Event Recap: Milestones 2019 Workshop

By: Sinem Culhaoglu and Brjen Rito

Monday, November 18, 2019, marked the 5th Annual Vancouver City Planning Commission’s (VCPC) Milestones 2019: Year-In-Review Workshop – an event held to discuss yearly milestones in urban local planning and development. Uncontested by most Vancouverites, due to urbanization being one of the front-runner topics discussed in the Vancouver political climate, the VCPC came together to delve into the most transformative events, actions, decisions, and directions that shaped the urban landscape within the last year. 

To kick off the discussion, the VCPC met in the Hall of One Hundred Rivers at the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Garden. Hosting an array of individuals – ranging from industry professionals, professors, students, and urban enthusiasts – there was an abundance of knowledge, beliefs, and approaches in the room. Traditionally a hall for tea ceremonies, these planners met, brewed, and spilled their own proverbial tea on the latest milestones regarding Vancouver’s ever growing landscape.

Workshop Overview

The proposed milestones include: 

  1. Expropriate of Balmoral & Regent hotels 
  2. 1,100 housing units supported by federal government 
  3. Towers proposed on Squamish Reserve 
  4. City declare Climate Emergency Response 
  5. Approval of Rain City Strategy by the City 
  6. Underpass in False Creek Flats Arterial 
  7. Approval of new Arts & Culture plan
  8. Approved of VanPlay Parks Master-plan 

The format of the workshop included the review of the proposed milestones by the table members, culminating in either an agree, disagree, or unsure for whether or not the topics discussed were indeed transformative. Afterwards, the tables would have the opprtunity to propose any additional milestones that they believed were not touched upon and deserved more garnered attention. Finally, the activity concluded with a vote on the top 3 most crucial milestones, either proposed by the VCPC, or the event participants themselves. 

Participants cast votes

Evident from the lively and passionate conversations, each table had their own proposals and viewpoints on these vital urban topics. After concluding these engaging conversations, participants were given the chance to individually vote on the proposed milestones. With three stickers in hand, they casted their vote on what they believed were the true pillars of change in the Vancouver urban landscape.

Based on the results of this vote, some of the most influential milestones include: 

Squamish Nation Proposal to Building 11 Towers on Reserve Lands

Perhaps no surprise to any actively engaged citizens, was the Squamish Proposal for 11 Towers being the night’s largest recognized milestone. Following the popularity of past themes, the proposal to build 11 towers on Reserve Lands, was thought to be one of the solutions that can perhaps address the continuing Vancouver Housing Crisis. Overall, this was considered an ambitious project, with high hopes and expectations. As the Skwxwú7mesh Úxwumixw people have offered their land, which lays around the south end of the Burrard Bridge, the towers are not subject to any zoning regulations or bylaws, and can thus be built without being subjected to Vancouver policies. The towers will offer about 6,000 units (approx. 10,000 – 15,000 people) and serve as a housing society, leading to more affordable housing for Squamish Nation members. Lastly, these towers will be avoiding past designs of podium-tower architecture, aiming to support an open space environment.

However, while an interesting development, discussions were brought to the table, which resulted in mixed emotions from workshop participants. Different questions and concerns were brought up, with an array of responses. Will there be issues with rising sea levels? How will this project advance with consideration of transportation; support of transit usage or use of personal vehicles? Will this project embody any growth in issues of exclusion or inclusion towards First Nation and non-First Nation citizens? While certainly uncertain at this point, as it is still in the proposition stages, the idea itself may embody a great future milestone for Vancouver.

Declaration for Climate Emergency Response

If you haven’t heard about it already, either through Greta Thunberg or the Vancouver Climate Strike protests this Fall, the addressing of climate conditions is growing. In response to this rising uproar, the City of Vancouver has declared a Climate Emergency Response. Joining forces with over 400 cities across the world, Vancouver is the first to follow through with the status of declaration in Canada by presenting reports and plans to operationalize as a greener city. Unanimously agreed, across the various tables at the event, it was evident that Vancouver’s declaration and follow-up plan is a milestone of great regards.

Expropriation of the Balmoral and Regent Hotels

One of the hottest topics to come to the discussion was the Expropriation of the Balmoral and Regent Hotels. Under the care of the Sahota’s, the Balmoral and Regent Hotels were regarded as single room occupancies (SRO’s) that had numerous health code violations and safety concerns. Acting as housing units to the lower-income folks of Vancouver, it displayed a large amount of connections to issues that needed to be addressed by police, fire departments, and building inspectors. The expropriation is aimed to remedy this issue, by remodifying the two structures, with hopes of rehabilitating the conditions of the area.

Across the tables of discussion, it was unanimous that this would be a symbolic milestone for Vancouver. It highlights the message that it sends to land and property owners across the city, in regards to maintenance and upkeep of living conditions for its tenants. It is regarded as a milestone that is both bold and justified, in defending the cities marginalized populations and a step forward in addressing social and housing issues.

Missing Milestones?

While the participants in this event were asked to address the milestones the city had come to acknowledge, they were also asked to propose and discuss ones that may not have been brought to the table. Some of the proposed missed milestones include: 

  1. Reconciliation in both planning action, and urban development practice
  2. Jin Li – Foreign Buyers Tax
  3. The legalization of cannabis

This event’s impacts extend far beyond simply one night, as all milestones are reviewed after a 5-year period – to determine whether the impacts were truly significant. Those that are deemed most influential will be added to the Chronology of Planning Development in Vancouver. This is a means to keep an accurate representation of urban development in Vancouver, especially in an ever changing and transforming climate. This chronology is largely born out of the collaborative work that is brought through the workshops, including a variety of thinkers, who are passionate about transforming the Vancouver urban landscape.  

Check out the 2019 Year in Review Workshop Data here.