Building Form and Height in the DTES

Swam through the rain last night to a meeting of the Strathcona Residents Association where Patrick Conden and Ray Spaxman presented about, and answered questions on, the nature of building forms that might emerge as a result of the current Community Plan process for the Downtown Eastside. It was a packed hall with perhaps 100 people in attendance.

Professor Conden’s talk was wide-ranging about the use of space throughout the city, and he discussed the work his students have been doing to figure out what forms are necessary to meet the density requirements proposed for the future.  In an echo of the work that Lewis Villegas has been promoting, Conden’s students managed to fit — with some ease — a doubling of Vancouver’s population without use of highrises outside the downtown core.  Conden himself is a champion of lowrise (say, six storey) wooden structures (rather than concrete).

Former City Planner Ray Spaxman, currently co-chair of the DTES Local Area Planning, dealt more with the process of completing the Community Plan.  City Council is to vote on the Plan on March 12th.  Spaxman says that, in reality, it won’t be ready at that time.  However, he is extremely concerned with the housing crisis in DTES and, as I understand him, he advocates for Council to accept some parts of the Plan in March, with the rest being worked on more and coming in later.  In particular, he wants to see immediate approval of the 60% social housing/40% market housing plan for a particular part of the core of DTES.

There was a great deal of discussion about displacement through gentrification (the modern version of “urban renewal”), the genuine sense of community in the area, and the effect of parking rules on the height and cost of buildings. These are clearly very challenging times for the Downtown Eastside, and there is no obvious consensus as to whether the proposed Community Plan will improve matters or make it worse.

It was a very worthwhile evening.

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