Ins and Outs of the Broadway Plan
City Conversation #57: Making common sense of what the Broadway Plan will add and remove from our city.
June 6, 2022—Final deliberations and decision about the Broadway Plan are happening in three days. I thought it was time for a succinct summary of what the Plan proposes to add, and take away, from Vancouver.
In: 1477 West Broadway (approved) is the grey tower on the left in this aerial view northeast from about Granville & 12th—Out: view cones and most views of the mountains and water—illustration by Stephen Bohus, BLA
“What do you mean, one quarter of the city’s affordable rentals are in the Broadway Plan area! I didn’t know that! You need to get that messaging out there before it’s too late!” My wife (mostly) listens to my endless mumblings about the Broadway Plan, the Vancouver Plan—all that avalanche of key initiatives that city staff is trying to ram through before the next municipal election in mid-October.
She continued. “It needs to be a simple list of what’s included in the Plan and what we’re losing.”
I paused for a few moments, realizing that as often is the case, she had nailed it. So here is a my take on what the Broadway Plan includes (the “Ins”) and what it excludes (the “Outs”). There is further explanation and references below the summary list:
1. Residents & Homes
In: 50,000 new residents in 30,000 new homes in 485 blocks.
Out: An unknown number of existing residents displaced or demovicted; an unknown number of older, more affordable buildings demolished.
Comment: Many will lose their rental homes at least for the 3-5 years it will take to build replacements. Tenant protections have not been vetted in the marketplace.
2. Speed of Development
In: Population and home targets
Out: Development caps and/or rate of change
Comment: No controls on how many homes will be replaced or added, nor how quickly.
3. Plan Area, Neighbourhoods & Planner stuff
In: A Plan covering 1st to 16th Ave, Vine to Clark; 50+ new zoning types
Out: Neighbourhoods; 24 historic zoning types
Comment: The Broadway Plan eliminates four neighbourhoods; the Vancouver Plan eliminates the rest.
4. Rentals + Non-market
In: New rentals and condos & “best ever” renter protection
Out: Older rentals & tenants who can’t hold out until relocation
Comment: About a quarter of Vancouver’s older, affordable rentals are in the Broadway Plan area
In: Up to 350 high-rise towers & up to 3 new ones per block
Out: Low-rise buildings they replace + view cones
Comment: View cone reduction adds extra upper floors… homes for whom?
6. Urban Design
In: Shaded streets & parks + private outdoor “park” spaces
Out: Sunny streets & parks
Comment: The Broadway Plan says it’s okay to shade all the streets & parks
7. Amenity Funding
In: A “10-year capital strategy” for community amenities
Out: Specific space commitments for parks, community centres, libraries, fire halls, etc. None for schools
Comment: $803 million over 10 years: 41% for engineering infrastructure (roads and sewers); 39% for civic infrastructure (parks and rec); 20% for 330 units of social housing; 0 for schools
9. Citizen Involvement
In: Manufactured consent
Out: Neighbourhood consultation
Comment: Zoom and Online are the future!
As I’ve compressed the Ins and Outs, more explanation is needed for several subjects:
Residents & Homes (Page 35 of the Broadway Plan)
Vancouver has grown by an average of 1% per year, albeit compounded, since Expo ’86. In 2022, Metro Vancouver, the senior quasi-government that integrates planning across the entire Greater Vancouver area’s 26 cities, towns and villages says the entire city of Vancouver needs 77,000 new homes to accommodate 164,000 new residents by 2050. There are currently 98,000+ new homes in planning in our fair city outside of the Broadway Plan, of which more than half are rental. Pardon me for asking why we need any new homes in the Broadway Plan area. I mean, I agree we need some incremental development, and some folks say we need to accommodate slightly more than 200,000 new residents by 2050, which works out to 91,000 new homes, still less than what’s already proposed outside the Broadway Plan. Somebody’s math is all wrong, and I’m not betting against Metro Vancouver!
