Architecture
August 30, 2016

"I'm not an architect, but …"

Gladys We starts what could obviously be an ongoing series:
I was looking at the front facade of this huge house in Richmond, and all I could focus on were the pillars.

At the front door — some kind of square Ionic column. And upstairs on the deck, something that came from Serpentine Bridge, Hyde Park, London. So, Greece to England, plus or minus a few centuries and miles, separated by 15 feet of wall.
I’m also not an expert in city planning, but isn’t someone at City Hall supposed to review those kinds of details?
Or was Fantasy Gardens something that was a harbinger of the future as far as Richmond is concerned?
 

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On Thursday, March 24, Brian Wakelin, architect and co-founder of Vancouver-based PUBLIC Architecture + Communication (recent winner of the Professional Prix de Rome in Architecture), will present samples of his work that respond to Greater Vancouver’s lack of significant public gathering spaces. Preceding his talk will be a short performance by emerging poet and musician, Sam Herle.
On Thursday, April 21, Michael Rohd, founder of the Center for Performance and Civic Practice (Evanston, IL) will discuss how art can be a potent tool for public impact and collaboration. Preceding his presentation will be a short performance by First Nations hip hop/spoken word artist, JB the First Lady.
On Thursday, May 19, visual artist, Norie Sato, (Seattle, WA) will describe her creative process developing site-specific works for public places. Preceding this talk will a brief performance by 16-year old professional yoyo competitor, Harrison Lee.
 

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It’s taken awhile, but new voices are emerging South of the Fraser to critique the justification and take action on the proposed 10-lane Massey Bridge – the ‘Massive Massey.’    . Stephen Rees reports on a new group: Fraser Voices.

That is the name that a small group, unified its opposition to megabridge Massey Tunnel replacement project chose for itself …
There are two contributions from that group:  The first is the GMTRP brief draft prepared by Nicholas Wong – a substantial document that may get some updating and, if it does, will get replaced by later versions over time.

For now here is the first paragraph of the Executive Summary, which should convince you it is worth your time to read the whole thing: the brief deals only with the traffic, seismic, and pricing concerns and thus leaves a whole raft of issues unexamined

The GMTRP has been plagued by contradictory or absent information. In such an environment, it is impossible to form an educated opinion of the project. To explore the systematic nature of the political deception surrounding the bridge proposal, three broad areas were explored: traffic, seismic safety standards, and budgetary concerns.

The conclusion being that removing the GMT is unnecessary and a poor economic choice to alleviate traffic congestion or to address any of the stated project goals. The only advantage to removing the GMT is to allow larger ships up the Fraser River indicating that the tolled crossing is designed as a subsidy for the export industry.

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The second is the text of a report which was adopted by the Richmond Council General Purposes Committee last Monday and will go to Richmond Council for final vote this coming Monday. …

The Province spent $22.2 million on a seismic upgrade on the Massey Tunnel in 2004, announced the tunnel would be twinned in 2006, and announced rapid  bus in 2008. Studies were done that justified twinning the tunnel and improving public transit. It was noted that the carrying capacity of the Oak Street Bridge and other bridges was limited and therefore the tunnel should only be six lanes. Rapid Bus would reduce traffic and reduce GHG’s. Richmond Council was opposed to both a No. 8 Road Bridge to Delta and a bridge to Boundary Road in Burnaby because it would do irreparable damage to Richmond East farmland. The Rapid Bus system resolved that problem.
What caused the province to suddenly change from a tunnel with public transit to a bridge without it?
The FOI information from Doug Massey shows a concerted effort was made in 2012 by Fraser Surrey Docks and Port Metro Vancouver and others to have the tunnel removed to accommodate deep draft Panamex supertankers. The BC Government met with them to discuss tunnel removal on Feb 2, 2012, future terminals at VAFFC, Lehigh and a new one in Richmond, including liquid bulk tankers (e.g. LNG); and the need to dredge the river to 15.5 metres on Dec. 4, 2012.  Secondly the more conservative members in the Liberal Caucus appear to have gained control in the 2013 election.
On Nov 5, 2015 Todd Stone admitted that they did not yet have a business case for a bridge, Now the reason is clear. It appears that the  province changed their plans to permit the industrialization of the Fraser River by Port Metro Vancouver. They did not have a business plan for a bridge because the business case was for twinning the tunnel and providing Rapid Bus. …

Recommendation:
That the City of Richmond request that the Provincial Government provide copies of all reports and studies – including but not limited to business plans, feasibility studies, technical studies, seismic studies, and/or environmental impact studies – that relate to the original plan to twin the George Massey Tunnel and/or provide Rapid Bus service that were considered during the period from 2006 to 2008; and that if necessary, that the foregoing request be made as an official Freedom of Information request.

