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Mere suggestion of towers in Chinatown brings out the forces

May 12th, 2009 · 38 Comments

Unbeknownst to most of you, there have been a number of workshops and open houses in what’s called Vancouver’s historic areas over the last few weeks to talk about potential height increases for those areas. City staff have asked the public to consider a few options, which they’ve graphically illustrated in a kind of cool slideshow that pictures what would happen if all buildings were allowed to go up a modest amount or a slightly higher amount. One option that’s on the table, as well, is the idea of allowing some towers up to 300 feet to go on four selected sites. And one of the sites on the little city map is at the Chinese Cultural Centre, next to the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Gardens.

Just that option has been enough to get a lot of people in Chinatown riled up, as I’ve noted in my Globe story today. It will be interesting to see what proposals staff bring to council in July, after distilling the public feedback to the various options. It seems likely that at least some kind of modest increase in height limits will be allowed, since people are looking for ways to bring more life back into Chinatown. But those towers? We’ll see.

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  • michael geller

    I would urge Fabula readers to take an interest in this one.

    I am personally opposed to the idea of more towers in Chinatown and the neighbouring DTES. Instead, I would argue for a more dominant ‘mid-rise’ aesthetic to respect the historic buildings in the area, and create more distinctive character areas.

    So what does mid rise mean? For me, it is generally in the 6 to 8 storey range, with some upper levels set back and rising up to 10 storeys. However, one needs to be careful about adding another ‘floor or two’ as evidenced by the SEFC development, which in my opinion became compromised by the extra floors to accommodate rental housing.

    This brings me to a key consideration…should additional height be granted in order to achieve much needed ‘amenities’ including social housing. After all, this has been a successful approach elsewhere in the city.

    I say NO! Instead, let’s finance social housing, parks, community amenities, etc through alternative means….not through taller buildings.

    I realize a lot of people will disagree with me on this, especially developers and architects who will point to Woodwards as an example of what can be achieved when we bonus height for other community benefits. However, I would point to Woodwards, despite it’s wonderful architectural and mixed use achievements, as evidence of why we should not continue this approach.

    Let me conclude by saying I can’t help but smile as I write this, knowing that Jim Green strongly disagrees with me on this point. Here he is…the ‘community activist’, supporting taller buildings (on key strategic sites in return for public benefits) while I, the supposed right leaning ‘developer’ wants to keep building heights at a lower level. Go figure!

  • Joe Just Joe

    Thanks for the article on this fbula, as you know I’ve been following this closely from the start as well. Not sure I fall into MGeller or JGreen camp on this one, but somewhere in between. While the area is already dense with an average FSR of ~3.4. I beleive it does require increased market density. I know I’m going to get flamed for even saying that. The goals of maintaining 10K low income units is more then enough and any new low-income units should be spread across the city and region. This isn’t to displace the disadvantaged but rather to bring the ratio to a more natural level, both in the DTES and the rest of the city. Which form this increase density should take is up for discussion, while I agree that towers might look out of place, I’m not sure midrises would provide enough, perhaps a meeting in the middle of the two is needed. A few low highrises on large podiums, followed by quite a few high-midrises.
    I do like the proposed tall street walls, hopefully the 6ft differential between building can be enacted along that strecth as well to ensure a sawtooth effect, maybe even increased to a 10ft differential.

  • David

    Yes let’s tear down the cultural centre and build something monumental and block the sun for the garden and neighbours in the old age home so that we can get amenities for the area. Perhaps these new amenities will be as beautiful as the Concord Pacific waterfront sales and parking lot! The promised park on that site is something that this neigbourhood has been waiting a long time for. Shame on you Terry Hui.

  • Joe Just Joe

    The site listed (there is no acutally proposal, just a suggestion) is to the north of the gardens, in our hemisphere sunlight is from the south, probably why that site was chosen as it wouldn’t directly affect the garden. I agree though that it isn’t a good choice for a tower.
    The Creekside park issue is a complicated mess, but can’t be blamed on Concord so much as it can on the way the sales contract was written. Concord does not need to provide the creekside extension until it develops the parcel directly to the west, which happened to be the most contimanated of the sites. As they have not run out of land we should see that parcel developed within the next cycle and the park completed.

  • Joseph Jones

    Perhaps more than any other part of Vancouver, the “historic area” belongs to all residents of our city. Height review: an approach to planning for the neighborhood that starts from a point of such naked greed.

