The Kerrisdale village, about 8 blocks across, developed with low-rise to mid-rise apartments/condos from the 1940s to the 1990s. It is the model for giving a focus to the sprawling RS (single family) areas of Vancouver.
At the Urbanarium debate on March 8th about character-house retention, I argued there is little point in adding townhouses or duplexes to the RS areas of the city without giving neighbourhoods a focus – a village. Villages arose historically at crossroads; Vancouver’s current penchant for stringing density along arterials is not building communities, it’s just adding human units to our population statistics.
Furthermore, adding duplexes and townhouses to the car-captive RS zones will merely add more car captives. However, a concentration of population into neighbourhood centres (call them villages or whatever) would give a better opportunity to serve them with transit and, potentially, to create the kind of walkable communities for people at every stage of their lives – something that is definitely not happening with the strips of multi-family buildings along, say, Cambie Street south of King Edward.
So here’s a proposal to plan (properly) the RS areas:

  1. add density by focusing upzoning on some of the existing (green in the map below) multi-family islands.
  2. identify some new villages (red), zoning the crossroads about 6 to 8 blocks across, with 3 or 4 storey buildings on the commercial streets, 8 to 10 storey buildings behind them, and some lower-rise buildings providing a transition from them to the existing detached houses.
  3. allow the kind of multi-family conversion proposed in the character house initiative to proceed; leave the detached houses in the RS zones to evolve gradually into rooming houses and eventually be redeveloped when (if?) the city ever develops a real economy paying real wages.
  4. Give up the idea that you can build affordable duplexes or townhouses in a wholesale rezoning of the RS zones – there is simply no evidence of that being possible based on the experience in the RT zones.
  5. Accept that detached houses aren’t evil! Not everyone has to live the same way, comrade. As well, they’re the most flexible form of housing we have in the city, adaptable to all kinds of living arrangements other than the traditional nuclear-family ownership model.

The existing “villages” in green:

  1. West 10th/Point Grey Village: some apartments toward the Blanca Street end
  2. Dunbar shops: some multi-family; more could be added on side streets but there is no obvious crossroads.
  3. Kerrisdale: an excellent mix of rental/condo/townhouse/detached.
  4. Arbutus and King Edward: townhouses and car-accessed commercial; under redevelopment.
  5. Marpole: a good mix of long-established apartments, plus some new buildings at 70th, with a commercial area accessible to a relatively poor and aged demographic.
  6. Cambie: a long-established apartment area south of the Cambie shops, added to with many low-rise condos around the Canada Line Station at King Edward, but woefully inadequate commercial facilities: this new development is a real blot on Vancouver’s reputation for good planning.
  7. Oakridge: a long-established apartment area with a mall; dense redevelopment proposed around the multi-billion dollar public transit investment, with more redevelopment coming nearby on the Oakridge transit-station site.
  8. Cambie & Marine: high-density condos with little apparent relationship to the surrounding community; to the west and linking with Marpole, a fairly significant apartment area established for many years.
  9. King Ed and Knight – a big building next to pokey transit.
  10. Norquay and the Kingsway strip: it is amazing how the Nanaimo SkyTrain station is sitting in the middle of a suburban landscape.
  11. Fraser Lands: lots of multi-family but very little commercial with little focus, so  car-captive.
  12. 54th and Kerr, Champlain Mall: a suburban mall with surface parking in an area with interesting townhouses and coops.
  13. Joyce SkyTrain station: high-density (is it a complete community, or do people take the SkyTrain to somewhere like The Drive to hang out?).
  14. Broadway & Nanaimo: a concentration of apartments but not much in the way of commercial.
  15. Nanaimo & Charles: a neighbourhood commercial crossroads with a few apartment buildings.
  16. Hastings east of Nanaimo: a very good commercial strip with a lot of older, affordable housing on nearby streets. Gentrification would equal displacement.

