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Transit-oriented development: Why it doesn’t happen in spite of best intentions

June 1st, 2011 · 40 Comments

The big planning talk these days is all about how to create density around transit, as transportation planning and land-use planning continue to merge with each other. But what happens in the real world often doesn’t match that ideal.

Here in Vancouver, you can see very busy transit stations with not much around them and other transit stations in what appears to be the middle of nowhere and they’ve got towers sprouting all around.

So why doesn’t density automatically happen around transit stations? This is what people told me.

Categories: Uncategorized

  • Sean

    Broadway/Commercial station is already over capacity, I think it’s probably the last place in the Skytrain system that you’d want to add passengers. In fact one of the big problems with adding density around any station in Vancouver is that the trains are already running at capacity and boarding an inbound train during the rush hour is an exercise in frustration.

  • Frances Bula

    @Sean. Very astute of you. That’s actually another reason that the planners gave me, which got squeezed out of the story. I hadn’t thought of that before researching this, just assumed all these years that, if there were lots of people there, would be a good place to put in more offices, etc.

  • Ron

    Definitely NIMBYs.
    Rumour around the Holy Name Church is that a developer is assembling 12+ properties along the newly up-zoned Cambie St. – buying up single family houses at $2.5 million each.

  • Joseph Jones

    “… a grocery store owner uninterested …”

    in much beyond retreating to fewer choice drive-to locations while encumbering abandoned sites with no-competition covenants. And in one current redevelopment scenario, flatly disregarding the surrounding community.

    In the long run, this type of behavior could generate a boycott campaign?

  • I highly recommend the book “Underground to Everywhere”, a look at the history of the London Underground and the evolution of the current transit infrastructure. It is, for much of history, a tale of woe, filled with failed ventures, competing companies, and mismanagement under government-led authorities. But there are bright spots.

    Michael Geller has raised the idea of the transit authority buying up land in underutilized parts of the surrounding geography, then building transit to this land at relatively low cost. They then either sell the land to developers or develop it themselves. The “build it and they will come” model worked: the transit companies that undertook this business model were the most successful of all the ventures cited in the book. Harking back to a previous discussion on housing, though, is disheartening, since I don’t know if there is much value in buying land these days. Maybe in 5 years Translink can keep a land purchase reserve and keep its proverbial powder dry. Just in case.

    There are many lessons embedded in the book, tales of woe that are particularly apropos for Vancouver, including highlighting a disastrous cut and cover project in the mid-1800s that went so poorly and was so disruptive it was never used again. All subsequent lines were either at-grade or bored. Put in the context of the Cambie Line fiasco, it’s tragic that Vancouver repeated similar mistakes made 150 years ago.

    There are also some great indications of nostalgia that Vancouver’s transit can invoke, including art commissions and provocative marketing campaigns that will make good infill in a subsequent transit museum.

  • Richard

    I’m not so sure that this is really a big issue. There are plenty of stations that have and are experiencing a lot of development around them. It is actually probably better that development is concentrated around some of the stations rather than spread out across all of them. This allows the stations with the development to have a critical mass of shops, housing and businesses to create a walking oriented community where people don’t have to drive or take transit for many of their trips.

    We are certainly doing better with TOD than many other cities.

  • Bill Lee

    Course the Safeway doesnt’ want transit people. They don’t buy the enormous quantities of stuffs that drivers to when visit thet enourmous open-air parking lot.

    One of the big problems with that intersection is banks on all corners..
    Oh the 99 stop shops used to be the Scotia bank which moved across the street to the ex-Toban pharmacy.
    But the CIBC doesn’t need to be there. It should never have left their 100 year old First and Commercial location.
    And the Bank of Montreal on the third corner is a moster that kills retail trade. And they had a big oriental restaurant on the second floor that lasted 2 years and has been mostly empty ever since. There was a nice collection of shops, my fish store, my photgrapher along that strip with nice 5 metre frontages before the BMO behmoth.crushed.them.

    No bank should be wider on the street than 4 metres. All they need is a line of tellers and the back office on the second floor.
    See Kerrisdale for the toxic effect of banks, leavend a bit by bank and trust mergers eliminted one bulding.

