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What do the federal elections results mean for this region? Your say

October 20th, 2015 · 75 Comments

The floor is yours. Thoughts?

I personally would like to know who the Liberal replacement will be for Colin Metcalfe.

For those who aren’t up on the arcana of local federal politics, this former campaigner manager for mayor Sam Sullivan became the Conservative point person in B.C., running the local office and co-ordinating Conservative interactions with local governments. Anyone got any nominations?

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At long last, B.C. reaps some bonus profits from Expo land sale. And now Vancouver wants it.

October 20th, 2015 · 3 Comments

A delicious find in the Vancouver viaducts report going to council today. (That would be Tuesday, Oct. 20, the day after the federal election and when the world started spinning in a different direction.)

Which was: Long ago, when the province sold the Expo lands to Li Ka-shing for what many called a fire-sale price, it wrote in a provision to the agreement that the province would get some of the profits if Concord ever got permission from the city to build more than 12 million square feet on the land.

At the time, it seemed unlikely.

But here we are. Concord is now within 400,000 square feet of that limit and will exceed it when it builds its Northeast False Creek towers, whatever level of density the city finally agrees to give. (Apparently the viaducts take-down could result in a million more square feet of density in the area, but it’s not all Concord’s.)

And the city wants the anticipated share of the money the province is going to get, in order to pay for housing. (First response out of the province appears to be along the lines of Drop Dead, Vancouver, but this is just the start of negotiations, I’m sure.)

My story on this is here. I will post the agreement attached to the land sale later for my armchair experts to peruse. (IanS?) And maybe someone can actually figure out what the sale price is, because I sure can’t from looking at the complicated calculations in the agreement.

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As Metro Vancouver grapples with homelessness everywhere, new-style winter shelters spread to suburbs

October 20th, 2015 · No Comments

Fall. The leaves fall, the days get shorter, the City of Vancouver and Housing Minister Rich Coleman get into a tug of war over how much money for winter shelters for the region’s homeless people.

This year, things are a bit different. The minister is spending almost a million dollars to fund the Vancouver-style shelters in Maple Ridge and Surrey for the first time, places that are some pretty serious homeless problems. That’s shelters that are open 24/7 from October or November to March, instead of the old-style response, which was only to open mat programs in community facilities on the worst nights.

Vancouver was pushing to get 160 to 200 spaces funded by the province. But Coleman said in my story here that the city would only get what it got last year. (That was 80 spaces in two shelters where the city found the sites and helped pay for some improvements, another 30 at Union Gospel Mission.)

Still awaiting word on where the sites are and whether the minister might be persuaded to pay for any more. (And I read, via my pal Kelly Sinoski at the Vancouver Sun, that Abbotsford would like one of these new-style winter shelters.)

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Live in a super-dense neighbourhood? You won’t get a Conservative MP any time soon

October 14th, 2015 · 26 Comments

I did a fun wonk and water-cooler story in today’s Globe, based on stats analyzed by Andy Yan at BTA Works, all about how our voting preferences correlate with density.

The numbers show a dramatic difference in the types of ridings that Conservatives win, compared to Liberals and New Democrats. Liberals win in some of the highest-density ridings in the country. The NDP are not too far behind, although they also do well in some low-density areas — northern, resource-based districts, for example.

But the Conservatives just can’t seem to win in anything more than a medium-density suburb.

This is something a lot of American political analysts looked at after the 2012 election there, the way voting correlates with density. A small selection of the writing on this topic here, here and here.

Those patterns raise a couple of questions. One, what does it mean for Canada when the governing party is essentially excluded from the country’s economic engines, i.e. its cities.

Second, what is really going on? Is it just that people of certain education levels, professions or political inclinations cluster in certain areas (and therefore vote a particular way)? Or is it that the conditions of urban, suburban or rural ridings actually have an impact on people’s political inclinations? As suburban ridings densify, will they be more likely to switch from Conservative to one of the other two parties?

Things to ponder.

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Vancouver viaducts on the road to demolition, to be replaced by park, housing, new roads

October 7th, 2015 · 205 Comments

Media got a snap invite yesterday morning to attend a “technical briefing” about the viaducts. It turned out to be not so technical, as there were still quite a few details missing (no answers to: when will exactly the park be built, are there hard targets for affordable housing, how much extra density will Concord Pacific get under the no-viaducts plan; no detailed spreadsheet on how development fees and land sales will finance the $200-million project). It was more about the grand ideas and the possibilities and much use of the word “city-building.”

But we still get a bit more information: $100 million for a new commuter route east of Main (not decided whether it’s Malkin or National); likelihood that the engineers will create a two-way street along BC Place; more sense of how the roads will be configured; confirmation that the viaducts will come down all at once, not in phases, etc.

My Globe story is here. City information is here. An open house and a Reddit AMA coming up for the public.

