Digital Dishonesty at Commercial & Broadway

December 7, 2021


Last night, the monthly meeting of the Grandview Woodland Area Council was devoted to a discussion of the latest revision to the massive development proposal for the Safeway site at Commercial & Broadway.

After a quick historical survey by Steve Bohus, showing that the current proposal is a world away from the one approved in the Citizens Assembly Report, urban design teacher and scholar Erick Villagomez took the group through some of the ways in which the developer’s renderings are deliberately false, misleading, and designed simply to sell the product to citizens and Council members.

“It’s important to recognize that visuals are not value-neutral, they are ‘designed’ products, consciously manipulated through the use of visual techniques and forms of ‘distortion’—camera lenses, choice of framing, sun angles, to name a few—in order to show ‘ideal’ conditions that have limited ties to as-built realities. Urban planners, municipal officials, and decision-makers who are in charge of advocating for the public good and serve as city-building gatekeepers have minimal, if any, knowledge of the degrees to which imagery is manipulated to influence public perception, while those in charge of the production of visuals are neither held accountable nor explicit about the assumptions used to create their images.

Taking the developers’ plan views (which are legally required to be accurate), Erick showed that the renderings are anything but accurate representations of the reality. Focusing on the plaza area, the renderings show it as significantly larger (about 45% larger) than it will be when built:

He also notes that views from E. 10th do not relate to reality in that the Medical Building opposite the development has been eliminated from the images (with a different building substituted in some images) and the street is about double the width of the real thing. This form of manipulation makes it impossible to understand the actual scale of the proposal. This distortion is enhanced by having most of the towers cropped out of the images as here.

This image also eliminates the SkyTrain that runs along the right side of the picture, and shows the plaza bathed in sunlight while in reality this area will mostly be covered in the shadow of the towers.

More details on all these manipulations can be found in Erick’s excellent articles in Spacing magazine — “Decontructing Visuals” and “Deconstructing Visuals 2.0” which I can thoroughly recommend to anyone interested in how developers seek to sell through deception.

The meeting also discussed the lack of affordable housing in the proposal, the fact that the promised childcare centre has been abandoned, the existence of a gated green space not open to the public (against the entire ethos of Grandview’s vibe), and the significant increase in traffic on what is already a heavily congested set of intersections.

This was one of those meetings where GWAC comes into its own — a large group of intelligent and interested residents learning from experts and fully engaged in civic politics. Grandview could well hold the key to success in next year’s Council elections, and prospective candidates would do well to understand our concerns.

GWAC Discussion of Broadway & Commercial

December 8, 2020

The regular monthly meeting of the Grandview Woodland Area Council (GWAC) took place on ZOOM last night and the topic of discussion was the current proposal for huge towers on the Safeway site at Broadway & Commercial. I was able to stay just for the first hour and so my report is on that section.

There was a good turnout for the meeting which began with a detailed presentation by GWAC Director Barbara Cameron. She noted that the current proposal is for a series of three towers, up to 30 storeys tall on top of a 6-storey retail and public space platform. This compares with the maximum of 12 storeys recommended by the Citizens’ Assembly and the 24 storeys that were eventually forced by Vision into the Grandview Community Plan. The developer has offered just 20 social housing units in exchange for the zoning adjustment. Ms. Cameron announced that the heights suggested are unacceptable to GWAC.

Note that the entire sorry history of the development proposals for this site can be followed in various articles on this blog, and the political and process background is covered in detail in Battleground: Grandview.

There was a good amount of spirited debate over various aspects of the proposal. Significant opposition was expressed to the height and massing, to the “faux” plaza that is being offered, and to the effects on local land values (and therefore affordability) of a project of this size. Some speakers wanted to see no towers on the site at all, but most seemed to recognize that some degree of “tower” is going to be there. Ned Jacobs — an experienced veteran in these matters — described the proposed building as “an insult … a hideous ugly barracks” and the worse he has ever seen. More than one speaker reminded the group that a similar development at Cambie & Marine Drive has become a desolate enclave for big box stores.

Many speakers spoke of the need to organize opposition to the proposal, an organization that needs to be outside GWAC. It was agreed that as many people as possible should write to Council with their comments, to get them on the record. It was suggested that individual Councilors should be approached, that GoFundMe could help with payment for FaceBook ads to counter the City’s propaganda. Gayle Gavin reminded everyone that the city process is broken and is designed against local viewpoints with little time for organization once the proposals are published. (where have I heard all this before?)