  • sean#1 says
    “Broadway/Commercial station is already over capacity, I think it’s probably the last place in the Skytrain system that you’d want to add passengers.”

    add office will not add pressure on the most charged direction of transit (typically Boadway-main skytrain line and 99b), but will bring some balance (reverse commute) on those segment …and it is a shame nothing like it happens in one of the most transit accessible area of the region.

  • Richard


    When (if) the Safeway redevelops, there are plans to totally redo the station to improve capacity. One option is to allow boarding from the east.

    @Bill Lee
    At Safeway prices, I doubt that people are buying huge quantities of anything. I suspect they, like many other stores in Vancouver, are wanting to sell smaller quantities of higher priced stuff. Prepared food for example. They are redeveloping their store in Marpole adding condos to the site. I expect the Commercial Broadway store will be redeveloped sooner or latter.

  • I know of Frank Pick because he was a celebrated alumni of my old school. He was also the head of the London Underground . . .
    . . . at the time of it’s greatest expansion.

    He was meticulous about its recognizable design, i.e. the familiar red white and blue roundel, among other definitive attributes.

    Among the attributes that Pick quickly recognized was London’s series of subsumes villages and traditional nodes: i.e. Hampstead-on-the-Heath a village since Edward Long Shanks and the tube stop called Bank because as you emerge onto Threadneedle Street there is the Bank of England that has been there for at least three centuries.

    Pick played to tradition villages, under and over ground, for the London Transport system is much more than the mind the gap Tube.

    There is also an extensive, integrated, surface bus and taxi system although last time I was there, my grandson and I line up (errr . . . ummm . . . the tube wasn’t working) for an hour for a taxi at Victoria station to take us to Kings Cross.

    Vancouver also has a traditional base of villages although Translink seem unaware of them. Instead it seems to be captivated by the Nintendo generation that, apparently, believes very unaffordable, disruptive expensive shiny trinkets work everywhere!

    Marine Gateway is a glaring example of capricious spot zoning so familiar to the city’s lack of a mature planning policy. This ill-conceived monstrosity is blocks away from Marpole’s traditional centre at 63rd and Granville (Pick would not have fallen for that).

    Expect more indiscriminate speculation and sprawl as Marpole takes on the North American mask of twentieth century anywhere’s ville.

    IMHO less money spent on trinkets and more on a net-work of surface emissions-free electric trams, a là Rotterdam, interconnecting pedestrian oriented villages (Thu Drive, Kerrisdale et. al.) would put the city way ahead of its current self!

  • True, it’s hard to get on a train at Broadway and Commercial during peak rush (or you have to wait a train or two). But the long waits between trains and occasional 2 car trains that show up suggest to me translink could add capacity.

    Right before the Olympics, when Translink went into “max capacity” mode, getting on at Broadway & Commercial during rush hour was no problem–and there were more riders because many road lanes had been taken over.

    There’s room for more people to live or work near that hub.

  • Bill Lee

    re: Shopping for small ready to eat items at Safeway.
    That store recieved the “benefit” of their closing of the large and busy Charles and Nanaimo Safeway, now condos and townhouses in the small Charles Street Village. And the leaving of the First and Renfrew (remember the Kirkhoff Construction fuss and Hastings library un-move?) shopping mall. Neighbours petitioned for another food store, but the usual covenants were in place. But they got one, not what they expectdd, but a T&T chinese oriented food store (now owned by Loblaws, when President foods wanted to repatriate their money) with prices about 10 to 30 percent more in the produce section.
    A friend who shopped at that Safeway at Broadway and Commercial, not their regular store, happened to be in the Ambleside village and found that the rich of West Vancouver were paying lower prices at the same Safeway chain there.

    No there there. Yes, Marine Gateway will by another infamous Tyson’s Corner near Washington, D.C. a place that didn’t exist before and is hard to get to without driving.
    And who is to say that Richmond won’t counter all the southside retail development as Fabula showed us in the recent story of Richmond light industrial tax relief?

  • Max

    @Bill Lee and others

    Safeway stores seem to monopolize areas where big box stores such as the Superstore can’t locate.

    In Kits, I have two Safeways within 4 blocks of either direction of me. I do find them overpriced, but when that is all you have to choose from as a major shop chain, then that is what people use.

