Business & Economy
January 15, 2020

A Livable Region Plan for the Province

 

It’s not often that a political columnist will delve into the details of urban and regional planning.  Those are weeds too thick for most readers.  

But Sun Victoria correspondent Vaughn Palmer did so today, perhaps because he got fed a report on what could be, in fact, a pretty big deal: a direction for the urban and economic planning of British Columbia. 

If taken seriously, backed up with action and able to survive changes in governments, it could be for the province what the first regional planning was the GVRD (now Metro Vancouver) in the 1970s.  That is from whence came the Livable Region Plan, or ‘Cities in a Sea of Green.’   We adopted it, stuck to it, and a half century later can the results.  It worked out pretty well.

This ‘economic framework’ is more the structure on which such a plan could be built.  It seems to be a result of departmental thinking aligned with the priorities and strategies of the government – in other words, not just an NDP political exercise to justify what they wanted to do anyway. 

Following are excepts from Palmer’s column, found here in its entirety.

 

An economic framework recently distributed by the provincial government outlines strategies to accommodate future population, trade and business growth. Key elements of the plan include developing Surrey as a “second downtown” for Metro. ECONOMIC PLAN CALLS FOR DISPERSING GROWTH

The John Horgan government has adopted an economic plan to shift growth and investment away from Vancouver and toward less congested parts of the province.   … Key elements will promote the development of Surrey as a “second downtown” for Metro Vancouver, anchoring a “growth corridor” extending into the Fraser Valley.

Part and parcel of that push will see development of an updated transportation and regional land-use plan in co-operation with local governments.

While the plan mentions few specifics, it does quote favourably from a recent B.C. Business Council paper, which called for “a new Fraser Valley innovation corridor anchored by a commuter rail system running from Chilliwack to the city of Vancouver.”

“Squamish, the Tri-Cities, Delta, Tsawwassen, Langford” (yes, Horgan’s hometown) “and others offer significant advantages for technology startups or satellite office locations …  “Kamloops, Rossland, Nelson, Canal Flats, Campbell River and many others are seeing transformational growth in the technology sector from businesses and workers purposefully seeking out the cost and lifestyle advantages of a smaller community, while staying connected to their B.C. and global customers through high-speed internet.” …

To help persuade investors to locate operations in the north, the province cites access to “B.C.’s clean affordable hydroelectric grid that can power industrial development.”  The latter pitch depends in part on successful completion of the hydroelectric dam at Site C on the Peace River. The New Democrats discounted the project as unnecessary during their opposition days, but it now dovetails conveniently with their new economic strategy. …

Also in the works is “a regional inventory of investment-ready opportunities, including transportation, energy, educational, internet connectivity, community and other infrastructure needed to support quality economic growth.”

But the inventory is no more public than the plan itself, which, as noted here Tuesday, was crafted mainly for the eyes of the public service and selected stakeholders. …

As to the rationale for all this, the plan notes that the province is scheduled to add a million people over the next 30 years. …

“B.C.’s population grew by close to a million people, with much of the population increase concentrated in the Lower Mainland.”

The region was unprepared for growth of that scale.

“Demand for housing, public services and infrastructure exceeded supply, with particularly acute impacts for housing affordability. Higher demand led to sharp increases in the cost of rental and market housing, and those with lower incomes were squeezed out — or sometimes forced out through ‘renoviction’ — of housing they could no longer afford. Families moved farther away from their work in order to find housing within their means, resulting in longer commute times and growing congestion problems.” …

The fallout from runaway and unplanned growth is one reason why the New Democrats picked up 10 seats in Metro Vancouver in the last election and the B.C.

Read more »

The New York Times published a wonderfully interactive perspective on “A Decade of Urban Transformation” – the changes in the American urban landscape (with enough applicability to much of urban Canada), as seen from above.

 

Vast new exurbs have been carved from farmland, and once-neglected downtowns have come to life again. The tech industry has helped remake entire city neighborhoods, and it has dotted the landscape with strange new beasts, in data centers and fulfillment hubs.

The Exurbs Boom Again

At the beginning of this decade, for a short period after the housing bust, it looked as if the exurbs were over. Housing construction and population growth there ground to a halt. Briefly, central cities and denser suburbs were growing faster than exurbia. But the exurbs eventually boomed again, a pattern we can see in rings of new development around most major metro areas in this map, especially in the Sun Belt:

For more images:

Read more »

Planning for Non-Planners: What You Need to Know About Community Planning

What you’ll learn

By the end of the course, you will be able to:

  • Describe key objectives of the Metro Vancouver Regional Growth Strategy and other region-wide initiatives
  • Explain the basic process and structure of urban plans and policies in municipalities
  • Identify the tools planners can use to influence development of communities

3 Thursday evenings: March 2, 9, 16

6:30–9:30 p.m.

