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The Vancouver neighbourhoods backlash continues

June 8th, 2010 · 82 Comments

For several years, there was an unprecedented ceasefire between developers and residents in this city. After a huge brawl in the early 1990s with the public over the development of the Arbutus lands where the old brewery had been, city planners worked to find another way to talk with the public and that seemed to succeed to those looking on. All was quiet. But ever since former mayor Sam Sullivan started talking about EcoDensity, little wildfires of community resistance started popping up. That’s continued and grown as the Vision Vancouver team introduced its Short Term Incentives for Rental program. The email below, from the group Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver, is the latest testament to that movement.

It’s been perplexing to many people who’ve watched the city, where almost 100,000 people in new buildings got absorbed into the downtown with barely a bleat from anyone. And now, these little protests here and there about STIR projects, about social-housing projects, about this and that project. They were dismissed at first at fringe conspiracy theorists. Some of that may be true about certain players, but they are picking up steam here and there.

I’ve come to believe that what’s going on is that, for years, there was no problem because the growth was absorbed into mostly vacant industrial land on the edges of Vancouver. A few people mourned the resortification of the waterfront or the former grubby area around Granville Street but, by and large, there was little outcry. That’s even though there was far, far more density packed into the new Downtown South neighbourhood — heritage density bonus transfers, more density bonuses given for theatres and art galleries and Orpheum additions — than the West End will ever see.

But now the available downtown space is almost gone and developers are looking for other opportunities in Vancouver: the West End, the Cambie Corridor, various nodes along Kingsway. As well, as Housing Minister Rich Coleman has poured money into social housing, both philosophy and the city’s available land parcels have dictated that some of those 100-unit towers would be built outside the usual Downtown South/Downtown Eastside Bermuda triangle of cheap housing.

That means a lot more conflict with existing neighbourhoods. City council’s policies haven’t changed that much, really. Developers haven’t changed. Developer donations to civic political parties, whether NPA or Vision, haven’t changed. What has changed is the location of development into the established residential communities and that’s proving to be a much tougher go than plonking towers onto vacant land around False Creek. It will be a test of this council and future councils how they deal with that new reality. Just wait, by the way, for the insurgency that develops as people find out about the plans for density all along Cambie from 25th to 49th.

In the meantime, here’s the media release from NSM and Ned Jacobs

Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver

June 4, 2010

Open letter to Mayor Gregor Robertson and Vancouver City Council:

A letter of May 18, 2010 from Mayor Gregor Robertson and Vision Vancouver to many members of our network stated: “City Hall is back on track!” Regretfully, we must disagree. To the contrary, regarding the planning and development of Vancouver’s neighbourhoods across the city, we see this Vision Vancouver Council hurtling forward in the same failed direction as the previous council.

Let’s start with EcoDensity. Upon election in 2008, at an event sponsored by Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver (NSV), Mayor Robertson singled out the EcoDensity initiative for criticism, and praised “the very, very intensive effort on behalf of all of you and the neighbourhoods to counter that effectively and to reframe the whole debate around what matters most.” Some Vision councillors saw a possibility to convert EcoDensity from a “policy report” to a “report for information.” This sounded like a solution, and we awaited an action that never came.

Prior to the election, Mayor Robertson and Vision Vancouver responded to a candidate questionnaire from NSV. The question “Do you support CityPlan and related neighbourhood-based Community Visioning as the primary basis for future planning in Vancouver neighbourhoods?” was answered “Yes” – with the added comment, “We need to do a better job of integrating other city reports with the CityPlan process.” We agree – and converting EcoDensity to a report for information would have accomplished that. Supported and worthwhile ideas or actions could still be brought forward for consideration and implementation. Instead, EcoDensity is being used to override CityPlan and our Vision Directions and has been written into the Greenest City Initiative as policy, which ignores your election commitment “to address outstanding concerns related to the EcoDensity Initial Actions.”

Another broken promise is the about-face on a Vision Vancouver election pledge to “oppose the transfer of density from the downtown Heritage Density Bank onto landing sites outside of the currently approved areas into communities across the city.” If allowed to stand, this reversal of policy will result in financial benefits to developers far beyond what is needed to protect heritage buildings, to the detriment of obtaining public amenities and affordable housing. Current provisions for heritage density transfer override the local area plans and Community Visions that you promised would be the primary basis for future planning in Vancouver.

The disregard of longstanding community-based plans for greening Hastings Park and instead approving PNE expansion, which includes construction of a large parking garage in the park (how “green” is that?), betrays the trust of the residents of Hastings/Sunrise. Furthermore, Councillor Louie’s role as chair of the PNE board puts him in a conflict of interest position, which Vision Vancouver has failed to acknowledge and address.

Abuses of public process that citizens objected to during the previous council’s mandate have continued and have even worsened. Reports are often rushed to council meetings with short or no notice – even for councillors. Vision candidates agreed with the NSV questionnaire that “there should be a larger role for scientific polling and referenda in determining the level of public support for major civic policy decisions.” These words have not been followed up with actions. For example, resident surveys were discontinued in the Norquay neighbourhood centre process because planners failed to obtain a “desired” result in June 2007. Ignoring the excellent community-developed plan for a village centre, the City grinds onward toward an ongoing rezoning of Norquay, which will mean mass displacements in a neighbourhood that is 32% low income. The community working group has continued to scrutinize the planning department’s extremely problematic and ever-shifting proposals, but to little effect.

The current Council passed the Principles for the Broadway/UBC Transit Corridor with no public consultation whatsoever. Only after much protest from the affected communities was any public input allowed. The City continues to sit back and let TransLink take the lead on public consultation on this huge corridor that will affect many communities, even though TransLink has the conflicted role of also using development to fund transit.

Following the election, huge incentives were created for Vision Vancouver’s development industry “partners” to build a few expensive rental units, allowing out-of-scale developments to override local area plans and sacrifice the amenities needed to serve future residents. The Short Term Incentives for Rentals (STIR) program would negatively impact neighbourhoods across the city, and especially the West End, where these projects will generate windfall profits while failing to provide affordability. Not only does STIR set a bad precedent, it is an unnecessary response to a short recession. When citizens questioned the wisdom of an “economic stimulus” (your words) for the development industry, and objected to the lack of public involvement in creating a rental strategy, Councillor Meggs retorted: “The election was the consultation—this is the delivery.” This does not match at all with Vision’s election pledge to “increase accountability, transparency, and access to City Hall with new opportunities for engagement, and improved outreach and consultation.”

We don’t believe that Council feels comfortable with this development industry “partnership”. However, all of Council, except Councillors Woodsworth and Cadman, continue to accept numerous large donations from the development industry. This practice creates public concerns about Council’s credibility on planning and development issues due to potential conflicts of interest.

The last election demonstrated voter desire for a change from what the previous council was doing – a change that has not come yet. We do not see a Vision Vancouver train that is “back on track.” Only through actions that demonstrate a genuine change in direction will you fulfill your election commitments to Vancouver’s neighbourhoods.


Ned Jacobs

On behalf of the Steering Committee
Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver

Group contact email:

Categories: Uncategorized

  • MB

    “We must build places, out of [public] streets and squares, that are a joy to inhabit. ”

    That would be an exemplary starting point.

  • I dunno, is this Canada Line excitement green/sustainability driven or speculator driven? I suspect the latter for that has been the case in Vancouver for the last two decades or more.

    Sure as hell PCI Marine Gateway is speculator all the way down.

    Historically Vancouver’s planning dept has not been geared to actual urban design/planning preferring to shepherd developers through to an always satisfactory, for the developer, conclusion. I don’t thinq the city has a staff sophisticated enough to guide charrettes or plans to what you/we envision . . . quartiers.

    I don’t thinq SCARP faculty would know what we mean if we served them with a double dose of Johnny Walker . . .

    A few blogs back someone drew our attention to Paris marking Metro stations with towers: as some kind of beacon identifier. I don’t see it! TX stations are not icons and should be heard, as little as possible, and not seen. Unseen TX stations as unseen nodes for quartiers yes but . . .