    I see a No Frills has opened at Cambie and Broadway, which is an offshoot of the Superstore. From time to time I head to the one at 4th and Alma. It is good to open up competition and stop monopolies that can charge what they like. Especially in areas where there are low income families and seniors.

  • Ternes

    Co-sign 100% limiting banks to 4 metre maximum storefronts, also not allowed to be on corners. I can think of so many places in Vancouver killed by giant banks in prime streetfront locations. Screw banks, really.

  • Sean

    @voony #8
    Interesting idea about adding employment instead of residences to Broadway/Commercial. But I’m not sure I’m convinced that “counterflow” would lessen the impact because the commuter traffic in and between the stations is already going in multiple directions.

    @Richard #9
    I’m aware of the plans to expand the station, but that won’t help (and could potentially exacerbate) the crowding on the trains themselves.

    @Wendy #11
    My experience of transit during the Olympics was that it was rush-hour-level crowds basically all day long.

    Carrying capacity certainly does need to be increased. But (as with highway construction), increased capacity will attract more riders, and ultimately will do little to relieve congestion. Broadway/Commercial is always going to be one of the busiest (if not THE busiest) station on the Expo line because of its strategic location.

  • MB

    I believe one of the big reasons why Broadway x Commercial has had weak market development to date is that it is mostly a major transit transfer point, not a destination in itself.

    That could change with a potential Millennium Line extension westward, at which point Broadway Station would become even more of a major hub, and the pressure to develop the Safeway would build up.

    When I was in the private sector I worked on a commercial retail proposal for this station. It was a pretty typical corporate tower response, but there was one delightful feature: A pedestrian plaza on a large deck over the Grandview Cut with public art, notably a computer-controlled fountain under the curved guideway with spray jets timed to the trains.

    What killed the project wasn’t the neighbourhood protest (though that was significant) but the Engineering Dept objection to decking over that portion of the Cut with a pedestrian plaza. They had plans for a four-lane “truck freeway” in the Cut at that time and they thought hazardous waste and flammable materials moving in trucks under the deck would create an untenable fire hazard scenario. This was before the Millennium Line was conceived.

    My understanding is that the SkyTrain system is runnnig about 40% under capacity because of a shortage of rolling stock. Moreover, the station platforms at 80m are too short for the six and eight car trains of the future.

  • gmgw

    Sounds like a very interesting book, and not only because we might be paying our first visit to London this fall. Naturally, VPL doesn’t have a copy in its catalogue…

  • The Evergreen Line:

    Why is this very expensive technology causing so much grief?

    Where does it go?

    Where does it come from?

    I can see the amenity for some Douglas college students but routing from one shopping mall to another seems pointless.

    A fifth under, two fifth ground level and two fifth over: the latter at the major malls where the family does its weekly shop: of necessity, bags of groceries etc., are way to heavy and cumbersome to be carried, up and down stairs.

    An avoidable hassle for sure to say nothing of the environmental intrusion on existing and potential neighbourhoods.

    As for commuters, the car will get you home quicker: no way will this line reduce road traffic!

    In Frances’ G&M article she makes the collective mayors sound like they want to fumble this out of existence and my advice to them would be, YES, and don’t let up ’til its history.

    Nostalgia is not my thing. But back in the early fifties, the interurban clickety-clack trundled from downtown, up and along the Arbutus cut, over the Marpole swing bridge, all the way to Steveston: the line must have been three time the length of this shiny trinket’s and a fraction of the cost.

    But it did the job far better.

  • Bill Lee

    @GMGW, re: Underground to Everywhere; AMICUS No. 26426311 lists it at SFU and UBC, so a visit to VPL’s ILL will have it delivered to your local branch.
    NAME(S):*Halliday, Stephen
    London Transport Museum
    TITLE(S): Underground to everywhere : London’s underground railway in the life of the capital / Stephen Halliday
    PUBLISHER: Thrupp, Stroud, Gloucestershire : Sutton, 2001.
    DESCRIPTION: xvii, 230 p., [8] p. of plates : ill. (some col.), col. maps ; 25 cm.
    NOTES: Published in association with the London Transport Museum.
    Includes bibliographical references (p. [221]-225) and index.
    NUMBERS: LCCN: 2003464886
    ISBN: 075092585X
    SUBJECTS: London Underground Limited
    London Underground Limited–History
    Subway stations–England–London

