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The media housing wars

February 4th, 2010 · 75 Comments

It’s becoming increasingly clear that there’s going to be a battle for public opinion in the next three weeks about homelessness in Vancouver as the 2010 Olympics media descend on the city.

You would think that just telling the plain truth about homelessness in this province would be compelling enough for even the most radical housing advocates. Apparently not, though.

The facts are: In 2001, the new Liberal provincial government cancelled all social-housing projects and, except for a few special deals, didn’t get back into putting money into real social housing for another five years. Then they made welfare a lot harder to get, especially for anyone whose cognitive/mental health/drug problems made it a challenge for them to jump through multiple hoops.

Things didn’t change until Premier Gordon Campbell, under pressure from mayors in places like Nanaimo, Kelowna and Prince George, established a special homelessness initiative. A few projects started to trickle through the pipeline, but none of those projects opened their doors until recently.

In the meantime, homelessness more than doubled in the Lower Mainland, going from about 1,100 people in 2002 to almost 2,700 in 2008. No one can say for sure whether it was the freeze on social housing, the loss of cheap private housing as the real-estate market as the region continued to boom, or the new welfare rules.

Whatever it was, by March 2008, the number of people sleeping outside had increased by fivefold, from about 300 to about 1,500 — a far bigger increase than the numbers of people in shelters. There were likely many more who were missed.

The province and specifically Housing Minister Rich Coleman put on a super-human effort in the last two years to grapple with that housing problem. They’ve put in tens of millions of dollars, bought up two dozen residential hotels in the Downtown Eastside to preserve them for low-income residents, and started construction for sure on five new social-housing projects out of a promised 14.

But that hasn’t been enough. There are still people sleeping outside, including the guy I keep passing who’s been sleeping on the sidewalk in front of the Hotel Georgia construction site the last two weeks. On top of that, people who are housed don’t have enough money to live on so they’re panhandling on the street.

That’s all pretty bad.

But for a certain group of housing activists who either 1) are afraid that won’t get the media’s attention  or  2) really believe all the strange stuff they’re saying, telling that story isn’t dramatic enough. They feel compelled to embellish: Homeless people are being shipped out of town. The Assistance to Shelter Act was passed to help clean the streets during the Olympics. Over 1,000 units of low-cost Downtown Eastside housing have been lost since Vancouver’s bid win was announced in July 2003. Homeless people are dying (the implication being that they are dying on the streets because of the province’s callous refusal to provide them with any form of shelter).

And, sadly, reporters are repeating those stories … with formulaic denials from “the other side” in their stories.

I realize I’m spitting in the wind here, but on the off chance that anyone cares

1. There has been zero concrete evidence provided by anyone that homeless people are being shipped out of town. It’s the constant rumour. In spite of that, no shelter operator or homeless person or police force or politician in towns outside of Vancouver has gone on the record once in the past five years to confirm that this is happening.

2. The effectiveness of the Assistance to Shelter Act can be debated. It’s not clear to me how an act that says homeless people can be forced into shelters is supposed to work when everyone, including the housing minister and police, say that they’re not really supposed to be forced. But one important point everyone is forgetting: legally, it only comes into effect when defined levels of cold or wet weather prevail. In case anyone hasn’t noticed, the crocuses are coming up, there’s no snow and the weather is balmy. That means the act is not in effect and not likely to be in effect.

3. I don’t have the exact count, but I don’t doubt that there have been 1,000 units of low-cost housing lost since July of 2003. That’s almost seven years ago. Anyone who cares to look at previous counts of housing loss in the Downtown Eastside, which the city has been tracking every year, can see that the Downtown Eastside has been losing SRO rooms and rooming-house space for the last 30 years at the rate of 70-120 units a year. The city’s policy had always been to try to replace those lost units with social housing. That plan went into the garbage can when the province stopped funding social housing. Now it’s bought up and preserved at least 1,000 units. Figure that out yourself on the balance scale.

4. Lastly. I got a news release this week from Am Johal with the news that 96 homeless people have died in the past three years, according to statistics obtained from the coroner’s office. That seems awful at first glance. I know that I have found it heart-breaking to hear about people being found dead among their belongings in Stanley Park or burning to death in alleys — deaths that are clearly related to the conditions those people were forced to live in.

