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.
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:
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:
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.
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.