Cycling
October 31, 2019

Vancouver Impressions: Cascadian Guest Post

In September, Michael Anderson, senior researcher with Sightline Institute (Cascadia’s sustainability think tank), and Kiel Johnson, founder and operator of Portland’s Go By Bike (North America’s largest bike valet) visited Vancouver as part of a two-family touring holiday.

Anderson and Johnson rented a van to get to Vancouver because, well, kids and stuff. Plus, it was much cheaper and faster than the train. Whatever to do about that?

Gord invited the duo to write about their trip, and they did — in dialogue form.

Says Anderson: “I think we could have gone on for pages about things we saw and thought about the city, but Kiel rightly suggested keeping it pretty narrow.”

First impressions about Vancouver? How is Portland doing for cycling? What were the disappointments?

(Canadian spellings added for clarity.)

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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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When Portlandians prepared to elect a new mayor in the months leading up to the May 2016 primary vote, few saw Sarah Iannarone coming.

As co-founder of First Stop Portland, the organization responsible for telling the city’s sustainability story, and owner of a popular brunch spot in the so-hip-it-hurts Southeast PDX neighbourhood, Iannarone was a political neophyte. She jumped into the race, and with a firm grasp of progressive environmental, social and economic values — and a compellingly forthright approach on the stump — she finished in third place, with almost 12% of the vote. She also captured a lot of the general discontent about the city’s direction, eerily similar to conversations we’ve been having in Vancouver. And because of all this, Iannarone built a following.

Today, she’s an urban policy consultant, a doctoral candidate in urban studies and planning, a volunteer for numerous committees, community groups and NGOs, a prolific tweeter, and a sought-after talking head in Portland media on a variety of topics. Like freeway expansion (she’s against it), police violence (um, also against), the gentrification vs urban revitalization debate (conflicted), and improvements for cycling (strongly for).

Gord spoke to Iannarone at the end of her recent trip to Victoria and Vancouver. The conversation reinforced the separated-at-birth feels we have for our sister city…coffee and cycling and pinot (oh my). Furthermore, she insisted that, despite the snow, the planned Mobi bike tour of downtown and False Creek must go on. She brought her rain cape, after all. Makes us wonder if Portland electoral ballots haven’t seen the last of Iannarone, Sarah.

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In planning for growth, there’s at least one generally agreed-on idea that most cities are trying out: Densifying along the major streets.  The arterials, boulevards and avenues, the wider ones, where the streetcars went, where transit does now.

Portland has a lot of them, radiating out from the river and downtown.  Here’s one of those streets – Division.  As you’d expect, it bisects the 19th-century suburbs:

 

Once it was a streetcar route, with a mix of bungalow housing and one-or two-storey commercial frontage – surprisingly narrow for a major corridor of activity.  It went into decline as Motordom prevailed, and became heavily auto-oriented.  Division, it was said, was where you went to get your car repaired.

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For the first half of the 20th century, it was common to find small apartment buildings integrated into single-family neighbourhoods, usually a block or two off the streetcar line.  The Bowman blocks in the previous two posts are particularly well-done examples, but even in the 1920s, when the buildings were getting bigger and plainer, there was still use of quality materials and a sense of proportion; they occupied their sites in the same way.

But after the Depression and the War, the formula changed.  It had to.  City zoning bylaws required one key thing all the predecessors lacked.

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I was back in Portland a few weeks ago for my annual transportation-and-land-use lecture.  With a few spare hours I took the opportunity to rediscover a part of PDX’s heritage that should be more widely known – especially relevant for Vancouver in our search for new, denser, acceptable urban development in established neighbourhoods.

I was in search of the small of apartment buildings of Frederick Bowman.

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