Governance & Politics
February 18, 2020

Sidewalk Priority Slips With Lack of City of Vancouver Oversight

Last week Jill Bennett in this  Global News video story  talked about the state of disrepair of the public sidewalk outside of Canada Place. It’s worth looking at the video which shows how shocking the existing conditions are.

The attention to detail for walking is fundamentally important to all cities. No matter who you are or where you live, the Metro Vancouver sidewalk is an extension of your public space, and it is equitable that sidewalk users receive the same level of treatment afforded to users of bike lanes and of roads. Everyone no matter their age or ability or level of accessibility should be able to travel easily and comfortably on walkable smooth surfaces, with drop down curbs at intersections, clean and readable. It just makes sense to provide people using the most sustainable way of travel the easiest and most effortless experience. This is no budget trade off instead of  housing affordability or density, it is an essential part of accessibility and movement at the most basic level to support a growing population.

One thing that has been an utter fail in the last decade in the City of Vancouver has been the management of the pedestrian environment, the sidewalks, and the standard of maintenance of the walking environment.  Even well respected urbanist  Larry Beasley has pointed out that Vancouver’s pedestrian public realm needed to be cleaned and polished up, and garbage off the streets. Right now several parts of the city have dangerously cracked sidewalks and supporting public realm infrastructure that looks like nobody cares. Repairing sidewalks was even offered as a voted on potential  “contribution” to the Denman west end neighbourhood.

Sidewalks and sidewalk repair are never an extra~it is part of the infrastructure of a well functioning city to maintain accessible and safe walking facilities. Pedestrians are supposedly the first priority in the City’s transportation plans. It’s time to invest in that.

Every Mayor likes to have their own stamp on things, and despite the fact that Greenways came out of an Urban Landscape Task Force of members of the public led by renown Landscape Architect Moura Quayle, greenways (and its budget) were squelched in favour of other new programming identifiable with the Vision council majority in 2008.

The creative Doug Smith  Greenways Engineer had left his post in 2005  to undertake important work in the City Works Yards and then the Sustainability Office. It was under his guidance that “greenways” became synonymous with great street design.

These were actually  streets where walking was the first priority. There was a network of 140 kilometers of streets that joined important destinations like services, schools and shopping that were strengthened by pedestrian public realm improvements.

You can see some of the work along 37th Avenue in the city, and also take a look at the map of greenways. Greenways were really “green streets” in that Doug Smith’s team explored innovative ways of creating infiltration bulges, baffled daylighted storm water,  public art, fountains, and  of making walking the first priority, followed by cycling. Vehicular use of these greenway streets was blocked or slowed by different means. The intent was to trial new ways of creating sustainable infrastructure that then could translate to other pedestrian and public space areas.

In the Greenways staff were several individuals whose job was to visit and walk every sidewalk and every street in Vancouver to rank the sidewalks needing repair work, and identify where new sidewalks needed to be place. Having them embedded with Engineering Greenways staff meant everyone had a real sense of “ground truthing” in how to create the best walking environments.

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It will probably get worse.

From The Guardian:

London has achieved the impossible by eradicating the private car – and still having desperate traffic congestion,” says Prof Tony Travers, the director of LSE London, a research centre at the London School of Economics that explores the city’s economic and social concerns. “People keep saying we need to get the cars off the road. In central London, there aren’t any.” …

London brought in (a congestion charge) 17 years ago. … The number of cars in the City of London fell 15% either side of the introduction in 2003 of the congestion charge – allied since April 2019 with an ultra-low emission zone that more than doubles the daily charge for older diesel cars to £24. The city is also blessed with quicker, cheaper public transport alternatives. …

So why is traffic moving more slowly than ever?  Among most analysts, there is consensus on two underlying reasons: more vans and more Ubers. But in case we should feel righteously smug, Travers adds a list of contributors to the gridlock: “Cycle lanes, in some places, are bad. Ubiquitous four-way pedestrian crossing. Wider pavements. Any one of those makes perfect sense individually. But the buses are completely screwed.”

The bus easily outstrips the tube and rail as the main mode of transport for Londoners – even more so among disabled people, those with mobility problems and the poorest residents. Frozen prices, plus the introduction in 2016 of the hopper fare, which allows unlimited journeys within one hour for the cost of one trip, have made buses even cheaper under the current mayor, Sadiq Khan. However, the network has shrunk and patronage has declined in the past four years….

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Stats-and-numbers guy Andy Coupland does a backgrounder on The Grand Bargain and what Vancouverites (City and Metro) should know about this town.

Here’s the first post in the Andy Coupland Primer. Here’s the second. The third.  And now the fourth and final:

Random Acts of Density

Can the city or the region build itself out of the current ‘housing crisis’? The proportion of rental households actually went up in Vancouver between the 2011 and 2016 censuses (and in the rest of Metro too, although with a lower overall proportion renting). The past five years have seen over 33,000 starts in the city – the past four years have seen over 28,000.