  • Bill Lee

    @Max // Jun 2, 2011 at 9:44 am #13

    But that Safeway on Broadway at Commercial is on the few without a liquor store on or near the lot.
    This was a big consideration with the Marpole redevelopment.
    Safeway has about 30 percent of the grocery market. Superstore, Save-on have the other 30 percent each according to most reports, leaving a very small part for other grocery stores.
    I remember when Produce City was across from the Safeway on Broadway at MacDonald in Kits and sucked the shoppers out of overpriced produce area.

  • MB

    I miss Produce City! I think there is a role for such medium-sized family markets on our arterials where the larger international corporate supermarkets won’t tread.

  • Richard

    @Bill Lee

    You’ve got to be kidding. Marine Gateway will hardly be a Tyson’s Corner. It is on a rapid transit line and on top of a major bus loop. It will not be surrounded by acres of parking lots and freeways like Tyson’s Corner. It is also well within walking distance of many homes.

    @Roger Kemble
    Marine Gateway is over 2km from Granville and 63, well out of reasonable walking distance. Sure, it may compete for customers who drive but even then, for many it will be a shorter drive. Given that it is a major transit station, it is a logical choice for a shopping area that really doesn’t compete with Granville St in Marpole.

  • Gentle Bossa Nova

    You’re just talkin’ to the wrong people, Francis. There is a “Density Fallacy” out there that says that “You have to build hi-rise if you want to get hi-density”.

    It’s not true and it is not “sustainable”. Why are we dumbing down the discussion to just high-density and high-rise? Shouldn’t we be thinking about “good urbanism” instead?

    Toronto… for goodness sake! Is that where we are going to go to see good urbanism? Or is that where we are going to go to see the Canadian version of the American ideal of “private luxury and public squalor”?

    The planners may be wanting to “create density around transit”, but these are the same folks that told us that cities are “organic”. Shouldn’t density just “follow” transit at the cell level, more or less driven by natural selection? Or are there more capital-driven precesses about?

    The cities we love have been carefully managed (we should say “designed” but I don’t think we are there yet).

    What passes for planning in our city—counting floors like at that tower that somehow magically appeared in the Mount Pleasant Plan—has the dirty political fingerprints all over it.

    Throw the bums out!

    On the one hand, we just have to keep making our point at the polls. On the other, we have to agitate for campaign funding reform.

    Campaign funding reform and transit oriented planning… who would’ave thunk it??

  • gmgw

    @Bill Lee #19:
    Thanx Bill. It irks me that VPL wouldn’t have a copy of the book, but if what I hear is true, we’re all going to be increasingly dependent on the academic libraries for anything more challenging than this week’s bestseller list. My contact tells me that the word has gone out from library management that VPL’s collection has skewed too heavily in favour of the academic– yeah, right; like it ever really did– and “dumb the collection down” is now the new operative phrase (probably not phrased exactly like that). The ongoing conversion of the library’s holdings to RFID tags means that VPL is planning to trash an enormous number of books that are considered, through no fault of their own, to be marginal for whatever reason– older, too “academic”, poor circulation numbers, et. al.– and thus undeserving of the new technology. In a similar spirit, VPL recently quietly disposed of 40% of its serial holdings, including many irreplaceable arts, literary and technical journals, some going back to the 19th century– all of which got recycled with even going into the booksale. The fact that there are many of us who greatly esteem many of these materials and/or value our access to them never enters the flinty little brains of the number-crunchers and techies that run libraries nowadays. (Hey, Frances, how come you never write about any of this stuff?? Your tax dollars go to support these goings-on, y’know… in what’s supposed to be the library of reference for the whole province.)

    Well, whatever happens, the next library booksale should be a doozy– assuming all those newly redundant books don’t simply get tossed into the nearest dumpster.

  • The Rail for the Valley overseas correspondent has an independent view on our local TOD debate.

    Could it be, that after 30 years, we have built rapid transit for the wrong reasons and using the wrong transit mode?