SFU Harbour Centre

Instructor: Eric Aderneck, VP Planning and Development, iFortune Homes Inc.; Industrial Land-Use Planning Consultant

Register now

 

Read more »

At Vancouver City Hall, December 18:

Vancouver council approved a contentious rezoning application to build a five-storey rental building at Larch and West Second Avenue in an 8-3 vote Dec. 18. after a public hearing that attracted dozens of speakers, for and against. …   The Larch street building will produce 63 rental units — 13 for moderate income households.

Some neighbouring residents, who formed Kits Neighbourhood Group, campaigned against the Larch Street project, arguing it didn’t fit neighbourhood character, the building is too high, dense and bulky, and not enough affordable units are being provided to justify the incentives being offered to the developer.

Imagine trying to approve hundreds of these ‘missing-middle’ developments one by one – or even through a mass rezoning to allow them anywhere.  Imagine a ‘Kits Neighbourhood Group’ city-wide (as Colleen Hardwick undoubtedly will).

 

Meanwhile, at Surrey City Hall, December 16:

Alison Brooks Architects has won approval for a residential-led scheme in Vancouver, Canada, featuring a series of towers, the tallest a 38-storey skyscraper …

The project for Rize Alliance Properties will create 1,126 homes on the site in the burgeoning City of Surrey (City Centre) …

It was waved through at a City of Surrey Public Hearing …

 

Do the math: 63 versus 1,126.  Do the political calculation: one project tries to nibble away at The Grand Bargain, the other reinforces its expediency.

What are the odds that the City of Vancouver will provide enough housing of any kind, incentivized or not, to make a substantial difference in the housing crisis?

 

Read more »

TransLink’s CEO addressed the Real Estate Institute President’s luncheon this week with a general overview of regional transit.  And though much was familiar, there were still items worth noting.  Time for some bullet points.

Said Desmond: “This is the most exciting time to be involved in public transit in its history.”  I believe him, especially when you’re running the most successful transit agency in terms of ridership growth in North America.

How successful? Up 18 percent between 2016 and 2018, when almost every other system is flat or dropping.  And it’s not just because of SkyTrain expansion. It’s bus ridership that has led the growth in actual numbers, and it’s where the biggest growth is going to come in the next few years.

Big message to the real-estate industry: Don’t just think of development at the station areas; think transit corridors, especially the new Rapidbus lines.  (Why the change of name from B-Lines?  Because they were just big buses running more frequently with limited stops.  Rapidbus involves a redesign of everything from the stops, the signs, the lanes and the land use.)

Irony alert: many transit users can’t afford transit-oriented development. This is not just an issue in the burgeoning station areas like those along the Millennium Line or potentially along the Broadway corridor; it’s also an emerging problem along the new Rapidbus lines, where the housing may be too expensive for the target population the transit is meant to serve.

The desirability of high-density station areas was affirmed when Marine Gateway (along the Canada Line in Marpole) sold out in four hours.  That made the industry pay attention when the condo market seemed to be oversold.  (It shouldn’t have been that great a surprise: many of the purchasers would have been familiar with similar development in Hong Kong, Singapore or Shanghai – where metro transit and high-density housing are indivisible and desirable.)

The Capstan station in Richmond, paid for by the adjacent development, changes the political message about how we fund transit infrastructure.  More by the private sector, less by the public.

Expect Broadway subway service in 2025.  Construction starts next fall.

If the money is approved for the a Surrey SkyTrain extension, service to Langley could also start in 2025, which would otherwise be the starting date for service to Fleetwood, the destination without the extension.)

As public consultation on the Transport 2050 strategic plan continues (phase 1 here), remember the previous one: Transport 2021 in 1993.

Almost everything proposed and planned was achieved.  “We put it together and we stuck with it and we did it.”  (Despite the BC Liberals sabotage by referendum, which they have still not acknowledged or apologized for.)

The future: electric, connected and self-driving.  Autonomous cars may not be happening as soon as expected, but by the end of the next decade, 60 percent of the entire bus fleet could be zero emission.  That’s especially notable given that a lot of housing will be constructed along the Frequent Transit Network.

Desmond also emphasizes the mundane: maintaining assets in good repair, even as we try to understand and integrate the disruptive forces in transportation.

 

*Photo by thestar

Read more »

Last week, the City of Vancouver hosted a free public workshop on the Granville Bridge Connector project.

Currently, there are six design options being considered, with hopes of bringing forward a preferred design to council in early 2020. In theory, feedback from public engagement and workshops will be used to inform the selection of a preferred design.

In an effort to apply a lens of equity to this project, the city organized a Mobility Equity workshop, facilitated by the ever-insightful Jay Pitter.