The report attracted no attention at all from the Richmond News, but a great deal of media attention is being paid to the Metro Vancouver decision to ask for more time to consider the proposal. More here at Stephen Rees’s blog. Read more »

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For one week — beginning Monday August 24 — staff, volunteers, and supporters of the Richmond Food Security Society (RFSS) will only be eating produce grown on our island, meat raised by our farmers, and seafood caught by local fishermen.

This challenge is an exciting new initiative to raise awareness about local food and promote food security. It’s also an important fundraiser for the Richmond Food Security Society.

All funds raise through #RichmondEats will support the Richmond Food Security Society’s core activities aimed at fighting hunger in our community and building a nutritious, safe, secure, and affordable food system.

Donations can be made here.

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Metropolis magazine rates the world’s cities.  No. 1?

Why?  In part, because …

Transit remains a huge issue. Toronto has not kept up with demand, but that’s changing in a flurry of projects that will extend the subway to suburban municipalities north of the city. There’s also the Eglinton Crosstown, a 12-mile light-rail line now under construction that will provide 100 million rides annually when it’s completed in 2023. Meanwhile, the long-awaited express train connecting downtown Toronto to Pearson International Airport began operation in early June.

And …

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Meanwhile, we’re in denial.  Or at least in Richmond:

Last year, according to ICBC data, the city added roughly 10,000 registered passenger vehicles to its roads.

In 2013, the city had about 100,000 passenger vehicles and by the end of 2014 that number ballooned to 110,000, as a result of development and a growing population.

Of all Metro Vancouver municipalities, Richmond’s numbers spiked the most (Burnaby, Surrey and Vancouver saw no change).

In the wake of regional transit funding hitting a concrete barrier — due to the failed TransLink plebiscite — the direction in which Richmond’s transit plan is heading should be a concern for residents, according to retired transportation planner and former Richmond resident Stephen Rees. …

The problem for Richmond is that TransLink is reducing services to bus lines that are not frequently used, Rees said. …

Spokesperson Ted Townsend downplayed the impact of the failed plebiscite.

“The recent plebiscite results may indicate slower pace of investments in transit improvements for the time being but the City believes it will not affect our ultimate goal and strategy over the longer term,” said Townsend.

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People really can’t believe that Vancouver turned down transit.  (Try telling a No voter that and watch the reaction.)  Perhaps a drop in our ranking on various livability lists might bring reality home.

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UPDATE: Jean Chong recommends reading this:  “The Tories on big-city transit: Buy support now, pay later.”

And Doug Clarke recommends this: “Governors of Transit-Dependent States Don’t Seem to Get It.”

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From David Godin:

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I live in the walkable, moderately dense area of Richmond just beside its downtown and within easy walking distance of SkyTrain. I like to describe it as being the ‘West End of Richmond’ and it’s working pretty well for me for the time being. I also work in Richmond in an office building in a business park area of the city where pedestrians were simply not considered when it was developed and the roads conveyed to the City. It’s a jarring transition to make each day.

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By my office, the roads lack sidewalks and most are straight and stop-sign and traffic-signal-free to promote sustained speed, and the curves are forgiving enough to maintain that speed. Despite the business park being home to the RCMP HQ for Richmond, traffic enforcement is seemingly non-existent for the endemic running of stop signs, blatant speeding, and even driving the wrong way down one-way couplets. In this environment, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there is an utter failure to yield to pedestrians at intersections, even by RCMP vehicles!

When the roads are designed for sustained speed, and when landscaping comes straight to the curb with no sidewalks, crosswalks, traffic signals, or pedestrian lighting, and there are only a handful of stop signs that can be rolled through with impunity, it’s not surprising at all that pedestrians are ignored. This is landscape made for vehicles, full stop.

