Last night’s monthly meeting of the Grandview Woodland Area Council (GWAC) was filled by a presentation and QA session with the articulate and interesting Scot Hein. Scot was for ten years the head of City of Vancouver’s Urban Design Studio (UDS) until he resigned about 18 months ago. He is now an adjunct professor in urban planning at UBC.
Scot gave the thirty or so attendees an excellent run-through of the urban design principles that drove Vancouver planning in the years he was at UDS. He noted that these design principles were the first lens through which development proposals were viewed. Ed: This should still be the case but increasingly developer profit, a sterile technocratic managerialism, and sheer panic seem to have taken over.
Scot noted his support for a city-wide plan — it helps “discipline” the planning process, he believes — but was adamant that contextuality is key and that “appropriate discussions” on form and style need to be hyper-local. He then moved on to discuss and illustrate a wide range of case studies from across the city, featuring the Arbutus Walk development that was propelled by local activists and architects.
Discussing Grandview Woodland in particular, Scot noted that Grandview is already at or close to the 40 units per acre number that is considered reasonable urban density. He made it clear that he and the UDS were firmly opposed to towers in our neighbourhood and similar inner ring suburbs. In fact, he and his team produced low-rise alternatives that planners in the four Community Plans could use.
Scot put forward his theory that if land assembly by developers was prohibited in these kinds of neighbourhoods, then land value would immediately be removed from the pricing equation and lower costs housing could be built. He would prefer Council to loosen the rules on what lot owners could develop on their own land, easing the way to second houses, laneway structures, etc. He also suggested that neighbours should be allowed to pool their lots to develop more imaginative low-impact density and thus make best use of the latent capacity already contained within the zoning guidelines.
Discussing the Boffo Tower, Scot said that UDS had seen the original proposal in 2013 (even though other planners have told us that no proposal had been submitted) and which he described as “a pig in space” meaning an inappropriate structure for the local environment and character. In December of that year UDS had presented Boffo with some ideas to reduce the height of the proposed tower from 15 storeys down to about 9. (ed: However, they were working with the total square footage that Boffo said they needed and so their potential alternatives were limited by those requirements.) He said Boffo had agreed to proceed on that basis. However, the latest designs Scot had seen seemed to him to have reverted to the original size and massing.
Finally, Scot suggested that we gather architects and designers on our side with an alternative plan and then to request a design mediation.
When there is intelligent talk and good questions and responses, two hours seems to fly by. Such was the case last night and I am glad to have been there to take part.