The Tyee quotes Vision candidate Andrea Reimer at an all-candidates debate at Britannia:

“We have said ‘absolutely no’ to towers at Broadway and Commercial,” Reimer told the 80-member audience.

Really?
If there’s one reliable guideline in urban planning, it’s that density should be maximized within a half-kilometre or so of rapid-transit stations.  That’s why you build them!
And where you have the opportunity to build on parking lots or replace low-rise, single-use buildings of little heritage merit, why wouldn’t you want to?
Yes, it’s possible to achieve significant density in medium-rise structures – but again, why would you want to at a place like Commercial and Broadway?  Zero-lot-line buildings overlooking arterials can both reduce livability for residents and create a greater sense of crowded density than well-spaced towers with low-rise, mixed-use podiums.  You know, Vancouverism.
Plus, with medium-rise buildings here, you won’t get the views:

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Commercial

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This station area has the opportunity to capture views of the downtown skyline against the mountains – at night, it’s spectacular.  During the day, the towers would define the station area as an urban landmark – a precedent set by the Yonge line in Toronto, and followed in Burnaby along the Expo and Millennium lines.

Again, why wouldn’t we want an urban form that took advantage of those opportunities?  (Because it would create less affordable housing?  Possibly the opposite: the added value that comes with height can be levered to require a greater percentage of affordability.  The added cost of concrete, it’s true, has to be offset by the increased number of units allowed – but isn’t that rather the point: a concentration of units at a place of abundant transportation options and uses, where you can lever a range of housing prices.)

UBC urban-design prof Patrick Condon has acknowledged that there is a place for towers in the city, even if the dominant form is low- and medium-rise development (which, actually, is already the case in Vancouver: See “The Highrise Myth.”)  But if this isn’t a place for towers, then what is else is left after the let-go industrial sites are used up?
Patrick and others, notably the Greens, believe it’s possible to accommodate growth through almost exclusive use of low- and medium-rise buildings.  I have yet to see a willingness on the part of the neighbourhoods like Grandview to seriously entertain the idea that the blocks beyond the immediate intersection of Broadway and Commercial are up for consideration.
A quarter-kilometre, in fact less than 200 metres from the Broadway station, will get you into the heart of Grandview:
8th

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It’s a block of East 8th I’m familiar with, and can say with some assurance that this neighbourhood is not an eligible candidate for a change of scale.

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It has already made the transition to multiple-family in an elegant way, and it is not going to accept a rezoning that would allow for consolidation of these homes into sites sufficient to accommodate dozens of new units.

In other words, those parking lots and old commercial buildings literally within a few steps of the Broadway-Commercial station are really all that’s available for any form of significant change.

So why would you close off options?  And why would any other part of the region take Vision Vancouver seriously when it suggests that billions be spent on a Broadway subway if this station area is in an indicator of the future?  Almost all other municipalities prezone for development years ahead of rapid-transit construction (look at the decade-old towers of Newport Village and Suter Brook in Port Moody next to the Evergreen Line).  But not Vancouver?

Unfortunately, Vision seems to be paying for the consequences, on one hand, of the consolidation of power in the hands of senior staff who override or fail to acknowledge the abilities of those junior staff working in the community.  And on the other, of the political clumsiness of its policy execution.

In the same Tyee article:

“We (earlier NPA administrations) had the luxury of not having to deal with this in the ’90s. We could put growth in the industrial lands,” recalled Price, who is director of the city program at Simon Fraser University. “And our strategy was always that if we got pushed back, particularly by our base, as we did over tearing down apartment buildings in Kerrisdale, we took a step back.
“But Vision has not done that. And, in some cases, has handled it very badly. I still do not understand why they were not on top of that screw-up on Grandview-Woodland. It’s a mystery to me.
“And it’s not the only one. They have the bedside manner of (right-wing ’60s era mayor) Tom Campbell, as I was told by someone who has been around long enough to compare. And I don’t know why.”

It might have been possible for the Grandview community to have worked through the issues and come to the conclusion that, yes, Commercial and Broadway makes sense for towers – and applied the conditions that justified the trade-off.
But now, thanks to a badly-handled planning process, we’re ending up with a policy that, if applied to the rest of the city (and why wouldn’t it?) will eliminate an urban form for which Vancouver is renowned because it has served us well (speaking as a West Ender in a highrise) and provides an option for a future in which other choices are only going to get more severely constrained.
Bad politics has unfortunately led to bad planning.

Comments

  1. The quote from Andrea Reimer surprises me. Indeed, TransLink wants to see plans for density in an area before committing to rapid transit there. Perhaps it’s an issue of a definition of ‘high-rise’ or ‘tower’? Does she mean not more than ___ stories?

  2. Very well said! However, I’m not sure bad politics preceded the bad planning. Bad – insincere at the very least – planning for sure, but the politicians are doing their best to put things back together. I still find it hard to believe my former colleagues pulled such gaffes, but they did. In my day, the planning director and maybe assistant director would have paid dearly. Let’s hope “humpty dumpty” can be reassembled in Vancouver’s tradition.

    1. I was told recently that the planner in charge of the Grandview Woodland Community Plan questioned the head city planner about the addition of the towers at Commercial and Broadway which his planners did not add to the plan, and as a result, Penny Ballem gave the planner a choice of resigning or being fired.

  3. I agree completely. I’ve had discussions with various Green Party people on twitter on this topic who cite Condon and say 4 story low-rise is the path to happiness. But when I ask which single family zoned neighbourhoods will have their zonings relaxed to allow for the number of low-rises needed I get little in the way of specifics.
    Personally I would happily trade a ban on towers outside the core in exchange for relaxed zoning in single-family neighbourhoods across the city. Or if people insist on keeping their neighbourhoods untouched, then in exchange they get towers at transit hubs.
    Vision has done a poor job of selling this, and opposition parties have made it worse by presenting “no towers and untouched neighbourhoods” as an implied option.

    1. Well said. There are different options in terms of how to accommodate growth, each with different benefits and costs, but no one has really advanced a public discussion about what costs residents are most willing to bear. As you mention, there seems to be a consensus that Vancouver can accommodate more low-rise outside the downtown core, particularly if it means avoiding towers or softening their impact, but no party or candidate has articulated that this would mean rezoning large swaths of single-family (RS) neighbourhoods. The alternative is spot-zoning and towers. We need leadership to guide this decision without catastrophic community blowback.
      Right now, there seem to be two reactionary schools of thought among many I speak to: (1) build condos everywhere by fiat, ignore the protests, (2) don’t rezone or permit anything, pretend growth can be stopped. Neither of these are workable in reality. We need to talk about a “third way” in Vancouver, or at least a development mix. I think the closest we’ve ever gotten is laneway houses.

    2. For the record, I agree with Mike.
      If you can’t do place appropriate density, and you have already invested in skytrain, then your fallback might have to be towers at transit stations. I get that.
      I think most in the city agree that for reasons of sustainability, demographic shift, and affordability, we need lots of new housing. Our “Convenience Truth” work of 2010 proposed a doubling of the population of Vancouver by 2050, not for the heck of it, but to make the city more sustainable, affordable, and convenient.
      BUT!
      My feeling, borne out by many many community meetings, is that a doubling of neighbourhood density is possible and politically acceptable without undue dependence on incompatible and expensive to build high rises.
      I feel that renovating single family homes for multiple dwellings is politically viable (already two rentals are allowed, i would move to making it legal to stratify and allowing 4 or 5 units with design review – a variation on what has been done since the 90s in Kits).
      I also advance the case for 4th avenue style mid rise on most arterials. Its a lot cheaper to build than high rise, adds customers for stores, schools and transit, and doesnt break when the big one hits.
      And as Gordon has pointed out, we are already building these.
      As for views, on the gently sloping terrain of Vancouver, you can still get them – with intelligent design. Fairview slopes proves that. And yes, and very clearly, for the record, in certain places like the Safeway parking lot site at Broadway and Commercial high rises are appropriate? Its likely the only feasible way to phase in the density on this site anyway.
      In fact the original plan, never tabled, for Grandview Woodlands had exactly that: high rises in the parking lot, until certain folks at city hall got it in their heads to turn the district into Yaletown south.
      So Andrea i guess i am to the “left” of you on this now.
      P

      1. The issue is that Vancouver has a lot of single family housing, far too many in fact for the population size, and that no one wants density where they live.
        So a candidate buying votes in a low density neighborhood with these kind of silly comments is understandably conflicted. Of course we know what happened to A Dix (former leader of the NDP) when he said “no” to Kinder Morgan pipeline in a pro-green rally.
        Many politicians say what is right in the context they are in, and then are surprised that they lose, as their comments should have been more nuanced, such as “Not in all situations make highrises good sense, but in some they do.”
        We still have single family houses within a block or 2 of various Cambie Street stations. That has to change first, then gradual densification along arterial roads, or in new areas such as the Langara golf course or redesigned former industrial/commercial areas in E-Van.