As I was leaving, there were discussions beginning about swapping email addresses and getting an organization moving ahead. I wish them well and I offer this blog as a propaganda agency for their ideas and proposals.

Broadway & Commercial: A Discussion

December 2, 2020

The next Grandview Woodland Area Council (GWAC) meeting is on 7th December at 7:00pm, to be held on ZOOM. The discussion this month will be about the latest proposals for a huge set of towers at Broadway & Commercial on the Safeway site.

If you are interested in the LONG history of the development proposals on this site, please see this thread.

Broadway & Commercial: Have YOUR Say

October 18, 2020

Anyone who reads here on a regular basis will know that there is growing concern with the design decisions being made at the important Broadway & Commercial intersection — most particularly on what is known as the Safeway site.

Most of these proposals do not comply with the approved Grandview Community Plan, the recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly, the final recommendations of City of Vancouver Planning department in the Plan (prior to Council-driven amendments), nor the many views expressed at several community-rich meetings and workshops that have preceded this current proposal.

There are rumblings of a group organizing to protest and debate these decisions, I am glad to hear. One of the potential organizers of such a group has circulated an email reminding us to make sure City Council has YOUR views on what should happen at Commercial & Broadway.

You can do that by completing the very quick survey at:

I would encourage you to write today!

It’s Back! The Towers at Broadway & Commercial

August 27, 2020

After a long period of quiet, the developers of the massive Broadway & Commercial site (which will tower over the rest of us) are back to bother us.  Now, they want people to take a tour of their proposal “to engage the community.”

If you are interested, please visit their website and sign up.

Here is a lot of background on all the previous meetings and proposals.

Next GWAC Meeting: Discuss Broadway & Commercial

November 2, 2019

The next Grandview-Woodland Area Council (GWAC) Meeting is on Monday, 4th November, and the topic will be the current proposal to build huge towers on the Safeway site at Broadway & Commercial.


The proposed towers are significantly taller than allowed under the hard-fought GW Community Plan, and one of the questions has to be — did we waste four years on the Plan if it is simply to be ignored by every developer that comes along seeking greater profit?  Do the views of the residents of GW actually matter?

A brief history of the site’s development can be found here.

There will be a number of interesting speakers.  But most importantly GWAC needs to hear from YOU.  As usual, the meeting begins at 7:00pm and takes place in the Learning Resources Centre under Britannia Library.



Broadway & Commercial: The Saga Continues

October 2, 2019


Now that the developers, led by Westbank, have published their new proposals for the redevelopment of Commercial & Broadway with towers vastly in excess of the Community Plan height guidelines, I thought it might be useful to remind ourselves of the sorry history of this project from 2012 to today.

We begin in 2012 with the awful GW Plan Emerging Directions document. As some of you will recall, the GW Community Plan process began well enough in 2011, with a number of workshops on various aspects of the issues facing Grandview.  When the planners’ first draft of Emerging Directions was published in June 2012, it covered many of those issues and discussions well.  Unfortunately, they formed just a small part of the document. The bulk of the paper comprised CoV Planning’s ideas for rezoning right across the neighbourhood — zonings which had never formed part of any of the consultations to that date. They came to us as a complete surprise. In particular, this was the first time anyone had ever mentioned to us the possibility of a dozen high rise buildings at Commercial & Broadway.

The furore caused by this sleight of hand attempt to slip in zonings that had never been discussed caused an immediate uproar. By early July, the Planners recognized they had gone too far at Commercial & Broadway and so threw together a workshop on that particular area.  This was the first time they publicly recognized the process had failed.  Looking back, we were too confident this workshop meant something; as people who attended talked with each other, we finally realised how stacked the meeting had been with developers.

Much later we would discover that the extraordinary height of the proposed towers at Commercial & Broadway were not the idea of the planners themselves but had emerged after political interference from the City Manager and others in the Vision hierarchy.