Proposed “villages” in red:
17. Jericho Lands will have multi-family and commercial, yes?
18. Neighbourhood shops at 16th and Macdonald-Trafalgar.
19. Neighbourhood shops and a few townhouses at 33rd and Mackenzie.
20. Neighbourhood shopping area surrounded by single-family at 41st and Dunbar.
21. Pearson Lands redevelopment: will it get a Canada Line stop or will everybody be both high-density and car-captive?
22. 49th and Fraser: the partly abandoned Punjabi Village area that has decamped to Kennedy Heights, surrounded by affordable single-family/extended family.
23. 41st and Victoria: a vibrant commercial area in the middle of the sea of detached houses; redevelopment would gentrify and displace many immigrant families.
24. Renfrew and 1st: a vibrant commercial area in the midst of a poor/middle class detached housing area.


  1. Hi Michael, where do you see people trying to force other people not to live in detached housing?
    The people fighting for rezoning don’t care where or how you live. They care that the existing law says we all must live in single family detached, comrade.

  2. That’s where the character house rules would have/might have helped to fill the missing middle, with more flexibility on suites and infills. And I do think there is a tone to the debate questioning the morality of one group of people hogging so much of Vancouver with single-family houses; that said, there’s a definite tone of environmental morality in my desire to renovate and adapt rather than demolish. An interesting subject, comrade.

    1. This environmental morality is an interesting one. It is endlessly claimed that ‘the greenest building is the one that already exists’ … except that while it sounds nice, it isn’t actually all that true.
      Would anyone say the greenest car is the one that already exists? No? Why not? The average house uses about the same amount of fuel per year as the average car (the BTU requirements are nigh identical) so how is it that the argument is made for one and not the other?
      One could bog down the argument by saying that houses have different quantities of materials than cars so the break even points are different, but this only shifts the slope somewhat, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t a point where the greenest building is decidedly NOT the one that already exists.
      Were the allowances to renovate a character house more lenient I would tend to agree that renovating existing stock into duplex/etc might work sometimes, but the small degree of change allowed to the street-side roofline means that a useful renovation is nigh impossible. Some characters of character just are not predisposed to renovation, just like zome zoning envelopes RS-1 are not predisposed to allowing it either (the 9.8m center volume makes for tight quarters, especially with the angled side roof requirement).
      Combining energy inefficiency with spatial inefficiency means that some character just shouldn’t be preserved, and the environmental morality must be based on more than the feel-good platitude that old=green. Otherwise we might as well also say #MakeMyHummerGreenAgain.

      1. “Would anyone say the greenest car is the one that already exists?”
        Yes, it often is. A quick web search finds plenty of analyses to that effect.
        I have no idea why you are using car emissions to compare old and new houses. It tells you nothing. I’m not against upzoning, but that argument is bogus.

        1. And yet, beyond collectors cars, there is neither much argument or desire to keep old ones. I seldom see anyone keep a 50 year old car and not buy a Prius, or Tesla, and proclaim that they are saving the world for doing so.
          At a certain point, the lower amount of emissions created by an new car + creation of that new car balances out against those of the old car + creation of that old car.
          That point varies, but can be as short as a year it seems:
          The same with a house, a lossy old house compared with a new one each have emissions + embodied energy curves, the two curves cross at a certain point. After that point, it has repaid the ‘debt’ of creating that new one and it will forevermore create fewer emissions than the old one.

