Even the magazine The Economist is weighing in on the importance of Vancouver’s Chinatown as a historic and very special cultural place deeply rooted in the birth and development of this country.  One of the positive things that has happened with the impetus to build condominiums in Chinatown is the rise of  a new generation of articulate, smart and savvy young professionals that grew up in or coming to Chinatown,  understanding the essence of this place in a very rooted way.
Urbanist Melody Ma is one of those young professionals interviewed by the Economist, and talked about the Chinatown neighbourhood not really changing until after the 2010 Winter Olympics. At that time “the downtown area was forested with new condominiums” and prices have risen by close to 60 per cent in the last three years. While Chinatown was avoided by developers in the past, development applications such as the nine storey luxury apartments proposed for 105 Keefer threaten to undermine Chinatown’s cultural identity.

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Further to talking about twisty buildings, the design is in for a 36 storey highrise at 1133-1155 Melville Street between Thurlow and Bute Streets. Carlito Pablo in The Straight has written that “According to the design rationale prepared by the architectural company for the rezoning application, the concept for the skyscraper is a series of stacked boxes with different floor plate sizes and angles.” 

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As Curbed.com describes it there is a push for “supertalls” in New York City, those buildings that exceed the 984 foot height limit. As they note “These soaring towers aren’t always popular—many have actively fought against the buildings sprouting along 57th Street and Central Park South, worried that they’ll cause shadowing over the storied park—but it’s hard to argue against their status as marvels of engineering.”

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From Brette’s platform~Running under the “Your Political Party” banner,  Brette holds a degree in business, certification financial, project management and works for PHSA (Provincial Health Services Authority) as a Project Manager and Business Analyst. His passion is to work for the people, so the natural step in his career is to work for Vancouverites and support the gap between the people and the government.
Brette’s commitment to the people of Vancouver if elected:

  1. Donate $60,000 every year in office to Carnegie Community Action Project (CCAP) to help fund food for Vancouver’s homeless
  2. Be accountable for any failure and accredit all accomplishments to the public
  3. Accept zero donations or any influential funding
  4. Host community meetings once a week at City Hall and available online for open discussion about current policies
  5. Turn the mayor’s office from a secured, locked room to a kid friendly space to accommodate speakers with children
  6. Simply do the right thing

You can read more about the platform of Your Political Party on Housing, the Opiod Crisis, Community and Environment here.

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Gord Price: Spent a few days in Victoria to deliver a talk for the District of Saanich as they begin local area planning revisions for Cadboro and Cordova Bays.  In my extra hours, I had a chance to check out a few places in my home town.
The first observation: in some ways Victoria has changed not at all.  It still seems to be demographically weighted to the older and retired.  (At a restaurant in Broadmead, an affluent suburb of Saanich, among the hundred-or-so diners almost all were in their 50s or above, and 100 percent were white.)  On Government Street downtown, Murchies tea shop still looks like the setting for a Barron cartoon*:

The extraordinary landscape of southern Vancouver Island, with Gary Oak and Arbutus prospering in the drier, milder landscape of rock outcrops and ridges, is still the defining feature of this self-conscious Eden.

However, the built city is changing, particularly in the blocks on the immediate west side of downtown:


Victoria, when I was growing up there in the 60s, knew what it didn’t want: anything that looked like downtown Vancouver and the West End.  Understandably, given its first taste of highrise development:

But after downzoning James Bay and providing no alternative for residential growth (and certainly not tall buildings), the City saw its downtown suffer with the growth of retail elsewhere, cutbacks in provincial-government employment and the economics of seasonal tourism.  It then looked to Vancouverism as a model, and the results are evident.

 
*Sid Barron was an editorial cartoonist for Victoria and Toronto newspapers, who had a gentle touch and a sharp pen, able to delightfully caricature the British-influenced culture of post-war Canada.

The site proposal being referenced in this decades-old cartoon is a waterfront parking lot on the Inner Harbour – still, as far as I know, contentious and unresolved.
 