But when you look more closely at the statistics, they’re vague. The 96 people who died are people who happened to have no fixed address. It’s not at all clear what the real cause was. And when you look at provincial statistics overall, it’s even less clear how meaningful those statistics are.

After all, according to the highest homelessness count I’ve been able to find on public record (the assessment from the NDP’s task force), there are approximately 10,000 people in shelters or on the streets in the province. Out of population of four million, that’s 1/4 of one per cent of the population that’s homeless. When you look at statistics on deaths, just over 30,000 people a year die in the province. If, among those, 30 people are homeless, they account for 1/10 of one per cent of the deaths.

Of course, my statistics are incomplete too. To be accurate, I should compare the average age of death for the total population and for those who were homeless. My guess is that those with no fixed address were younger, on average — a sign that the hard conditions they lived in had taken a toll. But I don’t know for sure. So I’d want to do more work before I sent out any news releases.

Categories: Uncategorized

  • PlanningData

    @Lewis

    You’ve repeated a couple of times that the population of Strathcona has a higher density than False Creek North. You can download Census Tract profiles directly from Statistics Canada (Strathcona roughly matches CT 9330057.01, and False Creek North is 9330059.03).

    http://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2006/dp-pd/prof/92-597/index.cfm?Lang=E

    The profile says that Strathcona had 12,658 people per sq km in 2006, and False Creek North had 18,856. So False Creek North is quite a lot more dense than Strathcona – and bear in mind that the False Creek North tract includes all the waterfront parks, some undeveloped sites and Yaletown which is far more commercial than residential, while Strathcona is pretty much all built out and almost all residential.

    Since the census at least 400 more apartments have been completed in the False Creek North area as well, and there are still some undeveloped sites, so eventually it’ll be higher still. If you exclude the parks and Yaletown, I would expect the density of the residential parts of the two areas to be at least 3 times higher in False Creek North than in Strathcona.

  • Lewis N. Villegas

    PlanningData, I’m all thumbs in the StatsCanada website… still. It would be helpful to have density/sq km for Mt. Pleasant as well. Say, east of Main, north of Broadway, as far as Fraser, or Clarke. It helps to know the numbers, for the parts of the city that we can easily identify.

    Corrections welcome, our data comes from Bill Lee’s work. He reported:

    Villegas : … “The overall density in Strathcona, measured as a whole (not on a site-by-site basis), is probably higher than density in North Shore False Creek. ”

    Quick set of numbers which really should be in finer granularity on the broad City website.

    —— Will this line up?
    factor A B C D E

    Population 5990 5817 3005 5084 10571
    Dwellings 3726 3389 1474 2510 6441
    Area 1.53 km2 0.82 km2 0.24km2 1.63km2 0.56km2
    Pop/km2 3864/km2 7060/km2 12688/km2 3125/km2 18555/km2

    A (CT 9330049.01)is South False Creek, Fraserview, from Main to Granville, north of Broadway, south of Lamey’s Mill road
    B (CT 9330049.02)is South False Creek, north of Lamey’s Mill from Cambie to Burrard Bridge

    A and B might be combined to do south False Creek

    C (CT 9330057.01) is Chinatown, Main, to Dunlevy (3 blocks), south of Hastings, north of Prior/Union

    D (CT 9330057.02)is rest of Strathcona, from Dunlevy to Clark, south of Hastings and a dogleg to Main south of Prior, north of Terminal.

    C and D might be combined to claim Strathcona.

    E (CT 9330059.03)is north False Creek, Burrard west of Pacific sweeping down along Homer to Nelson to the Waterfront.

    The other Census Tract (CT 9330059.05) part of North False Creek (east of Cambie to Main, south of Pender/Keefer/Dunsmuir) incorporates a lot of downtown to Burrard and I would say that it is
    problematic usage. 10,726 in 6,674 dwellings, 1.65 km2 and density of 6,505.7/km2

    You might visit http://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/index-eng.cfm
    and look at the Census Tract profiles yourself. Geosearch is a good way to narrow your search down before you click on Additional Data for the profile.

