Christmas in Grandview & Kits…


Just like in the olden days when  Sally Ann bands came through neighbourhoods playing and collecting money for charity, the Impromptu Rock Choir is carolling in Grandview and Kitsilano tonight and tomorrow night. Take out the earbuds, turn down the TV, and answer the door when a Santa collects for charity to benefit people in the Downtown Eastside! The choir meets every Tuesday at the WISE Hall on Adanac at Victoria.


Smile! You are on Camera in Richmond.



Anyone that is walking, biking or driving in the City of Richmond knows that the intersection is not a very safe place. Cars go through on red lights, cars block the intersections, and it is often challenging for a pedestrian to legally cross the street. This is also reflected in the fact that 88 per cent of all accidents in Richmond occur in the intersection.

Under the guise of  enhancing public safety, Richmond city Council’s general purpose committee has recommended that Council approve a 2.2 million dollar upgrade of all existing traffic cameras to live recording, and install video cameras at all of the City’s 175  signalized intersections for 2018.

The report states “Threats of violence and terrorism remain an existential threat not only in international locations… but also domestically in cities in Canada.
“Richmond is an international gateway into Canada with major facilities including the airport and Metro Vancouver Port…It is prudent to address potential threats to the city’s community safety needs.”

Sure, but it will also be very helpful to have film footage of accidents, and it will be interesting to see if the universal camera installation makes a change in the driver behaviour and accident rate in Richmond’s intersections. The Richmond News also states that if the funding is approved by Council, staff will be looking for partnerships from the Province and Federal governments to help pay for it. You can also go on-line here to view photos being taken by the Richmond intersections that are currently operating with cameras.


Can the “Pimp My Zimmer” Campaign translate into more Colourful Streetscapes?



From Britain and the BBC News comes this interesting piece that may also have impacts on how we design and think about city streetscapes. In Britain, the walkers used by the disabled and seniors are called “Zimmers” after a manufacturing company that used to produce them. One care home worker noticed that these walkers are all designed and made in a slate grey colour, the same colour that people with Alzheimer’s and dementia have trouble differentiating and seeing. Undertaking a project called “Pimp My Zimmer” volunteers came into the care homes to paint and modify the walkers with art  so that each one was individually identifiable as being unique to the owner. The simple act of colouring up walkers and walking aids meant that seniors with dementia felt more confident at identifying their own walking device, and actually used it more, of course creating more sociability and well-being. Trips and falls were also reduced with the use of the colourful personalized walkers that were no longer the imperceptible colour of grey.

City and parks planner Alan Duncan created the “Wellness Walkways” a special treatment of the walking environment around Mount Saint Joseph Hospital and the adjoining care homes in Mount Pleasant. Using non glare concrete sidewalks with saw cut joints, generous garden beds with plants for smell and touch, and benches that  wheelchair users could transfer to, Duncan created a safe comfortable environment that had strong visual and sensory cues for seniors.

In the City of Vancouver sidewalks are left grey, and powdered textured paint or colour is not used to change the colour.  With an expanding seniors population that will be using walking as a main mode for transportation perhaps it is time to experiment with making surfaces for walking more colourful and bright, and enhancing colour and form on street amenities such as benches, wayfinding and receptacles. As cities examine how to keep an aging population more active and fit, and encourage sociability at any age, splashing colour on sidewalks and surfaces could encourage walkability. The BBC video about “Pimping My Zimmer” can be viewed here.


Delta Wants a Direct Bus, No Transfers to Canada Line


With Mayor of Burnaby Derek Corrigan now the chair of the Mayor’s Council at TransLink everything old is new again, and Tsawwassen residents are apparently rallying for direct bus service from Tsawwassen to downtown Vancouver, getting rid of that pesky Richmond transfer at Bridgeport station  to  the Canada Line.  All of this occurred on Monday at Delta Council where a TransLink planner was making a presentation on the Southwest Area Transport Plan.  Instead of concentrating on how walking, biking and transit was going to develop and fit more seamlessly in this motordom suburban community,  several members of Delta Council decided to rally for the return of a direct bus from Tsawwassen  to Vancouver. Why? Because seniors purportedly want it.

As reported in the Delta Optimist,  the planner noted  that “the decision to direct transit passenger to the rapid transit station was to maximize the investment made in the Canada Line. Although some people may not like the idea of having to transfer, the rapid transit service is a far more faster and reliable way to get to town…buses going to rapid transit is good design used around the world.”

