May Brown, Marguerite Ford and Darlene Marzari were all councillors on the TEAM councils of the 1970s – maybe the best we’ve ever had.  So when they decide to write a letter to The Sun, pay attention:

New city planner needs new city plan

There seems to be a growing concern about city council’s quest to hire a new planner. As former city councillors we would add our voices to a gathering consensus that a new city plan might help us manage and set targets for growth, regulate where it occurs as well as retain affordable housing.
The recent spate of spot zonings that now dot the city, fuelled by money from zoning “uplifts” and the resultant tower mentality have undermined trust in the land use process, threatened neighbourhoods and favoured large developments over smaller more livable projects.
The last city plan was developed in 1994. It has been a template for what has come to be lauded as “Vancouverism” even though it never included a citywide land use map (a feature common to all official community plans produced by the other 20 member communities of the Vancouver Metro planning area).
This deficiency can and should be redressed now with an updated and more explicit city plan. The Green Plan for Vancouver is admirable, but it cannot replace the city’s major contract with its citizens: an explicit zoning bylaw, including a zoning map that would be the embodiment of our collective future hopes for our city rather than a record of all our spot zone exceptions. A new plan, developed inclusively and operated transparently, is achievable. We hope that the new city planner will be hired with this in mind.


This puts in four paragraphs the substance of the Urbanarium debate (of which I will be part) scheduled for April 13 on whether there should be a plan for the City of Vancouver, rather like the Official Community Plans (OCPs) in other municipalities
So to generate some pre-comment, here’s a question I have:  In order to accommodate the regional growth target for the City of Vancouver of about 160,000 people in 35 years (and the population growth won’t stop then), should the city be generally upzoned so that decades of growth can be accommodated without having to do spot rezoning (thereby diminishing, if not eliminating, the need for Community Amenity Contributions)?
In theory, everyone would know what they were going to get in the future, especially the increase housing stock, even if the look, scale and population increase of their neighbourhood wasn’t what they’d want today.
Remember, if this plan, unlike the 1994-5 CityPlan, was really like an OCP, it would not just be policy intentions (“retain affordable housing”); it would “regulate (where) growth occurs.” There’s a lot of power in that word ‘regulate:’ land and property values (and hence taxes), development opportunities and building permits, infrastructure and amenity capital plans, and much more all follow – all decided directly or indirectly in one document, passed at one time.
But to get back to the question: Is upzoning, broadly applied and enforced across the city, necessary to achieve what the three writers want?
There’s something chewy for you.


  1. A new city plan is a fine idea in theory, if only to restore public faith in the direction of the city’s growth. But planning for growth is tricky, largely because stakeholder engagement is, by definition, driven by those who are already here. Nobody gets to speak on behalf of those who are not yet here – those 160,000 people – other than responsible bureaucrats who need to consider the future of the city and not just the view from their two-million dollar homes or their nostalgia. So long as future residents and business owners have the same day as those whose vested interests are already firmly established, I say “let’s make a plan”.

  2. “Should the city be generally upzoned so that decades of growth can be accommodated without having to do spot rezoning?”

  3. A map of hubs and a ring of appropriate zoning around them would end this ridiculous spot rezoning situation. Everyone, those already here and anyone looking to move/buy/build here, would see exactly what is allowed and where. Some hubs could include high rise, while others might decide to use dense mid-rise buildings to achieve the goals.
    To the vast swaths of RS1 I would not only consider a city-wide change to allow multi-unit and/or multi-structure homes like I’ve seen proposed here, but I would also look for opportunities to make some of the less walkable areas more walkable by introducing other uses.
    Large projects like Oakridge (mall and transit depot) or Little Mountain should be designed to permit easy passage through on foot. We do not need walled gardens that pedestrians must walk around. Even if my destination is somewhere on the site I should not be obliged to traverse a “maze” in order to get there. Making it hard to get from A to B is common mall strategy, they think you’ll buy more if you have to walk past every store in the place, but it’s really bad city planning. At Metrotown the office tower workers have discovered that the food court can be reached quickly if they avoid the mall altogether and walk through the underground parking lot. Dodging cars and inhaling exhaust fumes shouldn’t be the best option for any new project.

