This month, the City of Vancouver released its proposed Housing Vancouver Strategy (2018 – 2027), made in response to the previous strategy’s inability to address the worsening housing crisis. A public hearing is scheduled for this Wednesday, November 29th.
The plan includes for the construction of 72,000 homes − an increase of 25% to Vancouver’s current housing stock over 10 years; by comparison the 2012 plan aimed for an increase of 14% to the stock over 10 years. Further, the new plan has increased its target for social and supportive housing units by 50% over the old plan.
To put both sets of numbers in perspective, consider that in 2012 the total rental stock in Metro Vancouver was 37% of all housing stock, and the new plan will decrease that number to roughly 35% by 2027*, assuming the other cities in the metro area maintain their average contributions over the last 5 years.
At face value, the quantity of new units appears to be ambitious, but will this reduce (or reverse?) the effects of the housing crisis – and if so, for how long? The homeless rate has grown by 47% since 2011, only one year before the inception of the previous plan. Will doubling the number of new affordable units be enough?“More supply” is the tired trope of the development industry; are housing units the metric of success we should be measuring? “The source of the housing crisis is embedded in the commodification of property, and therefore some more direct targets might include:

  • Decreasing the number of for-profit housing units as a percentage of the overall stock (in effect, saturating the market with affordable housing units thus reducing speculation)
  • Specific methods to capture the monetary windfall gained from upzoning a property. The strategy currently outlines the use of community amenity contributions to this effect, a process which can increase the value of adjacent properties and inadvertently cause gentrification (City of Vancouver staff will bring back a policy report in early 2018 to advise on different approaches to stabilize land values)

There are three ways to sign up to speak at council on Wednesday, Nov. 29: by filling out this form, by emailing speaker.request@vancouver.ca, OR by calling 604-829-4323. You will receive a confirmation from the city with more information. Sign up before Tuesday, Nov 28 @ 9:30 a.m. to get on the list.
To the readers of Price Tags, I am looking for the following data to create a more robust analysis:

    • A tally of property owned by not-for-profit interests versus private interests by year
    • A tally of rental stock versus total housing stock by year

(*) These numbers were calculated based on the Metro Vancouver Housing Data Book.

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August 7, 2017

Found on the corner of Abbott St and W Hastings St, in a parking lot adjacent to the Woodward’s development.

The proposed rezoning details are reflective of Vancouver’s Rental 100 Policy:

  • 132 units of secured market rental housing
  • commercial space on the ground floor
  • a floor space ratio of 7.62
  • 74 vehicle parking spaces
  • 167 bicycle parking spaces
  • a building height of 32m

The policy provides relaxations to developers who choose to build 100% secured market rental housing in defined locations. This incentive forms part of the City’s  2012-2021 Housing and Homelessness Strategy, which “identified the need for an additional 16,000 new units of rental housing, of which 5,000 are from purpose-built market rental units.”
In addition, the Strategy “sets aggressive targets for social housing (5,000 units by 2021) and supportive housing to end homelessness (2,900 units by 2021). The City is currently revising the Housing Strategy, noting targets exceeding those set in the current plan.
The Rental 100 Policy and it’s predecessor have been contentious – as illustrated by the court battle between the City and the West End Neighbours Residents Society. There is an open house for the West Hastings Rezoning from 5 to 8 pm on Thursday, January 26, 2017 at Vancouver Community College, Room 240.

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What is Canadian architecture? Thursday night’s book launch of Canada: Modern Architectures in History, by Rhodri Windsor-Liscombe and Michelangelo Sabatino, hosted by Infom Interiors, was enlightening. The speaker (Liscombe), noted his hesitation to write a book that categorizes architecture by the national borders within which it is found – architectural ideas and climatic conditions have little concern for the invisible lines separating one country from another.
Liscombe continued by suggesting the classification of architecture by country was in fact a worthwhile pursuit, as the differences in political forces within borders can cause unique architectural elements to form in ways not found anywhere else.
July 1st marks the 150th anniversary of Canada’s Confederation, a small dimple in roughly 13,000 years of human cohabitation with this land. What will the idiosyncrasies of our confederation’s next 150 years bring our architecture?  Tipis, long houses, Pier 21, Banff Springs Hotel, the Canadian Parliament Buildings, the Ogden Federal Elevator, the Spiral Tunnel, the Canadian National Vimy Memorial, Habitat ’67, Toronto City Hall, the Museum of Civilization, Seabird Island Community School, Ghost Laboratory: what is Canadian architecture?

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“The gentrification of Chelsea was under way long before the High Line, although the park certainly helped to establish as a credible residential neighbourhood an area that previously had little open space and no park.” – Sarah Williams Goldhagen, the architecture critic for The New Republic. This article ran in the September 2, 2010 issue of the magazine.
Having attended Wednesday night’s presentation on Northeast False Creek featuring James Corner, I left with mixed feelings. The draft design of the park provides a significant number of desirable public amenities, however the looming question of affordability hangs like a shadow over all new developments in Vancouver – even parks.

