More density in the densest neighbourhood in Vancouver. Guess where.
If you look closely, there’s a clue.
More density in the densest neighbourhood in Vancouver. Guess where.
If you look closely, there’s a clue.
This article combines and adapts three articles by the Portland for Everyone coalition’s Michael Andersen. See the originals on this blog, and learn more about the group here. Portland’s approach shares similarities with the Seattle Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda recommendation to allow small duplexes and triplexes in single-family zones without letting property owners erect buildings larger than currently zoned.
Growing cities across the US and Canada are grappling with the challenges of displacement and affordability in their housing markets, and many of them are looking to Cascadia’s innovative cities for answers. Portland, the smallest of Cascadia’s three major metropolitan areas, has perhaps one of its biggest and best ideas: the “residential infill project.” …
When a city gets more desirable but isn’t allowed to add more places for people to sleep, this is what happens: the old homes don’t stay affordable. They just get priced up and up and up. …
The residential infill project that went before Portland City Council November 9 and will again November 16 is an opportunity to make this happen. It’s a chance for the city to strike an anti-McMansion compromise and shrink the maximum size of new homes (which would reduce demolitions) while also legalizing duplexes, triplexes, and backyard cottages (which would mean that the demolitions that do happen would result in more small homes instead of fewer, huge, expensive ones).
Instead of allowing new single-dwelling homes to look like this:
To be clear, nobody is talking about requiring new homes to look like this. The overwhelming majority of residential homes would still have lots of space and yards of their own. But by making it once again legal to build these small homes in residential areas, Portland would make this an option for people who want something in between an apartment building and a freestanding house, which means fewer people would be competing for apartments and for freestanding homes.
There’s another possibility here: the city might decide to shrink the size of new homes but not make small multiplexes legal.
If that were to happen, it wouldn’t stop developers and landlords from finding ways to make a profit. It would mean that the only way they could make a profit is by replacing poor folks with middle-income folks and middle-income folks with rich folks.
From Sightline: Returning Seattle to Its Roots in Diverse Housing Types
This is the story of a single city block in Seattle’s Wallingford neighborhood … bordered by North 36th and 37th Streets and Burke and Meridian Avenues.
The city has zoned the block single-family, allowing only one detached home per lot (plus accessory dwelling units, should residents choose to build them). Under this zoning, this little block should only be able to host 24 households–one per parcel. Yet in reality, the block provides shelter for 37 households, more than one-and-a-half times its zoned capacity. …
To what do these 13 households owe their housing in this coveted neighborhood?
To Seattle’s zoning history. The block includes 5 duplexes, a quadplex, and a 6-unit apartment building, which together host these 13 additional households.
Here’s the catch, though: none of these structures could be built today. They are remnants of the neighborhood’s more flexible zoning history, which permitted a greater diversity of housing types, making room for more people to enjoy and bring life to this corner of Seattle. …
Why does this all matter? Because Seattle now has the chance to once again open its single-family zones to a broader mix of housing, including duplexes and triplexes. Returning the city to its more flexible zoning past could provide housing for thousands of additional families.
Greater Buenos Aires is a big urban region. Over 13 million people.
In the City of Buenos Aires, however, there are about three million porteños (people of the port) – a population which has stayed steady since the Second World War.
Why not much growth in the city’s population? Low birth rates and a migration to the suburbs. Indeed, the surrounding districts in the Province of Buenos Aires have expanded five times over.
So: three million in the City; 10 million in surrounding suburbs. That ratio is not far from Vancouver’s: 600,000 in the city; 2.5 million in the region.
The population density in Buenos Aires proper is over 14,000 per square kilometre (in an area just under one and a half times the area of the City of Vancouver, with its population density of about 5,000 per square kilometer).
Our West End, by comparison, is about 44,000 people in its two square kilometers.
So think of the City of Buenos Aires as almost one big West End, plus Kits and downtown.
Lots of it looks that way too.
It’s been a decades-old commitment to add density along the major arterials of the city. (Residents of low-density and single-family neighbourhoods tend to support the initiative because it keeps higher density along the edges and provides a buffer from the busier routes – though most people would prefer to live on the quieter inside streets. See the West End and Kerrisdale on either side of 41st.)
