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Price Tags 104

What do the residents of False Creek North think of living in one of the largest centrally located, high-density, pedestrian and family-oriented mixed-use neighbourhoods in the world?   

Hardly anyone thinks to ask the people who move in after a project is designed and built.  In this case, graduate students at UBC’s School of Community and Regional Planning, under the guidance of Professors Wendy Sarkassian and Larry Beasley, set off to find out how False Creek North is meeting the needs of those who call it home.  The good and the bad.

Based on the report – Living in False Creek North – this issue is a summary of their findings, extensively illustrated.


  1. Re: False Creek North
    A Post-Occupancy Study
    Price Tags 104

    Luckily, “the early 1950s, council candidates” didn’t have their way. A filled-in False Creek would have deprived the city of the only viable public urban space within its boundaries: so long as you have a sailboat and anchor.

    What we have here however is a hagiography that belies reality: False Creek North is okay but . . . not unexpected since the driving academics were both up to their ying-yangs in its birth pangs.

    Quotation 1: “10,570 residents lived in 5,450 households.” Simple math’s put that myth to rest ” . . . as a master-planned community that has been successful in bringing people, notably families, into the downtown core . . .” The above stats say 1.9 persons/household. A 2008 CMHC family is 3.3. There must be lots of singles and empty nesters in False Creek North.

    Did the SCARP students have an opportunity to interview the many itinerant, global millionaires in their multi-million dollar pent houses who are driving the price of Vancouver’s real out of reach of local residents?

    Quotation 2: “Nonetheless, the point-and-podium tower form that evolved for North Park would continue on . . .” I am very familiar with this development but I see few if any “point-and-podium towers.”

    If the city is serious about sustainability read:

    For a truthful assessment of building typologies vis-à-vis sustainability.

    “After Expo, the site was cleared and sold off in one parcel to Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing, the winner of the international competition.”

    Ummmmm, that is not my recollection: no competition, I recall. Indeed BC Minister Grace McCarthy was so desperate, after Expo 86, to get rid of the site she almost gave it away: much to the consternation of the local development community.

    Other points not mentioned in Price Tags 104.

    1. View corridors: particularly from Fairview Slopes. Council 1992-3+/-, could not agree. The, then, director of planning Ray Spaxman was confused. Councilor Puil moved to defer a decision until Concord decided where to site the towers: sort of ass-backwards. I was at the meeting.

    Ergo no mountain views from Fairview Slopes. But that doesn’t detract from the grey drama of a wall of concrete, aluminum and glass: from my anchored sailboat it is breathe taking. And, wow, the noise the city makes!

    2. Urbane ambience: if we are going to get silly about “world class” the North Shore of False Creek lacks human scale. There are no ” . . . arcaded walkways, (that) alternatively compressed and explode the experience of the pedestrian. ” Good use and understanding of the “composite high rise” would have ameliorated that.

    3. Isolation: False Creek North is isolated from the host city: separated by the no-where-to-no-where Pacific boulevard.

    I could go on . . . the residents seem to have a clearer understanding than the academics . . .

    Roger Kemble

    PS Carbon tax. I don’t own a car: I walk. Thanqxz though, Mr. Premier, for the hundred bucks!

  2. Roger, thank’s for bringing some actual history into this discussion, a welcome relief from the uninterrupted Beasleyism that seems to circulate without any check or scrutiny in the various commentaries on Vancouver’s supposed success stories. No doubt the Vancouver situation has been a tremendous success for anyone who already owns their home and is watching their non-taxable capital gain in the principal residence rising ever skyward, but for those not already on the inside looking out, the view must surely be a bit different.

    You might be aware that the developers are about to start work on a new condo tower at the corner of Smithe and Homer to be called The Beasley, in tribute to their mentor.

    It’s my recollection that the original Li Ka-Shing plan was for about 20,000 housing units on the Expo lands. As a standard part of the real Vancouverism the City Council, acting in response to both “left” and “right”, which are in fact of one mind on housing and transport issues save for minor bits of “product differentiation”, cut the number in half to a bit over 10,000. They didn’t want too much supply coming on the market because their goal is to enhance prices and therefore those untaxed capital gain windfalls so greatly appreciated by their voters.

  3. Budd,

    Huh, “Thu Beasley!” Doggies get the luxury: people get the street. Something weird about a town that beatifies a petty bureaucrat.

    While Gord lets his camera lie . . .

  4. It would be nice if someone could get the city planners and politicians to notice that the boundaries of Vancouver extend beyond Coal Harbour, the West End and Yaletown.

    Since Larry is so keen to take credit for False Creek North, he’d like to explain how his planning team managed to create the car-only, no-mixed-use, environmentally-unfriendly condo developments along the Fraser river…

  5. I recall that there was a bidding process for the Expo Lands – I recall Peter Toigo was one of the bidders.

    WRT households, there would be a lot of singles in the one bedroom units and a lot of empty nesters in the two bedroom units. It’s probably unlikely that empty nesters would downsize from a house to a one bedroom unit. Most of those second bedrooms are guest rooms/sewing rooms/ dens.

