Architecture
December 4, 2019

Real-estate Boardwalks in LA and YVR

The New York Times explores the Boardwalks of real-estate development:

… the surface lots that are peppered throughout cities, a vestige of a time decades ago when car ownership had surged and mass transit use had declined. Surface lots bloomed throughout the country, in big and small markets. Now, these lots are becoming more valuable.

“It’s like when you’re playing Monopoly, and you get your ticket for Boardwalk — that’s how rare it is,” said Gina Farruggio, a broker …

Sales of such lots in the U.S. have surged to more than 200 in 2016 – more than double the amount in 2006 through 2014.  It’s something that’s been going in Metro Vancouver for several decades – and at a vastly different scale.

The Times profiles a major development in Los Angeles at Culver City along the Expo Line:

The 500,000-square-foot development (on 5.2 acres), called Ivy Station, is expected to open next year with 200 apartments as well as 240,000 square feet of office space, 55,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space, plus a hotel.

Amazing Brentwood by comparison is on 28 acres: 1,300,000 square feet of retail, 500,000 square feet of office, and about 1,700 residential units.

Perhaps not comparable given the difference in area – except for one thing.

  • At Ivy Station: 1,500 parking spaces.
  • At Amazing Brentwood: 1,400.

 

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December 3, 2019

Goodman, Vancouver’s pre-eminent seller of small (and some large) apartment blocks, has raised the alert about a Council motion that emerged from the Rental Incentives Review. The gate-worthy motion instructs staff “to prepare a report for consideration for referral to public hearing” that would extend rental replacement requirements.

…. older commercial properties with three or more rental apartments will be bound by rate-of-change regulations and will have to replace those rental apartments upon redevelopment, including redevelopment to four-storey condos.

A few observations.

If you’re in the hysteria business, don’t -gate your issue.  Overuse, like inflated currency, lessens value.

Goodman maintains that this move, if enacted, would “reduce the residual land value of these commercial properties.  (This) amounts to a downzoning.”  Leaving aside whether that is technically a downzoning, the conclusion is nonetheless “that if you own a C-2 zoned site in Vancouver, your property is on its way to devaluation.”

That, however, doesn’t necessarily mean the price will drop commensurately.  It may mean that owners over time won’t get as much a return as they might have otherwise.

It may also mean that these regulations kill off re-development and new rental housing along arterials and in some commercial zones.  But it’s hard to get as excited about something that may not happen as it is to protest the loss of existing rental stock.

It’s also hard for those who have seen a spectacular rise in their asset value to receive sympathy if the rise in the worth of their property is consequently less spectacular.  Sympathy tends to go to those downstream who pay the increased rents from the spectacular rise.

It’s surprising that the rental replacement policy isn’t already in place for apartments along commercial strips.  If Burnaby had had that requirement for its rental stock south of Metrotown, Derek Corrigan might still be mayor. In the current political climate (elections have consequences), it will be hard to persuade the Vancouver council that they shouldn’t take action to protect the rental housing stock.

However, Goodman does possibly raise something gate-worthy at the end of the missive:

“The 5th bullet says to direct staff to report back on:

“The possibility of using zoning similar to the DEOD (Downtown East Side-Oppenheimer) zoning (60% social housing and 40% rental for anything above 1 FSR) to depress land prices so it will be cheaper to buy for non-market housing.”

Gee, I wonder which councillor moved that motion.  Announcing that the intent of your policy is to sterilize land values so you can pick it up cheap won’t go down well in in the business community, or in the courts.

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Sesame Street is 50.

The Washington Post celebrates its Kennedy honours here.

While us Boomers weren’t the target market (by 20, I knew my alphabet), our kids were – and every generation thereafter.  But Sesame Street did teach me a lot about a particular version of New York – a working class street of brownstones, stoops, a mix of shops and homes, a mix of people.  This was not the suburbia of my neighbourhood or the rest of sit-com TV.

And while this version of New York was, well, nice, it was also edgier than even today’s version of the show, and it prepared me for a New York in the late 1970s and 80s that was anything but nice.  As the Post writer recollects:

On a recent afternoon’s binge, I watched one “Sesame” musical number from 1975 called “The Subway!” several times in a row. It’s funny and impressively clever — edgy, even, when compared with the show’s present-day tone. “You could lose your purse; or you might lose something worse, on the subway,” sang an old-lady Muppet, squeezed into a subway car with a trenchcoated Kermit the Frog, a testy Bert and too many others.

Sesame Street taught me the ABCs of an urbanity of which I had no experience.  And so, when I had the chance to experience it, I saw the city not just as some dangerous, undesirable, perverse world but as a place to which I had been given an introduction by a green frog and his friends  – even the underground world of The Subway.

*Here are the lyrics to The Subway:

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While the majority of the 27 million practitioners of Sikhism live in India — most living in the state of Punjab — half a million Sikhs reside in Canada.

In fact, 1 in 20 British Columbians is Sikh. And according to Gian Singh Sandhu, founding president of the World Sikh Organization (WSO), so is 1 in 4 Surrey residents.

Sikhism is one of the (if not the) fastest-growing religion in Metro Vancouver. As the Vancouver Sun noted a few years ago, “B.C. is the only province in Canada, and one of the few jurisdictions in the world, in which Sikhism can claim the status of being the second largest religion.”

