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Guest post from Frank Ducote: A stunning transformation is planned for Grandview-Woodlands. Is the community really ready for this?

June 12th, 2013 · 193 Comments

For those who haven’t guessed already, I am away from the city right now and will be away until the first week of July, as part of my annual ritual of city observation elsewhere. (Known to others as “a vacation.”) I’ll be posting some stuff of my own — been riding a lot of bike-share bikes in Paris and have some tales to tell — but I am also opening up the blog to some guest posts.

The first is from Frank Ducote on what’s been happening with city planning over on Commercial Drive. I am happy to publish other guest posts on any vaguely city-related topics that have not been beaten to death already on this blog or where you have a take on a familiar issue that really hasn’t been addressed anywhere. Those with a burning desire to propose ideas should email me (firstnamelastname AT and I’ll put up anything that fits the criteria. You don’t need to use your real name.

In the meantime, here is Frank’s post, where your comments are invited. For those who don’t know, Frank is a former city planner, planning consultant for other cities, and, I believe, much-praised artist.
Looking at this map, it is very difficult to fully grasp the implications of such a far-reaching proposal for transformation of an existing community. As a former City of Vancouver planner who worked in the Broadway/Commercial community prior to and during the Millennium Line implementation, this vision truly boggles my mind. Circa 2000 or so some then-councillors considered this area, with its abundance of transportation investment, to be ripe for densification, up to and including towers. However, It would have suicidal to try and impose those kinds of pro -development ideas then, completely against community values.
What has happened since to so embolden staff and, presumably, the public consultation process, to bring forward such a fundamentally transformative set of ideas and policy directions now? So many questions that one has a difficult time knowing where and how to begin a rational critique and conversation.
Please look closely at this map, especially at the area immediately around Commercial Drive and Broadway. This is Transportation Oriented Development (TOD) writ very large indeed. Is this a community-based vision or one being imposed from above? A TransLink wet dream?
Your comments, please. It would be particularly interesting to hear from residents and other participants directly involved in this planning process.




Categories: Uncategorized

  • Norman

    Until this plan came out, I lived in Kensington Cedar Cottage, and the maps still say so. Suddenly, Grandview Woodlands extends to 12th Avenue, so please don’t try to tell me I haven’t taken advantage of the so-called “representation” for my area.

  • F.H.Leghorn

    Speaking as a boomer parent, I just want to say that my chicks can afford to live in Vancouver. Why? Thanks to a lifetime of hard work, self-denial, careful planning and a bit of luck I can leverage the house I own into down payments I “loan” to my chicks.
    If they prefer to rent a roost somewhere they can wait to collect from my estate for their housing needs. In a lot of ways that’s better than a non-indexed pension. You don’t have to work for it or contribute financially and it’s tax-free.
    But you know how chicks are: nothing you do is good enough.

  • brilliant

    @Jenable I’d be more sympathetic to post-boomers complaints they bothered to show up at a polling station on election day. As we saw on May 14 a vast majority of that demographic can’t be bothered, so they should just suck it up.

  • boohoo


    Do you have a breakdown of voter turn out by age?

  • jenables

    Norman, I thought I’d get an answer straight from the horse’s mouth, so I called 311. Wow. I talked to two people, one who was in zoning… Neither seemed to have any idea what I was talking about. They weren’t insincere, or impolite, but man oh man. I explained that I was wondering what the south border of Grandview woodland was as there is conflicting information online. Is it Broadway or twelfth? What should have been a simple answer took thirteen minutes and fifty one seconds and ended with the zoning lady telling me to go on the website and click on Grandview. I have seen a sign up the street that is an info map for the neighborhood, and I’ve called them in the post to complain about the fact that the close up is just a square which doesn’t show anything below Adanac and is misleading. So I can’t really go by that one either. I encourage you to call 311…..they might learn something! You’ll also get to enjoy new hold music.. No more channel four community listing loop.. Now we have Greek jeopardy music!

