As the curtains close on 2015, I’m reflecting in appreciation of all of the people who contribute ideas, feedback and constructive debate to the ends of improving our housing, streets, high streets, neighbourhoods, cities and regions. In particular, I am thinking of people like Gordon Price whose blog his friends and colleagues have committed to run while he recovers from surgery. How many years has Gordon been at this?! How many years has he served his many communities?! Truly amazing – and even more impressive when you actually take over his blog for a week and get an idea of the time and energy it can require. Something to think about when we read over the list of those honoured with Order of Canada awards this week. Will Justin Trudeau beat Christy Clark to where I am going on this …. ?


In the blog-and-twittersphere, that sometimes anonymous other-world of asynchronous communication, it is easy to find difference and easier still to not realize the extent of common ground people actually share on an issue.  I have to thank Yuri Artibise for bringing this article to my attention and prompting me to look for more. My hope and my resolution for 2016 and beyond is to have better online and face to face conversations  – one conversation at a time:

Some Tools and Ideas for Online Engagement 

Happy New Year!
Michael Mortensen, MA MCIP RPP
A Vancouver Developer and Urban Planner abroad.

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from Stephen Quinn in today’s Globe and Mail

’Twas a week before Christmas, a depressing year-ender,

Metro mayors had just heard from Peter Fassbender

They had asked for the power to plan transportation,

But were left with the usual humiliation.

“TransLink is great as it is!” said the minister,

Though his hidden agenda bordered on sinister.

“We want more transit, road pricing and density,

We don’t get the province’s auto propensity.”

“For decades we’ve had a great plan in the works,

But one that is always derailed by these jerks.”

Yes, the very same week they had sent mayors packing,

The province announced something other than fracking.

A giant new bridge, seven lanes of new traffic,

It came with a really cool CGI graphic.

And the price tag for this? Only 3.5 billion,

Give or take overruns, what’s another few million?

“The cost will be covered by tolls,” said Todd Stone,

“The rest of the cost from a sizable loan.”

“And we’re hoping the feds will step up and be seen,

If I can convince them that highways are green.”

And the groundbreaking for this historic erection?

Some time around the next B.C. election.

Meanwhile, 45 hundred klics north,

Santa was pacing the floor back and forth.

“With Arctic ice melting and polar bears croaking,

What are those guys down in Vancouver smoking?”

“Do they really think a new bridge is the answer?

It’s like fighting a tumour by injecting more cancer.”

Santa knew what it meant to live climate change,

He found public apathy decidedly strange.

“You can’t build your way out of traffic congestion,

You’d have to be daft to even make the suggestion.”

“Why can’t they see greenhouse gas is the culprit,

Should I have to keep preaching from my now-thawing pulpit?”

He rigged up his reindeer and prepared them to fly,

Yes, a week early, but he needed to try,

To convince politicians they’d better change course,

That a fossil-fuel future they shouldn’t endorse.

On his sleigh he took flight, just after dark,

He plotted a course straight to see Christy Clark.

The Premier was nestled, all snug in her bed,

While visions of LNG danced in her head.

When Santa arrived as he does with a clatter,

She found herself facing a more serious matter.

“Shush,” Santa said. “Yes, I am the real thing,

I’m just here to talk, I don’t have any bling.

“I sent you an e-mail. Didn’t you read it?

Oh wait, let me guess, did you triple delete it?”

“Very funny,” said Christy. “You don’t get this town.

I make sure now I never write anything down.”

“Well the gist of it was,” Santa said to the Preem,

“That the future you’re plotting is not very green.”

“Now I know what you’ve said, but I judge by your actions,

And so far they’ve given me no satisfaction.”

“A referendum on transit, then a new 10-lane span?

Forgive me for saying, but that just doesn’t scan.”

“And I get your motives, the votes you might win,

But your us-and-them politics is wearing quite thin.”

“To toll the main routes? To the south of the Fraser,

Here, why don’t I hand you this political razor.”

“You don’t need a psychic, or exotic soothsayer.

Why don’t you just listen to your own mayors?”

His logic was sound, his arguments clear,

But it was something the Premier did not want to hear.

“I’ll give it some thought,” she said with a yawn.

Then rolled over and counted the hours till dawn.

“She’s not even listening,” Santa said with a sneer,

Then whistled and shouted and called his reindeer.