      2. Patrick, it’s great to hear you say this – your other writing on the subject gave me a very different impression of your views.
        The media (and Vancouver political commenters in general) tends to latch onto your opposition to towers, with less attention paid to your views on how to densify neighbourhoods without highrises. I certainly was under the impression that you were more concerned about towers being built than about additional low-rise housing *not* being built.
        I worry that unless you pay more attention to the latter in your public outreach efforts, the net result of your labours is going to be fewer towers without enough additional low-rise housing to offset that.

      3. Patrick, 4-storey buildings like those on most C-2 zoned arterials are NOT “much cheaper” to build than concrete mid- or high-rises. Typical wood-frame above concrete main floor and underground parking hard construction costs are running about $220 per sq.ft. on gross buildable area in Vancouver, somewhat less (say $190-$200 psf) in the suburbs. Highrise hard costs are around $240-$250 psf in Vancouver, about $220 psf in the suburbs.
        More efficient unit sizes in highrise construction (achievable due to shallower suite depths/better availability of natural light in a slim tower floorplate) mean that on a per-suite basis, highrise construction costs are similar to those of wood frame.
        And the densities achievable are hardly comparable. The anti-tower people love to push this fallacy that density similar to that of towers could be achieved in 4-storey development. That is simply not even close to being true! The best you are going to achieve in 4 storeys (the C-2 form along West 4th as you reference) is about 2.7 FSR, and that assumes building right to the property line, with no setbacks from the street or from side property lines. That density is where the small (100′ height limit) “towers” of the Burrard Slopes C-3A district start, at 3.0 FSR, and most highrise projects today are achieving densities well upwards of 5.0 FSR (the 21-storey tower I am working on in New Westminster right now, (hardly a skyscraper), is at 6.77 FSR).
        And when you subtract, say, 0.75 FSR from each to account for the non-residential uses on the ground floor, you begin to appreciate how different the densities that we are talking about are. There is simply no way to accommodate the kind of growth we are experiencing in a 4-storey form without massive displacement of existing residents (and businesses).
        Without the higher density to create a significant up-lift in land value (and thereby the incentive for existing owners to sell or redevelop), there would be far less land put into the production of new housing. So by cutting the density in half, you are probably actually advocating to cut supply by three-fourths. If you do that, watch what happens to prices…look out!
        It’s a fine academic exercise to look at the available undeveloped density along the arterials and note the large amount of capacity that lies fallow. But the harsh reality is that on most of these underdeveloped sites, the economic highest and best use of the property remains its current use, i.e. single-storey retail achieving a rent of $30-$40-$50+ per sq.ft., perhaps with a walk-up second floor containing some office space or apartments. A site only becomes viable for redevelopment when the land residual in a development proforma exceeds the capitalized value of the income that the buildings are generating. That is why redevelopment in these commercial nodes really only happens at a trickle, and contributes a basically insignificant amount to overall supply year over year. So while the potential may exist in theory, at sub-3.0 FSR densities that potential will never be realized at a pace that will do anything to move the needle with respect to housing supply.
        Finally, I believe it’s important to note also that if we hadn’t had the massive contributions to supply of the many projects around SEFC over the past 5 years, picking up where the now largely-built-out Downtown peninsula has left off (Downtown added 2,000 units per year consistently through the 90’s and 00’s, however in recent times this has dropped to between 500 and 800/year), we would have seen significantly greater price escalation over the past five years. Likewise, Wall Financial’s two massive current East Vancouver projects (Strathcona Village and Central Park) which have contributed over 1,500 units to supply in the past 18 months, have served to keep a lid on prices between Main Street and Boundary Road (and eastward). If not for these large projects providing an outlet for the demand created by 6,000+ new residents every year in the City, our affordability situation would only be worse than it currently is.

        1. RIchard:
          Thoughtful and expert reply. A couple of points in response. I ask the cost per sq. foot question of as many developers as i can. My most recent responses a Vancouver 4 storey building, parking included, are about 165 pe sq. vs 265 for concrete. I will keep asking.
          I myself don’t say that you can get equal density with 4 storey as towers, but with mid rise you can come close, as they did, at Arbutus Walk. I also say that an even density spread over more of the city is more sustainable than points of high density – and Iuse Copenhagen, Berlin, and Amsterdam as examples.
          When we looked at intensifying the arterials in our Convenience Truth work ( http://www.urbanstudio.sala.ubc.ca/2010/book%20templates.html ) we accomodated for displacement. Your point about how difficult it is to dislodge single storey commercial is well put, and yet, as Gordon has pointed out, more than two thirds of current permit applications in the city are for this type of building.
          You also don’t mention densification in the “fabric” areas of the city for which i see great potential, as demonstrated by the gradual but significant densification of places like Kitsilano.
          I also understand your frustration with what you take to be an academic exercise. We took great pains to insure that this was not so by including a very large group of outside advisors well known in the business and policy world. One disturbing finding from that series of dialogues was that, as much as i pressed them, none of them could assure us that there was a link between supply and demand, i.e. that increasing supply would reduce or even moderate price. i would be very anxious to see proof that any single or any group of housing projects kept the lid on price, but have yet to see this.
          I don’t think this is a reason to not build new housing. There are many other reasons to do so. But it was depressing to find our city so uncoupled from the traditional laws of supply and demand.
          An earlier question asked about concrete and GHG. Globally concrete contributes about 7 percent to GHG through high energy use to make Portland cement and the off gassing of CO2 during curing. I have not found the percentage of that attributable to buildings vs infrastructure and industry however. I am aware, however, that “wood” mid rise buildings use a lot of concrete for underground parking. Parking is of course a whole other issue.

        2. Patrick, a couple points in response:
          (1) Construction costs – I don’t think you can build the kind of projects we are talking about in wood for $165 in the city. That is the figure that I am using for lower-density suburban 4-storey wood projects with no ground floor commercial. In Vancouver, you are 10%-15% higher ($180-$195) for 4-storey, RM-style development over underground parking but with no ground floor commercial. Add in a concrete ground floor commercial level, an extra level of underground parking to accommodate the higher density as you go from RM to C-2, and masonry exterior walls on the property line (along with higher-value (ie brick) exterior cladding that you would probably have to provide on the front) and I think you still get pretty close to the $220 psf. I quoted. Maybe that’s a bit high, but you’re certainly well over $200.
          As for concrete costs, we are basically in agreement, I think the range is between $240 and $265 and highly dependent upon the size, spec and configuration etc of the project. Concrete benefits significantly from economies of scale. Small concrete projects are very expensive, but as you get over say 120,000 sq.ft. the cost declines fairly quickly. I have always thought of 180,000 sq.ft. as being the sweet spot for a tower in terms of economics.
          (2) I like your idea of a more evenly-distributed, overall higher density. I have long advocated for the transformation of single-family districts into fee-simple European-style row housing as a way to keep young professional families within the City limits. And Arbutus Walk is a very attractive development form that should be used as a model more than it currently is. Maybe on the Jericho lands?
          (3) Link between supply/demand and price levels – Prices will only fall when supply exceeds demand at a given price level. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending upon your perspective) the combination of limited land availability, bottlenecks in getting developments approved, and the prudence of our development and lending decision-makers all work to ensure that this almost never happens in Vancouver. We have a “baseline” demand of x units per year due to population growth/household formation. With everyone (including the City) working flat out, the industry is just able to meet that demand. If supply gets ahead of demand, the lenders’ presale requirements ensure that potential new supply is pushed out into the future so as not to compound an oversupply. Then the market continues to do its thing and any oversupply is mopped-up, and new projects in the pipeline are then metered out as demand permits. Developers will compete with each other and will lower prices to achieve sales and move projects forward, but only to the extent that the lenders’ minimum profit margin thresholds are met.
          HOWEVER: If we can lower the threshold at which a project becomes economically-feasible, and we can entitle enough supply from competing developers, then we could see supply exceed demand causing prices to fall. The key to this, though, is the land cost per sq.ft. buildable. Since other costs are hard to change, the objective has to be to lower the land cost per sq.ft. that a developer is facing when he is assembling/acquiring land. Easier said than done of course, but if we can pre-zone large areas of the city for multi-family (as has been done in Norquay), then we would see adequate competition between land vendors which could push prices down to just a small premium over single-family lot values. Again, the key is supply.
          I’m not optimistic that we could ever zone enough land or entitle enough projects (or reduce other costs such as CAC’s & DCL’s) to really move the needle on the cost structure that a developer is looking at. It would take enormous political will and capital. We are now seeing what happens when an administration tries to accomplish that. But that is the ONLY thing that will mitigate price escalation. While I can’t guarantee that prices will fall if we provide more supply, I can guarantee that they will rise more dramatically if we don’t.
          I don’t believe that Vancouver is “uncoupled from the traditional laws of supply and demand”. In fact, I think it is precisely supply and demand that explains our market perfectly. In particular, we have a dramatic shortage of viable development land, which makes this land extremely expensive and thus the primary driver of the price of the end product. Profit margins are slim, pointing to the current situation as being reflective of a long-run equilibrium state.
          (4) Final point – concrete and GHG’s…not something I know much about, however my comment would be that we should be taking into account (a) the fact that a concrete structure could have a lifespan ten times as long as a wood structure, and (b) that more dense, more compact development should result in lower GHG’s being emitted by the people that ultimately live in those structures. I believe that the GHG argument is a red herring thrown into the discussion by the anti-tower folks and that this shouldn’t be a factor in the discussion of the appropriate form of development.

