Architecture
August 12, 2020

Portland: Go for the Protests, Stay for the Rezoning

Portland’s BLM protests may capture the news, but the Sightline Institute summarizes what their city council is likely to approve today: “the most pro-housing reform to low-density zones in US history.”

Portland’s new rules will also offer a “deeper affordability” option: four to six homes on any lot if at least half are available to low-income Portlanders at regulated, affordable prices. The measure will make it viable for nonprofits to intersperse below-market housing anywhere in the city for the first time in a century.

And among other things it will remove all parking mandates from three quarters of the city’s residential land, combining with a recent reform of apartment zones to essentially make home driveways optional citywide for the first time since 1973.

Portland’s reform will build on similar actions in Vancouver and Minneapolis, whose leaders voted in 2018 to re-legalize duplexes and triplexes, respectively; in Seattle, where a 2019 reform to accessory cottages resulted in something very close to citywide triplex legalization; and in Austin, whose council passed a very similar sixplex-with-affordability proposal in 2019.

But Portland’s changes are likely to gradually result in more actual homes than any of those milestone reforms.

Full story here.

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The Smart Growth Network in concert with the Maryland Department of Planning presents the next webinar in their Planning With Purpose series on Community Revitalization.

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted how we live, work, play, and move around our communities. It also has changed how planners think about and prepare for the future, while navigating the impacts of social inequity.

Petra Hurtado and Jo Peña of the American Planning Association explain how APA is using its “foresight-first approach” in times of COVID-19, what the biggest pain points and potential solutions are, and what current developments may mean for the future of the planning profession.

Date: Thursday, August 13

Time: 10:00 Pacific Time

You can sign up for this webinar by clicking this link.

Images:FreePix,Shotkit

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PT: Ann McAfee was Co-Director of Planning for Vancouver from 1994 to 2006 at the time the extraordinary growth described in the post below was occurring.  This paper describes the immediate and possible future impacts of COVID-19 on planning in the Greater Vancouver area.  (Edited from the original here, with my emphasis added in bold.) It one of the best summaries of all the different forces and developments that will (or should) affect local and regional planning in the near future.

Despite the dispassionate tone of the paper, no doubt from years of writing planning documents, her summary is, if not radical, a challenge that will be profound for planners, politicians and leaders in community:

Local governments are challenged to reframe plans to respond, recover, restart, and rebuild in the context of limited funds and raised expectations. Post COVID plans need governments to understand economic distress and calls for social justice. Post COVID plans also need public understanding of fiscal limitations.

“Limited funds” and “fiscal limitations” are realities that will be imposed on us by the pandemic, and it won’t be pleasant.  Perhaps that’s why they have so far been largely undiscussed as society and governments cope with more urgent demands.   Ann is calling for planners to step up to the challenge.

 

Ann McAfee:

Three Programs Caught in COVID

Prior to COVID, three agencies launched strategic plan updates. The plans are aspirational; all seek to manage growth to address sustainability, resiliency, and equity.

In 2019, Vancouver’s City Plan and Transport 2050 invited people to share ideas. The intent was to listen to those with lived experience of the city and regional transportation system. Initial responses were not fettered by cost considerations. Subsequent steps proposed public discussion of scenario choices and tradeoffs.

In April 2019, Metro and TransLink staff compiled Regional Growth and Transportation Scenarios. Potential ‘Big Disruptors’ were seen to be climate change, shifting global economy, and new technologies. A pandemic and recession were not listed. …

 

Blurring the Distinction between Home and Work

Early indicators of increased numbers of employees working from home are mixed with two additional factors: an increase in office vacancies as employees work from home, and some businesses seeking larger workspaces to improve physical distancing. These work-from-home patterns could continue as an estimated 46% of the metro labor force are in jobs which could be performed, at least part-time, from home.

As people shop from home, the trend toward e-commerce is accelerating. Concern about future supply chains may reverse industrial job losses by encouraging manufacturing and food production to locate closer to markets.

Pressure to rezone business lands for residential and commerce could intensify. Vancouver’s experience with rezoning for these purposes is that the resulting increase in land value prices out production and service uses.

The value of ‘home’ is reflected in metro residential sales patterns and prices. May 2020 sales were 54% below the 10-year monthly sales average. By June, the market was rebounding. The June 2020 benchmark price for a detached home ($1.46 million) showed a 3.6% increase from June 2019. This likely reflects a desire to shelter-in-place in a single-family home.

 

Intensifying Local Business Trends

Prior to COVID, communities were experiencing a loss of mom and pop shops. The impact of COVID has varied in this regard. Food shops, remaining open as essential services, have increased sales. For other businesses, COVID closures are accelerating financial challenges.

To help local businesses reopen with physical distancing, cities are permitting private uses in public spaces. Examples include sidewalk patios and temporary use of parking lanes for queueing. Vancouver has approved longer term COVID responsive public space initiatives.