    Is the intent to describe quartiers at each station?

    After Broadway there are only four stations in the city: King Ed, Oakridge, Langara and Marine Drive but there are more opportunities for quartiers!

    And as quartiers clustered around significant traditional nodes of gathering, again, no prob. other than that development south of 12th is, IMO, quite premature.

    Anyway, I do not thinq realtors currently trawling the line for gullible marks share that vision: quartiers or densification. They want the quick fix all the way down: sprawl by any other name.

    That Tulip tree on Harewood is symbolic of more than the tree. I really wasn’t at all surprised when some somnambulating wag quipped, Lithium when I called Vancouver a failed city. There are many reasons why the city is failing and one big reason is families can no longer live here.

    Also, the city is so inundated by paid flak, yunno, views, paradise, whatever ranking the Chamber of Commerce or tourist bureau pays for . . . the fact is the city is over run by off shore money that has chased, especially families up the valley. And it that ain’t failure I don’t know what is.

    You and Michael are discussing medium rise, height governed by the fronting road width.

    The big fallacy of the current densification fad is mistaking floor area for population density.

    Just because pretty new medium rises line the route doesn’t necessarily mean increased density: the condo genre is usually too small for families and are preferred by empty nesters or even single.

    There is much to be done densification-wise closer into the centre to allow sprawl south.

    As for the wags they will ever be with us . . .

  • PS . . . There is something profoundly humiliating feeding off off-shore money . . .

  • Urbanismo wrotes:
    “TX stations are not icons and should be heard, as little as possible, and not seen”

    That is the principles which has lead the design of the Paris les Halles station in the 70’s …by the way one of the rare Parisian experience to take account the local opinion

    as noted by Lewis, it has been a failure of historic proportion.

    Lewis did another observation:

    “Paris is the most beautiful city in the world, yet all the buildings look more or less the same”

    Yes Paris seems to be a city of urbanists, not architects…

    …and the only Charette Paris remembers are the one driving opinionated people to the Guillotine.

    Not only Paris is a city of urbanits, but all the urbanism celebrated nowadays has been imposed against the neighborhood wish, this in a bloodbath if necessary…

    (by the way, not before 1977, Paris got a Mayor, and still he and his council has very limited power compared to the Vancouver council)

    The urbanist Haussman, reporting directly to the head of state, and “bulldozing” the Capital ( (at the expense of the poor) in total disregard of the people opinion is just a fine example of how the thing have always worked in Paris.

    Beaubourg, Grand Louvres are result of “autocratic” Presidential works with no say from the local ..Les Halles is result of the community input (worded worded as Urbanismo did).

    the former raised way more opposition than the later…they also finally worked way better. That is the dilemma…

  • Voony what the phucc’ are you talking about?

  • Lewis N. Villegas

    “A few blogs back someone drew our attention to Paris marking Metro stations with towers: as some kind of beacon identifier. I don’t see it! “

    You’re absolutely right, Urbie. This business that Peter’s tower is a “Gateway” is just more of the same. Tokyo also does heavy trade off station area development, but we’re not Tokyo are we?

    We can tax the “lift” as Michael has pointed out, so whether the intensification is on one site or one hundred it matters not on the bottom line. However, it makes all the difference everywhere else.

    This impasse—I’ve looked at the links Michael has posted, and there is no urban design there to be seen, let’s not waste time on it here—is block that we are only going to get around, I suspect, by having the Council chairs become a revolving door until we finally get it right.

    By the way, centring the “nodes” on the stations is also misguided. As my seven principles above already pointed out, a station is not a quartier “heart”.

    “There are many reasons why the city is failing and one big reason is families can no longer live here.”

    On target again, Urbie. But note how Geller was already finding his way around this problem by applying the quartier model. The corridor plan that I did not like in Patrick Condon’s presentations of concept are showing their primary weakness already on Cambie. Namely: land speculation. The neighbours are pricing themselves out of their neighbourhood. And, this will infect lots beyond the corridor.

    By building hi-rise instead of high-density, human-scale, the DoP is feeding the pricing frenzy.

    “Just because pretty new medium rises line the route doesn’t necessarily mean increased density: the condo genre is usually too small for families and are preferred by empty nesters or even single.”

    Another advantage of laying the tower on its side, and building it as fee-simple, incremental units is flexibility. History tells that tale.

    “There is something profoundly humiliating feeding off off-shore money . . .”

    Some Montreal writers insist that the problem with off-shore money is that the important decisions are made in boardrooms far away, and are blind and insensitive to local culture. The off-shore money is financed by global capital.

    The small and medium size construction company could realistically obtain financing from the VanCities and the like. The loan officer all of a sudden is someone who reads the same morning newspaper.

    Voony, I’ll get to you next.

  • Bill McCreery

    Villegas, your: “By building hi-rise instead of high-density, human-scale, the DoP is feeding the pricing frenzy” gets to the heart of this wonderful discussion.

    &, Gateway, as a 1st precedent, is a perfect example of the Vision Council & to a lesser extent, the DoP [they are not fully supporting the Gateway but, by letting it get even this far based on what Brent T. told me re: the West End: ‘we’re to far along the process now to reject this application’, the City does not have the intestinal fortitude to admit their mistake in opening the uncontrolled, ill thought through massive spot rezonings which are being parachuted into neighbourhoods all over the City.

    Look @ Marine & Cambie. Gateway will house +/-4,000 to 5,000 on 1 corner, add the other 3 corners @ say 4,000 = say 15,000, then add up zoning in the catchment area of say +/- an additional 1,500 per quarter = 6,000 = 21,000 additional people concentrated @ this already vehicle congested intersection alone. Also, 10 towers have been approved @ Oakridge = say 2,000 to 3,000 + the other 3 corners @ +2,000 + the 4 catchment quarters = 4,500 = +9,000. Add to this the natural increase in the Vancouver feed-in ridership as people get used to the system, become more environmentally aware + the large densification already well underway in Richmond & the natural increase in the Surrey, Delta feeders. Add the additional densification all along the line. What happens to Richmond & South Van to UBC commuters if & when a Broadway system comes into play? The mind boggles.

    What is the total? Nobody knows because nobody has done the studies to find out.

    I am advised the DoP has not done independent evaluations of how much density these stations can handle. This is a major shortcoming in their planning process.

    &, it leads to the kind of preposterous excess we see in the Gateway proposal &, to unwarranted expenses on developer fishing expeditions to find out what the market will bear. This process also destablizes the real estate market which ultimately increases the cost of land, frequently on unwarranted properties.

    The developer here is doing what developer’s are supposed to do, optimize their return on investment. That’s good. However, this should be done by the City taking a leadership role & appropriately densifying @ transit stations but, not in the reckless manner now being employed.

    Since 1973 Vancouver has had a planning process which has lead the development process very well &, it has made an important contribution in the quality of life we currently enjoy. The current out of control process will not produce appropriately scaled, thought through new boys on the block which improve the existing neighbourhood & allow them to become more self sufficient & sustainable. and, they will overwhelm the Canada Line.

    The Canada Line has a limited capacity. Based on figures from Translink there appears to be perhaps a 50% potential increase in capacity but, that requires extending the stations & adding 3 / 4 car trains, both expensive moves. We are already near the 100,000 threshold they have set as an optimal goal, say 120,000 is the current daily capacity. Therefore the max the system can handle is 150 to 180,000 & 180 is pushing it.

  • Lewis N. Villegas

    Bill McCreery, your description of Marine & Cambie coincides with my own sense that towers are “point loads” of density. We can achieve a finer grain distribution by other means. Around this blog we seem to have settled on “quartiers”, a name for the pedestrian shed or circle with a radius equal to 1/4 mile.

    We can achieve equivalent neighbourhood densities by “laying the towers on their side” because of the issue of scale and proportion. We can put the smaller buildings much closer together than we can space the towers. So that in the overall footprint of the neighbourhhood, equivalent densities can be achieved. However, the quality of the resulting public space will not be the same. Tower neighbourhoods lack the qualities that we admire in the human-scale streets.

