(City Conversation #49 was first published 4-May-2022)
(For a list of City Conversations by Brian Palmquist on CityHallWatch, please visit this page.)
May 4, 2022—It’s taken some time for Stephen Bohus and I to model the entirety of the Broadway Plan, but we’re pretty much done. We have just enough time before the plan goes to Council for review on May 18th to continue our exploration about what’s in store. The breadth of the 485 blocks covered by the Broadway Plan is such that we’re breaking it into chunks, just like the Plan does. We’ll be covering portions of the plan area to look at the more than 180 towers, some up to 40 storeys, that could be built based on the Plan, and we’ll be moving generally from west (Vine Street) to East (Clark Drive). However you cut it, it bears no resemblance to the Vancouver of today—or ever.
ABOVE: West edge of the Broadway Plan at Vine Street—Connaught Park on the left—all model images by Stephen Bohus, BLA
“My friends who’ve seen some of your images are skeptical,” said my son, looking over my shoulder at one of our hundred or more 3D model images of the Broadway Plan. “They say your so-called towers seem very blocky. And that edge by the park is very hard.”
“I completely agree,” I answered. He looked startled, as I usually argue right back. I continued.
“The easy part first,” I responded. “At the moment, the Broadway Plan stops on the east side of Vine Street, so our 3D model does as well.”
He nodded comprehension as I kept going. “Of course, if the SkyTrain extension to UBC (UBCx) is eventually approved, then what’s happening to the east of Vine Street will, I expect, keep marching along on the west side until at least Alma Street. But I have a strict rule against drawing an unclear future.”
“As to the blockiness, the Broadway Plan has some pretty pictures but nothing like the planning guidelines that many of Vancouver’s existing higher density zones have. It’s not just dumb luck that, for example, the newer developments along Dunbar, West 10th, Main Street, Broadway and many other streets have articulation like upper floor setbacks, corner setbacks, breaks in long facades, changes in materials—there’s a long list of urban design devices that City Planning used to require for a project to move forward.”
He stared at me with his you’re not answering my question look, so I kept going.
“The entire Broadway Plan design guidelines are captured in 5 pages of Typologies for all building types. These describe future buildings with guidelines like respectful relationships with surrounding buildings. But the illustrations provided are, frankly, pretty brutal.”
ABOVE: Typologies from Page 44 of the Broadway Plan
“Given that aesthetic direction, our notional blocks look pretty good, I think.” He nodded hesitantly, so I continued.
“For a long time, the mantra of high-rise design in Vancouver has been a floor plate of about 600 square meters (6,500 square feet)—that’s what we call all of the apartments, elevators, stairs and corridors on a floor. That floor plate size is large enough to work practically, yet small enough to minimize shadowing and apparent bulk.” I paused to let him take that in.
“Every one of the towers we have added to the plan area is 24 meters square—that’s 576 square meters, less than the accepted mantra.” He nodded acceptance of that logic, so I proceeded.
“If we were doing a detailed urban design, we would naturally massage the building forms—some longer, some wider, some asymmetrical, depending upon individual site conditions—but all 600 square meters or less.”
“Here,” I continued, “we just don’t have the time to finesse the designs. The City only released the plans a short while ago, and like the Vancouver Plan and the Jericho Lands Plan, the pretty pictures and site plans from 1,000 meters up aren’t matched to the words that describe the Plan’s details—and it’s the words that govern.”
“So are you saying that this is what the built out Broadway Plan in Kitsilano will look like?” he asked, reasonably.
“Yes, no and partially,” I answered, to his annoyance. “The plan’s many new zones pretty much all contemplate up to two high-rise towers per city block. So that’s what we’ve started with. We tried to guess where towers would not go, for example, on blocks that already have high-rises on them. That resulted in the potential for 75 new high-rise towers in just the Kitsilano part of the Plan.” He looked at the model view, asking “Why are the towers of differing heights?”
“There are 13 different, new zones within the Kits portion of the Plan. When you read them all, as I did, you discover that the range of building heights they permit is 18-30 storeys depending upon factors like proximity to a SkyTrain station. Where there was a range of heights, for example 20-25 storeys in a new zoning area, we modelled the upper end of the range.”
He interjected, “Why did you do that? Isn’t that cheating?”
“No,” I answered. “We consulted with folks who had participated in several neighbourhood planning groups over the past decade. Each, when asked how did subsequent development match up to the height ranges on offer? answered they had never seen an application below the maximum end of the height range, once the planning work was completed. So we felt comfortable with that approach.” He nodded, pursing his lips in acceptance, so I continued.