Still, as examples emerge, the results are looking good. For example, along 41st across from Oakridge:
Even better, the row housing lining up along Oak:
Many voices in the housing conversation cry in various ways and loudly about the detached single-family home, who’s buying, and how to stop “them”, how to preserve fond memories of washing the Buicks on Saturday morning. All as if this is both the norm, and an absolute entitlement for any person who chooses to live in Vancouver.
But there are rising voices of those looking in other directions.
Frances Bula in the Globe and Mail writes about people who support increased density.
Their group, Abundant Housing Vancouver, is an unplanned participant in what has become an almost overnight social movement in dozens of American cities, where advocates have banded together to demand population density, more housing projects and less militant protection of single-family neighbourhoods.
. . . Mr. Dawe and others would like to see municipal councils be brave enough to start allowing denser development in the huge areas of land now set aside for single-family housing.
Danny Oleksiuk, a 31-year-old labour lawyer, said he was motivated to join up when he saw a map showing that 31 per cent of Vancouver’s residents live on 83 per cent of the available land.
“My interest is really in the single-family neighbourhoods, where it’s now a $2-million entry price. There’s a lot of land there and not a lot of people, but it’s illegal to build affordable housing.”
City of Vancouver staff want to show off their ideas and get your thoughts during Phase 3 of the Cambie Corridor planning program.
Saturday, June 4, 2016
11 am to 3 pm
Lots to talk about, including Canada Line station rezoning, ground-oriented and family housing, public spaces, transportation (generally) and major sites.
More info HERE. And it’s a big area, with lots to discuss.
This just in from Business in Vancouver:
Single-family lots in East Vancouver are gradually densifying through city bylaws that allow legal suites and laneway houses, but builders say the ever-increasing cost of Vancouver real estate is making it harder to find properties and turn a profit. …
Properties increase in value by around $900,000 when a builder tears down an older bungalow and replaces it with a larger house with a legal basement suite and a laneway house.
The trend pushes the price of the built-out property into the $2.4 million range, the kind of hefty price tag once reserved for Vancouver’s west side. …
The rapid price acceleration, combined with the City of Vancouver’s lengthy permitting process, has led to another layer of deal-making: it’s common for builders to buy a house, tear it down and begin the permitting process.
They then sell the lot with the permits in place, but not yet paid for, to another builder. Selling the lot with the new house not yet started allows the second builder to avoid paying GST on a new home. …
The densification trend is largely not happening on the west side, Atwal said, characterizing buyers in neighbourhoods like Dunbar as wealthy people who would rather use the garage to house an expensive car than build a laneway house.
More intriguing details here.
Tonight, actually. That’s when Michael Geller goes before a public hearing at West Van Council:
It is the District’s first Heritage Revitalization Agreement proposal involving an older house and infill. While the resulting FAR is less than 0.6, it represents an increase over the District’s 0.35 FAR. A number of neighbours will be appearing in opposition. They would prefer to see the older house go, and no zoning changes.
Details here on his blog.
From our eclectic reader, Daily Scot:
Many longtime residents of San Francisco, Miami and other hot U.S. cities complain of “Manhattanization” when developers put up 20- or 30-story apartment complexes. In Portland, Oregon, they’re debating the wisdom of 40 stories.
They should try 100 stories on for size — or not, if they value the amenities of urban life. That’s the height of a megatower proposed for downtown Seattle. It was “downsized” from 102 stories after aviation authorities warned the tower could interfere with air traffic. …
What’s so terrible about megatowers? They cause wind tunnels at ground level. They block out the sun, putting huge swaths of city in shadow. They create canyons trapping air pollution and heat in summer. They kill others’ views.
Michael Mehaffy, an architectural critic based in Portland, Oregon, has likened super-tall residential buildings to vertical gated communities cut off from the neighbors far below. Furthermore, the buildings are often half empty.
That’s because these ultra-expensive spaces are being marketed to a global elite seeking a safe place to stash their money. Billions are pouring in from Russia, China,Saudi Arabia and Latin America. …
Seattle’s proposed 4/C megatower — so named for its location at Fourth Avenue and Columbia Street — would be the tallest building on the West Coast. Why would Seattleites want such an outlandishly high structure?
