What Value Neighbourhoods?

September 27, 2019

In a post yesterday, I outlined a few of the developments that are altering Grandview beyond recognition.  As if on cue, on Wednesday October 9th, Heritage Vancouver and SFU are hosting a conversation specifically called “What do we do about neighbourhoods?”  To quote their website:

“Neighbourhoods are often positively associated with community. They tend to have a combination of qualities that communities identify with which can make them distinct. These include the people, the types of interactions they have with each other, nature, types of commercial spaces, housing tenure, and public spaces in addition to the type and design of buildings. However, there are conflicting views as to whether this distinctiveness is positive or not.”

In 2016, I was a panellist on one of these “Shaping Vancouver” conversations, and this is part of what I had to say then about the changing nature of the Drive:

“Since that time – for some 60 years – the Drive has been the scene of continuous change. We have had a constant change of people on the Drive – starting with the Italians and the Portuguese and some East Europeans, followed by Central Americans, Jamaicans, those from the Middle East, and a variety of Africans. Not only different cultures and nationalities and languages, but also different sexualities and those of various economic circumstances were welcomed to the neighbourhood.

Each of these groups have left their mark on the patina that is the glory of the Drive today. They have changed building styles, grocery options, street art, food availability, everything; and they have done this over and over again.

And all of these continuous changes have been welcomed, indeed encouraged, by most Drive residents.  And that is because all these changes have been subtle, incremental, and evolutionary within the general envelope of what the Drive is – which is a place of low-rise buildings, 25′ store fronts, and, importantly, local business ownership.

That is how we got to today, and it this same velocity and style of change that will maintain the Drive that we all love. Introducing rapid and intrusive change can only damage what is a highly successful and well-loved neighbourhood.”

My opinion  hasn’t changed.  It will be interesting to hear a discussion on this three years later.  Hope to see some of you there.


The GW Community Plan Starts To Bite

September 26, 2019

It is now about three years since the Grandview Community Plan was bludgeoned through City Council by the pro-development Vision majority. For some while thereafter, it seemed to result in only minor effects on the ground.  However, below the surface, seismic events were building up a head of steam.

Almost immediately, realtors and developers had started to plan for their new future.  As I noted back in 2017, large numbers of Grandview properties were being offered — at hugely inflated prices –“for assembly” by developers. This had an undoubted effect on the house price inflation that has plagued Grandview until the market correction earlier this year.

Then the proposals started piling up. First, the outrageously incongruous Boffo Tower at Commercial & Adanac was approved, against broad community opposition, for 12 storeys. We have only been saved from that disaster by the developer’s refusal to proceed without even greater heights of absurdity, and the current softness of the luxury condo market.

This has been followed by projects on Grant Street, at First & Clark, at Nanaimo & Charles, on E. 11th Avenue, on East Hastings, at Lakeview Church, and at the Safeway site at Commercial & Broadway.

top left: Lakewood; top right Charles & Nanaimo; bottom left E. 11th; bottom right E. Hastings

Top left First & Clark; top right Boffo Tower; bottom left Grant Street; bottom right Safeway site

Do any of these look anything like the neighbourhood we know and love?

My concern is that the avalanche has barely begun.


High Rent Project On Grant Approved

September 17, 2019

The current Vancouver Council continues to disappoint those who worked hard to rid us of Vision Vancouver.  In their latest pro-developer action tonight, they voted 6-3 to approve the highly contentious rental project in the 1500-block of Grant Street. Councillors Carr, Fry and Swanson voted against, while Hardwick and Bligh were absent.

As will be clear from my earlier posts on this topic, I was generally supportive of this project but strongly opposed to the rents proposed, all of which are unaffordable to the majority of Vancouverites. With this approval, tax-payers are subsidising rents for households making well in excess of $100,000 and more a year.

How can that be right?


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.