The Vancouver Achievement: Urban Planning and Design

Author: John Punter
ISBN: 9780774809726
Release Date: January 1, 2004
Publisher: UBC Press

Three innovative practices — Urban Design Panel, City Plan, Mega Project Planning process
Two planning traditions — discretionary/British and administrative/American-Continental Europe. Vancouver has a blend of the two. Richard Enriquez calls envelope
Urban design as public-policy — emerged in North American cities. Four themes — from Modernist [Utopian and socially redistributive] to Postmodernist [place and history sensitive urban design], from direct public intervention [urban renewal] to public regulation of private design [design review], range of critiques to create better systems, sociopolitical critiques treating social equity and construction/instruction of community.
Public regulation of design because of withdrawal of federal funding for direct reshaping by cities.
1973 oil crisis marked end of postwar economic boom. Cities abandoned social programs and competed for economic benefits. Reclaimed waterfronts and festival shopping complexes. Privatization of public space. Gentrification usually presaged by artists gave cues to developers. Re-creation of historic districts.
Postmodernism — Jane Jacobs advocates ‘gradual rather than cataclysmic investment’, Kevin Lynch ‘Image of the City’ explored mental maps, diversity of neighbourhoods, sensuous qualities. Gordon Cullen Townscape a British approach with a sense of place and context. Christopher Alexander pursues cross-cultural, timeless rules of thumb for urban design.
New Urbanism initially ignored ecological sustainability but promoted pedestrian and transit usually for affluent suburbs.
Postmodernism promotes social exclusion and stimulates consumption and creates urban disguises and privatizes public space according to critics. Proponents love the restoration of coherence to urban form, reclaiming streets for pedestrians, reconnecting to waterfronts, restoring historic areas, private development that respects the scale, grain and character of the locality.
Regulatory instruments created as focus shifted from public-sector urban design to the regulation of private development. Design guidelines, zoning regulations, landscape manuals, review bodies, expert and public involvement.
In the late 1980s academics and professional bodies began to criticize postmodernism.
Postwar municipal politics were business led and boosterist. Expand and modernize the city through infrastructure like freeways and large-scale commercial redevelopment. Ambitious urban renewal plans clashed with recolonization by middle-class residents who joined lower income existing residents to oppose large-scale unsympathetic redevelopment.
In 1969 the federal government abandoned urban renewal funding and public housing and replaced it with neighborhood improvement and nonprofit housing. Participatory spaces supplanting authoritarian spaces.
Middle-class opposition was focused on high-rise apartment redevelopment which was the markets response to demand for downtown housing. Opposition to high-rises was linked to opposition to freeways and support for heritage buildings and districts. The ideology of preservation and neighborhood planning, of the livable city and a mixed central area had become a major plank of urban reform. This movement opposed business led politicians responding to the market.
Reform politics of the 1970s rejected modernist approaches to urban design and architecture. Citizen participation created demands for heritage programs, boutique zoning designations, design guidelines, greening initiatives. Conflict between neighborhood livability and housing affordability became a major issue with the reform movement losing its commitment to social goals.
In the 1980s cities had problems finding areas where residential density could take place without stiff citizen opposition. In the late 80s a deep recession led to collapse of demand for new offices and fringes of downtown were converted to residential. Declining industrial areas became main targets for high-density residential. Gentrification continued in the 1990s. Senior governments discontinued funding for social housing contributing to homelessness.
An individualize, consumerist orientation toward lifestyle and culture dominated. Heavy public investment in parks and recreation was matched by private investment and fitness clubs and restaurants and festival shopping. Contemporary urban preoccupations are consumption not community.
Participatory citywide planning efforts for nodes of density have met stiff resistance from single-family neighborhoods. Canadian new urbanist agenda is focused mostly on inner-city development versus the American suburban developments. They deliver attractive living environments but not affordable ones.
The dangers of aestheticizing city planning was recognized. Criticisms came not from radical academics or architecture critics but by the development industry and frustrated architects. Developers and architects objected to the delay and design costs incurred in review, the reviewer’s lack of skills, the susceptibility of the process to political and bureaucratic manipulation. They objected to the interference of laypeople in the design process and the dominance of personal rather than public interest in their protests. They noted the tendency of review to encourage mediocrity, pastiche, mimicry, and facadism. They objected to the lack of clear principles and pre-established criteria for review and lack of due process.
The academic critique emerged in the 1980s which systematically outlined the failings of design review.
The 1975 downtown plan is completely discretionary.
Rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods have conflicts between goals of livability and affordability as well as the process of Council decision making versus public participation.
Resistance of residence groups has resulted in the privatization of public planning to create neighborhood determined zoning. This exclusive initiative threatens the city’s ability to intensify residential neighborhoods in a rational manner and creates a time-consuming permitting process.
City Plan developed a consensus vision of a city of neighborhood centers.
The cooperative planning model was invented in which a developer and design team works in partnership with the city corporate team for city megaprojects.
Mountains and Ocean provide the raw material for the ‘cult of the view’.
Vancouver’s location at the edge of the wilderness is an essential part of its attraction, ethos, and lifestyles.
Vancouver has been described as a ‘setting in search of a city’.
Vancouver is a ‘terminal city’ with its destiny linked to being the terminus of the CPR.
The Vancouver government has the characteristics of the American Reform tradition — a weak Mayor, a small number of Councillors elected citywide, a dominant city manager. It helps maintain political non-interference in local development politics and reduces NIMBY political responses to necessary development.
Vancouver charter granted in 1953 gave the city much greater powers of self-government.
Most notably, Council delegates all decisions on development permissions to the Director of Planning.
Broadly speaking, since 1986 NPA politicians have implemented the vision of the ‘livable city’ first articulated by the TEAM Council in 1970.
In 1963 and 1972 city planners attempted to reduce the density in the West End but both times NPA councils rejected them.