“Vancouver envy,” Mehaffy responds, referring to the tower-crazed Canadian city about 150 miles to the north. “The irony of that is a lot of people there are upset at the development.”
Such discontent may explain one Vancouver developer’s announcement that his project’s $18 million penthouse would be sold only to a local resident. …
The theme this campaign season is ordinary Americans’ wanting their power back. That should extend to politics on the very local level. Residents have a right to determine the destiny of their neighborhoods.
The real estate barons often call the shots in America’s city halls. The people must tell the politicians inside that there will be consequences to ignoring their opinions.
This is my second article on Good Friday about a development application that saves or restores a church. And I’m not even Christian. Also, I recommend this article be enjoyed accompanied by Geoff Berner’s song Higher Ground.
From the City’s website (bolded font is my doing):
The City of Vancouver has received an application to rezone 969 Burrard Street & 1019-1045 Nelson Street from CD-1 (445) (Comprehensive Development) to a new CD-1 District. The proposal includes:
- restoration of First Baptist Church;
- new church ancillary spaces, including a 37-space child daycare, a gymnasium, a counselling centre, offices and a cafe;
- a new eight-storey building containing 66 social housing units, owned by the church;
- a new 56-storey tower containing 294 market strata residential units, with a cafe at ground floor;
Other key parameters of the proposal include:
- a combined total new floor area of approximately 561,881 sq.ft.;
- a floor space ratio (FSR) of approximately 10.83;
- 497 underground vehicle parking spaces.
This rezoning application is being considered under the Rezoning Policy for the West End and the West End Community Plan.
The project is called First Baptist Church (FBC) for now. I live close to this property. I think 56-storeys at the highest point downtown in earthquakey Vancouver is a little high but I can live with it if it’s structurally well-built. This building does not obstruct view corridors and falls within the dome skyline.
Currently the entrance is quite unwelcoming with fencing and a big, flashing, lighted sign at Nelson & Burrard. It’s unclear where to enter and not wheelchair accessible. The plans for creating an open, accessible space with a cafe look inviting. The sidewalk on Nelson may be widened as the left turning lane west of Burrard is not well used.
The developer is the First Baptist Church. The builder is Westbank. The architect is Bing Thom. The Traffic Consultant is Peter Joyce of Bunt & Assoc. I spoke to him and others at the Open House – which PT Guest Editor Thomas Beyer covered.
What I object to strongly is the amount of car parking they plan to include. They want 120 parking spaces over the minimum required for a total of 497. (Do we still have minimum parking requirements in downtown Vancouver and why don’t we have a maximum number permitted?)
The overall parking ratio is 1.4 – in the centre of downtown Vancouver at the corner of Nelson & Burrard. That means 1.4 parking spaces for every 1 unit. It’s 0.4 for the rental building and a whopping 1.6 for the strata.
To give you some perspective, these days in Metrotown many high-rises will have a parking ratio of about 1 or less. Portland is building high-rises with 0.6 or less. Some high-rises are proud to be at 0. Granted, this high-rise plans to have a number of 2-3 bedroom suites. Still, allowing so much car parking downtown encourages too much driving and drives up costs. This much car parking doesn’t meet any of our City goals.
I have worked with numerous developers over the years interested in having all access carsharing in their buildings – even before there were incentives from the City to minimize parking requirements for doing so. It’s a popular amenity for buyers. FBC is not including any carsharing as they have no interest in reducing minimum parking requirements. This leaves their buyers with fewer convenient, transportation choices.
The plan is to have 6 levels of subterranean parking. The cost of adding 6 floors underground is staggering in concrete and steel. For developers, the reduced construction time with fewer levels can be a considerable savings for them as well. Housing rates are so expensive in Vancouver that even if the intention is to sell posh 2-3 bedroom suites, the higher cost of the units from additional parking doesn’t make sense to me. Many downtown families have 0 or 1 car and carshare when they need 2 on one day.
Also, units will be sold with parking spots – not unbundled (where the buyer gets to choose to buy a unit with or without a parking space).
