Further to the talk by Michael Geller at Simon Fraser University about European examples of “middling” density and form (as featured here by Price Tags on Monday February 20th) the video of the presentation is now available below. Would these housing forms be more acceptable in Vancouver neighbourhoods off the downtown peninsula?
As Chris Brown reports on the CBC there has been a major brouhaha regarding the City of Vancouver’s 12,000 homes that were built before 1940. In a city that had almost a thousand demolition permits taken out in 2016 (the majority in Dunbar-Southlands) the past is getting-well, lost. Of those demolished, two-thirds of the houses were built before 1940.
In response, the City has created a “Character Home zoning review” proposing to discourage the demolition of this older housing stock by permitting replacement houses to be sizably smaller. This has not gone over well with “Many homeowners, developers, pro-density groups and even key heritage advocates are all pushing back hard against the “preservationist” plan now under discussion.”
Arguments against the designation include stifling architectural design, and freezing much-needed locations for townhouses and family focused higher density. The City of Vancouver’s Director of Planing Gil Kelley notes “The younger generation is feeling sqSo opening up new options for affordability and different living option choices for them is really critical — even as people here who are older are trying to hang on to what they already know.”
There have been some issues regarding the character home designation-how will property owners be compensated for reduced returns on the property? And if a character home is deemed to be beyond rebuilding (and there will need to be guidelines to define that) can those single family lots be filled with more family friendly and affordable higher density housing forms? And in the end, can we create a new way of looking at density in this Character Home zoning review that can move the large single family areas of the city into something that is denser and more attainable for newly formed families? Our future depends on that.
There has been a lot of discussion about housing density and what higher density can look like without going to the high-rise tower form. On CBC Radio and in a lecture at Simon Fraser University local architect and adjunct professor Michael Geller speaks directly-it’s time for Vancouver to get unstuck from the high-rise model, while providing more supportable scale and rhythm to the street.
“When you put a high-rise on a major street next to a single-family house — like Venables and Commercial where the rest of the development is three or four storey scale — I think people are uncomfortable with the juxtaposition…Instead Vancouver should build more mid-rise buildings, and make better use of lots by building homes closer together and to the end of the lot lines.”
Vancouver has locked onto the high-rise model, which is more lucrative to build and efficient. Michael Geller suggests we look to Amsterdam for guidance, where most of the city’s new apartments are lower than ten storeys. Michael cites the floating rowhouses of IJburg just east of Amsterdam which have higher densities than traditional floating homes, and also the Aarhus Harbour Apartments in Denmark, which takes advantage of light and views for each unit. Calling this the middle ground between single-family and high-rise towers, Michael suggests that this form could be accepted and achieved across the city.
“You are going to see more of these buildings being built because they’re going to be built in locations where you can’t get approval to build high-rises given current community attitudes.”
Wanyee Li with Metro News reports on tiny houses and their owners, folks that have a 250 square foot house on wheels with compost toilets and loft beds. Earlier this year Price Tags reported on the AirBnB rental “Moonbeam”a van rentable for the night in Vancouver, which was completely booked out.
The City of Vancouver does not allow people to live in vehicles, so while these tiny houses can easily fit into a trailer park, they are not legal in the City of Vancouver.
“Samantha Gambling, co-founder of the BC Tiny House Collective, was buying paint to put the finishing touches on her 320-square-foot house when Metro spoke with her Thursday. It’s just a matter of normalizing [tiny houses] and having conversations with policymakers to make those changes happen so that it can be a viable housing stock.”
Ms. Gambling sees the tiny house as an alternative type of housing, suggesting that residential property can be further subdivided down to accommodate these diminutive dwellings. Hers was built at a cost of approximately $70,000, “Tiny houses are not going to solve all the systemic problems that exist in our society.“But it will fit alongside single-family dwellings and high rises and microsuites and the whole spectrum.”
There is a BC Tiny House Collective volunteer meeting today the 20th, at CityStudio, 1800 Spyglass Place Vancouver at 6:30 p.m. Here is a link to a report on Tiny Houses prepared by Natradee Quek at UBC.
Cities are first and foremost about water: No water, no city. And the consequences of urban water crises can be global.