          For construction 30% (using .7 energy) better than standard, this payback is 80 years, but a PassiveHouse uses ~.2 energy of standard, so that 80 year is reduced to ~23 years (plus or minus), so when we consider houses with a lifetime of say, 77 years (min. definition of character house), replacing a lossy existing house certainly can be significantly more green than keeping the old one. It depends entirely on what is built as a replacement, it could be equivalent (in the case of the 77 year payback house), or it could be far better to replace a poor existing with vanguard new.
          I’m comparing the two (house + car) because they use the same amount of energy, and in many cases use the same sort of fuel (hydrocarbon), so have similar emissions.
          Additionally, houses wear out, they can be damaged, they can be neglected, they can be unsafe, all the same reasons that one uses to replace a car, yet there are no suggested regulations to keep character cars on the road or to #MakeTailfinsGreatAgain.
          Yet just like some old cars become classics, and are preserved/conserved/cherished, there is room that some old houses do also. Except with cars, a car which is 25 years old can have collectors status, and I would suggest the same for houses – there is little sense protecting a broken-down, illegally renovated, moldy and cramped fairytale character house in Kits and not doing so for that of Erickson, for instance.
          Keep what is good to keep, keep what it makes sense to keep, but don’t keep things because of a notion that simply being old makes something more valuable. Its an argument that doesn’t work for sushi, and it doesn’t necessarily work for old houses either.

        2. I think both arguments are right. The difference is in the timeframe and full cost accounting. Saving an existing house (assuming its quality allows this) will consume less energy within the structural frame (often old growth fir), but that quickly gets whittled down by the extra activity and materials to bring it up to code. Then you’ve got the lifespan emissions and energy consumption that Arti is alluding to, which in a city is best measured on a per capita basis because one-off developments are not the measure of the whole.
          Saving character houses won’t necessarily save a lot of energy and emissions over the next 100 years unless upgrades to the new standards is forced. One day later this century natural gas will be a lot more expensive for various reasons, not just added carbon taxes. The price of heating old, leaky heritage houses will skyrocket and may become unaffordable, but that price will also serve to highlight the emissions penalty paid through the last century too.
          This is one reason why allowing the subdivision of full lots in RS zones IS important. Profits from the sale of townhouses built in the back yard will help with upgrading the energy profile of the original heritage house with careful attention to maintaining the original architectural details.

      2. Here’s a question about full-cost accounting and house replacements (and I don’t know the answer). My neighbour’s new house has a furnace AND a heat exchanger, the latter in part to keep the house from rotting because it is wrapped in Tyvek; he keeps a window cracked year-round to improve the air quality inside, I guess. Are the fossil fuels to make the steel to manufacture the heat exchanger included in your energy accounting, or are they ignored because that process takes place in South Korea or China? Do these new buildings really take into account all the energy inputs, or just the ones locally, such as hydroelectricity from thr Peace River?

        1. I own a 110-year Edwardian. We notice a vast difference in heat retention and the associated bills with double-glazed reproduction fir sash windows with storm windows (which replaced single-glazed leaky aluminum from the unfortunate 70s modernization craze), added insulation and vapour barriers, and yes Tyvek, which does allow moisture to escape from the internal wall cavities. We have no issue with moisture / mould, and once the paint dries, none with off-gassing. My partner has asthma and we knew better than to order foam insulation and opted for Rocksul and bare fir floors with smaller are rugs.
          I can’t relate to your neighbour.

    2. Good morning glorious comrade! May I suggest you check your party dictionary? “I want less zoning so that property owners may, if they choose, build things other than houses, in addition to building a house, in addition to doing nothing at all” does not mean what you seem to think it means.
      The moral tone over land use is not about the individual property owners and their land, it’s about their attachment to zoning which forces their neighbours to live as they do. Pot. Kettle. Black.

      1. Yeah, but there is an economic driver — your neighbours want to build townhouses or apartments, your assessment shoots up, your taxes skyrocket….

        1. So allow everywhere to do so, then if assessments change due to increased ability to develop, everyone’s does so equally, and if everyone’s evaluation rises equally, then no-one pays any different.
          Thank you for the perfect argument to rezone to allow townhouses and apartments anywhere – locking them away in villages will *only* go to raise their unfortunate neighbours’ taxes.
          I’ll take this version please

  3. Car captivity can also be reduced by adding more flexibility of uses to residential in general.
    Marché St. George is a huge success, but it only exists because of grandfathered zoning and it has struggled at times to work within that zoning.
    Introducing more flexibility of uses into residential could result in the development of new micro-villages in an organic way.