For about a year, there was a pause in overt actions by Planning. All four of the Community Plans (GW, Marpole, West End, and DTES) were in serious trouble and Planner Brian Jackson needed time to decided what to do.  On September 25th, 2013, City Council received the Jackson Report on the four Community Plans.  Many of us got to speak for our allotted five minutes.  As a result of the Jackson Report, Grandview received a 12-month extension to the Plan’s schedule, and something called a Citizens’ Assembly that was not defined.

(I won’t go into the travesty that was the Citizens’ Assembly. A great many posts on that subject can be found here.  A significantly more detailed history of the period from the beginning of the Community Plan to the formation of the Assembly can be found here).

Finally, in the early summer of 2016, CoV Planning produced the Grandview Woodland Community Plan. In general, I approved of the Plan though many of the details were problematic and opposed by the community, and many of us continued to be aggrieved by the process. Included in the Plan, bludgeoned through City Council by the Vision majority later that summer, was approval for three towers at Commercial & Broadway to a maximum of 24 stories and a carefully positioned Public Plaza.

We then had a series of BS PR sessions that really gave us few answers. The first was arranged by Brooks Pooni so this was no great surprise.  There was another sponsored by CoV Planning which was equally problematic.  The first was specifically about the promised public Plaza which the developer wanted to move.  We did learn that Safeway, which holds a 50-year lease on the property, has refused to accept the idea of a two-storey store with a smaller ground-level footprint, and that has complicated designs for the developer.

However, it was a heavily engineered meeting: ticketing through Eventbrite, 200 neatly organised chairs, each with a Response form, three index cards for questions, and a pen – we were not allowed to speak our questions.  There were plenty of staff there, presumably on overtime, lots of coffee, lots of cookies. This was an expensive outing, and all because a developer sneezed. The ugly asymmetry of power in this city was rarely more obvious. That being said, a month later Planning admitted that 61% of respondents opposed moving the Plaza.

Then there was the detailed Bing Thom presentation.


It was a detailed presentation (though we were still not allowed to ask questions and get public answers) but both the height of the proposed towers (17 to 24 stories) and the position of the Plaza (on the other side of Broadway, under the SkyTrain line) were still significant issues. It was said in the presentation and on the display boards that Safeway required (demanded?) 55,000 sq.ft on a single level (even though their current store is just 33,000 sq.ft), and that parking be no more than one level away from the store. Because of these requirements, they said, it was impossible to include the plaza on site.

That was in June 2017.  Bing Thom had died in the previous December and now Westbank has taken over the project using a new architect.  With their new proposal, we are being asked to accept three towers reaching up from 24 to 30 stories, well in excess of the heights approved in the Community Plan.  While the Plaza has now been moved back onto the site, the proposed design seems less like a public gathering space for families than an enhanced foyer for both the Safeway store and the Skytrain station.


I guess we now have to look forward to another series of presentations and a public hearing before City Council signs off. It will be interesting to see the public reaction.

Major Road Disruption at Commercial & Broadway

September 15, 2017

Upgrades to the Commercial Skytrain station will start to impact drivers and bus users starting today, according to a report in the Province.

The installation of a new overhead walkway across Broadway will involve a massive crane sitting in the road, blocking a sidewalk and some traffic lanes. The #9 and #99 buses will have temporary stops other than in their usual places from today until October 1st.

“The weekend of Sept. 30 and Oct. 1 is when drivers will really feel the pain. Broadway will be closed completely so that a crane can be erected in the middle of the road. The two cranes will move the largest piece of the walkway, which weighs 13,600 kilograms, into place over the road.  “It’s a pretty significant disruption, obviously, to Broadway as we do that, but it’s necessary to make that lift take place,” said Matt Edwards, manager of engineering project delivery. Drivers are encouraged to avoid the area while detours are in effect.”


Broadway & Commercial, Again

August 4, 2017

For the last two months I have written quite a bit about plans to develop the Safeway site at Broadway & Commercial.  There are any number of issues with the proposed series of high rise towers and they will be dealt with in due course.  However, what has particularly engaged the local residents is the placement of the large public plaza that the City-approved Grandview Community Plan includes at the site.

The site owners and developers want to remove the public plaza from their land south of Broadway and position it north of Broadway across the Grandview Cut.  You can follow the discussion here, here, and here. Residents’ statements and survey results from the meetings showed a wide majority of opinion against changing the location of the plaza.  It was a surprise, therefore, for a local activist recently to see developer’s drawings still showing the plaza over the Cut, and she wrote to the City wondering whether there is “any point at all to these ‘public consultations’ if the plans are already in the works and going to go ahead no matter what the feedback is from residents?”