  • The boundaries of GW have not changed. What we have here is the Broadway Transit Zone overlain on top of the GW map. This Zone goes down at least to 12th in the south and up to, perhaps, 4th in the north. Different animals in the same cage.

  • jenables

    Oops, it should say above that I have called them in the past to complain, not post.

  • MB

    Thank you Frank Ducote for posting this important plan.

    I worked in a large multi-disciplinary firm in the early 90s that proposed another Broadway Station redevelopment. It proposed towers in the (if memory serves) 8-20 storey range on the Safeway site and adjacent parcels south of Broadway, and continuous low and mid-rise retail and office space along the north side of Broadway and the east side of Commercial.

    The most unique feature proposed was a continuous deck over the Cut and a wide (6+ m) pedestrian link directly under the curved SkyTrain guideway separating two buildings, essentially an internal linear pedestrian plaza with retail on both sides. We pushed for a dramatic water fountain running up the centre of this space with computer-controlled water jets timed to the arrival and departure of the overhead trains.

    The Millennium Line and the Commercial Drive Station weren’t even an itch in Glen Clark’s groin yet.

    Neighbourhood opposition was expected and, in my view, more or less rightfully justified at the time with concerns over height and precedent-setting development wedges potentially being driven further into the community, though the mixed use and continuous sidewalk retail were appealing. There was a serious effort to discredit the seismic stability of placing buildings partially over the Cut, but the structural subs in the team had it all worked out.

    What actually killed the project was the strong rejection by the traffic planners in the Vancouver Engineering Dept., backed by the Fire dept., who said decking over the Cut would present a serious challenge to their pet 6-lane double decker commercial truck freeway project that was then proposed in the Cut. They said the deck would potentially lock in the smoke and fumes of combustible hazardous materials transported by trucks, completely ignoring the materials moved by train for the past century.

    I wonder if parts of this earlier project would be a relevant pivot point to adjust the heights downward on the current proposal? I am still intrigued by the notion of decking over part of the Cut. Currently, great crowds back up on the sidewalks while waiting for a B-Line bus after transferring from SkyTrain. Clearly the capacities are mismatched. Extending the Millennium Line to UBC would help alleviate this backup and shift the huge transit-based pedestrian flows to between the two stations from the street.

    If the Cut were decked over between Commercial and Broadway / Victoria, leaving the Commercial Station roof open to the sky, then an additional ~6,000 m2 (1.5 acres) of level surface space would be created to accommodate pedestrian circulation routes, plazas and park space. Going farther, if the Cut was decked over between Commercial and Woodland Dr, an additional ~17,250 m2 (4.3 ac) of level surface space would be created for parkland. You’re looking at potentially ~six acres of additional park space concentrated right at Broadway Station. Lowering the proposed heights dramatically and offering a very significant amount of additional park land directly to the community most affected could be perceived as a fairer trade off than 400 foot towers with CACs going into general revenue.

  • MB

    The proposed heights at Broadway x Commercial are not the only troubling area of concern. Why on Earth would the planners reason that 12-storey towers on 1st Ave x Clark and continuous low rise (4-6 storeys) are justified along this arterial? To me the most important distinction to densifying arterials is efficient transit, which also hooks into the issue affordability.

    Everyone harps on affordability with a singular focus on housing prices and rents, which are effectively subsets of land value. Yes, land / housing is more expensive in the inner city than in the suburbs, but that trend, if mapped, evens out quickly when transportation is included. Affordability is relative to income. When transportation is included, then the suburbs look a helluva lot less affordable.