Alderman Walter Hardwick noted that TEAM was ‘committed to see political leadership wrested in the direction of civic affairs away from the bureaucracy and leave it to its rightful function of managing program implementation’.
Ray Spaxman, the new planning director, was hired from Toronto where his watchword had been ‘neighbourliness’.
In 1970 Granville Street was reputed to be Canada’s ‘roughest main drag’. For 30 years it was the street where the marginalized and mainstream Vancouver residents met.
TEAM hired out to the Environmental Analysis Group led by Gerald Davis to produce bylaws to control the design of development and beautify the downtown area.
A bylaw turned the Architectural Advisory Panel into the Urban Design Panel.
Spaxman following Vitruvius noted that commodity and firmness were left to regulations while delight was pursued through guidelines and careful design negotiations.
The downtown study team looked at arguments for regulatory versus discretionary controls. It felt regulatory controls tended to produce uniformity and monotony. Discretionary controls had the potential to encourage higher standards of design, though they could produce unpredictable outcomes, follow personal prejudices, and increase administrative costs and resources.
At the end of 1974, Council abolished the Technical Planning Board and established the Development Permit Board.
In 1972 the NPA Council created a south false Creek committee chaired by Walter Hardwick. When team took power this committee became the Board of Directors overseeing Doug Sutcliffe. High-rises were rejected. Gross densities of 40 units per acre were very low for an inner-city site. There were many semiprivate spaces which ultimately became underused. An evaluation concluded that the form did not enhance residents experience of environmental quality. The conclusions provided justification for the much higher density housing development on North False Creek.
The Urban Design Panel helped build a closer knit community of architects and planners.
In 1974 major federal programs — a 12 year RRAP and the eight-year NIP provided cities with planning staff to administer the programs. Ratepayer groups preferred better amenities and opposed nonmarket housing while tenants groups sought low-income housing and daycare.
The West Broadway Citizens Committee was founded to oppose revitalization and was the starting point of a concerted local campaign to prevent neighborhood change and gentrification.
In 1972 Council requested the province designate 236 properties in Gastown as historic. Described as themepark revival.
1974 province amends Vancouver charter to allow the city to designate historic buildings and to pass regulations governing their alteration. 1974 established Vancouver Heritage Advisory Committee. 20 buildings designated 1974 30 in 1976.
A clause in the 1977 provincial heritage legislation made Council unwilling to designate heritage buildings without owners consent.
1973 Chinatown Property Owners and Merchants Association founded more interested in parking and beautification. Local proposal to build freestanding canopies to provide shelter for pedestrian along three blocks of Pender Street not well received by planners. Local merchants reluctant to conform to Caucasians ideas of what Chinese façade should look like.
Designed by James Chang for cultural Center disappointed the area planner because of lack of Chinese architectural features on the façade. Planners suggestion to increase Chinese content were incorporated. The irony of foisting traditional Chinese architectural features on reluctant merchants of Chinese descent seems to have been lost on planners.
By 1986 area planning shifted from mixed inner-city neighborhoods towards single-family housing and the threats posed by un-neighborly houses that maximized their zoning entitlement.
TEAM from 1972 to 78 signaled more careful and consciously managed redevelopment. More professional and politically accountable planning process. Laid the basis for discretionary control process. It was committed to take the direction of policy away from the old bureaucracy, especially the city manager, but it did not wish to interfere in the management of planning programs or the everyday tasks of development control.
Urban Design Panel enhanced quality of design and built closer knit community of architects and planners. Council expanded the area of operation of the Development Permit Board.
1983 and 1984 saw success rate of appeals exceed 50%.!
1978 to 1981 — property development boom. 1982 to 1985 — last. 1989 — a second boom.
1978 NPA endorses former TEAM mayor and wins majority. 1980 Harcourt runs for mayor with backing from NDP and COPE. The 1981 to 1982 Council more polarized than anything before — 2 TEAM holding balance of power generally voting with NPA.
1986 NPA wins nine seats under Gordon Campbell. He worked for the planning department in the 1970s. 1976 he worked for Marathon. 1988 election on central area development — livable city versus executive city.
1990 — NPA 6 — Cope five.
New NPA in 1993 politically centrist. Lacking ideology and manifesto selected candidates for diversity. Close elections in 1988 and is specially 1990 emphasized importance of commanding middleground, maintaining strong control of development, continuing planning programs of the 70s.
The 70s and 80s saw office development boom and then collapse to be replaced by residential condominium development. Early 1980s saw 36 new office towers. 600 high-rise units annually between 1986 and 1990.
1975 Downtown Official Development Plan amended 50 times between 1975 and 1998.
1973 Downtown Study Team. 1974 Downtown Guidance Panel established by Vancouver Planning Commission used as sounding board. Clear distinction between regulations [FSR, parking, loading] and interpretive requirements [building height, amenities]. Permitted and encouraged residential throughout downtown. Density seven or nine times site coverage with less around the center. Building height up to 135 m or 450 feet. No out right development rights.
Character area descriptions adopted in 1975.
1983 and 1984 Board of Variance overturning 60% of planning decisions because of political appointees.
All 36 office towers in the first half of 1980s most were exercises in maximizing FSR. Planners carefully selected evidence in their 1981 report that seemed good but in fact little evidence of cities new permitting system positively influencing design.
HSBC on Georgia first postmodern tower.
1992 city study on housing and families at high density. And McAfee.
1973 Downtown Eastside Residents Association formed by Bruce Erickson and Peter Davies. Its electoral efforts undermined TEAM and they had strong antipathy to NPA.
1988 city seeks community amenity contribution powers. 1990 province amends charter allowing development cost levies. Parks 45%, replacement housing 42%, daycare facilities 7%.
Community amenity contributions introduced 1989. No provincial approval.
1989 Spaxman resigns over tension with Gordon Campbell. 1990 Leary Beasley associate Director Central area planning.
Housing prices of single-family rising late 70s and especially late 80s. Secondary suites are the response but not legal.