Kent Munro of City Planning replied as follows, noting that the developers have not yet made a formal proposal:

“Based on what we heard, and consistent with some of your perspective, city staff have a number of concerns with what this landowner is contemplating for this important site.  Further, City staff have made these concerns known to the landowners and we have informed them that we will not be accepting any application for redevelopment of the site until a proposal that is more consistent with what the Community Plan policies outlined is put forward. If and when an application for development or rezoning is formally received by the city, the typical review process which includes comprehensive notification and consultation with the neighbours would be initiated. [emphasis added]”

That sounds good but, as the activist points out, Munro’s use of the term “more consistent with” is not necessarily the same as “consistent with” the approved Plan. We still need to keep a watchful eye as this progresses.


More on the Plaza at Commercial & Broadway

July 2, 2017

At the beginning of last month, City of Vancouver Planning held a “community event” to discuss an idea to move the public plaza promised in the GW Community Plan from a re-developed Safeway site to public land over the Grandview Cut.  It was, as I have discussed, a disappointing affair.

Planners have now released their report on the meeting, along with an analysis of survey results. In the email summary of the report sent to those on the GWPlan list, they note that 51% of all survey respondents voted against moving the plaza. A commentary in the email suggests that

“Generally, responses received from people who indicated they lived within the Grandview-Woodland area were opposed to the alternative plaza location. Responses received from people living outside of the neighbourhood area tended to support of the alternative plaza location.”

But the actual level of residents’ opposition is not detailed in the email.  It is not until page 21 of the detailed report that one discovers residents voted 61% against the move, while only 23% were in favour (the balance were “neutral”).  Neither age nor gender seem to have been statistically relevant in the numbers, although 84% of the 37 respondents who did not give their age were opposed.

It is good to have these numbers available — and Planning should be commended for releasing them. However, given the near certainty of moving the plaza as expressed in the developers’ meeting, combined with Vision Vancouver’s historic reluctance to take residents’ concerns into account where big development is concerned, one has to wonder whether the local opposition will once again count for anything.


Commercial & Broadway: A First Review

June 28, 2017

Last night was the major unveiling of plans for the Safeway site at Commercial & Broadway, a signature piece of the Grandview-Woodland Community Plan over which we have sweated for four years or more.  We knew there would be towers — and boy, are there towers!

[Note that selecting any image will display a larger version]

First, let me say that the event was very well presented, taking over the large hall at the Croatian Cultural Centre, with several dozen display boards around the room explaining various aspects of the project and good-sized models in the centre. The event was generously catered.

The evening began with a 20-minute presentation by a member of the Bing Thom Architects  team who rattled through some interesting design choices and did not ignore the glaring problem of moving a 20,000 sq.ft public plaza from the developers’ site to public land over the Grandview Cut (see earlier discussions here and here).  The presentation made it clear that, because of Safeway’s requirements (see more below), it was impossible to include the plaza on site.

The presenter discussed the problems Bing Thom had with “Vancouverism” — the podium-mounted single point towers so beloved by Brent Toderian and his ilk that now dominate the downtown and are encroaching on the rest of our fair city. He compared a map of population densities extrapolated from the 2016 census in which the highest densities are downtown with a similarly sourced map showing the population density of children which are significantly higher away from downtown. Their idea is to make the Safeway towers more “family friendly.” There was talk of widening corridors in the towers, allowing more windows, terracing the levels, allowing more personalization of front doors etc., and substantial use of greenery throughout the towers. Conceptually, they said, they wanted to take Grandview’s well used residential streets and lanes and simply tip them up on end to create “a vertical village”.

They propose four residential towers ranging in height from 17 to 24 stories “above the retail plinth” which, I guess makes them in reality 20 to 27 stories in height. The proposed FSR is a high 5.7. They will surround a “courtyard” shown in the illustration above as a soccer field. The height was not mentioned during the presentation — I can’t imagine why not — but one of the boards contained the details.