    The Gastown-Chinatown axis has evident long-term tourism potential. Unfortunately the Hastings streetscape in between has suffered serious neglect. (Are developers deliberately letting those buildings to deteriorate – and being allowed to do so?)

    Trying to spotsite concrete phalli around the vulnerable heart of the original Vancouver amounts to odd inversions of insisting on clearcutting the last one or two percent of coastal old-growth forest.

    At the far end of the frontier, absolutely everything seems transient and disposable. Are profiteers here out to wring the last buck from the last opportunity, aided by the
    Olympic gentrification agenda

    Here’s looking to Chinatown and the legacy of Shirley Chan to lead the resistance.

  • David

    Joe – On the Creekside park complicated mess. I thought the land had already been or was budgeted to be re-mediated by the geniuses in Victoria when the land was practically given to Concord. So why is the contamination of this site still an issue? Which genius at City hall thought that leavign the park to the end was a good idea? Have the quit yet and did we give them a sufficient bonus?

  • Joe Just Joe

    The issue is the site left to develop still needs to be re-mediated. This will be accomplished by placing the contaminated soil where the park is. The park will be built overtop of this soil, just like the parks at the other end of the Concord lands. So Creekside must wait until the excavation of that last parcel is complete. I agree the whole situation sucks but I won’t blame Concord solely for this.

    Fblua, I’ve noticed lately you’ve been very careful to report some contrevesial (sp) issues but not take a view on them. (unlike most bloggers). Are you not trying to alienate any of your readers or do you not yet have an opinion?

  • Framing this as a question of aesthetics conveniently obscures what is, to my mind, a more fundamental concern. Who would live in these hypothetical towers? Not the DTES people who live in slummy hell holes or on the street. These towers would only have the effect of increasing property values and therefore rents and the cost of living generally.

    Don’t get me wrong, the area could sure use some development. But why must every debate involving the DTES begin from the premise that a big influx of yuppies is what’s needed? Joe Wai’s comment in your Globe article is dead on. Look at the towers that sprang up around Tinseltown in recent years. Have all those new residents helped revitalize the DTES or Chinatown? Not likely, unless you’re looking at Starbucks’ and Costco’s books to make that calculation.

    I could live with a few towers in the area if they were part of solving Vancouver’s affordable housing/homeless crisis. Until then, go steal somebody else’s sunshine.

  • Jeannette

    I live in Gastown and am continually baffled as to why TOWERS of all things are required to revitalize the area. Hastings, surrounding streets, and Chinatown are in serious need of TLC. Why the city allows building owners to literally let the buildings fall to pieces is beyond me. The area can be cleaned up, made to look like the lovely historical district(s) that it is, without there being shiny glass towers above everything. As the commentor above points out – the existing towers in the area have done little to make it “better”. Why not develop more low-mid rise, mixed income buildings? Why not take advantage of beautiful old facades and create buildings people would actually be interested in visiting? Why not invest in making Chinatown/Gastown a historical, cultural center in the city? Why does it have to be filled with rich people in expensive condos in order for it to be “ok”?

    Vancouver is the only city I’ve visited in, in my entire life that shits on it’s own historic district(s). The area could be beautiful, well lived in and visited, filled with street level shops and markets, pedestrian plazas, galleries, musuems, theatres, etc. Why is this so incredibly hard to achieve?

  • Joe Just Joe

    Jeannette, as someone else that lives in the area, I’m suprised you don’t know why the area isn’t better visited. The fact is the ratio of low-income to higher incomes is way out of whack in the area, no one is suggesting displacing the low income, just bringing up the ratio of non-low-income. Since the area is already so dense the only way to bring up the ratio is via some additional height. I agree how that height can be fit in is going to be problematic.
    For those of you that have studied the proposal there is no change at all proposed to Gastown itself ( very slight change of the border) , and Chinatown’s historic area also is only seeing a 10ft in height to bring it in line with Gastowns limits. The additional height is proposed for the outskirts of the historic areas, so that in theory they can benefit from the density w/o ruining the historic value or the area.
    I beg to differ that the tinseltown development hasn’t helped the area, while the benefits have not been to obvious until just recently there is a definate vibe and increased pedestrian traffic in the area. The T&T for instance has never been busier. All the new units in Gastown have also brought new life to the area, true that some of that life has resulted in “boutiques” but it’s still better then vacant store fronts.