Joyce told me the building is likely to be complete in 3 years. I explained that in 5 years or so it’s likely driverless carsharing will be available. People will be even less likely to own vehicles by then. He said it was quite easy to repurpose the underground parking.
The City encourages online feedback or emails to Yan Zeng <email@example.com> by April 14. You can easily sign up to be on the mailing list for updates by adding “Please add me to the mailing list” to your email.
The last PT Guest Editor wrote about comparing Burnaby’s density to Vancouver’s in Who Does Density Better?.
A 1920s-era church at 23rd Ave & Willow could be saved if it’s turned into 6 townhouses with the flexibility of 4 lock-off suites. It’s 600m from King Edward Station and the neighbours are outraged it will no longer be a Single Family Home (SFH). There seems to be more outrage about this lot than there is about skyscrapers going up in Burnaby.
Let’s start with what we know then learn a bit more:
Hair splitting leads to split ends:
This Vancouver Courier article from October, 2015 explains what’s going on in depth.
What do you think?
SFH – (Single Family Home) is also the abbreviation for at least 2 other meanings. Those who don’t want more density in Vancouver – are they Stronger, Faster, Healthier or So F’ing High?
When people are outraged at building townhouses on a large lot in Vancouver, is it a sign that the reality of density, the people who want different housing options, and the future Vancouverites who don’t usually get a say are winning?
On Tuesday I cracked myself up in prep for an evening with Janette Sadik-Khan (JSK), former NYCDOT Transportation Commissioner and author of Streetfight: Handbook for an Urban Revolution. Here are the highlights.
Whether you livestreamed it under the covers or attended at the Vancouver Playhouse, you probably had at least one moment of inspiration, imagining the delight that street transformation can bring to where you live. What if the City of Vancouver became the largest real-estate developer in town like JSK was for NYC?
Her statistics were all US based but we’re used to that. When we translate their numbers to our population, the information is uncomfortably more relevant than we would like. She included in her slides pictures of Vancouver and local examples to go with them. For those of us who attended her last visit, a few of the NYC successes were the same and still had a stunning, audible impact on attendees; she has more data to back her up now. She is confident and motivating.
Gordon Price is consistently a top-notch moderator and interviewer. He was a gracious Canadian host, animated, and entertaining. He had a great rapport with JSK. Price asked the pertinent questions and got solid answers.
What’s as interesting is who attended. At $5 a ticket, there were all ages and abilities present. I wondered how many business owners or BIA staff were there. Did Nick Pogor attend?
Unfortunately, I didn’t catch all of the electeds who introduced themselves from my perch on the balcony. I was pleased to see Vancouver’s Deputy Mayor Heather Deal front and center, who is also a Councillor Liaison to the City’s Active Transportation Policy Council and Arts & Culture Policy Council, among others. It was announced for the first time publicly that Lon LaClaire is the new City of Vancouver Director of Transportation. He introduced JSK. At least one Park Board Commissioner attended.
There was at least one City Councillor from New Westminster, Patrick Johnstone there – a fan of 30kph. I was tickled that Nathan Pascal, City Councillor for Langley City was there in his first week on the job! I was even more delighted to hear that the Mayor of Abbotsford Henry Braun was there. It symbolizes a shift in decision-makers toward at least open ears and at most safer, healthier city centres in the Lower Mainland.
The first rule of Hollywood is: Always thank the crew.
JSK started by thanking the 4500 within New York City’s Department of Transportation. She acknowledged that they implemented the changes her team tried – often quickly. Being fast and keeping the momentum up is key.
Interview well. Be yourself. Be bold.
When JSK was interviewing for the top transportation job with then NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, he asked: Why do you want to be Traffic Commissioner? She answered: I don’t. I want to be Transportation Commissioner.
A City’s assets – the public realm – need to reflect current values. Invest in the best use of public space.
JSK on streets: “If you didn’t change your major capital asset in 50-60 years, would you still be in business?”
“We transformed places to park [cars] to places people wanted to be…we created 65,000 square feet of public space with traffic cones.” “Broadway alone was 2.5 acres of new public space.”
JSK talked about the imbalance between the space for cars and space for people. Crowded sidewalks of slow walking tourists that fast-walking New Yorkers were willing to walk in car lanes to pass or avoid. In Vancouver, we already see this imbalance in our shopping districts and entertainment corridors.