The retail plinth, three or more stories of it, includes Safeway, of course, but in a new and vastly expanded version, along with smaller retail stores at grade along Broadway and the all-important Skytrain connection. It includes, they claim, a huge amount of public space. However, much of that space is a grand concrete staircase (bizarrely compared to Rome’s Spanish Steps!) and a children’s playground that will only be available when the proposed childcare facility (for tower residents) is closed.


While I thought the architects’ presentation was interesting, the ending of it threw up one of the issues many of us have with this kind of open house.  They decided that no questions would be asked or answered from the seated audience. Instead, it was noted that there were dozens of project staff in attendance who would be happy to discuss issues. This provoked an outburst from one of our veteran activists who wondered, loudly and quite rightly, why answers could not be shared with the entire audience.  As has become the norm in so many development/planning events, people are required to break up into isolated small groups, thus dramatically (and deliberately) restricting the flow of potentially negative information. I strongly suspect the hand of the expensive PR companies — Brook Pooni and Pottinger Bird — (“devils incarnate” as many now think of them) in this now-standard procedure.

I did take advantage of the attending “experts” to button hole an architect on a couple of matters that concern me. It was said in the presentation and on the boards that Safeway required (demanded?) 55,000 sq.ft on a single level, and that parking be no more than one level away from the store. It is these requirements that have driven much of the design and, in particular, have made it necessary to move the public plaza (a requirement of the Community Plan) away from the site. I asked whether the demands from Safeway were legal contractual requirements in their current lease or were simply what they wanted. After some hesitation, the architect agreed that their lease (which has another forty years to run) was only for the current 38,000 sq.ft. However, if they didn’t get what they wanted there could be no development and Vancouver wouldn’t get the density or the CAC’s they expected. He smiled when I suggested that might suit some residents quite well.

He and I also discussed the Plaza issue. We both agreed (he reluctantly) that, if Safeway stayed at 38,000 sq.ft, or if Safeway could accept a two-level store, than there was plenty enough space on the Safeway site to include the Plaza as written in the Community Plan. We also both agreed that there was no possible noise mitigation possible for the trains going overhead every 45 seconds or so (he suggested we would all “get used” to the noise).  He — in line with the presentation previously given — suggested it would be a great meeting space and useful for events and concerts (perhaps he forgot about the train noise); I suggested it would become a vast concrete empty desert of little value to anyone.

I suspect that, if one is a fan of this kind of huge development, then Bing Thom’s concepts will be welcomed and appreciated; there certainly seems to have been some imagination included in the project, and some serious thought given to moving away from Vancouverism.  However, leaving aside any other problems, 27 storeys is very close to the 30-storey proposal that the neighbourhood wholeheartedly rejected three years ago, a rejection which brought the entire Community Plan process to its knees for a while.


And then, as always, there is the process.  While I am pleased that the developers have brought their ideas to the table as early as they have (though the cynic in me wonders how such carefully crafted concepts as those presented last night could simply be abandoned at this point) but the failure to have genuine community dialog last night with everyone listening to the debate foreshadows typical problems ahead.  More specifically, there has been no attempt whatsoever to understand that — regardless of what Vision buffaloed through as a so-called Community Plan — much of the community is opposed to large scale development in our neighbour, and that our viewpoint has to count for as much as Safeway’s.

We vote, they don’t.



Reminder: Broadway & Commercial Peep Show Tonight

June 27, 2017

This is a reminder that the owners and developers of the Safeway site at Broadway & Commercial will be showing off their design concepts for tower(s) at that important intersection tonight.  The Open House is at Croatian Cultural Centre and kicks off with a “brief presentation” at 6:00pm. The event goes on until 8:30pm.

There is much to be potentially concerned about with these plans, and it will be interesting to see their take on the question of a public plaza — a design feature included in the Grandview-Woodland Community Plan but which the City has said the owners don’t want on their site.

Broadway & Commercial: Another Open House

June 14, 2017

I have tonight received an email about another Open House on the Broadway & Commercial proposed development.  This one is NOT a City of Vancouver event but, rather, is being put on by the developers’ “project team”.

Bing Thom Architects, Westbank the developer, and Crombie REIT (owner of the Safeway site) are “excited to share our initial concept” including “a new form of family oriented housing.” They say they have developed ideas from the Ideas Fair they held at Federico’s Club last year.

