Panellists’ Discussion

The Year in Review – A Panel Discussion on January 26, 2016
Transcribed highlights edited for clarity. For complete remarks, please refer to the video.

“What were the defining decisions, actions and events in planning and development in 2015 that could prove to be transformative in Vancouver’s evolution?”

Stephen Quinn (moderator): Have questions arisen among yourselves? Would you like to speak directly to each other about anything?

Frances Bula: In response to what Bob said about needing more density, I don’t think you’re going to be able to get that until you resolve the problem I was talking about, which is that many people think that density isn’t needed because they see it as empty space being sold to non-residents. Until you resolve that issue you’re not going to get anyone to go along with anybody’s planning vision.

Jennifer Marshall: But isn’t creating a compelling vision the vehicle for getting buy-in, city-wide or region-wide? Bob talking about a regional strategy really resonated for me.

Bob Rennie: We do it at a regional scale with industrial land. Why can’t we do it with housing stock, where we stop competing with each other but talk with each other? An example is the Gore and Hastings project approved by Council last night. There are very stringent rules in the Downtown Eastside requiring 60 percent non-market housing and 40 percent market rental. To make the site work, BC Housing had to put in $16.5 million. There was no elasticity when the zoning was put in and I think in special cases you have to look at it. Had they added three floors and shrunk the market housing, I think BC Housing could have put in $9 million and done two sites, but we don’t have that thought process going on. We just adhere to something that we’ve put in.

Noha Sedky: We don’t have the vehicle of vision.

Bob Rennie: We don’t have a planner risking his job with innovative ideas.

Noha Sedky: It’s also related to the community pressure that is making us reactive, in the case of a local area plan or the other examples that are raised. We’re reacting to certain pressure and then putting restrictions and limitations on how our communities are evolving, and that’s a challenge. That’s something that we need to work on and that is related to leadership and vision.

Frances Bula: Right. The reason the rules were put in in the Downtown Eastside plan was because the planners felt if they didn’t put that in the local community would accuse them of opening the door to gentrification and a complete takeover by market condos. So it’s that dynamic again. We have to shut the gates, otherwise all these people are going to flood in and change our city. I have to say that I’ve never seen such fear of change in Vancouver as I did in the past year.

Bob Rennie: So we have to settle it in the region.

Stephen Quinn: I want to pick up on something Jennifer said: ‘does density equal affordability?’ Many years ago as City Hall reporter, I remember being lectured by then Mayor Sam Sullivan who was peddling his EcoDensity at the time. I said, ‘how is this going to make anything more affordable?’ and he said: ‘supply and demand -we build enough and…’ But everyone’s watched what has happened up and down Cambie Street. You’re getting density along a transit corridor, you’re going to have transit users; but what you have after those single-family homes are gone are another 13 exquisite, exclusive, luxury residences. Who gets to live there?

Bob Rennie: But the density came after the line went in instead of en masse with real supply along with Canada Line. Now we’re handing out density very slowly so that we don’t take political risk.

Stephen Quinn: But does the density not follow the transit, looking at the Expo and Millennium lines – City Gate, Joyce, Metro Town all the way down the line? Is that not the way it works or is supposed to work?

Bob Rennie: But Burnaby had its town centres planned.

Jennifer Marshall: Planned as a total vision.

Bob Rennie: If we can plan this density in its totality we can help pay for the transit.

France Bula: Geoff Meggs said to me sometime last year, “I’ve stopped believing that supply is the answer.” It has to be supply with rules otherwise the market is just going to cater to the buyers with the most money. And so unless the City puts in rules saying, ‘supply but it has to be rental,’ or, ‘supply but it has to be this,’ then you’re going to get a huge supply of $800,000 townhouses.

Jennifer Marshall: The link between supply and affordability is an important issue. You can’t stop change from happening. The question that you raise is provocative, so we’ll see what the audience thinks about whether density equals affordability. You still have to address the supply constraints and look at how you’re diversifying the stock, addressing a variety of needs, having a mix of housing forms, and within that also being able to look at the lowest end of the spectrum so that you are creating mixed communities. I don’t see why it shouldn’t be in all areas. Yes, you should start in transit areas and along major corridors, but there shouldn’t be areas where you concentrate density or concentrate certain types of development and others where you don’t.

Noha Sedky: If every development had one apartment for a homeless person in the city, we’d solve our homeless problem and we would have dispersal, and we would not have the situation we have in the Downtown Eastside. That may be naïve but it’s a starting point to think about it. We have these kinds of ideas of silo-ing things and ghettoizing and compacting, and I think we really need to be thinking about it as a more comprehensive issue.

Stephen Quinn: Is the Vancouver Art Gallery ever going to be built, Bob?

Bob Rennie: You need a champion that can tap on the shoulders of his other rich friends and we don’t have that in this city. For the Art Gallery to not be on the draft list says to me that arts and culture is fairly low down. I think we should punch within our weight, sell that land for $150 million and give it to the Vancouver Art Gallery. Let them go underground and let them do something magnificent there. It’s the most expensive piece of land in Canada. The architecture isn’t what upsets me. It’s the spending of $350 to

Frances Bula: I see a momentum, and I know some people maybe are counting on the new Liberal government giving money. But if they don’t feel that people locally are on board, why would they throw away the money? If they thought there was big public support for it, maybe they would, but they’ll put their money somewhere else, into serving LRT or the Broadway subway or something else.

Audience discussion with panel – transcript

Links to more highlights from the panel event
Panel event description
Panel event videos
Community perspectives
Audience member video interviews
Audience comments on poster boards – post-its
Draft list of 2015 significant events – as reviewed at panel event
Panel bios