But what does one do here if they don’t want to walk on the landscaped grass medians that slope and drain poorly, making for a frequently slippery and muddy environment, or in the muddy, tree debris-clogged gutters with large continuous pools of standing water? What if one needs a level surface because they have mobility challenges and use a wheelchair? They must use the road, and this morning I snapped a photo from my office window of exactly that. I think this is disgraceful.

 

I’ve also attached a couple of photos taken a few steps away from my office where of the City of Richmond recently built a level, paved bus stop to serve the RCMP HQ, replacing the muddy ditch that was there before. Of course, it does not connect to any on-street sidewalks, which remain muddy lines of worn grass, but it does serve the new fenced-off sidewalk that leads to the police station.

Across the street, the small interior sidewalk on the former ICBC claim centre gives way to a very well-worn patch of earth and then grass medians in lieu of sidewalks. Despite the bus stop, I cannot see the City investing in the wholesale creation of pedestrian infrastructure around here, even with the fairly large number of people who work here and the presence of transit and the trip generator of stores and services in the vast Ironwood shopping centre adjacent to the business park. (Interesting quick point of trivia: Ironwood was Westbank’s first major project.)

Also attached are a couple of photos taken on the north side of Lansdowne Mall where the sidewalk quite simply ends only a couple minutes’ walk from Number 3 Road and the nearby Canada Line Station.

Narrow muddy footpaths (a depressingly common sight in Richmond) illustrate that demand for sidewalks most certainly exists and I’ll also note that this is a mid-block point where the sidewalks end and one must backtrack and divert to the next adjacent east-west street a block north to find a sidewalk or cut through Lansdowne Mall parking lot. Faced with those options, of course people are going to walk through the landscaping or press against the fence beside fast-moving traffic and walk the last hundred metres to Number 3 Road.

I took it for granted living in the City of Vancouver and Toronto that there would always be a sidewalk. Richmond does a pretty good job in general, but it’s jarring to suddenly find a sidewalk end in a central ‘downtown’ part of the city or to encounter an entire employment district where pedestrians were never considered and are unlikely to be for a very long time.

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In an otherwise uneventful civic election in Richmond, a first-time candidate – Carol Day – got elected.  When it came to the most controversial issues of housing and development, here was her platform:

Housing And Development Action Plan

RITE Richmond is taking the lead on affordable housing and development and city council candidates Carol Day and Michael Wolfe will push for action on this.

Under our leadership, new developments will go through an improved civic engagement process. We will ensure a fair process for local citizens to accept any changes (i.e. scale and pace) that will affect their neighbourhoods. The  Day-Wolfe team will:

  1. Insist on better communication with existing home owners, by broadening the area required for consultation, and mailing out letters written in simple language that clearly explain the process and opportunities to challenge a rezoning application.

  2. Inform how a citizen can access information through regular channels and through the freedom of information act

  3. Work with developers to create more affordable options for first time buyers, and develop special zoning for homes that are built with more modest finishes, smaller size and simpler designs. This back-to-basics approach could include houses under 1,000 sq ft on smaller lots and potentially duplex or four-plex options.

  4. Offer zoning concessions for developers who build smaller homes, and sell to buyers that are certified to be lower income. These homes should accommodate families, seniors and people with disabilities.

  5. Communicate meaningfully with community groups that band together to oppose a development, and be willing to consider alternatives and revisions to the application to the rezoning application. We will hold special meetings with grass roots groups prior to committee meetings and council meetings

  6. Create new rezoning opportunities not available in Richmond; an example could be “down-zoning”, which allows for a specific area in a neighbourhood to limit the size of new homes to maintain the character of a mini-neighbourhood.  The model could be the down-zoning option available in the Corporation of Delta.  Residents can request down-zoning through a series of procedures that ensure fairness and proper protocol.

  7. Work with developers to create new opportunities that enhance the existing neighbourhoods.

  8. Work alongside developers to hear their creative options that could allow for new kinds of density that could have less impact on existing neighbourhoods.

  9. Encourage staff to listen to new ideas from developers, and think outside the box.  When necessary, change zoning to allow for projects that will enhance existing neighbourhoods.

  10. Work with YVR to encourage them to allow for low interest loans to homeowners in Burkeville to support the residents that wish to alleviate noise due to airport operations, by making home improvements that could include soundproofing. The loans could cover triple glazed windows, attic and wall insulation and other improvements.