But for the city to achieve an average 8,500 new units a year (the target the mayor has mentioned) would mean moving away from the caution we generally see.* Perhaps it won’t be as difficult as it seems. It was a bit surprising that there wasn’t pushback when Wall built a huge complex on Boundary Road, quite a way from the SkyTrain. That was the most extreme example (in Vancouver) of a street of modest houses replaced by over 1,000 condos in 32 floor buildings.

The take-up of the Cambie Plan also shows a different approach – not so much the six-storey buildings along Cambie already mentioned but the more recent additions. The City now has a method to fast-track rezoning for 1.4 FSR townhouses. One existing house can become six or even eight units, half of them 3-bed family-sized. There are already 32 projects as current rezonings – all but two approved in the past year. There are nine other sites already at Development Permit stage, and they represent 341 townhouses – which for Vancouver is a huge change.  The same sort of thing is happening in Marpole and Grandview Woodland, as those plans took the same forms and density.

That will be another way in which Vancouver will continue to grow in ways other municipalities don’t, because there’s actually a lot of change happening in some of Vancouver’s single-family neighbourhoods, which really isn’t the case in other municipalities. It would be interesting to know who is buying them. The family homes generally cost well over $1 million each – so more affordable than most existing Vancouver houses, but still a pretty steep haul to finance as a young couple.

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There’s a new proposal to convert half of each of Vancouver’s three city-owned golf courses to up to 10,000 homes, with the other halves converted to parkland. In total, it could create housing for 60,000 Vancouverites, ranging from low-income to market rate.

In past years, the Vancouver Park Board has voted to keep its courses for golf, with one Commissioner emphasizing their importance for senior recreation and combating social isolation.

But the number of golfers is declining. And the Park Board recently voted for its staff to “evaluate the full spectrum of realized and unrealized benefits of Park Board land currently used for golf,” and to look at past, present and future golfing demand. This year, they’ll ask for the public’s preferences – your preferences.


Scot Hein is an author of the housing and park proposal. He’s an Adjunct Professor in the Master of Urban Design program at UBC, and formerly Vancouver’s Senior Urban Designer.

Tricia Barker is a Vancouver Park Board Commissioner. In her day job, she is a certified personal trainer who specializes in working with seniors.


Thursday, February 20

12:30 PM

SFU Vancouver Harbour Centre | Room 7000, 515 West Hastings Street

Free Event | Registration is required.  

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Expropriation of derelict hotels. Plans for 6,000 new units in 11 high-rises at the foot of Burrard Bridge, some as high as 60 storeys. Increase emission-reduction targets five-fold.

Vancouver in 2019 was transformed. Or was it?

The Vancouver City Planning Commission, in partnership with SFU’s Vancity Office of Community Engagement, is bringing together some of the city’s top urbanists and advocates to look back 12-months in order to see where Vancouver is heading.

The panel on February 6, 2020 includes Sarah Blyth from the front lines of the opioid overdose crisis; Stephanie Allen, a champion of community housing; Ray Spaxman, the conscience of Vancouver’s planning community; and, Michelle Lorna Nahanee (Sḵwx̱wú7mesh), an Indigenous change maker. The panel will be moderated by Am Johal, Director, SFU’s Vancity Office of Community Engagement.

Find out whether the milestones of 2019 proposed by a VCPC committee can withstand their scrutiny. Listen in as the panel discuss emerging trends in the evolution of the city that have not previously been recognized. Question some of Vancouver’s most passionate city builders on their perspectives. Offer you own ideas on the watershed moments of 2019 in planning and development in Vancouver.


Thursday, February 6

7 to 9 pm

SFU Woodward’s Djavad Mowafaghian World Art Centre, 149 W Hastings

Tickets are limited. Register now!

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There’s a trend in city architecture and in North American vehicle purchase that tests how we view ourselves and what we value in  current culture. This is the time of importing starchitects to Vancouver to build structures that do not really respond to their environs or surroundings, but are rather signature statement towers that clearly carry the stamp of who is the designer. And they are not unique to the place~you can see the same Bjarke Ingels Vancouver House twisty forms in this winding development at 76 Eleventh Avenue in New York City.

Take a look at Kenneth Chan’s current article in the Daily Hive on the 2016 proposed Holborn Group development for the Hudson’s Bay parkade on Seymour Street which challenges Vancouverites to think “bigger”.

That Holborn parkade redevelopment plan proposed three towers, one which will be 900 feet (that’s about 90 potential storeys) with just one small problem. The proposed height is 600 feet over the 300 foot limit because of the City mandated view cone to protect the views to the mountains. Kenneth Chan states “this is the same view cone that severely constrained the height of the adjacent TELUS Garden office tower”.

The project’s tower looks like an undulating lipstick tube and is described as bringing “a design flair that is common in modern Asian metropolises like Singapore and Hong Kong, this concept was designed by Beijing-based MAD Architects, which has international offices in Los Angeles, New York City, and Rome.”

The Holborn Group is the same developer who built Vancouver’s Trump Tower and who controls the former social housing  fifteen acre Little Mountain site. They state on their website that they intend to build 1,400 units on that land. There’s been all kinds of discussion on how this land was purchased from the Province, and how for nearly 12 years nothing has happened on this site which previously housed 224 social housing units.