  • Jeannette

    I have no problem with increasing height – and my point wasn’t that I see this will “displace” anyone – I’m not going to drag that end of it into the argument. The fact of the matter is that there are MANY sites sitting empty, falling into disrepair, that would be perfectly suited to mid rise residential buildings with markets/shops/galleries/community gathering places on the first floors. There is PLENTY of room to bring people to live in this neighborhood of many income levels without building huge towers…

  • Jeannette

    sorry I should say that I have no problem with slightly incresing height – it’s the HUGE towers that I am against. Even if it is only “one or two” blah blah blah.

  • Gassy Jack’s Ghost

    Isn’t this a totally ass-backwards way to encourage development and realize the full value of land within a historic district? Besides ignoring the historical importance of the area, the review completely ignores the significant value that could be realized by making it a priority to invest in the heritage capital first and foremost. And nothing in this review addresses the fact that many of the “protected” heritage buildings are becoming completely unsalvageable and will have to be torn down soon. Existing Standards of Maintenance by-laws are rarely enforced, demonstrating how little value the Planning Dept. places on cultural capital, and how un-“protected” these historic landmarks really are (OMFG the Pantages is collapsing in on itself! The 100 Block needs scaffolds to hold it up!). Great if you’re a speculator holding onto the land underneath, though. The wait is almost over!

    Environmental concerns and opportunities to be innovative are also completely ignored. Low-rise, flat-roofed districts are the perfect areas for development of green roofs and solar power. Raising heights and building up the main corridors will destroy the scale and compromise that potential to be innovative (walk around the Woodwards site and check out the huge shadows that now envelope whole blocks of the heritage streets below). We have a great opportunity to develop the “Greenest City” brand and develop our local green industry in this unique district of our city. “Pfft” says Planning, “Let’s put a tower next to a famous garden.” Fifty years from now, one of these two options will seem visionary and leave a legacy that all future generations can enjoy, the other will seem draconian, economically short-sighted, and just plain stupid. It is such a ridiculously bad proposal that it almost looks like a red-herring that is designed to draw attention away from all the other slightly less spurious amendments they also want to ram through.

    While the Chinatown community is trying to create long-term value through preservation and Heritage Site designation, our planning department (the ultimate steward of the area) is trying to create short-term profits and is willing to destroy the cultural capital of the area to do it. If you think I’m just being gassy, you can get a clear view of the Planning Department’s vision for our historic district by taking a walk through Shanghai Alley — one of the most historic little streets in the city. What you will find is a high-rise condo with a parking garage that empties into an asphalt alley. Everything historic has been demolished except for the odd placement of the lane itself. This is Planning’s idea of preserving the historical legacy of the city of Vancouver – put a condo tower in it and make it car-friendly! Despite Mr. Toderain’s recognition in his Form Shift comment that “ground-oriented, human scaled, “gentle density”” is a preferred direction for the future, what is being proposed through the Historic Area review looks more austere than the “wedding cakes” of Eastern Europe. Let’s learn from Shanghai Alley, not repeat the mistake ad nauseum.

    Maybe next year’s Form Shift should focus on developing a comprehensive vision for the Historic Area? A design competition for this area could stimulate an enormous amount of interest both locally and internationally, and might produce something that is respectful of our history and creates value from the cultural capital already inherent in the area. Anything would be better than encircling it with concrete vultures and waiting for it to collapse under the weight of our collective neglect.

  • Corey

    Wasn’t it Jane Jacobs who said almost 50 years ago that the regeneration of cities is NOT achieved by mega-projects, no matter how well intentioned? (I would argue that although urban renewal has essentially been replaced by private sector towers, they are essentially the same process in many cases)

    What the area needs is mechanisms by which residents can improve their buildings by their own means. The City could help out with investment in the public realm and infrastructure.

    Building towers in the area is about greed and the destruction of an existing community, pure and simple. The City should put residents first and support the organic regeneration of the area a la Jane Jacobs.

  • Andrea C.

    A lot of the modern construction in Chinatown has sat empty/partly empty. Examples: Chinatown Centre, Tinsletown, the mall on East Georgia @ Gore (one of the worst examples) and the four-storey building on Gore between Keefer and E. Georgia. In many cases, heritage was lost building these white elephants. The last example mentioned is particularly nauseating – a brand-new, decently-designed building sits 100% empty (completed a couple of years ago). Its only tenant has been the Ginger sales office. Across the street at the bus stop, a homeless woman bundles up in an old sleeping bag and plastic tarps.

