March 21, 2018

Segal: Density, Design and Public Benefit

A comment under Our Looming Tower by Ralph Segal that’s worth bringing forward:
This intriguing 497 ft. high tower by Bjarke Ingels (Westbank is the developer) is a worthy demonstration of the intent of the City’s Higher Building Policy in delivering not merely outstanding architectural design at specific locations that avoid protected view corridors but further, a development that addresses an array of city planning and urban design objectives and requirements.
Included in the development (which replaced a mini-storage warehouse and vehicle repair shops) is a 98 unit rental housing component (lower podium) and soon to emerge unique, green-roofed, low scale buildings between the bridge and on/off ramps that will transform this bleak under-bridge area into an active retail/commercial hub for the neighbourhood. In addition to the rental housing, a further $13.5m CAC developer contribution will fund City cultural, heritage and off-site public realm needs.
Another notable example is the striking, Bing Thom-designed 556 ft. high “Butterfly” (rezoned in 2017, in conjunction with the West End Community Plan, 2013) on 1000- block Nelson behind the heritage First Baptist Church on Burrard St., which will be restored and seismically upgraded as part of the development.
In addition to this highly acclaimed tower design and Church rehab, the development, again by Westbank, will include 66 units of TRUE, much needed social housing to be owned and managed by the Church, a 37 space daycare and cash contributions totalling, in all, a CAC package valued at $93.3m.
Such needed public benefits, provided by the developer in exchange for additional density and height, are, frankly, beyond the budgets of governments to deliver. So long as a thorough, robust assessment against City policy and guidelines of the urban design quality and “fit” of proposed developments in their context, along with public consultation, confirms that the additional density and height can be accommodated, such proposals, in specifically identified areas, should continue to be considered.

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  1. To justify the underlying premise of this article, it would be interesting to see an independent, objective, clear comparison of the NET PRESENT VALUE of the profits that will accrue to this privately held company (i.e., to Ian Gillespie) as a result of the additional density the elected officials gave the company for these towers, compared with an honest evaluation of the net present value of the public benefits. Do such comparisons exist?

    1. I believe it used to be called capturing the residual value of the project. And didn’t the CofV have a formula in calculating it at one time? Anyone?

  2. I find it a none statement to assert that the building is an example of “outstanding architectural design”. Who decides these things? The word on the street is that this is a “Looming Tower”. That is a moniker that suggests something far less than “outstanding”, something that is in fact threatening, frightening, alarming, intimidating, ominous, scary- all qualities we eschew in urban design. As for treatment of the ground plane, any project would have to deal with site specific issues and land uses as directed by the city planning department.

  3. If there is anything to be understood about the relationship between density and affordability, it is the simple observation that mega cities are home to mega wealth for a few and mega poverty for many. There is every possibility that in the future we might very well witness an exodus from the city enabled by new technologies that allow folks to live off grid while remaining globally connected. Why remain enslaved to the mortgage holder or the rentals man for life when a whole world of community and opportunity is available in the countryside, in the villages and in small towns, places where we might live lightly within the landscape of our natural being? Why believe that “outstanding architectural design” is somehow relevant to our future? It does not appear that the modern mega city has the capability to transform itself as an equitable environment.

    1. Yet more and more people live in cities, and not on the countryside. Why is that ?
      Asked the other way, where does Lower Mainland end? It contains 2/3s of BCers. Victoria? Nanaimo? Sechelt? Whistler? Hope?

      1. Here is a clue for you Thomas. Vancouver Island isn’t the mainland. It is an island.
        One can debate the eastern boundary being Abbotsford or Hope, but it goes to Horseshoe Bay, and south to the border. That puts the Sunshine Coast outside it. And Vancouver Island well outside it.

        1. Not quite, as many people commute in from Gibson’s or now Nanaimo. Again, where does “Vancouver” end in this context ? Physical geography ( aka Lower Mainland ) just a name, but where do it’s daily connections end, as physical barriers like water don’t matter as much anymore with a 15 flight or soon AV or drone option, let alone WiFi and VirtualReality via software ?

        2. Yes, quite.
          You asked about the Lower Mainland. It isn’t a specific geographic zone, but islands aren’t ever a part of the mainland, it isn’t a matter of opinion. It is a matter of fact.
          Perhaps you mean Metro Vancouver. I used to live on Bowen. It is part of Metro Vancouver. It isn’t part of the Lower Mainland, though. Could you perhaps use Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley Regional District in your discussion?
          Other posters have pointed out to you that language matters. Same as the example here.

  4. Using the formula that produces CACs that partly fund social housing and/or amenities has to balance with added cost to the market units.
    This locks in a widening of living costs and is designed and suited to a place where there is a substantial gap between the net worth of one segment of citizens, as opposed to another.
    It does mean that those with quite modest means can live in the city centre.
    Under this financial structure the middle class cannot slot into either city exacerbated echelon, so find themselves further relegated to the fringe of the city.

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