Peruse the media that describe or comment on Vancouver (including this blog) and there is typically one assumption, stated or otherwise, when it comes to our architecture and development: by far the majority of the new residential developments are towers – or at least the highrise is the only housing form of consequence.
But the reality?  Not.
First, definitions:

  • Low-rise is up to four storeys
  • Mid-rise is five to twelve storeys
  • High-rise is thirteen and above.

The bulk of applications, of course, are actually for single-family houses.  But any project beyond the straight-forward by-the-bylaw development goes through the Development Permit (DP) process.  Some are approved by the Director of Planning; others go through a more extensive review – staff analysis, Urban Design Panel, advisory committees, ultimately to the Development Permit Board.
But of all the DP-class projects, here’s the breakdown.
In 2013, 72 DP projects were approved.  Of those:

  • 37 were up to four storeys residential,
  • 18 were five to twelve storeys residential
  • 9 were thirteen+ storeys residential
  • (8 were commercial only).

Of course, the taller the building, generally the more units that would be generated in each project, but in terms of the number of projects, highrises are in the distinct minority – only 12.5 percent.
In 2014 (year-to-date), 35 DP projects were approved (again, not including the hundreds of single family applications).  Of those:

  • 16 were up to four storeys
  • 8 were five to twelve storeys
  • 5 were 13+ storeys
  • (6 were commercial only)

Again, highrise applications are in the minority – about 14 percent.
Of course, highrises are more visible by their nature, and so are perceived to have greater impact on the community.  Many urbanists and designers maintain the city could accommodate its growth without resorting to towers (as though their inherent deficiencies, usually assumed and often unstated, make them second- or third-class alternatives that most people would avoid if they could.)
Patrick Condon has done considerable work with his students and colleagues to demonstrate that it would be quite possible to accommodate anticipated growth mainly by consolidating low- and medium-rise development along arterial streets.
But the point is: that’s mainly what we’re doing.  Most of the visible development is in fact low- and medium-rise.  It’s just not as visible.
To illustrate the actual buildings that are predominantly approved and developed in the city, I went to the indispensable Novae Res Urbisthe weekly newsletter on municipal issues in Vancouver – and culled the renderings from four issues of projects before the Urban Design Panel in September, August and July.

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            NRU sep 2 - 2 NRU - Sep 8 - 2 NRU - Sep 8 - 1 NRU - Sep 2 NRU - Sep 2 -3 NRU - Sep 2 - 4 NRU - Jul 28  - 1 NRU - Aug 11 - 3 NRU - Aug 11 - 2 NRU - Aug 11 - 1 NNRU - Sep 8 - 3
One highrise.

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