Oddly enough, they have put flyers into the mailboxes of the most immediate neighbours (a block or two only I understand) but I can find no other posting about this event and there seems no way to register. However, this is less odd when one notices that the PR company involved is Brook Pooni Associates — famous in our neighbourhood for working with the developer to obfuscate the facts about the Boffo tower project at Commercial & Venables.

The Broadway & Commercial meeting is on Tuesday 27th June at the Croatian Culture Centre.  There will be a brief 15 minute presentation at 6:00pm and the open house formally runs from 6:15pm to 8:30pm. There will not be an official Q&A session, but who knows what questions might be asked?

Hope to see many of you there!


The Plaza at Commercial & Broadway

June 8, 2017

Another two hours of my life I won’t get back, and I learned almost nothing useful. The two hours were spent — in delightful activist company — at the City of Vancouver’s “Broadway Plaza Exploration” open house at the Croatian Cultural Centre tonight.

The idea — or so many of us thought at least — was to examine a proposal to move a projected large public plaza from the site recommended in the Grandview Community Plan (“the Safeway site”) to an alternative location preferred by the owner/developer of the original site. The suggested alternative site is over the Grandview Cut on the east side of Commercial just north of Broadway. Instead, we got a rendering of a map of where the plaza might be; and absolutely no discussion of why the developer didn’t want to simply follow the guidelines in the Community Plan which was the result of three years’ consultation.

Then we got three speakers discussing at some length about sometimes highly technical aspects of designing “good” plazas — edges, acoustics, accessibility, safety, etc etc.  I think it is probably a good idea to have “master classes” in aspects of urban planning available to the public; but this seemed the wrong audience.  I know I was’t the only one disappointed when the panellists made no connection with the original site, but used their time to propagandise ways to ameliorate the undoubted problems of the alternative site, not the least of which are multiple Skytrain tracks running immediately over the proposed plaza. When asked directly how the design principles for good plazas they had discussed were reflected in the two sites, the only answer was “It depends on the final design”.

And then came a general question period. Of course, we were not allowed to stand and ask our questions. We had to write out the question, hand it to a staff member and they then decided which questions would be asked and answered. MCed by City Planner Andrew Pask We could see scores of questions being passed to staff, but we only got through four or five before Andrew closed the meeting about 20 minutes early.

This was another attempt at consultation, I guess, that failed unfortunately. I applaud Planning for trying different formats but this was really pointless.  If we could have had a genuine discussion about plaza design, with experts with competing visions, perhaps, and open questioning, that might have had good value, but this was overly structured and distant.

It was a heavily engineered meeting too: ticketing through Eventbrite, 200 neatly organised chairs, each with a Response form, three index cards for questions, and a pen. There were plenty of staff there, presumably on overtime, lots of coffee, lots of cookies. This was an expensive outing, and all because a developer sneezed. This needs to be weighed against residents with 5,000 signatures on a petition getting just 5 minutes at a public hearing.

The ugly asymmetry of power in this city was rarely more obvious.


Urgent: Potential Commercial & Broadway Sellout!

May 30, 2017

As part of City Planning’s “lipstick on a pig” policy to allow huge towers at Commercial & Broadway, the approved Grandview-Woodland Community Plan required a large and attractive public plaza as part of a redeveloped Safeway site. This was supposed to assuage the aesthetic and social dissonance the massive towers would bring to the area.

Safeway doesn’t like that idea, never has. It doesn’t fit in with what one critic calls their “archaic retail requirement” for a “large suburban store footprint”. In other words, an attractive public plaza would somehow get in the way of their profit-making potential. They are suggesting that any public plaza should be someplace else.  It is not clear to me at this point where the alternative plaza is supposed to be, but I suspect it is north of Broadway, toward the Cut, rather than south.

City Planning has decided to have a meeting about this new proposal on Thursday 8th June at 7:00pm at the Croatian Cultural Centre. The meeting is free, but you need to register via Eventbrite.

Even though this meeting is now only nine days away there is no mention of it on the GW Plan website and no notification has been sent to those of us signed up to the GWPlan email list. I know about it merely by chance.

Grandview-Woodland is already famously deficient in public space such as parks and plazas compared to the rest of Vancouver, and the Community Plan as approved does almost nothing to improve the situation. What little we do gain — such as a public plaza at Commercial & Broadway — needs to be protected and indeed enhanced not thrown over for the benefit of a developer.