A park loaded with attractive features, designed by a world-renowned and award-winning firm, will inexorably cause a rise in adjacent land values. Without an adequate housing strategy in place this project may end up inadvertently exacerbating an existing problem. The NEFC draft area plan touches on this issue, suggesting 200-300 units of new social housing units be built in place of the viaducts along Main Street and 20% of new residential floor area be delivered as social housing. By comparison, the Woodward’s development (another significant intervention in the city’s fabric, built nearby in 2010) created 200 units of below-market affordable units (roughly 25% social housing by residential floor area), which did not compensate for the gentrification that continued in its wake.

James Corner described Northeast False Creek as what could be Vancouver’s “most central” park – as it is easier to access for citizens who don’t live on the peninsula. Surrounded by so many growing communities, transit nodes, and the sea wall, this area is choice for a park, regardless of the circumstances. Cities should be affordable and have excellent public spaces. In this light, I offer some remarks about elements of the park:

  • The park promotes an “informality between people and places”, allowing people to clamber into and plop themselves down within “found nature”.
  • There is an intent to connect people with the natural environment, which James Corner notes Vancouverites are already better at than most – due to the consistent presence of our natural landmarks (and rain). Small tactile sensations, such as the presence of moss, are being considered in the park. Tall trees may one day return to the area with the inclusion of Douglas Firs. The presence of rich, educational gardens will bring forgotten species under new scrutiny.
  • Elements of the park have been informed by adjacent neighbourhoods ranging from the West End to the False Creek Flats, and from the Downtown Eastside to Southeast False Creek. The three primary contributing factors, reflective of these communities’ needs, are “destination”, “nature in the city”, and “community”.
  • Tiered steps will be installed below the high tide line, allowing for each level to serve as an inter-tidal diagram, and doubling as bench seating.
  • There will be a “found” beach only available at low tide.
  • The park is aligned with the Ontario Greenway, so bring out your tin foil hats if you are into ley lines.
  • The height of the hill in Andy Livingstone Park will be advantageously re-purposed as stadium seating to view the neighbouring sports fields.
  • A sensuous, meandering boardwalk over tidal zones will challenge pedestrians to take their time enjoying and respecting the water’s edge.
  • There will be places of respite, yet James Corner noted that some park management boards close their parks at night (I experienced this in Chicago’s Millenium Park, when my friends and I were hastily removed for exploring after dark). Further, some boards will design a park’s view corridors to place “eyes on the street” such that people who are homeless or whose circumstances do not fit within acceptable norms of park usage do not feel “safe” staying in the park.
  • The new park attempts to include and run contiguously with a refreshed Andy Livingstone Park, but the connection is interrupted at grade by the relocated (and wide) Pacific Boulevard. A passerelle (note: not a bridge) provides a gently sloped, slender footbridge over the boulevard, while cyclists will likely cross at grade. As a person who should really exercise more often, I hope I am inclined to expend the necessary energy to walk up and over the passerelle.
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Having just finished reading The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, I was struck by how much remains relevant today, even though it was published in 1975. The book is a biography of Robert Moses, the legendary and polarizing New York city planner who controlled various government offices (up to twelve at one point!) from 1924 to 1968, a span of 44 years. Moses displayed an unparalleled aptitude for gaining and leveraging power, which he frequently abused to build the infrastructure and housing of New York in his image – which (spoiler alert) relied heavily on the private automobile. For a sense of magnitude, Moses built 669 km of parkways and 13 bridges.
At 1162 pages long, I will spare the reader from a comprehensive review, although I would recommend that this book is compulsory reading for anyone who is interested in how we became so reliant upon the automobile. What follows are two excerpts which are particularly salient when compared to the Massey Bridge project, a local example of this struggle, of which there are already a treasure trove of articles posted on Price Tags.

On accepting traffic as a normal part of one’s day:

It was during the early 1920’s that such traffic first overwhelmed New York; in 1924 and 1925 and 1926, the public reacted with indignation and protest against the jams in which – seated in the vehicles that had promised them new freedom – they found themselves imprisoned instead. Traffic was news, big news; clockings* were a front-page staple. By the late 1920’s, however, a kind of numbness – measurable by a slackening in angry letters-to-the-editor and campaign statements by both-ears-to-the-ground politicians – was setting in. Psychologists know what happens to rats motivated by mild electric shocks or the promise of a food reward to get out of the maze when the maze is excessively difficult to get out of; for a while, their efforts to find an escape become more and more frantic, and then they cease, the creatures becoming sullen, then listless, suffering apathetically through shock or hunger rather than making further efforts that they believe will be useless. People caught in intolerable traffic jams twice a day, day after day, week after week, month after month, began after some months to accept traffic jams as part of their lives, to become hardened to them, to suffer through them in dull and listless apathy. The press, responding to its readers’ attitude, ran fewer hysterical congestion stories, gave fewer clockings. A city editor seeing a couple of reporters with their feet up on their desks on a slow Friday afternoon found other make-work than sending them out to discover how long it took to get from the Queens-Midtown Tunnel to the Lincoln Tunnel. Only in editorial columns – written, it sometimes seems, by men selected through a Darwinian process in which the vital element for survival is an instant and constant capacity for indignation and urgency – did the indignation and urgency endure. Traffic was still news, but it was no longer big news.
*Note: clocking refers to travel time to the Lincoln Tunnel from various locations
Caro, Robert A. The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York. New York, NY: Random House, Inc., 1975. Part VI: The Lust for Power Chapter 39: The Highwayman P.912
 

