This excerpt from an item in The Straight – Vancouver Greens and COPE deliver more detailed housing plans than what’s offered by NPA – raises a host of questions I’ve wanted to ask about the political aversion to highrises in the civic conversation.
Certainty for developers and more low-rise density needed, says Green Party Councillor Adriane Carr
“In terms of housing affordability, we can build new housing in the classic model that the construction industry in BC is so good at, and that’s multi-storey, low-level construction,” says Carr.
“We need to move on from Vancouverism towers as the be-all and end-all, to multi-storey, low-rise, three- to four-storey construction that is an ideal model advocated by Patrick Condon and UBC’s Design Centre for Sustainability. It can accommodate the city’s growth at lower per-unit cost and not disturb the charming character of our neighbourhoods, plus we have the expertise and this wonderful local sustainable material — wood — right in our own backyard.”
Spreading out density with more smaller, lower buildings along more major routes would also correlate with a city-wide comprehensive public transportation pattern similar to the old streetcar grid system Vancouver started with, rather putting all the “transit eggs in a Broadway subway basket.”
A few questions that come to mind – and not just to the Greens.
In the last two years less than 15 percent of new developments in the City of Vancouver have been in the form of highrise (13 storeys and above).
Is that too high? Should we say, essentially, no more highrises except in very few places?
What’s the problem with highrises in your mind? Too alienating, out of scale, unsustainable? Where’s the proof – or is your evidence anecdotal?
If we revert to medium- and low-rise development as the new norm, are the loss of views and privacy to the occupants worth the trade-off?
Do people really want to live on an arterial – on a route with busy traffic, more pollution and noise? Is that the only choice they’ll have?
The unstated assumption is, with new residential density concentrated on the arterial grid, we’re using multiple-family development to shield “the charming character of our neighbourhoods.” That sounds as though ‘neighbourhoods’ are single-family-home in appearance. Apartments and condos are intrusions, best kept to the fringe.
If you live in a multiple-family development, should you expect to settle for a second-class environment in order to protect the first-class neighbourhood for which your building as a barrier?
The old streetcar routes you reference are mostly occupied by low-rise commercial buildings – like Denman, Davie, Commercial, Fraser – with a few suites above the storefronts and the occasional apartment building on the corners. But most of the large streetcar apartment buildings were on the side streets, a block or more from the arterial. That’s where people preferred to live.
In the best examples – the West End and the Kerrisdale Apartment District – it’s same model adapted to the 1960s: the highrises are on the interior streets, mixed in with low-rises and even single-family houses. Is that unacceptable today? In other words, is the policy intended to keep the remaining single-family-scaled neighbourhoods intact, without the intrusion of any multiple-family buildings of different scale?
Is the strategy also to lower amenity in order to encourage affordability? A low-rise on a busy arterial, with less privacy and cheaper design, will arguably be more affordable than a highrise. So if that’s what we build, the city may be a less pleasant place for those residents, but more affordable for them. Is that actually the idea?
How much low-rise development is realistically possible on the arterials given the difficulty of site-assembly? How big is the gap between what is theoretically possible under Patrick Condon’s plan and what could actually be built in a real market?
Are you ruling out very dense development around the rapid-transit stations? In particular, are highrises to be ruled out for the parking lots near stations like Commercial and Broadway?
If you are going to keep the transit hubs low- and medium-rise, at a loss of density to what could otherwise be accommodated within a block or so of the stations – like the Safeway parking lot at Commercial and Broadway – are you prepared to rezone even a few more blocks beyond for low-rise development if it intruded on the single-family scale of existing neighbourhoods?
So, PT readers, perhaps you have some question – and answers – of your own.