  • Richard

    @Gentle Bossa Nova

    Well, the other way is to replace all single family housing with 3 to 4 story buildings. I think the better solution are nodes of tall buildings around transit and leave a fair amount of the single family housing. The best of both worlds.

    Remember, we are not building a city from scratch.


  • @ Richard

    Just about every transit expert from outside Vancouver that I have talked to has said yes.


  • Joe Just Joe

    Ah yes Zwei’s unnamed transit experts speak again. It’s a shame they are so scared of the Skytrain lobby that they won’t come public.

    Broadway is pretty dense even though it doesn’t appear so. If measured in people per hectare we’ll see that it stacks up quite nicely with other neighbourhoods that appear denser.
    Rest assured that the COV is in the process of densifying the remaining M/E line stations.

  • Gassy Jack’s Ghost

    “Well, the other way is to replace all single family housing with 3 to 4 story buildings.”

    No, Richard, not “all”, just some within a 5 minute walking distance of the transit stop. Row housing, too. I think GB has a much broader view of city building than your oversimplistic, “let’s cram as much density as possible into towers on the closest blocks”. This may sound like “the best of both worlds”, until you factor in urban design, human scale, traffic, parking, public space, safety, defensible space, public amenities, etc. etc.. You know, all the things that make for a highly liveable neighbourhood centre. 23 Metrotowns across Vancouver is hardly a better world, but that’s where we are heading with your type of thinking.

    And what about the affordability of these neighbourhoods? It only takes one tower proposal per neighbourhood to spark speculation and tax assessment increases.

    If we can build 4 times as much Olympic Tram-style LRT servicing a huge portion of the central city, compared to what it will cost to build a single rapid transit line from Commercial to UBC, that’s NOT a better option?

  • Richard

    @Gassy Jack’s Ghost

    Actually, it is much better option in terms of traffic and parking. Less parking is required as more people chose to not own cars because they can walk, use public transit, cycle or use shared cars. Traffic is reduced as well. As far as urban design goes, it is the level of detail at the street level that defines human scale, not the height of the buildings. In many instances, it is hard to tell at street level if the building is 4 or 40 stories tall. Anyway, 4 stories is around 8 times the height of the average person so to call that “human scale” doesn’t make any sense.

    It is rather disingenuous to take one of the worst examples of high density development in the Lower Mainland and state that all high density will be like that. There are many neighbourhoods with towers that are perfectly liveable; the West End, Kerrisdale, Yaletown, Coal Harbour, Newport Village in PoCo, the New West waterfront etc. It is getting the details right that is important, not how high the buildings are.

  • Richard


    Then you are talking only to those that agree with you. I have noticed that very few transportation experts agree with you on transportation blogs that you post on.

  • boohoo

    What transportation blogs are you guys referring to?

  • Bill Lee

    @gmgw // Jun 3, 2011 at 2:01 am #24

    Yes, I agree with you about VPL.
    There was a cry when they decimated (cinqademia?) the art department picture files and stopped indexing the local newspapers. “You can get it all on the
    It’s going to get worse under nutty vegan Sandra Singh, to VPL by way of Texas , Port Moody libraries. And don’t forget that CBC’s Joan Anderson, head of the library board was a librarian.
    You don’t fail pandering, and they will pander.
    There hasn’t been a good librarian since Aileen Tufts.

  • Everyman

    Its also time Vancouver started allowing subdividing of the large suburban sized lots away from arterials in South Vancouver. That way they can preserve single family housing in those areas that want it but make better use of the land. Richmond is doing it on many streets.

  • Gassy Jack’s Ghost

    Richard, you think it’s hard to tell whether a building is 4 storeys or 40 when you’re on the street? Really?

    Do you think it’s hard to tell from across the street? Or, say, from a house that’s 2, 5 or 10 blocks away?

    You think human scale is defined by architectural details, rather than aspect ratio?

    You think a tower with 100 parking stalls creates less car use and traffic than a building with 10 stalls?

    You think the West End, Yaletown and Coal Harbour are neighbourhoods of single-family dwellings?

    Meanwhile, you make a disingenuous Chicken Little statement suggesting single-family houses across the city will all have to be ripped down if we attempt human-scaled density near transit stops?

    I have yet to see a coherent argument for the sustainability and liveability of Toronto-style TOD towers that doesn’t fall apart as soon as you start looking beyond the reductionist “density fallacy”, and your arguments are no exception.