1930 RS one zoning introduced. 1938 FSR .45, 1974, 0.6 fsr including basements with 45% said coverage with 45% site coverage.
1940 secondary suites encouraged to relieve wartime shortages.
1956 secondary suites discouraged for neighborhood character and wavering between implementing enforcement and not.
1974 planning Department survey — two thirds of homeowners don’t want secondary suites but plebiscites in 1975 have rezoning accommodate them as conditional use.
1987 RS one zoning prevents construction of second kitchens.
COPE votes to support plans to de-convert rooming houses and exclude low cost housing from Shaughnessy.
1982 Shaughnessy first single-family housing to get design controls. 13 person design panel. Design professionals unhappy about design judgment and deep conservatism.
RT zoning allows two family dwellings. Many residents converted to rooming houses in 50s and 60s.
RT 6 for West Mount Pleasant east of City Hall.
1994 Vancouver charter amended to create Heritage Revitalization Agreement requiring public hearing only if land uses vary from zoning.
Robin Ward, cities conservation conscience — against facsimile buildings — keep what is original but use contemporary design for additions or alterations. The past can have a place in the postmodern city without being trivialized. RT6 small houses on backlanes.
1992 planning survey reveals discriminatory practices. Eastside Vancouver specials granted while Westside were improved through the Urban Design Group.
Competition for replacement to Vancouver Special.
Between 1986 and 1987 Council received 2000 letters regarding large houses. Counsel unilaterally reduced hikes, increased rear yard sizes and prevented attached garages.?? Monitoring revealed that the problems had become worse. 1988 changes made the special impossible to build but was replaced by the monster House.
Major immigration from Hong Kong in the late 1980s helped housing price increases and monster Houses.
John Pitts of the Shaughnessy Heights Property Owners Association hired some architects to propose new zoning for design controls which had no opposition. Gordon Price claimed city planning had been effectively privatized.
Planners preferred RS six and not the incentive-based RS five. The majority chose RS five.
Although architects did not like design restraints their commissions raised from 10% of homes in 1993 up to 75%. RS five became known as the Mercedes-Benz of zoning because of its high cost.
Single-family zoning has failed to create wider range of smaller households, did not deal with sustainability or issues of community, and restrict architectural innovation. Also whether planning can give such substantial resources to RS five rezoning.
The challenge to planner was to prevent such policies from being used to freeze neighborhood social character. Development industry proposed neighborhood design panel composed of design professionals and chaired by planner to support plan checkers.
1999 planners propose 18 months RS rethink. They thought neighborhood willingness to have growth was dependent on retention of look and feel.
This is a moment in Vancouver history when NPA decided residence could choose their own forms of zoning and design guidelines. A neighborhood protection service to the affluent. That would continue to be major drain on staff resources and prevent smaller less affluent households from gaining access. 1997 consultant study showed Vancouver led the trend to more complex regulations and discretionary design guidelines.
A major conclusion to the study was that a quite simple combination of minimal site coverage controls and ample height limits might encourage graceful and neighborly new hoses that would minimize complaints and resources.
1928 Bartholomew plan not formally adopted but it had come to fruition by 1970. It was not until late 1980s that reflation ship between regional planning and neighborhood impacts became a focus. 1984 Vancouver Plan had a 10 point action plan. Planning board for lower mainland established in 1949 with plan approved in 1966. Provincial government split the board into four separate regions in 1968 creating the weaker GVRD. 1975 GVRD Livable Region has five regional centers.
1991 neighborhood centers program rejected by NPA Council fearing demolition of 2000 single-family homes to accommodate up to 22,000 apartments would provoke storm of protest.
1990 Clouds of Change Report. Provoked by 1988 Toronto conference which confirmed a threat to public health of air pollution and atmospheric change. Pollutants in the east of the region are 80% higher than Vancouver because of the westerlies. Recommended international design competition for Southeast Falls Creek which was replaced by a commitment to planning and design locally.
1991 COPE as a conference contrasting Livable Inclusive City versus Executive City of the NPA. Vancouver developers commissioned articles entitled Future Growth: Future Shock by head of UBC planning school for the Vancouver Sun. They criticized city zoning controls as restrictions on the market. Seelig and Artibise recommended — a conservative form of civic republicanism. Michael Goldberg cited NIMBY reaction as city’s biggest problem and recommended abolishing of local government.
1992 city responds by preparing City Plan. Proposal from mysterious Eighth Circle proposed animated urban plaza in front of art gallery. Greenways came from 1991 mayors Urban Landscape Task Force. The city of neighborhood centers which was rejected in 1991 was chosen by the public.
Community Visions were to last for 30 years. Dunbar rejected anything over four stories in height and seniors high-rise in shopping malls and intensification off arterials as did Kensington — Cedar cottage. Housing demand in Dunbar will be mostly by aging childless couples. C2 zoning is the main way to accommodate population in single-family zones.
Crucial planning issue is the housing potential of current zoning and the willingness of the community to accommodate new forms of housing for smaller households. For example by far the greatest increase in households in the neighborhood vision areas are mature households of 55 years and over. In 20 years Dunbar will have 2000 unfulfilled single-family housing needs while Kensington cedar cottage will have 4600. Ironically existing residence are the ones most likely to face reduced housing choices.
1990 study removed disincentives to housing provision in commercial areas and created a potential 5500 additional dwelling units in C2 over retail shops. But the development permit Board, urban design panel and neighborhood groups questioned the effects on single-family housing across the lane. 1998 Council required projects to go to counsel. Of the six West side proposals only three past.
Neighborhood visioning rejection of senior housing in a high-rise form has been a major disappointment to city planners.
Michael and Julie Seelig criticized city plan as misconceived calm overelaborate and a waste of money. Neighborhoods are in capable of transcending NIMBY thinking and developing a citywide vision. They describe planners as department store Santas developing wish lists with citizens treated like children. They are critique one a Canadian Institute of planners award in 1997.
