And …

May 17, 2019

In my earlier piece about demolitions in Grandview, I forgot to mention that the immediate consequences of the trend to demolish old Edwardians and replace them with duplexes are to reduce density and increase  housing costs — absolutely contrary to the shrill claims of the build-build-build brigade.

For the block on Venables that was being discussed, we have firm knowledge that the two houses already demolished housed twelve people. They have all been displaced.   The four duplex units that will take their place will generally have no more than two people living in each, for a total of, say, 8 people.  That is a 33% reduction in density.

The affordable rentals will be replaced by $1 million+plus price tags. If they are put out for rent, I would be surprised if they were offered at less than $3,000 a month — that’s a 100% increase in the cost for someone used to paying $1,400 or $1,500 a month to live in that space.

An earlier example of this same issue happened when townhouses came to Adanac.

We would do a let better by allowing and incentivizing current owners to increase the number of units on their lots, adding internal suites, laneways, etc. This will increase density while retaining the current neighbourhood look, feel, and scale.  It will reduce costs both by eliminating the need for land acquisition and reducing the bureaucratic burden (especially for heritage homes) that makes such renos and improvements almost impossible these days. It will increase affordability by creating incentives for rents to remain at income-suitable levels. A further benefit would be an increase in work opportunities for smaller local builders who could handle projects of this size.

Whether you agree with these specific ideas or not, it should be clear we cannot keep doing what we are doing, even with a so-called new Council..


The Effect of A Bad Planning Process on Our Neighburhood

May 17, 2019

Last  night was the May monthly meeting of the Grandview Heritage Group. As usual it was two hours of lively informed comment and discussion on a  wide variety of topics.  These included upcoming heritage tours and programs, an excellent presentation from a group looking to put together a history of Clark Park, and an exquisite piece of historical detective work by Neville revealing the history of 1906 Grant Street.

We also looked at the plague of demolitions that are this summer’s blight on Grandview. In particular we looked in depth at a single block on Venables where five older houses are being (or have already been) demolished this month. In most cases, stately and adaptable Edwardian buildings are being replaced with cookie-cutter back-and-front duplexes. There are serious issues both with why this is occurring and the effect they will have on the long term social fabric of the neighbourhood.

The houses being demolished generally started life as single family properties. But they were large and spacious and their interior structure allowed them to be configured to suit multiple uses. The single family house often developed into a multi-generational home, then perhaps into a rooming house or complex of individual suites, and many saw further use as a renovated SFH with a basement suite helping the mortgage.  Families and neighbour community were encouraged by this kind of architecture.

The replacement duplexes, with their lack of basements and attics and their fixed regular patterns discouraging or inhibiting family growth, are designed for the modern two-person tech couple isolated within their own cells and digital networks. Families and community groups are being replaced by “household units.” This is a fundamental and unwelcome change in the social fabric for a family-friendly residential neighbourhood such as Grandview.

As part of the overall debate, we kicked around ideas about why this happening. A generally accepted view is that the planning and development process has been so damaged in Vancouver (we have all heard of relatively trivial projects taking years to complete through the bureaucracy and with tens of thousands in fees attached) that developers are deciding against innovation and are sticking to templated duplex designs they can get through the process with a minimum of fuss and delay.  There still seems to be a market for these at around $1.4 million per half-duplex and a slightly lower profit margin is preferred to the risks of serious delay with any other kind of development proposals.

Should we really be changing the nature of our communities just to suit a failure of competence in the planning process?


Update: see also: “And …”

Viaducts, Traffic, and Community Engagement

April 30, 2019

The May monthly meeting of the Grandview Woodland Area Council (GWAC) takes place next Monday at 7:00pm in the Learning Resources Centre room under the Britannia Library.  This is a very important meeting to discuss massive traffic issues facing Grandview over the next decade.  As per their email notice:



Most of you probably know that the idea of removing the viaducts has a long history.  There is some community support for the demolition but much of the impetus comes from Vision Vancouver’s need to satisfy their developer supporters by providing more land for their profit.  There has been significant opposition to the demolition from East Vancouver and areas east of us who consider the viaducts a primary and convenient access to the city. I suspect we have not yet heard the end of this battle, especially if this still-newish Council can finally show their muscle and start directing the Vision holdovers in senior City staff positions rather than simply acquiescing to whatever the bureaucrats propose.