  4. Single family detached isn’t evil, it’s simply everywhere. So please can the false-flag histrionics. You sound like Rob Ford and his “war on cars” or those “men’s rights” bozos who bitterly oppose paid maternity. Wanting there to be less of something isn’t the same as wanting to be rid of it.

  5. Re. #10 and how amazing it is that Nanaimo Station sits in the middle of a suburban landscape. Same could be said for 29th Ave Station.
    Hideously unimaginative Nanaimo Station should be renamed Trout Lake Station and the area should be massively densified. Amazing how many Vancouverites have never been to this great park – though it has become better known thanks to the farmers market. It would make more sense to move the market to the other side of the park, so that people could buy their comestibles and take the Skytrain home. As it sits, it’s a parking hullabaloo.
    Ditto for 29th Ave Station. Considering the pile of cash poured into building Skytrain, you’d think they could have conjured up a more evocative name – like Renfrew Ravine Station. It’s the biggest ravine in the city and should become more of an amenity. Currently, it’s not that pleasant. It’s too narrow for bicycles and pedestrians; and skanky Skytrain users often smoke along the path.

    1. I like your naming ideas, however, the cross street name is very informative to most people. We could consider 2 names, as they do for “Oakridge – 41st Ave” and “Langara – 49th”. Hence “Trout Lake – Nanaimo”. “Renfrew Ravine – 29th Ave”

  6. I also like the rough edges of Renfrew Ravine – it’s rare to find an urban space that retains such wildness and an unkempt appearance. It is, however, a space where no one can hear you scream. My wife will not walk through this space at night, or along the path. It’s too scary. I spoke with another woman who shuddered at the idea of walking through the ravine. She makes a wide detour to get to her house. I’d counsel my daughter to do the same. We men don’t perceive danger in the same way.

  7. “Vancouver’s current penchant for stringing density along arterials is not building communities, it’s just adding human units to our population statistics. . . . a concentration of population into neighbourhood centres (call them villages or whatever) . . . would give a better opportunity to serve them with transit and, potentially, to create the kind of walkable communities for people at every stage of their lives – something that is definitely not happening with the strips of multi-family buildings”
    I think we call them town centres. This sounds to me like the Burnaby approach.
    I don’t have a dog in this fight, but isn’t this the opposite of Patrick Condon’s argument for continuous transit corridors instead of nodes?

    1. You are correct, Geof.
      Personally, the major arterial near my place is like a linear village. I have no objection to arterial development because I have six grocery stores within a 10-minute walk, and a decent trolley service. There are so many coffee places the caffeine oozes out of the cracks in the sidewalks. There are successful non-chain stores everywhere. Heritage 19th century buildings are check-to-jowl with new 4-storey low rises backed by thousands of affordable detached Edwardian houses on horribly unaffordable open lots.
      Village nodes are a wonderful idea, and they have not ceased to exist because of arterial development. In fact, they are enhanced.
      I think Michael needs to have a closer look at the economics behind his ideas. The notion that 80% of the residential land in this town should be locked down forever to preserve detached homes cannot be taken to the bank. Land in the Metro is now expensive, and that little fact ain’t going away. Therefore, using less of it should be the new paradigm. When so much of it is wasted and preserved in the overly-generous setbacks platted a century ago when the last remaining old growth forests were being whacked down, you’re manufacturing a future affordability crisis even without speculation, foreign or otherwise.
      Urban land, therefore the housing built on it, will always be expensive here. Therefore, use less of it to build more housing (especially freehold attached single-family), and bring up incomes by providing more rental suites.

      1. I didn’t mind the linear village à la Patrick Condon as long as there was the kind of frequent light rail “pedestrian accelerator” as an integral part of the plan, but that now seems to be lost in the big capital push to build a Broadway subway.