The New York Times illustrates that effectively in this story about Mexico City:
It is a cycle made worse by climate change. More heat and drought mean more evaporation and yet more demand for water, adding pressure to tap distant reservoirs at staggering costs or further drain underground aquifers and hasten the city’s collapse. …
Always short of water, Mexico City keeps drilling deeper for more, weakening the ancient clay lake beds on which the Aztecs first built much of the city, causing it to crumble even further.
Colored areas show how quickly the ground sank from October 2014 to May 2015
Much is being written about climate change and the impact of rising seas on waterfront populations. But coasts are not the only places affected. Mexico City — high in the mountains, in the center of the country — is a glaring example. The world has a lot invested in crowded capitals like this one, with vast numbers of people, huge economies and the stability of a hemisphere at risk.
One study predicts that 10 percent of Mexicans ages 15 to 65 could eventually try to emigrate north as a result of rising temperatures, drought and floods, potentially scattering millions of people and heightening already extreme political tensions over immigration.
The effects of climate change are varied and opportunistic, but one thing is consistent: They are like sparks in the tinder. They expose cities’ biggest vulnerabilities, inflaming troubles that politicians and city planners often ignore or try to paper over. And they spread outward, defying borders.
Next City reports on something that proves that everything old becomes new again with innovation, including the use of cameras monitoring intersections. UBC engineering professor Tarek Sayed states what everyone who has looked at the civic systems to get speed bumps or signalized crosswalks knows-“We have to wait for collisions to happen before we can do anything. A fundamental ethical and practical problem which faces traffic engineers is, in order to improve safety, you need a certain number of collisions … which you would try to prevent later,” says the University of British Columbia civil engineering professor. “It’s very reactive.”
Sayed has taken a proactive approach, developing a video camera system that monitors intersections for near collision misses, and has computers track the results. “The system, called, somewhat inelegantly, “computer vision and automated safety analysis,” uses off-the-shelf cameras, or cameras that are already installed in an area, to film a given intersection. Computer algorithms can track anything that moves through the intersection — cars, bikes, people — and can figure out quite a bit about each one. The computer knows whether the moving blip is a person or a car, how fast they’re going, how close they got to hitting another road user. The computer can even tell, with about 80 percent accuracy, whether a person is distracted by their phone while walking.”
Driver distraction is measured by how long it takes the driver to stop the car. Sayed also suggests that lower vehicular speeds would lessen the impact of any pedestrian crashes. This system is used in several countries and the redesign of one intersection in Edmonton Alberta had a 92 per cent reduction in collisions after the computer vision and safety analysis.
The Economist has just reported that pedestrians may be sharing the sidewalk with a new interloper-a new version of robotic delivery system developed by “Piaggio Fast Forward, a subsidiary of Piaggio, an Italian firm that is best known for making Vespa motor scooters. Gita’s luggage compartment is a squat, drumlike cylinder that has been turned on its side. This, as the picture above shows, is fitted with two wheels of slightly larger diameter than the drum. These let the whole thing roll smoothly along, keeping the luggage compartment upright, at up to 35kph (22mph).”
This item called a “Gita” is designed to walk a pace or two behind a human owner wearing an electronic belt, and can carry 18 kilograms of cargo for up to eight hours before needing recharging. Gita carries shopping as well as delivering goods ordered online.
“Piaggio is now putting a dozen or so Gitas to work in pilot projects around America, doing things like carrying tools for workers, guiding people through airports and assisting with deliveries. And it is not alone. Starship Technologies, an Estonian company started by Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis, two of the founders of Skype, has similar ambitions. Starship’s as-yet unnamed suitcase-sized robot has six small wheels, travels at 6kph and holds 10kg of cargo. Rather than doggedly following a human being, it navigates itself around using cameras and ultrasonic sensors—though a remote operator can take control of it to supervise tricky manoeuvres such as crossing roads.”
One challenged faced by these “robots” and their designers is what is called unstructured environments, mainly the fact that these transporters have to share sidewalk space with unpredictable human beings. Robotics have not learned how to navigate space that is full of people-yet. But engineer Matt Delany is not giving up. “The pedestrian environment is very cultural,” he says. “If you monitor people over many long repetitions in testing, a robot can learn the best routes.”