The desire for a region-wide response to economic recovery has increased calls from the business sector for the 21 regional municipalities to merge.

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Further to this post below, the ever-visual Jens von Bergmann (@vb_jens) shows graphically what growth on the downtown peninsula looked like between the 1986 and 2016 censuses.

But perhaps even more startling than the thousand-percent growth on the peninsula is the drop in population density in a large part of Vancouver – as seen here:

The change-in-people per hectare from 1971 to 2016 is, as expected, predominantly on the west side.  But also note the purple in the neighbourhoods from the Downtown East Side to Grandview.

This data is so contrary to the popular memes that it really isn’t part of the conversation about density and growth in the city. Often, when something doesn’t fit the narrative, it just doesn’t get acknowledged.

As well, both right and left use different rationales to achieve the same outcome: a near zero rate of change   The former argues for maintaining character and heritage: the latter opposes the gentrification impact new development might bring   Both argue that bigger issues must first be addressed.

And that’s why Colleen Hardwick and Jean Swanson have the closest voting records on rezonings for more housing.

 

 

 

Jens adds further comment:

In my mind it’s the disparity on where growth is allocated that is under-appreciated. And how not adding dwellings means we are losing population.

As people get richer, they tend to consume more housing: larger places, smaller households, more spare bedroom.  That’s not a bad thing in principle, but if we don’t add housing to make up for it, it leads not just to a change in neighourhood demographics but even to an overall drop in population.

In some low-density areas (parts of the east side) we have managed to at least stem the loss by adding laneway homes and maybe some suites (hard to measure), but that hasn’t been enough in all neighbourhoods.  The west side has not seen much uptake on laneways and suites (despite ample construction, mostly 1:1 replacements of SFH).

Grandview-Woodlands, Strathcona and the surrounding area has seen the fastest growth in family income in the city, and we have not added enough housing units to make up for that. So the result is predictably a drop in population. And also an overall shift in neighbourhood demographics that the entire east side has been experiencing.

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It was Intelligent Health’s Dr. William Bird MBE  who led the way in Great Britain allowing medical doctors to prescribe walking as a way to help patients with mental and physical health.

Now British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is encouraging medical doctors to prescribe cycling for weight management, and the government will be investing in infrastructure to facilitate that.  With amassing proof that excess weight is associated with more severe illness from Covid-19, biking is seen as a low cost way to encourage fitness and exercise.  The Guardian notes that cycling used for a work commute is “linked to a 46% lower risk of heart disease compared with a non-active commute.”

As the BBC reports  there is an equity issue as well.  While “36% of the adult population is overweight and 28% obese… people living in deprived areas are more likely to be admitted to hospital with a condition related to obesity.”

One in ten British children starting primary school is obese, and that number doubles to two in five by the end of the primary school years. Comparatively 40 percent of Americans are obese, while in South Korea and Japan that number is less than 10 percent.

In Britain it is estimated that nearly 5 million of the 66 million population is thought to have diabetes which costs the national healthcare program 10 billion pounds a year (17 billion Canadian dollars). Ninety percent of this population has type 2 diabetes which has a high co-factor of obesity.

Current data shows that being obese doubles the chances of dying from Covid, meaning that in a country where healthcare is provided nationally, well-being is a federal issue.

The head of England’s National Health Service observed “The evidence is now in: obesity can double your chance of dying from coronavirus. So this pandemic is a call to arms to adopt medically proven changes in what we eat and how we exercise” .

Images: ABCNews, TheIndependent

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Imagine running a business with very long hours and in the current Covid crisis, not a lot of customers. Curator and author Catherine Clement sent on this article from the The New York Times  which outlines how  husband and wife team Chang Wan-ji, and Hsu Sho-er, business owners in a laundromat in Taichung, Taiwan have survived.

Where estimates in Canada show that 52 percent of people see their mental health as not the same during the pandemic, the grandson of Chang Wan-ji and Hsu Sho-er wanted to help his grandparents who spent 13 hour days keeping their dry cleaning business open. There was no business in the shop, and without the normal customer interaction the days were long for these two business owners who are both in their mid-eighties.

Inspired by the racks of clothing that had been laundered but never paid for or picked up, the grandson started curating the clothing and putting outfits together of the forgotten items for his grandparents to model. In each image the octogenarians wear their trademark blue sneakers, and incorporate an unbelievable hipster vibe.

You can take a look at their instagram account at @wantshowasyoung which at press time had over 433,000 followers. And here’s the thing~there are only twenty posts, but they are tremendous images of the two dressed up in the unretrieved clothes.

As Chris Horton in the New York Times describes “The clothes they model are eclectic, funky and fun. Both can be seen in matching laced sneakers, and jauntily perched caps and hats. He sometimes sports brightly colored shades. One photo shows her leaning coolly against a giant washing machine, arms crossed, as he casually holds the open door, grinning. They pose at a place they know well — their shop, which provides an industrious backdrop of customers’ laundry, stacked and rolled into plastic bundles or hanging from racks.”