  11. Invite councillors to attend meetings with the public that involve changes to property zoning or road changes.  Examples could be construction of new fire halls, changes in road rerouting, and new infrastructures.

  12. Instruct staff to study the benefits vs. cost of a Vacancy tax for homes that remain empty for more than 6 months.   Study whether such a tax could be used towards infrastructure.

  13. Instruct staff to research the possibility of a foreign ownership tax and see if this would be a federal-only or provincial-only option.  Once this information is available to the City, decide whether lobbying the provincial or federal government for changes would be prudent.

See more here. 

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Can any PT readers in Richmond report on the impact of Carol Day’s election and the results so far – Nos. 4, 6 and 12 in particular?

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Megahouses, vacant homes, speculation and affordability aren’t just issues for Vancouver.  Reporter Graeme Wood in the Richmond News has been writing about the transformation of Richmond.  Here’s an excerpt.

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Mega Homes: Absent homeowners, foreign speculation, overdevelopment and skyrocketing land value has reached a boiling point

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New homes in single­-family home neighbourhoods are pushing the boundaries of floor space ratio, by uprooting lawns, and height restrictions, by adding a third level. It’s a result of increased land values and housing demand that has seen this resurgence of the megahome in Richmond. …

On Spires Road, one of the last bastions of “Old Richmond” is about to get a major makeover; Yamamoto Architecture Inc. has applied to develop seven market rental homes into 60 townhomes for purchase. The densification of the City Centre neighbourhood (one quarter of a major city block) is planned under the city’s Official Community Plan.  But with a rental crunch in Richmond, renter Don Watters, who has lived on Spires for 25 years, doesn’t see the  justification.  “Where can we go and it be affordable?” …

Roland Hoegler, left, and longtime friend Don Watters have seen their Spires Road neighbourhood vanish with the densification plans of the City of Richmond.  …

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“The question is, who is benefitting from  this change?” asks Hoegler.

His answer? The developers and real estate agents, who have incessantly harassed his “holdout” father to sell his home.

“Seven down, 60 up, you do the math,” he says.

“Who’s benefitting? It’s not the people like Don,” says Hoegler, pointing to high rises looming over Spires he says are mostly empty.

Richmond’s OCP states between 2011 and 2041 about 80,000 more people will move here.

“That number comes from an expectation of what portion of the projected growth of the region will go to Richmond,” notes Peter Hall, associate professor of urban studies at Simon Fraser University.  The decision is inherently political, notes Hall, but Richmond has taken on about seven per cent of the 1.2 million more people projected by regional planners to live here.

New housing demand comes from three sources: in­region, out of province and out of country. Over the last 10  years, roughly nine out of 10 new residents (326,000) of Metro Vancouver were immigrants, according to population  data.  Richmond plans to accommodate about 55,000 of its newcomers in the City Centre and preserve single­-family neighbourhoods by building townhouses along arterial roads.

According to Gordon Price, director of the SFU City Program, densifying the City Centre is a “relief mechanism” for  single­family neighbourhoods; by building up housing stock, it gives the market more options. …

Price and Hall say land speculation and demand are raising the value of land in Metro Vancouver.  So, essentially, it becomes a waiting game between the speculators/developers and the homeowner.  “One way or another that land is going to be redeveloped to reflect the value of it,” says Hall.

Hall notes the slumlord mentality on Spires is a result of “planning blight.”

“When land is not rezoned for how desirable it is, what sometimes happens is the landlord will say, “I’ll wait out the municipal government and I’m not going to fix up this house. I’ll let the municipality get so upset and frustrated until they allow me to rezone it,” says Hall.

Starchuk notes many old homes are abandoned. The city has noted there are currently 36. …

The problem, Starchuk sees, is that not only is the land being heavily speculated on, many of the homes sit empty, resulting in the erosion of community.

There is no data to back up her assertions, however Price and Hall support the theory that foreign homeownership is a big part of it.

“There is no doubt huge amounts of land and apartment complexes are turning into safe deposit boxes,” says Price.
Residents of Richmond have gotten used to living in shameless messes due to construction of
megahomes.

Like so many other problems in Richmond, Starchuk says a discussion on restricting foreign homeownership — an  idea floated in recent civic elections and common in other G8 countries— has never taken place.

That discussion should include provincial and federal politicians,

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