    To illustrate, I worked out that my rusty old VW costs me about $6,000 each year, which includes the purchase price, financing, fuel, repairs and insurance averaged over a decade. My commute is very reasonable, yet still costs about $1,200 a year in fuel alone. Over 10 years, this increasingly decrepit car has diminished our family income by about $60,000. Should we have gotten bitten by the lower-housing-prices-in-the-suburbs narrative, then we’d need two larger cars capable of long freeway commutes, orders-of-magnitude more fuel costs, bigger repair bills, and two insurance policies and financing plans, easily racking up to $200,000 over 10 years and many tens of thousands more hours spent on one’s butt behind the wheel instead of being more productive. Empty nesters have often spent a quarter century or more in the suburbs before downsizing, so the math suddenly makes the more expensive housing closer to the centre much more affordable relative to income over long periods of time.

    Living near an arterial with good transit service and close to work, schools, shopping and amenities even in “unaffordable” Vancouver allows a family to spend more on a home on a smaller parcel of land and diminish their expenditures on transportation, and possibly save a lot more over a generation than if they had to drive more while living in less expensive housing further out.

    When you look at affordability in this way, then building more housing using less land and improving transit are key to making living in an expensive city less of a drain on incomes over the long run.

  • @ MB 158.

    You articulate some interesting ideas. Thank you for sharing them.

  • As well, it’s good to see someone thinking, talking and designing about the public realm. What we’re seeing today has been dummed down to planning and design for profit. Public benefit is an irritating inconvenience. The wheel has gone full circle.

  • Westender1

    It appears the City has scheduled a “follow-up” event on the issue of densification at Broadway and commercial. (But register early as space is “extremely limited” – perhaps the meeting place is a laneway home?!?)

  • IanS

    @MB #159:

    “When you look at affordability in this way…”

    Good point. IMO, the cost of commuting is a factor most people would take into account when considering how much they can afford when buying a property. By way of example, I live and work downtown and the fact that my commute is free (I walk) and that I fill up my little car once, or maybe twice, a year is definitely a factor which I took into account in determining how much I could afford to spend on a property.

    However, I question whether this factor results in an increase in affordability, as anyone buying in the area would be able to make the same calculation. Arguably, it is a factor which would result in an increased selling price.

  • Bill Lee

    And transport prices is one of the causes of the Brazil riots last weeks.
    CBC put up an infographic that the monthly average wage is $325, and that transport takes a third of that.

  • Frank Ducote

    IaanS@ 163 “However, I question whether this factor results in an increase in affordability, as anyone buying in the area would be able to make the same calculation. Arguably, it is a factor which would result in an increased selling price.”

    The (U.S.) Center for Transportation-Oriented Development estimates that the shae of income that a household spends in a “transit rich” location is 9%, while in “automobile dependent exurbs” the figure rises to 25%.

    If the share of housing costs remain the same at, in there estimation 32%, that leaves 59% of income available for other things (food, clothing, eduction, entertainment, etc.) in the transit-oriented locations and only 43% availaable in the exurbs.

    To put it simply, living in a transit rich location saves a household about 16% of their income.

    This seems to support MB’s point, and that of a lot of researchers in this area, including New Urbanists.

  • Frank Ducote

    Argh – typ0s. Should read IanS@163 (not Iaan)

    Also the share (not shae) of income …

  • We should stop all the current Plans today and re-think the entire process:

  • IanS

    @Frank Ducote #165:

    I don’t dispute that one spends less living in locations which eliminate the need, or lower the cost, of commuting. The math is pretty straightforward. However, taht same math also justifies spending more to purchase a property (ie. because one didn’t need to spend $__ on the commute, that is $___ more one has to put towards a mortgage which, in turn, supports spending more to buy a property).

    Wouldn’t that factor into (ie. increase) the purchase price for that property?

  • Frank Ducote

    IanS – the analysis assumes people move out from cities to get more house for the same buck. I guess some folks could spend more for a house out in the exurbs but that is not the general case.

  • IanS

    My last post was pretty inarticulate. Let me try again.

    I agree that there are advantages to living in a “transit rich” area. I agree that there are savings to be realized from a less expensive, or free, commute.