    WRT International Village, Paris Place has a point tower on podium, as are the Firenze towers and the now under construction Espana towers. The Paris Place project does have one of the only slab blocks in the recent downtown developments – which provides a very nice street wall along Abbott Street – which blends well with the adjacent downtown eastside area to the north. The International Village mall also has a nice tall street wall on Abbott St. and a point tower at the opposite corner.

    The one comment that I’d make about FCN is that I wonder whether it is dense enough. Downtown South seems much denser and the whole downtown penninsula appears to be approaching “build-out”. The strata-titled nature of condo ownership means that these buildings will probably not be redeveloped (i.e. to intensify use) for a 100 years – so what you have is what you get for a very long time.

    Also interesting that the issue of a “livelier” waterfont with more commercial space on the waterfront wasn’t a big issue.

  6. WRT notwithstanding FCN scale is Brobdingnagian: walking its environs makes the pedestrian feel Lilliputian.

    Amorphous, directionless green splotches feign for urban places lacking interconnections: the splotches are meaningless, purposeless.

    The area is isolated from the city: still an auto-oriented cluster of concrete towers.

    The only essential design criteria are “views.” And at that only for about 40% of units. There is more to urban living than “views.”

    Price Tags 104 photos mislead: resident families are few and token.

    Given Vancouver’s planning, given what we have learnt over the last half century, as FCN stands it is not a model to emulate or brag about . . . stat!

  7. To Roger:

    You say it’s not something to emulate or brag about, yet more than 90 per cent of the residents express satisfaction with their unit. It may even be higher, since usually those who have complaints have the most incentive to fill out questionnaires or show up to sessions such as this one.

    You also say families are mere tokens, yet a simple look at the overcrowding and wait lists at Elsie Roy School and the local day cares shows otherwise.

    And while 90 per cent of people who responded own cars, most daily trips are done on foot, and transit is improving in the area.

    There are clearly lots of problems anyone can list with the community of FCN – from architectural sterility to the lack of affordable, diverse, commercial and increasingly unaffordable residential, to the design of the buildings that severely limit their flexibility and use due to load baring walls, to the lack of any space to eat, etc. along the sea wall itself, etc. There are plenty, as with almost any community.

    But it sounds to me like your vile is more centered around the loss of your own view from FCS, or something else you haven’t mentioned, and really isn’t based on an objective view of the neighbourhood.

    From a general planning perspective, it has been pretty successful, and only by looking at the actual problems objectively are we going to do a better job in densifying the rest of the city in a way that a similarily vast majority of residents will be satisfied with.

  8. Peter Toigo didn’t have the clout Gracie was looking for.

    A preferable term to “podium” is “composite:” i.e. with a ground oriented row of diverse functions (more than and another Starbucks). The purpose of a ground orientation is street amenity: i.e low fore-buildings, tower set back.

    In FCN NOT!

    Further, the design purpose of the “composite” is to increase critical mass while addressing conservation. Check:

    Current zoning tends toward single use or limited use. Ideally use diversity should be unlimited: proscribed only by noise and noxious odors.

    An added bonus can be sensitive design: low part articulated to define places and links. The tower for density . . .

    We are, essentially, a lonely alienated people: as our architecture reflects. The more urban design can bring us out of ourselves, together on the ground, the better. So far our notion of structured planning does not help . . .

    BTW Round House is neat . . . ojala

  9. Tessa,

    Thanqu for your thoughtful observations. Leaving Vancouver a while ago to live in Mexico City for a couple of years (teaching UD at UNAM) I came back to live in Nanaimo: I have a magnificent 360 view so view ain’t my prob.

    57 years practising architecture and planning (not retired yet) my sense is people are so kind and polite: essentially they tell you what yo want to hear god bless ’em.

    Sensitively designed people scaled and oriented places and cities are my thing . . .

    Ojala finalamente senorita . . . mucho suerte

  10. “You also say families are mere tokens, yet a simple look at the overcrowding and wait lists at Elsie Roy School and the local day cares shows otherwise.

    And while 90 per cent of people who responded own cars, most daily trips are done on foot, and transit is improving in the area.”

    I would think that the 2006 Census data for the appropriate urban census tracts could answer all these questions authoritatively, and that one would then not have to rely on impressions based on photo shoots or partial information, such as reputed crowding at one, possibly very tiny school.

    Has the City planning or social affairs bureau analyzed this data yet, or is it that on the still to do list?

  11. Tessa, the math in the report leaves one wondering about the veracity of its conclusions about families. First of all, it states that 13% of 10k residents are under 19 (about 1400), then it says the waiting list for daycares in the area is 1800.

    While Elsie Roy may be at capacity, enrollment is around 323 for 2007. That’s pretty darn tiny, even if it were double that, for a supposedly family friendly neighbourhood of 10000 people.