She appreciated working for a Mayor who would back her up on her bold suggestions and who asked her to take risks because it was the right thing to do.
Consultation + Visualization = Education + Transformation
“People find it hard to visualize from drawings and boards. Create temporary space and program it.” Basically: traffic cones, paint, and planters are your friends.
“We need to do a better job of showing the possible on our streets.”
“Involve people in the process…Just try it out. Pilot it. We [all already] know the streets aren’t perfect.”
She estimated that once [in 5-10 years] shared, driverless cars are operating in our cities, most of our on-street parking won’t be needed. In the meantime, one of the many community requested programs is time-of-day based pricing for on-street parking. Of course, the higher turnover of vehicles is better for business.
Even better for business is putting in bicycle lanes. Some of the areas where businesses were most opposed have some of the highest bike volumes now.
It takes 4 things to increase bicyclist volumes significantly and NYC does them all.
JSK saw 3 of the above steps to fruition. Mayor de Blasio lowered speed limits to 25mph in November, 2014.
When Broadway closed to cars and opened to people, in Midtown:
Ciclovias, Car-free Spaces and Street Art
“The Public Domain is the Public’s Domain.”
“We asked the community where they wanted plazas and they took ownership of them.”
“The canvas of our streets was transformed by artists.”
Ciclovias involve closing streets to vehicles and allowing people to roam on them via any active transportation mode, often on weekends. In NYC it’s known as Summer Streets. Every Saturday in the summer from 7am-1pm they have about 300,000 people take part. Small businesses along the way have seen sales increase by 71%.
On making parts of Robson Street a car-free space, JSK said: “Try it; you’ll like it.”
Three words: Dedicated. Bus. Lanes.
These are enforced by cameras. Green traffic lights are synchronized with bus use. Like in Colombia, they have off-board fare collection. [Senior planners at TransLink would love dedicated bus lanes on Georgia Street, Hastings Street, or Broadway in Vancouver.]
NYC needs to up our game on the following:
Migration Astonishment: 1M here, 1M there
I was astonished (and by the looks of it so was Gordon Price) that NYC estimates that they will have 1 million more people living there by 2030. That’s the same number we expect in Metro Vancouver by 2030! Clearly, the impact here will be a much larger transformation. There’s a lot of work to do.
JSK advised: “Leverage the density. Recognize the value of density.”
“People want safe streets (and affordable housing) and are ahead of politicians and the media.”
“Inaction is inexcusable,” JSK said.
In the wake of the NDP monster rally about housing affordability, reported below, provincial Housing Minister Rich Coleman rose in the legislature to say that Vancouver “has to learn from Burnaby” how to do density properly. I can’t find a story on-line to link to, but perhaps a diligent reader can. Brent Toderian, the former director of planning for Vancouver, said on his regular “On The Coast” gig on the CBC yesterday that he “picked his jaw up off the floor” when he heard Coleman’s statement.
This, and Brentwood, is the kind of development Coleman is apparently referring to:
Full story here from Vancitybuzz.com.
I could be back at UBC in 1970, taking pre-architecture courses, with the professors getting us to read Le Corbusier’s Vers Une Architecture Moderne and study the Radiant City, while we all wanted to read Jane Jacobs!
It’s an interesting contrast with this quote from a Barbara Yaffe column in the Sun at the beginning of the month:
Local politicians for years have tried valiantly to convince Lower Mainlanders the only real solution to unaffordable housing is densification.
But if results of a new survey on preferred development are to be believed, there is a big problem with their strategy: The public is not buying it.
Incredibly, 44 per cent of those surveyed last July said, “All or most future development should be single, detached homes” — a category of shelter considered something of a relic in a region with a shortage of land and housing stock.
This is the dreamscape (hallucinatory!) at work, but it speaks to a deep desire people have for their own little plot of land, somehow, somewhere, that is theirs and theirs alone. A corollary is the suspicion many people have of strata-title, of strata councils, of all the potential mess of collectively managing a huge asset. The demand for fee-simple housing, which is far outrunning the supply of it in Vancouver and elsewhere, explains its skyrocketing price.