    Putting podiums at the base of the towers, strangely enough, has not worked. The streets are shadowed by the towers, and that plus the blocked views of the sky seems to make all the difference.

    I was shocked to see how in the middle of February, Vancouver’s Olympic Streets were in shadow by 3 p.m., or about 2 hours before sunset. We had to walk to the far reaches of the Granville Bar District, where the high rises have not yet been built, to get sun at sidewalk level.

    Let’s look at land yield or density.

    The land area of the quartier is 120 acres. The yields are as follows (per gross acre of land—road space, but not parks, are included):

    at 6 units per acres = 720 single family lots/33 foot frontage. Duplex yields 1440 homes (say 1500). The most we can do is about 18 units per 33 foot lot, or 2200 homes.

    Until Bill Lee shows up with some numbers for the number of residents per home in this part of Vancouver, it will be difficult to know a multiple. I use 2.2 people per unit; and 800 s.f. for the average unit size. I base that in part on the Oliver Garneau study, Edmonton, by Barton Myers in the late 1970’s/early 1980’s.

    We can achieve about 65 units per acre (gross) with the fee simple buildings that Michael and I discuss, at about FSR 2.33 to 2.75 (the latter have retail on grade). Those building types were worked out in full for the FormShift entry that Simpson and I submitted last year. We would consider them appropriate for redevelopment fronting Vancouver arterials.

    What is of interest is that we obtained the same results, independently, as Patrick Condon. We found that if we just took all the single family houses fronting arterials today, and redeveloped with the fee-simple 4,000 s.f. building on a 16.5-ft frontage, we could double the existing population and not build higher than 35 feet in residential zones, and 45 to 60 feet in arterials measuring up to 120-feet wide (Cambie is as much as 180-foot width in some places).

    A third type, this may be what Geller is referring to, looked at a building type that might redevelop targeted blocks in the quartier interior, rather than fronting the arterial. These densities would not be of the 65 u/ac or FAR 2.33 − 2.75.

    Michael’s 1.0 to 1.25 might come into the picture here. Unlike the laneway housing that we feel would be too tight if it were to build out along the full block on both sides of the lane, the third building type puts units back-to-back, and the lane redevelops incrementally over time into a neighbourhood street.

    I have not added up the towers in the Cambie redevelopment plan that Michael linked us to, however the whole scheme is two-dimensional. It shows DoP still practicing old-paradigm planning. Urban design has been dumbed down to a discussion of building heights by floor count. Almost apologetically reference is made to “streetwall” principles.

    Most tellingly, there are almost no drawings in the presentations. If we do not draw, were really cannot design. Not because of “talent”—although that plays into it as well—but because these ideas have to be worked on diagrammatically in order to understand, analyze and innovate.

    There are no neighbourhoods being shaped, and one wonders what the merit might be of building an “urban corridor”. The transportation stations are the “nodes”—and one supposes the intended hearts of the new neighbourhoods. There is no sense of history, of discovery, of joy or celebration of what is to be found in place. No platting analysis. As you point out, no build out analysis. Human scale is not considered or talked about.

    I mean, what can we say? The last thing we want to do is to fault the planners. I agree with you that the developers have to act according to the vicissitudes of the market economy.

    With Jacobs, we want to point to the lack of urban design in the planning, then turn to the people in charge, the council, and ask: How come?

    In my experience, in the CoV the answer is always, “we’re to far along the process now to reject this application” or too late to change the plan. When the public is consulted, the decisions have already been made (SEFC was different in that regard).

    Part of your concerns about transportation capacity would be answered by a trolley BRT on Cambie. However, transit is not being considered at the same time as neighbourhood planning.

    Should that surprise us? How long ago did we start planning the Canada Line? Finally now in 2010 we are planning—poorly—the lots fronting.

    No, there is very little good to say about the Cambie plan.

  • Lewis N. Villegas

    Sunday morning brioche and coffee alert: I’m double-posting to answer voony.

    “the former [Haussmanization of Paris] raised way more opposition than the later [public input & redesign of Les Halles] …they also finally worked way better. That is the dilemma…”

    Haussmann’s plan for Paris—as voony points out the plan probably belongs to Napoleon III, nephew of the lieutenant become emperor—is a modern plan, dating to 1850’s. New York City’s Commissioner’s plan was platted in 1811.

    Before the 1789 revolution in France, the problem in Paris was that there was no urban land. Sixty years later, the problem was the need to connect the new railroad stations with an efficient street grid, and to house the bourgeoisie within city limits.

    The system they hit upon used the “land lift” to finance an incredible amount of community amenities. Haussmann’s regime built sidewalks, burried gas and water main infrastructure, planted trees by the thousands, put in parks, hospitals, markets and prisons.

    However, I always wonder how much of the “security” measures—i.e. rapid troop movement—was not political rhetoric aimed at convincing a divided city hall and fractured national assembly of the need to invest in infrastructure in order to modernize the economy and secure the nation’s future. It was not just a Paris issue. The lessons of Paris are visible in all the large cities of that nation.

    The Emperor, I suspect, is responsible for bringing his whole wonderful edifice down. Getting into a Bush-like war with Bismark, La France was brought to its knees in the field of battle, and into economic depression. A Germany that in 1850s had been building Berlin’s “mite kaserne”— barracks housing—found itself in a golden age of urbanism that brought about the wonders of Frankfurt’s satellite towns, and elevated the work of Camillo Sitte, Stüben, and others.

    Clearly, a kind of passing of the urbanist baton had taken place.

    When Paris finally bounced back, a central product was the international exhibitions that put on offer the wonders of breaking technology, on the one hand, and the City of Lights, the architecture of the new Paris urbanism, on the other. It is hard to judge from period accounts which part made the greater impression on the visitor.

    However, if we look at the plan of Haussmann-Napoleon two elements become crystallized. First, the longest streets in Pre-Haussmann-Napoleon Paris measured just 500m and were to be found almost exclusively as streets leading from the river-side quays inland. The Haussmann-Napoleon boulevards are typically 1 km or 2 km long (Sebastopol and St. Michel are exceptions).

    The second urban element that jumps out of an analysis of the Haussmann-Napoleon plan is that our “quartiers”, or pedestrian sheds, fit neatly into the spaces triangulated by the new boulevards. Thus, the planners, designers, engineers, and landscape architects were in some agreement about the core-periphery nature of urban places. The super-scaled boulevards, as much as possible, would be kept on the quartier’s edge.

    Now, this is an oversimplified analysis. The Quartier St. Germain, escaping Haussmannization on the left bank shows that at least some of the ‘old Paris’ was worth hanging on to.

    There is also some room for doubt that the six storey maisonette, that dates to the very early 1800’s and the first Napoleon, that has since added on a couple of stories in the elevator-enabled twentieth century, is not too much density. The boulevards—like the 130 and 180-foot wide sections of Cambie Street—are wide enough to support them. However, the spaces inside are a bit tight. The light wells and ventilation shafts put one in too close proximity to the neighbours all around.

    Across the channel, the urbanization of the West End of London, getting a solid impetus from the defeat of Napoleon in 1815, rarely exceeds 4 stories. The units are free-hold, rather than apartments. And, one consequence is that through the years one might argue they have presented a higher degree of flexibility.

    A final aside is that along some streets of the ‘new’ Paris the government put up the building façades, going so far as to outfit the windows with “boxes” behind so that they could be dressed to look as if they belonged to an occupied apartment. The lots behind were then sold to private developers to fill out the block over time. The system was nothing short of ingenious, and very well worked out.

    The lessons for Vancouver as many, and they do rub up against voony’s paradox: do we need despots to build good urbanism? Or, in a turn of a phrase, is submitting to an urban design plan tantamount to submitting to fascistic authoritarianism.

    I think that the waters here are clouded by our lack of understanding, and experience, of urbanism. We have been building suburbs for so long that we are strangers in a strange land every time we cross the boundary to consider what an urban plan might entail. One of the lessons to learn from Paris and other places is the one about “all the buildings in a beautiful city look more or less the same”. Tell that to the architects of the Marine Gateway. Another might be that the believe that “grid is democratic and unbending” should be challenged. The grid is an expedient to be deformed over time.