    If we are genuinely serious about sustainable development and preserving the liveability of Vancouver’s single family neighbourhoods, then we need to keep looking at other options, not blindly dismiss them. Or should we just roll over and accept that more King Edward Villages, Gateways, and Rize towers will be blighting our single family neighbourhoods in the future?

    Makes me wonder, Richard, what’s your true agenda? The creation of wealth for a few, or the creation of a sustainable city?

  • Richard

    @Gassy Jack’s Ghost

    How about not resorting to personal attacks. It is a sure sign that you don’t have much of an argument.

    I was not implying that West End, Yaletown and Coal Harbour are neighbourhoods of single-family dwellings. Obviously they are not. They are more livable and sustainable than single family neighbourhoods though.

  • Gentle Bossa Nova

    “Well, the other way is to replace all single family housing with 3 to 4 story buildings. I think the better solution are nodes of tall buildings around transit and leave a fair amount of the single family housing. The best of both worlds.”

    Richard 26

    Most people (and ghosts) are talking (rattling chains) about putting 3.5 storey buildings on the arterials through incremental intensification. That leaves the single family neighbourhoods intact. But it providers the means to revitalize the arterials.

    Look more closely, Richard. Living on the arterials is t-o-x-i-c. So, an approach that adds transit, removes cars, lessens toxicity, and adds density… well, that could be good.

    But there is another problem with the “nodes of tall buildings” approach. It is a BIG business only proposal. Incremental 3.5 storey buildings can be built by either big firms or small firms. There are important considerations for the integrity of our political system in those details that we should not overlook.

    “As far as urban design goes, it is the level of detail at the street level that defines human scale, not the height of the buildings.In many instances, it is hard to tell at street level if the building is 4 or 40 stories tall. Anyway…”

    Richard 30

    Oooouch! Anyway, let’s talk about human scale in urbanism. The pedestrian shed or quartier is a “measure of human scale in urbanism”. The notion that the height of the fronting buildings should be set in proportion to the width of the fronting street—and that this “aspect ratio” should vary according to latitude or location on the globe—is a measure of human scale in urbanism. The fact that we walk at 3 mph, but drive at 30 mph, and that speed alters our consciousness and changes our values is a measure of human scale in urbanism.

    Nothing personal. I’m happy to use France’s space to work things out.

  • @Sean 1.

    You’re somewhat right about the Drive and Broadway being the last smart place to add density, but there is another. I have been questioning for more than 8 months why the City is hell bent to add 1200 residential units and counting, as well as a 3/4 sized Oakridge Shopping Centre + 226,000 SF off office space to an already traffic congested intersection, and to a Canada Line Station where the trains which arrive from Richmond at rush hour are already at capacity.

    Neither the City nor Translink have done the necessary calculations to determine the amount of density each Canada Line station can handle. I suspect that is the case on the M and E lines as well. Essentially, because this basic planning information is not available, the planners and politicians are flying blind. This seat of the pants methodology is an extremely irresponsible way to plan a sustainable city wouldn’t you think?

    Translink says: ‘trust us, we can more than double the capacity of the CL’ (They can’t with M/E, and what will happen when the Evergreen links in???). I have to say my arithmetic isn’t quite so optimistic. In addition, there will be significant additional ridership from south of the Fraser, much of it coming sooner than later based on the construction cranes you can count just in Richmond.

    What will the impact be when the 33rd and 57th stations are added? What means will the added prospective transit users use to get to and from the forthcoming Little Mountain, RCMP lands, bus barns, 9 towers approved at Oakridge and counting (incidentally a logical place to add density), and the planned health centre at 57th and Cambie projects?

    I said “somewhat right” above because the Drive and Broadway are a depressing urban mess. It desperately needs to be cleaned up so it will become more cohesive, both functionally and in terms of built form. By this it is not necessary for City politicians and planners to once more fly into fits of ‘more density because density is good’ exercises. This is another place where some reasoned, low scale built form makes sense, which will improve the quality of life and safety of this neighbourhood.

    It’s not happening there so far, and unfortunately for Vancouver and for us, not in many other places along transit routes either.

