by Michael Mortensen, MA MCIP, RPP – a Vancouver Developer & Planner abroad |

Vancouver City Council approved the advancement of an Affordable Home Ownership PILOT program on April 20th. Based largely on “Shared Equity” models of affordable housing drawn from the US and the UK, the program identifies sites along arterial roads well served by frequent transit systems and close to Local Shopping Areas (LSAs) as potential locations for 6-storey developments provided they generate targeted affordability outcomes. “Inboard” sites within 100m of these sites would be eligible for 3+1/2 storey forms of development (stacked Townhouses, Rowhouses etc) provided they meet similar affordability targets.

Public Involvement

Council directed City Staff to consult broadly with:
* Regional & Local Employers
* The Public
* The Development Industry; and
* Canada Mortgage & Housing Corporation 

Eligible Sites

Back to the Future? Vancouver’s Streetcar Suburbs

The policy map above appears to be a natural iteration/evolution of Commercial/ Mixed-Use “C-2” and “C-3A” zoning on the streetcar grid that has defined much of our city for almost 130 years – a development template based the dual logic of electric mass transit and pedestrian mobility, married to convenient local shopping. The notable hole in the grid above is of course the Cambie Street CanadaLine corridor which is the subject of more intensive forms of redevelopment, serviced by the rapid transit line.

In my old neighbourhood at Main and 26th , I’ve seen a few new arterial buildings –  built under existing zoning –  that maintained great neighbourhood shopping in small stores at grade with new rental and ownership units above, notably the rental building at 28th Ave with the “East is East” restaurant and the new Liquor Store, and the BlueTree development on the NE corner of Main and King Edward Ave (which replaced a contaminated gas station). They’ve been positive additions to the community and they have added and retained valued local shops and services.

Here in the UK where I currently work, the idea of shared equity housing has been around for quite a while, typically included in large redevelopment programs and in the redevelopment of Council-Owned or Housing Association-Managed Social Housing Estates. I think that what is also interesting about the program is the income mix and the degree to which the interests of Shared Equity owners are highly aligned with those of other owners.The challenge is to find the 20% or so “public equity” and to resolve the equity questions in how that public asset is shared.

Provincial amendments to Vancouver’s City Charter are required for the City to enter into these agreements.

Read the Council Report here: Read more »

Just came across this blog this morning from Patrick Johnstone, a New Westminster City Councillor. Worth a read.

“There is a lot going on right now in the transportation file in the Lower Mainland, both good and bad news, and I can hardly keep up, never mind blog about it. So while the local radio stations stoked anger a couple of weeks ago about another TransLink “outrage”, I had something completely different to get angry about: this “Fact Scheet” produced by the provincial government in regards to the Massey Tunnel replacement project:”

Read more:


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Greenpeace was founded in Vancouver, but they’ve been busy in London …

Guardian Story: here


From Greenpeace UK

“Lord Nelson famously said that desperate affairs require desperate measures. 40,000 lives are cut short [in the UK] by air pollution every year. This is a national health emergency and people need to know about it. That’s why activists scaled Nelson’s column and 14 other iconic statues.

The Prime Minister could take some simple steps to start cleaning up our air, like bringing in clean air zones into town and cities to stop the most heavily polluting vehicles. Please sign the petition calling on David Cameron to come up with a bold and steadfast action plan to clean our air now:

If these statues were people they’d be exposed to dangerous, toxic and even deadly air. Researchers from King’s College & University Of London, found a normal day’s exposure of London air can be the equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes. [1]

We’re facing a health crisis with air pollution and need it to be on the top of the Prime Minister’s agenda. Can you add your voice to the growing movement of people calling for clean air now?

Please sign this petition:

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Take a (Jane’s) Walk!

Jane Jacobs‘ thinking on cities, urban planning and urban systems lives through all of her many books, and also through the annual Jane’s Walks that signal the beginning of some great summer weather.

My Jane Story

Jane was an inspirational woman and an icon for a new type of city planning and for different ways of thinking about cities. I was fortunate as a grad student to have met her.  In 1997, I traveled from Vancouver to Toronto to deliver a plenary lecture at the 5th Congress for the New Urbanism  (they are now on Congress 24!). I arrived early at the venue at the University of Toronto, so I asked if there was anything I could do to help out. The author Peter Katz (The New Urbanism: Toward an Architecture of Community) said “sure, can you hand-deliver these tickets to Jane Jacobs?”. That made me smile. I made my way on the subway to her place on Albany Avenue and had a nice chat with her.