      2. Then all you’ll be doing is spending a billion+ bucks to put the Number 9 and B-Line on rails. To accelerate pedestrians you have to accelerate transit service without negating the ability of pedestrians to cross the street.

  8. We should have the kind of development where people live in a village in the city. Neighbourhoods like the Drive, Main street and Fraser street that offer convenient pedestrian shopping where people live are wonderful examples of how to live. Why don’t we have this everywhere?

  9. Great insight by Michael Kluckner in here !
    Missing is that NONE of this new development will be cheap i.e. under $750-1000/sq ft !
    So yes we can and will get more housing but no it is not affordable. To get affordability one must redefine “Vancouver” to mean MetroVan ! The only way to get the price point below $750/sq ft is with government subsidies.

    1. You will need to consult the real estate board stats on median prices over several areas to back up your claims.
      As for subsidies, many of them are already in place in the form of public infrastructure that require annual tax revenue infusions to maintain. Not all taxes and levies we pay cover the full cost of using them, especially on automobile infrastructure. It gets better with increasing density, though.

      1. Look what is for sale that is new in any area in Vancouver. Show me ANYTHING below $750/ft, please. Kerrisdale & Kits is now $1200-$1500/foot in 6-8 story mid-rises as is Cambie corridor. Very basic stuff maybe around $1000/foot. This is not a claim, it is FACT.

      2. Yes, prime west side neighbourhoods all. Now let’s see some median price stats in East Van, Burnaby, New West and many other selections on the Burrard Peninsula.

        1. As stated, this is for Vancouver proper. Yes it is cheaper further east or south in the “burbs” ! Depends on your view of “Vancouver”. Is it the City of V or the area i.e. MetroVan ?
          Some Vancouver pre-sales here to make an extra 100,000 with 10-20% down
          Some in Surrey here
          Prices in Surrey are 30-50% below Vancouver. Hence the faster population growth, expected to surpass Vancouver in the 2020’s !

        2. Regarding Surrey’s pop growth, yes, that’s on the horizon. But bedroom communities are not examples of a sustainable urban economy. Surrey has many decades to go before it surpasses — if ever — Vancouver’s office floor area and major employment nodes.

    2. Hi Thomas, the price is $750+/sqft because buildable sqft are scarce and demand is high. You don’t need govt to subsidize buildable sqft, you need to get govt out of controlling how many buildable sqft exist. Let the market handle that.
      Everyone understands that taxi licenses are expensive because govt regulations, for better or for worse, make them scarce. An existing or buildable sqft in Vancouver is the same thing – it’s not intrinsically very scarce, but we’ve passed laws that require them too be scarce, so just like taxi licenses, they are priced through the roof.

  10. I live in the Kerrisdale area and cherish the feeling of the place. One area that should be looked at very closely is the region contained by Cambie and Oak from 41st to King Edward. I think that the whole area should be rezoned to a higher density. A central area within this region should attempt to have a retail small shop focus so that it can be built by individuals and not a corporate mall type development.
    The region would be served by the Canada line by the existing stations at 41st and King Edward and a new station at 33rd. By giving the region a blanket rezoning it could be developed over time and have a chance of being a more interesting place to live.

    1. That brings up one of the things that I don’t like about new development. Some of the designs and such I find okay but the new stores that go in tend to be mostly the same chain restaurants as you’d find in any mall.
      Does anyone know if it’s legal under NAFTA for an area to give first dibs to locally owned companies when renting out retail?

      1. Michael Kluckner has written about the necessary high price of residential rents in new developments. Commercial rents are the same. New commercial spaces need to be built to certain standards and often are too large and expensive for local businesses.

      2. Part of the chain restaurants and stores in new buildings is that banks want pre-signed leases before giving money for redevelopment. And they prefer big names that they can go after in case they back out. The perverse thing is that because of this competitive advantage they often get to pay lower rents too.
        It should also be noted that mixed use conversions dramatically lower the property taxes that the commercial tenants have to pay. So higher rents don’t necessarily mean higher total costs for the commercial tenant.