    Sorry to be a city planner’s/architect’s/developer’s worst nightmare but NO NEW CONSTRUCTION in Chinatown until all of the recent construction is reasonably utilized. No low-rise, mid-rise, high-rise or any other rise.

    Meanwhile, Chinatown’s heritage is literally falling to sh*t everywhere you look. There are so many examples I could name – there are entire streetscapes falling to ruin.

    And the city wants to study the skyline? To revitalize? There are professionals who work in the area of building restoration. Those should be the only professionals allowed in the vicinity of Chinatown.

  • Andrea C.

    Sorry, one more point I wanted to make.
    The talk coming from the city’s planning department about the possibility of towers for Chinatown is an old technique (usually employed by developers) called “ye olde red herring”.

    “Hi, City Hall. X-Developers are submitting a proposal to build ten 80-storey towers next to some sensitive marshland . A helicopter landing pad and casino are integral parts of our plan. Oh, and parking spaces for 12,000 cars.”
    Jane Q. Public says, “Oh, no! 80-storey towers! We have a fight on our hands!”
    So, Jane Q. Public attends hours of public meetings to fight off this hideous planned development.
    The developer sits back and smiles.
    “We are not unreasonable. We are willing to look at shorter towers (with the proper inducement). We can cut down on the parking, too.”
    Back and forth it goes, until the public is worn out and the developer gets far more out of the city than he was realistically hoping for in the first place.

    The City (and their business pals) want the public to think, “Oh, no! Towers in Chinatown.” so that the public are eventually willing to accept a compromise, i.e. mid-rise, low-rise, in a heritage area that desparately needs extensive remediation of its existing building stock before any more new construction comes in.

    Shame on the City for indulging in “ye old red herring.”

  • Joe Just Joe: T&T, like Starbucks and Costco, is hardly a local business (it’s a subsidiary of a big Taiwan corporation). That money doesn’t stay in the area long enough to have much of an impact.

    As other commenters have alluded to, the issue should be about fixing what’s already there rather than trying to sidestep more fundamental problems by flooding the area with condo-dwellers.

    Back in the day when Hastings was a flourishing shopping street, it was, then as now, very much a low-income neighbourhood, including a large number of drug addicts and alcoholics. Your position, JJJ, that “the ratio of low-income to higher incomes is way out of whack in the area” has no merit, even though it seems to be a favourite refrain of most “experts” who weigh in on the issue. Besides, if the income “mix” is truly the issue, I think you’d find far greater income diversity in the DTES than in Shaughnessy or a number of other neighbourhoods, which begs the question: Why is this debate even about the DTES?

    Putting aside the income mix red herring, your Gastown example doesn’t point to condo towers as a solution for anything. The building stock there has been or is in the process of being restored, and storefronts cater to the needs of local residents as well as tourists, rather than sit empty. Sure, there are boutique stores in Gastown, but if it were still loggers living in those lofts, those stores would be selling work boots, tobacco, and girlie mags. Not to mention that Gastown residents fought tooth and nail to keep the Whitecaps entertainment complex out, even though it would have attracted many more people to the area. Apply that same strategy to other parts of the DTES such as Hastings or Chinatown and you wouldn’t end up with condo towers there, either. Use the floor space that’s already there.

    I’d like to add to Andrea C’s list of failed developments the V6A condo on Union between Main and Gore, which replaced an old laundry and heritage house with a big water-filled hole and no sign of ever being completed. I haven’t seen that since Tinseltown opened as a dead mall in the 90s, and they dug the holes for condo towers but waited over a decade to build them. It’s this kind of nonsense that the City should stop encouraging in the DTES because these developer/speculators artificially inflate property values, sit on property for years and years, and do little or nothing to preserve the heritage stock or character of the area, all to the detriment of people who actually live and work here.

  • Joe Just Joe

    T&T might have a Taiwanese parent company but it is locally run and hqed out of Richmond, besides there are numerous stores that are local that are benefiting, take Waves for instance they are expanding heavily into the area. Wild Rice is doing great thanks to those condo dwellers.

    You are right Shaughnessy has an unbalanced income ratio as well, and I think we can all agree that it suffers because of it. You won’t hear me complain about any proposal to right that ratio.

