March 7, 2019

Sam Sullivan: Was the defeat of the Four Seasons project a victory?


Worth bringing forward: Sam Sullivan took the opportunity to comment on the upcoming ‘Tales from the West End’ talk on the People’s Park fight at Coal Harbour in the early 1970s.  (Click on headline for all illustrations and text.)

The 1971 model. Much more on the project by the invaluable John Mackie at The Sun

Sam Sulllivan:

Actually the original proposal (1964) was 15 towers of guaranteed rental for 3,200 residents. Towers from 15 to 30 stories. There would have also been a 13 story hotel near the entrance to the park. Critics didn’t mention the apartment rental and focussed on the smaller so-called ‘luxury’ hotel.

Instead Council spent $30 million in today’s money to turn this into a park. This depleted five years of park aquisition money which would have been used for park deficient east side neighbourhoods instead creating an additional park beside the 100,000 acre Stanley Park.

Gerald Sutton-Brown believed we could convert waterfront industrial land into high density towers to provide quality homes and keep down the price of housing. This would have been years ahead of the rest of the world. TEAM opposed this and fired him. They implemented their vision in South False Creek which had lower densities than a typical single detached house neighbourhood. It would be almost two decades before Coal Harbour, Concord Pacific and City Gate would revive Sutton-Brown’s vision.

TEAM went on to oppose townhouses in single house neighbourhoods(Shannon Mews), tried to end the Vancouver Special by removing the basement exemption, end any approval of residential towers for over a decade and introduce processes that have succeeded in preventing the densification of RS neighbourhoods

When I was in elementary school our teacher took us on a tour of Peoples’ Park and met the protesters. It all seemed quite wonderful. But in light of what has happened to the price of housing since we lost Sutton-Brown, I think of the apt symbolism of what happened to the city vision, looking in our purse for what was on our head.

Bayshore Gardens and Harbour Park today.

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  1. I live in a tower in Coal Harbour. Pretty much all my neighbours are renters, but I don’t have that many of them. In the 3 years I’ve lived here, only 3 of the 8 units on my floor are occupied. Only ours is regularly occupied. The building has A LOT of empty units, but there’s an open house every few weeks for another 900,000+ 1 bedroom or 2.2+ for the 2 bedrooms. The rent goes up a lot every year despite the building having lots and lots of empty units.

    I’m all for building more affordable housing and densifying the endless single family home neighborhoods in Vancouver, but I can’t believe actual supply is contributing that much to affordability problems when so many places are empty. I fantasize sometimes about the city just straight up appropriating the empty units in the building for my unsheltered neighbors and the people who work in this neighborhood but commute from Chilliwack and other suburbs.

    1. The supply argument is put forward largely by those in the real estate industry. They are in for a rude wake-up call as Vancouver real estate stagnates for years.

      An interesting counterpoint by Sam Sullivan showing things are not always what they seem. Personally I’ve always felt that park to be largely unused passage from Stanely park to Coal Harbour. An unnecessary park, in an area that needed it least.

  2. Interesting bit of history I was unaware of. I can see how it would be considered a waste of space with the proximity to Stanley Park. However, looking at the pics in the Sun article I can only imagine the horrible beige monstrosities we narrowly averted being stuck with on the waterfront. The 70s were not good for architecture.

  3. It’s a waterfront site that is a publicly owned park. I recall when we planned and then started building the waterfront neighbourhoods, the waterfront walkway and the parks were the amenities people valued the most.

    In preparation for teaching my UBC course, I just finished reading a lot of scholarly literature on housing crises, and Davidoff’s
    and other’s analyses of housing supply , prices and credit since 2000 and the financial crisis in 2008 -2010 show a significantly higher correlation between interest rates and housing prices as compared to supply. Also, Josh Gordon in the following paper identifies a variety of non-supply factors impacting housing prices:

    I am skeptical that developing condos and rental homes in a densifying city on park land is a good move and one that local
    politicians and communities will embrace. We also run the risk of still having unaffordable housing and less green space.

  4. Also, from a supply of housing and affordability perspective, I am convinced that encouraging more housing to be rentals is a positive step forward as well as the CIty’s efforts to secure an increased supply of social housing.

    We should also notice that the supply of housing is a regional as well as a City issue.

  5. Those towers would have formed part of the 1960/70s rental housing stock found throughout the West End.

    Similarly, the Project 200 project had proposed massive apartments towers that, if they had been built, would have provided older [affordable?] apartments today.

    1. Is this the Harbour Cruises parking lot —- Is it leased from the parks board ??? — If it is, what a waste —- The land could be sold to fund the purchase of more park lands( not parking lots) throughout Vancouver—