What the Design Panel said about the Broadway Plan
City Conversation #55: It required a Freedom of Information Request to obtain the meeting record—the day before final deliberations.
The Vancouver.ca explanation of its Urban Design Panel
May 30, 2022—On March 16th of this year the city’s Urban Design Panel (UDP) met to consider the Broadway Plan. For reasons unexplained, this particular Zoom meeting was unavailable for members of the public to listen to—during the pandemic such access has been readily available as a substitute for attendance in person, which was the previous norm. It required a Freedom of Information (FOI) request by CityHallWatch’s Randal Helten, submitted on March 25th to obtain a recording of the Zoom meeting. Randal received the recording today, two months after his request and one day before Council’s final deliberations about the Plan. I was able to listen to the 1 hour, 40 minute recording this evening. I served on the UDP for two terms, so understand how it operates.
The Panel’s Chair allows each presenter—in this case, four members of city staff—to explain their proposals, then the Panel members ask questions and provide comments. The Chair summarizes the comments, which appear in the meeting minutes—I was unable to find minutes of that meeting on the city’s Past Minutes and Agendas web page.
Given the timing and the gravity of much of what was said, I am taking a different approach for this City Conversation. Many Panel members said similar things about the Plan and each covered a lot of ground, as the Plan itself does. I have therefore divided comments into subjects and quoted from various Panel members. I did not get their full names, and some are different than on the City’s page identifying Panel members, so I have just used first names. Where more than one Panel member said the same thing, or indicated agreement with a previous Panel member’s comments, I have inserted all the names. NOTE that I have placed Panel members’ comments in quotes—in 100 minutes of discussion I may have gotten some expressions wrong, but not, I believe, the flavour of the discussions. If there are small discrepancies, my apologies as my clock passes midnight on the night before the final deliberations.
In the interests of brevity, I will start with the Chair’s summary, follow with Panel members’ detailed comments. Where Panel Members appear to echo City Conversations thoughts published after the Panel meeting, this is noted:
“Staff are commended for the boldness of some aspects of the Broadway Plan (the Plan). There is universal support for adding housing density at and near transit nodes, i.e., stations. Some Panel members feel the Plan is actually timid in how it handles density.”
“A majority of the Panel are concerned about adding significant density in the existing lower density residential areas away from the transit nodes—a minority of Panel members thought that was just fine.”
“All panel members feel there needs to be dedicated park space commensurate with the significant population increase, ideally where the greatest densities occur—people in high-rises also need ready access to green space.”
“Park space needs to be in the public realm rather than space left over at the edges of private development.”
“Additional public amenities are needed, including childcare, community centres and publicly accessible washrooms.”
“Each transit node also needs cultural facilities—there needs to be a cultural facilities plan, rather than just a budget.”
“The plan is incongruous with its checker board development pattern—it feels as if it’s landed from outer space. I don’t understand the rationale.” (Jennifer, Margot) Note, this comment was made well before the much criticized 3D models by Stephen Bohus and myself.
“The concentric ring approach around transit nodes does not offer protection for all the things we love about these areas.” (Clinton)
“What is supposed to be a great street opportunity is beyond timid.” (Margot)
“I applaud this much bolder take, hope it will move us away from so many spot rezonings.” (Jeff, Alyssa, Amina)
“There’s a distinct lack of innovation in the Plan. I don’t understand why—politics?” (Margot)
“I’m not in support of a massing proposition based on get it while it lasts.” (Clinton)
“I don’t agree with adding so much density outside of the transit nodes—better to add more nearer the stations, less in the existing lower density neighbourhoods further away.” (Margot, Jennifer, Clinton)
“Broadening density out into the quiet neighbourhoods is fine by me. But we must also pull back some densification to gain more public spaces.” (Jeff, Alyssa)
“I’m not comfortable with the aggressive, manic interface between new density and old.” (Clinton)
“I worry about maintaining the different neighbourhood characters along Broadway—the movement experience needs to recognize those character changes.” (Scott, Jennifer)
“We need to not just preserve existing character buildings, but enough supporting neighbours to maintain neighbourhood character.” (Clinton)
“Adding 18-storey buildings in low density neighbourhoods is misguided. Better to be less timid at transit nodes and less aggressive in existing lower density neighbourhoods.” (Scott)
“The Plan area includes some of Vancouver’s great character neighbourhoods—Kits, Granville, Mount Pleasant—the Plan may ruin all of these areas.” (Margot)
“The Plan should accommodate lane-facing small commercial spaces—an alternative to or in addition to laneway homes.” (Amina)
“I’m okay with leveraging public park space from private developers—but it must be truly public and programmed, not leftover edges.” (Jennifer)
“There are not enough incentives in the Plan supporting park creation. There needs to be more thought here.” (Scott, Jennifer)
“The idea of permitting secured rental housing projects to shade parks is just not on—the idea of any development shadowing parks is not on.” (Margot)
“More needs to be done to develop greenway connections down to the waterfront park areas.” (Jennifer)
“You cannot have 50,000 more residents without much more green space—I would like the Panel to conclude it cannot support the Plan without more parks.” (Margot)
“I am disappointed about the lack of information about design for the disabled—the disabled and seniors communities are waiting to get more involved in the Plan.” (Jane)
“This may create a new identity for the city—instead of just a downtown set against the backdrop of water and mountains, looking in the other direction there will be an escarpment of buildings along Burrard Slopes—a linear necklace of density.” (Scott)
“There needs to be a more developed public realm plan—past city plans have been very prescriptive, except for the Mount Pleasant plan.” (Jennifer, Margot). NOTE, the Broadway Plan staff report repeals the Mount Pleasant Plan of which the public realm plan was a part.
“We need to learn to live more in public, less in private.” (Jeff)
“Plazas on private spaces might work, so long as they reflect their neighbourhood character—these decisions cannot be left to individual developers and planners.” (Margot)
“The Plan’s illustrations are a missed opportunity to describe a green public benefits strategy—something as simple as showing rooftops as green and accessible to building occupants is a good start.” (Scott)
“Some illustrations show parking garages pushed to the edges of property lines. Street trees will not survive in narrow spaces—why do we need so may cars along transit corridors?” (Margot)
“Buildings need to provide continuous weather protection and more outdoor covered areas.” (Amina)
“We should also be mandating larger home sizes—what’s allowed now is much too small. We also need more family units.” (Jeff)
“We need to support the development of things like more childcare spaces by taking advantage of the air space above transit nodes.” (Amina)
Calls to Action
It’s too late now to speak to Council about the Broadway Plan—except for the 40+ folks still scheduled to speak to Council tomorrow. But you can watch the live broadcast starting at 3pm, Tuesday, May 31st. It’s not too late to wonder about why it took a FOI request to obtain information about the Broadway Plan that should have been public two months ago.
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: Do you think a Freedom of Information Request should be required in order to obtain Urban Design Panel meeting minutes? Why or why not?
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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.