Coming to Vancouver City Council from staff sometime real soon now are the parameters of a Citywide Plan process.  It promises to be the manifestation in studies, debate, framing and motions of the biggest issue facing the city and its leaders: Housing.  What else.

It’s also a divide soon to be made real and brought into the open.  It’s the class divide, where class-based exclusionary zoning has locked up most of the City of Vancouver’s land for low density forms. And both sides of the divide are represented on council.

With thanks to Frances Bula, whose tenacity and endurance are astonishing, we see the initial skirmishes at council, complete with predatory delay tactics:

In my mind, the lines have been drawn.

As Ken Sim (NPA mayoral candidate) says, the preservationist NPA wants to give a density and development veto to any and all neighbourhood associations.

Meanwhile, Kennedy Stewart (Mayor) and Gil Kelley (General Manager, Planning, Urban Design, and Sustainability) seem to favour a Citywide Plan for everyone in the city, including people who don’t live here yet.

Kelley has ideas about what that public engagement process will look like. It should include not just people who already live in a neighbourhood, but people who might live there in the future. That might even include people who don’t live in Vancouver right now . . .

Kelley said the public consultation process needs to be designed to deeply involve residents, but also set out parameters that will make it clear all neighbourhoods are expected to accommodate population growth.

“The framing instructions for the community dialogue have to say, as you solve for your neighbourhood, how are you addressing the projected level of growth that we will allocate to the neighbourhood,” Kelley said. “And how are you providing options for multi-generational living, but also affordability.”

With thanks to Jen St. Denis the Star Vancouver.

And OneCity councilor Christine Boyle prefers “. . . fighting for low and modest income residents to live in every neighbourhood across the city.”  A.K.A. “Every neighbourhood for everyone”. It’s sort of a wide gulf.

And the convolutions and conundrums get broader and deeper, as one faction tries to nudge the Citywide Plan process towards being neighbourhood-centric. A.K.A. “Keeping it exclusive.”

For me, it’s the bigger-than-everything-else thing to watch in Vancouver as this new council slogs onwards.

But to quote Gil Kelley again, via Jen St. Denis:

He expects the public consultation process for a citywide plan to take 18 to 20 months, and the finished plan to be ready in three to four years.


  1. Clr Hardwick wants to know which comments came from residents and non-residents? Is her whole time on council going to be thinly veiled pitches for PlaceSpeak?

  2. The fix is in. ‘All neighbourhoods are expected to accommodate population growth”. The consultation process is all about manufacturing consent for this idea. Where does this idea come from anyway? One place that it does not come from is the actual owners of RS-1 properties.

    The smear is also in: ‘class-based exclusionary zoning’, i.e. RS-1 properties! Class based? Really!

    The densifiers are the scourge of the planet, locked in a perpetual loop of demolition and reconstruction, turning the city into one big, noisy, polluting industrial factory in which we are expected to live out our lives in ever smaller and more costly boxes. There is something very wrong with this very destructive idea of city building.

    Do citizens want to be treated as a commodity for corporate profit resulting in a kind of warehousing of humans in the pursuit of equality? affordability? growth? There is nothing neighbourhood about this, nothing community about this.

    Neighbourhood Associations are place based communities with voices unlike all the others, an authentic voice that seeks to defend a way of life, and why shouldn’t they?

    1. The fix is not necessarily in, but your amusing fears may be justified. Things might actually change. It’s a legitimate question of Standing that the City has honestly placed as the foundation of this process. The historic assumption that only those most approximate to a development have the right to approve or disapprove is being seriously challenged. It should be, because it’s short-sighted and irresponsible cowardice. Scream at the changing world and its “densifiers” all you want, but people will continue to move here whether you want them to or not. They’re not going to disappear simply because your 3rd car is not going to park itself.

      Should we continue to let skirt-clutching property owners dictate land use practice that affects everyone? You clearly think so, and for the past 100 years so has the City. Given the state of housing in this city, however, this corporate welfare is rightly being questioned. Petulant indifference to the external impacts of preservation entitlement is criminally childish; and worse, it negatively affects everyone else. I sincerely hope Council finds an ounce of maturity and shatters local veto.

      1. Autocratic rule has no place in our society. (‘All neighbourhoods are expected to accommodate population growth’)

        Autocratic rule is not a strategy that leads to dialogue, but rather it produces division and encourages derision (amusing fears, short-sighted, irresponsible cowardice, skirt-clutching property owners, corporate welfare, petulant indifference, preservation entitlement, criminally childish).

        We can do better.

        Begin with the most basic of questions.

        What are the causes of population growth? There are many and so the solutions will be many.

        What are the causes of environmental degradation and species extinctions?

        What is right and what is wrong about the way we build cities?

        Why do we use answers to cover up questions?

