October 10, 2014

Civic election: Density Debate

Just a coincidence, but shortly after posting the item below, I saw Jeff Lee’s piece in the Sun:


Civic election: Increasing density — it’s a touchy subject

Vancouver needs to accommodate another 150,000 people by 2050


… whether they like it or not, those seeking election to council face difficult decisions about how to make room for an estimated 150,000 new residents over the next three decades, at least a third of those in the city’s established and leafy single-family neighbourhoods. In a city where residents are complaining openly about the rapid pace of development, the constant disruption of construction and the cosy relationships between major developers to council, the prospect of making room for more people is challenging.
Brian Jackson, the current planning director, says that friction is now likely to be a regular feature in single-family neighbourhoods. … “I think it has because all the easy choices have been made and we’re into areas now where there is community friction between accommodating the growth and the stability of our low-rise and single-family neighbourhoods,” he said. …
Vancouver has largely been developed on the basis of planner Harland Bartholomew’s 1926 and 1947 plans. Between then and the 1990s, city planners tried — and failed — a half-dozen times to draw a new city plan. In 1994, Vancouver council adopted CityPlan, a ground-up, citizen-engaged document that called for 23 separate neighbourhood plans to help guide growth over the next 20 to 40 years. But over the next decade and a half, less than half the neighbourhoods would get those plans. The city’s attempts to manage growth sputtered. Facing a sudden boom in development, particularly after the 2010 Winter Olympics, and a renewed interest by the Vision Vancouver council in nodal developments around transit corridors, the city came under increasing pressure from developers. …
Gordon Price, the director of the City Program at Simon Fraser University and a former city councillor, believes it was a mistake for the city to back off townhouse zoning in Marpole. It is a gentler form of density, he said, that can help transition neighbourhoods toward higher density along arterial streets.
“The DNA of Vancouver is subdivisions of single-family houses,” he said. “Vancouver jumped over that form of development — townhouse, row house, terrace forms — because of the electric streetcar. We could open up cheap land so we immediately went to single-family housing. We haven’t figured out how to go back and do it except along arterials.”
Price said it is also “insane” if high-traffic, high-capacity places like the Broadway SkyTrain station neighbourhood aren’t candidates for density development.
“To think you will not have density around one of the busiest transit stops in Canada, perhaps in North America, is insane. That is just crazy,” he said. “If you are going to concentrate density anywhere, you want to do it around nodal development.”
Price said there are only three ways for Vancouver to deal with the continuing influx of new residents: build new housing, ignore the demand with the result that crowding will take place, or shift it to outside city boundaries. The last two are not really palatable.
“If you don’t provide the new housing, then the people who come here will bid the existing people out of the old,” he said. “If you induce scarcity as a way of regulating growth, you put all the pressure on the existing housing stock.
“That’s what crowding is. It is just an invisible form of density increase. It will happen if you induce scarcity, and there will be lots of bad social consequences that occur.”
But Price also notes that density comes in many forms, and isn’t just highrise towers. He obtained city statistics for his Price Tags blog that show less than 15 per cent of the projects that required development permits in Vancouver in 2013 and 2014 have been for highrise towers. Of 107 projects, 53 were for residential buildings of four storeys or less, 24 for five to 12 storeys, and 14 for 13-plus floors. The remaining 14 were commercial-only developments.
Jackson said that the perception is that the most density being contemplated is in the form of highrises. Of the 150,000 people Metro Vancouver’s regional growth strategy expects will move to Vancouver by 2050, about one-third will be in the downtown area, Southeast False Creek and the new River District at the city’s southeast corner.
“In peoples’ concerns there is the anticipation that it is all going to take place in highrise development. In reality not very much is going be in highrises. It’s actually a minority,” he said.
About 30,000 people “can be accommodated in low-rise family zones, in laneway houses, basement suites and in types of infill development (such as heritage renovations).”
Another 30,000 can be fit into housing integrated into the city’s commercial zones using built forms such as five- and eight-storey mixed-use buildings along Broadway, he suggested. The key, he said, is to look for opportunities in “transit-rich, high-amenity areas.”
Up to 50,000 can be accommodated in existing or planned projects at Oakridge, Marine Gateway, Pearson lands and Little Mountain.
“It is relatively limited what we need to do to accommodate the kind of growth that is coming to Vancouver in the future,” Jackson suggested.
Full article here.

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  1. As an owner of many multi-family buildings of up to 4 stories I concur that we could do a lot more mid-rise developments, both along arterial roads as well as in clusters within certain neighborhoods. They are cheaper to build and to operate than a highrise, ideally suited for rental properties or affordable housing that we lack in Vancouver.
    If you look at cities that were very dense before the elevator was invented around 1850, say Paris, Berlin, London, Munich, Vienna .. you see essentially ONLY midrise buildings with about the same density of people per acre of land as a 20 story tower with space around it. Vancouver could do that. It does not have to look all like Metrotown, Yaletown or UBC’s Wesbrook neighborhoods with 20+ story towers as the only solution !
    With a subway along Broadway and associated densification, plus the new Jericho land being developed, Mr. Jackson makes some excellent suggestion here.

  2. Except there is a third option Gordon: don’t accept the 150,000 as a given. It is not locally created organic growth. Like those oft-decried strawberries from California, it is imported.
    Secondly, wasn’t there just an article posted on how housing prices in Vancouver had become disconnected from local wages? And that referred to condos, not single family housing. Could 150,000 new wage earners even afford to live here?

  3. During the Second World War, and in the ’60s/early 70s, scarcity of housing did indeed induce crowding, but it’s a different world now due to stratification of incomes. Regardless of the building form, desirable areas are depopulating as wealthy people (i.e. wealthier people) consolidate their control of their own turf. That’s the impact of gentrification, whether it’s in new highrise housing like Coal Harbour or heritage areas like Strathcona, Kitsilano or Grandview.

  4. I am just reading this piece for the first time in 2022. I have two thoughts about Brian Jackson, the Director of Planning in 2014:
    1. he made a public comment that speculators should stop buying houses and asssembling property along Oak, Granville and South Cambie, because multi-unit residential would never be allowed there.
    2. Shortly after that, Brian Jackson left the City of Vancouver.

  5. I find it annoying that this piece is based on the Metro Vancouver prediction that 150,000 people will move to the region over then next three decades.

    This may be true, but what about the people who will die, move away, move into retirement housing, or otherwise sell their houses? This never seems to be discussed or quantified.