    I’m not arguing for towers persay, just for the increased density that I feel is needed. Sure Hasting was successful in the past, that was before suburban malls stole away business. Peoples shopping habits have changed immensely over the decades. It’s more reasonable to depend on local support to maintan your business then to plan to surive on destinational shoppers.
    You can maintain the heritage while accomplishing increased density, take a look at the work that Salient has done in the area. It’s a perfect example that they don’t have to be exclusive. Salient does however rely on increased density to complete his projects, now with the density bank capped off for more restorations to occur we’ll need to see an incentive.

  • Chris V.

    I think some height increases can be allowed without compromising the historic integrity of the area. E.g. building heights up to 6 or 8 stories could benefit the area with new market housing and additional money spenders.

    The bigger problem I see is not so much height increases but the way developers assemble multiple lots. It’s these small lot sizes that give the streets in the area character and charm. Concord Pacific’s recent proposal for “Greenwich” on Hastings would have put in a long bland homogeneous section of streetwall. Perhaps the development permit board could require any new development to be broken up by the original lot sizes, include small details and have retail store fronts of varying widths and heights.

  • I am in complete agreement with the need for more density…especially market rental and ownership housing to balance out the overall social and income mix…but higher density doesn’t necessarily mean higher buildings. You can achieve some very high densities in buildings up to 10 storeys…just look at many European cities, or Washington DC, or even some of the new buildings in the Pearl District of Portland. The latter offers some very interesting precedents for the DTES and surrounding neighbourhoods.

  • Joe Just Joe

    I agree Michael, I think the proposal to include some towers though is to accommodate the extra density w/o blanket upzoning the whole area, while 10 storeys would certainly be an improvement if you remove both historical areas you’d have to go to the 10storeys everywhere to provide the same density. While I agree it might be a more apporiate solution, it would take much much longer for the density to be added. Maybe the higher street walls proposed and a few shorter towers (ala Sun Tower/Dominion Building height) might work so long as they keep a historical (non-faux) look.

  • Gassy Jack’s Ghost

    It’s heartening to hear most people commenting on this issue would at least vote against allowing “special sites” (towers) being erected in the Historic Area — even Bob Rennie! Nevertheless, reducing the public debate down to “density” and completely ignoring the appalling state of the protected buildings in the area are fundamental flaws of this review. The fact remains that, while one of the three stated objectives is to “maintain the character and general building scale” of the area, not a single one of the by-law changes being proposed is designed to achieve that primary goal. The exact opposite is true: every amendment proposed will work to compromise the integrity of Vancouver’s Historic Area and kick-start an assault on its “character and general building scale.” The height restrictions were originally put in place to protect the public trust against exactly that.

    The City’s models also show there is a much higher proportion of non-protected building sites to heritage-designated sites. As more and more heritage buildings crumble beyond salvation, the disproportion will grow, further watering down the district. Others who live in the area have commented on the number of empty lots and buildings that have been boarded up in the last 2 years and the profound effect it has had on the heritage streetscapes. West of Main to Victory Square this “hollowing out” is particularly obvious.

    With all that “density” being neglected, it again begs the question as to why this height review is even necessary at this time, and why are any of these zoning amendments being proposed? Just to top up the density bank? That’s a pretty lame justification to eat into our history and culture, isn’t it? Besides, the planner I spoke to at the open house said that this is already one of the densest areas in the city – every inch of the blocks are developable land and there is no spaces between buildings – so the amount of density gained is not particularly great in the larger scheme of things, especially if you remove towers from the equation.

    So are JJJ and MG saying that the only way to attract investment in the historic area and make it feasible is to raise building heights? Is that really all we can do? I’m all for some economic rebalancing (and this is already occurring quite quickly under the current height restrictions), but “hard” gentrification is really what this review sets in motion, not just a rebalancing. (Perhaps a harbinger: in one panel of the City’s presentation, a big, shiny “marker” tower sits on the SW corner of Hastings and Main, right where the, uh, Carnegie Centre is! Was this a cruel joke by the Planning Department? Someone’s vision of Utopia? Complete ignorance? A Freudian slip?)

    I agree with MG that a Pearl District type development model would be appropriate for surrounding areas – perhaps the railyard north of Water St., where it would surely be an improvement on NEFC style waterfront development or a soccer stadium. But the Pearl District is not a heritage district and it had zero population or existing community prior to redevelopment — it was an abandoned railyard. It is now a high-rent area that shares far more in common with Yaletown than it ever will with our Historic Area. It will never have anything close to the diversity of incomes, distinct neighbourhoods and streetscapes. It also doesn’t boast the oldest surviving Pantages Theatre in North America.