Could Vancouver provide more opportunities for fee-simple, ground-oriented housing on small lots (say, 30 x 66 feet, like some of the end-block houses in old neighbourhoods like Mount Pleasant and Grandview)? The townhouse-building community hasn’t responded, to my knowledge, with fee-simple rowhousing. Could the RS-1 McMansionland on the west side of the city be carved up into smaller lots, densifying along the way, while retaining the opportunity for fee-simple ownership?
James Cheng, Richard Henriquez and Joost Bakker spoke at a UDI luncheon last week about the current state of the planning process within the City of Vancouver, and stated that they saw the need to take a new look at the City’s View Corridor policy. As reported in the Vancouver Sun by Jeff Lee, the trio of well known architects felt that the policy deprived the city of significant opportunities and felt that further consultation was necessary to move forward.
The view corridor policy can be viewed here. This was a significant piece of work, and has resulted in maintaining magnificent views to the mountains and to the water from downtown streets, and also takes into account shadowing from buildings.
I believe that the View Corridor Policy is one of the facets that has made downtown Vancouver so special. But is there a point where sophisticated development should trump the view policy, to allow for higher point towers in other locations? Is this part of a maturing metropolis? Or should the policy remain?
Image by Ken Ohrn
Dense, compact cities are “the way forward in the development of man” and are critical in combating climate change and inequality, renowned architect Lord Richard Rogers told delegates at the ULI Europe conference in Paris.
Keynote speaker Rogers—speaking in the same city as the Pompidou Centre he designed with Renzo Piano, shooting him to fame in 1971—said that cities that “sprawl,”—spreading out over large areas, thus creating a need for cars—need to be shunned, and dense cities that promote dynamism and collaboration need to be encouraged.
“The compact city, the city that has mixed living, working, and leisure, which is connected through transport and infrastructure, which has good public space and is well designed—these cities are already here,” said Rogers. “Some cities are doing it well, and some are doing it badly.
We need to rediscover the classical order of things, where there was a mix of rich and poor. There are two problems tearing the world apart, and they are climate change and the gap between the rich and the poor. We need dense, mixed cities that open doors instead of close them.” …
He argued that cities should be building “in, not out,” meaning that areas should be made denser rather than spreading out, and that this does not inevitably lead to the building of more high-rise towers.
“In London, we have a policy of ‘brownfield first’—we have huge amounts of brownfield sites in England, and it isn’t acceptable that someone should have to travel 30 miles or more to get to work.
“London is made up of 32 boroughs, and around 600 hubs, most of them around public transport of some sort, where there are houses and a few shops. We think you can make these areas more dense, as there is already life there and you are not starting from scratch.”
He showed delegates plans of three designs for housing that use the same amount of land and deliver the same number of homes—one low rise, one mid rise, and one high rise—showing that towers are not the only solution to the problem.
He finished with a passionate plea. “When the citizens of Athens became a citizen, they had to swear an oath,” he said. “‘I shall leave the city more beautiful and greater than it was when I entered it.’ We need to ensure we do the same thing with our cities today.”
Another panel followed, echoing many of the points raised by Rogers.
From The Seattle Times: “Seattle, density doesn’t have to be a dirty word“
Analysis of census data shows that Seattle — for the first time in its history — ranks among the top 10 most densely populated big cities in the U.S.
Seattle’s population density has increased by nearly 10 percent since the 2010 Census. And if current growth rates continue, we’ll bypass No. 9 Los Angeles within five years. …
The densest part of Capitol Hill packs in about 55,000 people per square mile — comparable to Greenwich Village in New York.
When density is done right (said Branden Born, associate professor of urban design and planning at the University of Washington), it gives people more of what they like, and less of what they don’t like, in their neighborhood — but he recognizes that hasn’t always happened in Seattle. In Ballard, for example, there are so many new projects they’ve changed the character of the neighborhood.
Market Street in Ballard
Born points out that density doesn’t need to look like downtown. He suggests a stroll through some areas of Capitol Hill, one of the densest parts of Seattle.
Broadway on Capitol Hill
From the Daily Scot:
Here is a book that I believe belongs on the shelf of anyone who loves city building.