However, the survival or not of the viaducts is intimately connected with the question of traffic east of Gore, and how that traffic will affect Grandview.  This was the issue that Vision Vancouver (interested only, I believe, in the development aspects) could never solve. They eventually decided to use a so-called Community Panel to cover their asses on the decision.  From what I hear from the GWAC rep who attended, this Panel was as pointless as the Citizens Assembly they foisted on us during the Community Plan.

Given both the history and the importance of the viaducts/traffic issue, Monday’s meeting should not be missed!

More on TMH at Commercial & Adanac

March 22, 2019

As reported earlier, the No Tower Coalition has been suggesting to City staff and Councillors that the virtually-unused and City-owned parking lot at the corner of Commercial & Adanac would be a perfect site for a Temporary Modular Housing (TMH) project.

I understand City staff have nixed the idea, saying the site is unsuitable, presumably on the grounds of size. I believe that is just nonsense.  Steve Bohus, a GWAC Director, has produced concept renderings showing that a 40-unit TMH — extrapolated from the existing footprint of the 52-unit TMH at 898 Main Street — is perfectly feasible for the property suggested.

Given that we have here a neighbourhood group requesting a TMH in their district (contrary to the City’s experience in some other neighbourhoods) along with a genuine need for such housing, and a suitable property already owned by the City, I think it is incumbent on City staff to explain what their plans are for this site and why those plans would be better for our residents than a TMH; and it is equally incumbent on each Councillor to demand those answers.


March 17, 2019

The Grandview Woodland Area Council, the oldest established and one of the most active of residents’ associations, held its Annual General Meeting today at Family Place, About three dozen members were present.

After brief reports from the current Chair, Treasurer, and Secretary, the election of directors took place.  Four current directors (Dana Cromie, Craig Ollenberger, Steve Bohus, and Susan Briggs) agreed to stand again, while Penny Street was nominated from the floor.  All directors were acclaimed and will be the officers for 2019/20.

Cathy Low of Save Our Neighbourhood Parks gave a useful speech about the current Parks Board policy of replacing genuine green turf with synthetic rubber surfaces. She is in particular concerned with the plans for Clinton Park, a two block park in the north east of the neighbourhood.  Parks Board planning has one block of the Park to have the grass stripped out and replaced with synthetic material suitable for soccer pitches.  My understanding is that that section will be fenced off and only made available to paid licensees. This is, as Cathy says, privatizing our greenspace.

Cathy notes that teams from across Vancouver will book times to play and that teams waiting to play on the new surface will use the other half as a practice pitch while they wait.  Thus, the entire park will be lost to the general public.  Moreover, the increase in car traffic will significantly disrupt neighbourhood parking.  The group has a Facebook page and a petition at the link given above.

The eastside in general, and Grandview Woodland in particular, are already deficient in greenspace. It seems nothing but crazy to take away the little we already have. These seems like an issue that would fire up the Greens but Cathy’s interactions with Green Parks Board members has been quite the opposite.  We know how that feels.

The balance of the meeting was a presentation by Patrick Beattie and Duncan Higgson of the Portland Housing Society regarding their history with Temporary Modular Housing (which has lately become an issue here).

There were several important takeaways from the discussion;

  • housing is a key component of the health care continuum for opiod and other substance abuse treatments;
  • providing housing results in significant cost savings compared to long term health care without it;
  • compared to the 5 years of planning, bureaucracy, and building of regular bricks and mortar buildings, TMH can be designed, manufactured, delivered, and opened in five months;
  • TMH, built in BC, are designed for a 50-year life span and each TMH facility can be moved inexpensively from one site to another as need arises.