That was a prudent way to say that being able to transfer from buses to rapid transit is efficient and should be seamless.  TransLink did note that if Delta really wanted a direct bus, then a partnership with some other organization, perhaps the City of Delta or a seniors’ group was needed to run that service.  How can the transfer from the bus to Bridgeport Station be made easier for older suburban citizens and why is it an issue? If frequency of bus trips to and from the station improved, would that suffice?


Another one bites the dust.


A news release yesterday: “After 34 years on Commercial Drive, the People’s Co-op Bookstore must close its doors.  Our last day of business will be January 31, 2018… We are saddened by this turn of events, and disappointed that our efforts to keep the People’s Co-op Bookstore going have fallen short. The store is not closing because the community hasn’t supported it. The bookstore has probably never been busier. The last five years have shown us that the Co-op fulfills a number of vital roles in East Vancouver.”

This is not necessarily a bad landlord/brave indie story. Although the store had a very wide range of titles once you ploughed your way in, it has consistently featured hard leftist titles in the window (lots of Soviet stuff, e.g.) and in the prime space just inside the door that reduced its potential clientele.

There is also the storefront design – there are two storeys of apartments above and the shops are indented about 6 feet from the sidewalk – a kind of bricky loggia. This gloomspace between the sidewalk and the front door reduces the impact of anything they put in the windows. It is the only building on The Drive designed like this.

I don’t know whether a rent increase was the tipping point, but the recent demise of neighbourhood standards like Wonderbucks and The Little Nest indicate a trend. And it’s impossible not to notice the expensive German sedan that just happens to be in the Google street view above. Grandview is gentrifying.

Only In Vancouver, You Say

As Vancouver moves towards changing it’s housing priorities via zoning and other methods, it seems we’re not alone in our thinking.

Thanks to Katherine Shaver in the Washington Post (paywalled), we see the term “missing middle” popping up.  And that famous diagram.  As does a nod to Vancouver, via Gil Kelley.

Other common themes between Washington, DC and Vancouver:  walkability,  neighbourhood feel, millennials and downsizers and affordability.   The biggest recurring theme:  transit and more transit.

Cities from Des Moines to Atlanta to Nashville are turning to the missing middle as a way to try to hold on to millennials as they age. Rather than requiring or subsidizing it as they typically do to produce more low-income housing, local governments are trying to encourage developers to build more missing middle housing by removing barriers in zoning laws and building codes.

Some cities have rezoned their single-family neighborhoods to allow duplexes, triplexes and other multiunit structures that look like single-family homes from the outside, particularly in areas near transit lines. To allow more homes per lot, others are considering relaxing requirements on yard sizes and setbacks, the distance required between properties. Some are beginning to allow bungalows clustered around courtyards by changing long-standing requirements that front entrances be on a street.

. . .  “It’s a huge wave,” said Gil Kelley, planning director for Vancouver, B.C. “They’re demanding a place in the cities and housing that’s affordable to them.”

Vancouver, which ranks among the most expensive cities in North America, has begun to allow more duplexes and “stacked” townhouses with two units.

“I think it’s very significant that we’re understanding people want to live in the core of urban areas again,” Kelley said. “We’re reversing a 60- to 70-year trend of people moving out to suburbs . . . This is not just a fad for a decade. This is a multi-decade shift.”

Building Great Streets in this Century



There is a shift in the conversation about the rights of pedestrians and cyclists to travel comfortably, conveniently and safely on Metro Vancouver streets. This discussion has been highlighted internationally in the media and you can take a look at almost any historic street photo from the early 20th century and see a surprising truth~in the early 1900’s pedestrians and bikes mingled and crossed streets, with vehicles either interspersed or travelling a slow enough speed to allow for such passage.


While in the early 20th century cities and streets were still being designed as if pedestrians and not cars shopped there, streets then morphed into emphasizing automobile movement and motordom efficiency. Getting places faster was always  from a vehicle driver’s perspective, not that of pedestrian.

The Toronto Star’s Christopher Hume describes it this way: Streets have also become the forgotten element in our efforts to create a livable city. In Toronto, the focus is on parks, housing, towers and transit; streets are left to fend for themselves. At the same time, however, streets are under more pressure than ever as the historic dominance of the car is challenged by other groups, namely cyclists and pedestrians. The car has wreaked untold damage on our streets as well as our cities. Its needs are at odds with those of the urban environment. Cars are quick. Cities are slow. Cars want highways, fast roads that run as straight as possible with as few interruptions as possible. City roads, by contrast, must accommodate not just vehicular traffic but the activity that unfolds along its edges, the shops, restaurants, museums, malls, schools, cafes, courts . . .”