        1. What causes population growth? If you’re uncertain about how these types of things normally work, there is no shortage of sites on the internet that can answer your questions. It’s very normal to be curious so there’s nothing to be ashamed of.

          1. In Canada’s case it is no secret, it is not organic growth but rather the importation of population. It is fascinating how those who profess loudly to be “green” have no problem with importing people into high-carbon lifestyles. Nor do they seem to have any problem with the environmental degradation caused by the repeated tear-down of sound structures nor the problematic environemental profile of concrete used in high-density construction.

  3. Excellent article, thank you Gordon for making the battle lines clear. This should help some on the left get an idea of who to support if the goal is more homes for lower-income people.

    1. There is zero evidence to suggest that demolishing a house and putting up a duplex will result in affordable units for lower income people. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that this is an extremely wasteful and environmentally destructive strategy.

      In Vancouver the best hope for affordable housing lies with factory built modular units. Such units will be low cost, easy to set up and as designers take up the challenge of making these units uber chic modern and energy efficient they will become highly desirable. Where will they go? Everywhere there is free space in the backyard or on the roof tops of industrial buildings for example.

      1. Affordability is a red herring. The purpose is to build supply. If a developer pays $1m for a property, then pays another $1m to put up a new duplex on the lot, those two units will not be affordable. But they will be built and will house 2 families where only 1 lived before, freeing up a unit elsewhere. But by all means continue to try and convince the government to upend its immigration policy so your eyes can remain unburdened by laneway apartments.

        1. The argument is non-sensical. We do not know who lives in the house, who will live in the duplex or where they lived before. All three units could turn out to be empty investments, in which case the best solution would have been a moratorium on demolition permits rather than a change in zoning!

          1. So all development should cease because somebody might leave a unit empty? Yup, that’s gonna work.

  4. What some stick-in-the-mud house owners don’t understand is how upzoning will put a pile of boodle in their pockets should they decide to move.
    Any elephant tears from those who owned on traffic-heavy Cambie and sold for extra millions?
    The chunk of land west to Children’s Hospital should accomodate thousands instead of the sparse population there now. Ever check out the street parking around there? You could park an entire movie production crew.
    Or 29th, and Nanaimo Stations – there should be towers, not single detached around these mega expensive transit nodes.
    Brentwood, Gilmore, Marine, Edmonds, Metrotown … developing like crazy.

  5. The causes of population growth are many and very diverse and they suggest the need for many different housing policies, not just a one solution zoning fix. We should get over our recent fixation on ‘space equality’ we are not Bolsheviks and we don’t need class warfare! Stop the nonsense. There is no right or left politics about this, there is only what is right and what is wrong, it is a moral issue, a question of how we will treat each other without wrecking the planet in the process.

    The city is the great aggregator of humanity offering opportunities that can not be found anywhere else, this is why the city continues to grow. Opportunity is built on the foundation of everyday life, the birth rate, death rate, marriage rate, divorce rate, size of family, gender orientation, add to this list climate refugees, economic refugees, war refugees, immigrants and rural migrants seeking a better life. Lets not forget our first nations sisters and brothers as well. Among the opportunities we can list higher education, access to advanced medical treatment, opportunities for invention and innovation, access to goods and services not found elsewhere, employment opportunities of all kinds, business possibilities, opportunities in the performing arts, the plastic arts. Lets not forget the visitors, the Air B&B folks, international travelers, global conventions of all sorts, sporting events. And finally let us remember the low wage earners, seniors, the homeless, the disabled, the disenfranchised from all across the province and the country who seek out our temperate climate on the west coast. The list goes on an and on and the only commonality in this sea of humanity is the need for shelter. That need is nightly, weekly, monthly, and for as long as we might live each of us on this planet, a need that is met in many different ways and places over time during the ups and downs of ones’ life.

    1. You might be on to something, Jolson. Let’s fix every single one of the world’s problems first; then and only then should we tackle the existential conundrum of upzoning Point Grey. Your plan is just batshit enough to work.

  6. “we don’t need class warfare!”

    Is there a groundswell of wealthy folks renouncing the massive consumption habits that characterize their behaviour as a cohort?

    Until then… your claim seems suspect, if consumption patterns that parallel the Earth’s carrying capacity are to be a target.

  7. I agree, we don’t need class warfare Jolson.

    But it is the NIMBYs who are behaving as “Bolsheviks”. It is the NIMBYs trying to “redistribute property” they do not own towards themselves.

    If you own a house, you do not OWN the airspace of adjacent properties downhill from you. If you did, it wouldn’t be a “million dollar view” but more like a “billion dollar view”. You and your neighborly NIMBYs are trying to redistribute billions in value towards yourself via government coercion.