        3. One more response to Patrick: rising prices despite supply increases can be entirely consistent with “the traditional laws of supply and demand”*, because the demand curve is not fixed. In other words, demand may also be rising, so additional supply alone can’t guarantee lower prices.
          Also, housing is an odd market where supply can induce additional demand through positive externalities (for example, a new development bringing services and retail to an area, which makes surrounding areas more attractive) – but that’s not something to discourage.
          *As taught in UBC microeconomics courses a few years ago. I can only assume they were traditional.

      4. I agree with Patrick! If Vancouver wants to retain families with current housing prices – particularly those with young children who are leaving en masse – they need to provide affordable options OFF main arterials that have family friendly features. The most important in my view (and of the many friends I have with young children) is EASY ACCESS TO OUTDOOR PLAY SPACE (shared is fine), ideally that can be VIEWED FROM THE KITCHEN for semi-supervised play. This very practical feature is why many young families move to the suburbs because you don’t get it in a high rise condo, mid-rise or most townhouse developments (you get a postage stamp sized patio/”yard”).
        Renovating single family homes – or building new ones which is happening a lot in Hastings Sunrise – for 4 or 5 dwelling units would be ideal! If that happened young families might actually stay in Vancouver and keep the schools open. If not, they will continue to leave, particularly when they have a second child. My friends with young families who have left are engineers, pharmacists, graphic designers, planners, small business owners, teachers, firefighters; in other words, middle class people and the workforce of Vancouver. You can’t claim to be the Greenest City in the world if the people who work here have to commute daily in their cars.

        1. Rosemary is referring to this article.
          http://thetyee.ca/Opinion/2014/10/20/Rising-House-Prices-Screwing-Millenials/
          One of the ideas not expressed in that article is political. If you work with existing parcels you don’t have to worry about land assembly for townhouse projects, but you get townhouse density anyway (again, i know, parking is a problem with this idea… sigh). I think this is an approach that would win favour in neighbourhoods. It did in Kits.
          Conceivably if it did not disrupt the land cost too much you could get strata homes with small yards in RS-1 areas for 400,000. Of course assuming this could be done for 150 dollars a square foot is debatable. I have been told that “there be brain damage” along this path, with this plan. I wonder what Richard and other knowledgeable people on this list think.

        2. Spot on. That’s why the traditional row house needs to be explored further. Take a 33′ lot, slice it down the middle, and you have two 16′ zero-lot-line row-house lots. You build a traditional configuration with 3 bedrooms upstairs, living/dining/kitchen on the main, a basement if desired, and a private rear yard off the kitchen for the kiddies to run around in. And a single car garage at the back. You could build these to 0.9-1.0 FSR easily (1800-2000 sf) and sell them new for $900k-$1,000,000. All day long. The home is basically a duplex on steroids, with an infinitely better configuration. Or a slightly scaled-down version of a $1,200,000 single-detached home on a 25′ lot (minus 7 feet of side yard setbacks, yields almost the same habitable area). Way better than a townhouse over underground parking, which gets too tight in a hurry as your kids get over the age of, say, 3, and doesn’t offer the contiguous secure private outdoor space that little kiddies need.
          Economics of this in East Van would look something like this:
          Revenue: 2 x 1800 sf @ $525/sf = $1,890,000
          Land Cost: $800,000 (33’x122′ lot)
          Hard Cost $165/sf: $594,000
          Soft Costs $80/sf: $288,000 (incl design, permits, marketing, financing)
          Total Cost = $1,682,000
          Profit margin = $208,000 or 12% of costs
          It can work. However you shouldn’t have to assemble an entire block to make it work; that just increases the land cost as you need to induce a larger group of sellers with different levels of motivation (i.e. herding cats) You end up with the one holdout who thinks he’s won the lottery. This form needs to be blanket-prezoned with a zero side yard setback (so that someone can proceed with such a project on just a single lot, if that’s all they have), or simply made a permitted use in the RT and/or RS district schedules.
          And you could still put a secondary suite and/or a laneway house on these as well!

        3. @Richard Wittstock: Calgary just introduced a new zone (R-CG) that seems to be more or less what you’re calling for; basically a duplex massing/envelope extended to allow for rowhouses, with provision for secondary suites (including in the laneway), though parking requirements would be a challenge. Your numbers would be different (3 rowhouses on a typical Calgary 50′ lot). No blanket pre-zoning though, it’ll be brought in as landowners apply for it, with all the process that entails.
          Links:
          http://www.calgary.ca/PDA/pd/Pages/Calgary-Land-Use-bylaw-1P2007/new-grade-oriented-infill-district.aspx
          http://www.inertiacorporation.com/firm/news/2014/10/8/council-approves-inner-city-rowhouse-district
          http://www.calgaryherald.com/news/calgary/style+infills+housing+Calgary+Boston+style+digs/10305685/story.html

        4. I would be interested to know if these properties are freehold or strata titled. The former will be very important to many, many people who have had a bad experience with a strata council, or to those who worry about forking out tens of thousands to pay for someone else’s rain-damaged unit. Also, the party wall sound-proofing must be exemplary. I suggest some standards in these areas will have to be addressed by the city.
          Having said that, I think there is a huge potential for rowhouses.

        5. Thanks for those links Desmond, that is exactly what I am talking about. This is THE solution to provide families with a real alternative to the single-detached dwelling in the City proper.
          I’ve always asked the simple question: How many single-detached dwellings do you see in Germany or Holland? Even in suburbs, the answer is: not many. Everybody lives in row-houses or apartments. For me, that’s always been where I’ve looked to get a glimpse of what Vancouver’s future would/should/could look like.

  4. I have a hunch the City Manager’s office and the General Manager of Planning – if not a Councillor or two – were indeed “on top” of the mess at Broadway and Commercial, in essence directing planning staff to tower it up. (Pretty much what you’re saying, Gord.) Staff unfortunately fell on their otherwise clean swords in the process.
    Interestingly and IMO tellingly, the two top urban designers in the Urban Design Studio and one of the managers of the local area planning program have all since departed from the City, within about a year or so of the Grandview Woodlands debacle. Coincidental timing?
    Should Vision get reelected, I think we may see something similar (heights and scales of development) being proposed for potential future station locations in the Broadway corridor in order to symbolically demonstrate to TransLink and the Province just how serious the COV is to have a subway there. (“See? We mean business!”)

  5. That’s really too bad, very distressing to hear this categorical statement. Kind of sidelines the whole planning process too, now that the plan has been shunted back to the consultation / planning stage. I though Vision was one of the only parties that could stand up to the NIMBYs, unlike basically other left-wing party on the slate. Who is left?