Hume also notes that there are no “Great Streets” in newer towns and cities. The art of street building has been lost in the bid to champion accessibility of the car.  Matthew Fleischer of the Los Angeles Times notes that in Los Angeles pedestrian collisions have doubled in two years with a 58 per cent increase of fatalities. Efforts to slow traffic down, change design and driver behaviour have resulted in “political backlash” to City Council whenever pedestrian safety is improved. As Fleischer observes “the rising body count seems to indicate that pedestrian safety falls somewhere between tree trimming and gum removal on their priorities list.”

Economic studies clearly show that designing streets for walkers and bikers increases the retail success of  businesses on commercial streets. Instead of looking at walking, biking and vehicular traffic as pieces that need to be protected from each other, more integrated approaches are needed to holistically design for all modes, to get back to the early 20th century concept of street. One of the most important urban design elements in the 21st century will be the design of streets that capture the sociability, health, and connectivity of streets from a pedestrian and cyclist perspective. Allan Jacobs started this conversation in his book Great Streets looking at the components that made these streets successful, welcoming, and sticky for pedestrians. Wresting control of our own great streets  from motordom will be this century’s challenge.


New Bucks For Transit

Canada Line City Centre platformA long time ago in a boardroom far far away, the TransLink Mayor’s Council set out a 10-year transit plan. In it was a series of relatively small improvements (Phase 1: the “first round”), in addition to tech planning on the glitzy big-dollar items like Broadway Millennium Line expansion, Patullo Bridge replacement and Surrey-Newton-Guilford light rail.  The Feds promised funding; so did the Provs.  But local Gov’ts were working on new funding sources.

Feds             $ 370M (capital expenditures)
Provs           $ 246M  (capital expenditures
“Regional”  $ 600M (capital expenditures)
.                    $ 800 M (10-year operating costs)

Today, we have a part of the picture, possibly bringing in $20M per year (subject to Provincial enabling legislation and TransLink board approval).

With thanks to Rattan Mall in

. . .  a new development cost charge (DCC) for transit investment. The charge will be set in a way that it can fund transit expansion without influencing housing prices.

DCCs are a one-time fee that would apply to new development to help fund growth-related infrastructure costs. . . .

TransLink will target the new DCC to raise about $20 million per year. TransLink is proposing setting residential rates between $1,200 and $2,100 per unit of new development. Non-residential rates could be set between $0.50 and $1 per square foot. Final adjustments to the rates will be made in 2018 in consultation with stakeholders.

Phase One Plan   (updated July 27, 2017)

Regional Funding Overview
(*) today’s announcement

  • (*) Introduction of a new region-wide development fee for transit and transportation.
  • Gradual annual increases to transit fares of about 5 to 10 cents on a single fare and $1 to $3 on a monthly pass.
  •  Adjusting property taxes to better reflect the impact of growth and development in the region.
  • Use of TransLink’s existing resources, including through the sale of surplus property  (note the windfall here from the Oakridge Transit Centre sale)

Deliverables Overview

  • Increase conventional bus, HandyDART, SeaBus, SkyTrain, and West Coast Express service – the largest transit service increase since 2009.
  • Upgrade transit stations and exchanges across the region.
  • Expand the length of the Major Road Network for the first time since 1999.
  • Provide municipalities with expanded funding for walking infrastructure, cycling infrastructure, and upgrades and seismic rehabilitation of the Major Road Network.
  • Prepare for future transportation investments, such as the Millennium Line Broadway Extension, South of Fraser Rapid Transit, Pattullo Bridge Replacement, and Upgrades to Existing Rail Infrastructure.

The Green Rule: 20-Storey Teardowns

Jim Green, best known as a housing advocate in the Downtown East Side and COPE/Vision city councillor from 2002-05, made a comment on Vancouver’s future, according to Matt Meehan of Concord Pacific, that I’m going to call the Green Rule:

In the future, any building under 20 storeys in downtown Vancouver is a teardown.  They just don’t know it yet.


