May 13, 2021

More Ammunition in the Gentrification War

There’s a premise out there (articulated pretty much at every rezoning hearing by Councillor Jean Swanson to justify a no vote) that newer, bigger apartments and condos constructed in a lower income neighbourhoods will have gentrification effects – in particular, an upward pressure on rents.  Seems reasonable to some, unverifiable to others – or at least no justification to argue against new development that will eventually become older and relatively more affordable.

Sooo … this research from the States will add fuel to the debate, which maintains new development can actually lower some rents.  Nor do an increase in amenities have a measurable effect.

From Planetizen:

A study years in the making has added a new reference in the debate about the effects of large new apartment developments on low-income neighborhoods located nearby.

The study, titled “Local Effects of Large New Apartment Buildings in Low-Income Areas,” was published by The Review of Economics and Statistics on May 6, but the research first attracted attention at the beginning of 2019. Planetizen blogger Michael Lewyn introduced the research findings (in what was then a working paper) as potential ammunition for the YIMBY response to rising housing costs in large cities with restrictive zoning codes and low amounts of residential development.

Now published in a peer-reviewed journal, the research finalizes its findings, as summarized in the study’s abstract: “New buildings decrease rents in nearby units by about 6 percent relative to units slightly farther away or near sites developed later, and they increase in-migration from lowincome [sic] areas.”

The researchers argue that new apartment developments achieve price reductions in nearby neighborhoods by absorbing high-income households and increasing local housing stock. “If buildings improve nearby amenities, the effect is not large enough to increase rents. Amenity improvements could be limited because most buildings go into already-changing neighborhoods, or buildings could create disamenities such as congestion,” reads the abstract.

For more of the latest on the subject, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles recently published a survey of recent research on the consequences of new development for local housing markets.

FULL STORY: Local Effects of Large New Apartment Buildings in Low-Income Areas Published on Thursday, May 6, 2021 in The Review of Economics and Statistics Read more »

From Michael von Hausen – the latest book from one of the pre-eminent urban designers in Canada, both a big-vision and sweat-the-details guy.  This one is especially relevant for those who actually want to get something designed and built.

Fresh strategies to streamline development approvals

WHY: Real estate development approvals, a vital part of community planning and value-building, may be the most underrated and misunderstood part of the development process.

HOW: New Pathways to Approvals provides you with a comprehensive how-to guide, from the start of a project through to final approvals. The strategies here will increase the speed and quality of approvals while decreasing associated costs and conflicts. Above all, they develop trust and goodwill, which can ultimately build btter communities.

WHO: This book is for seasoned developers, development consultants, aspiring students, politicians, municipal staff, and community members who want to create healthy and resilient communities.

Hard copies are available on Amazon. 



Read more »

The Urban Development Institute did a webinar on Translink’s 2050 planning process – including some polls along the way.  Here’s one:

It might not be a surprise that the development community sees transit-oriented urban centres as best for office location – by a big margin.   But look at the bottom choice: “Car-oriented sub-urban office parks that are not close to transit.”


Talk about a redevelopment opportunity.  But to what?


UPDATE: The GVRD’s retired strategic planner Ken Cameron offered this Comment below – but it’s important to highlight it here:

 It was evident 40 years ago that the suburban office park was the commercial development equivalent of the low-density single-family subdivision: single use, impossible to serve with transit, pedestrian-hostile, requiring a vehicle for every trip, reliant on taxpayers and individuals to pay all the external costs and very difficult to redevelop for more sustainable uses.

The development industry’s affection for these parks – and the inability of local governments to resist them as a means of providing land for employment – sapped the early development of the urban town centres in the suburbs that the industry now prefers. The result is a massive city-building problem for local governments and their taxpayers.



Read more »


This is a version of a presentation that planner, urban designer and writer Lance Berelowitz made during SFU’s Lunch ‘n Learn online public event on Vancouver’s Downtown Waterfront held on 29 April, 2021.


