Architecture
October 17, 2019

The Grand Bargain, Illustrated

 

You won’t likely find “The Grand Bargain” in a planning text, even though it explains in a phrase the de facto understanding that has shaped many of the places where Canadians live.

The bargain looks like this:

This is North York* between the Sheppard and Finch subway stations – a one-block-deep corridor of high-density mixed-use development on either side of Yonge Street.

Go another block further and there is a cliff-face drop in scale, where single-family suburbia begins under a canopy of street trees.

Post-war Toronto and its suburban cities decided to accommodate density (those concrete towers especially) where there was primarily commercial and industrial zoning.  With the opening of the Yonge Street subway in 1954, the station areas made ideal locations, especially where there was already a streetcar village.

To deal with community blowback at the sudden change in scale and alienating architecture, especially if the bulldozing of existing residential neighbourhoods might be required, planners and councils struck a compact: we won’t touch a blade of grass in your single-family zones.  Your status will be maintained.

Hence the Grand Bargain: high-rise density, low-scale suburbia, little in between.  Massive change for one, almost none for the other, and spot rezonings thereafter.

On the other side of the country, something similar was going in Burnaby.  In the fifties, the Lower Mainland Regional Planning Board produced a vision – ‘cities in a sea of green‘ – and provided the guidelines to go with it, notably where to consider apartment zoning.  David Pereira details the evolution of Burnaby’s commitment to the regional vision and its apartment zones, renamed town centres, in the 1960s.

That bargain when built out looks like this:

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Shaping Vancouver 2019: What’s the Use of Heritage?

Conversation #2: What do we do about neighbourhoods?

Some argue that “neighbourhood character” must be maintained to preserve the diversity of the city. Others note however that “neighbourhood character” frequently serves as an instrument of exclusion, making people feel unwelcome and marginalizing them.

Neighbourhoods that do not evolve risk stagnation, while neighbourhoods that change too rapidly erase the attributes that make them unique.

Are there then qualities of neighbourhoods that should be cultivated or protected? As Vancouver faces a housing crisis, how do we go about discussing neighbourhood change?

Four panelists share their insights about their local places:

Richard Evans – Chair of RePlan, a committee of the False Creek South Neighbourhood Association

Scot Hein – adjunct professor in the Master of Urban Design program at UBC, previously the senior urban designer with the City of Vancouver

Jada-Gabrielle Pape – facilitator and consultant with Courage Consulting

Jennifer Maiko Bradshaw – renter, pro-housing activist and director of Abundant Housing Vancouver

 

Wednesday, October 9

7-9 PM

SFU Goldcorp Centre for the Arts (SFU Woodwards) – 149 West Hastings Street

Free, donations appreciated.

Tickets here.

 

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The latest from Michael Anderson at the Sightline Institute:

For three years, Portland’s proposal to re-legalize fourplexes citywide has been overshadowing another, related reform. …  This proposed mid-density reform, dubbed “Better Housing by Design,” includes various good ideas  … like regulating buildings by size rather than unit count; and giving nonprofit developers of below-market housing a leg up with size bonuses.

But one detail in this proposal is almost shocking in its clarity. It turns out that there is one simple factor that determines whether these lots are likely to eventually redevelop as:

  1. high-cost townhomes, or as
  2. mixed-income condo buildings for the middle and working class.

The difference between these options is whether they need to provide storage for cars—i.e. parking.

According to calculations from the city’s own contracted analysts, if off-street parking spaces are required in the city’s new “RM2” zone, then the most profitable thing for a landowner to build on one of these properties in inner Portland is 10 townhomes, each valued at $733,000, with an on-site garage.

But if off-street parking isn’t required, then the most profitable thing to build is a 32-unit mixed-income building, including 28 market-rate condos selling for an average of $280,000 and four below-market condos—potentially created in partnership with a community land trust like Portland’s Proud Ground—sold to households making no more than 60 percent of the area’s median income.

This is worth repeating: As long as parking isn’t necessary, the most profitable homes a developer can build on a lot like this in inner Portland would already be within the reach of most Portland households on day one.

But if we require parking on these lots, we block this scenario. If every unit has to come with an on-site garage, the most profitable thing to build becomes, instead, a much more expensive townhome.

When people say cities can choose either housing people or housing cars, this is what they’re talking about. 