Then a week later, on Christmas Eve night,

Santa crept back to Christy’s – he was making things right.

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From …
“On Wednesday evening, Vancouver City Council unanimously approved the Oakridge Transit Centre Policy Statement, which provides the overall guide to the rezoning and redevelopment of the 13.8-acre asphalt-paved property.”

  • 1,000 to 1,200 units (c. 1,800 to 2,500 new residents)
  • 70 to 80 units/acre is reasonably intense – could be higher with a more orthogonal street pattern?
  • Density is 2.1 Floor Area Ratio (FAR) on the whole site (Gross Floor Area / Total Site Area). Remove the 2.3 acre park and the net density goes up to 2.5 FAR, and remove the streets and the site density goes up to 3.5 FAR, densities typical for sites on Vancouver’s arterial roads.
  • The plus here is that many of these higher density forms front a beautiful new park rather than a busy arterial road – a good idea for selling the idea of multi-family housing to families.
  • interesting to see how the buildings organized “on the bias” impact views north to the mountains  (we wrestled with this in the Oakridge Centre Policy plan in 2005)



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$3.5B expense (today’s costs)
Scant public records trail.
Silence from some of our old City leaders now in provincial government.
Is this responsible?

Well, an interesting discussion thread over the last couple of days, apparently populated by a few people who have information, press lines and FAQ responses that are not available to regular citizens – even through our Province’s Access to Information and Privacy legislation.
The widening scandal of public record destruction in the provincial government’s offices should be of concern to all citizens regardless of political stripe. I  like many who subscribe to this blog am driven by interests and principles, not politics. It smacks of hypocrisy that an $800M regional transit initiative is forced to a referendum when the province can spend $3.5B ($4,000 out of the pockets of every household in Greater Vancouver) in virtual secrecy.
Is this going to be the new system of provincial record keeping for multi-billion dollar public projects funded with our tax dollars?

We need transparency and a proper forum to debate this important issue.
Thanks for your comments. Stay involved.

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Museum of Vancouver & Vancouver Urbanarium invites you to
Explore challenges and solutions relating to citizens’ greatest concerns

When:      Jan. 21-May 15, 2016
Where:    Museum of Vancouver
1100 Chestnut Street, Vancouver, BC

Vancouver, BC – From the Museum of Vancouver (MOV), in partnership with the Vancouver Urbanarium Society, comes a provocative and timely exploration of the future of Vancouver. In response to mounting concern about a rapidly changing region, Your Future Home: Creating the New Vancouver, on display at MOV from January 21 through May 15, 2016, will immerse visitors in an experience that spotlights 20 visions for tomorrow’s city, while focusing on four topical issues: housing affordability, residential density, ease of transportation, and quality of public space.
NOTE: The First Debate is on Jan 20th.

– 30 –
Thanks to Scot Hein for bringing this forward.

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This one has been a long time coming! The planning “Policy Statement” for Translink’s bus barns on Oak Street is before Council on Dec 16th. The Policy Statement is here



An excerpt from the Policy Statement suggests an overall intensity of use at 2.1 Floor Area Ratio or FAR (Total Gross Floor Area / Total Site Area) over the entire 14 acre site. The form of development is predominantly mid-rise in character, tapering to blend with the lower density of adjacent lands.
A back of napkin analysis suggests the site would generate 1,600 to 1,700 units in total if it were all developed at an average net unit size of 650 sf. Some land however will not be residential, and the requirement for family units will push the average unit size up, so the likely number of units will be significantly less.


A comparison …

The overall density envisioned for the Bus Barn site is generally comparable with the intensity of use permitted at the 25 acre Arbutus Walk site in Kitsilano, rezoned and redeveloped in the 1990s (without the benefit of a LRT station a short walk away).


