Have you seen these images all over Vancouver? Here’s what that is. Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods asks Council to pause Rezoning Rental (RR) rezonings and 2 referrals to public hearing (Jan 17). And take a new focus on neighbourhood-based planning

As referred to in our Council preview for the week of January 16, 2023, planning staff have put two items on the Regular Council agenda for January 17 (Tues). Referral Report #6 is to rezone 1977 West 41st Avenue and 5688 Maple Street, and Referral Report #7 is to rezone 807-847 East 33rd Avenue. For details, see the detailed referral reports at the meeting link above for Jan 17.

Further below is a letter from the Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods (CVN) to Council on the topic.

By way of further background, as far as we know it, these are the first two concrete proposals to come forward under the three new residential rental (“RR”) zoning district schedules added to the Zoning and Development By-law (“RR-1,” “RR-2A, RR-2B and RR-2C,” and “RR-3A and RR-3B”), which the previous City Council approved in December 2021. That was under then-mayor Kennedy Stewart, who was ousted in the Oct 2022 civic election, and in fact not one of the candidates who ran under his banner, Forward Vancouver, got elected. Others who pushed for this kind of approach, like OneCity and Vancouver Green Party, just barely squeaked onto Council. Politicians on Council today should take note.

The ABC supermajority under new mayor Ken Sim was elected in October for a term of four years to 2026, to change things up. People expect something different. ABC made promises to review Stewart-era approaches to things, including consultation, planning and development. Here is one test case.

The thing about the RR district schedules is that the rezoning process is pretty much a formality. Public community input and the overall needs of the host neighbourhood are largely ignored. This is off-the-shelf planning as witnessed by the generic images (above, from the city for these two proposals — we didn’t label them by address because the images are virtually meaningless) and rezoning signs already multiplying across Vancouver with black-and-white stick drawings of cube-shaped boxes representing future buildings. The only information available to the public is really just the location and height. Some might say that this method makes a mockery of the “virtual open houses” currently being used to get public input. “Virtual” takes on a whole mean meaning in these cases. Seriously.

What’s needed now, before moving forward, is an intelligent and substantial discussion under Ken Sim and ABC councillors regarding the City’s approaches toward planning and development. The immediate case before them is these two RR referrals to public hearing, going before Council January 17.

The new council is just getting into stride since the election, and have not had a chance for meaningful reconsideration of some of the Kennedy Stewart / Vision era policies. But chief planner Theresa O’Donnell’s decision to put these right in there on the agenda at the very first council meeting of the year could be seen as an aggressive step to push things forward before ABC actually has had that discussion. We are concerned that under this chief planner there will be no possibility of reconsideration of Vision policies. This may indicate a need for a proper hiring process for a new chief planner in this city.

For more visuals and background, see also the Shape Your City pages:

https://www.shapeyourcity.ca/1977-w-41-ave-and-5688-maple-st

For the 41st and Maple proposal, RR-3B district would allow for a 6-storey mixed-use building where all units are secured as market rental and 20% of residential floor area is below-market rental units; commercial retail use at grade, FSR up to 3.5, max building height 22 m (72 ft.)

.https://www.shapeyourcity.ca/807-847-e-33-ave

For the East 33rd Ave proposal, the RR-2B district would allow for a 5-storey apartment building where all units are secured as market rental; FSR up to 2.4, and max building height 16.8 m (55 ft.).

The Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods (CVN) has written to Council calling for the newly elected ABC Council to make good on election promises, hold back the referrals, and rather, to revisit policies that were developed under Kennedy Stewart. They reference the “Our Communities Our Plans” petition (currently at 4,880 signatures) of Vancouverites opposed to arbitrary rezoning policies and calling for proper neighbourhood-based planning.

Vancouver City Council preview for busy week of Jan 16: Chinatown, Renter Office, BC Assessment, renewables, rental rezoning (RR) policies, missing middle housing in low density neighbourhoods, Rupert/Renfrew, Atira, 47 storeys in West End, CVN, and more

Vancouver City Council 2022 to 2026

Vancouver City Council has a busy week ahead, the week of January 16, 2023. See agendas at this link (https://covapp.vancouver.ca/councilMeetingPublic/CouncilMeetings.aspx). This is the first full week back in the Council Chambers for this new year, and a new beginning for ABC Vancouver which was elected in the October civic election with a whole new mandate. They made many promises to voters to win a supermajority and wipe out most contenders. Voters wanted major change from the way things were headed under former mayor Kennedy Stewart, with planning and development issues being a major issue. In the coming weeks, the public will get a better sense of the direction under mayor Ken Sim.