    In the final analysis arriving at a “good” urbanism will require that we make hundreds, if not thousands of decisions all of them completely foreign to the suburban ethos.

    How are we to know? What is going to guide us? Our problem building good urbanism is not so much existential as it is fact or knowledge based. We lack the confidence to move in the direction of “good” density because we lack the understanding of the primary elements or the fundamental principles.

    Barring stuff that we can all agree about, or planning with proof as earlier stated, my opinion is as good as the next guy’s. What we get is a free-for-all, planning on lot at a time, and decisions that can only be described as arbitrary. Urbanism is not taste, but the stuff we’ve been putting up in the name of “sustainability” looks like fashion to me.

    If this impression is accurate, then pretty soon we’ll be tired of it, and we will find that we have created no legacy to fall back on.

  • Lewis, thanqu, for a very enlightened synopsis of the evolution of Parisian urban design.

    Was not, though, Rue de Rivoli and Imperial project of Napoleon l immediately after the revolution? He, nevertheless, became distracted and his Grande street petered out before it got to the Bastille monument: quite an unsatisfactory experience as one hopefully walks the grandness only to be disappointed by the abrupt change into the comparatively tacky Rue Saint Antoine.

    And, if I may hazard your disapproval, Parisian building of that era are not all the same but they are of the same building material. As for later eras well La Defense, La Parque Villette

    Nevertheless Britain’s Prince Regent was inspired (jealous) after Waterloo (1815) enough to build Regent’s street.

    All this was well before Haussmann.

    Sir John Nash was retained as the Prince Regent’s architect, not because of his urban design credentials but because the Prince was having a d’alliance with the architect’s mistress Mrs. Fitzherbert.

    I mention this to show how capricious urban choices were, and still are. Grande Alleés sometimes have less than grand antecedents.

    However both were stopped in their tracks (as was Wren after the 1666 fire for the same reason) by a merchant class who had had enough of the disruptions and fortunately too, in the case of London’s west end, for other wise we couldn’t enjoy cramped Brewer Street and Soho. The narrow streets of which defy your proportion width/height: making the point that urban formulae are best when broken.

    IMO our present crass attitude towards land use also has a historic precedent in that we walked into a vast land already occupied by the first nations, and treated them and their land with extreme disrespect.

    Ergo we still show profound disrespect of the land as with rampant speculation: especially off shore speculators who give not a hoot for the traditions and mores of the locals.

    Indeed but for their Douglas Treaty, a small piece of land on southern Vancouver Island we are all trespassing today.

    Trivial as this Harwood Street Tulip tree is to some I see it quite differently. In approving its removal council has transgressed it pretensions of heritage, greening and sustainability in order to accommodate a condo that will be of inappropriate layout and far too expensive for local families at a time when that genre is so desperately needed.

    Current building ordinances are rigid and out dated and can be modified and should be complied for modified in such circumstances: more mockery of the Mayor’s mantra green/sustainability.

    I was rather impressed, though, Voony by your reference to the origin of the charrette.

    But, if I am not mistaken our use of the word comes from, not the guillotine, but Beaux Art students’ rushing their designs to final crit. on the first and quickest means of transportation at hand the charrette, push cart.

  • PS What I am trying to say, after all the preceding palaver, is that Imperial Paris and London are not measures to follow in our quartiers. The motivating factor behind boulevarded Paris was the clear vision line of vision to facilitate that whiff of grape to quell the mob.

    True urban design comes out of necessity: London’s Soho, Paris’s Place du Tertre, Quebec’s Vieux Ville, and the quite unpretentious . . . the Casbah of Algiers.

  • PPS . . . or even Victoria’s Bastion Square/Trounce Alley/Fan Tan Alley . . . all of which were accidental . . . now nothing like when I lived there 1951-7.

  • Lewis N. Villegas

    Urbie, the historical examples are just a way to help us develop together a working language for urbanism. I think that what is of interest to us today is understanding urban design, and neighbourhood intensification—what does that process look like?

    1. What is the building type?

    If it requires land assembly, then does this trigger a speculative exuberance? As Bill put it, speculation destabilizes the real estate market ultimately increasing the cost of land on unwarranted properties—i.e. house prices continue to move up to the point where families cannot live in a house anywhere in Vancouver.

    To your points, if those are double loaded corridors lining both sides of Cambie as far as the eye can see—except where there are to be point towers—is this really the demographic that we want to attract? Is this where we want families to live—because, my belief is that families will go where the housing is affordable and deal with the consequences later.

    Or can a different choice of type generate more flexibility? Can we put a check on speculation by picking a product that does not require land assembly? Zoning fee-simple product along the arterials—and lot subdivision from 33-foot frontage to 16.5-foot frontages—is that enough to curb speculation?

    Some of the intensification of Kitsilano in the 1970’s proceeded on a lot by lot basis. Bill may have a better understanding of that process—I was still in school. I remember designing RT2 and RT2A in the classroom, to get us to about 18 units per acre gross, without lot subdivision, and keeping side yard set backs.

    Those were the issues we were trying to raise with the FromShift competition entry. That’s the reason to compare the maisonette to the Georgian row. Especially, since as you point out, in urbanism it is not just a question of building type alone.

    2. What is the street design?

    Can we do this on a one-arterial-at-a-time basis, or is that too targeted. Should it be a program for all the arterials, all at once?

    This brings up the need to plan for the revitalization of the arterials. As they stand, the urban quality does not support fronting residential uses. Or, as I have made the point earlier, the residential uses fronting arterials show all the signs of being beaten down by their urban condition. We need to deal with the pollution, the volume and the speed of traffic.

    As I never tire of saying, is this process strong enough to bring about the intensification of our historic quartiers, and the revitalization of Hastings Street? We have combined human suffering with under performing urban land for no reason that I can muster.

    3. Transportation.

    Bill’s observations her are on target. This is just not a case of Broadway or Cambie in isolation. The issue is system-wide. New loading on Cambie, or from other parts of the system, will impact system capacity in place today.

    Is planning for a return of LRT/BRT on our arterials work for us in the multiple ways we need? Will adding single and double tracks, or BRT lanes, reduce vehicular volume by 10 and 20,000 vehicles per day, then add two to four times as many trips on transit? That is an increase in capacity alongside a reduction in vehicular volume.

    Can we as part of LRT/BRT implementation add continuous rows of trees to adjust the street section to the requirements for human scale, as they did in Paris, and suck up some of the pollution by using the urban forest as a carbon sink? Cooling loads will be reduced in the summer if we pick the right trees that will shed their leaves in the winter. Yes, there will be new jobs in street cleaning and tree prunning, and that is a burden to the municipality to absorb along with the new taxes.

    Reducing speed remains a question. As we suggested in FormShift, can the new building types “give back” five or ten feet to the R.O.W. in order that we design “local access lanes” fronting the residential as a way of taming the quality of the resulting urban space?

    4. Should the model be intensification by the quartier, not the corridor?

    Using the OV as an example, would it have been better to plan an quartier-wide intensification for all lots within a 5-minute walk of the Salt Building, rather than for the local government to turn developer and pack density into just a few blocks of brown field redevelopment?

    This approach requires a building type that is not just fronting on the arterial, perhaps lesser density on the interior blocks as Michael suggests. But it will put us up against the same question, if we target those blocks too narrowly, will we trigger land speculation?

    Shaping quartiers will require more than just rezoning. The city is going to have to assemble some land in order to fashion a centre. If we are leaving the single-house-on-a-lot model for more density, we need to outfit the quartiers with social meeting places. Somewhere adults can go for coffee, and children can be taken for a morning or afternoon outing. The parks are fine, but I need to be able to pick up a few essentials on the same trip. And Vancouver parks typically are designed to be up against residential zones.

    I think this is what voony and I were pointing to in making reference to urban design in France.