    We can rationalize these by-law changes and convince ourselves that we aren’t being shortsighted by neglecting to protect the heritage district. But really, we’re only fooling ourselves. When the Pantages collapses or the 100 Block crumbles, the stewards of “density” may get a tiny bit richer, but the residents of Vancouver will be much, much poorer.

  • michael geller

    I completely agree with those who question whether the city should be making a decision on building heights in the absence of an overall Local Area Plan for the area. Many of the writers have correctly noted that the issues in these neighbourhoods go beyond building form…they include the appropriate mix of non-market and market housing; where to locate additional public amenities, commercial facilities; and to what degree should we preserve both heritage buildings and ‘character areas’.

    With respect to the appropriate mix of housing, the city’s housing department has prepared a number of comprehensive housing studies over the years. There is a theme that runs through them…. provide protection for those lower income people who currently live in the area, while welcoming new market ownership and rental housing. But do it in the way that does not ‘gentrify’ the area to the extent that the lower income households are compelled to move out.

    A key question for me is whether all 5,000 SRO’s should be replaced with ‘social housing’ in this area, or whether new units should be more dispersed. To address this question, various ‘visioning’ exercises have been undertaken by the Carnegie Community Action Project, the Strathcona Residents Association and others…but there has not been a comprehensive effort to pull all the planning studies together.

    While I support the need for a Local Area Planning process, I am concerned it could become another long drawn out affair…notwithstanding the amount of work that has already been done.

    To ‘kick-start’ the planning process, I have been suggesting that the city and community leaders organize a design CHARRETTE, which could use as its ‘base’ the studies done to date, a block by block assessment of the neighbourhoods, and the policies set out in the city documents.

    I am confident that many city architects, planners, housing advocates, real estate consultants and community leaders, wanting to see improvements in the DTES would donate their time over a 3 or 4 day weekend, to develop visions for the area, WORKING CLOSELY WITH RESIDENTS AND COMMUNITY LEADERS. The charrette would allow us to explore alternative planning concepts, with different building heights, and test out the issues being put forward by speakers on this blog.

    So to conclude, the city should not make a decision on this height study now…instead it should promote an integrative comprehensive planning study for the area, but first, it should oversee a broad community planning charrette to assess how much agreement and disagreement their really is, and create a starting point for further work.

    If you agree, let’s try and make it happen!

  • michael geller

    The Impact on “Old Vancouver” –
    The City of Vancouver’s “Historic Area Height Review” and “Heritage Rehabilitation and Transfer of Density Programs Review”

    For those of you interested in hearing more on the height issues, Heritage Vancouver is organizing an event…sadly, I am at a dinner honouring BC Business Laureates and cannot attend, but …

    Thursday, May 21, 2009 | 7:00pm to 9:30pm
    Location: The Vancouver Museum, 1100 Chestnut St.
    Admission: $5:00; Heritage Vancouver Members free
    Registration at 7:00pm, Conversation at 7:15pm

  • “Density” in this context is another tactical buzz word to help transform the DTES into a more middle class area. As GJG pointed out, there’s already plenty of density here, more so than most neighbourhoods. So if density really is the issue, why is this conversation even about the DTES?

    How about the huge empty field behind the train station? Zero density there, a clean slate with no one to displace.

  • Joe Just Joe

    Density is the issue because while the area is already one of the densest in the city, how do you correct the imbalanced income ratio without increasing the density? Most people argee that you don’t want to see the existing community displaced, so the solution appears to bring in additional people and you need to increase density to do so. I agree a Charette could be interesting, but I’m worried it would be overrun, maybe an unoffical one could be held and see where it goes. That is after all how the Abrutus Walk development was shaped.

    The empty lot next to the train station is earmarked for the relocated St. Pauls hostipal, it’s still very early in the process, but you can see some renderings at the following link.

  • Andrea C.

    Wow. How many times and how many ways can the same few points be made and remain unaddressed:

    1. plenty of unused new commercial space already in Chinatown Heritage Area – why build more?

    2. plenty of new residential development (middle to upper price) already in place or coming on line. Why pile on yet more?

    3. Chinatown’s heritage is literally falling apart. Hello, is anyone listening?? Does anyone at City Hall or the “experts” care? ? THIS IS THE MAIN ISSUE – THE ONLY REAL ISSUE.

    The experts babble their cant over the people’s heads from a great height. I guess they can’t hear us. I feel like I’m shouting into a cold, relentless wind.

