Preamble: The following opinion is republished with permission from Elizabeth Murphy (original link here). UPDATE: After three nights of Public Hearings and about a thousand letters of correspondence the final debate and vote on this are expected in Regular Council on Tuesday, November 16, 2021.
The main document for the public to comment on runs 348 pages and is titled “Streamlining Rental Around Local Shopping Areas – Amendments to the C-2, C-2B, C-2C and C-2C1 Zones and Creation of New Rental Zones for Use in Future Rezoning Applications in Surrounding Low Density Areas Under the Secured Rental Policy.” The commentary by Elizabeth Murphy puts it in context. Additional information is on the ShapeYourCity page here. The majority of comments to Council so far are from the development industry or supply-side activists. Many people will be affected if the proposals are adopted. The City has not directly notified residents who live/own/rent in the affected areas, but we feel the City should have notified them in advance of the public hearing.
Local context matters in planning cities
OPINION: Arbitrary citywide rezonings undermine livability, affordability and sustainability
By Elizabeth Murphy, October 30, 2021
(This piece also appeared in The Province Sunday Edition page 19, and on the Vancouver Sun website with different images and under the title “Sustainable future requires new approach in Vancouver: Opinion: Planning should be providing community needs, not just promoting unlimited growth.”)
City of Vancouver eligibility map for rezoning up to 6 storey rental apartments on and off arterials, called Streamlining Rental Housing, goes to public hearing November 2, 2021. Source: City of Vancouver
There are many different ways that needed city growth can be accommodated. To achieve positive outcomes that avoid negative impacts on the climate, affordability and livability, growth needs to be managed very carefully. This requires a holistic approach to planning that considers the local context of each neighbourhood.
However, Vancouver continues arbitrary citywide rezonings without neighbourhood context. The Vancouver Plan just implements the previous council’s initiatives without any meaningful planning process.
One of the “quick starts” of Vancouver Plan, going to public hearing on November 2, is called Streamlining Rental Housing . This citywide rezoning of up to 6 storeys is for rentals in all C2 zoned shopping areas and pre-approved spot rezonings on-arterials and off-arterials in single detached housing RS/RT zones. These can include multiple site assemblies of up to a full block per project, without limits on numbers of projects in any area. This has no neighbourhood context, no notification of affected residents, nor consideration of the accumulated affects of other development that may be happening in these areas.
For example, this rental rezoning policy affects West Point Grey but doesn’t consider the 90 acre Jericho Lands redevelopment that is alone proposed to increase West Point Grey’s current population by 250%. There is no planning to assess the impacts on the neighbourhood and infrastructure as a whole.
The city needs to first consider the broader consequences of growth. Council asked for more transparent data to recalibrate the housing targets that are currently almost three times what can be justified by census population growth of about one percent per year. This critical work that is needed to guide planning has yet to be completed.
Over a year ago there were calls to pause and pivot. Dr. Ann McAfee, and more recently Larry Beasley, the former City of Vancouver Co-Directors of Planning, have said it is time for cities to reconsider the future impacts from COVID -19, especially with the shift to at least part-time working from home and how that affects plans for housing , office, and transportation in the Greater Vancouver area. A sustainable future requires a new approach.
Climate Change: Environmental impact studies are needed for embodied carbon in all development and transportation infrastructure. Embodied carbon includes all supply chain impacts on the environment of resource harvesting, manufacturing, transport, demolition, ground water, landscaping, urban forest, construction, services and energy usage. Focus should be on the three R’s of reduce, reuse and recycle as much as possible, such as adaptive reuse of existing buildings. Planning should be providing community needs, not just promoting unlimited growth. For example, a subway extension to UBC that is not a regional priority now, or possibly ever, is being used to justify huge tower developments at Jericho Lands, both of which would add significant embodied carbon.
Affordability: After a decade of record amounts of rezoning and development, Vancouver is one of the most unaffordable cities in the world. Spot rezonings, land assemblies, displacement, speculation and land inflation are contributors. We need to do things differently. Most new large market rental projects are sold to real estate investment trusts (REITs) at huge profits that inflates surrounding land values and rents.
Livability: Planning needs to consider what scale of growth can be supported by existing amenities such as schools, community centres, parks, libraries, daycare, utilities, and services. Adding new development next to a school doesn’t mean those new residents will be able to get their children into that school, that often require competing in a lottery. The School Board makes this worse by closing local schools for housing development sites. Without increased local school capacity, most parents have to commute their children across town to other schools regardless. Same with community centre programs.
Just adding more density doesn’t make neighbourhoods complete or walkable. Even if transit is close, busy parents often still drive their children to school and other programs just to fit within a tight time schedule. Most households will still require at least one vehicle. Proposed removal of onsite parking minimums shifts parking onto the street and removes options for onsite EV charging.
All neighbourhoods are overwhelmed by disconnected arbitrary rezonings without neighbourhood-based planning or transparent accurate data.
To be a livable, affordable and sustainable city, Vancouver needs to be building for actual needs, in a scale and location that suites each neighbourhood with meaningful community input, supported by affordable electric transit , amenities, and services. Pause and pivot is what has to happen to address climate change and affordability now.
Elizabeth Murphy is a private sector project manager and was formerly a property development officer for the City of Vancouver’s housing and properties department and for B.C. Housing. firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright Elizabeth Murphy 2021 all rights reserved.
More links to be added
This opinion also appeared in the The Province print edition – Sunday October 31, 2021. Sunday Opinion – page 19, as shown below.