March 12, 2019

Nathan Edelson on Housing, Gentrification, & the Future of Inner City Planning

In 1997, as workers were stripping asbestos out of the old Woodward’s building, the Vancouver planner overseeing the project predicted it would take 10 to 20 years for Hastings Street to change. “From anything we can see, the community will be overwhelmingly low-income for that long,” Nathan Edelson told the Vancouver Sun.

Flash forward 22 years, and he was both right and wrong. True, a lot has changed on Hastings Street since the opening of the new Woodward’s Building in 2010. The central passion of legendary activist, non-profit housing developer, and city councillor Jim Green, Woodward’s has led the urban revitalization — or gentrification — of the west end of the Downtown Eastside. It sure did take a long time to change, but change it did, no matter how you label it.

Yet, one could say it’s also taken a long time for nothing much to change. Edelson can acknowledge a modicum of success, but he’s clear on one thing — there’s lots more to be done.

Because it’s all still happening. The 24-hour drug market. Unchecked addictions amongst the city’s most vulnerable populations. A lack of safe, affordable housing. It clearly gave Edelson pause recently, as he reflected on the past, present and future of inner city planning.

He does so from a different perch today, as consultant with the False Creek South Neighbourhood Association for their *RePlan project (which is focused on the 1,800 housing units on City-owned, leasehold land between the Cambie and Burrard bridges). Back in the day, Edelson and his ‘brothers and sisters’ in the city’s planning department were in the thick of it, focused on what he calls “a reasonable public purpose”: to provide temporary shelter for the poorest in our society and to, over time, replace that with self-contained, permanent social housing.

And so, despite any perceived equivocation over the outcomes of his work over the years, there’s no doubt Woodward’s was a success in providing some of that social housing. It’s just one example of the many civic projects Edelson helped usher through local community planning and consultation processes, and ultimately through the Councils of the day, for populations co-existing across the entire spectrum of need in society. Go ahead, Google him. You’ll see.

Humble almost to a fault — “some of my best ideas were his”, he says, deflecting credit to Jim Green — Edelson continues to carry the torch for housing, which is, in his opinion, job #1 for planners.

So yes, as Gord put it, he was right. Right in his beliefs and his methods, because it all had an impact. Still, Edelson thinks it’s not enough. He’s just not done focusing on those in our city who are in need, and how he can help shape what the future will bring.

Nathan Edelson is this year’s speaker at the Jim Green Memorial Lecture, tomorrow evening (March 13) at the Goldcorp Centre for the Arts at Woodwards, 149 West Hastings Street.

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The Sun posts a fine background on the new planning process for South False Creek:

Council voted unanimously this week to approve terms of reference for a planning process for the area along the south shore between the Burrard and Cambie bridges, most of which is city-owned. This sets in motion, after years of neighbourhood engagement, the city’s planning efforts for the next phase of a great Vancouver neighbourhood, one that grew out of controversy into an icon of livability.
In 1972, a Vancouver Sun op-ed under the headline “Instant Slum” derided the False Creek South plan as far too dense for a viable community, recalled historian John Atkin.

Does False Creek hold answers?  It already has.
The consequence of this …

“Life in dreamland on the creek.”

… was this:

Concord Pacific on the North Shore of False Creek


In a way South False Creek was the anti-West End.  Everything Vancouverites didn’t like about that ‘concrete jungle’ was reflected in a set of guidelines drawn up in the early ’70s that became known as the Green Sheets: no highrises, much more park space, no road along the waterfront, priority for pedestrians, a ‘Pattern-Language’ vocabulary for residential design, an emphasis on accommodating families with children, and more.

At the beginning of the planning process for the Concord Pacific lands in 1988 (once the original ‘lagoons scheme’ was discarded), the City took the Green Sheets and, when adopted by Council, became the basis of the Official Development Plan for North False Creek, done by a team from the City and from Concord Pacific led by Stanley Kwok.
So while the architectural form of the two neighbourhoods looks so different in scale, their urban-design roots are similar, founded in the values of aspirational urbanism – a belief that it was possible to design complete, livable communities at high density. (For more background and analysis, see Price Tags 104, left.)
Michael Geller, in Dan Furano’s article, “remembers the backlash when he worked on the original False Creek South project. And Geller, now a real estate consultant, has been reminded of that backlash in recent years, when Vancouver neighbourhoods have pushed back against city hall’s attempts to increase density.
But he believes more home-dwellers are coming around to the idea that more False Creek-style housing, such as stacked townhouses, spread throughout the region could help improve affordability while creating vibrant, walkable neighbourhoods.
“I think people are ready to accept it now,” Geller said. “Many of the people who opposed new, higher-density housing nine or 10 years ago, are now ready to move into it, or their kids are. And that’s the reason I’m more optimistic than I was 10 years ago.”
Another lesson from the South Shore: the original mixed-use walkway, while fine when the Creek was effectively isolated and unconnected to the Seaside Greenway that would take decades more to reach both ends below the Cambie and Granville Bridges, was inadequate to safely handle the volumes of cyclists, runners and walkers which now constitute normal use.  In other words, it couldn’t handle success.
Hence the redevelopment of the greenway, even at a loss to the original materials and some of the older trees, to some controversy.

Once again, something new, responding to more ambitious urban aspirations, is controversial.  The West End in 60s, South False Creek in the 70s, the North Shore in the 90s.  Then they become our templates for success.

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Well, maybe one of the best views in Vancouver:

Who regularly accesses this marvelous view?  
Easypark Lot 10:

Absurd, yes – but also the consequence of unrealized good intentions.  When South False Creek was being planned in the early 1970s, the expectation was that residents would rely more on transit – and hence provision for parking could be significantly reduced.   (Indeed, a special levy was applied to fund a more frequent bus service.)  But the absence of parking did not result in an absence of cars – and so collective parking lots were built afterwards to accommodate residents’ needs.
The question now, given that these garages are the most obvious development sites for accommodating additional density without affecting the original housing directly, is whether the current residents would be willing to do with less parking to reduce the cost of new housing.

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An important step for what is really one of Vancouver’s heritage neighbourhoods: South False Creek (between Granville Island and the Cambie Bridge) – a master-planned community by the City, incorporating many of the radical ideas in urban design and social policy originating in the early 1970s, and largely achieved.
From the neighbourhood newsletter via ‘Items from Ian.’

*RePlan Wins Unanimous Support from Vancouver City Council

False Creek South (FCS) residents achieved a notable success on July 13th. At *RePlan’s first public meeting with Vancouver City Council, Councillors voted unanimously on a five-point motion proposed by Councillor Reimer, which we believe will lay the foundation for lease renewal, with affordable options to enable all leasehold residents to stay in the community if they choose.
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*RePlan sponsors course on Community Land Trusts (CLTs) on September 9 and a free lecture on September 8

To find out whether CLTs are the vehicle to retain much needed affordable housing and finance future sustainable and locally guided development on publicly-owned land, such as False Creek South, *RePlan organizes a public lecture on September 8 and a full-day professional development course on September 9, 2016.
Read More… or directly register with SFU for the course or lecture.

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