    1. Ha! I’ve actually done that (when taken to lunch by a client).
      The office towers have a couple of levels of above grade parking hidden behind them (between them and the mall) – the shortcut is actually above grade, but still through the garage. I guess they didn’t want to go deeper for parking.
      You can see the layout on the “upper level” leasing plans here:

  4. The administration at City Hall in Vancouver is highly unlikely to let go the grip they have on the power to derive funds for CACs while simultaneously being attentive and cooperating with their patrons behind closed doors. A real OCP could have inconvenient or embarrassing constraints. They have found and exploited the loopholes in the Vancouver Charter and they keep getting elected. Why unneccesarily relinquish these powers that shape the city as they want and partly finance their preferred ideas? Their enlarged communications department is all that is really needed, along with a few public venting community meetings.

  5. Better to have flat, fair transparent rules. For both citizens and developers. Negotiating every project with different effective tax rate through CACs adds risk and uncertainty for developers, which probably increases the cost of housing. It also confuses and frustrates the populace.
    However, I don’t know how politically feasible a mass upzoning would be. But I would favor that.

  6. I’ve recently come to the sad conclusion that it’s too late. The city that many of us grew up in and loved is gone. This was driven home by reading a couple recent stories about the West End. How along Davie both the Safeway site and the London Drugs parking lot were earmarked for towers. The gentle urbanism of the West End with its affordable midrise towers sitting on green double lots has been thrown out in favour of pellmell development.
    Mark 2015 as the beginning of Vancouver’s decline. Has nobody else noticed that urbanism has become managing the declining expectations of the middle working classes? That single family homes are no longer to be a dream for us, they are now the sole purview of the global 1% who get to buy them unrestricted? But don’t worry, our living standards aren’t declining, we’re just being green! Be thankful for that 900 sq ft apartment your family is crowding into, after all, you’re saving the planet! Nevermind that the person who bought the house your parents lived in and demolished it is earning their living pumping out far more pollutants than you could imagine, or that their expensive cars burn more fuel than yours ever did, you have a bike right?
    Managing the diminishing expectations of working citizens seems to have become what government is all about these days.

    1. I suppose I’m going to be the optimist here and disagree with both the views expressed above.
      I agree that Vision needs to back off and address the developmental issues the public is telling them about. An that an overall city plan is needed. I do not necessarily agree with the founding background of especially Marzari’s views that, based on her previous comments with Elizabeth Murphy, the glass bubble should descend over the older neighbourhoods and hopelessly anti-urban transit solutions are the only sane approaches to take.
      Upzoning ….Yes.
      – 160,000 people arriving to occupy a patch of land that will not grow to accommodate it — this requires a good planning process
      – a single-dwelling large lot preservation plan should be immediately rejected out of hand (see above point); subdivisions into half or 1/3 lots should be on the table and would attached single family homes and low rises
      – well-thought out and reasonable design guidelines should be applied to all detached home neighbourhoods; stringent guidelines will act as a first step regulatory device and would place less pressure on the city to staff up to extraordinary levels to police every applicant
      – use the Citizen’s Assembly multiple workshop method for public consultation in each neighbourhood BEFORE large-scale development is proposed; anything less (talking head meetings, open houses, referenda) are too easily manipulated to shove predetermined and often undesirable forms of development onto communities, to allow NIMBYist groups to assume control of the planning process, or to foster mob rule
      – increasing density in neighbourhoods leads to an increased demand on transit and public services, and these should accompany the increase; in light of Victoria’s intransigence on transit, Metro Vancouver should consider adding transit more incrementally on its own and Vancouver could present a pilot project for increased articulated electric buses and BRT that dovetails with new moderately-developing areas

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