  • Lewis N. Villegas

    Checking my spread sheet, I discovered a mistake in how the columns were added. Using Bill Lee’s numbers, the correct result for population density, I believe, is:

    Strathcona: 15,813 pop/km2
    North False Creek: 18,555 pop/km2

    That makes your numbers jive a bit better. Bill Lee is including CT 9330057.02 in his footprint for Strathcona, adding 3125 pop/km2 to your number.

    In Bill’s comparison North False Creek carries some additional 17% population. In yours 50% more population.

    Both results are still remarkable since one would expect 3x or 4x more density in the towers zone than in Strathcona, a predominantly bungalow on 25′ x 122.5′ lots.

  • Gassy Jack’s Ghost

    For comparison purposes, here are the notes I posted (thanks to Bill Lee for the link) last month for the western DTES Historic Area census area: Main Street west to Richards. The southern border is Prior, but heading west it jogs down Quebec to Keefer, then jogs down Taylor to Pender (ie. International Village towers are not included, although this is technically part of historic Chinatown).

    Population density per square Kilometre: 10, 504 (vs Vancouver as whole at 735).

    Total Population: 6,205
    Number of dwelling units: 4530
    Number of dwellings owned: 430 (under 10%, vs all Vancouver at about 60%)
    Number of dwellings rented: 4120 (over 90%, vs all Vancouver at 40%)

    Median Monthly Payment for rented units: $361 (vs. 812 all Van)
    Median Monthly Payment for owned units: $1353 (vs. 1081 all Van)

    Note also these numbers will see a large shift (est. at least +20% in population and at least +150% in owned units) in the next census due to many new market buildings like Woodwards, Koret, Paris, etc.

    Perhaps the more interesting question for PlanningData or Lewis to consider (re. the Historic Area) is that the density of over 10,500 per kilometre was acheived at a time (2006) when there was a high proportion of empty lots and boarded up buildings — the maximum density is nowhere close to reached, and it also appears to extend to the shoreline, therefore includes the huge railyards, CRAB Park, helicopter pad etc.

    My question is, therefore, what is the estimated population density of the Historic Area WITHOUT increasing heights or adding towers, comparted to the estimated density WITH the height increases and approved towers?

    I suspect the difference is not so large, and, in fact, I posed this question to Jessica Chen at the HAHR open house, and she confirmed that the difference in “Intensification” upon build-out would not be that much higher with the new regulations….

    Also worth noting that the buildings in the HA have no setbacks or ground space, they are built out completely to the property lines.

  • Gassy Jack’s Ghost

    Also, the estimated population on buildout for the HA with the new heights/towers is from about 8000 today (the Historic area is a little wider than the above census tract — crosses Main) to over 17000 upon buildout (20-40 years).

    That would put the population density of the HA at well over 21,ooo per square kilometre upon buildout!

    Not sure how livable that will be?!

  • Lewis N. Villegas

    As we recover from sticker shock, Ghost, I have to agree with you. I think Brent does too. Towers are not for density. They are, apparently, to obtain Community Amenity Contributions (CAC).

    With Geller’s numbers we can also begin to understand that as the cost of land goes up, higher FSR and zoning for condos, becomes the last viable option.

    This also begs a question: to what extent can we look to the towers as driving the price of land, and setting the ground rules so that only towers will return enough profit for the industry to build.

    If you had a “total area” for the census tract you are looking at, I could comment about built form and density (what we’ve been talking about all along).

    The “quartier”, or circle with a 5 minute walking radius, measures 125.7 acres or 50.9 hectares. The fee-simple buildings at 4.5 stories deliver 60 units/acre. A quartier-full would yield 7,542 units. At 2.0 persons per unit (unit size is 800 s.f.), that would give you 15,000 people.

    So, housing 10,000 per quartier; and 50,000 in the DTES is doable with human-scale buildings (…if we can afford them).

    That kind of density would give you a pretty healthy neighborhood in terms of bustle and local economy. If, however, you were to capture the “tax increment” (property tax from new units) like Toderain did when he was DoP in Calgary, do you still need the CAC’s?