Aside from City Hall, the first Park Board meeting of the year is Jan 16 (Mon), with the main agenda item being a “Think Big” Revenue Strategy, already well covered in the media.

The actual timing of items getting onto the Council agenda is largely driven by City staff, particularly when it comes to planning and development policies and proposal. In that context, regarding Rental Rezoning (RR) policies and referral reports to send two projects forward to public hearing, the Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods (CVN) has written to Council calling for the newly elected ABC Council to make good on election promises, hold back the referrals, and rather, to revisit policies that were developed under Kennedy Stewart. See that letter (PDF) below, citing the “Our Communities Our Plans” petition (currently at 4,880 signatures) of Vancouverites opposed to arbitrary rezoning policies and calling for proper neighbourhood-based planning.

Regular Council (Jan 17/Tues) has Uplifting Chinatown Action Plan, Renter Office update and direction, Auditor General committee recommendations, green buildings, a motion on Increasing the Climate-Smart Supply of Renewable Energy in Vancouver, and more on the agenda. The planning department has been busy, as there are also major referral reports (to public hearing) for developments at 1925 Southeast Marine Drive, 2518-2540 Grandview Highway South, 1977 West 41st/5688 Maple, 6151-6261 Granville/1511 West 47th, 396 Southwest Marine Drive, 691 West 28th, and 8029-8225 Oak/1012 West 64th. Citizens are urged to read the documents and write to Council with comments or concerns. Will the ABC council signal new directions for planning and development?

Council Committee (Jan 18/Wed) has 2023 assessment roll presentation by BC Assessment Authority, a presentation (no public info available until afterward) on “Adding Missing Middle Housing and Simplifying Regulations in Low Density Neighbourhoods” (which will merit a careful review once it’s made public), a presentation on “Rupert and Renfrew Station Area Plan Update” (no info available until afterward), Granville Street Planning Program – Terms of Reference and Interim Rezoning Policies, SRO Upgrade Grant to Atira Women’s Resource Society and Single Room Accommodation (SRA) Conversion Permit to Porte Communities for 208 East Georgia Street (formerly the London Hotel), and more.

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Apply for Vancouver’s volunteer civic vacancies, advisory boards, and committees

Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

Public service announcement.

Vancouver’s volunteer Civic Agencies are an essential part of the City’s public engagement work, and help to convey community concerns to Council and staff while advising on City priorities, projects, and initiatives.

Civic Agency meetings typically take place monthly, and members may be eligible for certain expense reimbursements related to attendance. Meetings are usually held in-person at City Hall, with meals provided, and there is often also a virtual attendance option.

More information: https://vancouver.ca/your-government/advisory-boards-and-committees.aspx.

See also: www.vancouver.ca/volunteer

Current Civic Vacancies (development and planning-related)

These current vacancies have a January 16, 2023 application deadline: 

If you have any questions, please reach out to Kevin Burris at kevin.burris@vancouver.ca.

Also, heads up, here is a tentative list of other vacancies likely to be announced in the coming weeks (based on last term’s committees – Council may choose to amalgamate, or not to re-establish some).

  • 2SLGBTQ+ Advisory Committee
  • Arts and Culture Advisory Committee
  • Children, Youth, and Families Advisory Committee
  • Chinatown Historic Area Planning Committee
  • Civic Asset Naming Committee
  • First Shaughnessy Advisory Design Panel
  • Gastown Historic Area Planning Committee
  • Persons with Disabilities Advisory Committee
  • Racial and Ethno-Cultural Equity Advisory Committee
  • Renters Advisory Committee
  • Seniors’ Advisory Committee
  • Transportation Advisory Committee
  • Urban Indigenous Peoples’ Advisory Committee
  • Vancouver Food Policy Council
  • Women’s Advisory Committee

Quality Manager ABCs for ABC (CC#95 Part 3: Getting into the weeds with the idea of Approved Building Consultants)

(City Conversation #95 Part 3 was first published 8-Jan-2023)
(For a list of City Conversations by Brian Palmquist on CityHallWatchplease visit this page.)