      3. Yeah, I was mostly lamenting the lack of consumer choice. A big appeal of older retail areas are the cool shops, the variety, the stuff you don’t see anywhere else. If an area just has the same stores as the ones closer to you, you won’t bother going there.

        1. Part of the problem is that we only allow retail to exist in narrow corridors. 100 years ago, when rent on the high street got too expensive, your cherished local business just moved around the corner onto a side street. That’s illegal now. We’ve created just as much artificial scarcity and limited competition in commercial space as we have in residential, and the result is high rents that only national players can pay. While we discussing rezoning we should allow first floor retail on 100% of all lots to ensure there’s lots of competition for the high street and lots of opportunity for small local players to get established.

  11. Strictly demarcated zoning is unfair. One street can have much higher value than one adjacent. One side can profit by building towers or townhouses, while the other side just gets the view of the backsides of these structures.

  12. “adding duplexes and townhouses to the car-captive RS zones will merely add more car captives”
    As someone who grew up in the Fraser Valley, this strikes me as deeply wrong. If you want to see real car-captive neighbourhoods, go out to Maple Ridge or Langley.
    Housing virtually anywhere in Vancouver is going to be easier to serve by transit than most suburban development in the region – and that only becomes more true if we densify the RS zones further.
    We don’t have to choose between densifying nodes near existing transit and densifying the RS zones. Let’s do both.

    1. No question that the valley suburbs are worse and Vancouver’s RS areas could be served by transit, but when you add a slow bus to a ten minute walk to the bus stop your travel time at least triples compared with a car ride; then, add in capital starvation and the drain on the bus network by the Broadway subway extension, and most busy people with a little cash in their pockets are effectively car-captive.

        1. If all you have is aged neighbours we might have identified a problem, no?
          … also, I said *some* … if you don’t have at least *some* neighbours who could hop on a bike, we might have identified a problem.
          … also, regarding which *some* neighbours could bike, it is of course inconceivable that infrastructure designed for all ages and abilities might actually be what it claims, *all* ages.

          Given that your argument against building *new* housing which was more dense + more affordable because it would create *new* car captives, we’re not even talking about your aged neighbours, we’re talking about new members of your community. And if you expect that all new members of your community are aged, we have certainly identified a problem.
          Before you throw away an idea based on what would or wouldn’t work for your aged neighbours, try asking the rest of the city how the fact you only seem to have aged neighbours works for them. Does that work for you?

        2. … and if they truly are aged enough that they can’t ride a bike … or use something like this then I might suggest that they probably aren’t going to be a car captive much longer either – because they won’t be able to drive a car in the first place, which means it is even more likely that their multi-story character house will be poor for their needs, and that some accessible density might be exactly what they need the most!

      1. The “drain” on the bus system by a subway?
        Coast Mountain Bus Company is run under separate accounts from the rapid transit network. At present, only 17% of the Broadway Subway will be funded directly by locals (TransLink). That could change to 10% if the NDP are elected in May, which dovetails with the 50-40-10 tax revenue split between the three levels of government.
        If you think a cute tram on Broadway will actually improve service, then I’d say you could either waste a billion (or more) dollars merely copying the existing bus service, or you could sever the street lengthwise with a dedicated fenced median and faster, more frequent trains with signal priority. I have no idea how an average pedestrian would be able to cross the street in the blocks between stations in that last scenario, let alone the elderly or disabled, considering that 95% of all intersections are signalized.
        Obviously you have not thought this through.

        1. I’ll rephrase: because the senor governments’ capital funding is earmarked in large part for the Broadway subway, the kind of extended tram system envisaged by Condon et al is pushed way off into the future, ensuring that car usage remains very high in the RS areas. Better?

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