  • PlanningData

    Looking at the Statistics Canada website again for four of the Census Tracts in the West End, they calculate densities of between 20,070 and 28,270 people per square kilometer. So, to answer Gassy Jack’s Ghost, it would seem that 21,000 people per square kilometer would be about as liveable as the West End.

  • Lewis N. Villegas

    The West End is a unique kind of place. It has beaches and English Bay on the SW; Stanley Park on the NW; Burrard Inlet on the NE; and on the SE one of the five largest cities on the North American Pacific rim.

    It is 4 “quartiers” large, and has the horse-shoe urban spine of Davie-Denman-Robson (once serviced by streetcar).

    The rumours that in the 1960’s it was the highest density neighbourhood on the globe, I’m not so sure about. Neither is it true that “it is full of towers”. The four Beach Avenue towers on English Bay were the first condos to “sell views”.

    However, as you walk inland from the edge, the neighbourhood’s built form changes rapidly. We see a lot of what Michael Geller would call “the real walk up apartments”. Two and three storey buildings without an elevator; with generously wide corridors; and suites with more than one orientation. That was the stuff that was built between the 1920’s and the 1950’s.

    Then came two decades of the stucco box and the flimsy aluminum sash. The real shame here is how these walk-ups turn a back to the rear lanes, making them little else than conduits of local traffic, and access to parking and garbage.

    In the 1970’s, or possibly in the following decade, the city did something really good. It introduced “traffic calming” to stop cars rat-running. The car was taken down a notch, and everyone has been happier for it—in this particular place—ever since.

    This is the neighbourhood that gave us Councillor Gordon Price.

    It was also Vancouver’s first “suburb”. If you see early 1900 photos, the place is virtually all single family, garden cottages, with a few mansions sprinklered in for good measure. The bandstand on Beach Avenue, if I am not mistaken, was in the rear garden of one of the richest.

    The legacy of all these gardens can still be appreciated in the lush greenery of the inner blocks. This greenness, as much as what a friend of mine recently called “a continuous perimeter”, account for a lot of what we marvel at today. The land rises to the center like an inverted saucer, and this too defines our feel of the place.

    I think. ultimately, the West End’s greatest urban joy is that we don’t have to walk far before being arrested by a street end vista. The sunsets on English Bay; the mountains on the north shore; the streets that dead end into Stanley Park—we feel the edge almost all the time.

    The endless right-of-ways of the CPR grid are not in evidence here. Even the fact that the West End was already platted by the time Hamilton received his assignment contributes in a positive way. Having two out of three streets from the West End interrupted, and not flowing into the CPRs downtown lots, helps to preserve some elements of its character.

    I doubt very much that there is another place in North America as livable as the West End. Stanley Park, certainly, is without peer. If the architecture was better, the West End would easily rival Beacon Hill, Boston.

  • Gassy Jack’s Ghost

    The land area is 0.59 sq. km.

    Looking at the map again, I confirm it includes the railyards (west to Cambie) and CRAB Park — a rough estimate is that (totally unpopulated) land is a little more than 1/3 of the total land area of the tract, so the “populated” land area is actually only about o.4 km sq. which translates to 15,500/sq km density in 2006.

    (Note: the actual census tract boundary also extends quite a ways out into Burrard Inlet, but I’m not sure if that’s included in the land area calculation?)

    Thanks PlanningData, I was wondering what the West End numbers were. If I’m not mistaken, the density in the West End is 2nd only to Manhatten in all of North America. Can anyone confirm that?

    It’s interesting that the density could get to a similar level in the Historic Area as the West End with the very different forms of buildings (low-rise, but built to the edge of property lines vs. low and high rises mixed, but set back).

    These building forms occupying the totality of properties, the current lack of public amenities, and very low ratio of parkland, might all contribute to something very different than the West End’s high level of livability, ringed as it is with glorious beaches and a huge park.

    Furthermore, if you remove the 1/3 of land north of Water St. that isn’t populated at all in this tract, and double the population to 12,500, you would end up at 31,500 per sq km in the Historic Area West of Main.