ABOVE: These are the 75 towers that the Broadway Plan contemplates adding to Kitsilano. Looking roughly northwards, this image stretches from Vine to Burrard (left to right) and from 1st Avenue to 16th (background to foreground), from a height of about 1,000 meters. Only the towers south of 4th Avenue are modelled (other existing buildings appear flat).
“When you superimpose the new towers over the existing neighbourhood fabric, you begin to see the Goliath and David relationship between the Broadway Plan future and the existing conditions. So the no part of my yes, no and partially means that not all the towers will necessarily be at the maximum zoned height—some may be taller, in fact, based on recent spot rezoning approvals.”
I pointed to the northern (top) edge of the Kits modelled plan area. “The partially part of my yes, no and partially answer is these green areas. The modelled area stops at 4th Avenue, but the actual Broadway Plan continues all the way to 1st Avenue. Our best guess is the area between 1st and 4th Avenues could accommodate an additional 15 to 20 high-rises, not shown on the models.” He frowned, asking, “Where’s the missing model data?”
I smiled, answering, “Even though City staff have a 3D model of the city’s existing conditions, including north of 4th Avenue, they will not share it with us—first we asked via email, which they ignored. Then we resorted to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, which the City rejected. In their rejection they did say they had a model, but decided it was not a record, therefore they did not need to share it. Our tax dollars at work, I guess.”
ABOVE: The Kitsilano portion of the Broadway Plan showing eventual buildout—Connaught Park at the far left. The area modelled here is from Vine (on the left) to Burrard (right) and from 1st Avenue (top of image) to 16th (foreground). This rendering is from about 1,000 meters up. Only the towers south of 4th Avenue are modelled.
“These aerial model shots are deceptive,” he noted. “What does this look like on the ground?”
ABOVE: Looking North from 16th Avenue from about 45m (150 feet) up, Arbutus Street on the left, the Arbutus Greenway in the centre
“It’s not pretty,” I responded, flipping to just one of the many lower views. “This is still about 15 storeys in the air—the possible future of Arbutus Street and the Arbutus Greenway.”
“Dad,” he asked after a moment’s reflection. “You’ve previously told me the overall Broadway Plan contemplates 30,000 new homes and 50,000 new residents—how many are in this Kitsilano portion?”
“Well,” I answered, “that’s another two-parter.” He rolled his eyes, which I took as license to continue. “Part one of the answer is that 12 blocks in the southern part of the Kits portion of the Plan are zoned for up to six storey residential development, considerably more than what’s there now—we didn’t have time to calculate their numbers. It appears they were saved from high-rise zoning by being farther away from the Arbutus SkyTrain station.”
“As for the high-rises, would you be shocked if I told you that when you model it out as we have done, just the high-rise parts of the Kitsilano portion of the Broadway Plan will accommodate half of all of the 30,000 additional homes proposed by the entire Broadway Plan? The Plan contemplates way more housing than it says, way way more than Vancouver needs.”
“Dad,” he replied as he gave me one of his signature full body hugs, “Nothing about Vancouver today shocks me anymore.” He stepped back, squeezed my arms and added, “And that’s a bad thing.”
Call to Action—Protest Rally Saturday, May 7th, 11am on the south lawn of City Hall
I have never before participated in a protest rally—it takes a lot to motivate me. Yet, I will be at City Hall next Saturday, protesting the loss of trust between Vancouver citizens and their civic government, as exemplified by the Broadway Plan.
Vancouver’s civic election is October 15th of this year. Lots of damage can be done by the current Mayor and Council, city management and staff before that date—and it will continue, and worsen, unless TEAM for a Livable City elects a majority (6 of 10) City Councillors and Mayor—less than 6 and not much will change. If you are concerned that what you’ve just read is an example of what’s wrong with our city, and want to bring back its livability, join TEAM and work with us to restore Vancouver as a place we can all afford to call home.
Today’s question: Do you plan to vote in the 2022 municipal election? Why or why not?
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Brian Palmquist is a Vancouver-based architect, building envelope and building code consultant and LEED Accredited Professional (the first green building system). He is semi-retired for the moment, still teaching and writing, 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. City Conversations are generally congruent with TEAM policy, so if you like the ideas that I’m writing about, please consider joining TEAM.
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