City plan resembles Leonie Sandercock’s Towards Cosmopolis book of 1998 where she views planners as a community ally engaged in talking and listening and mutual learning.
Toronto had a Main Streets program that failed in increasing density [1991]
Seattle’s 1994 plan for densification was more top-down and actually rezoned the city, significantly expanding commercial and multifamily residential zones to accommodate growth. The neighborhoods have to work within these parameters. If they do they will attract significant capital funds. Elements of design review are negotiated between the community and developers.
Make a projects — when CP moved its false Creek railyards to Port Coquitlam Belin became surplus. In 1969 Marathon proposed La Ville Radieuse with 19 towers up to 200 m tall. The city countered with its own scenario? Rezonings did not proceed because council insisted one third of residential space be allocated for low-income. Negotiations for Marathon were conducted by Gordon Campbell.
1978 Minister of Recreation proposes Marathon field covered stadium to see 60,000 in return for rezoning of land. Gordon Campbell confirmed Marathon to sell the land for $1.25 million. Nine months later the province paid $30 million in cash and equivalent in downtown property.
January 1980 dealed pennant announced decision to build B.C. Place and also Expo 86. Social credit saw Vancouver as key to winning forthcoming election. Vancouver Mayor opposed. Problems subverted attempts to reform city’s voting system.
B.C. Place was Crown corporation in May 1980 to bypass municipal interference. Three years of adversarial negotiations between province as developer and city as regulator including skytrain. Marshmallow in bondage — B.C. Place — described as urban design failure. Awkward relationship with changes of level, blockage of extension of Robson Street, separation of Pacific Blvd. have created problems.
Bruno Freschi made plans for Expo 86 and its subsequent redevelopment. International architects brought to the B.C. Place conference to develop the design. Arthur Erickson and others argued for high-rise point towers along the water’s edge.
Financial concerns caused city to move on development for South East grantable slopes as well as City Gate.
1983 Stanly Kwok appointed by B.C. Place who adopted a more cooperative approach to planning and design. They focused on Northpark adjacent to the Chinatown. Thorough public processes resulted in adoption of official plan by Council in 1986. Discovery of contaminated soils stopped the development. The real legacy of North Park is participatory and collaborative process.
Provincial premier supported evictions for Expo arguing that clearing the slums as the city had failed to do would be one of Expos major achievements. 1000 evictions happened prior to Expo mainly from 15 hotels serving as rooming houses.
Expo site sold for $320 million. $50 million down payment and then $10 million per year between 1995 and 2000. The balance due in 2003 with no interest payments. With government commitment to clearing contamination the actual price could be closer to $125 million.
Stanly Kwok chose Rick Hulbert who wanted to excavate much of the shoreline to create two large islands. This increased waterfront and also the positive energy of Chi.
Concorde plan conflicted with city planners. Please shoreline of 1987 should be maintained and project should be integrated into existing city pattern. Planners worried about exclusivity and engineers worried about servicing. They decided against the traditional model of having planners merely respond to developers proposals and instead have collaboration.
Height limit about 300 feet. 20% nonmarket with 25% family housing located no higher than the eight story.?
Walter Hardwick and Ray Spaxman have expressed doubts about the emphasis of apartment living at high densities. Vancouver public remains unconvinced that the make a projects offer quality of life and neighborhood appropriate for the future of the city.
David Ley Vancouver developing any sanitized aesthetic where public life is prevented by conspicuous consumption, where conviviality replaces community, where anesthetics override equity.
Southeast False Creek 1990 Clouds of Change Report. 1992 cleanup costs estimated between 15 million and 150 million. 1994 Council asks Special Office for Environment to investigate with city real estate division potential for sustainable development. 1996 Stanly Kwok retained by city manager and head of real estate. Terms of reference did not mention sustainable development. Kwok does pro forma analysis determining marginal profitability of 4.5% rate of return with opportunity costs of holding the site at $3 million per year emphasizing the need to proceed quickly.
City planning Department could only fund summer student Marc Holland. He ably summarized physical and ecological aspects of sustainability but did not look at social dimension. Vancouver City Planning Commission hosted two day conference that attracted six counselors. Self-appointed Southeast False Creek Working Group convinced Council sustainability worth pursuing. She’ll Kwok report and agreed to pay for consultant study to refine sustainability indicators carry Kwok retained by city manager to do a second phase study.
Sheltair reported to Council with a set of goals. 700 people from Mount Pleasant petitioned to have entire area turned into park. Park extended to 11 ha resulting in loss of 100,000 m² of floor space but reduced the mediation costs by $15 million from $30 million. 1999 policy statement first to embrace ecological, social and economic aspects of sustainable development. Advisory group meant to become neighborhood integrated service team.
Major projects False Creek North and Coal Harbour with 20,000 residents and Southeast False Creek with 4000 residents. The new Vancouver vernacular — the townhouse and apartment/townhouse perimeter blocks punctuated by Slim towers — the former re-creating the traditional inhabited street and private courtyards the latter, accommodating most of the floor space
Cooperative planning process characterized by separation between political decision-making which sets overall parameters and the technical resolution that is delegated to city officials.
Development industry defines staff workshops and formal meetings with public committees the most useful consultation vehicles, while open houses, public meetings, and hearings on each of the project phases largely unhelpful.
1991 the Central Area Plan not really a plan at a goal statement and land-use policy framework for everything north of Broadway, west of Main and East of Arbutus.
Planners favored two hours per rectangular city block. The Residences on Georgia is the exemplary piece of urban design in Triangle West. James Chang and Phillips Faarvag.
Downtown South capacity of 11,000 people by 2016. Urban Design Panel considers downtown South to be too similar. Unable to deliver green spaces that are enclosed and protected because the blocks are split by back lanes. Guidelines suggesting how to improve design have not been successful. Retention of the old Hydro lines which are expensive to move.
