March 21, 2018

Segal: Density, Design and Public Benefit

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.  


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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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There’s an event at  Simon Fraser University’s Harbour Centre location with the principal author of the Hua Foundation’s Vancouver Chinatown Food Security Report  Angela Ho, detailing her findings and observations on how this area lost half of its access to fresh food assets within the last  nine years.
The presentation will be followed by a panel discussion with Andy Yan (SFU City Program Director), Wes Regan (City of Vancouver Community Economic Development Planner), and Elvy Del Bianco (Vancity Program Manager for Cooperative Partnerships) to explore ideas on how various stakeholders can play a role to retain and revive these unique spaces where history, culture, food security, local economy and policy intersects.
You can register for this event here.
Saturday, January 20, 2018
1:30 – 4:00PM
SFU Harbour Centre
Room 1400 Segal Centre
515 West Hastings Street


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Today’s award  is in the Biggest Transportation Event Category.  And that award goes to the Burrard Bridge Rehabilitation Project which gives back pedestrian space on both sides of the bridge for walkers, and provides a safer seamless trip for cyclists too.
Price Tags Vancouver has been pretty excited about this project, which truly represents the 21st century approach to active transportation and safe travel for all modes. We covered the Burrard Bridge opening and talked about the new/old lights and how they work. We had Burrard Bridge backstories and talked about how cyclists access and egress the bridge.  We had a Burrard Bridge photo montage and generally talked about all things Burrard Bridge.
In the words of the CBC   about the 58 million dollar project;
“Pedestrians will once again be welcomed to the east sidewalk, which many chose to use despite it being a dedicated bike lane in recent years. Major changes on the downtown end of the bridge include new cycling turning boxes, vehicle turning lanes and protection for pedestrians and cyclists in the intersection.
Part of the bridge has been widened to accommodate a second right-turn lane onto Pacific Street, and right-hand turning lanes were added to allow vehicles to more easily flow onto the bridge when travelling eastbound on Pacific. The art deco Burrard Street Bridge was constructed in the early 1930’s. The city made efforts to ensure the concrete barriers that separate vehicles from cycling lanes were designed to match the heritage style…
The plan, approved two years ago, included additional sewer and water upgrades on both ends of the bridge, which the city said were estimated to cost an additional $23 million — bringing the project’s total to $58 million.”


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So what kind of year did Price Tags Vancouver have? There were 1,359 posts published, and 456,000 page views. Over 8,600 comments were made on Price Tags Vancouver, with thirteen contributors providing content.
And the top Seven Posts?
Top Seven Posts:
1. Fun with the 2012 Census
2. Daily Durning: Vancouver History in Colour
3. Port Says Deeper Fraser River Not Needed for Massey Bridge
4. Another One Bites the Dust
5. Sandusky, Ohio and a Pier
6. Vancouver Condo Presales Cheaper in China
7. Mike Harcourt and the Massey Tunnel~Let’s Get Moving .
Wishing you and yours a happy and healthy 2018.

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Christopher Cheung has written an evocative piece in Metro News  that really resonates with the remarkable changes Vancouver has experienced in the past year. Noting that it is not only  housing affordability at stake, Chris states that “inequality, segregation and displacement are destroying what makes Vancouver special”.
On the heels of Dr. David Hulchanski’s Warren Gill lecture on the hollowing out of Vancouver reported here in Price Tags Vancouver Christopher observes that the City is changing in fundamental ways. Once welcoming to all socio-economic groups, the city is now giving a ‘slow goodbye to diversity and inclusivity as segregation rises”.  Christopher also keenly describes the disappearance of the blue-collar working class out of the city as described by Dr. Hulchanski’s talk.

“Rich Vancouverites settling or spending money in lower-income neighbourhoods are causing displacement, something local activists and academics have sounded alarm on.
The Downtown Eastside and Chinatown are losing businesses catered to its low-income residents as high-end retailers and restaurants move in. Around Metrotown, condo developers are destroying rental housing that single-parents and newcomers have depended on for affordability and transit-access to get to work.
In addition to segregation of the rich and poor, Hulchanski’s analysis of census data shows how extreme Metro Vancouver’s divide is. There are more rich and poor neighbourhoods, but less middle-income neighbourhoods. (A middle-income neighbourhood is a census tract of about 5,000 people with an average individual income 20 per cent above or below the local average.)
In 1980, middle-income neighbourhoods made up two-thirds of the region. In 2015, they make up half the region.”
Christopher Cheung is also absolutely right in describing that the “idea” of Vancouver’s working class neighbourhoods might still exist, but only in “the form of condo ads, businesses, products and neighbourhood rebranding efforts that commodify and glamourize their grittiness“. Even Andy Yan, the Duke of Data and Director of Simon Fraser University’s City Program perceives that a “homogeneous, dull, hostile” Vancouver without the ability to be welcoming and open could develop. As both Christopher Cheung and Andy Yan state the issues in Vancouver are not just about accessibility and affordability to housing and jobs, but also looking at  how to enhance social inclusion and accentuate economic resilience and opportunity. It was those factors that made Vancouver attractive as a city to live in the latter part of the 20th century. How can policy be shaped to ensure Vancouver is a place  that not only can adequately houses its workers, but provides economic diversity and potential? Is it too late to hold onto the Vancouver we used to know?