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January 8th 2022— Conversation #95, Part 1 outlined the current permitting maze in Vancouver and sets the stage for Part 2’s suggested solutions.  Part 3 responds to several reader questions and comments:

BC’s engineers already have a Quality Management System (QMS)—Vancouver’s charter lets it work with Architects + others engaged in building design + construction to create and implement a QMS in the public interest & at a fraction of the current time and costs

Perhaps it’s just post-Christmas doldrums, but more folks than usual read, commented on and questioned Part 2 of my Approved Building Consultant City Conversation. My son’s off snowboarding so I’ll have to try to answer the questions without his assistance—I’ve synopsized the questions in italics:

What would the ABC “quality management” system you alluded to in Part 2 have as its principles?

At each stage of a project, including planning, design, construction and occupancy, the ABCs would execute ABC assurance letters designed to protect the public interest. ABC work would be peer reviewed by other, independent ABCs (i.e., independent professionals, NOT from the same firm). That means the peer reviewers would verify that the work satisfied codes and regulations. Structural engineers already do this, generally for a modest fee paid by clients because they are reviewers, not designers, where most of the effort is. The other engineers as well as Architects could easily implement similar systems. All Architects and Engineers now come under what’s called the Professional Services Governance Act (PSGA), which is a government-run overseer that can monitor the effectiveness of the ABC quality management system. So the key principles are:

  • Professional assurance
  • Professional peer review
  • Government oversight

Who would pay the extra fees of ABCs and their peer reviewers?

Their clients. At the moment it takes on average two years in Vancouver for an approved rezoning project to get its first building permit. Saving most of two years of interest at current rates will cover multiples of ABC fees.

Who would actually do ABC work, especially peer review work? I understand there’s a shortage of workers and professionals just about everywhere.

A majority of my work in my 40+ year checkered career was specialized Certified Professional (CP) and Building Envelope Professional (BEP) work—it paid me much better than conventional architecture. ABC work could be similarly specialized and command better fees. History says there would be no shortage of uptake.

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Heads up, Metro Vancouver: Delta eliminated public hearings (if a rezoning is ‘consistent’ with the official community plan)

In December, CityHallWatch reported “City of Delta edges toward elimination of public hearings on developments (meeting Dec 12).” Delta council passed the proposed zoning bylaw changes on that day, despite written opposition from citizens, and with no discussion. Below is a brief update, timely now as Delta council is slated to adopt the Dec 12 minutes at its meeting (agenda link) slated for January 9, 2023.

North Delta civic watcher Pat Zawalykut submitted a letter to the North Delta Reporter (publisher Dwayne Weidendorf, Black Press) and it was published on January 5, 2023 (reprinted below). CityHallWatch is not aware of any other media coverage or analysis of Delta’s decision. A couple concise notices had appeared in local papers on Dec 1 and 8, but the Delta public was largely unaware of the significance and impacts of this decision coming just before the Christmas break, and probably only a handful of people in the population of nearly 114,000 will know that it has been made.

For context, Mayor George Harvie was reelected, for his second term, in the October 2022 civic election. He and his “Achieving for Delta” party hold all seven seats on council (Delta Optimist article). While that means council decisions could go quickly and smoothly, it also means that from the public’s perspective the municipal government risks having a lack of meaningful checks and balances. It also means that Delta merits a close watch at the regional level, for transparency and Council decisions going forward. Also worth noting, Harvie has become the chair of Metro Vancouver, the regional body for municipalities that are home to about 2.5 million residents.

With the bylaw change, rezoning applications could be approved by a one sole employee in Delta, if they are deemed, through unspecified criteria, to be consistent with the official community plan. This is the direction being sought by newly anointed B.C. premier David Eby for all B.C. municipalities.

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LETTER (North Delta Reporter, 5-Jan-2022): No more public hearings?
Recent bylaw changes ‘another nail in the coffin of public engagement,’ writes Pat Zawalykut

On Dec. 12, Delta council approved, without discussion, two bylaws that significantly alter the public hearing process.