    So, it would seem the need for a well thought-out Area Plan for the Historic District is even more pressing than ever at this point in time!

  • Gassy Jack’s Ghost

    Lewis, looks like you posted while I was writing the last one, hence the overlap in what we are saying.

    Yours is a much more poetic take!

  • Ten reasons why the high rise is here to say.

    1. Contained footprint: less ground coverage.

    2. Increases density: most contained volume by least building envelope area. ¡Verdad!

    3. Light penetration and air circulation.

    4. With street level atrium a composite unit variation allows for diversified habitation.

    5. Economical: incremental costs diminish as height increases.

    6. Site organization: the Wajax provides a pivotal central distribution point: adding economies.

    7. The established construction industry is organized around 5.

    8. Views: at least until the neighbours crowd in.

    9. Does nor impede neighbouring views.

    10. Aesthetics: a slender tower is appealing: allows for a more graceful densification.

    QED

  • Lewis N. Villegas

    Ghost, I was Feelin’ Groovy…

    We’ve been doing a lot of analysis, and numbers, so it is also good to look at it as what the place feels like. The Historic Neighbourhoods have a different feel. And, with a revitalization of Hastings Street, and a Streetcar, that urban spine would really animate the place.

    The Hectare is not as useful a measure as the km2. A “quartier”, a pedestrian shed, or a circle with a 5 minute walking radius (0.25 mi; 400m) covers an area equal to 0.5 km2.

    Your 0.4 km2 is a “quartier” (the french word avoids saying “neighborhood” that gets some of my buddies that are planners spinning about “complete neighborhood theory” and other esoterics).

    Yes, urbanismo, the tower is here to stay. And the shaddow that it casts over our neighbourhoods streets & parks, are also here to stay… forever.

  • Lewis N. Villegas

    Oh, what the hell…QED—I Question the Esthetics & Design:

    1. Contained footprint: less ground coverage.

    I’m imagining a slender tower on its side… and it looks exactly like human-scale, perimeter block massing, fee-simple buildings, erected side-by-side. This dog won’t hunt.

    2. Increases density: most contained volume by least building envelope area. ¡Verdad!

    We have just seen that the density increase is a mirage. The density may increase as measured in a single-lot—ad nauseam, but on a neighborhood basis Strathcona delivers the equivalent density to North Shore False Creek. And, to boot, the urban quality is far superior. This dog won’t hunt.

    3. Light penetration and air circulation.

    No light for single aspect units facing north. About 50% of the product. And no air circulation for 99% of the units, since only the penthouse is likely to be “dual aspect”, looking 2 ways, and be able to produce cross-ventilation. This dog won’t hunt.

    4. With street level atrium a composite unit variation allows for diversified habitation.

    Don’t need a tower to build a market building. The best market buildings front a public open room that is between a 1x and 2x larger. Best example, second century Pantheon with piazza fronting. This dog won’t hunt.

    5. Economical: incremental costs diminish as height increases.

    In Gellers numbers the cost for concrete tower and for wood frame were 190/160. About an 18% increase. However, the impacts in the inflation of neighborhood land values that we are seeing today, and the push to zone land at FSR 5.0, for example, these too are the “economics of tower building”. This dog won’t hunt.

    6. Site organization: the Wajax provides a pivotal central distribution point: adding economies.

    If you say so. Wajax?

    7. The established construction industry is organized around 5.

    Yep. But that is only one segment of the industry. I have raised concerns that the small construction company is being squeezed out. Big players, small city halls, bring additional friction to our democratic process. This dog won’t hunt.

    8. Views: at least until the neighbours crowd in.

    And typically on just one side of the building, and not below level No. X. This dog won’t hunt.

    9. Does nor impede neighbouring views.

    Right! And they don’t block the sky!! Are we really going to buy into the gibberish of the carpet baggers just ’cause we live way out west? Look at the lots beside your tower, urbanismo, and tell me what you see? I see small properties being put upon a “thing” that is out of scale with its neighbors in a location that will never build out to be Hong Kong. This dog won’t hunt.

