December 23, 2015

The Vancouver Special-I'll take two!

Yes it is the second take on this housing form-rather plain bread to look at, but with lots of space and quite adaptable in the interior. The Vancouver Special was the “big box” of its time, providing the maximum allowable square footage of housing space on a lot.
Bob Ransford in the Vancouver Sun picked up the story previously published in November in Price Tags. The synopsis-Michael Mortensen suggests melding two  or three 33 by 120  foot lots together to create four 1500 square foot units on three levels in the front structure, and a two story dwelling in the back, that could house a 1,000 square foot unit and two 500 square foot studios.
Of course under current zoning restrictions, this cannot be done. But what Michael suggests in his original proposal was the advocacy of a pilot program and the release of design licences with pre-approved development permits for a number of  two or three lot configurations in any single family housing  zone.  As a  pilot project  these developments could connect to  existing water, sewer and electrical lines. The form and its success could then be monitored and evaluated.
Michael notes that 1000 of these developments could yield 6,000 to 7,000 units. While the City is doing some good work on stacked form, its always refreshing to get an outsider’s perspective.
And I am reminded how in the late 1980’s it was almost impossible to have a legal basement suite in a single family house . A decade ago a legal laneway house behind a single family house would be out of the question. The City is densifying and we need to find smart ways to house a growing population.
Perhaps this idea is not too far off. Would this work as a demonstration project? Can this fit into single family areas? Do we still need to think of parking spaces for every unit in a single family zone?

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London is a city of 8.6 million people with a huge problem-residents are spending half their income on rent, and there is a huge exodus of people in their thirties looking for work and accommodation-those important factors of livability-elsewhere. What to do?  This article featured in The Archinect written by Robert Urquhart explores London’s particular housing crisis where 80 per cent of the housing is available to only 20 per cent of the people. Vancouver gets a  mention too, citing the city’s  housing density and well thought out downtown buildings achievable through strong  area policy and form guidelines. The photo above is that of Charles Dickens’ house in Kent, where he did NOT write  Great Expectations. Perhaps that is apropos. Thanks to Ian Robertson for the article. http://archinect.com/features/article/143145697/london-s-bleak-housing Read more »


In 2010 I was interviewed by DWELL Magazine about the future for parks and public spaces. I was delighted to be interviewed along with Janette Sadik-Khan from NYC  and Richard Haag from Seattle.
At that time, I said “…designing green spaces to walk to and through is key to maintaining physical activity and medical and mental health. We need to stop thinking of nature as places in our parks and legibly spill those ecological components into our city streets and spaces to create usable walkable park environments in everyday places.”
And sure enough, just five years later, Gladys We of SFU passed on this article written by Alissa Walker describing the potential greening of forty blocks of Broadway in New York City, creating a living green spine on one of the major arteries of that city.  In 2010 Janette Sadik-Khan, the former commissioner of transportation for New York City saw the transformation of streets into the “living rooms” of New York City. She was right.
This “green line” concept is an idea of Perkins Eastman architects to make the 40 blocks from Central Park to Union Square into a car-free public space. This green link would give more park space, link Manhattan’s pedestrian plazas, infiltrate water in bioswales and provide a place for water runoff. Such a  link would also equitably distribute access to green space to lower income city areas. The article notes that when streets in Times Square were closed for pedestrian conversion, vehicular congestion improved-and of course Broadway could become a bikeway haven.  Could such a plan be feasible? And could we incorporate these ideas into making “green lines” in Vancouver? Is this the future of our present greenway and bikeway system, in a densifying city that will be short of park space?
The full article is here.
Sandy James


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Hello, by way of introduction I am Sandy James and I am delighted to be the Christmas guest host for Price Tags. I am passionate about  enhancing walkability to go to and through places and spaces. I believe that if we design and live in cities that are walkable we will be healthier, more socially connected, enhance local economic development and compound sustainability.
After the meeting of world leaders in the  Paris Climate Summit in early December sustainability is on the global agenda. What can cities and citizens do to address sustainability at home? Jaime Lerner says the key is energy, time and resources. To start the discussion, I am attaching a think piece from the New York Times written by  Lerner, the author of Urban Acupuncture. Thanks to Ian Robertson for the link.

In the article linked below  Lerner calls cars “the cigarettes of the future”.  He does call for a shared sense of identity to improve the quality of life.  Alan Jacobs who wrote the book “Great Streets” noted that 40 per cent of the urban fabric in streets and lanes are owned by cities who can and should design cities around people and not cars. Lerner  instead talks about our individual responsibility in the huge amount of space that cars occupy. Lerner also points out that a car space at  home and at work is equivalent to the size of many peoples’ personal dwelling space around the world.
Lerner is a fan of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and using existing infrastructure  to provide mass transit. He also advocates for  public and private investment for increased density and mixed use, as depicted by the Turtle graphic. Take a look at his article that embraces cultural diversity and calls for increasing pride in place.
Is Lerner right? How do cities become the paradigm for hope and integration of life, work and movement?
Sandy James

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Will the Massey Tunnel replacement bridge encourage urban sprawl?
From our stalwart London correspondent Michael Mortenson come this interview recorded on the Early Edition of CBC News on December 18, 2015.
The Massey Tunnel which currently crossses the Fraser River linking Richmond with Delta is to be replaced with a ten lane bridge at a cost of about 3.5 billion dollars. Ken Cameron, the former manager of policy and regional planning at Metro Vancouver,  has weighed in.
And Ken says it succinctly: “Ever since we turned our backs to freeways in the late 1960’s, we’re not trying to build our way out of congestion…Putting a big new facility like this runs directly counter to all of those objectives (of) the City of Vancouver, the City of Richmond, and other municipalities.”
While Transportation Minister Todd Stone notes that the new bridge will cut millions of hours of vehicle idling time, Cameron notes that roads create more traffic and  more congestion. “Looking at the region’s transportation system as a whole is key to reducing congestion. That means investing in public transportation as well as road infrastructure”.
You can review the list of “ten things you may not know” about the new bridge (which is still unnamed)  at the link below. There is a link to the CBC audio interview too, by clicking the title on the  page.

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