  • “Imbalanced income ratio” meaning too many poor people, meaning we need to flood the area with the middle class.

    Of course no one argues for displacing poor people. But funny how that’s what inevitably happens when a neighbourhood gentrifies. Low income people who aren’t crowded out because they live in social housing or whatever, are easily drowned out. The problem in the area is poverty, not the poor.

  • Gassy Jack’s Ghost

    “Most people agree that you don’t want to see the existing community displaced, so the solution is to bring in additional people and you need to increase density to do so.”

    Again, JJJ, there are plenty of upscale condos that have been built in the area or are being built now – Woodwards is coming soon, and Concorde is still lurking in the weeds of its giant, empty lot on Hastings. Their proposal is a prime example of a “faux” low-rise development that spans multiple properties and will detract from the character and scale of the area. Planning even admitted the building design was horrible, but also admitted they were powerless to do anything about it. Doesn’t that experience clearly show that, even under the CURRENT height restrictions, with little or no direction from Planning developers will naturally go for the lowest common denominator on the unprotected sites? Won’t raising all the heights only ingrain this tendency even more?

    Six months or so after the fiasco of the Concorde hearing and now the Historic Area review is wrapping up, yet not a single by-law is being proposed to address Planning’s powerlessness to stop developments that compromise one of the primary goals of the review: to “maintain the character and general building scale”. Again, I think this limited focus on “density” is the fundamental flaw because it totally ignores the significant potential to create value by investing in the cultural capital of the area first and foremost, before the potential is lost forever.

    What’s being proposed is either keep it the same (and let most of the heritage crumble) or increase heights (and hope that a few sites get saved along the way). Why isn’t there a 3rd option available in this review that ingrains stewardship and encourages investment in heritage first? In a city flooded with cookie cutter condos, one would think that restored heritage buildings within a well-preserved Historic Area would attract plenty of interest and command much higher prices. And wouldn’t it be far more exciting and professionally challenging for the “experts” to try to develop a unique legacy for the area that will serve the city for generations to come? I know of one interesting proposal called “Bring the City to Light” that attempts to tie all the reams of reports and recommendations (Social Services, Housing and Cultural) together into a comprehensive plan of action. Maybe that would provide a good starting point to work from?

  • MB

    I think the charrette’s a great idea. It would bring together everyone under one roof, and all the issues could be addressed, including Andrea’s points.

    Put it to the people. That’s kinda like CityPlan and the commuity visions it inspired.

  • Joe Just Joe

    The review taking place is were the city can impose new design regulations so that we don’t end up with “junky products”. If we agree that the “Greenwich” Concord proposal isn’t good enough then it’s obvious that the current regulations require work and status quo doesn’t work. The area needs assistance, to get developers to provide higher quality product they will need to be rewarded as it’s expensive. The city can either provide extra density or it can provide money. I think everyone would love to see the area retain it’s charm and all buildings restored but who will pay for it? The density bank was a good idea but there wasn’t enough places to sell the extra density to. We can use this density as leverage to get things in return, like a restored Pantages theatre, like a streetcar line, like affordable housing units etc etc.
    Spaxman’s report on the subject is quite detailed and a must read for those concerned with the subject. There is a link on the city’s website to it, there is also a good writeup on Gordon Prices Blog about another Spaxman presentation on the subject.

  • Gassy Jack’s Ghost

    JJJ, excuse my ignorance, but just to clarify, did you say there’s a separate review going on dealing with heritage design issues?

    As to your point that:
    “The city can either provide extra density or it can provide money. I think everyone would love to see the area retain its charm and all buildings restored but who will pay for it?”

    I hate to sound naïve and idealistic, but perhaps there is some money to be found outside of density and City coffers to make a larger Public Work restoration project feasible. It will take political will and leadership, to be sure, but if we are really serious about solving some of these issues without actually displacing the existing community or destroying the heritage, then I do think there is money out there to help the City get it done. But the City has to lead and have a clear direction.

    I agree that the City can no longer afford to fund projects like the $25 million for the Pantages through density or general coffers or the raided PEF, but it could look at some combination of these while also leveraging resources across departments (Housing, Culture and Social Services for starters, since they are all encompassed in the proposal). There’s also an empty block of land next to the Queen E Theatre worth $50 million that has been assigned to the Cultural Precinct. That could be better leveraged to redevelop the “real” cultural precinct in the Historic District to house those new facilities. Isn’t that the most logical place for a cultural precinct anyways? And maybe through a competitive design process like Form Shift you would find some international interest and investment too? How much could a series of benefit concerts put on by the new Pantages raise each year to help pay back some of the City’s investment over time and create a fund for further restoration projects? The groundswell of prominent local artists behind it is pretty significant.

