The Community Plan and Me

June 17, 2013

While I manned the tables at Car Free Day on Commercial Drive today, a lot of people asked me about the Community Plan — what was my position? what was GWAC’s position? They are not the same thing, but a number of questioners assumed it was.

GWAC has spoken several times in regard to the inadequacy of the planning process for this Community Plan. I have little doubt that, after the GWAC Directors hear what the community thinks on 8th July, GWAC will rapidly announce a position. That is as it should be for a member-driven organization.

On the other hand, I write here as an individual, not as GWAC President, and I have very definite opinions on the Emerging Directions document and map put out by the planners a couple of weeks ago.  Most of these opinions are already known. For example, my views on how quickly change may come; on Vision Vancouver’s view of civic engagement; on the Regional Context Statement, and on why the Fight Begins are published.

I have had issues with the process from day one, but I’ll concentrate this piece on the actualities of the Plan/Map.

Emerging Map 1 copy

The sheer scale of the proposed changes is the first thing that caught my eye.  What’s “protected” here is just a small sliver of Grandview from Commercial east to Templeton between Hastings and Broadway, and an even narrower slice from Commercial west to Woodland between William and 3rd .

Central Grandview is being set up to become a shadowed courtyard between walls of expensively stacked townhouses and high rise condos.

The entire stretch of East Hastings from Clark to Nanaimo is booked to become a mid-rise strip from 6 to 15 storeys tall. It is hard to argue that a major road like East Hastings should not be remodelled. But there seems to have been no consideration given to those of on the northern slope of Grandview who like our views into the dockside.  Even more worrying is the extension of this mid-rise development all the way down Commercial to Adanac, with stacked houses and apartment blocks much larger than we have today.

Moving south, the Venables-Commercial intersection is to be reconfigured with two mid-rise buildings (to 14 storeys) in a bizarre attempt to assist supported housing.  Venables and Commercial is very badly served by transit, with just one bus (#20) on the Drive and none at all on Venables.  In addition, there are moves afoot to significantly downsize the traffic on Venables/Prior as part of the Eastern Core Strategy. So to build a 14 storey tower, and accompanying buildings, on that site makes no sense whatsoever.

The City will try to sell it as a significant improvement to the Kettle’s ability to support the difficult-to-house; and there’s no gainsaying that.  But there must be other ways to deal with this issue than change a whole neighbourhood with an isolated tower. There seems to be too little thought (other than developer’s profit) going into that plan.

The upzoning along First Avenue for 4-6 storey is more understandable.  It is a major arteriel road and, if they finally added a bit of transit along there, it would definitely serve the purpose. My concern with this project is the loss of single family homes along First east of Commercial. My understanding is that many of those are now broken up into suites and provide a source of less-expensive rentals.  We need to ensure that economic ecology is not disrupted.

As for the six storey proposals at First and Commercial, I can live with that; especially if we get to replace the awful Il Mercato Mall with something that interacts with the street.  Neither the Mall nor the Royal Bank building (erected for Safeway in 1940) nor the cheque-cashing business on the north east corner are worth keeping.  Time for some innovative Commercial Drive-style modern architecture perhaps.

Moving to the far east of the district we find the serried ranks of rowhouses proposed for the entire length of Nanaimo Street from Hastings down to Broadway.  Given that this is a particularly wide street, I guess this might not be oppressive as it would be elsewhere. But I’m still not keen on it. And the bits that have caused so much controversy among residents in the area are the fingers of four-storey buildings that reach out to surround Garden Park and Lord Nelson School.  It is almost as if the planners had a quota of rowhouses to fill, and had to reach out randomly to make up the numbers.

I don’t want to leave Cedar Cove out of this discussion, but I know less about it’s current environment than the other areas.  It looks as if it is being sized up as apartment/condo city. I love the fact that the planning team heard several of us ask for access to the Inlet and the old beach that was there. Not much chance of getting with the Feds in the way, but a bright spot to imagine.

And that brings us to the transit zone along Broadway.  Perhaps, it wouldn’t be quite so bad if we were only talking Broadway, but this free-for-all development zone stretches from 4th Avenue down to 12th, and covers the full width of the neighbourhood.  Anyone who didn’t realize we were going to be deluged with development along Broadway must have been asleep, but the scale, once again, of this plan now revealed — 36 storeys in one instance! — is striking.  Given that the UBC extension of SkyTrain is no slam dunk (especially after the last Provincial election), how are all these new people supposed to be moved?  Where are they supposed to work?

They are planning to save MOBY, which I know will please a lot of people.  And with that, I’ll move on to the rest of the document.  In the sections about Public Space, Arts & Culture, Neighbourhood Safety, etc etc., it seems that the planners and their team did pretty well at catching the mood of those at workshops and open houses.  There is a great deal of material in there that I recognise from the discussions — more trees, street furniture, better parkspace, artists’ spaces, bike routes.  Well done to them on that.

But the language in these other sections is also different than that employed in the land-use sections.  The land-use sections are generally very specific, block-by-block, size by size, building form by building form.  On the other hand, in the other sections we find “work towards” and “look for opportunities” and similar less definite phrasing.

I have some other issues too, but this has gone on long enough for today.  I’ll no doubt be back at this topic shortly.

Sunny Day, Talking Day

June 17, 2013

I spent nearly all of Sunday on the Drive for Car Free Day, manning the tables for both GWAC and the Grandview Heritage Group. Managed to speak to a wide array of new and old friends about heritage, about the Community Plan, about the neighbourhood in general.  This is always so valuable, to meet so many people at one time.

Car Free Day arranged by volunteers always seems a much friendlier, less commercially-oriented event than the business-driven Italian Day.  However, it didn’t seem quite as busy as past years, and the crowds definitely seemed thicker last weekend (Italian Day) than this.

There also didn’t seem to be the level of fancy dress and stiltwalkers and other street cabaret that we have been accustomed to, but there is always, of course, the wonderful Carnival Band.

Carnival Band

All in all a great event, perhaps just a bit more subdued than I had expected from past experience.  The hot sunny day helped too (except for those of us who forgot their hats!)

Technical Difficulties …

June 17, 2013

I was due to do an interview with our friends at Co-Op Radio a little while ago, to chat about the Community Plan.  Unfortunately, technical difficulties at their end didn’t allow me to be heard on air.  So we will re-schedule for Wednesday morning.