The Vancouver City-wide Plan, which with its $16 million budget to fund three years of conversations and consultations, starts its roll-out this fall.
It aims high: “… to create an integrated strategy that includes a vision for the future city.” It’s ambitious, addressing every big issue and every good intention that councillors were able to pack in – equity, affordability, reconciliation, climate change. It’s strategic, proposing to integrate existing plans for infrastructure and transportation, as well as coordinating with Metro, the Province, even UBC and the Parks Board.
But one thing it won’t do is inform you of what can ultimately be built on your block.
Despite the expectation of many who wish to do away with the need for spot rezonings and local but disconnected neighbourhood plans, it’s not going to result in the equivalent of an OCP – the Official Community Plans that guide development in every municipality in the province other than its largest. Vancouver, with its unique Charter, uses its Zoning and Development bylaw as a substitute.
But at least with that bylaw, you can find out what is currently allowed for land use in your neighbourhood. The City-wide Plan, as near as I can tell, has no intention of getting into the ugly specifics of what will change the character and possibly the scale of your community to fulfil the vision of the plan, what specifically and legally you and your neighbour will be able to build.
So long as it takes an overview, provides a big picture, deals with aspirations, not specifics, it has a chance of coming up with a consensus on “what kind of city Vancouver will become.” Indeed, if it does no more than integrate all the existing general plans, it will have justified its expense.
So, at best, expect three years of ‘conversation’ while Council moves on with actual decisions on what can be built. Fortunately, there’s already guidance available to staff on what to consider. As part of the follow-up to the declaration of a Climate Emergency, Council also approved “Six Big Moves” when staff reported back with a Climate Emergency Response.
It’s not hard to figure out where this is going. Charlie Smith at The Straight laid it out in his editorial “Proposed ‘Big Moves’ on climate could transform Vancouver in ways residents might not have imagined”:
Staff are recommending that 90 percent of people will eventually live within an easy walk or roll of their daily needs. That implies much more densification in South Vancouver, where this is mostly not the case—apart from in Marpole, Oakridge, Dunbar, Kerrisdale, and South Hill.
By 2030, two-thirds of trips will be by walking, cycling, rollerblading, and transit. This implies that more road space for motor vehicles will be taken away to accommodate nonmotorists. This process has already begun on the Granville Bridge.
That mandate allows City Hall in its entirety to move forward with actual proposals, while the Planning department takes the needed time to conduct the most extensive consultation process in the city’s history and eventually to craft the long-term vision, hopefully in time for the next election,
Meanwhile, development will still proceed. Lots of it. There’s the next generation of megaprojects (the lands to be developed by First Nations such as Jericho, Heather and Burrard South), along with high-priority affordable-housing projects from the public and private sectors. And if Council follows through on the Big Moves with an accelerated agenda, its actions will effectively make the City-wide Plan secondary to the changes that will occur in response to the Climate Emergency. Which is the whole point of declaring an emergency.
In other words, the Big Moves will pre-empt the Big Picture.