Brian is a guest writer for CityHallWatch. An architect whose career in Vancouver has spanned four decades, with projects ranging from first proposing the laneway-housing concept to serving as the managing architect on major multi-building development plans, personally designing more than 1,000 social and co-op housing units, and consulting on thousands more. Please visit this page for a list of all his articles, including this 2021 series “City Conversations No One Else is Having.”
Jericho—Where High is Called Low & the Highest Cannot be Measured
City Conversations No One Else is Having, #10
By Brian Palmquist (first published 20-Oct-2021)
Jericho Lands “Eagle” Concept Plan—Maximum Building Heights Added by Brian Palmquist
“How can it possibly have as many homes as the North Shore of False Creek, which is more than twice as large?”
My son’s question was tabled at our table outdoors as we grabbed breakfast on Granville Island before our regular cycle around False Creek. I was talking about the just-revealed plans for the Jericho Lands. This was our pattern—me getting a 30-something reaction to the city’s latest-greatest planning initiatives.
“I must admit,” I continued, “even I was surprised at what I saw. I previously guessed maybe 5,000 homes over 90 acres—it’s now proposed as 10,000. False Creek North’s Official Development Plan (ODP) included 11,511 homes, but that’s over 204 acres, as compared with Jericho’s 90.” I continued. “And the comparative density is even worse. Based on the published figures, Jericho will be more than three times as dense as False Creek North.”
“So how do you get all that density into a much smaller area?” he asked, leading into my main urban design concerns.
“It’s hard to figure out from what’s been presented so far. There are two alternative schemes, but they say each has the same development numbers, so I’ve focused on the concept plan they call eagle. Based on the pretty loosy-goosy built form diagram they’ve provided, Jericho will actually have one more tower than False Creek North (64 versus 63) and almost as many floors of development spread amongst those towers (1424+ for Jericho versus 1483 for False Creek North). There are more taller towers in False Creek North, meaning that many if not most of the floors in Jericho’s buildings are bigger than most floors in False Creek North, which will block more views and create more shadowing.”
“But,” my son interjected, “the illustrations you showed me seem to show fewer towers than what we see when we cycle around False Creek’s north shore. What gives?”
“I’m not sure what the rationale is,” I answered, “but the Jericho plans define “medium-rise” as “up to fifteen storeys:
Jericho Lands Concept Plan Building Heights Legend
“What do you mean?” he shot back at me. “A medium-rise…isn’t that like six, maybe eight storeys?
“It used to be.” The smile left my face. “The only existing tall building that’s cuddled up to the Jericho site is at its Northeast corner, at Highbury and 4th Avenue. It’s only eleven storeys and is called Highbury Tower. In Jericho it would be called medium rise. Illustrations suggest there will be a 15-storey “medium rise” building across the street from it.”
Highbury Tower to the left—the beige buildings are in Jericho, 4th Avenue on the right
“So who redefined high-rise so that it’s now magically medium-rise?” His voice was rising a bit.
“I guess maybe that’s what you do when you’re desperate to maximize development.” I continued. “I’m even more concerned about the urban design implications of what’s proposed. On Jericho’s north-facing slope, which exaggerates shadowing as compared to flat lands, much of the open space as well as the diagonal pathway through the development will be in shade most times of most days in most seasons. And there’s to be a 15-storey wall of buildings along 4th Avenue—looks like they’ll even shade parts of Jericho Park in the winter months. I guess the look they had in mind was like the edges of Central Park in New York City.”
He responded with eyebrows raised in annoyance. “Anybody who’s lived in Vancouver for a while will know how important daylight is to us! Also, how annoyed we get when public spaces are shadowed by private development.” He continued. “And what about those three extra tall high-rises near the centre of the project?”
The Three Sentinels—each 38 storeys or more (illustration from plan shows 40 on closest tower)
“They’re called Sentinels, a First Nations reference. The information to date says they will be of equal height, 38 storeys or more.”
“38 storeys or more?” he picked that up unbidden. “So how high could they go?”
I replied. “It’s way too early to determine that, but I can’t help thinking of them as “whack-a-mole” buildings.” He looked puzzled. “You know, every time one of the other buildings is reduced in some way, the extra density can be added to the tops of these three.”
“If this is the same population as False Creek North, how does this affect the neighbours? What does this proposal bring to their table?” he asked.
“Let me see…well, inside the site, there’s 20 acres of new parkland, although it will be quite shaded by the surrounding tall buildings.” I looked further at the site plan. “There’s a community centre proposed…but I don’t see a school. At least, if there is one somewhere on the site, they didn’t see fit to mention it.”
“You mentioned earlier that this proposal will more than double the population of Point Grey. So does that mean all school age kids will go to Queen Mary Elementary School, and the high schoolers to Lord Byng?”
Facetiously, I responded. “Maybe the Queen Elizabeth Annex won’t be threatened with closure anymore. Or, maybe there’ll be private schools like Our Lady of Perpetual Help and West Point Grey Academy. I’m sure they’ll think of something…at some point. In False Creek North the developer provided school sites and funding from the get go.”
He continued with his interrogation of me. “West Point Grey Village, you know, 10th Avenue west of Discovery, is suffering. Will this help it?”
“I wish I could say yes,” I replied. “Both proposed schemes concentrate their commercial development at the east sector of the site, too far away to create any retail connection to 10th Avenue. Worse, the proposals contemplate any future TransLink station being located right in the centre of this development—great for its residents, useless for the rest of West Point Grey. And now that you’ve brought it to my attention, I don’t see any bus connections from that potential TransLink station to the rest of the community…I guess if you don’t live in this development you just walk to and from the station.”
“Based on what you’ve been saying, Dad, and noticing it’s time to get on our bikes, was the local community consulted about this?”
I paused a moment to gather thoughts diplomatically, then shrugged, thinking, let’s be honest with the kid. “This proposal was finally revealed just last Monday. Prior to that there was no informed discussion about any of its aspects that affect the city and the neighbourhoods—nothing about density; nothing about height; nothing about amenities like schools; nothing about impacts on the neighbours.”
“So that’s how development is done now in Vancouver,” he said with resignation and more than a little sadness. “I guess I won’t be able to afford to live there?” he asked meekly.
“Can you afford to live in False Creek North?” He laughed. “Jericho will be way more expensive.”
“That’s all right,” he said as he mounted his bike. “From what you’ve said I wouldn’t want to live there anyway.” And with that we headed off in the direction of the uncertainties of False Creek South.
Brian Palmquist is a fully vaccinated Vancouver-based architect, building envelope and building code consultant and LEED Accredited Professional (the first green building system). He is semi-retired, so not beholden to any client or city hall. These conversations mix real discussion with research and observations based on a 40+ year career including the planning, design and construction of almost every type and scale of project. He is the author of the Amazon best seller “An Architect’s Guide to Construction.” He is 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.