 

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A comment under Our Looming Tower by Ralph Segal that’s worth bringing forward:
This intriguing 497 ft. high tower by Bjarke Ingels (Westbank is the developer) is a worthy demonstration of the intent of the City’s Higher Building Policy in delivering not merely outstanding architectural design at specific locations that avoid protected view corridors but further, a development that addresses an array of city planning and urban design objectives and requirements.
Included in the development (which replaced a mini-storage warehouse and vehicle repair shops) is a 98 unit rental housing component (lower podium) and soon to emerge unique, green-roofed, low scale buildings between the bridge and on/off ramps that will transform this bleak under-bridge area into an active retail/commercial hub for the neighbourhood. In addition to the rental housing, a further $13.5m CAC developer contribution will fund City cultural, heritage and off-site public realm needs.
Another notable example is the striking, Bing Thom-designed 556 ft. high “Butterfly” (rezoned in 2017, in conjunction with the West End Community Plan, 2013) on 1000- block Nelson behind the heritage First Baptist Church on Burrard St., which will be restored and seismically upgraded as part of the development.
In addition to this highly acclaimed tower design and Church rehab, the development, again by Westbank, will include 66 units of TRUE, much needed social housing to be owned and managed by the Church, a 37 space daycare and cash contributions totalling, in all, a CAC package valued at $93.3m.
Such needed public benefits, provided by the developer in exchange for additional density and height, are, frankly, beyond the budgets of governments to deliver. So long as a thorough, robust assessment against City policy and guidelines of the urban design quality and “fit” of proposed developments in their context, along with public consultation, confirms that the additional density and height can be accommodated, such proposals, in specifically identified areas, should continue to be considered.

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What a difference a few years makes. Duke of Data Andy Yan was working with Bing Thom Architects in 2015 when he released his research on who was buying real estate in Vancouver. Andy researched the land titles and tracked the  purchasers who had “non-Anglicised Chinese names”. Tracking for a six month period from September 2014 to March 2015, Andy found that 75 per cent of all property transactions involved buyers with these non-Anglicised names, suggesting that those individuals  may be foreign buyers.
At the time, as Terry Glavin’s article in Macleans Magazine notes, this urban planner from East Vancouver was vilified as his work “broke a taboo that was enforced so absurdly that Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson resorted to dismissing Yan’s research as racist.”  Problem was that Andy Yan was right.  Banks were also complicit in the “manipulation of clandestine back channels around China’s currency control regulations—the same routes that well-connected Chinese multi-millionaires have been using to shift up to a trillion dollars’ worth of yuan out of China every year.” And a lot of these new home owners didn’t really have occupations, other than being  a homemaker.
Andy is also disarmingly in the moment and has an interesting way of using words. As he says “So you had these whispers about racism being used to shut down a dialogue about affordability and the kind of city we want to build here. It’s a kind of moral signalling to camouflage immoral actions. It’s opportunism, and it’s a cover for the tremendous injustices that are emerging in the City of Vancouver and across the region. It’s a weird Vancouver thing. It’s very annoying. It’s kale in the smoothies or something…I’m always careful about using biomedical analogies but what was like a little skin ailment, if you will, over the last 10 or 15 years, has become a full-fledged cancer… The top two expenditures of any Canadian household is shelter and transportation. God help you if you factor in child care.”
With Transparency International estimating that half of Vancouver’s most costly properties are owned by shell companies or trusts, another 20,000 homes sit vacant. Andy Yan also worries about Air BnB which takes up rental housing and is now going to be required to pay sales and municipal taxes.“That’s like taxing cigarettes to pay for lung cancer treatments.”
You can read the whole article here that also discusses the municipal and provincial involvement of real estate companies and property developers who benefited in the rise of real estate prices. Andy does make some recommendations such as taxes to stop property flipping and closing the bare trust loopholes that allow properties to be hidden in numbered companies, something Ontario squelched over thirty years ago. Now the Director of the City Program at Simon Fraser University, Andy Yan observes ““We need to go back to civic virtues.We need to talk about the sacrifices we are willing and we need to make for the greater good of the community. We need to have a discussion about what the public good is, and what we are willing to sacrifice to make it happen.”
Andy Yan image
 
 

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The Northeast False Creek Plan goes to Council this week and Price Tags Vancouver has been looking for any rationale behind the city’s deliberate piercing of the City’s long-established view corridors. City staff are  recommending three tall towers that will be way, way over the 300 foot height limit-The rationale for the two 425 foot, 48 storey towers at the intersection of Georgia and Pacific (and these are the words of the Council report) are to provide a “counterpoint”and a “gateway”. Just to balance things out another over height 400 foot tower is also proposed, as if to make the two 48 storey towers less obtrusive. You can view the plan here. 

The whole point of the View Corridor Policy and the establishment of view cones was to ensure views of the mountains, sea, and adjoining areas from different vantage points in the city.. You can see what former planning Director Larry Beasley said about the view corridors here. Why congest up space and block views when density can be spread over the site or in other locations?

Here is what urbanist Melody Ma wrote out on twitter. It is a longer post, but contains salient information and is presented in its full form below.