Yet, what do we really know about Sikhs — in India, in Canada, and particularly in Metro Vancouver? (By “we”, we’re implicating anyone who hasn’t done anything more than skim Wikipedia. Sorry.) What is your understanding of the massacre at Darbār Sahib, aka ‘the Golden Temple’, and the loss of thousands of Sikh lives at the hands of the Indian military? If you consider the phrase Air India, does your brain immediately implicate Sikhs as a whole, instead of a small number of radical extremists? Time to peel back the layers.

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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.

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It’s no surprise now that the Mayors of Metro Vancouver have approved of an eight lane immersive tunnel as their choice for the Massey Tunnel replacement that other factors regarding the choice are causing grumbling. While this option for a new crossing has now gone forward to the Province,  the president of the province’s Trucking Association has stated that “the eight-lane tunnel won’t address one of the main problems with the existing tunnel: congestion.”

In an Opinion column printed in the Delta Optimist, B.C.Trucking CEO Dave Earle identifies safety, affordability and carbon emissions as impacting the trucking industry. Mr. Earle quotes a 2015 report that suggests that the previously touted ten lane bridge option proposed by the previous Liberal provincial government would reduce accidents by 35 percent.  He also suggests that that the proposed new tunnel will not accommodate oversized or hazardous good shipments, resulting in increased costs for truckers in travel time and fuel consumption in using other routes.

There are current restrictions on oversized loads and dangerous goods in the current tunnel.  Mr. Earle notes “From a goods movement perspective, the BC Trucking Association would prefer a replacement bridge because it’s safest for road users and emergency personnel, it will improve efficiency and affordability by reducing transportation-related costs, and less congestion will also mean fewer emissions. But this project also raises a persistent and troubling theme in the way important decisions on transportation infrastructure are made in the Lower Mainland: efficient goods movement is not a major consideration.”

While Mr. Earle notes that 90% of all consumer goods are being transported by trucking, the Port of Vancouver is the only major port in North America that does not run on a 24 hour schedule. By utilising trucking delivery from the port on a full 24 hour day schedule, deliveries could be timed for tunnel use outside of peak times.

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We have a new downtown neighbourhood – or at least a new name for a neighbourhood.

The Chandelier District.

 

The blocks between the Burrard and Granville Bridges, south of Pacific, are labelled as “Beach” on some city plans, or Granville Slopes.  Maybe it’s south Downtown South.  Or west Yaletown east of the West End.  No one calls it any of that.

The Hornby-Howe blocks serve as the squared-out equivalent of a cloverleaf off-ramp from the Burrard Bridge to get vehicles to the West End, or as a bypass to avoid Pacific.  Wait til Vancouver House opens. Wait til the grocery store and other services go in under the bridge.  One guess what the identifying graphic will be for this commercial hub.

 

Ian Gillespie of Westbank consolidated the public-art requirement to fund the $5-million price tag on Rodney Graham’s artwork.  The media immediately grabbed on to a presumed controversy, thereby achieving what progressives believe art is supposed to do: create a conversation.

So far the conversation consists of a lot of swipes and doubts: bling for the rich, a slap in the face for those who can’t afford the unaffordable city, a gesture of contempt on the day after the homeless count was released.  It will be vandalized.  It will be a target for the stoned, the drunk, and the pigeons.  It will get dust covered*.

Could the money have been better spent on housing for the homeless?  Of course.  So could the money we spend on flower gardens.  That’s zero-sum budgeting.

Development-required public art is not, strictly speaking, funded by taxpayer dollars, nor is the extraordinary collection that comes with the Sculpture Biennale.  But the perception that there’s tax dollars involved or the millions could have been better spent is a consideration when political leaders are asked to devote more to the arts and they’re wondering if they’re going to end up on the wrong side of a microphone.

Artists, on the other hand, cry out for more – more public art, more protected studio space, more galleries and even more housing.  They assume the public wants a city with art and a place for them.

Fortunately, the city does.  Particularly if its Instagram and selfie-friendly.

 

 

Graham did get an ideal location: lots of room for the work to breathe, perfectly balanced on all sides, high enough to avoid vehicles, with a backdrop of uninterrupted sky to the east that will not change, thanks to the park beyond.

 

So if not ‘Chandelier District,’ what’s better?

 

 

  • *Fair warning: art with moving pieces will have to be scrupulously cleaned and maintained. This one drops and spins.  Unfortunately, I can’t think of an artwork with moving pieces that still does. Except the Steamclock, and it gets a lot of care and attention.

 

 

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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.

 

 

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From William Whyte to Jan Gehl, there have been many attempts to find the formula for great public spaces.  And we do have a good idea of what goes into them. And yet really great spaces remain illusory, or we’d have so many more.

Here’s the one soon to be opening at ‘Amazing Brentwood’:

This is only a segment of the main plaza, still under construction.  It can’t fail insofar as there is a SkyTrain station on the south and lots of appealing attractions in every other direction.  And it feels like it has the right proportions given the way the height and curve of the buildings frame the space.

As Ian Wasson observed, the developer and designers have used really fine materials to realize their vision.

There’s a fountain off-centre that occupies a good percentage of the plaza.  You can see it from almost anywhere, but you have to walk around it – like a cog in the elaborate machinery of humanity in motion.

As night it’s a place that plays with light – ostentatiousnessl well done.  Here are some shots taken from Skyscraper Page by vanman:

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