    Davis is not, and never will be a huge city and tourist destination like Vancouver.

    Maybe you could have just stopped there… or at least put a bit more into the analysis of this being a reason that Grandville Island and Davis are incomparable.

    But having said this, I think some of your points/thoughts are absolutely worth including in the overall economic development vision for Davis. But there is one key counter point that I think you might not understand or tend to dismiss. Davis lacks commercial real estate availability for any-type of economic development expansion… whether it be tech business or artisans and makers.

    The typical path to a thriving artisan/maker economy is redevelopment of old industrial space. For the most part these types of business cannot afford the rents for new commercial development… and government must subsidize the cost of space in some way.

    Davis does not have any old industrial districts to redevelop. And all the available interior land is already being used for either residential or commercial purposes.

    So that leaves us with needed to grow on our periphery.

    Personally, I would add to our visioning process for a future Davis more space for artisans and small makers. I would also like us to pursue a vision of becoming a food-entertainment destination by leveraging the world-leading ag and food technology reputation of UCD.

    But here is my assessment of this potential… it would be doomed to failure because Davis is filled with a higher percentage of change-averse reactionaries and is lacking in scope of vision and the leadership to develop, sell and implement the vision.

    Basically, we need a creative-class population infusion to complement our large and growing silver-haired demographic, and our large and growing still undeveloped teenager and 20-somthing demographic.

    But let’s not forget that we are in fiscal crisis.

    Innovation parks are a necessity for this city because of the fiscal crisis. But that does not mean we don’t consider a holistic and comprehensive vision for Davis’s economy. I just think we will have a better chance to do good with the latter after we do the former. It is the horse before cart approach.

    1. DavisBurns

      I just listened to Ralph Nader speaking at the Commonwealth Club on the power of right/left coalitions. He said those who are comfortable in their ideological cul de sacs won’t get much done but when you’re willing to find common ground, and there is common ground, we have an unstoppable alliance. Please stop telling us how wrong we are and be constructive. This isn’t the Faux News Channel. There IS a discussion about development going on and mostly you cannot post anything without casting aspersions, etc. It is unproductive and childish.

      1. Frankly

        You need to explain yourself here if I am to make any sense of what you write. You seem too wound up and ready to uncoil at any disagreement. How is that supporting productive dialog?

      2. TrueBlueDevil

        [Unofficial moderated comment]: Please refrain from personal and ad hominem attacks. ” This isn’t the Faux News Channel.” “… childish.”

    2. Biddlin

      “we need a creative-class population infusion to complement our large and growing silver-haired demographic, and our large and growing still undeveloped teenager and 20-somthing demographic. ”
      This silver-haired Democrat was interested in starting a business in the town’s downtown area, a few years back, but found dilapidated, overpriced commercial space and inflexible agents, willing to let it sit vacant.
      “Innovation parks are a necessity for this city because of the fiscal crisis. But that does not mean we don’t consider a holistic and comprehensive vision for Davis’s economy. I just think we will have a better chance to do good with the latter after we do the former. It is the horse before cart approach.”
      I don’t know that they are a necessity, but I think the bigger prolem is that Tia and many other “Managed growth” people in Davis are happy with where the cart is parked and have mixed feelings about exploiting the horse’s labour.

    3. Tia Will


      First, thanks for taking me seriously.

      Now I am going to say something that some are going to think is totally unrealistic but I am very, very serious. We are not in a fiscal crisis. We are in a first world crisis. I have seen fiscal crisis. Haiti is in fiscal crisis. Honduras is in fiscal crisis. We have economic needs but we are not in crisis. If we are in “crisis” the “innovation parks” won’t help because the time line is too long. There are people who are adamant about how these parks are going to “save” us.

      I am skeptical. I do not believe that this is an either or. I do not believe that it is too late to attempt to build something truly unique, truly representative of the wonderful community we have. But from what I have heard so far, that is not what is being proposed. What I am truly hoping that we can do as a community is to find a way forward to something that will be not only a financial benefit, but will also be a treasure for our community . For me it is not just about the money. It is about imagination and inspiration and caring about something more than a greater profit . I truly believe that we can have something more, but not if we are willing to settle because of fear or a lack of imagination. I know that we cannot build a “Granville” but I don’t think that means that we should settle for decades old ideas and pretend that it would be great to be the next Silicon Valley.

      1. Frankly

        We are not in fiscal crisis just like Greece was not in fiscal crisis before it was.