What do we mean when we refer to Vancouver’s Downtown Waterfront or Central Waterfront? It’s worth reminding ourselves of the significant geographic extent of the site that we’re discussing.

As you can see on this aerial photo, Vancouver’s Downtown Waterfront extends all the way from Burrard Street and Canada Place in the west to Portside Park and Main Street in the east, and from Cordova and Water Streets in the south out into Burrard Inlet in the north.

There is also a significant grade difference of at least 30 feet from Cordova Street down to the Burrard Inlet shoreline.

Multiple uses occupy the area, including Canada Place and the cruise ship terminal, the SeaBus ferry terminal, the Heliport, a multi-modal public transit hub that includes SkyTrain, Canada Line and WestCoast Express stations as well as buses, the railway companies, the Port, a community park, the fishing industry, a coach parking lot, and several private properties. To the immediate south is Gastown, our city’s historic founding place and now a federally designated heritage district. Further east is Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

This is a large, complex site – to say the least – with several public and private land owners. There are multiple key stakeholders and user groups, including the Vancouver Port Authority, TransLink, PAVCO, the railroad companies, the federal, provincial and local governments, the Heliport operators, coach companies, private land owners and, of course, the citizens of Vancouver.

You’ll note that in the middle of the area lies the existing rail yard just north of historic Gastown. This rail yard currently serves Port operations, which is a critical piece of national infrastructure. But it also effectively separates the Downtown/Gastown urban fabric from the waterfront, and constrains redevelopment of the area.

Which brings me to my second image, and my first key point – what if the rail yard could be relocated?

Read more »

From the Downtown Waterfront Working Group:

Simon Fraser University, Vancouver campus, recently hosted two significant and destined-to-be-influential dialogues on the future of the Vancouver Downtown Waterfront, titled “The Downtown Waterfront: Visionaries and Implementers”.

 In the second session, held April 29, 2021, Mary Pynenburg* presented a comprehensive “how to” on implementing major urban revitalization projects.  

“What a difference a few decades can make – False Creek in 1981 v 2021 “


Why these two images?

Our downtown waterfront site is in many respects the last (and hopefully not missing) piece of an important urban puzzle.

My thoughts on urban design implementation for a site like this:

Political will at a variety of levels – city, region, province federal, including key landowners like Port, Railways, Translink, Cadillac Fairview.

Vision – not just words (we are not poets); pictures are easier and ‘worth a thousand words.’

Read more »


The Post, currently under construction on Georgia, will open in 2023 as the largest office building downtown.  Inside will be about 6,000 Amazon employees in a building over a million square feet, some relocated from buildings nearby.

Says Mayor Kennedy: “The City of Vancouver is so excited to see Amazon creating an additional 3,000 well-paying jobs for people who want to work and live in our city.”

Just the kind of well-paying jobs needed to afford Vancouver’s housing costs, assisted by a generous grant that Amazon gives its employees for initial accommodation, along with the services of a ‘head-hunter’ who tracks down available apartments.

You can guess where this is going.  Great if you’re an Amazonian on the upper floors, not so promising if you’re a barista in the lobby, disastrous if you’re tenuous low-income tenant in, say, the West End.  And Amazon isn’t alone in attracting educated workers from all over the world, taking advantage of Canada’s immigration policies, close to the mother ships in Seattle like Microsoft.

So what should the city and province be doing now in anticipation of this flood, especially to mitigate the impacts on those in the low end of the market? Perhaps this:

Read more »

A few weeks ago, BC Cycling Coalition board member Peter Ladner got an op-ed in The Sun on that perennial bike-path irritant – Kitsilano Park.

What is it about cycling through Kits Park that triggers neighbourhood “uprisings,” talk-show vitriol, and a bully mob that scared the Park Board from making a decision in 2018? …

This westside flashpoint has somehow become a blinking red light slowing down cyclist safety in other parks. Fearful trepidation about creating a permanent bike lane through Stanley Park is just one echo of the Kits Park blockade, even as the evidence is screaming “these changes work.”

