Slow streets in Vancouver

Slow streets in Vancouver have arrived. The first 12km length of slow streets connects New Brighton Park to QE Park along existing cycling routes with traffic calming measures in place. This means only local traffic is permitted and there is no street parking or stopping near intersections. There is signage at the crossings of major arterials, a move that should discourage ‘rat-running’ by motorized vehicles. Pedestrians are allowed more space to pass each other by walking on the road. The bike routes are already 30km/hr zones. As of Saturday (May 23rd), the crossings at major arterials were not automated at traffic lights (hence ‘beg-buttons’ were still in use). The City’s website notes that “other routes across the city will be added in the coming weeks.”

Back in May of 2019, Vancouver City Council unanimously approved a pilot project for 30km/h speed limits on certain side streets. In Toronto the speed limit was reduced to 30km/h in 2015 for many inner-city streets The results of those changes have been looked at, for example in the study and summary: Lowering Speed Limit to 30 km/h in Toronto Drastically Improved Pedestrian Safety: Report. Perhaps there’s an opportunity for the City of Vancouver to consider deploying a wider 30km/h policy for side streets.

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In Vienna, housing is a destination

Hundertwasser House, Vienna

In Vienna, housing is a destination. More specifically, the Hundertwasser House is a tourist destination. This housing complex was completed in 1985. While it is a tiny bit out of the downtown core, visitors still flock in large numbers to see it. Further details on this housing complex can be found on the Vienna info website: (Kegelgasse 37-39, 1030 Wien)
Vienna has often been ranked as the most liveable City in the world. There is a significant stock of affordable rental units in Vienna. Below are recent photos of Hundertwasser House.

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How Vienna ensures affordable housing for all with an extremely complicated housing system (July 9, 2017, Milwaukee Community Land Trust)

The Flint Hotel

The Flint Hotel at 1516 Powell Street is looking good with a recent fresh coat of paint and other repairs. It’s an interesting building on a narrow 33-foot lot with a four-storey form. It was built around 1905. This “hotel” is a hotel in name only; currently it provides approximately 90 units of non-profit housing.

The units are single occupancy, there are shared showers and toilets, kitchen spaces, some rooms are used for storage and administrative offices. The Flint Hotel is listed as an SRO in City’s 2015 Rooming Houses & Residential Hotels document.

This building goes from one street to the laneway on a long, narrow lot. It is sandwiched between a gas station on one side and two-storey industrial building on the other. There are a few others apartment buildings like this one in Vancouver such as 107 East Broadway (which extends north to East 8th Avenue). An open question: would the City allow building similar housing today? Or are these buildings simply relics from another era, classified as existing, non-conforming to current bylaws? Are there lessons to be learned here? And should we try to preserve other mature rental stock like this for the future?

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Astroturf vs. grass in the Greenest City

Is astroturf really a good option to use along boulevards and on private property? Recently we noticed that there’s a strip of astroturf between the sidewalk and the curb at 4320 Slocan Street in a low traffic pedestrian zone. The grass at the adjacent lot, at 4310 Slocan is quite healthy (above photo shows the property boundary).

Artificial turf was also installed at 1695-1773 East 18th Avenue (below). During the rezoning process, the landscape plans clearly stated the surface would be a lawn. During the DP process, this was changed to artificial turf in a classic bait and switch. The City’s own rules prohibit the installation of artificial turf on private properties (more on that later).

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No rezoning sign at site yet City wants feedback by June 1st (1649 East Broadway)

No rezoning sign has been posted at 1649 East Broadway (May 19, 2020)

[Update May 23: the sign was finally posted; yet it does not include information about the June 1st comment deadline, photos have been appended to the end of this post]

Due to its implications for all rezonings in Vancouver going forward, here is a case that merits a close look. Has some policy decision been made to do things this way from now on? A rezoning application quietly posted on the City website. No sign on site. No open house, no public engagement. Short deadline for public comment. Questionable renderings used to portray the impacts of the proposed building.

On a City of Vancouver web page the City quietly posted a rezoning application for 1649 East Broadway. There is no information sign displayed at the site. On the City’s rezoning website, there is a deadline of June 1st, 2020 for comments and questions. It appears that no Open House or any public engagement event will be held.