Given the Transit Orientation of the Bus Barns, and the pressures for more housing in Vancouver, is the plan for the 14 acre Translink Bus Barn site dense enough?
One observation is that the curving roads envisioned in the plan yield some difficult development sites (triangular sites are a real pain!), in contrast to the Arbutus Walk development where the masterplan worked off the orthogonal grid of the city fabric.
A bit of “Sketchup” analysis:

Approximately 40% of the Bus Barn site is given over to park and road space. So, it’s 2.1 F.A.R. on the gross site . 2.5 FAR if you net out the Park. And 3.5 FAR if you net out the roads as well.  That’s not a particularly high level of density and it even requires a couple spots for 15 storey buildings to get the numbers up (note that many leafy neighbourhoods in Vancouver’s inner streetcar suburbs have accommodated some high rise over the past decades).
Does it make sense to approach suburban densities for such a large transit oriented site? Are there ways to generate more developable land out of this parcel?
Interested in your thoughts.
Georgia Straight Story here:
Condos, townhouses, and park seen for old Vancouver transit centre by TransLink
Thanks to Ken Ohrn for passing this on.
Regards from London,
Michael Mortensen
A Vancouver Developer and Urban Planner abroad.

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By Michael Mortensen, Guest Editor

London’s “Shard” and the “London Eye” greet me every morning on my 15 Km cycle to my office in Mayfair. They’re symbols of London’s strength as a world city and also it’s sense of play. With all the recent debate about iconic architecture in my home city of Vancouver BC, I thought it would be interesting to see what lessons could be learned from London’s experience with iconic architecture.

London view from Hyde Park looking east.

As a world city, London naturally attracts its share of iconic buildings. Most are commercial with designs based on size and scale, the distant view, and the aerial image. Successful buildings offer high quality design at street level and skillfully manage light, shadow, views, and wind. Unsuccessful ones fail on many of the same measures, notably on the first test of the quality of the ground plane.

Notwithstanding the marketing efforts of developers to brand their buildings, most iconic buildings here attract cheeky nicknames; the public is less kind when naming less successful buildings. Can we have iconic architecture that still ‘shares’ the skyline and treats the human scale ground level with as much attention to detail as the ‘iconic’ bits? Here is a quick tour of two iconic buildings in London’s skyline to see what lessons they have to teach: one is an iconic success, a RIBA Sterling Prize winner; the other is the winner of the 2015 “Carbuncle Cup”.

Foster’s “Gherkin” (left) and Viñoly’s “Walkie Scorchie” (right)  The Gherkin, 30 St Mary Axe, EC3A 8EP

Iconic success:  The Gherkin is a well known London landmark and an exceptionally successful iconic design. For their work, Foster and Partners, won the prestigious RIBA Stirling Prize for the best new building in 2004. It was the first time the RIBA committee had ever made a unanimous award decision. A modern building set within an older fabric, the Gherkin occupies the site of the former Baltic Exchange and Chamber of Shipping, which were destroyed in a 1992 IRA bombing.

Sketch Source: Foster & Partners Website


Exceptional Design: From afar, one is struck by the Gherkin’s shape, its triangulated steel structure, and the detailed design of its double-glazed envelope made more interesting by bands of differently coloured glass. It’s a piece of jewelry, with views inside – a contrast to the reflective glazing of many other office buildings.  Functionally, it uses half the energy of typical buildings of a similar size, drawing on passive solar heating and the venturi effect to move air through its double-skin envelope.

Fantastic Ground Plane: I think what is most exceptional about the Gherkin is the very human scale of the building when it hits the ground. The building’s numerous entrances offer shelter and enclosure, inviting you in. The public realm at grade is sensitively designed with plenty of space to sit and relax. Trees, landscape and public art all contribute to a great sense of place. When I visited to take these pictures, workers were installing a new sculpture of 700 chromed bicycles by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei.



  • Exemplar design
  • Architectural and structural design excellence
  • Good integration with historic fabric
  • Demonstrated environmental performance
  • Landscape, trees, planting, seating and public art at grade
  • Varied uses at grade (restaurants & cafes)
Walkie Scorchie, 20 Fenchurch St, EC3M 3BY

Iconic Failure: London’s “Walkie Scorchie” was the 2015 winner of the Carbuncle Cup, a prize awarded by the editors of Building Design to “the ugliest building in the United Kingdom completed in the last 12 months”. Launched in 2006, The Cup is a humorous counterpoint to the Royal Institute of British Architect’s prestigious Sterling Prize and is based on a shortlist of nominations and votes from the public. Since 2009 the final winners have been selected by a small group of critics.

Design Shortcomings: An early prelude to such recognition for entry into this famous competition has to be the presence of a humourous building nickname. Despite the best efforts of project marketers to brand these iconic buildings with their own identity, the public often takes over and runs with nicknames that stick.

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