  6. @Frank: maybe. I see the debacle with the towers at commercial drive station a last minute senior staff decision that undermined legitimate consultation, which in turn was seized as proof that the city doesn’t listen. Period. There has to be a point where the city moves forward and makes a decision creating losers and winners. There is no consultation that reaches “Kumbaya” with everyone. This what drives me nuts about the NPA promising more “meaningful” consultation in the vacuum of actual positions or city-wide vision in their campaign. In contrast, Vision is acknowledging the population pressures and providing positions on how they will achieve those goals and running on it. So when community consultations are deemed “roll over regardless” of NIMBY opposition, I have to ask what alternative do you suggest that is more than euphemisms for doing nothing? On the other hand, if the city is presenting one plan to the community and then changing it later, I count that as hubris in the first order.

    1. The Coalition of Neighbourhoods put out a press release in early 2014 saying that given the housing units that were approved then and in the approval process, we would have enough housing units built by 2018 to house everyone who is forecast to be living in Vancouver in 2040. We don’t need more housing. We need to do something to require that the housing we have is used!

  7. I think your last sentence says it all, 1Mill.
    I’m definitely not saying the NPA has all the answers. In fact, I’m looking – hoping? – for the Greens to add some reasonable spice and cred to the dialogue WRT change vs status quo, more convincing in terms of socio-economic and physical sustainability than the f**k you Visionistas. As a practicing urban designer, the status quo is not very palatable to me either.

    1. Frank, as a practicing urban designer, I’d sure like to see some of your alternative-to-towers urban design solutions, especially on streets like E 8th three stone’s throw from one of Western Canada’s most heavily used rapid transit hubs.

  8. Here is what really happened speaking as the city’s Senior Urban Designer at the time the GW process was tabling built form.
    We put together what we believed was a reasoned overall plan for GW towards increased residential and employment opportunity. We fully appreciated the development economics of the Safeway site at B+C that, given active revenue generating impacts on the pro forma, related phasing considerations, noise impacts and view opportunity up and down “the cut” and believed that two modest towers in the range of 20 to 25 storeys maximum located on the easterly half of the site could be considered to make the Safeway site developable and, more importantly, improve the challenging interface conditions (all four sides) of Safeway while pedestrianizing the Commercial Drive frontage by integrating those shallow depth properties into a larger development opportunity. We imagined a series of related, modestly scaled low and mid rise buildings in this scenerio. Otherwise, we believed that the appropriate approach to intensifying an already relatively high density community, of what must be seen as “special urban fabric”, was in transitional mid to low rise form. We absolutely did not support towers outside the focused “Safeway Precinct”. We were instructed to put this plan (in our view based on thoughtful urban design best practice) in the drawer never to see the light of day. We were then “told” by senior management to prepare a maximum tower scheme which we produced under protest as we declared we did not support such an uninformed approach for the GW neighbourhood. Our next plan yielded 20 towers which was advanced to the decision makers (I cannot confirm who saw this plan). We were then told to produce a third plan which cut the towers in half down to 10. We prepared this third plan, also under protest, which was taken out to the community. The public process imploded soon thereafter. Our work in the city’s Urban Design Studio for over 10 years was always about best practice and integrity of process. We always believed that meaningful, honourable co-design processes could yield win-win if conducted properly. We were never given this opportunity in GW.

    1. “We always believed that meaningful, honourable co-design processes could yield win-win if conducted properly.”
      Scot, your post absolutely strengthens my resolve. This is precisely why I am running for City Council – I’ve seen how good urban design and co-creation with communities has taken a back seat under the current council. We can and should do better.

      1. Pete Fry, do you believe your comment, “I’ve seen how good urban design and co-creation with communities has taken a back seat under the current council,” applies to Vision’s changes to the Point Grey Road-Cornwall-Burrard corridor? If so, how; if not, how?

        1. Susan, this is a conversation about Grandview Woodland… Ask yourself if your question is at all relevant to the topic at hand. Or perhaps i misunderstand, and you are suggesting PGR needs rapid transit and towers?

        2. No Jenables, my argument is in favour of not throwing the baby out with the bathwater, but I fear my argument is lost on you. One might argue that one project could have been handled more effectively, but surely we have to consider all projects before hanging a government out to dry.

        3. Heheh. Those of us at risk of losing our homes really do not have to consider PGR, because one constitutes a basic human need (shelter) and the other is an issue that has no bearing on us whatsoever, other than the resources and attention diverted to it. You want to keep the bickering about Hadden park and PGR alive because the REAL issues that threaten people’s lives and livelihoods have been exacerbated by the administration you are cheerleading for.

    2. Thank you for providing this information. Can anyone corroborate Scot’s view with evidence or argue with supporting evidence an alternative view of the process?

    3. Sometimes the perception from the outside isn’t that far off! Most journalism about the GW fiasco does leave the reader with this impression. But we still don’t know who pushed for the towers, and why.

    4. You see, even if one supports 20 towers in that area, that is not the way to approach it. You have to approach the community with the reasons why the area needs to go up and let them discuss it and do all the things they have to, not just spring it on them.

      1. And what if the community still objects, then complains that your consultation was invalid because it didn’t lead to their desired outcome?
        I don’t think any amount of discussion will lead to our more desirable neighbourhoods voluntarily allowing enough housing.

        1. There has to be limits set. In the past we’ve seen the city send out all sorts of notices and then when they got ignored the city just figured there was no objection and went from there. I wonder if there should be something like a registry where everyone has to sign something that states that they indeed did receive notice about a proposal. Then they can’t later say that they were never consulted or the first they heard of it was an hour before the open house.
          I think one thing that can happen is when people who are wanting us to prepare for the coming increase of population get accused of somehow being behind that increase. I feel sorry for them. They’re in a tough place. People like to shoot the messenger instead of thanking him.

      2. Community involvement has its limits, as most folks like it as is. Generally speaking, very few want more density in their neighborhood.

    5. 20 to 25 storeys next to a rapid transit station is classified as BMP in terms of urban design.
      Dare I say that sounds very similar to the final solution of the single Rize tower just a couple of clicks west?

    6. Scott, do you have any comment on council’s backing off from their GW faux pas and striking a Citizen’s Assembly? Was there any comparable public consultation on the original GW plan that came from the Urban Design Studio?
      The CA strikes me as a two-goal process, 1) (on the negative side) to halt the planning effort until conveniently after the election, and 2) (on the positive side) being demonstrably fair and neutral, in several ways less subject to political interference from management / politicos as well as from neighbourhood activists wielding narrow agendas. No one group can sway all assembly members who were selected very broadly throughout the community. This admirable process could prove more democratic than the incomplete City Plan if given a chance.
      Here we are, not two days from the election and as the polls make it too close to call, Robertson’s neck is on the line and he has suddenly become contrite and apologetic, and Visionistas are feeling a lot of heat about development in general, and the GW plan in particular.
      Would Green or COPE spoilers back an NPA local government and (after the city manager and senior staff are inevitably replaced) put together intelligent policies and require the Citizen’s Assembly to be preserved and allow them to complete the plan? Would this process be duplicated in other established neighbourhoods? Or would we end up with a tragic comedy exercised by radicals, amateurs, the don’t-think-grab-any-policy inexperienced, and the strategizers who don’t give a f*ck?
      The fact is no party has articulated specifics (some are laughably folksy or diluted into meaninglessness), and therein we won’t know until after the election if a stung and diminished Vision will change course, or if the Naivete Coalition will prevail.

  9. Jenables, based on your logic, then as you’ve stated, “Those of us at risk of losing our homes really do not have to consider PGR,” since I am not at risk of losing my home, I really do not have to consider GW. The difference between us, Jenables, is that I take an interest in more than just my backyard, and I do not appreciate your attempt to silence me. It is your choice, sadly, to be a NIMBY, by your own admission. I choose to take an interest in the city as a whole.

    1. I guess by your logic on every thread about PGR I should rear my head and ask “but what about Grandview woodland??” How is turning every conversation into a discussion about PGR called taking an interest in issues outside your backyard? In my neighbourhood we already have lots of density, halfway houses, addiction services, rapid transit and an extremely wide ethnic and socio-economic mix which we CELEBRATE. I don’t think NIMBY applies to my neighbourhood . How about where you live? Can you say the same about ANY of those things? :p

      1. Jenables, precedents and parallel problems or needs DO affect all neighbourhoods in the city. PGR was traffic-calmed on the models of local road traffic-calming in the West End, for example. Much can be learned and applied from the highly successful PGR experience to other areas of the city. Your view that they are mutually exclusive is simply untrue, short-sighted and NIMBYesque. There are differences of course but similarities too. Why are you putting on blinders to address only your neighbourhood concerns; why limit your options?