Speed of Development (Page 342, Key Directions of the Broadway Plan…maybe)
This was a tough one, since the Plan is pretty quiet about the expected speed of development. A simple word search found nothing under speed of development, rate of change or anything like that—eventually I found some encouraging words in the Key Directions of the Plan, which include this statement: In the short term, target more significant change and increased housing supply in areas with a relatively low number of existing renters, including station areas, mixed-use areas, and existing low-density areas. Sounds encouraging, except there are no stated mechanisms to favour this approach—it remains an owner/developer driven target with no mechanism to cap development or establish rate of change, such as was a key component of projects like Coal Harbour, False Creek North or Kerrisdale.
The next Key Direction offers this encouragement: Enable incremental change in existing rental apartment areas to renew the aging rental stock, while acknowledging significant increases in height and density will be needed to ensure replacement of existing affordability and tenant protections in new developments so that existing renters have the choice to stay in their neighbourhoods. Translated from planner speak, this means build a lot higher so existing renters may be able to afford to live in the same neighbourhood they got evicted from. This is also owner/developer driven with no cap.
Some nice words about all that apparently past best before date non-market housing: Support renewal of existing, aging non-market (supportive, social and co-operative) housing to improve liveability, expand affordability, increase stock, and create opportunities for new non-market housing in all neighbourhoods in the Plan area. But again, no explanation of how that magic will happen. Question: when is development not owner/developer driven? Answer (apparently): when it calls itself non-market, supportive, social or co-operative without funds or funding mechanisms.
Plan Area, Neighbourhoods & Planner stuff
I was excited to read the Plan’s first reference to neighbourhood: Mount Pleasant, Fairview and Kitsilano are cherished neighbourhoods in Vancouver’s city centre, holding a range of housing and employment areas and diverse shops, services and amenities that attract locals and visitors alike. Hard to argue with those words. It gets better when talking about Housing on Page 17: The neighbourhoods along the Broadway Subway are valued as distinctive places to live, containing an eclectic mix of building types and many green and leafy residential areas.
Great words, except the Plan itself ignores these neighbourhoods, except for a few blocks of village along Main Street, Granville Street and 4th Avenue, where it pretty much does nothing—which is good, in the circumstances.
There are 24 existing zoning areas in the Plan area, broadly, residential, commercial and industrial. Some, like the C, RT and RM zones, have long histories arising from the city’s planning history, including the involvement of its citizens and neighbourhoods.
These 24 existing zonings have been replaced by more than 50 new ones—more than twice as many. For the life of me I can’t figure out why, since almost every one includes a high-rise option of 12, 18, 20, 25, 30 up to 40 storeys—I guess we needed upwards of 50 different ways to zone high-rise.
Amenity Funding (pages 466-486 of the Broadway Plan)
The Plan’s commitment is to a 10-year strategy with the following highlights for community amenities separate from specific private spot rezonings—the percentage numbers are the % of the totals identified in the strategy:
Affordable Housing (20%)—$162 million total over 10 years for: approximately 330 social housing units through renewal and expansion of existing city-owned non-market housing sites—that’s $490,000 per home, remembering the land is free;
Childcare (10.6%)—$85 million total over 10 years for: 4-7 new childcare centres within private developments, totalling a hoped for 256 spaces; renewal and expansion of three city-owned facilities totalling 160 spaces—that’s $204,000 per space;
Parks and Open Spaces (12%)—$96 million total total over 10 years for: 2 acres of new parkland; dedicated additional park space on private lands; $29 million to (re)develop the existing Burrard Slopes and Delamont parks; $10 million to renew existing parks. This for an additional population of 50,000.
Arts, Culture and Heritage (5.6%)—$45 million total over 10 years for: 60,000 square feet of: arts production and music spaces; live/work studios; club space; artist studios; and a public art program;
Heritage (1.1%)—$9 million total over 10 years for: heritage conservation (city-wide);
Libraries (2.7%)—$22 million total over 10 years for: renewal and expansion of Firehall Branch—meaning 50,000 more residents will need no new libraries;
Recreation Facilities (1.2%)—$10 million total over 10 years for: renewal of one existing recreation facility—meaning one fixer-upper is enough for 50,000 new residents;
Social facilities (2%)—$16 million total over 10 years for: renovation and expansion of Mount Pleasant Neighbourhood House—nothing new, another fixer-upper;
Public safety Facilities (3.6%)—$29 million total over 10 years for: expansion of Firehall 4 and a community policing facility in the eastern end of the Broadway Plan area—I’m not a public safety expert, is it just me who thinks this is thin?