Oh, and here is the staff report on the viaducts, which is more informative than the PowerPoints etc. provided yesterday.

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Oh my goodness, more rules for recycling

October 5th, 2015 · 52 Comments

This just out from Vancouver. I guess they are not that impressed by this argument published in the New York Times recently, saying recycling is mostly inefficient. Oh well, more opportunities for me to feel virtuous, aside from peeling the labels off my cans and putting cans in one place, labels in another.

The City’s recycling program is changing and expanding. Starting October 2015, the City will implement the first of three phases of separate glass collection, beginning with city-serviced Multi-Family buildings (apartments, condos and townhomes).

Phase 1 – City-Serviced Multi-Family Buildings
Starting: October 5 – December 31, 2015

Phase 2 – Single Family Residences + City-Serviced Multi-Family Buildings (on single family curbside routes)
Starting: January 11 – March 31, 2016

Phase 3 – Non-City-Serviced Multi-Family Buildings
Starting: May 1 – July 31, 2016

City-serviced Multi-family buildings will receive a new “glass bottle + jars” recycling cart shortly. Residents are asked to recycle all glass bottles and jars into this cart as soon as it arrives. Deposit glass containers (wine, spirits, coolers, beer and juice bottles) should still be returned to a depot for refund.

Additional updates to the expanded recycling program include:

* All newspapers and mixed paper are now accepted together and can be placed in the mixed paper cart.

* Paper cups, milk cartons, TetraPaks, empty aerosol cans (non-paint) and frozen dessert boxes can now be recycled in the mixed containers cart.

Residents can learn how to dispose of items for recycling with the online Waste Wizard tool. For a full list of items accepted as part of the City’s recycling program, or to find out how to recycle items not accepted in the City’s program, visit<>. By properly recycling materials, you help Keep Vancouver Spectacular!

The collection of separate glass supports the City’s contract agreement with Multi-Materials BC (MMBC) and aligns with the City’s commitment to Zero Waste as part of our Greenest City Action Plan.

Additional information regarding separate glass collection for Single Family Residences and non-city-serviced Multi-Family buildings will be provided as these changes are phased in. Stay tuned!

For more information on the City’s expanded recycling program and separate glass collection, please visit<>.

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Vancouver Art Gallery design: Have your say

October 5th, 2015 · 5 Comments

The city architect/planner who used to oversee the big moves and small details of Vancouver’s major buildings — Ralph Segal — weighs in here on the art gallery. I myself am still trying to understand the design (it looks somewhat better seen close up than in Twitter pictures), so I have no strong thoughts. I’m throwing the conversation open here to all. Curious what you think. I’ve been surprised already so far by the people who love it (and I thought would hate it) and vice versa

About 5 years ago, as the City’s Senior Architect/Development Planner (since retired), I was a contributor to City Council’s decision to the give up the Georgia Street-fronting portion of the Larwill Park site to the Vancouver Art Gallery, arguing that an inspired, stunning Gallery building design at this location would undoubtedly be the catalyst for for a revitalized Arts, Performance, Cultural, Public Institution Precinct on this stretch of Georgia St. together with Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Public Library, CBC, an adaptive re-use of the Post Office, an enhanced Georgia St. to the east with Viaducts gone, etc.etc.

With the unveiling of the new VAG design, which some experts, politicians and other cheerleaders have raved about, I must offer (with apologies to Hans Christian Andersen) that “The Emperor Has No Clothes”. Thank goodness the presentation of the proposal pointedly cites it as “conceptual”, for if this design is implemented in its present form it will be an embarrassment to Vancouver. I understand why backers must now, with its glitzy unveiling, get behind this design. What I fail to understand is how the VAG executive and its award-winning architectural team, could have so misread how this design will be perceived. Or was the VAG executive so intimidated by Herzog de Meuron’s reputation that it failed to question the direction the design was taking as it was unfolding?

Frankly, this design is underwhelming. It needs to be a dynamic, sculptural piece unto its own, provoking debate about architecture and art. Instead, we have a static, symmetrical stacking of boxes evoking puzzlement, if not cynicism. And while the use of wood certainly can be a plus, cladding the boxes in an appliqué of wood panelling doesn’t rescue the design. The composition reminds me of a spatial relationship diagram of the various building functions, a useful architectural design tool for sorting out and organizing three dimensionally a complex building program. But for that 3-d diagram to then become the building’s architecture…aren’t we missing a few steps in the design evolution process such as asking what imagery for Vancouver art and culture as expressed in this building design we want to project around the world? Will it be a series of symmetrically stacked boxes? Perhaps the VAG’s image will be better served by having the architects pursue a design theme that truly resonates with Vancouverites, not to mention potential VAG donors. To its credit, lifting up the entire structure to create a public courtyard is a brilliant idea but to then surround it on all four sides by a one-storey, virtually continuous perimeter building effectively privatizes the space. To be truly public, it should open its arms expansively to one or both Georgia Street corners to graciously invite pedestrians into this covered, sunny space. I know, I know, all this would jog the present clearly logical functional planning/circulation arrangement of the various interior spaces and the security challenges of the street level exterior space. But does pure logic trump all else in this design? Indeed, how does logic play into this entire $350m exercise that puts a new gallery on a site that will not, for another 20 years, perhaps never, capture the prominence of the VAG’s present location at the very heart of the downtown that it now enjoys! But let’s not open that pandora’s box!