        1. You didn’t answer my question. This issue, the topic at hand, has nothing to do with PGR and traffic calming. It concerns built form, density, affordability and the disturbing top down direction at city hall that has earned it’s terrible reputation. PGR not a commercial street, has no rapid transit, buses, poverty, density, no residents at risk of displacement/homelessness, no vibrant street culture, very few independent shops, very little diversity and is not under a process to be rezoned although it should be. I’m starting to question your mental state if I have to explain that to you and it doesn’t seem right, Susan. Sorry.

  10. Susan, many of us here live in parts of Vancouver outside of Point Grey. Sometimes we’d like to discuss those parts of Vancouver without having to get into yet another debate about Hadden park and PGR. (Actually, you might have heard of these other areas – I suggest a drive over to “East Vancouver” to take a look one day).
    I’m pleased for you that your big buddies in Vision got you your nice multi-million dollar bikeway. I’m sure you enjoy it. Unfortunately, many of us outside of the west side haven’t had such a pleasant experience with the city government. Perhaps that’s why we’re a little less enthused than you with our Vision overlords.

    1. This is funny to me because last year someone from Kitsilano was saying that Vision giving all the good stuff to East Van and that the West side was ignored. He said Vision represents only the east part of the city.
      I’m getting the sense that they’re both popular all over town and disliked all over town.

  11. UBC urban-design prof Patrick Condon has acknowledged that there is a place for towers in the city . . . ” Indeed, and how magnanimous of him. But the decision is not his to make!
    It is worth remembering Vancouver City’s growth rate over the last census period has essentially been static: no growth: with the possibility of a future much the same.
    I am at a loss to know why growth seems to be the only metric of a city’s well being.
    A city cognizant of Vitruvius’ Firmness, commodity and delight would look to incremental villages . . .
    http://www.theyorkshirelad.ca/1yorkshirelad/vancouver.re-boot/Vancouver.re-boot.html
    . . . rather than consider center-less low rises on arterials, surely an anathema to good neighbourliness!
    The tower does not have to be indiscriminately site as is the case in much of the West End and certainly the extended urban sprawl on North False Creek.
    Urban design has much to do with pedestrian figure-ground amenity and how mass, circulation and form relate: indeed urban design is art.
    As such if it were to accommodate a concentration of amenities, entertainment, medical services and transportation centrally located, within walking distance . . .
    http://members.shaw.ca/theyorkshirelad72/working.mount.pleasant.html
    . . . for convenience, amenities centralized, and meeting for locals.
    If Vancouver’ planners would convene its many neighbours into mature discussions along these lines there would be no need for the planning department to pull a fast one on the neighbours at the last moment!
    And as a matter of fact I do not see how the neighbours, some recent some long timers, have a right to influence the trajectory of the neighbourhood for perhaps a hundred years.
    Having observed the content offered on this blog by Professor Condon, Messrs Scott Hein and Frank Ducote IMO the trio lacks a basic understanding of their pretensions.
    Their fealty to the status quo is too compelling and their past experience in the planning department best left unmentioned.
    As for the persistent obseeion with bikes, future Vamncouver is going to regret this. While gossips complain about their SSA wheels opf development continue!
    Unban design is more than a no/yes proposition.

    1. >As for the persistent obseeion with bikes, future Vamncouver is going to regret this.
      There is no “obsession with bikes”. The grass roots movement of people taking to cycling has been building for many years and is worldwide and not a Vancouver phenomenon. That the current party is painted with it by the media is just a co-incidence of history. For anyone who wasn’t noticing the movement, it can seem like a new thing that just came out of nowhere.
      If another party gets in power in this election they will still have to deal with the populace wanting somewhere to cycle. It’s not going away and a smart government will recognize cultural shifts like this and work with it and not try to pretend that suppressing it will make it go away.

    2. “the extended urban sprawl on North False Creek” – In no universe, Roger, can the imperfect, yes, but lovely and livable community on the North Side of False Creek be termed urban sprawl. You’ve jumped the shark.

      1. Well if there were anyone in this community suitable to offer a lecture on pretensions you would certainly be first on my list. 🙂” Wow talk about gratuitous and the smile at the end doesn’t let you off the hook.
        All I can say is look, to for instance, Puerto Madero, Buenos Aires that combines once dock-side masonry warehouses, now residential, with sleek towers and you will see where I am coming from.
        Next time you have a few days on your hands pop down to Curitiba to ponder tower density combined with transportation and beautiful parks.
        It’s the contiguity that attracts me: the spaces between the attention to fiigure-ground texture and movement that is so lacking in FCN.
        Wainborn, Lam and Creekside Parks are un-integrated chunks of green space, taking up too much waterfront, bearing no relationship to the contiguous developments. As for intimate urbanity, well it seems Vancouver prefers the monstrous, tactile-less, colourless to human content!
        I could go on and fancy not one disparaging word from me about your personage. Glory be!
        Try not to get ahead of yourself Andrew . . .

        1. I’m not disagreeing with you – there are some fundamental issues around execution in North False Creek, definitely. Your analysis of the green space is not without basis (though in our case the extant ‘waterfront architecture’ were horrifically contaminated and awkwardly configured timber deathtraps, in contrast to the apparently-quite-lovely masonry buildings you cited in Puerto Madero). But that does not make it urban sprawl, of all things. It’s unnecessary exaggeration that makes you sound, frankly, silly.

        2. “Wow talk about gratuitous and the smile at the end doesn’t let you off the hook. /…/ I could go on and fancy not one disparaging word from me about your personage. Glory be! Try not to get ahead of yourself Andrew . . .”
          Oh come now, one can’t poke fun at three people in one fell swoop without some expectation of a riposte! Snowballs can be thrown in two directions good sir!

        3. Roger, I agree about False Creek North, and I think you can call it urban sprawl to some degree as they are suburbs in the sky with carparks for all residents. The green spaces are unprogrammed, unimaginative leftovers

        4. Scot B – Have you lived there? Suburbs in the sky? The mere fact they have parking means therefore that they are urban sprawl? By that judgment virtually every square foot of Vancouver is urban sprawl. We’re solidly into absurdity at this point.
          Why isn’t it sufficient to acknowledge that False Creek North has implementation issues, some large, some trifling, without going to bizarre rhetorical lengths? If False Creek North is considered urban sprawl then I can’t imagine what the seventy-odd percent of detached housing within city limits might be considered – the ninth circle?
          Or is urban sprawl just now code for “I don’t like it”?

    3. “Having observed the content offered on this blog by Professor Condon, Messrs Scott Hein and Frank Ducote IMO the trio lacks a basic understanding of their pretensions.” – Well if there were anyone in this community suitable to offer a lecture on pretensions you would certainly be first on my list. 🙂

  12. Meanwhile 8 square feet per second of our region go down to sprawl while we argue about how many angels can dance on the end of a tower. The residents who move into these towers would create maybe 2 tons per person of GHG per year versus 8 tons of the suburban residents that will be displaced if they don’t go ahead. Thank you Gordon for your lucid analysis.

    1. How much more greenhouse gas is created by building concrete towers and heating glass clad building vs building with wood?

      1. More, for sure – but still much less than the subdivisions replacing forests out in the valley.
        Municipal government really isn’t the place to create comprehensive environmental policy. I would prefer that municipal governments simply *allow* a variety of lower-impact building forms (midrise, towers), and lobby higher levels of government to get the exact incentives right on a wider scale.

      2. In a significant study by two Civil Engineering faculty members and one graduate student at the University of Toronto published in the March 2006 issue of the Journal of Urban Planning and Development (an affiliate publication of the ASCE) the following averaged results for high and low density communities were found for Greater Toronto:
        Production:
        GHG per person for the production of building materials:
        Low density: 30 tonnes
        High density: 19 tonnes
        Energy used per person (total materials):
        Low density: ~360 gigajoules
        High density: ~290 gj
        Operations:
        Annual GHG emissions per person:
        Low density: 8,637 kg CO2 / year
        High density: 3,341 kg CO2 / yr
        Annual energy use per person:
        Low density: 85,965 megajoules / year
        High density: 40,058 mj / yr
        Not surprisingly, higher energy use and emissions were related more to transportation in lower density developments and building operations in high density developments. What was a surprise was that concrete was responsible for only 22% and 16% respectively for per person emissions and energy use from the total of all materials in high density development.
        Per area emissions and energy use is a useful metric, but it really needs to be put into the context of life-cycle, population and urban context.

        http://pricetags.wordpress.com/2014/10/10/some-questions-for-the-greens-about-highrises/#comment-45741
        There are superior alternatives to glass curtain walls on towers (solid insulated panels with smaller window area) but they are more expensive and will incrementally add to the affordability issue.
        The economics behind LNG leads to a question on just how affordable BC’s domestic natural gas will be as a primary building heating fuel in the long run.