The [first] bylaw states that “The Director (of Community Planning and Development) may exercise all the powers and perform the duties of council in deciding whether to hold a public hearing where a proposed zoning bylaw is consistent with the Official Community Plan.”

This puts the decision on one position [just one person] at city hall. With this in place, there is the potential for councillors to rely on a project being studied by the director in isolation and then accept the recommendation of the director. This on projects that may significantly affect a property by changing the character of the area and affect the property values of adjacent properties.

The people of Delta elected council to perform the duties of council — we did not elect city officials to perform [council’s] duties.

It is stated [in the second bylaw] that council may intervene if, for example, one councillor decided that a public hearing is warranted, but then it would take a majority of council to agree to make a public hearing necessary.

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As we begin 2023, Vancouver’s city planners have received over 100 rezoning inquiries for developments in the Broadway Plan area (in just the first few months)

As we begin the new year of 2023 with a new, recently elected Vancouver City Council having an “ABC Vancouver” supermajority under mayor Ken Sim, media are starting to report on the development industry’s response to the Broadway Plan (see map above, representing 485 city blocks). This morning, CBC reported that over 100 rezoning inquiries for this area had been received by the city’s planning department.

The Broadway Plan was adopted by the previous City Council in June 2022, and rushed into force on September 1 (former mayor Kennedy Stewart pushed to get it into force before the October election). There had been extensive public opposition to many flaws and aspects of the plan, but the development industry’s lobbying effort was very effective.

Anecdotally, real estate firms, land assemblers, and development companies have been working aggressively on the ground in the ensuing months. An air of secrecy pervades, but on the street there is credible talk of land assemblies already signed and sealed, neighbours meeting to negotiate with a unified voice in land assemblies, outgoing owners making future plans to relocate, a development firm headed by a former City Councillor-now-turned-lobbyist being at the forefront of at least one land assembly, and talk of 18-storey towers going in on side streets currently populated by two-storey duplexes. Land assemblers and developers are peppering the area with unsolicited offers to advise homeowners how to “extract untapped value from your properties,” because the Broadway Plan is “making your home more valuable to a developer” so you can “capitalize on your home through a land assembly or development sale” on your block.

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Public invited to share feedback on City of Vancouver spending in 2023

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The following is a public service announcement adapted from information from the City of Vancouver.

Public invited to share feedback on City spending in 2023

The City is seeking public input on municipal spending priorities for 2023, as part of its annual budget engagement process.

The 2023 Draft Current State Budget [click to open PDF, 209 pages, 4MB] includes a forecast of revenue and expenditure challenges, taking into consideration inflation and rising costs in 2023. It outlines an operating budget of $1.9 billion to maintain existing programs and service levels and proposes an increase of property taxes and fees to fund that status quo service provision. 

Ways to get involved:

There are several ways you can be involved

Your feedback will be gathered into a public report that will help inform City Council’s decision on the final 2023 Budget in March.

Updates on the draft 2023 Budget

Due to the 2022 municipal election, the timeline for the 2023 budget is different from previous years to give the newly elected Council time to consider the budget.

On November 29, staff presented the 2023 Draft Current State Budget (PDF, 4MB) to Council for their consideration. It includes estimates in revenue and expense changes and outlines the property tax and fee increases needed in 2023 to maintain existing levels of service.

On December 6, City Council deferred the 2023 Operating Budget (spending on everyday services and programs) to early 2023 for further consideration. The full 2023 Budget, including final property tax rates, will be finalized and approved by Council in March.

Quality Manager ABCs for ABC (CC#95 Part 2: Approved Building Consultants could dramatically shorten all permitting times—here’s how)

(City Conversation #95 Part 2 was first published 30-Dec-2022)
(For a list of City Conversations by Brian Palmquist on CityHallWatchplease visit this page.)

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December 30th 2022—ABC Vancouver has much on its plate as it moves into governance. Our recent Conversation #92 discussed how Vancouver could establish its own Affordable Building Code to make housing better and more affordable. Conversation #94, Part 1 outlined the current permitting maze in Vancouver and sets the stage for Part 2’s suggested solutions. 