The Battle of the Clayton Heights Basement Suites



There is a tempest in Clayton Heights, where home owners (who also have rentable coach houses in their back lanes) have been penalized by the City by also renting out secondary accommodation in their basements. Many homeowners were surprised to hear from the City of Surrey that they could only have one rentable unit on the property, as some have been renting out both their coach houses and their basement suites for years.

And it was not  people living in these units that brought the matter to the City’s attention. Oh no. It was parking. And the fact that people who live at an address may have a car that also needs to park on the street. As Jen St. Denis describes in Metro News, Councillor Bruce Hayne had received “thousands of complaints about parking congestion”.  Since the vacancy rate is .04 in Surrey (Vancouver is .08) kicking out tenants doesn’t appear to be a workable solution for anyone. But as the Councillor notes
We could put a date on the future on it, or if the house is resold before that date that the suite has to be decommissioned and a restrictive covenant is put on title so the new owners know they absolutely can’t rent out a second suite.”

And here is the strange part~Surrey has not restricted residential parking in the area, which appears to be the precipitating factor in the complaints.  There will be a staff review on potentially controlling parking in 2018. Meanwhile Surrey is saying that three units per lot is not allowable under the current zoning, and that if it was the new approved units would have to be to code and have sprinkler systems.

It appears that this accommodation is sought after and needed as Surrey has only built two rental buildings in the last thirty years.  And the complaints about the renters in Clayton Heights?  A City of Surrey report notes that complaints about multiple suites include “renters parking commercial vehicles, excess garbage, unsightly property, criminal activity from renters, loud music, excessive partying.”
You can view a short video by global news on the battle of the Clayton Heights basement suites here.


The First Highrise

Vancouver is Awesome posted this image of the downtown peninsula from 1957:

I’ve circled Georgian Towers in red – the first residential, modernist highrise that marked the start of a boom in concrete rental towers that would transform the West End and a few other rezoned neighbourhoods.

It’s still there:

It was designed to serve as either an apartment building or a hotel – since the developers weren’t quite sure whether there was a rental market for little concrete boxes in the sky.

It’s about 21 storeys, recently upgraded in conjunction with a new condo constructed to the east.  So by the Green Rule, it might survive.

What Vancouver’s Affordable Housing Costs



The City of Vancouver under Mayor Gregor Robertson has adopted “Rental 100″as part of the Vision platform to provide rental housing. What this does is give developers higher buildings and densities if they build rental housing. Developers can also get away with not paying the development cost levies which do provide funding for parks, daycares, social and non-profit housing and engineering infrastructure, like sewers and water.

As Carlito Pablo writes in the Georgia Straight  this rental incentive program was seen as a key to housing and homelessness by strategizing for  “secured rental housing“. But is it affordable? The Council report on 1812 Cook Street near Olympic Village  proposes rental units be leased at $1,496 a month for a studio, $1,922 a month for a one bedroom, $2,539 for a two bedroom and $3,333 for a three-bedroom. As the Council report states “When compared to average rents in newer buildings in the westside of Vancouver, the proposed rents are equivalent. In terms of the comparison to home ownership costs, the proposed rents in this application will provide an affordable alternative to homeownership, particularly for the larger units.”

To produce 104 rental units City staff is prepared to forget the 2.1 million dollar Development Cost Levy that would normally be associated with a project of this size. The Council report  also includes the  table below to illustrate the proposed rent, the average market rent on the west side, the average rent that would be paid if the housing was provided through the Development Cost Levy, and the “clanger slide” what the monthly cost of  actually buying that unit would be.

1715 Cook Street Proposed Rents

Average Market Rent in Newer Buildings –

Westside 1 (CMHC, 2016)

DCL By-Law Maximum Averages – Westside (CMHC, 2016)2

Monthly Costs of Ownership for Median- Priced Unit – Westside (BC Assessment 2016)3





















The report also states “Rental 100 units are targeted to moderate income households and the program extends throughout all parts of the city, thereby providing options that are more affordable than home ownership” and contribute to a “diverse and sustainable community“. The proposed rezoning will go to public hearing on December 12th.



Massey Tunnel~Congestion 1, Bad Guys Zero



In the “you just can’t make this stuff up” department the Richmond News reports on three hapless thieves that tried to get away with a stolen car on the Steveston Highway. The car had been pinched from Coquitlam  and the auto abductors turned onto Highway 99 southbound-at  around 8:00 on Wednesday morning. Without local knowledge they quickly found out that at that time southbound traffic to the tunnel was funneled down to one lane with the counterflow lane providing three lanes through the tunnel going northbound. Not ideal when you are trying to travel quickly with a hot car.

