The temperature is going up.  As the election approaches and the City moves towards a ‘Making Room’ rezoning in traditional neighbourhoods, positions are hardening.

On one hand, a desire to take change slow (if not stop it outright), reflected in the columns of Elizabeth Murphy in The Sun, especially her latest: “city hall is slamming through destructive new zoning.

The city’s consultants confirmed as far back as 2014 that there is more than enough existing zoned capacity to meet population growth beyond 2041. Yet the city continues a manic rush to rezone.

The most recent example is the rushed rezoning of Kitsilano RT7/RT8, Cedar Cottage RT10 and all the RS zones citywide of 68,000 properties, all without public consultation. The public hearing for all of this is coming Sept. 18 at 3 p.m. 

But there’s another constituency, rarely if ever heard until recently, that insists these changes are not ambitious enough.  Some of them composed an open letter to Council to spell out what they mean and what they want.  Here it is:


Comments to the proposed Amendments to the Zoning and Development By­law for Most RS Zones to Allow Two-­Family Dwellings (Duplexes) to Increase Housing Choice

As members and practitioners in the architecture, design, development, building and urban planning community in Vancouver, we the undersigned seek a more ambitious array of redevelopment options for Vancouver’s RS­1 (single detached) zones that would allow for more density and a wider variety housing choices that better meet our social, economic and environmental needs. This type of change is exceedingly overdue. ­ Almost 60% of our City is zoned for single detached housing forms that are currently affordable to only 8% of Vancouver households (based on gross household income).

Our analysis and experience suggest that the proposal before the council to allow duplexes with lock­off suites within single-­family zones is far too modest; it will not generate the affordability or choice of housing needed by most Vancouver households. We simply need to make better and more intensive use of the land in neighbourhoods already richly served by transit, local shopping, parks and amenities ­ neighbourhoods that are hollowing out due to unaffordability.

Our professions have documented alternative forms of more intensive development that could be sensitively incorporated in Vancouver’s RS­1 neighbourhoods. Vancouver’s architecture, design, development and urban planning communities have expressed these ideas on countless occasions, be it through the city’s Housing Re: Set program and Urbanarium’s Missing Middle competition. An array of practical and beautiful solutions have been shared and put forward to respond to the question of how to best densify our single­-family communities while meeting the strategic goals set in the city’s housing plans. These solutions evoke typologies that blend the old concepts with progressive ideas around form, tenure, density and diversity.

The two­ family amendments currently before Council fail to draw upon these innovative, rational and creative resources. Rather, the examples shown in the proposed policy look only to modify and reuse antiquated and regressive guidelines. This approach does little to resolve our housing affordability challenges. A simple pro forma analysis suggests that the proposed guidelines will only perpetuate another form of exclusive housing available to only a slightly larger fraction of Vancouver households.

Using old rules to solve current problems will not work. We have documented a number of viable housing forms that could be permitted in RS­1 zones to create much more affordable and attainable homes for people who live and work in this city. An incentive­-based approach could generate an array of more affordable new housing choices with more modestly sized homes in forms that remain sensitive to neighbourhood character — to create stronger more livable communities throughout our city. In this light, we recommend that Council revisit and expand the proposed amendments and champion projects that meet the spectrum of needs set out in the City of Vancouver’s 10­-year housing plan and strategies.

We strongly advocate a more fulsome approach. We have outlined our recommendations below. We are optimistic to see these must­-needed changes within our single­-family neighbourhoods and look forward to being active participants in creating further solutions in partnership with city staff.

Scot Hein, Former Senior Urban Designer, City of Vancouver
Adjunct Professor of Urban Design, University of British Columbia
Registered Architect, USA

Marianne Amodio, Architect AIBC, LEED AP
Marianne Amodio and Harley Grusko Architects Inc.

Jake Fry, Smallworks Studios and Laneway Housing Inc.

Michael Mortensen MA, MCIP RPP
Director, Livable City Planning Ltd.

Bryn Davidson B.Eng. M.Arch. LEED­AP
Lanefab Design/Build

Support the Letter


  1. I find it ironic that Elizabeth Murphy cites Scott Hein in her Sun critique that sounds distinctly like protectionist West Side elitism. Hein et al are obviously moving in a different direction, which I think is highly laudable. Will she be called on that?

    In addition, she is painfully unaware (I’m trying to be polite …) of the most basic principles of transportation planning and failed to check the ridership stats for buses on the Broadway corridor in her puzzling op-ed Segway from zoning. They have been overcrowded and unable to meet demand for years, and thus the suggestion that buses or trams that perform like buses will be adequate to meet future demand without impacts on the street, citing only their lower cost as the sole criteria for the planning process, painfully illustrates her lack of knowledge in urbanism and vacuum of experience with respect to transit.

    If this level of discourse getting major elevation by the media wasn’t so sad it would be comical.

  2. The city of Vancouver has grown in size and complexity since it’s founding 132 years ago. It is now home to a stratified society of wealthy landowners, impoverished mortgage slaves and desperate renters working multiple jobs just to survive. Why do we think that piling ever more people on top of each other (density) will make things affordable for those on the bottom when history illustrates the exact opposite effect? And all this proposed density justified in the name of more livable neighbourhoods? Really, who believes that? Why do those on the top always have every solution under the sun for those on the bottom, except simply trading places?

    1. I believe it. I choose to live in a higher density location because it *is* more livable. I rarely drive, but I hear a *lot* of whining from motorists. They don’t sound like they are living the livability dream. Most everything I do on a daily basis is within walking distance and on a weekly basis within cycling distance. I don’t even use transit much even though it’s pretty good where I am because there’s the density to support it.

      That, to me, is more livable.

      Your other point about affordability is highly suspect. Just because in some areas single family housing remains affordable it doesn’t follow that single family houses are a more affordable option. Apartments are even cheaper there too.

      //The city of Vancouver has grown in size and complexity since it’s founding 132 years ago.

      Yup. The old small-town way of doing things isn’t likely to be the best way forward.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *