June 13, 2022

Urban Designer/Author Scot Hein-Why “Zoning Must Evolve: Because You Forgot About Me”

The Broadway Plan has  shown the Big Cleave, with social media pundits ascertaining commenters as being either “for”  housing or  “not for”  housing based upon whether people “like” the use of tall towers on every block face to house “rental” apartments, with 20 percent of those being “affordable”.  The spread of this same densification in nearly 500 blocks surrounding the Broadway corridor, upzoning affordable rental buildings which are seen as “too old” is part of the plan, which also rescinds four neighbourhood plans.

Some social media users blame past city planners for the lack of housing, not understanding that planners are not independently deciding on what the big goals and policy decisions on housing are: it is City Council. And as far back as the late 1980’s planners have advocated for densification around “village centres” and been shot down by City Council, representing the people.

Scot Hein was  previously the senior urban designer with the City of Vancouver and now is an adjunct professor in the master of urban design program at UBC. He  tells the truth when he says planners stay up late at night and think about planning issues, and what needs to change to  house more people.

Scot was well respected at city hall, and always welcomed and encouraged staff and citizens to strive for best practices. His office spilled over with an eclectic concoction of drawings, images and files. Despite the range of materials in his space, he was always able to quickly access a file to reference any project, and always had an extra chair available if you wanted to discuss any concept.

Scot wrote a three part graphic novella entitled “You Forgot About Me!” that outlines the development regulation concepts that governed the City of Vancouver for many years. His intent was to invite conversation on addressing affordability, including how to champion non-market housing tied to income  by, in his words, “refreshing” existing zoning. This was originally published in Spacing Vancouver.

Scot has now augmented his novella with a companion five-part essay, “Zoning Must Evolve”.

This 108  page book is edited by Erick Villagomez and is well worth obtaining from Lulu.com.

In the book Scot describes Vancouver’s planning history, and how zoning can be updated to serve people needing housing in Vancouver. He also talks about how Vancouver City Hall used to be a place of ideas, where senior managers “encouraged staff to bring their best every day, to challenge conventional ways of thinking and doing. We were invited to innovate, to even be entrepreneurial! There was a shared pride in serving the public.”

Scot describes “The Decline” which he calls the failure when planning interests were not about serving and protecting the public, which also coincided with the city “running out of land”. He perceives the institutional changes that came about during the Vision (Mayor Gregor Robertson) leadership as starting the “silo-ized” process that ignored  “a more integrated potential” to new housing strategies needed to house Vancouverites.

Believing that we cannot rezone our way to affordability as is currently embraced by civic leadership, Scot questions whether rezoning is the way to deliver more housing, and points to the City’s need for a “continual revenue stream” of Community Amenity Contributions to pay for amenities-and keep property taxes low.

He points out that  rezoning our way to affordability “invites everyone to join the profit party, which escalates land costs. This self defeating approach rewards speculators at the expense of those who need affordable housing.”

Scot’s treatise, “Zoning Must Evolve” urges using smaller more efficient building types with a variety of tenureship, and notes that thinking small means not promoting land assembly. It also means no more underground car “vaults” and  no more single family zoning, (which removes half of Vancouver’s residential area from more productive use).

With illustrations, images and cartoon drawings, Scot tackles some of the background and the difficult challenges with community plan commitments from previous Vancouver City Councils. These are being replaced by “well-intentioned one size fits all housing proposals that “dial-up” land costs and building scale…this is occurring city-wide with no substantive public engagement, at a time when the City is promoting the prospect of Vancouver Plan.”

Scot also addresses the Broadway Plan, asking whether the overly tall  tower policies are designed to “strategically placate, perhaps even distract” while more aggressive policies are implemented. He sees this as “losing community involvement in developing housing policies that could tame land value”.

No matter where you are in the housing and political spectrum, this book and the drawings, examples and illustrations suggest a way forward in city shaping and design responses that “reinforce local, authentic identity”. It is also a thoughtful, and well illustrated  commentary on the need for housing, society and community engagement in moving forward to house everyone. It includes the philosophy and thought of an architect and designer that loves this city.

And Scot admits he is kept up at night thinking of how to get Vancouver back on track.


images: ScotHein






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