Register to come to the meeting and let’s make our voices heard!

Update:  Some three hours after I posted this, I received an email notification from GWPlan about the meeting.


Broadway & Commercial Reminder

November 17, 2016

Just a reminder that this Saturday, from 11am to 3pm, there will be a “community social” at Federico’s Supper Club, 1728 Commercial, to discuss the future of the Safeway site at Broadway and Commercial.

This is an issue of great importance to the community as a whole and I hope many of you will take the time to drop by. There will be face painting for the kids!

Commercial & Broadway: The Future

October 5, 2016

This is a reminder that there will be an open house this coming Saturday to hear ideas regarding the future of the Safeway site at Commercial & Broadway.  This will be the first serious action regarding development in Grandview after the approval of the Community Plan this summer.

The “community social” will be hosted by developers Westbank Projects and the owners of the site, Crombie REIT. It will take place from 11:00am to 3:00pm on Saturday 8th October at Federico’s Supper Club, 1728 Commercial.


According to an article in the Courier, the developers/owners want “to brainstorm “a new urban typology for the city and for family living.”

This is an important site on the border of our neighbourhood and I hope many of you will take time out of your busy Thanksgiving Saturday to attend for a short while at least.

Update:  The meeting has been cancelled due to the sudden death of architect Bing Thom. It will be rescheduled.


Commercial & Broadway: The Future

September 26, 2016



Here is an important date for the calendar for anyone interested in the future of Grandview, especially regarding development on its southern border.

On Saturday 8th October Westbank Properties will be holding an open house information session on the future of the Safeway site at Commercial & Broadway.  The session will be from 11am to 3pm at Federico’s Supper Club, 1728 Commercial Drive.

The City’s vision for the site is for multiple towers from 12 to 24 storeys with a central public plaza. I believe they also propose that Safeway become a two-storey store. However, at City Hall in June, Safeway/Sobey’s said there was no way they would accept a two-storey grocery; a position that could adversely affect the space required for the public plaza.

It will be interesting to see how the developer is planning to square that circle.


Book Talk: Scot Hein & Jak King

December 8, 2021


Scot Hein: Scot Hein here and it’s my honour today on behalf of CityHallWatch who’s sponsoring this as their first, hopefully, in a series of interviews of important folks in Vancouver, and I would say the Lower Mainland and Western Canada as well.

We’re going to speak with Jak King today, and of course he’s just written an amazing new book called ‘Battleground: Grandview.’ I’m going to show the first prop here today. There it is. It’s a phenomenal book, a massive undertaking, I’ve read it once. I’m going to go back and read it again. For me it captures, given my time at City Hall while a lot of this was happening, a very authentic and accurate depiction of what was happening out in Grandview at that time. So it’s just great to be with you today.

I have to tell you that I’ve been really looking forward to this. I sort of feel like I know you. I think I met you at a Grandview Woodlands Area Council meeting when I believe it was Dorothy Barkley asked me to come out and do a little primer on city making. I believe you were in the audience that night. But more because I follow your blog and almost daily your music offerings, what you’re having for dinner, your poems and your photos. I have enjoyed [it] now for a number of years and so thank you. I thank you in advance for that and it’s great to speak with you. You’re a renaissance guy and I hope we have a great conversation today. So we’re going to talk about your book, obviously, but I thought maybe we might start in terms of who you are and a little bit about your lived experience so our audience can really appreciate what grounds you where you’re coming from. So over to you Jak.

Read the rest of this entry »

Lack of Vision on Broadway

December 4, 2017

As we approach the 2018 municipal election, my supposition is that Vision Vancouver will run its campaign based on two primary issues: their so-called Housing Strategy, and the Broadway subway.  The “Housing Strategy” is no doubt the number one priority, and I will have plenty enough to say about that in the weeks and months ahead. But for today, I want to revisit the arguments against the massively expensive and very limited underground subway that Gregor Robertson and his developer pals are keen to foist on us. It is imperative that we revitalize the campaign against the Broadway subway to nowhere as early in the campaign as possible.

To begin, here is a piece I wrote before the 2014 municipal election. Some references may be dated, but the facts remain, and while I might change some details today, the conclusion is fixed and firm.