    My point was that these savings are likely factored into the cost of property in such areas, both because they are more desirable and because a purchaser can afford to pay more due to the savings.

    Hence, I’m not certain that such areas are necessarily more affordable than others.

  • IanS

    @Frank Ducote #169:

    ” the analysis assumes people move out from cities to get more house for the same buck ”

    In my experience, they do. I know people who bought further out so that they could afford a detached house with a yard etc.

  • Joe Just Joe

    I agree with IanS, just as lower mortgage rates helped push real estate prices higher because the purchaser could afford more for the the same monthly outflow. If a location allows a couple to eliminate a vehicle we will see that location over time creep upwards in price as the purchasers can afford to increase their outflow for the mortgage as they reduced it on a car.
    We see that quite clearly, condos next to transit are more expensive then those not near transit, not only because of convenience but because of economics.

  • Bill Lee

    “What about the [del] workers [/del] Renters?

    Why all the emphasis of housing when renters in many districts are the majority, and will move if the rents go up.

    Many “houses” have been subdivided into rental suites, and that is supposed to be the case with so-called “Laneway Housing” [Granny shacks]?

    With parties bringing in political operatives for the 2014 election coming in a few days, renters are more important.

    StatCan’s numbers show average incomes don’t support house ownership anymore.
    Dollars per hour, Southwest BC (Lower Mainland)

    For those looking narrowly at the City proper.

  • InsiderDoug

    This really is a great article.

    The process wasn’t broken. It has been a big success, and the staff team should be proud of it/ But then Jackson & Ballem inserted their own answer, changed staffs work out of no-where, all hell broke loose, and staff are thrown under the bus and have to repeat the party line for their vindictive bosses.

    Shameful and disappointing for staff.

  • spartikus

    From InsiderDoug’s Tyee cite:

    “We seem to have only one way [towers] of expressing density, but we know from around the world that’s not the only way…We hear nothing until we see a written report. At that point, the only intervention is yes or no.”

    Sentiments expressed here for years.

    So it’s very interesting who said it.

  • Frank Ducote

    “This blog has become an exhibition of disgraceful petulant childishness!”

    You said it, buddy!

    Up to that point this had been a pretty civil and very topical conversation, a rare thing these days on the Fabula blog.

    Insider Doug – thanks for the link to a very thorough article that certainly lays it out there for all to see.

  • Frank Ducote


    I’ve never said that before and hope to never again.

  • I guess Kemble hasn’t bothered to read the extensive coverage of the problems with the process in GW that are about far more than his precious towers.

    By the way, while you folks are arguing the toss, we have an online petition in play at and a Public Meeting on the 8th July. Real stuff.

  • Lady Grantham

    Good Lord, Mr. Kemble!

    Where is the Yorkshire Lad we knew? Please don’t become a scribbling disgrace to our birthlace, blowing your cantankerous wind under the noses of people who have so far maintained their civility! Stop farting in the middle of the conversation at the dinner table.

    Take a pill. Take it with two single malt chasers. Have s-e-x-u-a-l intercourse with the neighbour, for goodness sake! Do something to calm your chemical imbalance demon!

    Please, my Dear Roger, we really don’t want to laugh at you.

    With much affection, though it is wearing thin.


  • Good lord Lady Grantham @ #179 you’re but marginally more pompous, and certainly less effectual, than the Iron Lady herself.

    Read Pierrie Berton’s wonderful 1965 book, “The Comfortable Pew” wherein he expresses his contempt for you and your ilk as “the boys who gang up to whistle at the girls across the street because they do not have the courage to do it on their own.” How well you fit!

    Enough of your incoherent waddling self-promotion Lewis @ #88. Lining the streets with the Lombardi Poplars does not a downtown make.

    Most of Council was in attendance. ” Ah yes the ballroom was full of hopefully expectant acolytes until you strutted and insulted the mayor and council into walking out. Your misplaced arrogance is exacerbated only by your utter lack of talent and knowledge of the subject you purport to promote.