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One of the kindest people I have worked with and without a doubt one of the smartest has just announced he is stepping down from the executive of COPE-the Coalition of Progressive Electors after three decades of public service. Lawyer Tim Louis served two terms on the Park Board and two terms on the City of Vancouver Council. He truly did read the Council package before each meeting and knew the names of each city hall staffer. Tim articled with and was mentored by  Councillor Harry Rankin who was also a lawyer with the same quick and dry wit, if not slightly more irascible.
I’d ask Tim if I could speak to him before a Council meeting and he’d respond that it would be fine as long as I “was not a card-carrying conservative”.  He chaired committee meetings, understood Robert’s Rules of Order, delegated with a strong sense of humour and responded to every phone call he received.  He often wore a Che Guevara Shirt to events, bright red, and moaned about the days when people asked him it was an image of Fidel Castro. It’s no surprise that a huge party is being held for Tim in February and it is sure to be packed full of people wanting to have one more chat and laugh with him.
Gordon McIntyre of the Vancouver Sun interviewed Tim about his remarkable achievements and accomplishments.  I was aware that if we were going to be in front of a committee meeting that Tim was chairing or sitting in on, that we needed to be prepared for those piercing blue eyes and quick intelligence that could quickly sift through any policy or program city planners had not really thought about in advance of the presentation. Tim calls this process “intellectual wrestling”.
While studying Law, Tim also was one of the founders of  the Pacific Transit Co-operative. The founders were all in need of disabled friendly transit, and they basically set up their own system which was in operation for 20 years commencing in the early 1980’s.  Remarkably this enterprise was operative in 19 days, a testament to this group’s organization and abilities.
Reporter McIntyre asked Tim directly what he thought of the Mayors of Vancouver he has worked with and known. Typically, Tim spoke directly and held back nothing in his terse and connected responses that also give a historical timeline on the politics of development.When asked to rank Mayor Mike Harcourt, Tim responded ” Harcourt, I’d give a good mark to. It was a Harcourt-COPE council where we saw council really put to work on behalf of the entire city, the citizens of Vancouver, and not on behalf of the developers.”

With Gordon Campbell Tim stated “We went back to a developers’ council with Campbell. You can see that very clearly when you look at the north side of False Creek with its high towers and density developed under Campbell and compare it to the south side of False Creek, where there is mixed income, low-rise and much lower density.”

With Philip Owen Tim states “Philip was a very decent man. Give him credit for bringing in the four pillars (drug strategy), the supervised injection sites.” 

And then there was Mayor Larry Campbell, who as the City Coroner was the inspiration for the television show Da Vinci’s Inquest. Larry was also opinionated and outspoken, and Tim notes that COPE made a “mistake” and that feelings have still not been resolved

Tim perceives Mayor Sam Sullivan as “another developers’ mayor. He called it eco-density, which was just a greenwashing, taking density and giving it a green veneer. ” 

And for current Mayor Gregor Robertson?  “As far as I’m concerned Vision is the NPA, only with bicycle lanes”.

This is an individual that was concerned and represented the average voter at City Hall and urged controls on gambling expansion within the City. Tim was also against Wal-Mart  operating in Vancouver,  forecasting a world where there would be a “race to the bottom” when foreign-owned businesses put local retailers out of business. Tim is passionate, refreshing, and speaks his mind. He will be very much missed, but I’m sure there will be more endeavours. If you want to go to Tim’s party, details are here.


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Jim Green, best known as a housing advocate in the Downtown East Side and COPE/Vision city councillor from 2002-05, made a comment on Vancouver’s future, according to Matt Meehan of Concord Pacific, that I’m going to call the Green Rule:

In the future, any building under 20 storeys in downtown Vancouver is a teardown.  They just don’t know it yet.


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