Transportation and Street Use (13.6%)—$109 million total over 10 years for Broadway upgrades, bike lanes, three plazas and related improvements—more than any of the topics above except affordable housing;
Water and Utilities (27.4%)—$220 million total over 10 years for sewer and water upgrades;
TOTAL (100%)—$803 million, of which 41% is infrastructure (streets and utilities), 39% is is the stuff that most of us think of as public benefits, such as parks and rec facilities, and 20% is the affordable, publicly owned social housing that most of us assumed was the point of all this.
More Planner stuff
This drives me batty. Consider this Big Move for Fairview (page 148 of the Plan): Support the long-term renewal of the older strata ownership buildings to provide more housing opportunities near Broadway. Except the new FSLA zone, which covers about 20% of Fairview, permits 12-storey strata; FSLC, which is a thin band along 8th Avenue from Hemlock to past Heather, likes 20 storeys; and FBSA bracketing Broadway from Hemlock to Oak, likes 20-storey strata and 30-storey secured market rental (which means market rental for 60 years, nothing more). Clearly that’s what the long-term renewal of the older strata ownership buildings really means.
There are dozens of these barbarities threaded throughout the Plan, which we exposed in our 3D models. The working assumption can only be that nobody will bother to read the 493 page Plan and think about what it really means.
Citizen Involvement (Page 22 of the Plan)
We’re getting used to this Zoom/pandemic sleight-of-hand:
Develop guiding principles = nice words that only an awful human being could object to; then
Identify emerging directions—those are the innocuous statements arising from the guiding principles, carefully winnowed from curated Zoom calls and surveys. Was I the only person who could not get into the first round of Zoom presentations? Followed by
Refined directions are what staff say they heard in their curated Zoom calls and focused in person workshops—that’s where staff only write down your thoughts when you agree with theirs;
Finally, the Draft Plan, where we finally see detailed land use, built form and density parameters, draft policies for all Plan topics, Built Form and Site Design Chapter. That eleventh hour is where we discover what it all really means.
There really needs to be a 5th planning phase: telling folks they did not say what they said, and even if they said that, we (staff) know best even though most of us don’t live in the city of Vancouver or have much history here, and finally, we have to do this because of the SkyTrain commitments.
Calls to Action
It’s too late now to speak to Council about the Broadway Plan. But you can still email Mayor and Council with your thoughts right up until they finish deliberations on June 9th—earlier would be better.
For those citizens currently sitting on the sidelines, thinking “it doesn’t affect me,” know that the Broadway Plan is the template for the Vancouver Plan, which covers the entire city and is up for Council approval in mid-June. I will have a City Conversation about it soon.
The Vancouver Plan will write the Broadway Plan onto every quiet corner of every city block, every treed hill in every park, every close and distant vista in our decreasingly fair land. Please review the Vancouver Plan. If you agree with it, say so. If you disagree with it, or as with many, don’t understand it, say so. There is no compelling reason for it to be considered before the next civic election.
Vancouver’s civic election is October 15th of this year. Lots more damage can be done to our city 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 with us to restore Vancouver as a place we can all afford to call home.
Today’s question: Are you aware of all that is in and out of the Broadway Plan?
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I am a Vancouver-based architect, building envelope and building code consultant and LEED Accredited Professional (the first green building system). I am 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 my 40+ year career including the planning, design and construction of almost every type and scale of project. I am the author of the award winning Amazon best seller “An Architect’s Guide to Construction.” I am 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. Although I am not a candidate for TEAM or any other civic party, City Conversations are generally congruent with TEAM policy, so if you like the ideas that I’m writing about, please consider joining TEAM.