Because this new generation of robotics will not be on vehicular streets and road surfaces, the regulation and safety concerns have been to this point minimized. These robotics may be the new shape of autonomous home delivery, using a sidewalk near you.
The lack of Provincial response to the concerns of adjacent municipalities and mayors to the impending Massey Bridge mega-billion dollar construction project is truly the sound of one hand clapping. The Province is sure that the bridge is good for the Port and its own concepts of twentieth century commercial trucking and traffic, and nothing is swaying their determination to foist this behemoth upon us.
The Richmond News and Graeme Wood reports that the Mayor of Richmond, Malcolm Brodie was “disappointed yet unsurprised that the provincial government issued environmental approval for the 10-lane, $3.5 billion bridge. The concerns raised by Richmond about this project have continually been ignored throughout the public consultation and environmental assessment processes.” The Federal Government, who could have also done a Federal review, has refused to do so, saying it is outside their mandate. However, as Councillor Harold Steeves notes, a similar Federal review was done for the Port Mann Bridge. So why the change?
And why does the Massey Tunnel need to be removed? Could this not be used for mass transit or a bicycle link? But no, “according to Geoff Freer, executive project director of the George Massey Tunnel Replacement Project, the four-lane tunnel cannot be left beneath the river because it poses a risk to dyke stability during an earthquake. However, the City of Richmond is not aware of any special risks to the dykes associated with the tunnel.”
Of course if the tunnel is removed it allows for bigger ships to go up and down the Fraser River’s south arm, increasing industrialization of farmland. And here is the weird part-“The provincial environmental assessment certificate issued Thursday calls for the tunnel to be filled in beneath the dyke and the four connecting tubes to be dug up from below the river bed.”
There is a Metro Vancouver water line that is pesky and in the way. That will need to be moved to allow for deeper dredging for big ships. What’s interesting is the certificate does not “assess the implications of such dredging, as tunnel decommissioning would not directly change the size of vessels using the river; the certificate only addresses the footprint of the bridge.”
If you are not already confused, Mayor Brodie has stated that since the bridge’s towers are on land (Provincial jurisdiction) and do not directly impact the river, the federal government will not be involved. Never mind the fact that the removal of the tunnels will cause massive river bed disturbance. And Minister of Transportation Todd Stone is calling the ten lane Massey Bridge a “green bridge” now because it is reducing idling.
The bridge is counter to a regional transportation plan supported by all the region’s mayors except for Delta’s mayor who supports the bridge in her jurisdiction. Mayor Brodie is supportive of a cheaper tunnel alternative, and also brings up the fact this bridge complicates regional road pricing. You can be sure this bridge will be tolled. The tolling fee is not announced, but will be higher than the Port Mann bridge because “The bridge’s initial cost is higher than the Port Mann Bridge and traffic projections show it will see less traffic.”
You just can’t make this stuff up.
The Globe and Mail‘s Kerry Gold reports on a new wave of condo buyers that is happening at a faster pace than expected. Seniors instead of holding on to their equity rich housing until infirmity forces them into supportive care facilities appear to be cashing out and moving to condominium developments, many with similar square footage on the floor plate as their previous homes.
Called “the transitioning buyer” these older condo purchasers will spend approximately half their equity in their new abode.Developers including “Nic Paolella, director of development for Marcon Developments in Vancouver, says he’s seeing the beginning of a potential flood of downsizers that will become one of the biggest drivers of the condo market. Marcon is a mid-size condo developer with a projected 1,000 units coming on the market this year.”
“This is the tip of the iceberg in terms of amount of capital out there for downsizer buyers,” he says. “We are only at the start of that wave. We are in for a lot more, and it could be a five- or 10-year run of the aggressive downsizer buyer,” he says. “And they have specific interests of where they want to be – often, in a similar neighbourhood to where they were living. Often, they want walkability and access to amenities without a car.”
With the high prices commanded by Vancouver housing, sellers can also now negotiate to continue to live in their homes until their respective condos are ready for occupancy. This can also be for the buyer’s benefit as “if the new buyer plans to tear the house down, as they usually do, it’s more difficult to remove a full-time paying tenant. And if the house is left empty, the owner is looking at paying the new vacancy tax.”