Downtown South has shortfall of development cost levies because much development was approved before 1992 when DCLs were implemented.
Consultant studies of Granville Street 1996. Business revitalization by Urbanics questionably recommending large-format retailing and theme restaurants, cafés, bistros and specialty retailers which might destroy streets identity. 800 and 900 blocks reaffirmed as entertainment district. 1000 block as transition zone. Mid-19 90s much of the seedy side moved into downtown Eastside. Hotson Bakker study for building and street design. Recognized need to retain the streets brash and gritty raw energy. Striking corner buildings. Retention of 25 foot store fronts. Simultaneously encouraging over design for commercial brashness while recognizing qualities of Edwardian buildings particularly the theaters with her Art Deco signs and elaborate entrances. Are these two approaches reconcilable?
Dance Center heritage façade treatment and Arthur Erickson improved design. 16 screen cinema at 900 Burrard with Busbee architects. Fear of undermining Granville Street. Did not proceed.
1989 recession created 15% vacancy rates in downtown commercial which went to 7% by 1997. New PC Hydro building 1992, 564 Granville fifth and final Bentall Center 2000. 15% floorspace bonus for hotels helped Delta pinnacle and coal Harbour Hotel helped.
Downtown East — vitality and variety reduced by large single uses across entire city blocks for post office, VCC, CBC, Queen Elizabeth Theatre. Low-level stuff pedestrian movement maintained by blockage of east-west movement B.C. Place and swirling Georgia and Cambie bridge viaducts.
Architectural competition for library design first for city. Two other finalists produced buildings that scored high on library planning committee but low with the public. Likely visitors increased by 800,000 following opening and continues to accommodate 2 million visitors per year, equivalent to annual attendance at all professional sports events. 488 Robson removed single room occupancy and replaced with music Gallery.
1992 Port Authority and federal land owner suggest a casino and convention Center. Downtown Eastside residents strongly oppose. In contrast with Canada Place in the early 1980s province and city cooperated fully in planning. Marathon proposed West of existing, Greystone proposed East while Concorde chose between Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts. Only Greystone proceeded. After nine meetings Urban Design Panel voted unanimously against. 1999 provincial government aborts trade and convention Center plans. Principles established maintained.
Downtown Eastside has 17% of city heritage buildings. 40% of buildings in Victory Square are heritage. 75 foot high limit and 120 foot bonus limit criticized. People worried about loss of sawtooth.
Refurbishment of Malkin Warehouse did not support 14 story residential unit. Paul Merrick argued uniform height limit contrary to historic character and that additional residential required to pay for restoration and seismic upgrading. N.B. social investments not discussed? Development Permit Board approved But Director of Current Planning used provincial Heritage Conservation Act to remove two additions to the roof which put progress on hold!! Planners later concluded heritage revitalization agreement and allowed development to transfer density elsewhere.!
Robin Ward — what is original should be retained and what is new should be expressed in a contemporary manner. Best example Peter Busby/Robert Leman Province newspaper building on victory Square. Success because of heritage bonus transferred offsite to the Wall Center tower.!
Water Street is themepark Victorianism. Heritage people say the globe lamps are a mockery of the area’s industrial warehouse past. Spaxman/Lemon/Luxton seek authentic heritage conservation. Propose conservation of existing buildings with only minor rooftop additions. An analysis of their plan shows renovation costs doubling acquisition costs and breakeven rentals nearly twice the highest ranked achieving area. N.B. music Gallery Library versus heritage.
Downtown Eastside has 3.2% of Vancouver population, 80% of single room occupancy and 22% of nonmarket housing. 75% of all drug arrests and 30% of all homicides. 55% of crime in the area committed by nonresidents and 70% of drug addicts using area live elsewhere.
1997 Vancouver Coalition for Crime Prevention and Drug Treatment. 1999 federal government provides city $1 million per year for five years. 2000 — 40 new officers added to area. Mayor’s greatest achievement developing Vancouver Agreement in 1999. 2001, 27 officers to tackle drug dealing. Carnegie Center redesigned to get rid of open drug trade.
Downtown Eastside’s Housing Plan 100 units of low income housing built annually to replace SRO. Minimum size 400 ft.² relaxed to 320 ft.² although council considered possibility of reducing to 275 ft.². There is considerable support for 180 ft.². Housing providers like offering more suites at lower cost with 80% more suites at 180 ft.².
1991 Central area plan goals did not directly embrace the creation of a quality public realm?! Generally believed downtown Vancouver public realm is not lived up to other design achievements — lacks civic spaces, great streets and pedestrian experiences.
Weather protection policies first developed in 1978 actively promoted provision by property owners on the most heavily trafficked downtown in uptown streets and encourage them in the adjacent streets. 1984 study — unsuccessful plazas are a waste of precious public spaces and opportunities.
1994 city plaza design guidelines — preference for distant views from plaza, clear links into pedestrian networks, above all a clear design concept. However collapse of downtown office development made them redundant. Best pieces of public art predate the 1994 program.!!?
Downtown Transportation Plan 1999 goals of not increasing Carter’s 22021, mimicking commuter parking spaces to 34, 000, encourage commuting by transit cycling or walking. Other suggestions a free or low fare zone, expanded ferry services, a downtown transit loop. Historic streetcar loop also proposed. From terminal skytrain station to waterfront skytrain station would recover all operating and capital costs, extension along Pacific Boulevard to Davey could recover 90% well extension to Stanley Park would recover 80%.
Enhancement of the public realm reveals a tension between vitality and diversity as opposed to making urban spaces safe for middle-class inhabitation and investment.
Permitting Process
Better City Government 1993 modernizes the bureaucracy.
Between 1982 and 1984 developers had a 56% success rate in the Board of Variance [council appointees] overturning Development Permit Board [department heads]. 1983 Council retains consultants to review development permit process with 15 issues identified.