    Here’s where Gentle Bossa Nova and Patrick Condons’ ideas start to make sense.

  • I am a bit set a back by the Malthusian views expressed above…

    That is especially true of people who in the first place have expressed view such as “demand is not justifying a subway”, and now express view “subway can’t absorb any new demand”

    If the Canada line train are at capacity: it is because we have listen too much of them in the firs place…it is time to stop to listen those Malthusian.

    In true, the Canada line is nowhere near capacity…what dilemna the region has is to make full use of the existing infrastructure, by adding train on it, or to build billions $ of new infrastructure toward virgin green acres and farm land to house the population increase.

    People expressing the view that urban form consisting predominantly of ranchers sitting on 8000 sq ft lot in immediate proximity of a subway station is perfectly right (and additionally explaining that whether people want to be able to afford housing, they can go elsewhere because there is no more room for them here) are people who have no place at City council: that is my opinion.

  • Michelle, we’ve been completing a look-see study of the urbanism in the historic neighbourhoods in our city and what stands out is not the gentrification, the poverty, or the lack of a “middle ground”.

    What jumps out at us that Vancouver’s Historic Quartiers are as walkable as Rome, Sevilla, Valencia—and many other places that were built before the automobile—but that we are not taking that into account. In other words, we don’t understand the urbanism of the DTES. Never have and never will unless we change paradigm.

    Why is that important? I’m beginning to suspect that we can’t grow an urban culture in a petri dish. We have to evolve it right on site, one neighbourhood and one quartier. The young whipper-snappers and the old-hoots all have to find common ground on the simple, concrete, and wholly ignored facts of urban places.

    Here’s an example. We heard a lot of talk about the “Freeway Fight” and how a freeway was stopped from being constructed wiping out Strathcona before turning right and destroying Carrall and on to the waterfront. But, we heard no narrative about the fact that the cars came anyway.

    Instead of being put on a freeway they were put on Powell, Cordova, Hastinsgs, Prior/Venables and First/Terminal. The numbers on those streets today are staggering. Something like 130,000 vehicles per day ride on those streets driving past what is in most cases severely affected single family residential homes (we checked Vanmap where we found 2006 vehicular counts).

    A process known as “disinvestment” was also underway at this same time. The banks didn’t lend home mortgages in the “inner city”—lands slated for freeway construction and more—from the 1950’s, right through the 60’s and 70’s. Major developers also stayed away. There was no “investment” save for the freeway project that wasn’t.

    Instead vast tracts of urban neighbourhoods were re-zoned “industrial” and as a direct consequence we got the cheap one and two storey concrete block warehouse buildings we see there today. Some blocks clung to life. Thus, we have Strathcona, Vernon Drive, and a sprinkling of houses here and there.

    Beginning in the 1970’s government policy located in this place, and in great concentrations, the most at-risk segment of our population. Social housing was built in the “industrial zones” among warehouses and chained off yards. No neighbourhood infrastructure. No urban design to support social functioning, and replace the stuff that had been there but was stripped away.

    I still can’t understand why. Walking around today in the Oppenheimer district (on Cordova and on Powell) what I see are poorly executed social housing schemes surrounded by warehouses. Except for the Sunrise Market, Oppenheimer Park, and a few other places, there is nowhere to go and nothing to do. Oh, but there is the day-long buzz of high traffic volumes at very high speeds. Pedestrian-automobile incidents in this area I am told are the highest in our city.

    That’s why, Michelle, I feel that it is important to be knowledgeable about these other places. Better go and study them and absorb their lessons even if it is a Dickens trying to figure out how to apply them here. And not just as a tourist. Go, photograph, sketch, measure, listen to the locals and think, “how do I use this back home?”

    For example, the notion of social mix is alive and well and living in many places outside Vancouver. In our historic neighbourhoods putting a stronger middle between the Woodwards-gentrification, and the mediocre-standard social housing would go a long way to attracting the critical mass necessary to support a truly diversified neighbourhood economy. One that might cater to low, medium and high incomes in meaningful and substantial ways.

    The governments would once again play the leading role. This time, the obvious choice is LRT on Hastings, usurping 200,000 vehicle-trips per day and returning neighbourhood streets to safety and social functioning.

    [Bonjour voony!]