Part 2 picks up with my son’s questions about BC’s letters of assurance, unique in Canada to BC and Alberta:

This 1988 roof collapse in a Vancouver suburb led to our first quality management efforts—time to up our game again?

“Seems like a lot of belts and suspenders,” my son retorted.

“Well, the letters of assurance arose in BC because in 1988, a new shopping centre roof used for parking collapsed just minutes before the grand opening. Nobody was killed (there were injuries) but investigation showed that the Designers’ work had not been coordinated or cross checked—there was not enough quality management of the design and construction processes. There was a commission of inquiry, whose recommendations included the creation of letters of assurance that commit the Designers to protecting the public—and they work. There’s been no building collapse in BC since. 

And when another shopping centre rooftop parking lot collapsed in Elliot Lake, Ontario, in 2013, the Commissioner of the Ontario report arising identified that letters of assurance such as BC has would likely have prevented that disaster—which did result in deaths.”

I continued. “Designers also have substantial insurance in case they inadvertently make a mistake and, for example, condo owners have to pony up money for repairs to a leaky building.”

He frowned as he interrupted. “But there were thousands of leaky condos in the 1980s and 90s. I know you helped fix many of them, as well as preventing issues in new construction, but isn’t that an example of Designers failing to do their job?”

“You would be correct in part, although there was plenty of blame for builders and municipal authorities,” I answered. “Many of those projects were designed before letters of assurance—no excuse, but a factorBut on the bright side of the leaky condo mess, the professions and city staff responded by creating the Building Envelope Professional (BEP) who is, in fact, a quality manager for their work!”

“How so?” he asked skeptically.

“Each time a project team engages a BEP, they are adding a building envelope quality manager—a professional tasked with reviewing the Designers’ design work and the builder’s construction work—a second set of knowledgeable eyes. Successful BEPs have checklists of what they need to review, both during design and during construction. Similarly, CPs, the code consultants, have checklists of all the bits of building codes they have to check during the design and construction processes. And more recently to the quality management party, green building consultants have additional checklists to determine if a building is as environmentally appropriate as possible—or as specified.”

“And all these folks are independent professionals with insurance, experience and specialized training?” he interjected.

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Quality Manager ABCs for ABC (#95 Part 1: Approved Building Consultants could dramatically shorten all permitting times) by Brian Palmquist

(City Conversation #95 was first published 28-Dec-2022)
(For a list of City Conversations by Brian Palmquist on CityHallWatchplease visit this page.)

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December 28th 2022—ABC Vancouver has much on its plate as it moves into governance. Our recent Conversation #92 discussed how Vancouver could establish its own Affordable Building Code to make housing better and more affordable. Next we talk about how Vancouver’s unique ability to create its own accelerated building process could be applied to make almost all permits over-the-counter at a fraction of the time and price. Spoiler alerts—it’s a bit lengthy because there’s lots to explain, so divided into two parts; and it could work anywhere in the province. Here’s how:

This 1988 roof collapse in a Vancouver suburb led to our first quality management efforts—time to up our game again?

“Dad, I know you’re into quality management,” my son offered as he looked at my headline, “But most folks think rigorous quality control slows things down rather than speeding them up—how is your approach different?”

I smiled before answering, thinking of the many debates on that subject I’d had as Director of Quality at a major construction company, also as an Architect, a Certified (building code) and a Building Envelope Professional. In fact, most of the letters after my name stand for enhanced quality management.

“I used to be a member of both the Canadian and American quality societies, which have international reach. There have been many studies around the world which have conclusively determined that poor quality costs time and money in almost any field of endeavour—conversely, quality managed systems in every field drastically reduce errors and omissions (as design and construction folks like to call them), improve efficiency, scheduling and save lots of money.”

He interrupted, as he likes to do. “But we’re talking about how the city can up its game, dramatically reducing time and costs associated with its myriad of permits. Please explain.”

“Let’s start with a simple description of the entire existing building design and construction permitting process in Vancouver that’s currently touched by professionals—it’s similar in many larger Canadian and American cities.” He shrugged so I continued. 

