April 18, 2019

The Infill Dilemma

In principle, the idea of infill in already built-out neighbourhoods is seen to be a good one, especially to broaden the choice of options.  At the community planning stage, there’s general acceptance.

Reality is tougher.  Two prominent cases for apartments on parking lots have received a lot of pushback – in the case of the Delbrook proposal in North Van District, council rejection; in the case of the Larch Street proposal in Kitsilano, considerable neighbourhood opposition.

Even in the West End, one neighbourhood you’d expect would welcome infill, the dilemma of scale and relationship to the existing fabric becomes apparent in these two examples.  The first – around five storeys, about the same as those examples mentioned above – was submitted almost immediately after the approval of the West End Community Plan in 2013 – a proposal for a rear parking lot at Cardero and Comox, as reported in PriceTags in 2014.  The comments detail the complaints.

Nonetheless, it is now under construction:


The other, a half block away, at 1685 Nelson, is considerably different in scale – actually an extension of to a heritage-quality house – but also meeting resistance.

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YouTuber Michael Beach (not the actor, but about whom not much is searchable) came up with a simple but effective idea: urban analysis using maps – the maps we actually use these days: Google Earth and Streetview.

With the seamless use of video, illustration and a lot of research, he takes us on computer-aided visits to cities around the would, and provides sometimes insightful, sometimes scathing analyses of urban places.  His YouTube home page is here.

His views are, of course, personal and in some cases overly simplistic, given he’s never been to many of the places his mouse hovers over – but he’s never boring, even if his voice sometimes seems like an over-caffeinated Thomas the Tank.

Here’s the example an urban environment closest to us: North York in Toronto.  This one, literally focusing on the transit corridor along Yonge Street, will both terrify and assure those who wonder what could happen along the Broadway corridor with the arrival of SkyTrain.

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Michael Alexander came up with a great name (‘Granville Grind’) for the opportunity to include a stairway from the Granville Bridge deck to the Island below.  It should be a necessary part of the Granville Connector – the City’s name for a centre walking and cycling path across the bridge.

There’s an online survey (here), open houses and workshops through the end of April.

Michael notes:

In the future, they say they will consider an elevator to Granville Island. If they also build a stairway, and call it the Granville Grind, it will become a destination and a challenge. But if you take the survey or visit an open house or workshop, you can push for it now.

Both the City and Granville Island should priorize an elevator and stairway now.  It is, after all, part of the Granville 2040 redevelopment vision (detailed here) and makes sense from a transportation view, providing a link for all the transit that crosses the bridge.

But best of all, it would be an attraction all on its own – at a time when active tourism has proven its worth (hello, Grouse Grind) and seems to be the big new thing.

As Michael discovered at the Vessel in New York’s Hudson Yards:

Michael: “It’s not just New York City that can make stairways into destinations.”


UPDATE:  Scot Hein adds this recollection.

I vaguely recall that Bruce Haden, the originator of the Granville Island elevator and stair proposal in August 2002 (hard for me to believe it has been 17 years), came up with that name (‘Granville Grind’). We started referring to the potential as a fitness asset by that name within city hall at that time.


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In cities across the world, housing systems are undergoing immense change. Homes are being transformed into liquid commodities, and as such, are increasingly unable to meet the social need for residential space. This has painful consequences for households and urban life, in the form of residential alienation, precarity and displacement. But in many places, resistance movements are growing.

Join us April 23 to hear sociologist David Madden explore the causes and consequences of the commodification of housing, drawing lessons from London and New York City

David Madden is associate professor in sociology and co-director of the Cities Programme at the London School of Economics. He works on urban studies, political sociology and social theory. His research interests include housing, urban restructuring, public space and critical urban theory. He has conducted qualitative, ethnographic and archival research in New York City and London. He is co-author, with Peter Marcuse, of In Defense of Housing: The politics of crisis. His writing has appeared in leading academic journals as well as the Guardian, the Washington Post and Jacobin.

David Madden’s talk will be followed by a panel of local respondents to give the themes of his talk a Canadian context on a local, provincial and national scale:

  • David Hulchanski, University of Toronto
  • Penny Gurstein, University of British Columbia
  • Selina Robinson, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing
  • Question period hosted by Jen St. Denis, Star Vancouver


Tuesday, April 23

7 PM to 9 PM (doors open at 6:30 PM)

Room 1200-1500, SFU Segal Building, 500 Granville Street, Vancouver

Admission: $5. Free for students with valid student ID.