Five years later, Jane was completing what was to be her last book. Her son Ned forwarded Jane my MA Thesis (Retrofitting Suburbs) and I soon found myself assisting with a review of a couple chapters of the manuscript  for Dark Age Ahead. A few weeks after I sent some final comments and suggestions, a letter arrived in the post. It was tapped out on a manual typewriter  and marked up with a bit of correction fluid here and there – thanking me for my thesis and for my contribution to her book. I keep the letter today in the sleeve of my copy of Dark Age. Her thoughtfulness equaled her great intellect.

What is great is that Jane’s ideas and energy are kept alive by her foundation and these great events.

Sign up for a Jane’s Walk! Link below:



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Vancouver Co-Housing recently celebrated a move-in for their new development at 1729-1735 East 33rd Avenue rezoned from Single Family use to a Comprehensive Development by-law permitting 31 units on a 2 lot assembly (c.45 units/acre). The project was the subject of a lengthy review process and some debate but to their credit the owner-builders persevered. It’s an interesting project offering affordability (compact units, good design and shared amenities) and new types of community as a notable counterpoint to the more common demolition of single family dwellings and replacement with even larger homes in the close-in suburbs of our supply and affordability-hungry city.
Is there a collaborative way forward from here to refine some prototype designs so that subsequent projects can get started more quickly with less expense? It would also be great to do a follow-up study on the design, the approvals process, and post-occupancy interviews with residents and neighbours.

Quick Stats
  • 3 suburban lots (2,749 sm / 29,590 sf)
  • Dwellings: 31
  • Floor Space Ratio: 1.1 (Gross Floor Area/Site Size)
  • Built Area: 3,023 sm / 32,549 sf
  • Common Space: 20% of built area
  • Avg unit:  839 sf (exclusive of common area)
  • Max Height 10.7m (stepped)
  • Site Coverage: 55% max
  • Overall Density: 46 units/acre

Architect Charles Durrett’s Co-Housing Public Lecture – Nov 19, 2012
Urban Design Panel – Oct 24, 2012 (Non Support: 2-6)
Urban Design Panel – 5 Dec 2012 (Deferred)
Urban Design Panel – Jan  16, 2013 (Non Support: 4-6)
Rezoning Report – Jan 29, 2013
Courier Article – Feb 26, 2013
Vancouver co-housing complex draws concern: Cedar cottage co-housing seeking rezoning
Public Hearing – March 12, 2013
Bylaw Enactment CD-1 (564) – April 1, 2014
CBC Story – Owners Set to Move In Dec 28, 2015
Courier Story: March 10, 2016
Owners of Vancouver’s first co-housing complex move in: ‘Breaking bread’ together a key component of the co-housing philosophy
Courier Story: April 18, 2006 “Support for shared housing vital to Vancouver’s  future”

Site Plan

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The “Towers vs Mid-Rise” debate continues in London

Michael Mortensen, MA MCIP, RPP – a Vancouver Developer & Planner abroad |

“We are concerned about the immediate social and environmental impacts of very dense developments and their long-term sustainability. We also observe that this new superdensity – which we’ve dubbed hyperdensity when it’s over 350 homes or dwellings per hectare – derives, not from London’s distinctive and popular urban forms, but from global development patterns. We may well ask, is London becoming a victim of its own success, meeting demand by sacrificing the very distinctiveness which makes people want to live and work here?”
Superdensity The Sequel

I found this publication and thought it would be of interest to the current debates in Vancouver.
I think urban designers, citizens and city builders – like good artists – need a full range of colours on their palettes, and it is great to get perspectives from other places. London holds many good examples of high-density mid-rise buildings that we can take as inspiration for areas of Vancouver that can accommodate more housing, shops and amenities, but perhaps are not suitable for tower forms.
London also has cautionary examples of poor mid-rise design – what NOT to do – and I am thinking here of that city’s brutalist post-war super-blocks, and even some modern mid-rise buildings that do not really work well at the street level. I’ll perhaps do a little photo essay on that later.
Personally, I am not binary on the issue of high or mid-rise density. Londoners do not share our interests in ocean and mountain views, and they are quite comfortable squeezing buildings close together on narrow streets here in the UK – closer than we would in Vancouver. I also think Vancouver designers do high-rise development very well and I know from personal experience that you can create very happy communities in vertical living arrangements. London can learn a lot from Vancouver on how we tamed high rise buildings – ironically borrowing Georgian Townhouse typologies to create the lovely bases for our now famous “point tower on podium” form.
I know some of the principal architects at PTEA, HTA, and Levitt Bernstein here in London and I really like their work and that of PRP. Their joint publication below highlights some of the best in current Mid-Rise design in London from each their practices. Hope you enjoy perusing its pages.