    The Krier Bros would jump off their Luxemburg hometown cliff if they knew you were sucking their lollipop.

    Obsessing is not neighbourhood building little man!

    Trying to impress me with Roger is an expert in urban design is your kind of brown nosing that doesn’t work on me. Your dabbling is an embarrassment.

    Now, all of you, stop the gossip and go back to your knitting. QED

  • InsiderDoug

    To Roger Kemble. Your angry attacks are unintelligible. As are your links.

  • Frank Ducote

    RK Your obsession with scatological references, bodily functions and personal insults – bottom sniffing, excrement dumping etc.- makes you quite capable of being voted off the island by your own doing. Self, meet petard.

    I’m sorry you chose to try and totally derail by oversimplification and name-calling the worthwhile discussion about the future of the GW plan as well as the COV plan-making process. (See 174 insiderdoug above). There is something very important underlying the dramatic scale change here and how it was apparently imposed that calls for a meaningful and rich discussion, most legitimately by those who live in and care about that community. All I did was raise the issue, which I’m very happy to have done.

    Thanks to the rest of you who have tried to be topical and civil, despite the venom.

  • Venom?

    Thanqu Frank @ #182 showing us the Grandview-Woodland plan and for your sage advice.

    Sometimes eschatological terminology is preferable to scatological terminology. Indeed I will in future eschew both.

    To the GVW plan. In its embryonic form it shows promise. The Drive is preserved, Hastings has, so far as I can see, given so little detail, been zoned in a Lee Building typology.

    The Broadway and Commercial TOD needs a lot of work but essentially it attracts my attention.

    In my opinion towers well sited with mixed usage is appropriate. The point of the towers is to keep amenity close, compact and convenient for walking

    Pictures speak louder than words . . .
    . . . accordingly I prefer to present solutions rather than engage eternal gossip. Unfortunately this is when the abuse enters the conversation.

    My thesis is that a well-designed compact, diversified urban village centre, including entertainment, education, shopping and other amenities clustered in towers, for close proximity, is appropriate urban design for GVW’s TOD.

    Much neglected in this conversation is figure ground treatment: i.e. buildings sprouting out of a garden-like base. By that I mean treatment of the horizontal surface between the buildings: an amenity completely neglected in the current local planning ethos.

    It isn’t that people on this conversation don’t understand an alternative approach: they are hell bent on not understanding!

    One very discouraging aspect is that the abuse begins immediately. When I check my web stats I find the abusers haven’t even checked in.

    And this is when the invective becomes justifiable: an eye for a eye!

    Have a good evening. Best wishes Roger K.

  • Andrew Browne

    I’m going to go out on an (undoubtedly unpopular) limb and say that… at first blush the notion of towers of some height in the vicinity of the busiest transit station in the region is… downright appropriate. An earlier poster brought up some conceptual work from the 90s (?) that contemplated capturing additional park space by covering over some of the cut… and to my mind that has a lot of potential to achieve increased open space. There is a certain playfulness that I enjoy in being able to see the station below grade as you pass over it on the connecting gangway, but I see no reason that you couldn’t have portions of the cut covered and portions not.

    I note also that the majority of geography covered by the plan seems to contemplate townhouses, rowhouses, stacked townhouses, and apartments of between 3 and 4 storeys, with certain areas allowing 6 storeys, and fewer still allowing heights above that.

    At the risk of being put on trial – what here is so dramatically different than, say, a Collingwood Village? Collingwood has its challenges but they largely don’t relate to building height but rather poor material choices and a certain inattentiveness to effective street-level urbanism.