        I like much of your vision and actually want the same things. Here is the problem… there are not enough leaders and there is not enough capital and other financial feasibility to make it happen. We can talk about it, but until and unless we have people with the knowhow, motivation and means to go make something happen, it will not happen. Hence the need for that creative class infusion. That is the horse before the cart. The Davis development and redevelopment cupboard is bare and the people are either too tired, too poor or too inexperienced to, for example, undertake some big artisan/maker mall/village project. We need an infusion of new talent, new energy and new capital to make these things happen.

        Creative class people like the same amenities and attributes you propose. They are just more likely to go help make them happen.

        But I think we need to discuss this difference of opinion about our fiscal crisis. I think it is just an inconvenient truth for those that are still resisting change. You and others making this claim that there is no fiscal crisis need to come to the table with a complete and comprehensive plan for the city to pay its short and long term bills and obligations.

        1. Tia Will


          If we are indeed in financial crisis at the moment, then you are betting on the wrong horse. My limited understanding is that we are not likely to see large amounts of cash infusion from an innovation center for about 5 years. No “crisis” as I see it is going to wait 5 years for us to start seeing the return on our investment. So if your argument is that we will need more money in the future, then you can make a rational case for moving ahead with these parks. If you are going to continue sounding the fiscal crisis drum, then I think that something will need to happen much sooner than that. I think it is disingenuous to sell these parks as though they were the only way to address a fiscal “crisis”.

  3. Alan Miller

    “Davis does not have any old industrial districts to redevelop.”

    There was this beautiful, gigantic, warehouse just north of Covell and J Streets, but a developer knocked it down so the land could be re-zoned all-housing. Literally hundreds of artisans could have operated out of this space.

    Many of us had the fortune to experience the amazing beauty and vastness of this space at the first “Uncanny” gathering June 1st, 2006.

    That demolition was loss to Davis.

    1. Frankly

      Since you are going there… what about that 391 acres that the city owned and gave away for $500k to the Yolo Land Trust to put another notch on their significant portfolio of locked up farm land to complete our Davis farmland moat? Might some of that been a fantastic location for an artisan-maker mall/village? We owned the land so we could have used some of the proceeds from selling business park units to build an artisan maker mall/village.

      If I recall, I think Tia was a vocal advocate to lock up that land into a permanent ag easement.

      Too bad she didn’t had this artisan/maker epiphany earlier.

      1. Tia Will


        “f I recall, I think Tia was a vocal advocate to lock up that land into a permanent ag easement.”

        You may recall. But it would help if you were to recall correctly. I may have asked a few questions, but I was very uncertain about putting that particular parcel into a permanent ag easement. Because I did not know what I believed was right, I did not speak to the issue at all, not at council and not hear except for informational purposes. I know that you may find that hard to believe having decided what I must think on all issues, but if you really want to know, you can check my posts.

  4. Barack Palin

    “Maker spaces that we visited included a hand carver of totem poles, a broom maker, and a maker of one of a kind scarves and accessories. In this section were also glassblowers, printmakers, a master sake maker, jewelry makers, a potters guild, boat builders, and a wood working co-op.”

    Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think these are the types of businesses that are going to bring much revenue to our city, we need high tech. This might be nice for a coastal tourist destination but hardly the solution for Davis.

    1. Tia Will


      Not by themselves alone, but that is not the point of Granville Island. The point is the mix of enterprises. When have you seen a fully functional concrete plant next to a fine arts college? I hadn’t seen it and so it opened my mind to possibilities. That was the gauntlet that Frankly had tossed down. He had asked for those who are not firmly committed to the idea of the standard “innovation park” idea that is being floated to offer other ideas. I certainly am not advocating creating a mini Granville. But I am advocating for thinking outside the box about what kinds of combinations might be compatible and how there might be a greater synergy than one might imagine between creative types from a much broader range of fields than currently seems to be being envisioned.

        1. Matt Williams

          Tia, to amplify on Don’s point, what I took away from my visit to Granville Island was that it was a creative repurposing of an existing portion of the City. Repurposing Olive Drive (either side of Richards) would make a lot of sense, both with respect to access, and with the possibility of integrating parking solutions into the plan. In some ways the Davis Gateway Arch championed by Michael Bisch and others associated with Davis Downtown could become the starting point of such a concept.

        2. Frankly

          I like that idea.

          Related to that, what is the story on the property just under the freeway east where the bike path ends… in-between Hamel Lane and Research Park Drive? There appear to be a couple of rural residences and otherwise undeveloped and unused land. Putah Creek runs through it. If Olive drive were to be redeveloped into an artisan and maker district, it would be cool to extend it to the other side of the freeway given the connection is right there.

          1. Jim Frame

            The 5-acre piece north of the creek is in Yolo County, and is a private residence. The parcel south of the creek is in Solano County, has a couple of houses and barns and is, I believe, part of the working farm it adjoins to the south. Both are owned by Hamel family members.