    10. Aesthetics: a slender tower is appealing: allows for a more graceful densification.

    The Inverse Square Law of Tower Esthetics decrees that the slender tower will be twice as beautiful from four times the distance. This dog won’t hunt.

    Yikes! My dogs are barking. Gotta go.

  • Gassy Jack’s Ghost

    Views from towers are one thing, but most people I know living in a south facing unit in a Vancouver tower complain that it becomes unlivably HOT on sunny days. Usually, there are only a couple of small windows that open – not enough to cool the place down. The solution? They have to close their blinds during most of the daylight hours to shut out the sun (and the view)…

  • Gassy Jack’s Ghost

    Anyway, Urbanismo, I’m not arguing against towers, per se, I’m only arguing against them in the Historic Areas/ 5 original neighbourhoods, where it seems one could make a multi-pronged argument that it is totally inappropriate to put towers the HA.

    Density is simply one of the new issues we have discovered — added to a long list of elephants in the room — that all together make an ever-stronger case against the assumptions made by the DoP when they put together the HAHR recommendations that went to Council.

    So, Urbanismo, what’s your take on towers in this specific area? Leaving aside all the other arguments against the HAHR by community groups, do you think it’s an appropriate building policy to put a tower right next to the Sun Yat-Sen Garden, right in the heart of a National Historic Site, where the long-term business plan is trying to achieve status of UNESCO World Heritage Site?

  • Lewis N. Villegas

    Ghost, I think the only way to win the day (and it may be too late already) is to have a towers/no towers policy by district or neighborhood, rather than by zone. We can sharpen the definitions of neighborhood, district and zone as need arises.

    Add to the unbearable southern orientation, the even hotter western orientation, when especially in winter, the low afternoon sun cooks single-aspect dwelling units. Good points.

  • @ GJG . . . why the confrontational approach?

    I understand the S Y-S people do not favour a tower over-look and I would respect their position.

    The HAHR study was conceived as a sky-line profile study some months back and is, in my opinion, an infantile debasement of the process (I said so at the time).

    Who cares what the sky line looks like from . . . I dunno Grouse Mountain?

    Indeed I stand by my ten points: to stigmatise the genré “High-rise” is not urban design it is obsession!

    We can do better.

    I have known Lewis for a long time and respect his talents and urban design experience but on this thread he is making an ass-hole of himself: towers do add density and can, if well designed and integrated, do so gracefully.

    Sin embargo if indeed they compliment and add density to this area, there are some sites that could work.

    Some posts back Michael suggested a charrette. If we can pull that off, I’ll be in there with both feet and after that the consensus is no towers in the HAHR I’m cool.

  • Lewis N. Villegas

    Hear, hear! Urbanismo. Oh, save for the third to last paragraph… Oh, okay! I’ll agree with you there too: Me dogs made me do it.

    I have no problem with the downtown peninsula, for example, being a “tower zone”.

    I still don’t like towers. Not because I object to them “a priori”, but because of what I see built around me… Our development industry, by necessity, dumbs down the product.

    And because of what I’ve seen towers do in two south american cities, my home town Montevideo, and the town where a whack of my cousins live, Córdoba, Argentina, over a period that dates back from the 1950’s to present day.

    I talked to Michael’s about his idea for the charrette. It is a kind of “conceptual exercise” or exploration of options. I think that could be very good. We could test alternative building products, for example, and have an industry quantity surveyor give us an idea of cost/profit.

    Would like to have a transportation engineer on board. These days, we I like to think about “Canadian Quartiers on Rails”.

  • Lewis, if you are referring to your home town’s river front Ramblas, there are no high rise towers as we know them. There are long line-ups of very high, appalling view exterminating slabs: at least, as of February, 2006.

    On the other hand Curitiba Br. has handled its towers very well.

    Essentially the city is laid out along five bus transportations corridors . . . high rises, and they are high, line the colour coded bus routes . . . with mixed use, I did not check the functions, in the interstices: very, very clean, very, very nice!

    Puerto Madero BA has fixed up the docks, way too expensive for my pocket book, by retrofitting the old dock four level warehouses and replicating their foot print when building anew.

