August 13, 2018

Vancouver Development – the Really Big and Spiffy New Oakridge

A bold-looking mixed-use Oakridge Centre is rising in the city, on 28 acres, at the site of a Canada Line transit station. Henriquez Partners Architects have designed something that is billed as the largest development in Vancouver’s history. Completion date looks to be 2025, costs somewhere around $5B, with 2,548 new residential units, and two 40+ storey towers among 12 other buildings. And it’s right in the middle of a predominantly single-family residential area, with rising density nearby.

Part of the design rationale is, however, specifically to generate density at an important transit hub.  Mission accomplished, it seems to me.

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There is little doubt that in October 2018, Vancouver voters will put in place an almost all-rookie City Council (40 candidates now in the mix).  The winning Mayor (now 11 seekers) may be a rookie too, or may be experienced in another level of government, but not at civic level on Vancouver-related issues.

It does bring up the topic of learning curve — a substantial issue for anyone stepping into a leadership and decision-making role amid the swirl of a complex enterprise, which the City of Vancouver most certainly is.

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Melody Ma said it boldly in her tweet on Carlito Pablo’s story in The Georgia Straight about the new housing development proposed at 835-837 East Hastings Street.


One of Chinatown’s clan associations, the Lee’s Benevolent Association of Canada purchased the site to redevelop into a 6 storey mixed-use development which would include retail/office on the street floor,  with 39 units exclusively for non-market  seniors rental above.

The reason? “Lee’s Benevolent believes this project is a great opportunity for…aging Chinese seniors in the neighbourhood to remain close to the Chinatown community with its associated sense of community, social opportunities, shopping, groceries, produce, and other supports,” according to a letter by George Lee to the City of Vancouver.”

Many Chinese seniors want to live independently as they age, and being able to live close to places that seniors habituate as part of their community is vitally important.  But there is also an aspect of sociability and bringing cultural attention to Chinatown too, connecting seniors’ living spaces to areas of cultural importance. Carlo Pablito cites the Chinatown Senior Housing Feasibility Study produced in 2015 by the City of Vancouver and the Province.

This study indicates that “over 90 per cent of Vancouver’s Chinese seniors are first generation immigrants and most of them speak a Chinese dialect at home. They have unique needs in addition to all the critical issues faced by all Canadian seniors due to their limited language capacity and understanding of the available support systems. Recent research from UBC has concluded that in the next 15 years up to 3,300 Chinese seniors in the City of Vancouver will need subsidized housing that offers culturally and linguistically an appropriate environment.”

The Chinese Benevolent societies and family associations have traditionally viewed their purpose as ensuring that seniors can participate culturally in the community and feel connected to it. Several societies have also expanded their mandate to include seniors’ lower cost housing in society owned structures in Chinatown and adjacent Strathcona.

The Lee Benevolent Society’s proposal by architect Patrick Stewart is currently before the City of Vancouver for approval. In the words of the watchful Changing City website, the proposed building’s design ” isn’t particularly exciting, but given the location, and the budget available that’s not at all surprising. The use is the most important aspect of this building; 39 social housing units for Chinese seniors… The scale actually fits very well with a number of hundred year old apartment buildings now used as SRO (single room occupant)  hotels.”


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It is shaping up to be an interesting municipal election year with the main hot topics being polarizing, and forming camps “for” or “against”.

Here’s an example. There appears to be a grittiness that is translating to people being either “for” affordable accessible housing, or “against”. And Vancouver City Council contributes to this polarization in their recent last-minute decision to approve a 400 foot tower containing 40 storeys~but only if it contains rental housing.

Otherwise the developer can build the same amount, but in a lower building size. The height would be capped at 300 feet and does not pierce the view cones that provide mountain views from various points on Cambie Street and from Queen Elizabeth Park. The developer can also build market condo apartments with no fettering rental implications from Council by respecting the view corridor height limit.

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The 90-acre Jericho Lands, a huge greenfield, sits in Vancouver’s West Point Grey neighbourhood. We all wonder what will rise there.

It’s mostly a former military garrison, now owned by the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil Waututh Development Corporation, and the Canada Lands Company. You’ll find it amid some of the priciest real estate in Canada, featuring very low density, and very expensive single-family homes. The Lands offer potentially spectacular view sites and nearby ocean-front parks. (Read some background  on this site HERE, HERE, and HERE).

Amid the enormous pressure inherent in shepherding an allocation of this multi-billion dollar site, it’s hard to get much of a sense of the possible, ultimate outcome; a veritable bonanza of opportunities to reshape an entire community. What’s to come — cheesy car-centric suburb? A forest of high rises, ripe for speculators? A complete community for average humans — what?

But maybe something beyond platitudes and vague statements is slowly emerging.

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Note the gerund in the headline — I’m asking whether we’re in a moment when the housing crisis, as we’ve come to know and hate it, is actually in the process of ending.

It’s a safe bet that anything as complicated as ‘housing’ is always in the process of change.  But in the last few weeks, there have been a wave of new indicators.

Here are just a few signs and signals, collected in one week from July 16 to 21.

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Patrick Sisson at reports on the ground breaking (no pun intended) work of  two Vancouver locals~Joseph Dahmen, a professor of architecture at the University of British Columbia, and mathematician Jens von Bergmann of MountainMath Software. They’ve developed the “teardown index” by determining the ratio of land to home value. Relative Building Value, or RBV needs to be 60 to 70% for a new residence “but when the RBV drops below 10 percent, the chances for a teardown increase dramatically.”. 

How dramatically? Based upon their formula, the researches estimate that 25% of the current single residential houses in the city could be gone in the next twelve years.

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Even BBC News picked up the absolutely unbelievable story of this “no fun” suburban neighbourhood.

The community of Chemainus (part of the District Municipality of North Cowichan on Vancouver Island) is famous for their internationally acclaimed mural festival which brings art, tourists and income to a former logging town. You would think that a place that brands themselves as an artistic hotbed would translate this creativity to other local endeavours and activities.

But no — the strata council of “Artisan Gardens”, a housing development not far from parks and a golf course, voted 15-4 in favour of a bylaw which basically prohibits any activity a child would do outside of their front door.

The bylaw prohibits using the roadway “for play, including hockey, baseball, basketball, skateboarding, chalk artistry, bicycling or other sports and recreational activities.”

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Last week, Lisa Prevost of The New York Times took a look at purchasing a four-bedroom house on the “bluffs” of Vancouver; in reality, the house is 32 kilometres north of Vancouver in Lions Bay. The price is CAD $2.7 million, in our local market which has increased by 40 per cent in the last decade.

The property is less than a mile from the Lions Bay Marina and Lions Bay Beach Park, “the most idyllic little beach. With a population of roughly 1,350, the village has just a few shops for necessities, he said; more shopping and dining can be found about 15 minutes south, in West Vancouver.

Phil Moore, president of the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver, calls Vancouver “the California of Canada”, pointing out that 40,000 people coming into the metropolitan area annually, presumably undeterred by the prices.

The Times article states that the benchmark sale price for a detached house is $1.6 million in Vancouver, and that in the more exclusive West Vancouver, “that buys you nothing. That’s an area that’s $3 million and above.”

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