The Year in Review – A Panel Discussion
“What were the defining decisions, actions and events in planning and development in 2015 that could prove to be transformative in Vancouver’s evolution?”
More excerpts from video interviews of a few of the audience members are provided below.
Interview excerpts are edited for clarity and conciseness.
• We tend to forget that really we’re part of a large region and we need more regional-scale planning. But many cities like Calgary and Edmonton have one planning department for the entire metropolitan area. Here we have 21 departments and then metro Vancouver on top of that. All these things should fit together. We’d get more attention to issues of transportation and how to curtail urban sprawl and how to accelerate those aspects of growth that are going in a positive direction rather than a negative direction, and the greening of Vancouver is an important part of that.
• Twenty years ago if you’d asked people if we’re going to be two and a half million people today they’d say no. We’re there. And so at four million what’s the place going to look like? We have the sea, we have the border and we have the mountains and a very, very serious problem. We’re going to have to go vertical. We’re going to have to live on top of mountains. We’re going to have to live on water.
• I think we should all be interested in our future. What’s the city going to look like 30, 80 years from now and are we moving in the right direction? The current situation is important, but simultaneously there should be some serious consideration to long-range planning – to consider Vancouver in the global context from a standpoint primarily of urban design. It’s been almost 80 years since Bartholomew was engaged to do a vision for the city of Vancouver
I think it would be to our advantage to have a competitive program of what the future city might look like visually and functionally 50 years hence.
• I’m part of the steering committee of the central waterfront working group. We are opposed not so much to the tower as to how much it violated existing plans for that area. They call for an 11-storey building and all of a sudden you have a 26-storey building proposed. Imagine if this were next door to your house and you assumed there’d be a three-storey building and somebody comes in with a seven-storey building. You would feel you have a right to grumble about that. So a bunch of former City planners and other interested urbanists have tried to generate opinions about that and where the public interest really is. The public interest is a thing unto itself and it isn’t always equal to a whole series of private interests.
• Another topic of interest here is the Brenhill development where the City swapped a social housing site next to Emery Barnes Park downtown with a developer who will build another social project across the street, and in return is getting a very big project overlooking the park. To me there was a big public interest there. You could have had a small building on the park or no building and a bigger park. But instead we made a deal and now we get yet another tall building. Let’s make a deal is a pattern in the city. Finances will rule as long as we get something out of it like social housing CACs. We’re saying you’ve got to step back from all those deals that are not resulting on the ground in the best possible outcomes.
• Change is not easy, but it’s necessary. In every part of the city we have a plan with rules and regulations and policies for every single piece of land. If you’re going to change these you better go through a due process around change, rationalize the change and make it convincing that it’s in everybody’s interest to have that change. When it’s a tough decision, Council has to decide, but Council shouldn’t impose. Council is not a parliament. It represents all of us. And it’s being run, to my way of thinking, like a parliament. We elect 11 people, not one person like in a riding. On the positive side, there’s been a change in leadership at City Hall, and I’m hopeful.
• The open house to kick off False Creeks Flats planning was a beautiful open house – lovely displays, wonderful young people getting to be deeply engaged in the planning, with a beer truck outside – a first. But there has been planning for the Flats in the 80s, 90s and early 2000s, and there was not reference to this past effort by planners the the community. The 2015 planning process is not the beginning of history. We have to honour the history, the policy that’s in place and the work already done, and move forward from it
• There seems to be a lot of civic interest and voice in Vancouver, with a lot of rapid changes happening in the city. There is a lot of interest in heritage conservation, but there are also a lot of people interested in development.
• It would be great if in 10 or 20 years we had a better balance between the growth and social diversity, with everybody being able to live in and contribute to their neighbourhoods instead of having tiered access to their city.
• I admire how the city prioritizes sustainability and the triple bottom line.
• I’m new here from Saskatchewan and excited about what’s going on in Vancouver. I work in arts administration and am most interested the aspects that affect the cultural economy and provision for studio spaces which ties into affordable rents and things like that. I was surprised to find such an active arts and music culture – much more variety and diversity as well as the interest in the environment and the outdoors.
• Many people feel themselves excluded from this kind of discussion because you can’t invite everybody. It also seems as though the kitchen table discussions are missing, in places where people actually live. So when we talk about the viaducts, not very many people are directly affected by it other than people who need to head through town or the ones that live in that neighbourhood. Does it mean that people don’t care? Do they understand what it really means? We don’t have those kinds of talks. It’s just people reacting yes or no, or looking at the bottom line and not understanding what kind of disruption that would bring. So are there options, for example? Like could have a High Line Park (NYC)? If we get the density that everybody’s promising we need every one of those green spaces we can create.
• In my neighbourhood, people don’t use these planning words, like starchitects. They just know when the neighbourhood is disrupted by yet another high-rise that doesn’t add much.
• The word ‘engaged’ is such a loaded concept. What does it mean? Do people actually understand that their input is of value to anyone? And yes, they’ve been heard, but what does that mean? People come to public meetings from time to time just to be turned off again, because they can’t see where their opinions have gone or if they’ve been considered at all. It’s not evident.
• I think that a million more people in Vancouver is ridiculous – with natural selection, people just can’t afford to move here… But more and more people my age, boomers, are not going to be able to live here, so we’re going to have a strange demographic situation. But people are quite resilient. Maybe in 20 years there will be a wonderful walk and bikeway along the north arm of the Fraser River that connects New Westminster with UBC. That kind of stuff I would love to see.
• The relocation of St. Paul’s Hospital is a bummer for people who’ve gotten used to it being their health facility, but it has the potential of being something really good if the neighbourhood that it’s going to is going to be taken into consideration. I’m sure that the planners are doing that, but it’s not evident to people. It has the potential for a positive impact, but it depends on the execution and how people are involved in the process.
• Chinatown is near and dear to the heart of probably the whole city in a way. It has historic relevance. It has people who have been living there for a long time, and there are a lot of people who have been displaced in that area. So what will be the mixing of development [after the viaducts]? is there a potential for new social housing there, given that waterfront properties typically are treated a certain way in Vancouver.
Social housing is a big issue. How do you deal with what is happening with housing along Hastings and that area for housing, you know, people along that continuum? I think that’s an important question for all of Vancouver. Questions of affordability are huge for anyone living here.
• There is also a big question in terms of the public realm. There is huge potential for amazing public spaces there in the viaducts are. You have Science World and the existing landscape – how do you enhance it to become something even greater than what it is now?
• There is a whole set of processes in place. A lot of people are thinking about what those issues. So I think that having that process is super important. Even coming out here tonight to see what the issues are and to be able to discuss them in a forum is amazing. So, I’m just looking forward to seeing what evolves.
• The viaducts are a huge issue for Vancouver, but also in terms of the infrastructural connections to Burnaby and beyond. It’s a big game changer for people living in that neighbourhood and it also has a potential for other impacts. There are questions about how the edge of the water becomes used in terms of its program – the mix of residential, office, industrial. The connection between Chinatown and Strathcona, is an issue, with Chinatown as a neighbourhood that’s in transition.
Links to more highlights from the panel event
Panel event description
Panel event videos
Panel presentations – transcript
Draft list of 2015 significant events – as reviewed at panel event