Governance & Politics
September 22, 2018

And All That Is Old Shall Be New Again — 2018 Vancouver Civic Election

What’s happened with zoning changes in Vancouver is a cultural change, and a fight that’s as old as Vancouver.  The arguements are the same, the type of associations are the same; but the lack of political will to engage the fight in the name of renters, density and affordability may be changing.

The upcoming civic election will tell whether those with the will to make greater and more significant change will assume power, or whether things will go back to same-old, same-old, with all power going to neighbourhood associations themselves to ensure that middle-density rental buildings are excluded.

The messages’ media has certainly changed, but not much else.

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A bold-looking mixed-use Oakridge Centre is rising in the city, on 28 acres, at the site of a Canada Line transit station. Henriquez Partners Architects have designed something that is billed as the largest development in Vancouver’s history. Completion date looks to be 2025, costs somewhere around $5B, with 2,548 new residential units, and two 40+ storey towers among 12 other buildings. And it’s right in the middle of a predominantly single-family residential area, with rising density nearby.

Part of the design rationale is, however, specifically to generate density at an important transit hub.  Mission accomplished, it seems to me.

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Incremental change in the still-big field of entrants, as we edge under the 90-day mark on our trudge towards the October 20 polling date.

For those who want to strap into their world-of-wonk survival gear and get on it, the Cambie Report‘s Ian Bushfield continues to maintain his great big spreadsheet of candidates, now expanded to most, if not all, of Metro Vancouver. Hold on tight, because names and parties continue to change daily hourly — get it HERE.

My current, superficial analysis for Vancouver says 60 “confirmed” candidates, and 11 “maybes”…

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The majority of Vancouver’s land is zoned for residential use, but forbids apartment buildings.  (click to enlarge)

Thanks to @GRIDSVancouver for this rendering of the opportunity in Vancouver to change zoning and provide more housing for more people.

My question: how will this play out in the upcoming civic election? A split across traditional left-right dimensions? Emergence of new poles of opinion  density increase, or status quo; rezone or not; rezone much, or a little; rezone on arterials only; rezone only mansion-oriented pockets; rip out bike lanes?

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Pseudonymous housing wonk YVRYIMBY (Vancouver, Yes In My Back Yard) has created a wonderfully simple yet powerful, data-driven graphical view of Vancouver and its housing crisis.

Consider it a required backgrounder to the premise that land locked up in exclusionary, low-density zoning inflates the cost of land in higher-density zoned areas, due to scarcity. Rezoning more land for higher density should reduce land cost per built square foot and, secondarily, reduce the demolition of existing rental stock.

Needless to say, these ideas attract varying opinion. Sort of like bike lanes did in the bad, primitive olden days.

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Worth bring forward: Ralph Segal’s comment on “Special Density – A Vision“:
I’ll look forward to seeing (Vision Vancouver candidate) Diego Cardona’s six-home proposal on a single family (RS-1) lot. And whether it has any similarity to the four-unit idea for a 33-foot-wide lot I showed Neal Lamontagne last year which he then posted on Price Tags in April, 2016.

Be sure to peruse the 23 comments from some savvy folks such as Michael Mortensen, Frank Ducote, Thomas Beyer, jolson which are just as relevant today as they were last year.  (Click here and scroll down.)
Of course, the number of units in that modest idea can easily be increased to Diego’s six homes by adding one more on top of each of the two structures shown, with just a few more feet of height added to today’s RS-1 height limit.
The key to any number of variations on this theme is to avoid getting hung up on density (FSR) as a number, increased from present 0.6 FSR to 1.5, 1.75 … take your pick … and then test it to arrive at an optimum but liberal maximum, recognizing the over-arching objective of delivering more housing supply.
And recognize that parking provision on site can and should reduced – no more than two spaces on a 33-foot lot (possibly three with a bit of a squeeze). Finally, anticipate and facilitate within the new zoning schedule the ability to strata title.