            P.S. I second DP’s thumbs-up for the edit feature. Very, very useful for fixing those silly mistakes. I might argue for a longer edit period — 5 minutes is a bit short — but I’ll happily try it out as-is.

          2. Alan Miller

            Directly East of the bike path is the Rust property. Ideally, the bike path will be extended through there someday, or be routed just north of it or south on the Solano County Line along the old Putah channel. Extending Olive under the freeway would be a massive undertaking; the bicycle path took years. In think the Nishi developers have the right idea extending it to campus. Olive is already the artisan district; it ain’t much of one, but there are some art studios, band spaces, third space, etc. Hopefully that will expand.

  5. Bill

    This is some good thinkin’. I agree with Frankly that “we need a creative-class population infusion.” From my perspective, the greatest investment we can make right now is in developing the innovation/creative-class ecosystem. It’s a long-term investment (probably 20 years), but I think such investment would be well worth it.

    In terms of the Innovation Park(s)… it’s not an either/or proposition from my perspective. We can do both, but right now all the talk seems to be solely about innovation parks. I’d like to see a community-wide conversation about the types of concepts you’re talking about.

  6. Davis Progressive

    “In terms of the Innovation Park(s)… it’s not an either/or proposition from my perspective. We can do both, but right now all the talk seems to be solely about innovation parks. I’d like to see a community-wide conversation about the types of concepts you’re talking about.”


  7. Aggie

    Granville Island is a 35 acre tourist destination on the water in the heart of Vancouver. It has a large marina and public market supported by a surrounding metroplex with a population of 2.3 million. This big city amenity has questionable relevance to the economic development future of our little city.

    1. Tia Will


      I would agree if I were suggesting that we emulate, or try to recreate Granville Island.

      But that is not my point. My point is that none of the presentations that I have been too have been about imagination so much as retooling ideas that have long been around. I didn’t know just how long until I started attending these meetings. If we want as a community, to build what other communities decided to build twenty years ago and we really think that this is the absolute best that we can do, then I guess that is what we will get. And if we are so enamored with the word “innovation” rather than the reality of new ideas, then that is what we will deserve. I believe that we have so many bright minds in our community that we can certainly do better than that…..but perhaps I am only dreaming. Or maybe I should just go on more vacations !

  8. Aggie

    Community visioning is extremely important. Innovation parks are more successful in great cities. When quality of life is maximized, everybody wins.

    In the “Analysis: Revenue Potential Remains a Huge Issue” thread yesterday, Frankly posted a study of the economic impact of the University of Wisconsin University Research Park in Madison. This is one of the country’s best research parks. What was left out of the discussion is that the host city, Madison, is ranked by Livability as the best small to mid sized city in the US (defined as populations between 20,000 and 350,000). As a side note, in discordance with our community’s self-image, Davis did not make the top 100 list.

    This ranking organization (and others like it) is a great resource if you are looking for “a different vision for Davis.”

    A word of caution. If you are a member of the coveted “creative class” living in Davis – read at your own risk. You may decide to move.

  9. Tia Will

    While I appreciate and agree that the Olive Drive area is ripe for re invention, and that the kind of “arts and crafts” grouping would be a good fit for this site, what is lacking is the central point that I thank Granville illustrates. That is the benefit of not choosing to group by activity type. At several of the proposal discussions to date, the benefit of having many different creative people on the same physical site has been stressed. The reason that I wrote this article is to stress that I do not feel that innovation is being offered by the current proposals.

    I think instead of thinking up reasons why a mix of activities would not work, a more productive view might be to think “how can we do things differently than they are currently being done at other places”. Is this truly not what innovation is all about ? Finding new approaches ? So if we are truly interested in innovations by the companies that we are trying to attract, why would we not want to offer them a truly innovative space rather than segregating our creative people by their sphere of interest ( high tech separated from the arts, separated from agricultural interests) each in their own little enclave. To me there is nothing at all “innovative” about the spaces that we are talking about creating. Why attempt “innovation” within the same model that has already been in existence for decades.

    What would be the downside of truly thinking outside the box and trying something new that would be unique to Davis ?

    1. Dave Hart

      Would this involve out of the box thinking like land swaps in areas where you want to see innovative activity to move activity that is not crucial to another area? For instance, developing maker spaces in and around the PG&E property, moving city services yards to a more distant location because it isn’t critical to have it “right there” and integrating some affordable housing for starving creative types? Like that?

    1. Matt Williams

      Tia, when you activate the Click to Edit link, an unlabeled edit box opens that contains the text of your comment. That new box pushes the Leave a Reply box down the screen. We will point out the potential confusion that creates to the site developer.

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