  • Bill McCreery

    There has been some discussion above about medium rise vs high rise & density. I have an interesting article written by Sir Leslie Martin +/-65 / 67 in, I think, Architectural Record about this subject. He did an analysis of Manhattan Islands largely ‘skyscraper’ point block built form &, using the same FSR he took out every 2nd & 3rd street both ways on the grid, created an 11 storey doughnut +/-60′ deep with a huge park / green space in the centre in each of the mega-blocks. I found this abstract, theoretical model very enlightening. The point was, you can do high density in a more human scale low / medium rise built form & get other benefits such as green space. Other real live models are London, Paris & many other European cities. And, they have their efficient undergrounds & surface transit without resorting to parachuted in out of scale, alien projects.

    Remember small is beautiful?

  • Lewis N. Villegas

    From memory, “The Vancouver Achievement” shows the gross density of North Shore False Creek in the 60s unit per acre.

    65 units per acre can be achieved with 3.5 storey product on Vancouver 33’x122′ lots by subdividing the lot to a 16.5-foot frontage, retaining the lane and the garage, and giving up 10’ of land to the R.O.W. That was our FormShift model.

    Bill Lee on this blog provided census information that showed that North Shore False Creek achieves the equivalent density of Strathcona.

    While on a single lot (FAR) the tower always wins—we can just add more floors to get more density—the same is not true if we measure density on a neighbourhood, quartier or pedestrian shed wide basis. There, the issue becomes the spacing of the buildings.

    On the one hand, we only space the towers so far apart. The human-scale product, as Urbanismo has pointed out already, seems to benefit from being spaced more closely together.

    On NYC

    Jane Jacobs in her epoch making first book (1961) also criticized the grid of the Commissioner’s Plan for NYC (1811) for lacking human scale—she described the 800’ long blocks (the separation of the Avenues west of 6th) as being too long

    Her proposal was to cut the block in half, providing more choices of path if one were walking one block west, and three blocks south. She did not remark that the walk that she was describing was about 1300’ long, or 1/4 mile, or about 5 minutes long.


    However, when we are redeveloping a site—and the way forward in North America appears to be to build a European-style or human-scale urbanism on top of the post war suburbs—triggering land speculation becomes an issue.

    If we want to intensify existing land, not only do the larger buildings return what some feel is a lesser quality in the resulting urban space, but they require land assembly.

    What we are contemplating here is whether or not that land assembly triggers speculation.

    And whether the alternative, plot subdivision to achieve equivalent levels of density, may not keep speculation in check.

    Should we assume 20% profit in the sale of the lot; then 20% profit on the resale of the assembled parcel; and a further 20% profit on the sale of the strata unit…

  • MB

    A very enlightening conversation, folks. Kudos to Lewis, Urbie, Bill M and Michael. And of course to Frances.

    We could develop our own Lotus Quarter as a model, which would require the development an urban design and public consultation methodology based on historical precedents and deep expertise. And we can’t forget to follow up with fine tuning and tweaking to suit varying circumstances. Therein the porocess must not be too rigid.

    What we are proposing is no less than the redesign of how we build cities. But couched in a process that includes a new Urban Design Department in our municipal governance and deep public consultation, the new paradign will be seated with the people, not with the elite. Why wouldn’t that work?

    Coming down from the rare air of theory to practical, on-the-street examples, we already have a few that can be built on.

    My lot was one of four subdivided cross wise from two standard 32′ x 122′ lots in 1910. They predate the zoning bylaw by 42 years, and would be illegal today. They are treated in the zoing as though they were standard lots, therein the FAR is non-conforming.

    But these small lots with detached houses average over $300,000 less in price than the same house on a full lot and are in great demand or that reason alone, including by families with kids who won’t trade the access to good schools and parks and inner city neighbourhood amenities merely for a bigger back yard in the suburbs.

    Yet they are a perfect example of what you can do to densify yet maintain neighbourhood heritage and character in a fee simple arrangement. The four houses built on them have front and back yards (abeit smaller than average, yet they are still popular with families with kids), and being detached, have side yard access and lots of light and air.

    Further up the street are two lots subdivided into five, but that is probably as far as you’d want to go without getting into attached row houses and being shackled to a strata council under the current frustratingly inflexible laws.

    Two lots (one on a corner) subdivided cross wise into seven or eight fee simple row houses near commerical / retail and good transit is a big factor in making a Lotus Quarter workable.

  • Lewis, I think you need to be careful when analyzing density figures in new communities such as the North Shore of False Creek, Coal Harbour, etc. It is important to distinguish between ‘gross density’ that includes roads and parks’ and community facilities, and ‘net density’ that looks at just the buildings in relation to the development parcels.

    While I agree that in some cases, low rise buildings can sometimes achieve densities similar to high rises (see below) and mid-rise buildings can often achieve densities that are similar to high rise buildings, in terms of FSR, units per acre, or people per acre, most high rise developments 24 storeys or higher are significantly higher than any developments 5 storeys or less.

    For example, most of the buildings at Coal Harbour, the North Shore of False Creek, and Downtown South are generally in the order of 5 FSR. This equates to approximately 200 to 250 units per acre. The C2 mixed use density along arterials achieved up to 3 FSR, but most development is now around 2.5.

    In the case of Kerrisdale, we do have ”lower densities associated with highrises….around 1.7 for buildings up to 12 storeys. In this case, the higher density townhouses, stacked townhouses and apartments are of a comparable density to the highrises.

    For those who are counting, the new development proposed across the street from the Shangri-la is 20.6 FSR. This equates to approximately 900 units per acre. We might not want to have too many of these buildings in a row!

  • Bill McCreery

    20.6 FSR? Maddness!!!!

    That is New york & Hong Kong. Vancouver is not &, must not become them. What a tragic loss if this idiotic, out of control process continues.

    Vancouver is reaching a stage where we must make a fundamental decision: When is enough enough? We don’t have any obligation to absorb people just because. We should be taking a measured approach to densifying, applying it only where it will be a net benefit primarily to the local, sustainable community & secondarily the City as a whole. Beyond that, sorry, go somewhere else. The over-reaching objective in this urbanization process must be the continued & improved quality of life in Vancouver.

    Such a decision would also achieve another important objective to provide the opportunity for the suburbs to sustainably urbanize themselves – take the “quartiers ” idea to the next level; to develop their waterfronts, as North Van, Richmond & others are beginning to do, to create livable, sustainable neighbourhoods, etc.

    About what density which can be achieved with single family – I did a 33 lot, zero lot line, courtyard housing freehold subdivision in Victoria’s Dallas Road area for Daon years ago. The generic lot was 33′ x 70′, density, including the dedicated street, was 11.4 units per acre @ a very liveable +/-1,800 to 2,200 sf.

    Good news – we got a Canadian Architect Design Award. Bad news – Daon got out of the residential market & abandoned the project.

  • Lewis N. Villegas


    For an apples-to-apples comparison, we can use 800 s.f. as the average unit size. If the Dallas Road units averaging 2,000 s.f. have a gross yield of 11.4 units/acre, then that translates to 2.5 x 11.4 = 28.5 u/ac.

    That’s about 10x more than we can get in the 33’ x 122.5’ lot keeping the side yards. But, only 44% of the density we get subdividing the 33’ frontage in half.


    The separation between buildings can become a problem with bare land strata (units privately owned; the land is held in strata title by the all owners, the projects are essentially “gated communities” where the streets are not “public” rights of way).

    On a typical Vancovuer neighbourhood with 25 foot front yard set backs, the front door neighbours are 120 feet away from one another, and the distance between the rear of the houses across the lane is typically 100 feet.

    In one Surrey project I know the separation between buildings is about 42 feet on the front, and 40 feet on the rear side. The result is, well, indecent.


    Michael, let me pull off the shelf the document I have: “The Vancouver Achievement”, John Punter, (2003. Pages 234-35; Figure 45 “The megaprojects: land use, density, floor space, and public facilities—the footnote identifies Stanley Kwok as author, in 1997).