    But none of that has to do with HA review area!

    PS Bologna has been “Bolshi” for as long as forever. I haven’t been there since 1949 but Vanc. could learn a thing or two . . .

  • Gassy Jack’s Ghost

    Sorry, Urbanismo, didn’t mean to sound confrontational, I value your opinion and wanted to hear your take, that’s all. Could have been framed better, I suppose.

    Lewis, very heartened to hear that news!

  • Lewis N. Villegas

    In Montevideo, Uruguay, the rambla is a kind of “seaside promenade” with a near-freeway attached on one side, and the beach on the other. Uruguayans use the word “rambla”, but the concept has nothing to do with the Ramblas of Barcelona. In North American, the closest thing I’ve seen to Montevideo’s “rambla” is in Galvestone, Texas. However, the densities in Galvestone are rural compared to Montevideo.

    Our own seawall pales in comparison because it lacks the volume and speed of traffic, on the one hand, and the volume and speed of people on the other. People stroll the ramblas of Montevideo, or sit along the benches built into its sea wall, recreating the “passeggiata” that we know from Greece, Italy and Spain.

    Beginning in the 1950’s, houses along Montevideo’s rambla were bought, and hi-rise slabs went u[. Wall-to-wall stuff. In the so-called Third World, selling condo-views happened three to four decades ahead of Spaxman-Beasley. Which always made the Vancouverism a bit strange for me: why are we in Canada so eager to built that stuff given our riches?

    I grew up 2 blocks from the beach and the rambla. The view from our 1940’s, 3-storey, multi-aspect apartment was of the backs of the tall (tower) buildings “walling off” our view of the v=sea side and the beaches. It never bothered me. Our streets were safe for me and my friends could ride our bikes on the sidewalks with abandon, and play soccer on them too—a Uruguayan version of Canadian street hockey.

    Twenty years later, and holding degrees in Building Technology and Architecture, I returned to the streets of my childhood. The towers had moved inland, and the results could not have been more demoralizing.

    Sidewalks were chocking with parked cars. Views I remembered had gone missing, and shadows fell on places where none existed before. The pedestrian sheds still worked. Places were still the same distance apart. But the sense of place had been altered. The woman that had chased me with the equivalent of a wire hanger in her hand because I had run over her water hose with the rear tire of my tricycle would now be living several storeys above the street. Kids not old enough to ride bikes had better be riding their tricycles in the penned off yards of their kinder gardens or day cares.

    Was there more density? I suppose. Tour’s over, back to our own place.

    Wouldn’t we do better to intensify the suburbs, and hard-wire the town centers with fast and efficient transportation, than to unleash the land-lift, and tip the playing field to the large corporations? Are we not toying outright with the potential of corrupting our system of governance?

  • Lewis N. Villegas

    I hope that if there is to be a charrette we could make it an “urbanist” charrette, where rather than pit one contesting design team against another in game-show fashion, we would:

    (1) Test urban design principles, and how they would apply to the historic neighbourhoods.

    I also hope that it would the planning paradigm. Thus, I hope that the goal of the charrette would not be to create a neighbourhood “plan” in the sense of a drawing; but a

    (2) “Vancouver Historic Neighbourhoods Intensification and Preservation Plan” an urban design plan presenting all the pieces that together make up “good” urbanism.

    You know, the stuff we can measure and the stuff that all can agree about. That way, the charrette would be the first stop on the path to building consensus.

  • Lewis N. Villegas

    error (paragraph three): “I also hope that a charrette would be used to challenge the current planning paradigm.”…

  • The average age of deaths with people with no fixed address over the last three years is 45.

  • Norman

    It troubles me that there is an open air drug market most days right in front of the Carnegie Centre. I can see drug deals taking place every time I pass Oppenheimer Park, which is often, not to mention in many doorways, etc. Why do we allow these scum to take advantage of vulnerable people? There has to be a concerted effort to create many more drug rehab facilities and to arrest (and deport) drug dealers. Saying the people living on the street are mentally ill is to deny the drug problem. People have a right to be safe from these drug dealing criminals.