Despite the cooling off of Vancouver housing prices this year, the Teranet-National Bank home price index still shows prices up 17 per cent from 2015. “Long-time realtor Stuart Bonner, who specializes in expensive west-side Vancouver properties for Re/Max, says he’s seeing retirees taking a more “proactive” approach. “Nobody would have predicted what prices have done in the last three or four years. People are saying, ‘My house is worth what?’ They are stunning numbers. A lot of people are saying, ‘I’ve got to take some money off the table.’ These are educated people who realize it won’t go straight up forever.”
The Rick Hansen Foundation has announced an Accessibility Certification Program providing accessibility audits to ensure barrier-free experiences for people with mobility, vision and hearing disabilities. These standards also make it as easy as possible for people with walkers and young families with strollers to use buildings, public streets, walkways and parks.
The Rick Hansen Foundation (RHF) has developed RHF Accessibility Certification, an inclusive design and accessibility rating system. Similar to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), it measures and rates accessibility features. According to a recent survey conducted by Angus Reid Institute, 88% of Canadians consider a LEED-style rating program for universal accessibility to be worthwhile.
Trained RHF Access Assistants are currently conducting free beta accessibility reviews and rating buildings throughout Metro Vancouver and the greater Victoria-Colwood area. The first phase of pilot testing of the new RHF Accessibility Certification is underway until June 2017.
To learn more about this innovative pilot and how you can help make your communities accessible for everyone, contact Karen Marzocco, Project Manager at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.rickhansen.com/Our-Work/Accessibility-Certification-Program.
From Price Tags commentator Alex Botta:
In the “give your head a shake” department The CBC reports that that the Massey Bridge is a done deal. Imagine-the Provincial government has granted an environmental assessment certificate for this multi billion dollar ten lane beast that will eat up the most arable soils in Canada, pile drive in the sensitive Fraser River, and generally create a 20th century heap of motordom and tolled vehicular infrastructure that is in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s overbuilt, and not worth the irreparable environmental damage.
This is one of the decisions that in fifty years will be seen as a major mistake-a multi billion dollar one. But this government is bent on creating access for Delta port trucking, and fast drives for consumers to the Tsawwassen Mills shopping mall-the latter which is as empty as a spent beer can on a Friday night. The demise of this mall will just provide more places for the port to park their cargo trucks, and we can weep at the loss of this major migratory bird flyway, and the short sightedness of paving agricultural lands.
But here’s the Province’s messaging:
“The approval comes with 33 conditions that are legally binding requirements that the Transportation Ministry must meet. The government says the key findings that helped the approval included that no significant adverse effects were likely to occur on fish and fish habitat and that the project would eliminate congestion delays and idling on the route between Richmond and Delta.
The construction will also mean replacing the interchanges of Westminster Highway, Steveston Highway and Highway 17A. The project will require various federal, provincial and local government permits to go ahead and the Environmental Assessment Office will work with other government agencies to ensure conditions are met. Construction of the new bridge is expected to start this year with completion by 2022.”
You’ve seen the end of the region as we know it.
With Phase 1 of the 10-year TransLink plan funded and work well underway, people are wondering where the money will come from for Phase 2, where some really big bucks get spent. Broadway Subway, Surrey light rail, Pattullo Bridge.
Minister Fassbender is proposing transit be (at least partly) financed by cashing in on the increase in land value and ensuing profits for developments built around transit stations. He assured BC municipalities that he is not planning to rob their piggy-banks.
Hello Broadway Extension; goodbye CAC’s. And welcome to a “transit-supporting levy” collected and administered by your Provincial Gov’t.
Note that the Mayors previously proposed a “region-wide development fee” to help fund transit. This fee would apply region-wide, with possibly higher rate for higher-density transit oriented developments. See page 35 of the Mayor’s 10-Year Vision Investment Plan.
Thanks to Frances Bula in the Globe and Mail.
Other cities, notably Metro Toronto, have considered this kind of “land-value capture” system for financing transit, as well. Some look to the City of Vancouver’s existing method of community-amenity contributions as a model. Vancouver negotiates with developers to give back community benefits equivalent to 75 per cent of the land-value increase they see when their land is rezoned.
Vancouver is especially likely to be concerned how its approach would be disrupted by a new transit levy.