        1. Patrick, of course higher densities (in whatever form) lead to little gain in energy performance related to transportation. The figures quoted above were to counter the selective data presented previously on the energy consumed and emissions cast into the atmosphere to build towers without regard to per capita energy / emissions over the lifespan of the structures.
          The conclusion is the same: higher density communities use less energy and emit fewer GHGs than low density communities on a per person basis over the lifespan of the community. Overall, I have to say that Vancouver is performing better than Calgary or Seattle, and I believe that’s directly related to density.
          Cool graphics, BTW.

    2. 8sq feet per second, 480 sq feet per minute, 28,800 feet per 24 hours of our region. Really? If you think sprawl is such a huge problem, shouldn’t I have been hearing about the massive impact affordability has had on it, rather than demonizing houses with yards and trees in favour of concrete towers? I swear I live in bizarro land.
      Buildings are responsible for 55% of GHGs in Vancouver. I don’t believe the numbers from construction are included in that total, though I’m open to correction.

      1. Jenables, if single family houses with lawns in Vancouver proper are sacred, where else are people going to live except in the suburbs/exurbs? Vancouver’s restrictive zoning laws are a direct contributor to sprawl and congestion.
        The vast, vast majority of Vancouver’s land area is zoned RS. This is not sustainable either from an environmental or an affordability perspective.
        We as a city need a perspective change where we stop thinking about owning a home in the city as a right. Instead we need to make 2-3 bedroom apartments/condos affordable, which will come at the expense of RS zoned neighbourhoods.

        1. Mike, But don’t you understand that most people don’t want to raise their kids in a condo (especially one which costs the same as a house) and telling them they need to change does not change that!
          Why on earth do you think upzoning land helps affordability? People have left because it is expensive here. You get less for more money. Not very many people are actually naive enough to think $800,000 for a two bedroom condo is a good deal, especially when they will continue to pay fees and special assessments and have to deal with 200 other owners. If you can’t acknowledge any of these drawbacks you can’t speak to the solutions. Buying is a huge deal. I also think you are underestimating the role all of the grass and trees in people’s yards play.

        2. “Why on earth do you think upzoning land helps affordability?”
          Part of affordability comes down to division. If a parcel of land is $10,000,000 and it is developed into 20 units then the price of each each unit must include $500,000 to cover the cost of land. If it has 100 units units then each must include $100,000 to cover the cost of land. With 200 units it is $50,000.
          A massive number of additional people want to live in Vancouver but new single family housing can not be created. This makes the land under houses expensive. To make purchasing property an affordable option for people in Vancouver these expensive parcels need to be divided up into many units – hence upzoning.
          You can find 2 bedroom condos in Vancouver for under $400,000. You can not and will not ever be able to find a detached house in Vancouver for that price. So yeah the idea of raising kids in a big house with a lawn may sound nice, but for most people in that position looking for property in the lower mainland that will require moving to Chilliwack.

        3. Jenables,
          I agree the upzoning does not guarantee affordability. It can help if done right, but at the very least it allows more people to live in walkable neighbourhoods, spend less on transportation and have a lighter environmental impact.
          On the other hand, keeping the vast majority of Vancouver zoned RS *does* guarantee *un*affordability. This seems obvious to me, but maybe isn’t to other people? There isn’t a house on the West Side that sells for less than $1M, and East Vancouver is not much better. I don’t make $100k, and don’t expect to anytime soon, and wasn’t lucky enough to buy before housing prices took off. Where am I supposed to live?

      2. An obvious answer to your query, Jen: level the mountains and fill in the ocean to increase the developable land suitable for sprawl.
        🙂

    3. GHG is not a concern for most people. Most people have other priorities, such as kids, jobs, paying the bills, dealing with day-to-day issues .. urban “sprawl” happens because many people prefer a house with a yard over a small condo.
      I prefer the terms “spacious leafy suburbs” over the term sprawl.
      We can debate cost of servicing though, as perhaps roads and sewer/water services to those spacious leafy neighborhoods are perhaps too cheap i.e. improperly priced.
      Where is the CanadaLine extension to S-Richmond, then Delta and Surrey, or even Tsawwassen and White Rock ?
      Where is the new land in Boundary Bay, W of Richmond or Delta to create more affordable housing like the Dutch did 150+ years ago in their marshlands, or the Bostonians did in their Backbay (much of Boston was tidal marshland), or what they are doing today in San Jose or San Mateo in the San Francisco Bay ?
      Where is the SkyTrain to Langley ?
      Much failed planning in the MetroVan region causing high housing costs ! We need more land and more public transit. Up the property taxes and up the car tolls and start building ! Where is the leadership here ?

  13. Meant to comment on this:
    “In other words, those parking lots and old commercial buildings literally within a few steps of the Broadway-Commercial station are really all that’s available for any form of significant change.”
    Then why rezone all of the affordable housing west of commercial and north of Broadway to fifth? Why was my friend’s building at 8th and woodland slated to be upzoned to allow a 26 storey tower, among several others?
    Oh right, because the views would be just stunning, and we need a tower for a landmark because that’s what they do in Toronto. Or just to build things that likely won’t be suitable for the current residents. There goes the neighbourhood…

  14. Jenables, my initial comment on this blog was in response to Pete Fry not to you, and I was responding generally to his criticism. You have led the discussion astray, not me.

  15. The neighbourhood has said they don’t want density in the form of towers. That should be the end of the discussion. Residents of Mount Pleasant said the same thing about Rize Alliance’s project at Main & Broadway. I fail to see why bureaucrats or politicians desires should trump the will of the people.

    1. It’s simple, really: land use decisions impact more people than just the current residents, so the current residents shouldn’t have the final say on everything.
      Prioritising community approval above all leads to absurd outcomes, like the zoning explicitly forbidding multifamily housing on the Kits waterfront. Don’t have $10M for a house? Too bad, the neighbourhood doesn’t want the existing built form to change.
      It’s also worth noting that developers want to build in these locations because people are willing to pay them to live there! Those people’s interests matter too.

      1. How can you govern for hypothetical residents? And why should those whose salaries are paid by current taxpayers place those same people’s wishes below theoretical residents?

        1. How: Markets are pretty good at providing information like “More people want to live here now” through prices.
          Why: Decent people care about the negative externalities of their actions. If you’re too cynical for that, I’d note that zoning is only municipal by way of historical accident; zoning could be moved to a higher level of government responsible for more people than just Vancouverites. Japanese zoning is mostly national, and Ontario’s cities cede a lot of power to the Ontario Municipal Board.

    2. Reilly:
      Thats why a city plan, absurdly lacking in only Vancouver, is needed. A city wide dialogue will inform it. A conversation that includes issues of transit, density, building form, and affordability. CityPlan started this but stopped short of amending the zoning map. A fatal flaw. Now we have spot zones everywhere. A realistic and forward looking zoning map should be the law of the land. In functional municipalities it is. If a tall building conforms to the zoning map then it gets built. No question. The land can be built by right. Currently most of our arterials are zoned for four storey mixed use buildings by right. We can do it for more building types than that, but that is sure a good start. Four stories gets you to 80 DU per acre which is many times higher than the 10 DU per acre threshold necessary for walkable, transit and bike friendly, sustainable urbanism.

      1. I certainly agree that city-wide upzonings for even four storeys would be a massive improvement on the status quo.
        That said, a city-wide dialogue has many of the same problems as our current system. Some people simply don’t want their neighbourhoods to change, and it excludes people not currently living in Vancouver. I doubt we’d see four storeys allowed citywide, but I’d be very happy to be proven wrong.