To be fair, the Vancouver Park Board is promising to build a safe cycling route through Kits Park a year from now, amid election jitters. That’s almost 10 years after earlier plans were shouted down by a group best described as the Hadden Park Defence Militia (officially the Kits Point Residents Association). Yet park board staff and elected park board officials — including the green-professing majority — are still terrified of this group, continuing to hold the city’s exploding numbers of pandemic-driven cyclists hostage to its anti-cycling demands. …

That provocative reference to the Kits Point Residents Association was guaranteed to provoke a response – and so it did.  But maybe not what was expected from a group with a notorious NIMBY reputation from years ago. They want to be on the record as ready to help ‘close the gap’:

Read more »

I have the pleasure of moderating what is, for me, an unusual panel.  It focuses on the fast-growing suburban municipalities in Metro Vancouver who will shape our future more than, perhaps, the City of Vancouver, and it also includes planners from Seattle – our southern neighbour with whom we rarely talk over our border fence.

Join an expert panel consisting of planning experts from Surrey, Delta, Maple Ridge and Seattle to get the inside scoop on how land-use plans, development and growth will occur around transit nodes in local municipalities and abroad.

No one knows what the future of the post-pandemic city will be like but we do know where we’re headed.  Transit decisions have been made to help inform land-use, municipalities and investment interests have their plans, and there’s enough consensus to proceed. Come to learn where the growth will take place and how things will unfold.

Featured Panel:

May 6, 2021

12:00 PM – 1:15 PM PDT

Register Now

Read more »

Michael Gordon* explores a misconception about Kitsilano in the Seventies – that, in a reaction to what was felt to be ‘out-of-control overdevelopment’ (see West End), Kits was downzoned.  Not quite.


Many years ago, Vancouver’s Director of Community Planning advised me that the 1975 downzoning in Kitsilano to prevent highrise residential development was not a downzoning. Upon further researching this, I discovered to some extent he had a point.

In July 1964 Kitsilano, Fairview, Kerrisdale, Mt.Pleasant and other neighbourhoods had their apartment RM-3 zoning amended to encourage ‘tower in the park’ residential development up to 120 feet.** Previously, the maximum height was three to four storeys.  Subsequently in Kitsilano, only seven highrise residential buildings were built along with a variety of four-storey wood-frame apartment buildings.

The RM-3 zoning had encouraged large site assemblies because it was the only way to achieve the maximum density and height of 36.6 metres (or about 11 to 13 storeys). Density bonuses were given for large sites, low site coverage and enclosed or underground parking. (This zoning still applies in areas of Fairview and Kerrisdale.)  Small- and medium-sized sites were built to a lower density and three- to four-storey wood-frame construction.

Things started to heat up in Kitsilano in the 1970s when:

Read more »

Thursday, April 15

12:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m. PDT

The SFU Vancouver Lunch ‘n’ Learn series hosts a two-part virtual series on the future of the downtown waterfront on Thursday, April 15th and Thursday, April 29th (Noon-1pm).


The downtown waterfront – the area surrounding the Waterfront Station – could well be the most important and most exciting urban redevelopment opportunity in Canada. Much of the land lies “in waiting” as either parking lots for cars or for freight trains. The Waterfront Station, with its 50,000 passengers a day, is the ideal nexus for what could be a creative renewal of this important area.

The first session on Thursday, April 15th (Noon-1pm) is designed to raise the profile and awareness of the array of opportunities: future transit needs for the City/Region, the role of the historic Waterfront Station, cultural and educational opportunities, walking/biking, public space, tourism, and office and commercial business.

Sarah Ross, Director, System Planning, Transportation Planning and Policy, Translink

Larry Beasley, former city planner, author and international consultant on urban design

Norm Hotson, prominent designer and architect, helped design Granville Island

Gil Kelley, former General Manager of Planning, Urban Design and Sustainability, City of Vancouver


Read more »