The Broadway Plan—Rays of Hope Among the Shadows (City Conversations No One Else is Having #15, Brian Palmquist)

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.”

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City Conversation No One Else is Having #14
The Broadway Plan—Rays of Hope Among the Shadows

By Brian Palmquist (first published on 20-Nov-2021)

November 17, 2021—city staff conducted their Broadway Plan Fairview Neighbourhood Workshop—I attended the Webex presentation and made some notes:

Photo credit – City of Vancouver—from the Broadway Plan city staff presentation

“So, Dad, was this workshop better than the last?” My son was referring to the Broadway Plan workshop I had attended the night before, as compared to the Vancouver Plan workshop I had attended a scant two days earlier and found wanting.

“I’m not sure whether to be hopeful, or just worried I am being deceived.”

“I’ll bite,” he bit into his dad-purchased scone, smiling at the irony. “What was hopeful and what was deceitful?”

“Well, I always like to end on an upbeat.” He looked askance at that statement, remembering some of my recent thoughts. “All right, I like to end upbeat if there’s anything to be upbeat about. Is that more accurate?” He shrugged so I continued.

“Ending on an upbeat means I have to start with the deceitful stuff—unfortunately, there’s lots of that in this plan, starting with the aerial sketch of the plan area. Have you noticed that all of the city’s larger plans, such as northeast False Creek, the Jericho lands, Senakw’, to name a few, all lead off with a perspective or isometric we will never see except through the lens of a drone? Or there’s a ground level sketch that cuts the top 20-30 storeys out of the picture. And there’s nary a shadow to be seen because, presumably, it’s always sunny in Vancouver.”

He smiled at my feeble attempt at a weather joke. “But isn’t that distant view necessary in order to get the full picture at a glance? And what’s an isometric when it’s at home?”

Ground level sketch at left of the 30-40 storey isometric sketches at right—from the Broadway Plan city staff presentation

“Somehow, when the tall buildings eventually come forward as rezoning or development permit applications, the ground level views (if there are any) have grown the additional floors—but by then, in the case of the Broadway Plan, it will be too late, because the area plan will already approve 30-40 storeys in principle.”

“Let’s go back to your shadows comment,” answered my son. “Surely that work’s been done?”

“Maybe, but it’s not on offer at these public workshops. The isometrics are particularly good at displaying an idealized image, sans shadows.”

He jumped in. “But you’ve shown me lots of illustrations of other projects that included shadows. Isn’t that a requirement for all applications?”

“Apparently not at this stage,” I answered. “Shadow studies must accompany actual rezoning or development permit applications, but as I said before, by then it’s too late if the overall plan has been approved.”

I continued. “Somehow, in spite of this plan being at this supposedly early stage, I am aware of at least three major high-rise buildings proposed for the Fairview area of the Broadway Plan—the tallest is proposed as 39 storeys and will cast shadows clear down to False Creek—that’s to the water, even further than the current south shore development.”

My son looked incredulous. “Seriously, buildings on Broadway will shadow False Creek? That can’t be right!”

“Well,” I responded, “you may well be correct that it’s not right from a moral perspective, but it is right from a technical perspective. But these shadow studies are not part of the Broadway Plan presentation.”

I was anxious for some exercise. “How about we continue our bike ride, and I can show you more details on my computer this evening.” He answered by mounting his bike and heading off.

***

We reconvened in front of my laptop after dinner at our place—where my computer is plugged into a decent-sized second monitor. I called up a recent CityHallWatch article that includes several shadow renderings that were required for the spot rezoning proposal, but somehow not included in the Broadway Plan workshop. One seemed particularly dramatic:

Nov 26, 2:30pm

Model of shadows cast by three current Broadway corridor spot rezoning proposals—Credit for rendering to Stephen Bohus, BLA[1]

“Dad,” he looked over my shoulder at the monitor’s image.” I see what you mean. You used to live in False Creek South—looks like the shadows from these spot developments will shadow the townhouse you used to live in. How far down the approval path are these projects?”

“Not too late to be stopped…at least in theory.” He frowned at me, knowing statements like that seldom bode well. “But later in the Broadway Plan presentation there was a slide about view corridor interruptions in which view corridors are already interrupted.”

The dark buildings in the three lower right diagrams don’t even exist…yet—from the Broadway Plan city staff presentation

He stared, then stared harder, at the three diagrams below the Views and Heights slide. “Where are those three dark buildings that are so much higher than the others?”

“All I can say is, they bear a striking resemblance to the three spot rezonings currently under consideration in advance of the Broadway Plan. They don’t exist yet, but city staff seem to be implying they are a done deal. I guess we should feel lucky that the purple buildings are lower than these three fingers.”

Now my son looked puzzled. “But that isometric you showed me earlier showed several 30-40 storey buildings around Skytrain stations. That’s not what this looks like! If the purple buildings are 30-40 storeys, what are the black ones behind?”

“Confusing, isn’t it,” I allowed. “But you remember when we started this conversation, I mentioned I was somewhat hopeful after attending the workshop?” He nodded, with his own hopeful look after seeing so much so high.

“We were asked not to screen shot the presentation, but after most of the feedback content from the Vancouver Plan workshop I attended a couple days before disappeared from public view, I kept my own screen shot records.” I smiled smugly. “So what did the workshop attendees think?” he asked.

“Well, there were about 50 attendees, plus 10 or more city staff.” He waited for me to continue.

“I captured all of the chat comments questions—not including mine and staff, I counted over 100.”

“So then,” he jumped in, “counting yours there were over 200?” We smiled and I shook my head.

I continued. “What was hopeful for me was that many separate speakers, members of the public, not staff, kept coming back to their concerns about excessive height and density and the fact that higher is not more affordable. Intelligent folks are not being fooled by this—I only hope they will continue to push for community consultation so that the entirety of Broadway is not spot-rezoned to look like New York City.”

“But you like to visit New York City from time to time,” my son answered, “although not recently thanks to Trump and COVID.”

“Yes,” I replied, “but I wouldn’t want to live there!”

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.


[1] To support public dialogue, CityHallWatch welcomes interested parties (media, Vancouver residents, and neighbourhood associations, in particular) to use the images presented. CHW appreciates a concise e-mail if you do (citizenYVR@gmail.com). For more detail on how the renderings were created, please see one of CHW’s previous posts.

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