    You do not own the adjacent block that is being developed to make room for the proletariat. By going to city hall to try to control property you don’t own, you are engaging in Bolshevik regressive redistribution.

    Furthermore, by blocking people from moving to cities, you NIMBYs are really blocking people from “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” opportunity. Jobs, prosperity, a chance to join the middle class is found in the towers, industries, and universities of big cities. By blocking out the marginalized, by forcing them to move to Cranbrook, or wherever else, you are robbing folks of their chance for upward mobility. It is un-Canadian – more like an entitled European aristocracy.

    It is selfish and cruel. Your NIMBYism is the worst mix of privilege, exclusion, and regressive redistribution from poor to rich. Owners of property in Vancouver benefited from an explosion of wealth over the last 30 years predicated on exclusion and collusion. The collateral damage has been immense, and by shutting those without capital out of productive cities, you have been a primary driver of inequality and stagnant median wages. But the NIMBYs will retire comfortably.

    The actions of housing NIMBYs have been profoundly selfish and damaging, and you can take part ownership for the human carnage and poverty that has ensued. Feel bad bro! Let in a little capitalism, a little dynamism, a little disruption and innovation, you smothering Bolshevik.

  8. The real issue in all this IMHO is the timing: all development is on hold for 3-4 years?! Not good. Let’s keep exploring gentle infill, beyond duplexes everywhere, adding even more units on RS-1 lots with affordability baked in. Some smart people in the city are working on this. Let’s hear from them today. Their answer can sort of please all sides of this debate without waiting for 3-4 years.

    1. Developers should count themselves lucky if bureuacracy prevents them from getting burned in Vancouver’s unfolding property collapse. With a 3-4 year timeout they just might avoid the worst of it.

  9. Reading former New York transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan’s brilliant book: ‘Street Fight’, one is struck by the bias for action.
    Here, the bias is for lengthy studies punctuated by naps interrupted by a small % of stick-in-the-mud land owners.
    These squeaky wheels don’t seem to realize that up-zoning will put a massive boodle in their pockets which they can use to move on to a new enclave – maybe the Sunshine Coast.
    Or, like some Shaugnessites, don’t care because they don’t need need the cash.
    Feel free to up-zone my area. Build some towers.

  10. CUBE plus CUBE

    What does it mean to someone when they see or hear the phrase – ‘affordable housing’?

    Affordable for whom?

    Consider the following age grouping;
    0 – 18 = the nurture group
    18 – 38 = the fledgling group
    38 – 65 = the work-secure group
    65 – 85 = the retired group
    85 and over = the elders group

    When we look at the ‘fledgling group’ we can describe its members:
    This group is characterized by individuation through new experiences in advanced education, new employment experiences, public service, life choices, partner pairing, the formation of families and the raising of another generation.

    The fledgling group is burdened by low incomes and high housing costs, hence the term ‘housing affordability’ is used to describe the situation of many individuals in this group.

    When we imagine an architecture to solve this particular ‘affordability problem’ we soon realize that we need to deploy mass production techniques and industrial processes inside factories using modern engineered materials if we want to improve housing opportunities for this group. We need to use a new approach to housing design using high volume production methods that have the potential to reduce costs substantially.

    Remember this history? It is only 75 years ago when most projects were still completed with hand tools.

    Today most homes are filled with objects made for the most part on assembly lines: that marvelous invention whereby many organized hands assemble a single item of many parts, an item which one individual could never make by themselves and perhaps not even imagine.

    The house I live in is made of wood, concrete, brick and mortar, tar and gravel, glass and metal. It is made with the same materials that every other house in the city is made with and it is constructed in the same way that houses have been constructed for the past 200 years: by a mobile work force using hand tools.

    My house is one of the few objects in my life that is not made on an assembly line with the result that it is a very expensive object requiring mortgage payments lasting up to thirty years. A time crushing burden.

    When a dwelling space is manufactured in a factory like everything else that is manufactured, then the cost of housing a ‘fledgling’ can potentially be reduced by up to a factor of ten (a worthy goal). The common design element of manufacture is a shell in the shape of a cube of various dimensions, each cube being a room with windows and doors. This method of housing is a low cost, component building system where rooms can be added or removed at will. This is Architecture on a mission to solve a serious structural issue in our urban society.

    There is a need to establish ‘age parity’ between the ‘fledgling group’ and the ‘work-secure group’ and the only way that we can do that is through a discussion in the back yard between a property owner and a ‘fledgling’ seeking a partnership in a CUBE plus CUBE assembly. This is something RS-1 property owners themselves can do by making backyards available using leasehold agreements.

    Just imagine what these homes in the backyards of the city will mean for young adults, the ‘fledglings’ of our species. Let’s hold a Design Competition, build production capacity, establish a new green product industry, build domestic sales, establish an export product, make a difference.

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