On attempting to alleviate traffic by building larger highway projects:

Highways competed with parallel mass transit lines, luring away their customers. Pour public investment into the improvement of highways while doing nothing to improve mass transit lines, and there could be only one outcome: those lines would lose more and more passengers; those losses would make it more and more difficult for their owners to sustain service and maintenance; service and maintenance would decline; the decline would cost the lines more passengers; the loss in passengers would further accelerate the rate of decline; the rate of passenger loss would correspondingly accelerate – and the passengers lost would do their travelling instead by private car, further increasing highway congestion. No crystal ball was needed to foretell such a result; it had already been proven, most dramatically perhaps in New Jersey, where the Susquehanna Railroad has lost over two-thirds of its passengers in the ten years following the opening of the George Washington Bridge,

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Last year, during a Museum of Vancouver lecture held to honour the 30th anniversary of Expo ’86, Bruno Freschi briefly mentioned that Expo Centre’s geodesic sphere was intended to perform as a massive outdoor screen. Coordinating with the teams behind Jumbotron and OMNIMAX, a workable design was presented but unfortunately did not proceed in the period leading up to Expo.

Footage provided courtesy of the Province of British Columbia. Royal BC Museum item number V1990:09/41
I conducted an interview with Bruno to talk about the design on Vancouver is Awesome. Some excerpts from the article are provided below:

JB: If you could make any tweaks to the design of the Expo Centre today what would you make?
BF: I would add the skin back because here’s the other side of it – it’s social architecture. One of the elements of that sphere is that it is a lantern to East Vancouver. Now, Vancouver still today has this West and East Main Street divide.  The Sphere was a “signaletic icon trying to create a bridge to East Vancouver. This was that magic lantern, with public space around it for people to sit around and watch stuff. It would have been a hit during Expo and Post-Expo. It could have been a fun legacy in the public domain of the waterfront.
JB: You mention the Jumbotron acting as building dematerialization, what do you imagine playing on that screen?
BF: Anything you could do on a screen you could do there. You could run movies free to the world, or it could be commercials (which is dangerous). One can imagine live global events being broadcast to the public in open public space, I told you the little story about the projections on the sides of buildings; I was always struck by that kind of phenomenon because the building goes away and you are in the ennui of the movie, or whatever the projection is. All decoration in history tries to do that. If you study the Baroque world: Borromini, Bernini, all those guys – you discover that they are interested in that subject of dematerialization and illusion. Here we could have done it as intentional public media in the public domain.

Is it too late to resurrect a 30+ year old idea and clad the geodesic sphere in exterior screens today? Would the public be in favour of the various installations that could be programmed onto the sphere? Would commercial interests dominate its use or could the Signage By-Law limit advertisements?
Would there be outcry against light pollution? The lights from the GM pavilion had to be shut off due to their brightness, although today we have the lights from BC Place Stadium.
The full article is available here.

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Some people go to the beach when they are on vacation and some people go on a pilgrimage to look at buildings. This past March, my wife Errin and I blazed through Tokyo, Kyoto, Nara, Koya, Osaka, Hiroshima, Naoshima, Teshima, and Kobe in a warp-speed love letter written to the best of Japan’s art, architecture, and urban planning. Below are collected a few choice photographs of the trip that illustrate some of our most noteworthy findings.

For readers interested in the remainder of the photographs, refer to the following albums sorted by Architecture, Details, and Food.

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In case you missed this post, and before 2016 falls too far into fond memory, I would like to honour its passing with an award for the Most Millenial App of 2016.
Millennials have a steep hill to climb to make it in Vancouver, with crushing student debt, rising housing prices, and increased struggles in the job market serving as three prime examples. To make ends meet in such conditions, we Millennials have to find ways to be efficient with our time throughout our busy day – and Dominoes Pizza struck gold in 2016 with an App that, once pressed, gives you 10 seconds to not order a pizza.
You read that correctly. Once opened, the app uses a pre-selected pie as your assumed order and automatically pays from your credit card if you don’t cancel within 10 seconds.
This company has found a way to give time back to Millennials – time best spent fighting for a way to keep calling this city home. We don’t have a hot second for pizza.

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