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From Sightline: The Portland Plan – Down with McMansions, Up with Abundant Housing 

This article combines and adapts three articles by the Portland for Everyone coalition’s Michael Andersen. See the originals on this blog, and learn more about the group here. Portland’s approach shares similarities with the Seattle Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda recommendation to allow small duplexes and triplexes in single-family zones without letting property owners erect buildings larger than currently zoned.
Growing cities across the US and Canada are grappling with the challenges of displacement and affordability in their housing markets, and many of them are looking to Cascadia’s innovative cities for answers. Portland, the smallest of Cascadia’s three major metropolitan areas, has perhaps one of its biggest and best ideas: the “residential infill project.” …
When a city gets more desirable but isn’t allowed to add more places for people to sleep, this is what happens: the old homes don’t stay affordable. They just get priced up and up and up. …
The residential infill project that went before Portland City Council November 9 and will again November 16 is an opportunity to make this happen. It’s a chance for the city to strike an anti-McMansion compromise and shrink the maximum size of new homes (which would reduce demolitions) while also legalizing duplexes, triplexes, and backyard cottages (which would mean that the demolitions that do happen would result in more small homes instead of fewer, huge, expensive ones).
Instead of allowing new single-dwelling homes to look like this:

To be clear, nobody is talking about requiring new homes to look like this. The overwhelming majority of residential homes would still have lots of space and yards of their own. But by making it once again legal to build these small homes in residential areas, Portland would make this an option for people who want something in between an apartment building and a freestanding house, which means fewer people would be competing for apartments and for freestanding homes.
There’s another possibility here: the city might decide to shrink the size of new homes but not make small multiplexes legal.
If that were to happen, it wouldn’t stop developers and landlords from finding ways to make a profit. It would mean that the only way they could make a profit is by replacing poor folks with middle-income folks and middle-income folks with rich folks.
Lots more here.

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From Sightline: Returning Seattle to Its Roots in Diverse Housing Types 

This is the story of a single city block in Seattle’s Wallingford neighborhood … bordered by North 36th and 37th Streets and Burke and Meridian Avenues.



The city has zoned the block single-family, allowing only one detached home per lot (plus accessory dwelling units, should residents choose to build them). Under this zoning, this little block should only be able to host 24 households–one per parcel. Yet in reality, the block provides shelter for 37 households, more than one-and-a-half times its zoned capacity. …
To what do these 13 households owe their housing in this coveted neighborhood?
To Seattle’s zoning history. The block includes 5 duplexes, a quadplex, and a 6-unit apartment building, which together host these 13 additional households.
Here’s the catch, though: none of these structures could be built today. They are remnants of the neighborhood’s more flexible zoning history, which permitted a greater diversity of housing types, making room for more people to enjoy and bring life to this corner of Seattle. …
Why does this all matter? Because Seattle now has the chance to once again open its single-family zones to a broader mix of housing, including duplexes and triplexes. Returning the city to its more flexible zoning past could provide housing for thousands of additional families.
Full article here.

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Greater Buenos Aires is a big urban region.  Over 13 million people.

In the City of Buenos Aires, however, there are about three million porteños (people of the port) – a population which has stayed steady since the Second World War.
Why not much growth in the city’s population? Low birth rates and a migration to the suburbs. Indeed, the surrounding districts in the Province of Buenos Aires have expanded five times over.
So: three million in the City; 10 million in surrounding suburbs. That ratio is not far from Vancouver’s: 600,000 in the city; 2.5 million in the region.

The population density in Buenos Aires proper is over 14,000 per square kilometre (in an area just under one and a half times the area of the City of Vancouver, with its population density of about 5,000 per square kilometer).
Our West End, by comparison,  is about 44,000 people in its two square kilometers.
So think of the City of Buenos Aires as almost one big West End, plus Kits and downtown.
Lots of it looks that way too.

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