Affordability. Capacity. Trust.
City Conversation #50: This is what’s been lost with the Broadway Plan
May 7, 2022—These are my remarks at today’s rally at Vancouver City Hall. My remarks address the subjects in the title. After a short few days break to attend to work matters, City Conversations will continue their discussion of the Broadway Plan, moving from west to east. The goal is to review the entire plan’s impacts before the May 18 Council meeting at which the Plan will be considered—and passed unless enough citizens express their concerns. See links at the end of this Conversation to take you to where you can voice your approval or concerns.
A possible build out of the Broadway Plan, from Kitsilano (lower left corner) looking east towards Clark Drive (upper right). Most of the shortest new buildings are 20 storeys. The blank green blocks on the right and left are where city staff would not share modelling data they have—image by Stephen Bohus, BLA
In considering all that has come to pass in the year since I started writing City Conversations, I suggest the challenge around the fight for the soul of our city can be summarized by just three words: affordability; capacity; and trust.
Many colleagues who I am now privileged to call friends have plumbed their own professional and scientific knowledge and experience to look at housing affordability in an objective fashion. Their wide ranging research demonstrates conclusively that the Broadway Plan’s high-rise, high density model of development does not work. It does not work for office and commercial space. It is disastrous for residential space. The higher we go in the air, the more every square meter of lower and upper space costs to build—the upper because of the higher cost of getting materials and labour up there, the lower because of the additional structure required to support what’s above. The average unit cost of construction goes up as we go up, especially in earthquake country.
Even worse, the environmental impacts of high-rise construction outweigh by a big margin the relatively lesser impacts of low and mid-rise construction—and that’s also on a per square meter basis. So every square meter of high-rise will cost much more to build and will consume significantly more energy to build and operate than low and mid-rise alternatives. That higher construction dollar cost is a one-time hit for affordability, but energy to heat, cool, pump water way up, run elevators, etc., is an affordability cost hit and an environmental hit that occurs for the entire life of the building.
So these high-rise buildings, more than 300 of them contemplated by the Broadway Plan, will condemn generations of Vancouverites to a non sustainable, expensive and unaffordable future.
Capacity is a measure often used in planning to explain how much can be built. Existing zoned capacity is a planning term for what the zoning allows that hasn’t been built yet, like when the older, one storey commercial space is redeveloped as three or so storeys of homes atop ground level commercial.
In addition to what the existing zoning in Vancouver allows, a number that city staff will not reveal, the Broadway Plan will increase the existing zoned capacity of the 7.1% , that’s the 1/14th of the area of Vancouver covered by the Broadway Plan, not by the 50,000 people suggested by city planner “visions”, rather by more than 140,000 people. The Broadway Plan, by itself, not considering any other development anywhere in the city, will provide for more than 18 years of population growth—so that’s in addition to Oakridge, the Heather Lands, the Jericho Lands, Pearson/Dogwood—the lot! The Broadway Plan contemplates almost 300 new residents in each and every one of the Plan’s 485 blocks, including the industrial and commercial blocks. And that 18-year supply is in addition to the 12 years of spot rezonings already approved or in process that have not been built yet.
Regardless what you think of those numbers, I want to focus on some other capacity numbers around the Broadway Plan: additional school space—0; additional park space—close to 0; additional community facility space—0; additional policing, ambulance and medical services—probably 0.
Those who cannot find a school place for their child, those who must take a bus to find a park space for children to play in, those unable to swim at Kits Pool or the Aquatic Centre, will understand what 0 additional capacity means for up to 140,000 future neighbours.
Capacity is about balancing how many new neighbours against how can we find and fund what we need?
In the next few days, you will hear more about how much, or rather how little, trust figures in City management’s approach to the Broadway Plan. They will not share the city model base they have so that we can best identify where the Broadway Plan’s 140,000 should go—so a small number of volunteers have done that job for them, and are shocked by the results. We will display them in forthcoming City Conversations.
City staff will not bother to calculate how many new homes can be built using the already existing zoning instead of the Broadway Plan—they would rather the lazy arrogance of spot rezoning. They continue to curate Zoom “workshops” instead of meeting face to face with citizens. They prefer online, anonymous surveys that anyone from anywhere can log in to express opinions as many times as they wish—with staff dutifully counting this as citizen input.
Trust is hard earned, and easily lost when abused. There is no longer any trust between most of Vancouver’s citizens and its civic government, and that is just sad.
The speakers following me at today’s rally will talk of their loss of trust: impending loss of home to densify when no redevelopment is required, just for the financial convenience of an agency of government; loss of commercial business to the SkyTrain construction, where cut and cover are words never spoken but are reality for so many; and where the new approach to planning is one where a community’s hard won plan is relentlessly set aside for greater height and density almost everywhere. My sincere thanks to those folks for their stories.
I hope you will agree that these are not the conditions that make and keep trust between civic government and its citizens.
Affordability. Capacity. Trust.
What we have lost and will now begin the work of recovering. Thank you for being here today, for caring. You are the soul of Vancouver!
Call to Action—The Broadway Plan goes before City Council May 18th—be heard!
I have never before participated in a protest rally. Yet, I was at City Hall this Saturday, protesting the loss of trust between Vancouver citizens and their civic government, as exemplified by the Broadway Plan.
It’s unclear at this stage whether ordinary citizens will even be allowed to express their views about the Broadway Plan to Council when it is considered on May 18th. City Conversations will keep you apprised of the status of that meeting and your ability to speak to it..
Meantime, you can contact the Mayor and Council and express your views via email. A few suggestions:
Under feedback subject, indicate Broadway Plan
Under comment, you can be as brief as I oppose the Broadway Plan or I support it. You have 3,000 characters to express your opinion, so don’t be shy. Councillors read these emails—the clearer you are about your reasoning, the clearer they may be about your situation. Think about your neighbourhood—most of city management and staff, Mayor and Council are not.
Fill in the About you section if at all possible, including your neighbourhood. Mayor and Council need to know who is conversing with them, and where they live. I hope that a comment from Grandview Woodlands counts for more than one from, say, Burnaby.
If you have poignant images or files, attach them to your comments.
Vancouver’s civic election is October 15th of this year. Lots of damage can be done by the current Mayor and Council, city management and staff before that date—and it will continue, and worsen, unless TEAM for a Livable Vancouver elects a majority (6 of 10) City Councillors—less than 6 and not much will change. If you are concerned that what you’ve just read is an example of what’s wrong with our city, and want to bring back its livability, join TEAM and work to restore Vancouver as a place we can all afford to call home.
Today’s question: What is one action you believe you can take to begin the work of recovering trust between citizens and government? If you are not a Vancouver resident, is all well with your community’s government? In which case, please share a simple secret that might help Vancouverites.
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Brian Palmquist is a Vancouver-based architect, building envelope and building code consultant and LEED Accredited Professional (the first green building system). He is semi-retired for the moment, still teaching and writing, so not beholden to any client or city hall. These conversations mix real discussion with research and observations based on a 40+ year career including the planning, design and construction of almost every type and scale of project. He is the author of the Amazon best seller “An Architect’s Guide to Construction.” He is also a member of team for a livable Vancouver, a new political party dedicated to restoring a livable Vancouver starting with the 2022 civic election. City Conversations are generally congruent with TEAM policy, so if you like the ideas that I’m writing about, please consider joining TEAM.