What the Broadway Plan means for Vancouver's History
City Conversation #52: The Broadway Plan will eliminate 45 years of citizen planning work.
May 14, 2022—I almost missed the alert in CityHallWatch (CHW). I’ve been working to a professional deadline, barely had time to do more than lightly monitor the slow moving disaster that is the Broadway Plan and its potential approval at Vancouver City Council next Wednesday, May 18th. Thank you, CHW, for bringing to my attention city staff’s intention to wipe out 45 years of Vancouver planning history. I hope this is not a requiem for the best of our city—my five minutes of remarks to Council may change before the event on Wednesday next.
These are the eight neighbourhood guidelines and policies that the Broadway Plan repeals—45 years of history declared redundant
In one sense, it was inevitable that the ascendancy of the Broadway Plan would require some tidy up. I understand that, but am gob smacked by what that tidy up really means— the desecration, the disrespect, the destruction of 45 years of Vancouver’s planning history—eight separate major plans and policy documents covering Kitsilano, Central Broadway, the Arbutus neighbourhood, Burrard slopes and Mount Pleasant. We should pause to think if we are truly ready for that. Staff say yes, let’s repeal the lot. I ask for clemency.
The innocuous staff recommendation that will erase 45 years of Vancouver’s history
Full disclosure—I had little to do with the creation of the eight key planning documents that are now set to be erased from our history. My excuses are the usual—too busy raising a family, establishing an architecture and planning career. My community involvement was pretty much limited to coaching my daughter and son in baseball and soccer—community involvement lite.
But I and thousands of other citizens could do community involvement lite because we knew there were more connected, more committed and compassionate folks who were doing the heavy lifting for us—they are the folks who attended thousands of meetings and work sessions, were thoughtful about their neighbourhoods and the wider city context, made the compromises that resulted in the eight or more significant plans, policy plans and guidelines that benefited all of us for decades yet will be cast aside for the Broadway Plan.
What have we lost and what have we gained?
What we have gained is easier to calculate. In its relentless one size fits all, neighbourhoods be damned planning framework and its 20 storeys or more simplistic building typology, the Broadway Plan has conveniently defined our future based on Zoom polls and Twitter comments—nothing too complex in a Plan that uses the pandemic as cover to deride the experience and wisdom of those who have worked here their entire adult lives, instead deluding those who would magically like to live in an affordable, three bedroom apartment on the 18th floor with a view of the sea and mountains—I’m sure that’s somewhere in the Plan, isn’t it?
What we have lost is more akin to what we assumed as given, but will be no longer. I visited Kits Beach recently, thought how little it had changed since we first arrived in Vancouver 47 years ago. And just as I did then, I smiled at the throngs playing beach volleyball, or pick up basketball, or just walking, talking, rolling and sitting in the reflected glory of the water and mountains. Certainly there are more than when I arrived—the city population has grown on average 1% per year since the Kitsilano Neighbourhood Plan, now scheduled for the dust bin, was first created in 1977.
That relentless 1% population growth has resisted multiple recessions, 19% interest rates, Expo ’86, the 2010 Olympics—yet one of the underpinnings of the Broadway Plan is a fact-free, analysis-lite belief that Vancouver is set to explode with three times the population growth it has hosted for the past four decades—even the past five years of Stats Canada data inconveniently underlines our actual sub 1% per annum growth.
Is there a solution, a compromise between the binning of almost a half century of neighbourhood-based planning in favour of the Broadway Plan’s constantly shifting how about this, how about that? simple desperation to get a deal done before the upcoming civic election? I think there is, and hope a majority of Council will agree.
The Broadway Plan’s consultation program may go down as the biggest community con job in modern history—the definition of manufactured consent has been given new meaning by the disdain of city management and staff for facts, for the fabric of multiple communities. I have actually and painfully read the rationales supporting this Plan—they are breathtakingly bereft of research, relying instead on the stimuli of planted questions. How else do we get from 1/4 of Vancouverites would like a better home (who wouldn’t?) to 1/4 of Vancouverites need new, more affordable homes. That’s the kind of stretch present in the city’s 2021Housing Progress Report and Housing Needs Report, both published barely three weeks ago and reliant on out of date information.
To achieve this nonsense we have the Broadway Plan, whose complex and obscure zoning details tease out to as many as 140,000 new residents, NOT the 50,000 plan vision, to as many as 60,000 new homes, mostly high-rise, NOT the 30,000 vision, to more than 300 towers carpeting Kitsilano, Fairview, South Granville and Mount Pleasant.
The Mayor and senior planning staff have described the 3D models created by myself and Stephen Bohus as “exaggerated,” “inaccurate” and most recently, “false images.” I have two responses: the practical one—“If our models are incorrect, show us the correct ones!” and the professional one—“As an architect, I have unlimited, perpetual, personal liability for everything I do or draw, and I must always keep protection of the public foremost—how about you?”
Too close to the street & why didn’t you design each individual building?
There are hundreds of staff ranged against us few. City staff are well paid while we volunteer our modest skills in the name of exposing the Broadway Plan’s realities. Our models are simple but accurate reflections of what the Broadway Plan really allows for—what does it say about a staff that publicly criticizes our modelled towers, created from their Plan, not ours, that they say are set back from the roads 1 meter less than they should be—at worst a rounding error in the Broadway Plan.
The fact that staff and management have declined to show Vancouver’s citizens anything more than complex diagrams they hoped we would not read and understand, and certainly not model, says much about the city administration’s opinion of the residents of this city.
In the name of all that is decent, in the name of Vancouver’s history, written by so many but very few at this Council or staff table, please defer the Broadway Plan until its fate can be decided by the upcoming civic election in October. Let’s confer for five more months before we destroy almost 50 years of our city’s history.
And 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. It 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.
Call to Action—Speak at the Broadway Plan Public meeting
It is not too late to sign up to speak by phone or in person at next Wednesday’s Council meeting at which the Broadway Plan will come to a vote. To register to speak, follow this link. NOTE, you must register by 8:30am on May 18th—unlike a public hearing, the speaker’s list will not be expanded beyond that cutoff time.
If you are unable or unwilling to speak (it’s not as intimidating as it might seem, but I get shyness), at the very least, please 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 with us to restore Vancouver as a place we can all afford to call home.
Today’s question: Do you like the Broadway Plan? Why or why not?
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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.