Dear Vancouverites, City Council’s making a significant decision on Feb13 to allow towers by Concord & Pavco pierce thru a key public view (Cambie) of our skyline & iconic mountain backdrop for the Northeast False Creek plan. This decision has irreversible consequences. Here’s why.

   
  1. When people think about what’s iconic about Vancouver, they think about our mountains & water. But the fact that our mountains are visible & not blocked by towers today didn’t happen by accident. They’re protected by view cone policies established in 1989 & fiercely protected since.

  2.  The view cones policy is possibly one of the most visionary planning policies in Vancouver. We’re one of the 1st cities in the world to have  such a policy. But most people today aren’t aware of view cones & have misconceptions.
  3.  Misconception #1: View cones were created for the wealthy b/c they’re concentrated in wealthy neighbourhoods. Clarification: View cones were created for the public for public enjoyment. All of them are publicly accessible with vantage points in parks, bridges, plazas & streets  

    4. Misconception #2: View cones are car-centric. Clarification: Majority of view cone optimal vantage points are located in pedestrian-friendly areas like parks, plazas, seawalls & bridges. Ones with optimal viewing points on streets are still enjoyable & photo-worthy on sidewalks.

     

    5. Misconception #3: Cambie view cone is irrelevant because can only be viewed optimally from car . Clarification: The mountainous backdrop is most iconic on Cambie & one of the most photographed public views. Losing it will translate to character of city being irreversibly lost.

         

    6.Misconception #4: Vancouverites will get social housing & amenities in exchange for view cone penetration & thus a worthy trade. Correction: Damage to these free public views are permanent & irreversible. It sets bad precedent for developers to pressure City for same treatment.

       

    7.Misconception #5: The additional density offered by these tall towers will bring more affordable housing supply to millennials & families. Clarification: The density proposed will be some of the most expensive multimillion dollar condos in Vancouver unattainable by most.

       

    8. Misconception #6: If low density zones are upzoned, then no need to pile density on towers that pierce view cones. Clarification: Upzoning low density zones =/= No view cone piercings. Concord and all  don’t usually build in low density areas, so 3 towers are site-specific asks.

      9.  Misconception #7: Housing for people or view cones. You can only pick one. Clarification: The two can co-exist as they have been since 1989 & before.   10. Misconception #8: Public views are an extravagance in an affordability crisis. Clarification: Public views are free public assets & amenities all Vancouverites can enjoy, especially if they don’t have access to private views of mountains in our unaffordable city.  

    11.

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Various media sources including the Vancouver Sun have reported on the City of Vancouver Engineering’s plan to reduce 80 to 90  city metered parking spaces in Yaletown’s five blocks around the rather funky Mainland and Hamilton Street retail area. The area to be impacted is the metered angle parking that serves the commercial businesses. One, a flower shop, needs the space for commercial deliveries that occur several times a day. The Yaletown Business Improvement Area’s executive director, Annette O’Shea calls this parking reduction “absolutely devastating”  and stated “There’s been no consultation whatsoever. The residents don’t know what’s going on, businesses don’t know what’s going on. We know we’re going to lose some parking. We totally accept that we’re going to lose some parking,” she said.But to have this slash-and-burn mentality of we’re going to lose all the parking, it’s totally unacceptable.”
The metered parking spaces to be chopped  are among the top cash cow performers in the City of Vancouver parking meter stable, which brings in $50 million dollars a year, or over $4 million dollars a month.
The rationale for the stripping of metered parking is “safety” according to the City of Vancouver Fire Department. Unlike the rest of  the downtown, these  Yaletown streets uniquely have a street on the front and back of each building instead of a skinny back lane. This  means that any fires can be accessed and fought from both sides of the building.
Street space been an ongoing issue for the last thirty years where the Fire Department has consistently asked the Engineering Department for less parking and even street widening for their vehicles in the West End.  Traffic circles were considered bad for fire trucks until computer programs proved that they could easily negotiate around them, or use their edges. Speed bumps were also considered bad for fire trucks, not because of elapsed emergency time, but because firemen hit their heads on the truck roofs with the bumps.
Price Tags Vancouver has already reported about the City of San Francisco obtaining eight new fire trucks that are ten inches shorter and can make a u-turn in  twenty-five feet. These trucks are being commissioned for the less wide and more curving street network in the downtown area. The new trucks also have cameras that give a 360 degree view around the engine for pedestrian and cyclist safety according to Vision Zero principles.
The City of Vancouver is holding a public meeting on February 22  at the Roundhouse Community Center between 2:00 and 8:00 p.m to discuss proposed changes.

 
 
 

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