      2. I would disagree with the statement that most cities have completed a consultation process that is all-encompassing enough to produce a city-wide zoning plan that does not have significant relevance to the urbanism models of 50 years ago. There they are, thousands upon thousands of hectares of sprawling 21st Century subdivisions at the periphery of every city in Canada, each home subsidized to the tune of about $10K per year (i.e. they don’t pay the full bill on the public services they consume).
        I would also venture to say that Edward Glaeser, author of “The Triumph of the City” and Ken Greenberg, author of “Walking Home: The Life and Lessons of a City Builder” would both take exception to the 10 dwelling units per acre theory of sustainable urbanism. Glaeser cites NYC architect Vikram Chakraborty (sp?) in his studies of where to draw the line under sustainability, and it turns out to be at 30 DU per acre. Still, not a huge leap in density (basically 30 small houses or a couple of low-rises on a football field) but a minimum nonetheless.
        Glaeser is an economist with a deep interest in how cities work from a financial perspective and has run many sets of numbers on that topic disassembling New York and Paris to see what makes them tick, and the economic basis underlying various forms of density and land prices. One thing that such city-states possess no natural resources except for their human capital, yet they prosper. Greenberg has decades of urban design practice behind him in New York, Amsterdam and Toronto.

        1. MB.
          Yes plans can institutionalize sprawl. They can also be a vehicle for consensus around a more sustainable future. My point is that the planning conflicts in Vancouver are made worse by the lack of a plan, and our ability to grow a sustainability is thus hampered.
          Also, I didn’t say 10 DU per gross acre was the target. I said it was the well known threshold for viable transit and walkable commercial. 30 DU per acre? Fine. Thats low rise and townhouse. Kits between Burrard and and MacDonald is 30 DU per acre. Between MacDonald and Alma its almost 20 DU per acre. Thats a mix of duplex and triplex and four storey mixed use on the arterials. My point is that there are many many ways to get to walkable densities. Not just towers.

        2. Patrick, a plan is only as good as its process.
          I suggest the Citizens’ Assembly recently started in Grandview Woodlands, modeled after the Citizen’s Assembly on the provincial electoral system, has the potential to be more deeply consultative than any other process seen so far here, perhaps even nationally. The drawback is that it will take many years and significant expenditures (mostly in city staff salaries) to see it through to a comprehensive city-wide plan. By then the development pressure will likely have increased and several councils will have come and gone, and thus the process must begin again.
          Next down the chain would be City Plan, still a fine idea but one that was left by the wayside as a “Campbell project” and then subsumed by Ecodensity which the previous director of planning did his best to reconfigure it into a development policy. In my view we should revert back to City Plan and complete the Neighbourhood Visions at the least, then establish a process for updating it.
          Descending further to a lower rung are the plethora of OCPs out there beyond Vancouver that can be formed into whatever the top dogs want (not necessarily what the professional and technical staff recommend even if based on Best Practices) and passed with minimal public consultation. Some cities are actually quite earnest with this process, others do it grudgingly.
          How many decades or generations must pass before externalities require new plans?

  16. “A realistic and forward looking zoning map should be the law of the land. In functional municipalities it is. ”
    Most of the candidates seem to believe or at least imply that such a zoning map – with all that means for legal rights, lands values and scale – can come from a city-wide conversation a la City Plan. Count me skeptical.

    1. It also ignores the fact that this is not how planning practice works in Canada. It is simply not necessary to do such a thing, and I would argue it doesn’t really provide any value. Have a clear Official Community Plan (or Official Plan for our Ontario compatriots) and the zoning is essentially mechanistic at that point, simply an implementation tool.

      1. Andrew.
        Vancouver has no Official Community plan to conform to. As a “charter city” Vancouver is the only city in our region exempt from that requirement. I am arguing that it needs one.

        1. Patrick: We’re on the same page. I’m aware of Vancouver’s unique status and also it’s somewhat-but-actually-not-totally unique lack of an overarching city plan (having read a variety of OCPs from around the region, I would say a good number fall into a similar boat with respect to effective comprehensiveness).
          My point was simply that zoning needn’t be forward looking. It CAN be, sure, but it’s not necessary, and it’s arguably more trouble than its worth in terms of the size of the task. Zoning is a regulatory tool, not a planning tool. The OCP can be forward looking – that’s the proper order of affairs.

        2. Patrick, OCPs in cities outside Vancouver are notoriously inefficient in keeping up with developmental pressure. This helps explain why there are so many CD zones cropping up; development permit applications are at record levels and it’s a natural course of action to process the larger sites separately. By law OCPs need to be updated every 10 years or so, but with said record development levels and often little or no increase in planning and technical staffing levels, the updating task falls short from lack of available human resources. Hiring consultants is very helpful but not a panacea because someone still has to write the RFPs and oversee their work, which still requires a lot of staff time.
          See also my previous comment above on why OCPs are not such progressive instruments when it comes to sustainable urbanism. It’s still primarily block zoning with associated lists of do’s and don’t’s in terms of land use. I suggest that planners who stick handle OCPs don’t usually know what sustainable urbanism is because they are not skilled in understanding the economic, energy and environmental challenges now widely presenting themselves. Writers like Richard Heinberg and Richard Florida may get it, but it takes special knowledge and skills from the top to translate that to practical planning practice.
          In my opinion creating sustainable urbanism is a national issue. The National Building Code needs to be updated for the 21st Century to cover not only buildings, but neighbourhoods and urban systems (water, transportation, sewage treatment, energy, ecosystems and the biosphere, etc.). That will require a change to OCPs everywhere. This will impact the provinces and hence the cities. The federal government can also heavily influence provincial and city policy through targeted projects, trading upzoned density in accordance with specific planning criteria for “free” transit, for example.
          City Plan was a much better process than the minimalist consultation that usually occurs through OCP updates, but it was allowed to peter out. The new Citizen’s Assembly has even more potential to result in accepted and sustainable levels of community development. But please don’t make the mistake that ANY plan can act as a bible or a set of bylaws set in stone. That will occur only from a proactive effort from the top, and so far all have seen there is a deep, deep vacuum.

        3. Patrick: OK, I quite significantly overestimated the extent of our agreement. It sounds as if you place the Zoning Bylaw almost on a higher level than an OCP with respect to which document guides community development, which is more than a little odd. The idea that we would hurl legions of staff onto the task of updating a Zoning Bylaw (and update it to say what, exactly?) rather than dedicate those resources to the OCP is strange.
          “I dont debate that zoning is a regulatory tool. However, it is forward looking. As a tool it regulates what happens tomorrow, not what happened yesterday.” – I don’t think you can flatly say that. It is not the case that Zoning is a forward looking tool, full stop. It is not the case that Zoning regulates what happens tomorrow, full stop. It CAN, sure, but with a clear OCP it needn’t necessarily bother. CD Zoning is not some great devil. It is a tremendously helpful implementation tool that, so long as it remains grounded by a clear OCP, enables context specific outcomes. BC’s tradition of ‘negotiated’ and ‘customized’ planning results in far better outcomes on the ground than more rigid planning regimes seen in places such as Ontario.

  17. The planned development around Broadway and Commercial is fine with me. Whether its high-rises or mid-rises, who cares, density is the most important measure, while building form gets way over analyzed.
    One thing I would change though is the planned future redevelopment of some of the more affordable walk-ups. There’s plenty of industrial land along Clark Dr that could be redeveloped without having to displace established residents. There’s also a Skytrain station serving the Clark Dr corridor, which fits well with our transit oriented development mantra.
    Would it be a mistake to maybe develop more of our industrial lands that sits right beside skytrain stations, and so close to the downtown core? At this point that land might better serve the city as high density residential.

  18. Whether its high-rises or mid-rises, who cares . . . ” The neighbours should care! It matters.
    A well planned city comprises incremental, recognizable village centers . . .
    http://members.shaw.ca/theyorkshirelad72/working.mount.pleasant.html
    . . . providing convenient neighbourhood amenities as desicribed by the neighbours. The more concentrated the better and if, for convenience, towers provide a concentration of amenity within the best urban form go for it.
    That does not imply that the whole damn neighbourhood should be towers.
    Many mature world urban centers developed by subsuming their contiguous villages with ensuing workable scale: Montreal-Westmount, London-Westminster, Buenos Aires-San Telmo, etc.