All in all a useful meeting.  It is a shame that only 30+ people came. The No Tower Coalition, the OCOP group that was active during the Community Plan exercise, the Grant Street and First Avenue projects have proved that large groups of people can be activated for specific projects and issues.  We have yet to successfully educate the general populace that these “single” issues are actually part of a planning and development continuum that are best looked at in a wider perspective, the kind of perspective that an organization such as GWAC and, even more broadly, the Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods can present.

TMH at Adanac and Commercial

March 4, 2019

It is almost a year since Boffo and the Kettle — after an extended and popular campaign by the No Tower Coalition — cancelled their plans to build a huge for-profit condo tower on city-owned land on Commercial Drive between Venables and Adanac. The campaign, of which I was a part, was covered in detail on this blog.

Since the cancellation announcement by the developers, various members of the Coalition have continued working quietly on this and other local issues. Now, the Coalition has formally proposed to the City that the site, currently an infrequently used car park, be used as the location for Temporary Modular Housing (TMH) for those in real need. It is, I believe, the perfect solution.  As the Coalition writes, there are many reasons to support the idea:

  • This would be a quick win for the City.
  • It is already City-owned property.
  • This would be using City land for a valid social purpose, not a for-profit development.
  • There is a need for housing for the hard-to-house in Grandview.
  • It would be entirely suitable for around 30 units of SRO-type housing, with a maximum of three storeys.
  • The community will likely not object to three storeys on that site. It’s not a tower!
  • The TMH proposal allows the City to retain control of the land and while providing essentially the same amount of social benefit that would have been achieved with the proposed Boffo/Kettle project.
  • The current council seems to be doing a pretty good job of distributing social housing and services equitably throughout the City. No one neighbourhood should be expected to take responsibility for more than its share.
  • This TMH proposal is the right scale for the community. A 30-unit TMH project would provide secure housing for those who currently need supportive housing in Grandview-Woodland but the project would not be so large that it would draw lots of people in need from other neighbourhoods.

The Coalition is asking its supporters to write to City Council in support of this idea (see the Coalition site for email addresses). I join in that request.

Real Parks Or Phoney?

February 12, 2019

I was impressed by the following which I am quoting from the latest Grandview Woodland Area Council (GWAC) newsletter:

“The Clinton Neighbourhood Committee (CNC) recently asked for GWAC support and advice in its effort to raise awareness of its opposition to a synthetic sports field proposal for the Clinton Park, north of 1st Avenue, between Kamloops and Slocan Streets. Synthetic sports field have financial and environmental costs including: loss of earth-based green space which is habitat for worms, insects, and birds; insertion of synthetic pellets which require top-up three times a year; and landfill and total replacement every ten years. Aside from environmental issues,

CNC explained that synthetic fields are fenced and available only to pre-booked sports groups, a stipulation that removes them from public access. Thus, this formerly open, grassed space ceases to be a public park. “Greenest City” indeed. There are already 11 synthetic sports fields in Vancouver, with more to come. Many believe that “improving” existing parks without creating new ones in neighbourhoods slated for densification is a flawed use of resources.

For members concerned about loss of any of our limited public green space in East Vancouver, we recommend visiting the Clinton Neighbourhood Committee’s Facebook page OurNeighourhoodParks for more information and a link to their petition.”

This all ties in, I believe, with CoV Planning’s push for “plazas”, “public squares” and similar unsatisfactory substitutes for real grass and dirt parks.  Concrete and convenience (for them) substituting for fresh air and freedom. The proposal for the plaza at Commercial & Broadway — an expanse of concrete surmounted with noisy elevated Sky Train tracks (no expensive cut and cover subway for us, we are just Eastsiders after all) running almost continuously. Does that sound like a relaxing place to repose with your family for a while?

We are starved of green space and we should insist that CoV Parks Board encourage the development of more genuine dirt and grass parks in Grandview and elsewhere in East Vancouver.