Chilton Report 1984. Suggest standard regulatory system as alternatives but focused most attention on ways to reduce discretion and uncertainty. Suggested architect trained development planners should be delegated authority to administer bylaws and permit process. Desirability of predesigned conferences and adding CD manager or deputy to the Development Permit Board.
A council motion to have Director of Planning Spaxman relinquish chairmanship of Development Permit Board lost. Surprisingly the Urban Development Institute and Urban Design Panel supported director while Architectural Institute wanted him to have a nonvoting role.
1986 Gordon Campbell announced task force on the Development Permit Process chaired by himself and with counselors Baker and Price. The two Councillors produced different position papers. City manager tried to resolve but took unusual step of asking ex-team Alderman Walter Hardwick for help. His report supported complaints of the Urban Development Institute. Suggested including city manager in leadership role on Development Permit Board. Urban Design Panel was to report to the planning director rather than the Development Permit Board. These were implemented but in February 1989 Planning Director resigns.
1990 Urban Development Institute pressing to have less applications sent to Development Permit Board [dubious impartiality] and Urban Design Panel [lack of transparency]. Rick Scobee went back to 1956 to trace roots of discretionary control. Recommended more delegation to the planning director in return for higher fees. More zoning standards with more outright approvals and standardized guidelines. More development planner positions and establishment of a liaison committee for continued reform of permit processing.
1991 changes for Urban Design Panel making more transparent — adding a development Representative, allowing applicants and planners to make representations, instituting a clearer voting system, recording full minutes. Committee produced reports on Development Permit Board — clarify role of the chair and Advisory Panel.
1993 January planning Department reported — achievement of the urban design objectives, expansion of discretionary zoning into lower density districts, cost of permit processing [less than 50% of costs were being recovered].
1994 committee recommended wider use of computer aided design, appointment of advocate to ensure development applications were efficiently processed, reassignment of designing skilled development planners from the review process to by law, policy, and design guideline drafting. Residents supported interventions on neighborhood character and architectural treatment while development industry favored regulations only on basic matters of urban design — massing, safety, privacy and shadowing. Main criticisms of development industry were excessive amount of discretion vested in Development Permit Board and pervasive influence of Urban Design Panel. Also excessive influence of co-director of planning.
Better City Government flattens city bureaucracy — 15 former city departments become eight workgroups. Planning, social planning, cultural affairs, permits and licenses, hosing brought together to form Community Services Group.
1995 review of development and building regulation. Permit staff believed key was to identify potential problems at the pre-application stage and resolve before proceeding with approval process. Discovered that the regulations were in as much need of reform as the permitting process, particularly for single-family housing. Bylaws or complex, conflicting, unresponsive and uncoordinated. Permitting process was inconsistent, fragmented, too slow, too prone to error, too adversarial. 1998 Project hits crisis with three of the management team leaving. New management team recommends a focus on five of original 12 priorities — inquiry Center, detailed procedures for project review, formalization of new staff roles and organizational structures, appropriate management structure, building alterations to house the new processes. Although original commitment was no net increase of staff a 2000 report requested 13 new staff.
City plan avoided issue of how to pay for neighborhood facilities services and environmental improvements. It was assumed neighborhood visions would provide public benefit strategies according to how each community chose to accommodate growth.
In 1994 livable region strategic plan estimated 120,000 new residents and 76,000 new jobs in the city by 2021. Development cost levy allowed under the Vancouver Charter included housing, parks, day care, water/sewer, highways. 1997 staff estimate $1 billion in capital costs over the next 20 years. Subsequent study estimated $1.2 billion. Could be covered by 12 percent tax increase over 20 years. 50% of population growth would not be subject to development cost levy’s.
City of North Vancouver takes half of all uplift in values from rezoning. Burnaby town centers take all of the uplift. 1998 and McAfee offers three alternatives to development cost levy’s. $200 per square meter for full cost recovery, average levels in the regional District of $100 per square meter and $30 per square meter for industrial commercial. Existing rates of $25 per square meter for residential. Recommended citywide imposition of community amenity contributions on private rezoning. 4 approaches — existing, taking between 50 and 100% of increased land value, calculating value site by site as in megaprojects, combining all three methods. Urban Development Institute considered the major projects as unusual because they had cheap land.
Arbutus Village developer offered $1 million to upgrade community center. City staff suggested $6 million. Cost of meeting Park standard $3.5 million there for project abandoned. Arbutus Gardens replaces 450 rental units with 750 condominium units. City wanted to own 20% affordable valued at $10 million by developer. Developer noted that the neighborhood was opposed to social housing.
1999 citywide development cost levy $2.50 per square foot to be implemented in 12 months. Citywide community amenity contributions at a flat rate of $30 per square meter on the increase. Developers were given the significant concessions. Pay community amenity contributions only on the net gain in floorspace and payment speaking do not when rezoning was made but when development permit was issued. Vancouver developers still pay less than in adjacent municipalities.
Coriolis Consulting discovered that most of levees and contributions come off the land price and does not raise house prices unless levees are raised above 10% of land value and if markets level off.
Discretionary Control and Design Quality
Permit Process distinguishes between major and minor applications. Development permits required for all development except minor accessory buildings, Interior alterations or nonstructural maintenance and repairs, fences under 1.2 m in height [4 feet], changes of use except within retail or office buildings and residential demolitions.
Minor developments i.e. individual houses conforming to existing zoning, simple and quickly handled pipeline checkers. Permits take a few days and development and building permits can be combined. More complex minor applications go to a development application group and circulates for comments. If design guidelines are involved then ate architecturally trained development planner will review and negotiate. Director of Development Services has authority for all permit decisions. Inquiry Center handles inquiries, Processing Center takes decisions.
Major applications. Considered to have significant impact on surroundings. Any application considered controversial will be taken through this process. Requires supporting documentation, is assigned to development planner, deals with Urban Design Panel, is reviewed by Development Permit Staff Committee which is chaired by a senior planner with engineering, Park Board, hosing represented.