The city collected $105-million in 2015 in community amenity contributions from developers who got rezonings. Half of that went to an affordable-housing fund, while the remainder was spent on heritage, parks, community centres and child-care facilities
Business in Vancouver writer Frank O’Brien outlines an interesting story to watch-what is happening with those assignment sales of uncompleted highrise developments in the Vancouver area. Imagine-87 per cent of the 8,955 concrete units commenced in 2016 were pre-sold in advance of construction. And imagine-these units are exempt from assignment and foreign buyer tax payments, so it would be assumed there would be value added for people wanting to invest in a little Vancouver condo concrete.
The interest in pre-sales is such that in 2016 ” a separate Urban Analytics survey found only 31 new concrete condos complete and unsold as of 2016’s third quarter, the lowest Metro inventory in five years.”
“Assignment sales are exempt from B.C. anti-flipping legislation. Enacted in May 2016, it stipulates that sales contracts can’t be assigned without the written consent of the seller and that any profit from an assignment goes to the initial seller. The legislation does not apply to new developments, including pre-sale condos, even if a licensed realtor sells the assignment, according to Ministry of Finance spokesman Jamie Edwardson.”
Land value for Vancouver land has increased by 260 per cent based upon assessments, with some property now being purchased at $1,000 per square foot. This elevated land cost has meant that there has been a flurry of assignment sales of units in sold-out not yet occupied towers, with investors wanting to cash out.
O’Brien cites Strathcona Village, on East Hastings Street, “where one-bedroom condos originally sold two years ago for $450 per square foot to $497 per square foot. The condos are now being advertised as assignments for $770 to $787 per square foot. The Independent project at Main Street and East Broadway, a Rize Alliance tower that sold out in 2015 at an average price of $672 per square foot, has assignments being offered at more than $900 per square foot.”
Pre-sale condo assignments are exempt from the B.C. foreign-buyer regulations enacted in August which are based upon the transfer of title. Buying a pre-sale condo and selling it during construction means there is no Provincial registry recording the transaction as either a buyer or a property owner. Of course the “original investor is required to report the transaction to the Canada Revenue Agency, and may be required to pay income tax on the profits.” The assignment flipper is also exempt from property purchase tax, as it is the owner of the unit at the time of completion of the building that pays that tax.
City of Richmond Councillor Carol Day joins the discussion on the Massey Bridge in a letter published in the Delta Optimist. This saga of the Massey Tunnel morphing into a ten lane bridge has a history that goes back over a decade, with a host of constantly changing rationales and purposes, and a burgeoning multi-billion dollar taxpayer-funded price tag.
Concerns are many for this bridge placement at this location. There is the sensitivity of the Fraser River Delta, the destruction of more Class 1 farmland which was purportedly “protected” in the Agricultural Land Reserve, the fact that such a large bridge will simply move vehicles into parking lots on either side, and the fact that a twinned tunnel replacement was never seriously examined.
As Councillor Day notes “In 2006, the B.C. Liberal government’s Gateway Program looked ahead to “twinning the George Massey Tunnel under the south arm of the Fraser River between Richmond and Delta.” That meant adding another tunnel tube in order to increase the capacity by at least two lanes. However, the Gateway report stated, “The project is on the back burner in part because it would put pressure on traffic bottlenecks to the north, requiring expansion of the Oak Street and Knight Street bridges into Vancouver or a new bridge into Burnaby.”
“Contradicting its own 2006 logic, the province now wants to demolish the tunnel and build a 10-lane bridge. It has paid lip service to considering three other options to expand the crossing’s capacity, but in its B.C. environmental assessment application those options have the same high capacity as the 10-lane bridge. “
“…The province’s assessment process, inadequate for this purpose, will allow the province to get away with that, even though Richmond and Metro Vancouver have reasoned for limited expansion that is consistent with the province’s 2006 logic. Their calls for moderate options have been ignored. It is as though the views of the local governments do not exist. Who knows better than the Metro Vancouver Mayors Council how to enhance our Metro Vancouver transportation system?”
Councillor Day is asking for the public to press “the federal government to begin a Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency review. It would include options that meet the needs of Metro Vancouver and Richmond, consider environmental effects in a wider and cumulative way, and enable independent decisions. “
Despite the fact that all the municipalities except Delta have nixed this location of this mega bridge and despite this extraordinary cost for a “bridge too wide” the process just lumbers on with no accounting for other options. Who is this bridge really serving?