A Lack of Vision On The Broadway Corridor

Vision Vancouver, the developer-funded incumbent regime at City Hall, have decided to make a subway under Broadway, from Commercial to UBC, a major plank of their re-election campaign. Apparently it is beside the point that they don’t have the money to do it, nor any control over the funding, and that it is a bad and unimaginative idea, suited only for the profits of the regime’s crony partners. A subway we shall have, they say.

Let’s begin by looking at some of the yawning gaps in Vision’s proposal.

First, to claim this is a subway to UBC is simply false.  The subway, as currently proposed, will be dug from Commercial & Broadway only to Arbutus where westbound commuters will have to leave the subway, climb up to the street level and then wait for a bus to UBC to complete their journey, one way.  So, any commuter time savings discussed must take into account the time and inconvenience needed for this transfer. And, of course, the same inconvenient transfer will be necessary when leaving UBC to travel eastwards.

Second, all expert opinion suggests that putting the financing together and then building the tunnel will take eight years at least before delivering one second of improvement.  I suppose we must hang around in long lines waiting for an already-crowded 99B Line for another eight years, as there are no plans to improve the service before then.


In fact, under Vision’s plans for Commercial & Broadway, the commuting situation will get much worse.  They plan to add about 10,000 more people to that neighbourhood, mostly housed in huge 30+ storey highrise towers at the intersection, without any increase in transit. Those 10,000 people will simply add to the congestion and line-ups that already annoy so many travelers; and which can only be aggravated by years and years of subway construction work.

Third, what would this new commuter paradise look like?  Under Vision, there is little doubt Broadway will consist of islands of massive towers separated by barren wastelands between the stops.


Even the pro-subway Urban Land Institute, in their Final Report in July, warned that Vision had gone hog-wild over towers. It is worth noting that there will still need to be street-level buses to move people between the stations and their high-rises; so the subway becomes not a replacement, but simply a very expensive addition.

Finally in this review, let’s take a moment for an overview of this $3 billion, 8-year project: Question: did you ever see a government-run mega project go over-budget and/or over-schedule?  I can’t think of one that didn’t.

So, after all that complaining, are there alternatives?  Yes, of course. And there are alternatives whether the $3 billion falls like manna from heaven or whether we have to do this without such largesse.  The prime failure of Vision’s plan is its lack of imagination.

For example, should that kind of money be available, Patrick Condon (who elsewhere has pointed out the contradictions in Vision’s plan) has already described the magnificent transit system we could have all across Vancouver for the same cost of $3 billion that Vision wants to waste on a single line between Commercial and Arbutus. Why would we not want to improve service everywhere rather than service a small slice of our needs?

What else?  We could move large sections of UBC to, say, the Post Office building downtown, and the Emily Carr site on Granville Island.  This would spread the transit load geographically and, at least in the case of the Post Office, would build upon existing transit infrastructure.

And/or we could insist that UBC and the high-tech companies the Mayor and Geoff Meggs have said will dominate the Broadway corridor move to flex-time scheduling, thus spreading the traffic load across the system throughout the day and thus reducing “rush hour” congestion.

And/or we could divert automobile traffic off Broadwayto 4th, 12th, 25th and 41st, for example.  Personally, I would be happy to see the entire Broadway corridor become a pedestrian/transit/cycle-only street.  A mix of short-haul and express buses would speed along their own dedicated lanes, as would bicycles, feeding retail along the entire street rather than just in towering shopping centres.

Finally, we can consider alternative technologies for moving people along Broadway.  An at-grade Light Rapid Transit system, costing about a third of the tunnel project but going all the way to UBC, is an obvious candidate.


There are plenty of other ideas floating around.  What we know is that the three billion dollar hole in the ground is the least viable, the least effective, and the least neighbourhood-friendly option and, besides, it cannot be ready for almost a decade at best.  It is time to be creative and make better decisions for our commuters and our City today.

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I note again that this was written in 2014 and there was an 8-year timeline suggested for building the subway — thus to be in operation from 2022 or 2023. No major work has progressed since the last election, and so we can assume the project is now aiming for 2026 or 2027.  Do we really want to wait that long to solve a traffic management problem just so developers, builders and real estate merchants can increase their profits while doing nothing for affordability?