Major application first step — pre-design conference with a development planner. This 1985 innovation required before a major application can be submitted. This establishes all relevant issues. Applicant should not designed or even sketch schemes before this. A preliminary development application is recommended but not required to gain approval for basic concept.
Complete application requires significant list of requirements. This is considered one of the best practice features of the Vancouver system.
Application meat and fee paid. Site notice erected, development planner presents to Development Permit Staff Committee. Report made and forwarded to Development Permit Board and panel members three days prior to meeting.
At heart of discretionary process our cities Development Planners. They are qualified architects with private-sector experience. 1980 the first to development planners. Mid-19 90s for more added. Now there are seven. Development planners now stand outside the permitting process though they conduct negotiations over interpretations. Any board approval subject to a list of conditions that must need satisfaction of development planners.
Development Permit Board — current planning, engineer, social planning. Social planning was replaced by Deputy city manager in 1998. Also 1998 Rick Scobee as independent chair added. This was recommended by development industry to counter powerful interventions by chief planner. Development Permit Board free from political interference which helps with technical proficiency and consistency of decisions. If proposal refused or applicant wants to modify conditions they can appeal to Board a Variance. Generally no major applications have been refused.
Development Permit Board — start with development planner presentation, board and panel review drawings and models, presentation from applicant, hear from the public. Advisory Panel to reps from design professions, two reps from development industry, four reps from general public all appointed by city Council. In general development industry reps have the least to say, surprisingly asking whether a project has really earned floorspace as much as saying conditions are unnecessary. It is common for them to support conditions imposed. They are asked to comment on commercial viability or practicality. Public representatives have more to say about their feelings of the project. Individual members develop particular preoccupations that they consistently bring to the discussions. 1999 Council requested a young person. So far no distinctive perspective has emerged from this.
1998 November codirector of planning returns to the board and brings more intense and deeper assessment of applications. He has unrivaled knowledge of interface between permitting and policy and guidelines. A master tactician in managing discussions and directing arguments. The codirector assumes a double roll — managing development planners and then commenting on their work as a voting member of the board.
Development Permit Board 25 applications annually and biweekly meetings. Approves almost every application only occasionally deferring decision. Advisory panelists rarely at odds with the board view or recommendations. Board rarely makes nature amendment to a condition. Frequently frustrated by a policy that only Council can change. Spirited debate can signal the need for policy reform.
Urban Design Panel
Architectural Advisory Panel created in 1956, revised in 1973 to Urban Design Panel?
Developers unhappy, 1984 applications it reviewed, 1991 opens to the public and applicants allowed to present their designs and planning department representative removed.
Panel composed of 12 members. Six from Architectural Institute of British Columbia, two from Association of Professional Engineers, two from Society of Landscape Architects, one from development industry, one from Vancouver City Planning Commission. Members receive no remuneration and serve for two years, chair is appointed from among members to serve for one year. Chair sits on Development Permit Board Advisory Panel. Meetings public but public rarely attends. Only three outcomes possible — support, nonsupport, deferral.
Urban Design Panel sees 30 major rezonings per year commenting on some twice, very OKs in only three times. Also sees 20 minor applications that do not go to Development Permit Board. These are selected by development planners who think the project would benefit. Applicants rarely take exception to their comments. Unwritten convention.
Urban Design Panel — 50% of plans get unanimous support at first presentation. 16% have only one dissenting vote. 25% get unanimous support at second presentation. Half of these are where developer wanted unanimous not majority support. A device not prescriptive but identify design elements that could benefit from further consideration. The Panel has sought briefings on emerging city policies and guidelines. Planners seek panel’s advice on plans like South East False Creek sustainable development, convention center, Pacific Press redevelopment, skytrain stations, downtown skyline study, public parks, hospital precinct, high-tech office estates, etc.
Architects on Panel find it valuable to sit on the other side, to immerse in the regulatory system. Rotating membership helps build consensus about design issues between private-sector architects and public-sector planners. Especially in light of serious arguments during the 1970s and 1980s.
There is evidence that Urban Design Panel has become a peer review system. It is a matter of professional pride for developers and designers to seek a unanimous endorsement even though majority only is required.
The final step in detailed design is usually not a problem and is based on trust between planner and developer and architect to fulfill conditions in the spirit of the board’s approval and the Development Permit Staff Committee report. But this is where things fell apart in the Wall Center. Ralph Segal guided development planners and help build their expertise so was very skilled. Stanley Theater was used as a lever to encourage quick approval. As Tower would intrude into Queen Elizabeth Park view corridor matter referred to Council. Promise had been made that building would be sheath in — airy translucent — glass to reduce its impact on skyline and locality. James Chang mediated.
Only Vancouver and Ottawa have an Urban Design Panel. Most impressive is how the panel has become a peer review mechanism in its own right. It breaks the monopoly of planners views. Some criticize that it cuts out truly innovative risk-taking design.
Conclusion: Assessing Vancouver’s Achievement — Chapter 10.
Vancouver is no longer — a setting in search of a city. It is a proto-sustainable city with livable downtown surrounded by high density mixed-use residential areas whose residents need not commute by car. Protected best qualities of its late 19th and early 20th century suburbs with Craftsman vernacular. Reinforced the commercial arterials of the suburbs to provide neighborhood focus. Reclaimed industrial waterfront for public recreation use. Sought to bring out the competitive advantage of urban lifestyle over suburban lifestyle.
Population decline began in the early 1970s. 50,000 people added between 1991 and 1996.
Population density. 38 persons per hectare in 1976. 49 in 1998. 60 x 2021.
Declining household size as important as population growth in the increasing residential units.
1951 condos at 20% of market. 1970 condos at 80% of market. This drop considerably but returned to 80% by 2000. 1000 townhouses built in last few years. Half of city is zoned for single-family residential use.
1950s 60% owned home. 1990s 40% owned home.