If this design is indeed “conceptual” there is a need to get back to the drawing board and rethink the image the VAG should convey for itself and for all Vancouverites who should be able to take pride in this building. The immediate impression one should experience upon encountering it should be one of drama, loving or even hating it, but not one of puzzlement or equivocation or pizza boxes. Herzog & de Mueron is entirely capable of delivering such drama as they have elsewhere and Vancouver deserves no less. Let them have another go at it.

Ralph Segal

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City names new acting general manager of planning and development

September 29th, 2015 · 1 Comment

The city’s general manager of planning, Brian Jackson, is having his last day at the city Nov. 6, so the city needs someone statutorily as the planning director. This message just went out from acting city manager Sadhu Johnston.

Today, September 29, 2015, Vancouver City Council approved the appointment of Jane Pickering as the Acting General Manager of Planning and Development Services and the Director of Planning for the City of Vancouver effective November 6, 2015. Since 2011, Jane has been the Deputy Director of Planning in Vancouver  and,  previously, the Director of Planning for the City of Maple Ridge for eleven years. She has worked in the planning field for over 25 years in a career that has spanned work at both the provincial and local levels. She holds a Master of City Planning degree and is a Full member of the Planning Institute of British Columbia.

Her career has included responsibilities in planning, transportation, economic development, environment and she has extensive experience in both policy and regulatory issues and systems. Jane has provided strong leadership in the Citywide and Regional portfolio as well as helping to lead organizational change in the Department. She brings a strong commitment of excellence and collaboration to her work.


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Has the number of single-family houses in Vancouver shrunk by 20,000? Or not at all?

September 29th, 2015 · 10 Comments

I called the city recently to try to figure out why there are such different numbers circulating as to the number of single-family houses in Vancouver? Some people (Bob Rennie, reporters) are saying 47,000, down from 67,000 some number of years before. Others (general manager of planning Brian Jackson, other reporters) say 75,000.

My question went off to the city’s wizardy stats-crunchers, who know all things StatsCan and more, and it came back with this response:

There are two sources of data, (census and BC Assessment Authority) and they use different definitions, so it’s not straightforward. (But when was it ever?)

To answer a query earlier in the week we looked at single family, and single family with a suite from the BC Assessment data. They identify all the structures in the city, and categorize them by type. We didn’t include any with two suites, as those might or might not look like a house (in theory, they’re not usually legal unless they’re often a big house cut up into strata apartments).

There were 75,510 structures in 1996, and 75,780 in 2015 – hence our statement of 75,000 no real change over 20 years. In 1996, BCAA thought 56,700 were single family, and 18,800 were with a suite. (They probably undercounted the suites in those days, as there were still many unauthorised that they don’t know about). That means in 1996 there were 94,300 dwellings in 75,500 buildings. In 2015, there were 43,100 single family, and 32,700 had a suite. So that’s 108,500 dwellings in total. That’s total stock – some will be empty, awaiting redevelopment (on Cambie) etc.

The 47,000 single family number is what Bob Rennie quotes: it’s a 2011 census number. It’s technically correct, although it undercounts a bit, as it’s the number of occupied single family dwellings. There were around 47,500, and there were also 2,000 more considered as unoccupied in the census (although 230 were occupied by temporary/foreign workers, so while they don’t count as occupied – somebody was living there).

That means there were 49,500 single family buildings in 2011, according to the census. Comparing the 2011 census to the 2015 BCAA, it looks like the census people might have missed a few thousand suites, although they’re doing much better than they used to. On top of that the 2011 census says there are about 25,000 houses with suites or duplexes (so 50,000 dwellings) – confusingly they label them all as ‘duplex’, and they don’t differentiate between up and down and back/front. Fortunately BCAA do separate types out, and so that’s what we counted (see above).

Bearing in mind the four years between the two data sets, and how many more houses are now built with a suite when they’re rebuilt, the two data sets are pretty close. 100,000 dwellings in 75,000 buildings, Census 2011, and 108,000 in 75,800 BCAA 2015. 49,000 without a suite in 2011 (and probably a bit less as they missed some) and about 43,000 in 2015.


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Church becomes a developer with some trepidation

September 29th, 2015 · No Comments

An updated render of the Bing Thom tower for First Baptist church in my story, plus a closer look at the internal struggles the church went through to choose a developer and go through with this project.

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