  • Bill Lee

    @Andrew Browne // Jul 4, 2013 at 3:55 pm #184

    Collingwood Village as you put it, (it is a big area, which?) was a browfield site.
    Warehouses associated with the rail line and light industry in the area and a few homes spread apart. See the

    What is happening with the cut and the monster towers at Commercial and Broadway where few want to live is Norquay II, the forcing of the present residents out for rampant out-of-scale speculative land development.
    See the Rennie-marketed Tower at Nanaimo and Kingsway, with retail only being the dead space of a bank and that blockbuster of Shoppers, (exactly the same tenants and street level desert as at 18th on Main and the “3300 Building” Great Wall of a sick building. [ Google street view still shows it being built, aerial shots show the previous car dealership in birds eye and the ground razing in aerial ].

  • Frank Ducote
  • Andrew Browne

    @ Bill Lee #185

    I appreciate that Collingwood was a brownfield site while Commercial & Broadway (and vicinity) is established, but so what? We don’t really have convenient magical brownfield sites anymore – they’re largely used up and, if not, tend to be far from significant transit. Should we just keep expanding endlessly out toward Langley and Chilliwack? Part of making plans is planning for change so that it doesn’t end up controlling you slowly, one step at a time. The idea that a neighbourhood plan would contemplate and plan for change is prudent and shouldn’t be startling.

    If the ‘rule’ now is that we can’t ever contemplate change anywhere near something that already exists, we’re all in for a world of trouble. That’s a recipe for disappointment all around. I know it’s not quite that simple, but come on, most of the plan contemplates 4 storeys! I think sometimes that Vancouver residents need to get out a bit and realize just how much change the surrounding municipalities have been experiencing – not to mention that Vancouver badly needs housing options in the spectrum between ‘500 sq ft sky box’ and ‘5000 sq ft mcmansion’ (i.e. 3-4 storey townhomes, stacked townhomes, and apartments).

  • So how many of you attended the GWAC meeting last night to hear what residents have to say. It was, I am reliably informed, the largest political meeting in GW for a couple of decades. A great success — but will the City Councilors and the planners who were there actually listen?

  • Frank Ducote

    Jak@188 – Not being a resident of GW, I didn’t attend, despite my outsider’s interest in the outcome. At this point in the process it is the community’s fight, and you seem to be doing quite well, thank you.

    One of the clips from your meeting on CBC this morning talked about the need for social justice in any plans coming forward, to applause. A very insightful and energizing comment, IMO. Keeping that issue and opportunity in the forefront will help in future planning, I would think.

    I’m particularly happy that the proposed scale – and density – of development at Broadway and Commercial has been brought to the fore for a closer look. This is an already incredibly congested TOD that truly needs the Broadway subway to help relieve the pressure on it caused by all the mode transfers. Livability needs to be a primary goal for futuer intensification, it would seem to me.

    I hope the the response to the original posting of this guest blog indicates a wider interest. At the least, it does seem to have helped foster a broader discussion of the GW planning process to date. Hopefully the next round will include options for development that the community can review and assess. I think that step got missed somehow but I don’t think it will in the future.

    Good luck.

  • Westender1

    As Frank Ducote noted: “At the least, it does seem to have helped foster a broader discussion of the GW planning process to date…”
    And equally importantly, perhaps can offer some different perspectives on the City’s approach to community planning in other neighbourhoods as well, such as Marpole and the West End.

  • Andrew Browne

    Thanks to Jak King and Frank Ducote for posting about the neighbourhood meeting – I will be very interested to see where this ends up.

    I wonder why we are not exploring local-area type charges in support of transit? If the Broadway line is what is needed, why not assess $20/sqft (or whatever) for all development in the corridor area, held in reserve for the purpose of Broadway transit? Growth and change can be put to work for the benefit of everyone.

  • jenables

    Jak, I was there for the last half, trying not to yell “I move we take this meeting outside!” Phew!! Also had an interesting chat with councillor Reimer and although I missed her illustrious entrance, I was filled in later. I thought everyone who spoke, spoke very well. How telling that they had nothing budgeted for these changes…

  • jenables

    Although I did enjoy clr Reimer asking me if i wanted to take it outside with her. She should have known my answer would be yes!