Reserve your seat!


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Indigenous.  And primarily west of Alma.


It was Mike Harcourt’s observation: most of the new residential development in this city, potentially in the tens of thousands of units (at least for the next several decades), will be on reserve lands of the Squamish and Musqueam, or on lands sold to a joint entity like the MST Development Corp and partnered with Canada Lands or others.

The sites with greatest potential are, at the moment, Jericho East and West – but when the lease on the University Golf Course expires, that site will dwarf all the others.

Here’s the list of current or potential sites, marked with stars on the map above, from west to east:

  • Lelem
  • University Golf Course
  • Jericho West
  • Jericho East
  • Squamish reserve lands, south Burrard Bridge
  • Heather Lands
  • Former Liquor Distribution Branch site
  • Musqueam reserve lands, also subject to leases

Only reserve lands are not subject to city regulation; the acquired sites, like Jericho, proceed largely as though private-sector development.  But, of course, they’re not – at least in the sense that they’re seen to be part of the reconciliation process.

And in a city where even a single apartment block (see posts below) is treated by some as the first step in the ghettoization of Vancouver, others will welcome the opportunity to address housing issues under the cover of settler obligations to First Nations.



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From The Sun:

Judy Osburn (right), who owns a heritage house a block away from the Larch Street site (proposed for a five-storey rental building), is organizing neighbourhood opposition.

It’s in “the wrong place,” says Osburn, who has lived in the neighbourhood for 30 years. …

“The only way they can make (the project) work is to make it higher,” Osburn said. “Make the units smaller, and make the building higher. Well, that’s like the ghetto. You’re dropping the ghetto in Kitsilano …


From Global News:

Councillor Jean Swanson (left) said developers are not interested in building non-market rentals, and argued the city needs to rezone parts of Vancouver as rental-only.

“I can remember when there weren’t any condos. Rentals were all there was. It was fine, it was better than now,” said Swanson.

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In these two current Streetviews of the Granville and Burrard Bridges, I counted the number of pedestrians, cyclists and cars – and yes, I know the weather is distinctly different in each.  (Click title of post to see images.)



Roughly, about the same number of cars on both, a few less pedestrians on the Granville, but no cyclists.   Notice, especially, the four south-bound lanes: empty.

That’s why the City’s proposal for a new walking, rolling, and cycling path across the Granville Bridge, without adversely affecting vehicles – cars, trucks, transit – is doable.  Just as we did on Burrard.

The draft project goals are to:

– Make walking, rolling, and cycling across the bridge accessible, safe, and comfortable for people of all ages and abilities.
– Provide direct and intuitive walking, rolling, and cycling connections to key destinations and to the rest of the network
– Create a special place that provides an enjoyable experience for all.
– Accommodate motor vehicles, considering the needs of transit, emergency services, and people driving.
– Design with the future in mind, considering related projects and opportunities to coordinate work.

It was identified as a priority in the early 2000s as part of a False Creek Crossing Study, and included in the City’s Transportation 2040 Plan (2012).


Your chance to participate in the design is coming up.

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By the post-election decisions being made by some of the smaller, more affluent municipalities in Metro, the messages seem to be: no more density, no more height, no more affordable housing (and, rarely stated but assumed: the people who might live in it if they come from ‘outside’).

In North Vancouver District, as previously reported in PT:

District of North Vancouver council has spiked another affordable housing project, this time before plans for it were released to the public.

Council voted behind closed doors in January to terminate a proposal from the non-profit Hollyburn Family Services Society for a 100-unit, all-below market rental building on a piece of district-owned land on Burr Place.

In Port Moody:

A proposal to build 45 townhomes on six properties along St. George Street in Port Moody is “far too dense,” with not enough green space, said city councillors who rejected the project at their meeting last Tuesday. …

Mayor Rob Vagramov criticized the proposal for being too dense even though it’s located in Port Moody’s Transit Oriented Development (TOD) zone, which encourages higher density living.

In White Rock:

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