Authors: Julie Campoli & Alex S. MacLean. Published in 2007 by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.
Visualizing Density uses aerial photos, sketch diagrams and short descriptive passages to explain the current forms of land use with great effectiveness. Three main categories within the book: Growing Closer, Patterns of Density and the Density Catalog provide a great toolkit for public officials, developers and design professionals looking to make a positive impact on a cities built environment. Grab it today!
From the Daily Scot:
I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Founder and Co-Executive Director of LOCO BC Amy Robinson for quite a few years now through my sister. Amy and her team are passionate about all things great about local businesses, their under-appreciated economic contributions, how they support local jobs and communities, and all the great sustainability aspects that come with supporting people in your own backyard.
Amy and her team put together the following article. Please also check out what LOCO BC does by visiting their website: www.locobc.com
by Amy Robinson
Our unique neighbourhoods and local business community are at risk of gentrification in the race to densify our housing stock without including better planning for ground floor retail spaces.
Ground floor retail businesses influence how we interact with our city, whether walking, cycling, driving or on transit. Development along commercial corridors is increasingly creating a gentrified retail environment and Vancouver risks losing the unique character of its neighbourhoods.
Residents feel the change when new condos bring lifeless, large format retail spaces to their communities. When Shopper’s Drug Mart set up shop on Main Street at the corner of 18th, residents appealed to the company to make more of an effort to fit into the neighbourhood.
Residents are asking that new retail on the street better reflect the historic and eclectic character of one of the city’s oldest streets. “We can’t stop development, and that’s fine, but they are one of the first, not big box, but chain kind of stores to go in on Main Street, so they will have a big influence on how future ones might think that they’re going to develop there.”
The company replied to community efforts by saying they were simply leasing a space in a development whose design was approved by the city.
Ironically, one independent business that attempted to make another commercial condo space further down Main Street more unique was taken to task by the city. Popular independent restaurant East is East (Chai Gallery Restaurant) erected a wooden awning to reflect their business concept, one “built on using natural, sustainable materials in all aspects of the restaurant – in both design and cuisine”. The company was denied an occupancy permit that delayed opening. The restaurant refused, saying the city was “forcing us to change our nature-inspired design and use non-organic materials compromises the heart of what East is East stands for…[we are] building a new and expanded venue to bring world-class music, art and culture to Main St. However, the city planning department is demanding that we change our façade and outdoor patio to match their sterile vision of Main St.”
Chai Gallery’s sign may not be your thing, but it represents a fight to save the independence and spirit of local business in the city. In Hastings Sunrise, Dunbar, Marpole, South Main Street, Strathcona and other parts of the City, entire City blocks of local, independent retailers are being evicted to make room for new developments that provide increased housing density. That loss means that unique independent businesses are often being replaced with chain stores that leak wealth from our local economy.
Local businesses contribute more to our economy because their ownership is here (circulating profits), their management is here (circulating wages from good jobs), and they more often use local suppliers (circulating their purchasing dollars). Big chains have dispersed shareholders, corporate head offices elsewhere, and centralized supply chains that don’t support local suppliers for their marketing, web development, office supply, banking and other needs. The vast majority of dollars that flow into multi-national chain stores flows right back out of our community. Research shows that when consumers spend $1 with a chain, only 18c stays in the community, versus 45c for independent business. That’s 2.6x more local recirculation of dollars by local businesses!
Another example of the fight for unique, independent retail is being fought on West Broadway. Block after block of vibrant local businesses are being replaced with four and five story developments. Popular locally owned stores like Kids Books are being forced to move in order to make way for new development. One only has to look at similar developments east and west of that block for an example of what’s coming. These developments are filled with Shopper’s Drug Mark, McDonald’s, Tim Horton’s and the like. The convenience of these types of stores comes at the cost of local economic development as well as neighbourhood character.
Some of the constraints to local businesses relocating to these new developments are:
How do we create opportunities for local economic development as we grow our cities? We’d like to see Cities need to search for best practices, and also engage residents and businesses into a conversation about what kind of planning is needed to keep independent businesses in our communities. Without this effort we risk losing them and the ways they create wealth, forever.