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If you heard Vancouver’s Duke of Data Andy Yan on the Urban Logiq series you will know how current and fresh the viewpoints are in these innovative conversations.

Supporting Main Street Business Through Recovery

How can government agencies better support main street businesses through times of crisis through effective, outcome-oriented digital programs? Join us for a conversation with Chris Rickett, Director of COVID-19 Business Mitigation and Recovery at the City of Toronto, on how to launch impactful programs and better measure their results. Moderated by UrbanLogiq’s COO, Herman Chandi, this webinar will explore how agencies can offer more tailored support to small businesses in today’s changing economic climate through collaboration and data-driven outcome planning.

Date: Wednesday July 29 2020
11:00 AM Pacific Time

You can register by clicking this link.

 

 

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From the Australian Financial Post is the story of this architect designed 27 square meters (that’s 290 square feet) apartment which sold for $600,000 Australian dollars, roughly $571,000 in Canadian dollars. The unit is in Darlinghurst, two kilometers away from downtown Sydney Australia.

In an art deco building and bought in 2013 for $340,000. Brad Swartz converted this studio apartment into a separated  one bedroom by making the kitchen into a platformed bedroom and incorporating the kitchen into the living room. He used a functional folding wall system to separate the two areas. That wall  also provides storage, a desk, and additional light into the bedroom space.

Mr. Swartz entered his renovation of his very small space in a design competition and won an award for the best apartment in 2015. That award led to many new projects, and a renewed interest on how to capitalize very small spaces.  When Mr. Swartz put the apartment on the market in 2020, he had over sixty groups come to look at it, with a young first time buyer making the purchase.

While there are examples of apartments being thoughtfully outfitted at larger sizes, this design was relatively unique in a space that is less than 300 square feet. As Mr Swartz concludes  “I hope in the future there will be more results like this when people actively engage in designing beautiful small or large apartments or inner-city dwellings without compromise.”

You can click on the YouTube video below for a tour of the small space.

image: idesignarch

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Across the country, people are looking for housing options that shape affordable, walkable, and desirable neighborhoods.

Daniel Parolek inspired a new movement for housing choice in 2010 when he coined the term “Missing Middle Housing,” a transformative concept that highlights a way to provide more housing and housing choices in sustainable, walkable places. This housing type includes a range of house-scale building with multiple units compatible in scale and form with detached single-family homes.

Join the Maryland Department of Planning and the Smart Growth Network at 10:00 Pacific Time, Tuesday, July 28, when Parolek, author of the new book, Missing Middle Housing, illustrates how these housing types, when designed well, can be a powerful tool to create the communities that people both want and can afford.

Date: Tuesday July 28

Time: 10:00 a.m. Pacific Time

You can register at this link.

Images: Globest.com&MissingMiddleSydney

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If ever there was someone in Metro Vancouver who is an unsung hero and should be receiving the Order of  Canada it is Richmond City Councillor Harold Steves, who is a farmer, ecologist, and one of the longest serving City Councillors in Canada. It’s no surprise that we’ve all followed up on why Mr. Steves has not been tapped for  the honour only to find that you cannot receive the Order of Canada while you are an elected official. That will change at the next civic election, as Mr. Steves has announced he will be retiring from Council.

Mr. Steves and his family still work the land, and his family set up the first seed company in the province. The town of Steveston was named after his forebears. He is also a founding father of the Agricultural Land Reserve which protects agricultural land in British Columbia from urbanization and land development. The Class 1 soils found in the Fraser River delta are the richest in Canada, and represent a mere half a percent of all agricultural soils.

Richmond City Council as a whole has not been ecologically forward in the past and was complicit in allowing “farmer’s houses” as large as 24,000 square feet to be be built on prime agricultural land. But surprise! These large estates were exploiting a loophole.

“Farms” were  being bought at an agricultural land price as they are in the Agricultural Land Reserve and  redeveloped with large mansions. These mansions quickly turned  into multi-million dollar gated estates, exempt from the foreign buyers’ tax  with a large land lift as these countrified estates demand top dollar with offshore purchasers. Lands will never return to agricultural use and are now economically out of the reach of farming buyers. To add insult, if the farm produced some blueberries or a horse it also qualified for a much reduced farm property tax.

The City of Richmond Mayor and Council allowed mansions of over 10,783 square feet  to be built on agricultural land  over one half-acre in size. The City of Richmond has forgotten its farming past by dithering and not making the responsible decision to limit houses on farmland to 5,382 square feet, still a remarkably large size. Arable land is being squandered for future generations by short-sighted developer profit, most of it in offshore holdings. There’s even a Richmond  Farmland Owners Association but look at the nuance~they are “owners” not “farmers”,  advocating  on getting the top buck for their purchased properties with limited restrictions on the size of the residences.

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