1989 social housing four times the level of 1999. Air pollution indicators are half of 1981. For its density, Vancouver has low public transit use.
Single-family areas have severely restricted if not excluded intensification.
1980s monster home invasion response was RS 5. In this larger houses are allowed only if they follow elaborate contextual design principles. Community support was 80% while use of architects went from 10% up to 75%. Many architects do not like the constraints on creativity. 16 neighborhoods requested this in 1996. Reinforcing single detached homes while city facing high demand for small units of affordable and ground oriented hosing was a retrograde step and contributed to increasing house prices. RS 5 considered neighborhood protection service for the more affluent. Social exclusion has been reinforced.
RT zoning meant to permit side-by-side two family dwellings. Emphasis on maintaining existing character has produced widespread historical reproduction stylings that upset heritage lobby.
Lowrise Apartments and Stacked Townhouses. R. M. zonings applied in the 1970s and in your neighborhoods just beyond the old industrial belt to permit apartment development. Functional apartment buildings saving grace requirement for underground parking. Fairview Slopes special FM 1 zoning encouraged multiple uses a smaller scale.
Buildings built between 1983 and 1998 have often been defective being a leaky condo.
C2 buildings along arterials have helped reinforce one of Vancouver’s great pleasures — its diverse inner-city neighborhood shopping strips.
Medium rise apartment is not a popular building form in Vancouver. It has been allowed in the RM 3456. In East Kitsilano they are obtrusive and create green space that has little use or value, have anonymous architectural treatments, make no attempt to enclose the street.
In uptown South of Broadway, five to 9 stories street wall apartments.
High-Rise Towers and Perimeter Blocks
1980s Richard Henriquez pioneered Slim, highly glazed tower with complex floorplan determined by the need to capture the best available views for each apartment. Differential treatment of tower façades created buildings with much more interest and identity. Pioneered more imaginative use of landscaping although ground-floor plane was always limited amenity.
The tall freestanding tower continues to be built on infill sites in the West End and Triangle West. But the vast majority are now linked to blocks of townhouses or street wall apartments in megaprojects or Downtown South. These have become part of mixed form development that rejects the modernist tower relation to street and neighborhood. This is a unique Vancouver form.
Make a projects are based on set of principles. Project extends the fabric and character of the city. Each neighborhood has full range of amenities from local — high street — through to the — third-place — between home and work. Diverse mix of housing types and costs. Cars are underground with discrete servicing from backplanes. Continuous seawall linked to interesting public places. The street is designed to express community identity with a distinctive park. Diverse land use mix. A humane domestic building form for high density housing.
The presence of back lanes prevents creation of enclosed communal sticking out areas as an urban always. These lanes have hard surfaces and a service orientation which are severe.
Office towers and classes create a largely anonymous Townscape. City’s record with commercial development downtown has not been good.
Urban Landscape Task Force Report noted suburban distinctive commercial strips are among most cherished places in Vancouver.
Assessing Urban Design Policies and Practices — based on figure 1.
Need to establish community and corporate commitment to design that can build consensus within the city bureaucracy and enthuse the development industry and community at large. City Plan achieved 80% support from the public but implementation looks problematic.
Amenities added through community amenity contributions [on residential rezonings since 1989], development cost levies [on development permits in major redevelopment area since 1990], public and managing requirements [waterfront mega project since 1990].
Public amenities in megaprojects are very generous but elsewhere the city is behind other regional municipalities. Mega projects seek 20% for core need households and 25% suitable for families. Also see a third-place between home and work such as community center, library, day care.
Discretionary zoning is key mechanism for achieving intensification and creating a predictable urban form. The Vancouver approach is to parallel the regulatory element — zoning bylaw — with the discretionary element — design guidelines. Rather than making the zoning bylaw extremely complex e.g. San Francisco, design guidelines carry a wealth of advice about all matters to do with building forms in the public realm. The genius of Vancouver’s system lies in providing the incentive of additional floor space in return for compliance to the guidelines.
Note: issues like accessibility and environmental responsibility are frowned on as candidates for discretion by staff.
Exclusionary tendencies of single-family zoning are obvious. The remedy of simple administrative rules-based zoning and more permissive zoning to allow several intensification remained politically unacceptable.
Substantive Design Principles
Livable City concept defines the set of community goals that have required little change over the last three decades. System has been preoccupied with protection of mountain and sea views, conserving craftsman style single-family neighborhoods, high quality architecture and streetscape, also been accompanied by equally deep concerns with issues of livability. Visual privacy and noise protection, adequate yard size, children’s play facilities, private and communal landscape space, the microclimate of private and public space, crime prevention through design. Each has been incorporated into guidelines. Underground parking requirements ensure vehicles do not visually intrude and take up space.
Design guidelines followed innovations in postmodern urban design theory. Respect for context is one generic principal setup in opposition to modernist design. The apotheosis of contextualism was RS5 which required a study of adjacent properties. It went too far down the road of responding to the architectural detail of the locality.
Most commentators believe a less prescriptive system such as RS 6 or RS 7 would be preferable.
RS 5 was created to protect traditional Westside neighborhoods from developers interpretations of the aesthetic preferences of wealthy Asian immigrants.
False Creek North lesson was guidelines became less detailed and prescriptive as trust increased between developer and city and the city recognized the need for flexibility.
The major exceptions to high standards is the leaky condo phenomenon and major office buildings downtown.
Six factors for success in Vancouver
— environment of location
— sustained economic growth
— shared public and political beliefs in environmental quality, livable city, participatory planning
— delegated independent power for technical excellence and incentives for design
— planning and design community with peer pressure
— gifted committed long serving politicians, planners and architects with shared ethos.
Removing heavy industry and not building freeways ensured that two of the biggest threats to urban environmental quality were eliminated.
James Cheng — a discretionary system is only as good as those exercising that discretion.
How will the city’s relatively new ethnic diversity, particularly Asian, express itself in planning and design in the future.

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