I’ve never seen a more clear-cut example.

Lots more detail here.

 

 

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Maybe, actually, the development absurdity of the year.

An application has come in to build a five-storey commercial building on the northeast corner of West Broadway and Granville Street – identified as the location for the South Granville station on the proposed Broadway line.

To repeat: a five-storey building on top of a subway line.

But that’s not the absurdity. This is: “Also included in the project are six levels of underground parking.”

To repeat again: a five-storey building with six levels of parking. On top of what will be one of the busiest metro stops in the region.

 

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Josh Kepkay is a realtor, and now a podcaster – an opportunity, of course, to increase his profile while having conversations with “thought leaders, personalities and interesting people in the Vancouver Real Estate world with a story to share.”

As someone who always enjoys a little thought leading, I took him up on his invitation.  And here’s the result:

Click on the second podcast on the list: “What the future holds with Gordon Price”.

And yes, we go well outside the topic of the local real-estate market.  Of special interest to those interested in the strategies of city council in the ’80s and ’90s (as well as backstories on the West End) for lessons that might apply to the city’s future.

 

 

 

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The Vancouver City-wide Plan, which with its $16 million budget to fund three years of conversations and consultations, starts its roll-out this fall.

It aims high: “… to create an integrated strategy that includes a vision for the future city.”  It’s ambitious, addressing every big issue and every good intention that councillors were able to pack in – equity, affordability, reconciliation, climate change.  It’s strategic, proposing to integrate existing plans for infrastructure and transportation, as well as coordinating with Metro, the Province, even UBC and the Parks Board.

 

But one thing it won’t do is inform you of what can ultimately be built on your block.

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In recent years efforts across the City of Vancouver are being made to not only create new rental housing stock, but also protect its existing stock and the tenancy rights of its residents. With rental housing making up an estimated 50% + of Vancouver households, this is critical.

Housing Vancouver Strategy (2018-2027)

Responding to Vancouver’s current housing affordability crisis is the most significant challenge facing the City today – with Vancouver residents facing among the highest housing prices and rents and lowest median incomes among Canada’s large cities. Housing Vancouver (2018-2027) is the City’s vision for ensuring that Vancouver can be a home for people of all incomes and backgrounds, by prioritizing affordable housing and making housing markets work for all people who live and work in the City.

The need for new rental stock, particularly that which is social, supportive, and affordable is critical for several reasons, including for example:

  • Vancouver’s rental vacancy rate continues to sit below 1 per cent resulting in renters having limited options when they are looking for rental housing and face substantial competition for a small number of available homes.
  • The number of people paying more than 30% of income (the CMHC measure for housing unaffordability) on housing has grown astronomically as cost of living has far outpaced the incomes of many Vancouver residents: over 46,000 renters in Vancouver across the income spectrum are paying over 30 per cent of their income on rent. Out of these households, 15,000 are paying over half their income on rent – 58 per cent of these are headed by individuals aged 20 to 45, 15 per cent are families with children, and a further 14 per cent are seniors over 65.8.
  • Much of the existing stock, particularly social and supportive housing such as the Single Resident Occupancy buildings in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside is old, unsafe, and virtually uninhabitable. This, combined with a growing homeless population makes the need for social and supportive housing that much more critical: The 2017 Metro Vancouver Homeless Count found 2,138 sheltered and unsheltered homeless individuals in Vancouver – a 19 per cent increase over the 2014 Metro Vancouver count, with seniors, youth under the age of 25, and Indigenous residents disproportionately represented in comparison to other populations. An additional 4,000 people are living in private Single Room Occupancy Hotels (SROs), many of them in inadequate conditions.
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Beginning in the 1970s and through the ’80s, in both the city and the region, the word used to describe the intent of our urban planning and policies – and the goal of our leaders – was the idea of the Livable city.

 

By the 1990s and into the early 21st century, the descriptive term used was “Sustainable” – otherwise known as “Greenest“:

 

As climate change became more of a priority – and the need for strategies to deal with unknown but potentially severe impacts – the word that showed up in reports and discussion in the last decade was “Resilient

 

Livablity, Sustainablity, Resilency … and now the what may be the term most appropriate for the next decade and the one that will inform our planning strategies:

 

Urgency.

 

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