Not to be outdone by the congestion, the driver of the stolen vehicle  “allegedly performed a U-turn and collided with a cement barrier.All three occupants were quickly arrested without incident and taken to hospital. No other vehicles were involved.”

And yes, the three occupants in the vehicle were all from Coquitlam. As one member of the RCMP observed “Timing is very important but so is recognizing the subtleties of behaviourofficers were quick to identify the stolen car and maximize public safety. Traffic congestion is generally disliked by all, but in this case, it lent us a helping hand.
“We are also thankful for the patience from other motorists who may have been affected by the three folks we arrested. It is believed that they may be now on Santa’s naughty list.”

06.10.11 christmas stock

A “Poor Door” and Why is it used in New Vancouver Developments



Urban reporter Jen St. Denis with Metro News has been following the controversy regarding different  doors in developments for separate entrances to the lower income or subsidized units and the market units. This discussion was precipitated  by the design of the Harwood located at Thurlow and Burnaby Streets in the West End that will have 82 market condo units and 39 social housing units.  On the City of Vancouver’s rezoning website the developers describe  Strand and Intracorp as “partnering together to develop real estate communities that enrich the fabric of the neighbourhoods they are built in. Through their partnership, Strand and Intracorp are committed to delivering a community that complements the West End’s textured character, while establishing itself as a landmark for the neighbourhood.”

However this proposed development has two separate entrances~one for market housing, and one for social housing. This has been done before in other developments in the city, and has  attracted some  criticism.  Other developers like Bosa in False Creek have built the social housing component as separate buildings, with kitchen windows handily looking over the enclosed children’s playground. In Olympic Village social housing is in a stand alone development, and designed to blend in with the rest of the area.
Not only does the Harwood have two separate entrances, but it is also being designed with two separate playgrounds at opposite sides, impenetrable to each other. As Jen St. Denis notes “That concerned Judy Graves, the city’s now-retired advocate for the homeless.”  Judy Graves saidThe concept of segregated children’s playgrounds disturbs me greatly.”

So why are social housing units separated in Vancouver developments? Developers who agree to build social housing in their project get extra building density. While they will sell off the market units which will be governed under the BC Strata Act, the units that are social housing units will be rented out, and will be governed under the Rental Tenancy Act   Keeping electrical and maintenance systems separate helps with the administrative requirements for both strata owners and social housing managers. Of course developers also want to ensure that they can sell condos without  any buyer fears about the proximity of “social” housing.  The city’s social housing  rentals fall under the purview of BC Housing and income limits  of $42,500 are allowable for a one bedroom, and $64,000 for a three bedroom. As Judy Graves notes in an email , most of the social housing at The Harwood would go to “professional parents”.

Gil Kelley the Planner for the City of Vancouver observes ““In general, sometimes it works well to have separate buildings, in other cases it doesn’t, and we’re going to be looking at these kinds of design rules to make sure this is housing for everyone at all levels of income.”


Toronto’s King Street Demo Project Becomes Streetcar Friendly


If you build it they will come, and if you reach capacity you need to add more capacity. That mantra comes in handy with the overwhelming success of the King Street pilot project in Toronto which does a “vehicular road diet” on cars on the street to facilitate faster streetcar times. As reported in the Toronto Star , researchers from the University of Toronto found that  “during the evening rush hour period of 4 to 7 p.m., the mean travel time for westbound streetcars in the pilot area has been cut by 24 per cent, to 17.3 minutes, from 22.8 minutes before the pilot began. The mean travel time for eastbound streetcars has been reduced by 20 per cent, to 16.4 minutes from 20.6 minutes.”

For an investment of just 1.5 million dollars a reliable and more efficient street car service is now available and has been wildly popular, serving tens of thousands of transit users. Cars are forced to exit right at major intersections  if they enter King Street, and police officers enforced this behaviour by aggressive ticketing cars that did not leave the street. On street parking was removed from the pilot area, and streetcar stops relocated to the far side of intersections for passenger safety, convenience and efficiency.  The streetcar carried 65,000 passengers a day before the pilot project, with 10,000 cars a day hampering streetcar movement.

It’s no surprise that the streetcar’s efficiency is maximized at rush hour when there is little other vehicular traffic on King Street. Toronto’ Transit Commission is evaluating the pilot and will be releasing data on transit service and the car traffic in mid December.