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A globally desirable city with high immigration and growth and not enough housing supply: London provides a cautionary example of what happens when supply shortages become chronic.

From, Here’s the perspective of London Homebuilders as they call on the next mayor of Greater London to help them increase housing supply. Its an indication of the scale of London’s crisis – still producing only half of what is needed.  Makes you appreciate Vancouver’s relatively balanced supply numbers relative to demand (actual “fit” and affordability vs demand is another challenge!).
I think the UK authors could have covered many other systemic issues. The UK could learn from Canada and adopt specific legal performance (binding purchasers to complete on their contracts) and simplified purchase and sale agreements (the UK is notoriously complex and open to last minute negotiations [“Gazumping”]). These legal changes would create a better pre-sale culture and give developers enough confidence to build in larger quantums. On  the design side, I think there is room for much cross cultural exchange – Vancouver’s contribution being compact mid and high rise models. London is developing some interesting mid-rise buildings that I’ll feature later.

UK Homebuilders want next mayor of London to create new policies to meet chronic housing shortage

(article here, reprinted below)

The organisation that represents house builders in the UK has issued a blueprint for London’s future housing supply which hopes that politicians in the city will take it on board when forming policy. The Home Builders Federation (HBF) says that its 10 point blueprint, Capitalising on Growth, should be taken into account by this year’s candidate in the London mayoral election when declaring their policies for housing in the city which is desperately short of new homes.

“Current London mayor Boris Johnson is regarded as having done a lot to boost housing supply and put in place a number of measures to continue his vision but he is not standing for mayor this time.
The HBF wants the candidates to adopt ‘tangible, workable and realistic’ policies to deliver the increases in housing supply and build on the significant increases in the number of new homes being built over the last two years.
The document includes recommendations that the next mayor of London ensures sites are viable and deliverable by introducing realistic levels of affordable housing and supporting the delivery of specialist private rented housing.
It also calls on the next mayor to make better use of and improve London’s existing estates while working with authorities in the wider South East to create a strategic approach to delivering homes that can support London’s growth.
The blueprint says that the mayor neds to act as a hub to coordinate efforts by all the public bodies with land holdings in London so that more land actually comes forward for house building and it calls for more underused commercial spaces to be turned into homes.
‘We welcome the very vocal commitments of candidates to increase housing supply in London. We now need to see realistic, workable policies to be developed that will allow these homes to be built,’ said HBF executive chairman Stewart Baseley.
‘If London is to maintain its status as the world’s capital city and keep on powering the national economy, it must continue to attract people, businesses and investment. The capital’s chronic housing shortage and resultant affordability crisis now threatens London’s status as a global powerhouse and can only be solved by a sustained increase in supply,’ he explained.
‘In just two years, housing supply has increased by over 25% but we are still only delivering around half the number of homes needed. We need to maintain a strong investment environment for developers, keep sites deliverable and ensure that planning resources are in place so that builders can obtain planning permission and get on site as quickly as possible,’ he added.”

Michael Mortensen, MA MCIP, RPP – a Vancouver Developer & Planner Abroad |

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by Michael Mortensen, MA MCIP, RPP – a Vancouver Developer & Planner Abroad | ©2016

I thought Pocket’s Two Bedroom Competition would make a nice book-end to my earlier post “Making Apartments Work Harder: the 3rd Bedroom Challenge“.
We can learn a lot from London, and the innovative companies tackling the city’s housing affordability and supply challenges. For almost 3 years, I’ve been leading the design and development of mixed-use housing projects in the UK, and I’ve come to appreciate how deep and systemic the housing supply issue is here.

London Housing Challenges
  • 140,000 people moved to London last year but the industry produced less than 20,000 new housing units.
  • For the last 10 years, Greater London’s housing industry has under-supplied this world city by about 30,000 units annually.
  • Prices in London have surged and thousands of hard-working London households are left out of the housing market.
Pocket’s Response

Founded by Marc Vlessing, Pocket is focusing on the design and development of affordable apartments for “working Londoners” caught in the affordability and supply gap between Social Housing and Market housing. The firm aims to produce units at about 20% below the market rate with purchase mechanisms to keep them affordable over the long term. They’ve launched a partnership with the Greater London Authority to these ends, and they recently published the results of a very interesting Two Bedroom Design Competition that I’ll describe in a bit more detail below.