As reported in Ville 30 the town of Gland Switzerland with a population of 12,500 have decided that the ENTIRE road network within the town will be restricted to 30 km/h with the exception of a few main arteries.
Why? To ensure that Vision Zero goals of safety and comfort for all road users are paramount, and to ensure a better coexistence with what the French call “soft mobility” users. Streets will use visual markers where those 30 km/h zones start, and streets will be narrowed using alternate on street parking, which will also slow speeds.
The town of Gland set up the goal to go to 30 km/h ten years ago and finally got approval from the higher state authority . With that approval the town is hosting public meetings to show their plans and will fully implement the speed restrictions in the spring. Further restricting vehicle speed to 20 km/h near the train stations is now being discussed.
The use of 30 km/h zones has been limited in British Columbia to a few main streets, school zones and areas in Victoria and Vancouver as well as the tiny town (population 3,500) of Rossland. Adopting a city-wide driving speed limit allows for uniform application and enforcement of the new speed limits, enhances road safety for other road users, and makes for a more comfortable convenient walking and biking environment. Kudos to Gland for leading the way.
Last year I received an invitation (thanks, Bruce Watson!) to speak to the Vancouver Historical Society. We chose a nice general topic – 50 years of local government – and then, as January 26 approached, I realized I actually had to come up with something.
So here it is: some general observations on the nature of civic politics in this city, with recollections, anecdotes and opinions scattered in. I’ve added my notes below – but they were just a rough guide for a somewhat extemporaneous talk.
Basic role of municipal government.
Vancouver exceptionalism: The Charter and Parties
1930s-1960s: The NPA Coalition
- closing of the greenfield frontier
- end of the clubhouse
1972: Centrist Coalition of TEAM
- an alliance of business, academia and activists
- social movements of the late 60s
- Jane Jacobism
- Freeway fight
1980s: Fractioning of the Left
- low growth and Expo: the beginning of the international city
1990s: Gordon Campbell’s New Centrist Coalition
- Vancouverism: Politicians, planners and shapers of the city
- megaprojects and preservation
- Nixon in China: How the unlikely do the unexpected
2000s: Closing of the brownfield frontier and the tidal wave of wealth
- fractioning by personality
- The illusion and preservation of single-family nrighbourhoods
- density, equity and globalism
2010s: Regional Shifts
- leadership, consensus and the Livable Region
- provincial distraction and redirection
As first reported in the Boston Globe you can almost hear what Donald Trump said about the 22 foot long public bench that sits below the elevators in the corridor of New York City’s Fifth Avenue Trump Tower.
In 1979 New York City granted Trump the right to build 200,000 square feet beyond what was allowed under the zoning with the proviso that he also provided “an 8,000-square-foot public atrium on street and lower levels, two outdoor landscaped terraces totaling 7,000 square feet, a passageway to public space in the adjacent IBM building, and extra retail. Under this deal, the atrium had to be open to the public seven days a week, from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. ” Trump also had to agree to movable tables and chairs, bathrooms, landscaping, a waterfall-and the 22 foot long bench.
But there was a problem-the public sat on the bench.
“We have had tremendous difficulties with respect to the bench,” he wrote. “Drug addicts, vagrants, et cetera have come to the Atrium in large numbers to sit and, in fact, to sleep on this bench. . . . Therefore, we have placed beautiful seasonal flowers and plantings around this area and have since had no problems.”
What Donald Trump didn’t say is that the “beautiful seasonal flowers and plantings” were placed ON the bench, meaning that no one could sit on the bench. When complaints meant that the plants had to be removed, the public could use the bench again. But then the bench disappeared replaced by a booth selling Trump memorabilia. City inspections and a $14,000 fine brought the bench back in July of last year, now metal instead of the original marble.
And now, the bench has a purpose. “Each morning, the bench fills with journalists and their cameras as they record who rides up and down the elevators to meet with Trump or his transition team. Many of these visitors come over to the bench and chat about the latest developments. The ubiquitous television shot of the elevator doors opening and closing comes from a camera placed above the bench…Now, the little bench that could is serving the public interest in ways never imagined by those who sketched it on the plan so many years ago.”