    The designation in the table is “Units per acre: on gross residential land area”. There is no explanation as to what is meant by this. Neither are we given what is meant by “Number of housing units”. The table reads as follows (in units per gross acre):

    63—North False Creek (Concord Pacific)
    60—Coal Harbour (Marathon)
    62—Coal Harbour Bayshore
    23—S.E. False Creek
    36—Fraser Lands

    Until I measure building footprints and do site surveys to identify uses, as I have been doing for quartiers across Canada, it’s going to be hard to have certainty about what these numbers really mean. However, within the projects quoted in the table itself, straight line comparisons should be accurate.


    The following are gross density calculations for Canadian quartiers that I have compiled in the past few years.

    6—SFR Bungalow (1.5 storey, 33’ frontage)
    4—Westdale, Hamilton (2.5 storey SFR)
    14—Granville Island (2 storey unit equivalent)
    32—Hydrostone, Halifax (2.5 storey duplex to quad)
    40—Cabbagetown, Toronto (2.5 storey row)
    54—Dartmouth, Nova Scottia (3.5 storey row)
    65—FormShift (3.5 storey row)
    70—Market Square, Winnipeg (4.5 storey warehouse conversion)
    85—Arbutus Lands, Vancouver (4-plus storey walk-up)
    87—ByWard Market, Ottawa (4 storey row)
    102—Place Roy, Montreal (3.5 storey row)
    108—Rue Cuillard, Quebec Citadel (3.5 storey row)

    The “gross density calculation” includes private land, and 50% share of the fronting public right of way. Parks, community centres, etc. are not included. 800 s.f. is used as the “average unit size”, regardless of size of the actual units. In the case of condos, the area is reduced by 15% to allow for common area.

    The difference in yield between our FormShift entry, and Place Roy in Montreal can be accounted for in platting (Place Roy is a quartier named after an 19th century square, not a 1960’s megaproject). The road allowance, the block pattern, and the block dimensions in Montreal achieve higher densities than the CPR platting. In some areas of the Place Roy neighbourhood it would appear that what were once lanes have turned into streets through subsequent redevelopment. The neighbourhood had “laneway houses”, however, at a rate of less than one per block.

    In the final analysis, what we are after is a measurement of “habitable space” per area of land; and number of people per area of land; coupled with an understanding of the resulting quality of the urban space and of the livability average unit.


    For the purposes of calculating transportation demand, the engineers I talk to suggest that one job counts as much as one residential unit.


    Borrowing a metaphor from the chess board, I am still asking that we think about the issue of whether intensification without land assembly in cases such as Cambie and elsewhere might mean to protecting the price of land from speculation, on the one hand, and putting pressure for better transit on the other.

    “Vancouver is reaching a stage where we must make a fundamental decision: When is enough enough? … The over-[ar]ching objective in this urbanization process must be the continued & improved quality of life in Vancouver.”

    Not only is Bill’s “when is enough” question a cogent one, as his consideration of intensification on a wider basis points out, Vancouver is the place where we set the standard for intensification four our entire region. However, what I see being copied in downtown New West, Metrotown, Port Moody, Coquitlam Cenre, Surrey Centre, White Rock and Nanaimo—to name just a few—is the land-lift model of tower-and-podium.

  • Lewis N. Villegas

    Correction: Dallas Road units achieve 10 more units per acre than 33 x 122.5′ lots.

    PS — MB we’ll get to small lots next. One of the townsites I have surveyed but not yet run the numbers on is Charlottetown, PEI. What a wonderful community. What a well-wrought balance between platting and built form. Infinitely walkable… and the real stars?

    Small lot housing.

  • Andrea C.

    I have been following this conversation with great interest, but I just had to jump in after Lewis’ comment on Charlottetown: “What a wonderful community.”
    I was born and raised in Vancouver. Shortly before I turned 30, I moved to Charlottetown and ended up living there for six years. I’ve been back a few years now.
    Charlottetown is the most car centric “community” I have ever encountered in my life. Many families boast about the large number of vehicles registered in their names (and, no, they’re not farmers). Large sections outside of the miniscule downtown area have no sidewalks or sidewalks on one side of the street only. There is no such thing as genuine public transit (unless you count the threadbare joke the local MP’s brother-in-law is running on the taxpayer’s dime). MVAs and drunk driving are like conversation. Local connections (read: corruption) can allow you to build anywhere and anyhow, screw the permits. A combination of threats from the mayor and major indifference to the process led the entire planning department to quit en masse during my sojourn on The Island.
    Urbanismo talks about a “failed town”. To present exhibit A – Charlottetown, PEI.
    Please google for : Charlottetown, least transparent, municipality and Charlottetown, planning, resignation/resigned for some interesting reading. And this is just the tip of a very sad “failed town” trash heap. There’s nothing like actually living and working in a town for a few years to experience the real deal, as opposed to the ideal (which I once held myself).
    Well, enough from this lowly CFA, cue the angry responses from “real” Islanders (and, yes, that’s a capital “I” – didn’t you know that PEI is several times larger than Vancouver Island ? It took an Islander to set me straight on that ‘lil bit of geography.

  • Well thanqu for your insight Andrea C. Charlottetown PEI leaves a bad taste in my mouth too.

    In theory, if one doesn’t visit, the Oglethorpe Savannah symmetrical layout, yunno four squares geometrically laid out around the Provincial Building and Confederation Square looks good: despite the latter ungainly chunk far out-scaling the former.

    I’m talking the very small original town near the waterfront: the rest of Charlottetown is really just more of the same: depressing sprawl.

    I was invited to speak at a confederation celebration, can’t remember the details, in the early ’90’s: at the time the mainland connection had been voted yes but construction not commenced.

    Anyway I had been given the royal tour, of course, and concluded that the little town had seen better days: a quite delightful inventory of heritage was in disrepair and moving farther out the unkempt sprawl was more than unacceptable for the seat of Canada’s confederation: indeed for any self-respecting town.

    Anyway after seeing the neglect I modified my speech to tell the town to forget the mainland connection and spend the money to make the town worthy of its pretensions.

    And then . . . OMG . . . THU RESPONSE!

    Nothing was said after the speech: just greeted with less than lukewarm applause.

    As for the remainder of the conference I was virtually ostracized.

    At the ensuing celebration dinner I was seated alone until a very decent and, may I say mature, yet small, enlightened group of diners invited me to sit with them. And we had a great conversation about how to make Charlottetown worthy for Canada to celebrate.

    Et tu Vancouver!

    . . . PEI is several times larger than Vancouver Island?” Huh figures!

  • “However, what I see being copied in downtown New West, Metrotown, Port Moody, Coquitlam Cenre, Surrey Centre, White Rock and Nanaimo—to name just a few—is the land-lift model of tower-and-podium.”

    Lewis ..while I am sure most readers have tired of reading our exchange, I need to get some clarification on your comment above. What do you mean by the land lift model of tower and podium?

    When I talk about ‘land lift’ I am talking about an economics issue, not a building form. More specifically, I understand land lift to be the increase in land value when a rezoning occurs, regardless of the form of development. The issue is that the city seeks to capture about 70% of the ‘lift’ in community amenities or cash. While some may be happy to see the city sharing in these gains, my concern is that this approach distorts the planning process, and ultimately is not in anyone’s interest. Instead, the city should be seeking a payment to offset the cost of amenities, regardless of whether the land value goes up…..or down.

    Let’s not forget the song by Blood Sweat and Tears…..what goes up, must come down…..

  • interesting briefing Lewis.

    I have a certain numbers of observation to bring:

    one argument done in this conversation is that all thing should be decided by local…but still we , end up to argue a building form over another, and more importantly we narrow it to some specific site, like the Marine#Cambie (cited 12 times in this post’s comments), were we advocate on one building form rather another one, and not too much how to arrive there

    So it is not too much the process which is questioned here but it’s output, and when the output is not pleasing us we question the process.

    It is by the way the sense of the letter of Ned Jacob with the UBC line principle: it has been an open house, well attended. Ned Jacob has spoke to the council on it didn’t mention the lack of public consultation at that time: One councilor, Geof Megg I believe, read him in full the UBC line principle, and ask him at each if he disagrees: Ned Jacob agreed to every single principles…but eventually feel his agreement on some principles path the way to an outcome he doesn’t want… so the process must be bad.