    Provincially, there is $200 million earning low interest in the Province’s Housing Fund and another $150 million in its Cultural Development fund. Has anyone tried talking to the Housing Czar about freeing up some of that money? Federally, there is $8 billion in infrastructure funding out there (I know, Harper hates Vancouver, but he might not last much longer). There’s B.O.B., the last remnant of the Vancouver Agreement. And there are other Federal and Provincial funds available (Green technology development, innovations, Heritage Sites Designations, etc.). Internationally, there are also funds for Historic Site Designations.

    I’m not saying any of these sources are sure things, especially these days, but I do think if we change the planning approach in the Historic District to deal with the heritage preservation crisis first, then that may open up a number of potential partners that could work with the City on this – especially if the overall plan does take a holistic approach a la Spaxman and include affordable housing, retail, cultural facilities and social amenities alongside market units.

    To put these issues (and possible solutions) into an even larger context than Spaxman, I would suggest looking at UNESCO’s “Balanced Urban Revitalization for Social Cohesion and Heritage Preservation” (2007). There are some very enlightening cases from cities around the world that have dealt with very similar issues and the associated social problems and cost/benefits. As Frances likes to remind us, we aren’t the only ones in the world facing these problems.

    My apologies for another long-winded post…

  • Joe Just Joe

    To clairfy the citys goals with the review, here they are:

    “Three main objectives guiding this Review and its outcomes are:
    • To provide direction for growth and development in the Historic Area;
    • To maintain the Historic Area’s character and general building scale; and,
    • To ensure significant new development potential that may result from this study
    generates public benefits and amenities for the area, such as affordable housing,
    heritage conservation, social and cultural facilities.”

  • Gassy Jack’s Ghost

    Dead thread I guess, but on the off chance anyone revisits this:

    Unbeknownst to us it seems, this story was in The Vancouver Sun on Friday May 15 while we were debating the problem of how to fund restoration projects to deal with the heritage crisis in the Historic District first, before moving into Height and Density increases:

    “Ottawa to help pay for cultural and heritage infrastructure projects

    VANCOUVER — The federal government will pick up half of the tab for cultural and heritage infrastructure projects, Heritage Minister James Moore said Friday at a press conference at North Vancouver’s Centennial Theatre….”

    So, as I’ve noted, there are hundreds of millions of dollars out there RIGHT NOW to address the heritage preservation crisis in the Historic District, and the Feds just put up more.

    The question now is, will the city take the lead and show some political will to secure some of these funds and make something happen? Do they care about our heritage, or do they just care about density? I guess we’re about to find out….

  • I agree entirely, GJG. The “Vancouverism” model of the city leveraging height and density bonuses to get developers to pay for amenities, etc. is hardly the only model for funding heritage preservation, nor has it proven successful, considering how much heritage stock was lost in the redevelopment of Yaletown. Small developers like Salient could be induced to do much more if the government kicks down, whereas the big boys like Concord really shouldn’t be trusted with this sort of thing. Even the extremely minimal, facadist, preservation in the Woodward’s development only happened because because Westbank got a sweet deal from the City. I like that development as a one-off, but imagine those proportions of condo tower to heritage building multiplied throughout the DTES. Kick out the poor people and it’d be little different from Yaletown.

  • WaDaiYan

    How much heritage stock was lost in the redevelopment of Yaletown? A lot, if not all !!!
    When I visited Toronto Chinatown last year, I
    could hardly find historic significance of Chinese culture. It has become part of Toronto
    God forbids, don’t let this happen to Vancouver’s Chinatown, or Gastown !!!

  • Gassy Jack’s Ghost

    “Even the extremely minimal, facadist, preservation in the Woodward’s development only happened because because Westbank got a sweet deal from the City.”

    Lani, I understand council this week just passed a number of relaxations/amendments to Westbank regarding the agreed Heritage Plan for Woodwards, watering down the preservation efforts even more….

  • Andrea C.

    I know the show on this thread is essentially over, but have a look at John Mackie’s story in the Vancouver Sun concerning this very issue: “Tower concept raises Chinatown’s ire”.
    Hope my comment in the feedback section gets through!