This site has already been rezoned in 2018 for a 10-storey building with strata and rental units, commercial at grade, with a Floor Space Ratio (FSR) of 4.0. A total of 93 units were approved with 47 rental and 46 strata suites. This new rezoning application is for a 12-storey building with 124 rental units (with 23 below-market rate), a FSR of 5.0, height of 119.5′ (36.4m) and a total of 70 underground parking spaces. The Grandview-Woodland Community Plan allows for a maximum of 10-storeys on this site, for which this site was rezoned. In comparison, this site was identified for 6-storeys in the Final Report of the Citizens’ Assembly during the Community Plan process.

There are a couple of renderings included with the posted application. For comparison, we’ve taken photos using a standard 50mm lens on a full frame camera that shows how someone would normally see this location while walking at street level. Do the architects’ renderings give an appropriate representation of the proposal, or does something look off? Do the renderings show the true scale and building size? How about the scale of the surrounding buildings? Is it an attractive building design?

We’ll examine the topic of renderings, human perception and camera focal length in much more detail in several upcoming posts, so stay tuned. Details on this proposal can be found on the following website and through the assigned rezoning planner:
City Contact: Kent MacDougall, Rezoning Planner,, 604-829-9579

It’s worth noting that this rezoning was not included our May 1st snapshot of rezoning applications as it was not on the rezoning webpage at that time. The City’s website states that the application was submitted on March 9, 2020. The City’s deadline for comments is June 1st, the City is forgoing an Open House and has not posted information signs at the site. Continue reading

The arts in a time of crisis

City Council approved $6,273,590 in grants to 208 cultural organizations at a meeting held back on March 31st. Now that several weeks have gone by, it might be worth asking, how are we doing now as a City with respect to the arts?

The 2020 Cultural Grants staff report was dated February 25, 2020, hence it was created well before the full impact of the pandemic could felt. The grants are part of the City’s annual funding of $13 million to arts and cultural non-profit groups. Staff stated that 1100 jobs are dependent on these grants and another 1300 jobs are indirectly dependent on this support. The assumptions and grant funding are part of the 10-year ‘CulturelShift‘ Strategy, adopted at Council on September 10, 2019.

During the discussion of the grant report, Council heard from speaker Heather Redfern, Executive Director of The Cultch (Vancouver East Cultural Centre). A number of points were raised by Ms. Redfern in her presentation (the full archived video stream is available here, starting at 10:47:42):

  • the arts have become more dependent on earned and donated revenues, as grants have stagnated
  • for organizations like The Cultch, earned and donated revenues make up over 80% of total revenues
  • at this time of year (March), earned and donated revenues make up 100% of revenues, since by the end of the season, as the grants are long gone
  • on March 15th, The Cultch lost 100% of earned revenues and a significant amount of fundraising revenues (about half a million dollars to the end of May, which is their year-end); many other arts organizations are in similar situations
  • artists are facing 90% unemployment (in the arts sector in Vancouver)
  • the federal wage subsidy will not be an option for some artists who are already in a precarious financial situation (and it will only mitigate financial impacts for others)
  • the viability of many arts organizations and the artists to stay in this City and have a livelihood are in real jeopardy
  • funds are needed to have cash flow so arts organizations can survive in the short-term, and also plan for programming when they are able to open up again
  • The Cultch employs about 21 full-time staff and between 50 and 60 casual workers throughout the season
  • many of the part-employees are also artists who have this part-time job to support their work (as artists)
  • fees pay for programming to support another 20 to 25 groups and artists as creators
  • donations as well as attendance is expected to be significantly down for the next year
  • some organizations rent city-owned facilities and the buildings need to be maintained; there are many other ongoing expenses
  • summer festivals will lose everything if they can’t go ahead, they need funds to survive and to plan for next year
  • additional funding from all three levels of government was identified to get through the next year
  • the arts will have a major role to play in bringing people back together when this crisis is over

The Cultch maintains three theatres and a gallery.  The announcement by The Cultch of the temporary closure of its facilities is on the organization’s website.

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The Words Don’t Fit The Picture installation removed from VPL Downtown

Over the past week, City crews have quietly removed the art installation, “The words don’t fit the picture” from the public space outside of the downtown branch of the Vancouver Public Library. This piece could be seen prominently from Robson Street and it was installed just before the 2010 Olympics. We’re noting this for the record, as there seem to have been little or no discussion about taking the piece down. Here’s the tweet from the City:

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