    Back to the Marine#Gateway:
    Note how local input is disregarded in this discussion, we believe we know better than them what his good for their neighbor:
    I have drop at the open house last week: my gut feeling is that the development is rather welcomed by the local: may be it is because they haven’t been presented by Lewis, Urbanismo or someone else alternative…

    that come back eventually to the point of “asymmetry of information” where local are more reacting to what is provided to them than taking an active stand at what could be good to them: no doubt that the much touted Charrette could help, but still the local will act with material provided to them, and because they have big asset (their home) at stake will tend to be eventually very conservative:
    Correct me if I am wrong, but in the Patrick Condon book on Charrette: I remember to saw only example of brand new neighboors, not retrofitting of an existing one (and again my feeling is that the author argue more for a building form, and suggest a process susceptible of favouring the building form he advocates).

    At the end, if we are coming back to talk about the marine drive development, and not for example the Aberdeen or New West one, it is because some place in the city have more significance that others and are used by more than the locals…

    that is where another dilemna arise, where to draw the line between the general interest and the local one?

    To finish this comment, I will cite a local reaction to Cambie corridor from

    “Clive Bottomley and his wife, who live a block off Cambie Street on 26th Avenue, attended a June 3 open house meeting to learn more about the project, and were shocked to learn about a proposed six-storey apartment building right across the lane from their single-family home. ”


    “Bottomley says he stands to lose a view of the North Shore Mountains he recently obtained by adding an extra floor to his house”

    Hope everyone see the irony of this local seeing nothing wrong at blocking the view of its south neighbor but outraged at the idea that the north neighbor can do the same to him…

    and eventually all go back down to the “view”: Does that quest for view could be eventually commending the building form in Vancouver with all its contradiction.

    You build your view at the expense of someone else, but you can also build a view : and the cited local incidentally also motivating his storey addition to “To take advantage of […] an amazing view of downtown Vancouver” (in LiveModern forum)

    It is interesting to see that people are praising a certain building form outcome, but fighting it at the same time: how to conciliate those viewpoints?

  • So Michael: Since Lewis brought up Nanaimo let’s talk sprawl as far as the eye can see north and south because that is what indiscriminate land-lift will do on the Cambie Line. Yunno land-lift in one area spells down-draft in another.

    Sin embargo, Nan has not been idle . . .

    1. 1998 Plan Nanaimo, an enlightened plan to contain development in selected villages . . .

    2. 2004 A citizen’s charrette, led by Lewis N. Villegas, B.Arch, urbanist, to define downtown.

    3. My own contribution

    4. The 2008 redefinition of the Urban containment boundary

    5. Two design charrettes to define citizen’s input north as south of downtown.

    6. A downtown urban design study by architect Franc d’ Ambrosio.

    7. A vital component of downtown being replaced while ignoring ‘6’, with more of the same suburban type shopping mall and suburban type parking DOWNTOWN!

    Items 1-6 all scotched, while ‘7’ coming on “nicely“.

    Some two or three years ago an ex-councilor and perennial local committee man was soliloquizing to me on how prosperous the city would become if all the area south of downtown were up-zoned: that was before the termland-lift had been coined but that is what he mean..

    Thus in the Nanaimo instance land-lift has certainly occurred in the sprawl, while down-draft has left the centre almost a wasteland.

    To wit, recently, within the last year two very large (for Nan) developments were approved: ‘Sandstone’ comprising 300,000 sq. ft. of commercial and 4,000 DU’s and ‘Cable Bay’ Ocean view golf and recreation resort comprising somewhat less but including five acre lots fronting the famous Dodds Narrows. (so far little has materialized in either.)

    Now while all this is going on Nanaimo has 25% households on some form of government assistance (excluding OAP’ers) and 150,000 sq. ft. of vacant commercial property.

    Mind as of last count only 4.9% unemployment . . . comprising well underpaid bar-istas and over paid civic employees. There are three major employers in town; NRGH, Harmac (surviving on tax forgiveness) and the City in this once thriving lumber, mining and logging centre. Timber licenses are being converted into more sprawl and lumber jobs are being off-shored daily.

    Long gone are the well-paid high-end jobs and no one has the vision, courage or gumption to create a replacement

    . . . and in that regard Vancouver and Nanaimo have a lot in common.

    PS . . . as for Clive B protecting his view . . . his single home is nothing compared, view-obstruction-wise, to the string upon string of anonymous developer driven mindless six storey stucco box sprawl.

    I’m on Clive’s side . . .

    What was that? Huh! Failed City. Huh!

  • Bill McCreery

    This has been a wide ranging & esoteric conversation. I’ve just gone back to the top to see that FB originally was writing about neighbourhood reaction to the various developments around the City, etc. Much of the back & forth above actually is linked to this important concern, although one might wonder. From the opinions of neighbours to regional development, many of these contributions are connected to the original theme.

    It seems to me when you boil it down we are talking about what is the right new form of urban development in a given community? It does come down to what the neighbours will accept [ultimately they vote every 3 years] & the process by which the decisions are made which will affect them. The needs / aspirations of the City as a whole also play a role in this process.

    Citygate is a good example of the possibility of the two together. Although there are people in the Marpole community on both sides of this issue @ this point, the complex is not community based, it is a City wide, even regionally scaled insertion. An important question is, is a regional scaled node appropriate here? Is it needed here? Can the transit & traffic systems handle such additional loads? What does it do for the local neighbourhood? What will the positive & negative impacts on the local community be? What are the positive & negative benefits for the City & region if this kind of high density is realized here?

    The planning process has not exactly been a model for demonstrating logical thought progression. We are presented with a massive development proposal @ arguably one of the most significant sites on the Cambie Corridor half way through the process, in part because another ill-thought through initiative, the STIR programme has a deadline. My questions above have not been asked publicly by & large & the public is being effectively engaged after the fact & being fed rationed information.

    I have spoken to 2 CoV planners & the City has not done an assessment of what the effect of this scale of development will have on the Canada Line. One wonders what they have done with respect to the vehicular impacts.

    One wonders whether the Marpole neighbour referred to above might still like the idea of living in the shadow of a project such as Gateway if he actually saw a model of this 350′ proposal adjacent to his 20′ high house [unless of course his motivation was his own possible financial gain].

    Again, another bottom line, the process is flawed, there is no one on charge who knows what they’re doing & so far this has resulted in a premature proposal of very dubious validity.

  • @ Bill . . . “Again, another bottom line, the process is flawed, there is no one on charge who knows what they’re doing & so far this has resulted in a premature proposal of very dubious validity.

    Dubious validity, Bill, because Clive Bottomley, in good faith, added another storey to his house, at a cost of 1/2 m, for a view adding land value, LAND LIFT, only to be aced by a land lift from another direction: ergo he is caught in down draft not of his making.

    . . . the process is flawed . . .


  • Lewis N. Villegas

    Andrea C, I’m glad you decided to include your comments. I made a mistake. I should have said “what a wonderful plat”—I was not there long enough to get a read on the community.

    Do the worst tyrants make the best towns?. I suspect that ultimately the best towns are made over time, and political factions enter and exit the revolving door. That’s why I don’t think it is one or another political stripe that will get Vancouver’s urbanism right. Ultimately the city we build is the physical externality of a forged consensus. The places that I admire most in Italy, for example, have typically been sites for savage executions.

    Charlottetown suffers from isolation. The drive in is one long trek through a rolling country side. Outside the historic limits of the town, the urbanism is the worst sort of strip variety. There is not enough population to support transit. Just on the edge of downtown there is a shopping mall that is just like malls all over the country. There is a 1970 vintage art gallery that bespeaks modernism at is worse, though no doubt fashionable in its day. There is a big hotel on the waterfront that turns its back on everything. In fact, the heritage strategy seems to have been to draw a boundary at Water Street, and then allow development to take place in the area that was once beyond the shore. A Victorian era shopping street on the west side is now an overly wide swath of asphalt. Echoing your comments that everyone drives, parking must dominate everything. The train station is abandoned. There would appear to be a clear east-west social split in the community. Even Confederation Hall is a pale iteration of the Palladian model it seems to be following.

