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