Pocket’s Two Bedroom Competition

Pocket is challenging housing design and size as a way to increase supply and affordability. They recently invited 19 London architecture firms to prepare design prototypes for liveable, space-efficient two-bedroom apartments. Their instructions were to design smarter and compact (but not micro) units that could comfortably accommodate a small family. And they also challenged the design teams to be innovative with plans that increase liveability, functionality, storage, privacy etc. The architects experimented with open concept plans that bend some of the London Design Guidelines that set out minimum apartment sizes amongst other criteria.

Some of the interesting plans generated include design features like:

  • Expandable / Flexible rooms;
  • Dual entries for sharers;
  • Innovative Storage Systems and ‘Storage Divider Walls’;
  • Study Nooks; and
  • Modular / Pod Concept Internal Finishings.

I’ve posted a few examples below:

Take a look at more!

What is impressive, and fortunate for all of us, is that Pocket shared their results online. Take a look! It’s well worth your time!

Some of the open plan design approaches will not be unfamiliar to Vancouver architects, and the lessons of many of these case studies could be easily introduced into new Vancouver buildings. One thing I found interesting is how many of the UK architects who participated in this competition chose to use “single-aspect” designs – that is apartments with windows on only one side. “Dual aspect” design – with windows on two elevations – is a general requirement of the London Design Guidelines but in my experience it does not encourage compact building forms or efficient internal circulation routes.
This is perhaps where London can learn from Vancouver where we create very efficient buildings (Net floor area: Gross Floor Area) by designing units off of a central hallway and a shared lobby where you can create a bit more amenity. This approach does create some single-aspect units, but apartments on corners still benefit from windows on two different elevations. Light and ventilation are typically achieved through open plan designs and shallow unit depths.
It has been fun working and learning in another design culture and I really appreciate when other firms share their research so widely.
Kudos to Pocket for being such thought leaders.

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by Michael Mortensen, MA MCIP, RPP – a Vancouver Developer & Planner Abroad |

From afar in London UK I’ve watched with great interest the evolution of Vancouver’s nascent Urbanarium, both online and in it’s physical venue at the Museum of Vancouver. It’s been the longtime vision of many people including, most notably, former City of Vancouver Director of Planning Ray Spaxman.
I am planning to move back this year to work on the unfolding story of Vancouver and its Region, so it’s great to see the level of interest in the Urbanarium take off as it has with the latest series of debates. My only regret is that I can’t be there quite yet!

. London’s Urbanarium at the NLA

What I can share from here is a bit about London’s Urbanarium, which is curated by an organization called New London Architecture at “The Building Centre” at 26 Store Street, London WC1E 7BT. It is well worth the visit if you are ever over this side of the Atlantic.


Some stats on the NLA’s scale model:

  • 1:2000 scale model, meticulously 3D printed in a series of panels
  • 12.5 metres-long and covers 85 square kilometres (19 of London’s 32 Boroughs)
  • contains 170,000 buildings
  • 34km of the Thames River
  • stretches from King’s Cross in the north to Peckham in the south and the Royal Docks in the east to Old Oak Common in the west.

The model and related displays are very informative. A computer projector beams information onto the model, covering a variety of themes. All around is exhibition space with a regularly changing series of displays.

. The New London Architecture Program

From this base, New London Architecture runs a full time program of lectures, workshops and exhibitions on the evolution of Greater London. The NLA also hosts a variety of urban interest groups, and the space is often rented out by design and development firms for various meetings which must help them cover costs.

. NLA 100 New Ideas for Housing Competition

As an example of a recent event that may be of interest to Vancouverites, the NLA hosted “1oo New Ideas for Housing” focusing on the supply and affordability of housing in the UK’s massively under-supplied primate city. Each of the 100 ideas is captured in the linked document. Many are incremental and iterative – additions to existing  buildings for example. Others would bring new scale and intensity to the City.
Supply is a big problem in the UK – and as I have mentioned before, little Vancouver builds more units every year than London does.


Best regards from London.

The first post from Michael, who will be guest editor this week.

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