It appears that the  story for this decade is still the focus on building downtown architecture to be a developer and architect’s  standalone showpiece. It does not really need to fit into the existing vernacular or reference the outstanding mountain and sea views. The trend is to outperform other buildings in size, shape, height and shock value. The iconic buildings anticipated for the downtown also do not appear to be responding to any local housing market needs with the exception of the Burrard Bridge located towers proposed by The Squamish Nation. Naoibh O’Connor has created a little compendium of twelve new buildings proposed for  Vancouver which allows you to look at some of the designs.

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We asked stats-and-numbers guy Andy Coupland to do a backgrounder on The Grand Bargain and what Vancouverites (City and Metro) should know about this town, especially if they are going to weigh in on the housing crisis and to participate in the City-Wide Plan. 

Here’s the first post in the Andy Coupland Primer. Here’s the second.  And now the third:



Demographic change is also driving development, and explains why there are as many new homes as new residents in Vancouver in the most recent data from the 2016 Census.

In the 284,000 households in the City of Vancouver, the average household size has been falling. That’s not a new phenomenon, and it’s not only happening in Vancouver. The average household size is falling across the region, and has for 20 years.  In part it’s because my generation, known as ‘The Boomers*,’ are starting to die off. Average family size** is falling too, both in the city, and the region. It’s not because there are proportionally more one-person households; those have been surprisingly stable over the same period.

There were fewer Boomers in Metro Vancouver in 2016 than in 2011 – but only slightly fewer. The 2011 Census saw the greatest number of people born between 1946 and 1965 living in the region – almost 670,000 people. But there were 18,000 fewer in 2016, as they started retiring to other locations or dying off.

Things were different in the City of Vancouver. Boomers saw their numbers in the city drop for every census period since 1996, when the city saw ‘Peak Boomer’. There were 182,000 born in the 20 years after the war living in the city in 1996, and only 159,000 in 2016. Overall, both in the city and the wider region they’ve declined from over a third of the total population to around a quarter.

[Click headline above for charts.]

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Planning for Non-Planners: What You Need to Know About Community Planning (CITY101)

Last September, 42 professionals gathered in Vancouver for CITY101—Planning for Non-Planners—a first-of-its-kind course exploring the fundamentals of urban planning. In many ways, the course marked the start of a new era at the SFU City Program.

We are now developing four more 100-level courses covering integral disciplines within the planning ecosystem. We hope these courses will help community members and professionals connect and contribute to informed conversations around city and region-building.

Your next opportunity to dive into urban planning starts March 2.

March 2, 9, 16

6:30 –9:30 pm

SFU Vancouver (Harbour Centre)

Instructor: Eric Aderneck

Register now Read more »

This year I was welcomed to present at the 99th Transportation Research Board (TRB) Annual Meeting in Washington DC.*

As a result, I was privileged to be able to sit in on some fantastic presentations on a wide range of topics such as emerging technologies and services for the movement of both people and goods, and the importance of centering a lens of equity in planning and decision-making processes.

With that said, I wanted to share with you some of my thoughts and key takeaways from the conference. For more information on any of the topics below, please feel free to comment and I would be happy to discuss in greater detail!

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Here’s the spoiler: you would think that City of  Vancouver proclamations would be based upon the approved criteria as listed on the City’s website and are then vetted through an approval process and then presented to Council.


It was the CBC’s municipal roving reporter, Justin McElroy who along with the Breaker News  started to see that Vancouver’s proclamations were a little funky. On his twitter feed Justin noted that under Mayor Robertson there had been a  “St. George’s Rowing Day”, “The Rock Proc for Dwayne the Rock Johnson Day”,  “The Elite Canadian Champion Wrestling Day” and the ‘International Clash (the UK Band) Day”.

Surprisingly work done by Bob Mackin with the Breaker uncovered  a proclamation for Mayor Robertson’s girlfriend on her birthday, and another proclamation for the  mother of Mayor Robertson’s chief of staff on her birthday.

I was curious why the City of Vancouver would not recognize Pat Davis and her son John Junior for the remarkable multi-decade  legacy they have left the city with their streetscape on the 100 block of West Tenth Avenue and the stewardship of Mount Pleasant. What I found is that the approval process for City of Vancouver proclamations is not a transparent process, but are approved by the Mayor’s own political staff~and the Mayor. There’s no Council involvement for background or references.

The mayoral staff are the hardworking people that are hired directly by the mayor and usually leave with the mayor as he/she go onto other political jobs. Extraordinary people like Laurie Rix, Janet Fraser and Muriel Honey have held those positions.

While you fill out the proclamation here  the proclamation then goes into a political decision making process in the Mayor’s office and is not referred back to Council. The criteria that is used to decide who gets a proclamation is also not publicly available. Other journalists have had challenges even getting a list of all the approved proclamations from the City of Vancouver despite having  a Freedom of Information request. There is apparently no list.

Take a look at the City of Burnaby’s criteria for a proclamation. They are more transparent in their process and even list what proclamations have been approved for the last two years.


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