To kick-start the workshop, Jay offered insight into what equity is, what equity can look like, and how that relates to transportation. Key takeaways:

Streets are contested spaces. Streets have been designed or re-designed for the efficient and high-speed movement of vehicles, often at the expense of people. As a result, aspects pertaining to safety, both physical and social (e.g. personal security), are often an issue.

This begs the question: to what extent has efficiency been prioritized over safety and security? To what extent do women, elderly, LGBTQ, visible minority and immigrant groups (among others) feel safe and secure on our streets? To what extent have such groups been overlooked in planning and design?

Read more »

In addition to my role as a new Price Tags contributor (thanks all for reading!), I have an academic and professional background in transportation, social equity, and the environment, and currently specialize in planning for transport equity, with an emphasis on walking and cycling.

Invariably tied to this are important considerations that relate to transport, such as land use and development (commercial and residential), climate change, displacement, gentrification, and (of course), the needs and wants of actual people.

Thus, when planning for transport equity, it is about more than just finding ways to engineer our way from point A to B. It is about finding ways to create safe, secure, inclusive, and environmentally sustainable places (yes! streets are places!) that improve mobility and accessibility fairly, and assist people in their ability to participate and flourish in socio-economic life.

With equity emerging as a hot topic, I often hear the question: “what is equity?”  and, depending on the context, “how can it be achieved?”. In reality, equity can be defined in many ways, and there are also many ways one can work to achieve it.

Read more »

The conversion of Brentwood into a municipal town centre is really about the conversion of car-dependent development from post-war suburbia into the transit-oriented centres of today.  It’s the fulfilment of the regional vision that began in the 1970s.

This is the Grand Bargain in action, concentrating development on the brownfields: the asphalt parking lots, the obsolete industrial sites, the empty lots, all within walking distance of a SkyTrain station.  (Debate: Can the same thing happen along the Frequent Transit Network or even a light-rail line?  Or is grade-separated rapid transit – concrete, trains! – a necessity?)

 

The success of these station areas is unquestioned.  There is a lot more of them happening, a lot more to come, as evident at the next SkyTrain stop to the west – Gilmore:

Today:

Tomorrow:

 

The bargain so far has been a push to extremes: highrise sacrifice zones to protect the iconic single-family neighbourhoods (regardless of the number of units within those houses).

And it leaves untouched the vast stretches of Motordom in between the station areas:

Lougheed Highway at Gilmore, looking west

 

The City of Vancouver has taken the first steps to rezone the blocks just beyond the arterials and transit corridors for medium-density rental, and there are a few, but very few, examples where a whole single-family district has been rezoned, bulldozed and rebuilt (Moodyville) to offer the middle-missing choices for which there is general agreement of their necessity.

This region’s ability to plan, approve and build complexes on the scale of Brentwood makes us an urban leader, certainly in North America.  By comparison, here is Miami Worldcenter, said to be the second largest real-estate development in the US, next to Hudson Yards:

More commercial, denser (and eventually underwater) – but not that different from what we do in our distant suburbs.  Okay, way more jobs, highly desired in places like Coquitlam, but in form and size, it’s just another megaproject.

Just another version of Brentwood.

 

 

Read more »

Burnaby at Brentwood has gone full urban.

This is the Lougheed Highway at Willingdon – one the signature crossroads of our region.  On the right, a massive mixed-use development called (awful name) Amazing Brentwood.

Ian Wasson at Burnaby City Hall gave me a heads-up:  Brentwood was ready for a walk-through.  And easy to get to – seamlessly connected to one of the most beautiful SkyTrain stations in the region.

At the same time Brentwood Mall was under redevelopment, the City rebuilt Lougheed into more of a complete street.  There are at least four modes of movement integrated but separate, with great materials, thoughtful landscaping and exciting urbanism in three dimensions.

We’ll explore Brentwood this week.  But here’s the judgment:

Read more »

When Councillors consider this report on November 26 – Rental Incentives Review Phase II – “to create new zoning districts for residential rental tenure, for use in ‘off-the-shelf’ rezonings for RS and RT zoned sites in low density transition areas that are on and near arterial roads and close to parks, schools and shopping areas”, they will:

(1) Instruct staff “to prepare the amending by-law.”

(2) Refer it to the City-wide Planning process.

(3) Other.

 

Sun reporter Dan Fumano reports:

Another change would allow four-storey rental apartment or townhouse buildings in “low-density transition areas” — defined as residential blocks within 150 metres from an arterial street. Some Vancouver neighbourhoods, such as Kitsilano and Mount Pleasant, already include many such buildings off of arterial streets. But the proposed change would open up many more parts of Vancouver to these buildings, including much of the less-dense southern half of the city, on both the east and west sides.

Asked if he expects some homeowners and neighbourhood associations might object to apartment buildings on side streets, Stewart said: “I think it’s something to digest. But all of us on council say we’re in the middle of a housing crisis, and if you’re in a crisis, you have to do something new.”

 

 

Read more »