Emerging Milestones 2020

What were the biggest moments in urban planning in Vancouver in 2020?

The Vancouver City Planning Commission is preparing for our sixth annual “Year-in-Review” events to reflect on what happened in 2020 with regards to our city’s built form, economics, quality of life and sustainability. We are looking to identify the innovative and transformative decisions and actions around land use, neighbourhood planning and development that could significant impact the future of Vancouver.

The VCPC Chronology Committee has identified the following preliminary milestones.  These milestones were vetted at a workshop in December 2020 and will be discussed by a panel of city planners thinkers, writers, and doers in early February.


While no review of 2020 would be complete without acknowledging the impact that COVID-19 had on almost all aspects of our lives, including city planning, we consider this to be an overarching theme of 2020, not a specific milestone.

Video Summary of Emerging Milestones

Workshop Poll Results



2020 Emerging Milestones

Climate Emergency Plan Approved

The plan aims to reduce  Vancouver’s carbon pollution by 50 per cent by 2030, and be carbon neutral before 2050. City staff said 54 per cent of Vancouver’s carbon pollution comes from burning natural-gas heating, and gas- and diesel-burning vehicles are responsible for 39 per cent of emissions. The plan’s priorities include mitigating the impacts of climate change, advancing public health, making the city more resilient to future disruption and integrating equity — meaning making low-cost sustainable transportation options available, sharing the costs of reducing carbon pollution and creating new opportunities for participating in a zero-carbon economy. The plan emphasizes that “climate justice” will be a key part of the plan’s work.

Modelling for the plan forecast a net savings of $1 billion for residents and businesses resulting from technological changes and behaviour to 2030 — $1.38 billion in investments would bring  $2.38 billion in savings.

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Public Space Reallocation

In response to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, namely to support business recovery and to facilitate social connectivity, the City of Vancouver launched programs that are redefining the uses of public spaces. These programs, while temporary, demonstrate the potential longer term transformation of the City’s public realm. The majority of the responses to the programs have been positive for local businesses as well as for activating public spaces. Alcohol consumption in public spaces have in the past been highly regulated. The activation of public spaces has also been an on-going initiative by the City of Vancouver. These programs redefine permissible activities in public spaces and the privatization of public spaces, and opens for discussion the broader considerations of balancing public and private interests and equity.

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“Online” City Hall

The Covid-19 pandemic resulted in virtual council meetings, online public meetings and public hearings, plus a new digital system of development and permit processes. These virtual events and the Shape Your City site were meant to encourage  and improve public engagement and participation during the pandemic. Time periods of open houses were extended from the three-hours in person  to three weeks online, with live question sessions.

Have these measures made city operations more accessible?

Will  the city continue to use some of these engagement methods post-pandemic?

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Downtown Public Places for People Strategy

The Downtown Public Space Strategy (DPSS) fills a policy gap in the Downtown, which lacked a public space inventory and plan. As the adoption of DPSS occurred during the pandemic. Council has directed staff to apply the principles of the Strategy to recovery initiatives, and related policy and planning initiatives.

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Black Lives Matter Movement

Community members supporting the Black Lives Matter movement blocked the Georgia Viaduct to motor vehicle traffic for several days in June. While the participants reflected sentiments shared by thousands of demonstrators around the world, the Vancouver blockade had more immediate, and local goals. Organizers say the location was chosen to honour Hogan’s Alley, a Black community in Vancouver’s Strathcona neighbourhood that was razed when the city constructed the viaducts. With the viaducts scheduled to be dismantled within the next few years, the Hogan’s Alley Society has  been in negotiations with the city to turn the land into a land trust to be stewarded by the Black community.

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New temporary shelter for street-based sex workers

Street-based sex workers were seen as especially vulnerable to violence, poverty and  a poisoned drug supply, issues seen to have been made worse by the Covid-19 pandemic. The temporary shelter provided respite and long-term beds, showers, laundry, meals  and a safe space on both a respite and long-term bases, as well as access to social programs.  A safe shelter specifically for sex workers had not been offered in the city previously, although WISH has been providing meals, showers, safety surveillance, harm reduction and health and social supports since the 1980s.

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Slow Streets 

Slow streets initiatives occurred across Canada and the United States as a response to the pressures that the pandemic was placing on use of outdoor spaces by residents staying home and spending time outside for exercise by walking and cycling. These initiatives were facilitated by the reduction in vehicular traffic during Covid-19. Although Vancouver was not an early adopter of this strategy, the City moved quickly to affect the use pattern of a number of streets. .

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Prepared by:  VCPC Chronology Committee
Last Updated: December 14, 2020