    Just take a look at what a 3 bedroom condo goes for in the area (if you can find one at all). How many families can afford to live there? Maybe the city’s definition of family friendly is 800sq ft 2 bedroom at $500k, but most people wouldn’t agree.

  12. “Just take a look at what a 3 bedroom condo goes for in the area (if you can find one at all). How many families can afford to live there? Maybe the city’s definition of family friendly is 800sq ft 2 bedroom at $500k, but most people wouldn’t agree.”

    This is the core of the problem. At a going rate of about $600 per square foot for new apartments in concrete highrises in downtown Vancouver, a decent sized apartment of 1,500 square feet, for a family of two adults and two children, would cost $900,000. Possibly $200 per square foot of that price represents actual construction costs. The rest is economic rent on land, on location. It’s not a price based on inputs of labour and capital in current production. The city could “produce” more with appropriate zoning, but it has always leaned the other way so as to drive up land prices and the associated economic rents.

    With prices like that there can be no solution for families other than to purchase in suburbs at least as far out as Langley and Maple Ridge, where a detached house of 1,500 square feet can be had for about $400,000 or so, provided it’s about 15 or more years old.

  13. Roger, just to expand on a earlier point, you may wish to either amuse or horrify yourself, depending on your mood at the moment, by checking out the following marketing website.

    “The Beasley Residences is a tribute to Larry Beasley’s vision of sustainability and livability.”

    One of the eight main menu buttons is actually titled Tribute.

    “Professor Larry Beasley, C.M., B.A., M.A., Hon L.L.D., F.C.I.P., is generally regarded as the visionary behind the development of the most livable city in the world. “

  14. Roger, I wasn’t able to read your entire blog, but my point is that whenever a particular public official is worshipped by the vary business interest group he was responsible for regulating, one ought to enquire as to what is up with that. I don’t have any grudge against Beasley in particular, but rather the entire tradition of zoning, city planning and transportation policy in Greater Vancouver, of which Beasley is a prime exponent, if not the only one or even the original author.

    I believe that all the greenish and urbanista rhetoric is really just a convenient cover story for doing whatever one can to raise prices by contriving scarcity to an undue degree.

  15. It’s goes deeper than one official: its historic . . .

    In this particular instance call it conflict of interest . . .

    Hey talk to SCARP about that . . .

  16. Roger, I don’t know what you mean by conflict of interest. Civic politicians and bureaucrats in most cases do own property in their respective municipalities, but the linkages between a generally restrictive set of zoning policies and the market price of any one particular property are too tenuous I think to be described as a conflict of interest.

    As for SCARP, I cannot think of any group that has done more to provide some intellectual cover for this entire operation.

  17. Everyone should keep in mind that nearly half of the residents who participated in the survey aren not owners: they are renters. Rents are still pretty rediculously high in that neighbourhood, but it does make it slightly more realistic for a family to live there, even if it is a yuppy family. More needs to be done to create affordable housing in the city obviously, but FCN is certainly not creating worse of a problem of affordability in the larger city of Vancouver. If anything, it takes pressure off other, existing and new, housing stock, such as the West End or East Van, and it only gets so expensive because, again, people like it, and possibly somewhat because of speculation, though how much is really debatable.

    (Oh, and I understand the difficulties around affordability and a lack of opportunities for many people in Vancouver. I now live in Northern B.C. because of it).

    As for schools, I expect that most other schools in the city have equally low enrollment per capita, mainly because of demographic changes, and mainly because the city as a whole is not all that friendly to young families without massive paychecks or loaded parents. Most schools in Vancouver have dangerously declining enrolment, and many are being shut down because of it, or at least are very close to being shut down. We have to look at the entire context. But census data would provide actual answers: I really dont know for sure if that is right, I dont have the data.

    And to Roger, sorry I misread your post.

  18. Tessa,

    Apollos unnecessary: thanqxz, though.

    Summing-up: using our true, and I mean true, sensibilities.

    FCN, despite a few “by-law plants,” is a brutal, cold, inhuman chunk of real estate, way beyond most “families”: ditto Coal Harbour – even worse.

    Scarpies have to go along: they have huge loans and need jobs . . . that’s the rub!

    If denial makes Gord feel happy, too bad for everyone else . . .

    Roger Kemble (SCARP ’87)

  19. “Scarpies have to go along: they have huge loans and need jobs . . . that’s the rub!”

    Another of those disturbing notes of realism! I think in many professions there are schools of thought. And it’s common for one of those schools of thought to become dominant in, say, a given large company or a given city, depending on the scope of practice in that profession. In Vancouver and district, every city planner and most architects and engineers have to be disciples of the later Walter Hardwick, or they will find themselves excluded from the major opportunities in the profession. In the extreme, they will be either not hired in the first place or fired if need be should they be on the payroll and open their mouth the wrong way. Imagine the reaction if a planner working for the City of Vancouver, or Burnaby, were to question the wisdom of the anti-freeway doctrine.

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