    However, historic Charlottetown is 2 pedestrian sheds—or two quartiers—large. The entire old town was very reachable by foot, and many of the pedestrians I saw were locals. On the north-south streets, the north vistas are all terminated due to the fact that the old grid is not extended past town boundaries. This creates a special quality of place. There are two squares in each quartier, combining for a four-square pattern that is immediately recognizable (the provincial government taking over one, however, is a blight). Great George Street, comes up the middle of the two quartiers, ending at Confederation House. It is 1,100 feet long. This is the same measurement as the central axis of the Columbian Exhibition in Chicago design by Olmstead and Burnham. The East façade of the Louvre is 1,100 feet from Ponte Neuf. While I have yet to determine the significance of this bit of urban trivia, a building 1,1000 feet away reads as being close enough to walk to. Trivia or not, Charlottetown is replete with concrete elements in urbanism that resonate with the human experience of place.

    As I mentioned to MB… a group of small houses on small lots, just one block from Hillsborough Square (the municipality calls it “Hillsborough Park”) on the eastern side of town caught my eye. Hensley Street is barely 26’ wide and one block long. The buildings that terminate the street end vistas are barely 440’ apart. It is a little bit like a Canadian version of Urbanismo’s favelas. You can see into the living rooms, and you can see into the back yards. The fences line up with the house fronts, and the doors open into the street. In fact, all of Hensley Street would appear to be the result of infill buildings (800 s.f. bungalows), built in the back of the lots fronting the paralleling streets. At what I presume would be an affordable price—for the same reasons MB gives, these lots don’t seem to be much more than 1600 s.f.—this seemed like very good housing. Amenities were nearby. Shopping was a walking distance away. The siting of the houses in relation to each other, and the street, carve out gardens and private patios.

    Some of what I will measure in the two quartiers of Charlottetown is the overall density, block pattern, building types, and sequence of squares and public spaces. What I hope to learn is something about how urban elements combine to deliver overall quality.

    While it is difficult to see how a place like Charlottetown can survive on just tourism and conventions, it is equally clear that without its history it would be far worst off.

  • Lewis N. Villegas

    I’m reposting adding spaces between the paragraphs…

    [Lewis] “What do you mean by the land lift model of tower and podium? When I talk about ‘land lift’ I am talking about an economics issue, not a building form. More specifically, I understand land lift to be the increase in land value when a rezoning occurs, regardless of the form of development.”

    Michael, what you mean by “land lift” is the change in land value due to up-zoning. We’re talking “raising density and mixing uses.” Perhaps “tower type of land lift” would have been better pharsing.

    However, when we rezone from single family to towers, I want to highlight the fact that we are talking about an extreme form of lift. Bill McCreery’s point is well taken, that towers and high-rise along Cambie will shadow and overlook neighbouring single family homes.

    I am less willing to separate the economics from the building building type—but, that is different from “building form”. Consider that the point that has been missed in the “tower debate” is that we can build high-density as either human-scale, or tower product. I know Councils that have gone after towers with the economics (i.e. dollar signs) tattooed to their eyeballs. I can provide a detailed example if needed.

    We should have towers zones (the downtown) and non-tower zones (everywhere else in Vancouver). My feeling here is not just that we will get a better city, but that we will avoid some of the pitfalls associated with hyper urbanism.

    On the one hand, the towers are a very specialized product that can only be handled by a select few developers, designers, builders, and financiers. The human-scale product has been around for centuries, and requires no specialized effort. Neighbourhood developers, small design firms, local builders and credit unions can get into the action. Not only do we achieve higher quality in the urban space, but I believe we hedge against abuses in our democratic system by choosing a more level playing field.

    On the other hand, I worry about raising the cost of land to the point that a family cannot afford a back yard (Urbie’s issue). In Canada there is enough land and wealth to make it so that Canadians can avoid raising families in apartments. If they chose to to live in a tower, that’s one thing. But, if the condo is the only choice around, then that’s another. As I stated earlier, if this model of community is triggered (and we are well on the way now), then I believe the Fraser Valley will go the way of L.A. We will build an Orange County, a Venice Beach, a Santa Monica, and a freeway system to rival all Canadian cities.

    To the other issue:

    “The issue is that the city seeks to capture about 70% of the ‘lift’ in community amenities or cash. While some may be happy to see the city sharing in these gains, my concern is that this approach distorts the planning process, and ultimately is not in anyone’s interest. Instead, the city should be seeking a payment to offset the cost of amenities, regardless of whether the land value goes up…..or down… Let’s not forget the song by Blood Sweat and Tears…..what goes up, must come down…”

    That still leaves 30% profit.

    I made a long description of the reinvention of Paris after 1855 to set the back ground for what follows… Sixty six years after the revolution, the Paris properties that had been confiscated from the Church and from the Crown must have fallen back into private ownership. As I understand it the Haussmann regime expropriated the land for each of the three “reseau”—network plans—they completed, when entire sections of the city were re-planned, re-zoned, and re-serviced. After the improvements were in place, the expropriated land was sold by the Haussmann regime at a profit.

    In this model the land owner gets market value at rates before up-zoning, the central authority provides all the amenities, and captures the entire land lift.

    Right up to the Franco-Prussian War the project was self-financing, and it is difficult to say whether or not the dispossessed landowners were complaining. In “Space, Time and Architecture” Gideon describes a contemporary Parisian explaining how he had come about his newly found riches, “I was expropriated by M. Haussmann”.

    There are several ways of going about this business. The question that I still have on the chess board is: what approach provides the best hedge against “irrational exuberance” in the Vancouver real estate market?

    After all, if we are seeking density, livability, and reductions in automobile use, we don’t have to build higher than 3.5 stories above the street. Here, we have a Stale Mate between the tower and the human-scale product.

    However, if we are seeking to keep our land values stable, maybe the answer is that we should not build higher than 3.5 stories above the street. That’s Check Mate on towers outside very clearly defined, and geographically determined boundaries like our downtown.

  • Lewis, lest we become too enamoured of Haussmman . . . “Haussmann’s plans, with their radical redevelopment, coincided with the 1860s – a time of intense political activity in Paris. Many Parisians were troubled by the destruction of “old roots”. Historian Robert Herbert says that “the impressionist movement depicted this loss of connection in such paintings as Manet’s Bar at Folies.” The subject of the painting is talking to a man, seen in the mirror behind her, but seems unengaged. According to Herbert, this is a symptom of living in Paris at this time: the citizens became detached from one another. “The continuous destruction of physical Paris led to a destruction of social Paris as well.

    Many Parisians were troubled by the destruction of “old roots”.”/I> ¡Yo tambien!

    The wide Imperial boulevards led to the railway stations, not for your convenience while holidaying, but to move troops from the countryside when the folks get too obstreperous.

    Imperial grandiosity does not work in a peaceful prosperous city!

  • Lewis N. Villegas

    Urbie, as I indicated in my long background review of the Haussmann project in Paris, my sense is that the idea that constructing transportation infrastructure (i.e. the boulevards) was at its core an act of “imperialist oppression” has to be questioned. It has the marks of revisionist history. The more historically accurate view might contrast paris of the 1855-1869 period to the NYC Commissioners Plan of 1811. Then, we might draw the simple conclusion that between Paris and Manhattan, it is the former that represents the more modern plan.

  • CM

    “Hope everyone see the irony of this local seeing nothing wrong at blocking the view of its south neighbor but outraged at the idea that the north neighbor can do the same to him…”

    The renovation added 1 storey and brought the house to a 2.5 storey house, the max allowed in this area. All kinds of houses in the area are 2.5 stories. All manner of rules in place by the city to ensure that the renovation does not adversely affect the neighbours and that their properties and lifestyles are protected. If the neighbour directly to the north wants to build a house go ahead. It can only be 2.5 stories though…the city won’t let you build taller. These rules are in place to protect surrounding neighbours.