April 26, 2022

The Vancouver & Broadway Plans: Should “Livability” in Vancouver Mean Erasing Existing Neighbourhoods?


As the City of Vancouver strives to create a new “Vancouver Plan”  and “Broadway Plan” which seems to focus on replacing swaths of affordable three storey walk up housing  with taller towers, a new study shows how wrongheaded this approach may be.

The City’s plans  thinks forward to the future fabric of what could be, but holds no value on what was previously there and who occupied it. It is a form of erasure.

Giuseppe Tolfo and Brian Doucet at the University of Waterloo School of Planning examined Vancouver’s “livability” an important and key idea for the past forty years by comparing two neighbourhoods: the Northeast False Creek (NEFC) and the Downtown Eastside (DTES).

By looking at nearly forty reports and City documents, the researchers concluded “that Vancouver’s commitment to livability does not address the city’s long-standing and growing inequalities.” 

In fact it appears to be making the gaps bigger. The researchers found that the City’s “current definition, approaches and application of livability” has historically gentrified communities at risk. That stress on lower income residents and populations will continue without actively pursued policy  that directly addresses “displacement, erasure of ties and gentrification”.

The researchers looked at the history of Northeast False Creek and the Downtown Eastside in the last five decades. As planning processes have developed, “livability” became a much less equitable term, not looking at universal accessibility to “housing, racial justice, public transportation and infrastructure,  education, social infrastructure, food security, fair representation and democracy, and health services.”

Using the example of of the Georgia Viaduct the researchers point out that planning teams shifted that land away from the Downtown Eastside planning processes to become part of the Northeast False Creek development,  with no reason or rationale for why that was done. It may have contemplated livability for new future residents, but ignored the history and needs of the existing residents in the Downtown Eastside.

Calling this “capitalist manifestations of livability” they state that displacement and exclusion must be embraced in any planning analysis of a livable city.

You can read the study here, which makes a strong case for asking the question “who is livability for?” and ensuring that existing community, the histories, and strife are included in planning analyses. Don’t overbuild the future without recognizing and embracing the past and the existing residents and their living accommodations and right to comfort.

Livability needs to be defined to include present as well as future residents, and not just in a historical way.



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  1. Unfortunately the study seems to be behind a paywall, but “livability” seems to be the most hijacked term in city planning — hijacked not just by “capitalist” interests but also by every other conceivable interest group as a defensive move against being excluded by any other group using it to define a different position. The Downtown Eastside is the most obvious battleground but it exists everywhere. My 20-something daughter, for example, lived in a “highly livable” part of London, England, but would routinely call me in Vancouver by video as she walked from one place to another so that she could feel safe in the evening. To her, livability changed by the hour.

  2. Are there many 3-story walk-ups within Vancouver plan?

    The Vancouver plan is mainly for RS-1 neighborhoods without neighborhood plans. They are almost all single family homes. Homes which right now cost minimum $1.5M, the antithesis of equitable affordable housing. The plan outlines replacing that zoning with multiplex zoning, and midrise, which may actually be able to provide sustainable density, and provide stable rental units. I think Hastings-Sunrise is probably the main area with mid-density within the Vancouver Plan.

    Broadway plan has requirements for affordable rental units in new buildings, which did not exist in the early 2000’s. The new plans are building from previous experience within Vancouver.

    To argue that some of those affordable walk-up building in DTES need to be preserved for affordability, completely ignores quality.

    We definitely need more affordable units, but restricting housing supply to preserve “affordable” buildings, that are often in disrepair, seems like the wrong way to do things.

    1. Post

      Sean the Vancouver Plan proposes different heights for areas throughout the city.
      It is not focused just on detached and duplex family areas. You can read a draft online at the City’s website.

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