  19. What Role the Hi-Rise?
    Obviously it would be ideal to have in place city-wide plans that reflect a consensus on how much density is needed, where, and in what built form(s) new development would accommodate expected growth. One wonders if such an end point can be achieved in today’s fractious environment of discourse and if any party could make this happen. Moreover, in the discourse, it seems the hi-rise, rather than simply one other building form, the +’s and -’s of which we can objectively assess and then make informed choices on, has come to symbolize for many and trigger a visceral psychological, sociological or political evil reaction…
    -the rich folks up in their penthouses looking down on we plebeians scratching out our meagre wages on the ground;
    -the nasty developers’ control of City Hall, reaping windfall, speculative profits on the backs of ordinary folks who inevitably pay the price;
    -foreign investors scooping up expensive new condos, laundering their ill-begotten offshore money while leaving their purchased luxury units empty;
    -Vision vs. NPA, forgetting that it was those then west side, business-suited, NPA’ers (read Gordon Gibson’s column in todays Vancouver Sun p. B10) that gave birth to Vancouver’s hi-rise craze in the early-mid 1990’s – remember ECODENSITY?- and were nurturing it through to 2008 when Vision took it over and ran with it! Isn’t politics ironic!
    Forgive me but perhaps the hi-rise has gotten a bad rap. WAIT, wait just a moment before you sharpen your barbs, and think about what Scot’s initial plan for Broadway & Commercial containing 2 “modest” towers (26 storeys and 20 storeys) might have achieved had we been able to see it. Presumably, these towers would have been carefully positioned and proportioned to cast narrow shadows hopefully onto the asphalt (and motorists) on Broadway, rather than neighbouring backyards and patios. Presumably, as a consequence of gathering up a whack of density into small building footprints – one of the principal urban design attributes of the hi-rise -, Scot’s plan would have yielded a valuable, sunny, PUBLIC PLAZA activated by cafes and retail that would become a popular gathering place for the neighbourhood or, alternatively, a grassy PARK with kids’ playgrounds. Oh, one more thing…with the increase in density/floor area beyond present zoning and resultant increase in value to the ultimate developer (land lift), Grandview Woodland would have gotten to choose, through a Community Amenity Contribution (CAC) from the developer, a new public facility…what is the neighbourhood’s most pressing need – social housing? a new ice rink? day care? (sorry to raise this controversial topic…read more if you are interested at Price Tags’ recent post: “The Daily Durning: Back and forth on CAC’s with Karen Sawatsky”).
    The point is – the hi-rise, properly located as part of a creative, thoughtful urban design, can contribute many benefits to a community that understands that densification need not be the ogre that many have come to fear. The job of the municipality is to facilitate the public discussion, realizing there will always be naysayers, AND then allow the positive, pragmatic, creatively managed planning and urban design exercise that gets to the core of sustainable, energy efficient development that actually improves neighbourhood livability. My bet is, that plan will include a very modest number of strategically positioned hi-rises (perhaps just one) specifically integrated with high volume public transit hubs, with sensitively crafted edges to that precinct to transition down to the existing lower scale areas. And this arrangement will relieve the pressure to densify in the remainder of the existing neighbourhood.

    1. Given the seasonal swing of the sun’s arc in a northern locale such as ours it is impossible to design a tower that would have such selective shading as you suggest.

  20. There is a lot of talk here but no sketches or plans.
    Scot’s plan would have yielded a valuable, sunny, PUBLIC PLAZA activated by cafes and retail that would become a popular gathering place for the neighbourhood or, alternatively, a grassy PARK with kids’ playgrounds.
    Sounds good Ralph. Let’s see it!

    1. ????
      I’m not sure if you just popped in to tell me that only the desires of the wealthy matter, or that I don’t have enough money to have an opinion worth hearing but this isn’t a TED conference and I’m sure you need to get back under the bridge in case those Billy goats try to cross.

      1. Jenables, we mustn’t forget Susan is one of the creme de la creme. Of course with one bus route on Macdonald and another nearby on 4th, plus the new transportation infrastructure in the form of bike lanes, I’d say the Point Grey Road area was ripe for some high rise densification, wouldn’t you? Think of the fantastic views! Let’s tear down those horribly inefficient old houses and put up some environmentally friendly 20 story towers. That old white apartment building beside Tatlow Park has to go too, how many rental units could be provided if only enough incentives were offered to the right to developer to build skyscraper rentals. The neighbourhood is so close to downtown and UBC it is a crime to leave it such a low density.

        1. Yes, and just think (as if we all aren’t thinking about PGR constantly anyways) about how many more people would be accessing and enjoying PGR and its charming pocket parks. you may get your wish considering that large parcel of land at the west end of PG which was sold recently.. For 300 million! There certainly aren’t any NIMBYs in point grey who would oppose it.

      2. Jenables,
        I was responding to your comment, “But don’t you understand that most people don’t want to raise their kids in a condo.” I was informing you that “want” is irrelevant when it is precluded by availability and cost of other options. I may “want” a mazerati or a ferrari, but if I cannot afford one, “want” is a dream.

        1. Well Susan I’m referring to the fact that people leave Vancouver rather than raise their kids in an overpriced shoebox ripe for depreciation. Hence the traffic. If they can afford a home in poco, that is where they will buy.

  21. Ralph Segal references Gordon Gibson’s column today. It raises the very valid question why so many people justify density with the myth that the hordes are coming and we just have to accept it and house them in our laneways:
    http://www.theprovince.com/news/Opinion+issue+election+should+density/10371676/story.html
    And of course the premise that all these units are being built to house the downtrodden would-be-homeless-without-them masses is a lie to start with. Drive by that bright shiny complex at Granville and 70th in the evening. Precious few lights brightening its ecodensity walls.

  22. Unfortunately, very little of the discussion around community development has considered the impact on local businesses. And I don’t mean local to the community, I mean businesses owner by B.C. residents, businesses who circulate the money through the community 2.6 times more often than big chains. Zoning and development impacts local businesses as they pay for the “highest and best use” of the building they rent, ensuring that they pay more taxes than they should on the current use of their space because their retail spaces are viewed as development sites rather than necessary services and community gathering places. I’m not in any way anti-development, but we need to recognize the key role that local businesses play in our economy and our communities. Otherwise, the style of planning that overtaxes existing small businesses, only to displace them during developmen and replace them with corporate chains will continue to suck the good jobs and opportunity for recirculation of wealth out of our city, whether in 4 story development or towers.

    1. Amy.
      I was just thinking of this when your post came in.
      This all has to do with the increment of development, and the degree to which we can or should control it through policy.
      One of the things Scot Hein was trying to accomplish before he left the city was to reduce the footprints of new developments outside of the downtown. He was partly successful in the downtown eastside area plan.
      There were a number of motivations. Keeping the scale of new developments compatible with older buildings was one, creating a more resilient and adaptable city form for inevitable changes to come was another, and providing a platform suitable for smaller (thus local) commercial operations was a third. I think scale, more than density per se, is the key, and largely missing, ingredient in the discussion around towers. I appreciate the former comment that 100,000 sq foot concrete buildings are the sweet spot for profit/cost.
      Perhaps there is an examination needed that looks at a range of “sweet spots” from 4 storey wood/concrete mixed use at the 50,000 sq foot range to six to eight story concrete party wall or party wall on one side mixed use buildings at the 100,000 or even 150,000 sq foot range – with your commentary in mind.

      1. Hi thanks for this. We (yes I founded and co-direct LOCO BC) pitched this research to the Real Estate Foundation of BC last year in partnership with the BIAs and they turned us down. We hear a lot from local businesses about how zoning, permitting and development impact their ability to succeed. We have approached the city with this and they seem willing to listen but it’s unclear how they intend to make change.

    2. Further to your comments, in all our discussions about zoning, density, building form and scale we need to have a better sociological understanding of how real estate is actually used as you allude to. For example the single family home has the potential of multiple economic functions whereas the multi-family building has little economic function beyond enrichment of a developer or landlord if it is a rental property.
      The single family home is an economic opportunity for the occupant; for example it can be divided into suites, it can become a dormitory, a rooming house, a B&B and so forth. A laneway house can be added to the lot. Home businesses can operate out of rooms, basements, and garages. There are many service, repair, contractors, consultants, and small manufacturing businesses operating in residential neighbourhoods across the City. The single family home has enormous economic potential for nearly everything that is not retail.
      When single family homes are replaced with multi-family buildings then all of these economic opportunities are lost, they are replaced with strata council rules or lease conditions that prevent economic activities. If we continue to replace homes with buildings then we are faced with a mono-culture society of commuters in search of employment far from where they live.

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