“From start to finish, the professional’s involvement in the entire permitting process for a building usually consists of the following six steps:

  1. Preapplication: A client’s development ideas are reviewed against existing zoning, which is what tells us what can be built on a given site. Sometimes, when a spot rezoning is contemplated (see #2 below), this is the first occasion when a developer starts to negotiate denser forms of development than current zoning permits—this can draw out the preapplication process while the applicant tests the bounds of what they can do with a property.
  2. Rezoning: If an applicant is satisfied with a site’s existing zoned development potential, then no rezoning is required and we skip to Step 3. Otherwise, where a client wants to do something more or different than the existing zoning permits, then a rezoning is applied for—the Architect and Engineers develop a proposal, usually including pretty pictures, plans, elevations, some engineering design and many statistics that describe the proposal. That is reviewed with city staff, refined as needed and eventually goes to a public hearing, by that time usually with staff support. City Council considers what the professionals have presented, listens to staff and public input, then makes a decision. If the rezoning is approved, then the project proceeds to the next stage. Two things to note here: Vancouver’s previous City Council approved all 247 spot rezonings proposed over its four year term—a 30-year supply of housing approved in four years, of which only 1% has actually been completed, which may explain why affordability remains elusive. And the province is proposing that public hearings not be required for spot rezonings that comply with Official Community Plans (OCPs)—The Vancouver Plan, which includes the Broadway Plan, is Vancouver’s de facto OCP. Just sayin.’
  3. Development Application (DA): When a rezoning has been approved, if one was required, the approval usually contains enough detail, often called form of development, that the same documents with additional data added can be submitted for permission to develop. Sometimes changes are made between the rezoning and DA stages. Where a rezoning is not required—where a proposal is thought to already comply with the existing zoning—then the applicant team submits drawings with enough data that city staff can confirm the project does, in fact, conform to the existing zoning. Once a DA is approved, the next Step (4) is to get permission to actually build. So whether or not a rezoning is required, a DA is usually required. In Vancouver, steps 1 through 3 currently take many months for a simple project like a new home, addition, renovation or laneway homes. For more complex projects, months become years.
  4. Building Permit (BP): Here’s where the applicant adds all of the details needed to actually construct a proposed building, everything from specifications about the actual materials to be used, to details about how it all goes together—the package is called construction documents or working drawings and specifications—same thing. City staff review the BP package against the zoning or rezoning, and against the Vancouver Building Bylaw (VBBL), which is Vancouver’s version of the BC Building Code (BCBC). The BP allows the builder to construct the approved building. The DA and BP may be combined for smaller projects. In Vancouver, it takes an average of two years after a rezoning before a first building permit is issued. 
  5. Construction Phase: It’s become such a lengthy process to get a building permit in Vancouver that for many projects, especially complex ones, permission to actually build is issued in dribs and drabs called phased permits. Usually, these include: one for digging the hole in the ground, which may be combined with the below grade levels for bikes and cars; another for the structure above grade; and a final one for the infill—non load bearing walls, windows, interior partitions, etc. For commercial buildings and those with shops and such at or near grade, there’s a tenant improvement (TI) permit for each and every different occupant. Then there are the trade permits—separate permits for the plumbing, mechanical, electrical, sprinklers, etc. Each involves submission of drawings signed and sealed by a professional Designer, which are then reviewed by city staff. When construction is completed the final step is an…
  6. Occupancy Permit: When city staff have been advised a building is complete, they do some of their own onsite review and testing, collect a large amount of paperwork from the designers, builder and owner that basically confirms that what’s built is in accordance with all the previous permits and the VBBL, which is what the Designers’ letters of assurance already say. Issuance of an occupancy permit means that city staff are satisfied that the completed building is ready to be supported by engineering (water and sewers), fire and police services, to name a few—they’re committing to provide the services that building owners pay taxes for.”

My son had been biding his time, raising eyebrows here and there, almost interjecting a few times. It was his turn now.

“I have a few questions,” he started in. “Twice, during the rezoning and DA steps, you said submissions usually include certain things—what am I missing?”

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Achieving Better Communications in 2023 (CC#94: An overarching ABC for ABC) by Brian Palmquist (Year-end recap and a look ahead)

(City Conversation #94 was first published 18-Dec-2022)
(For a list of City Conversations by Brian Palmquist on CityHallWatchplease visit this page.)

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December 18th 2022—As 2022 comes to its end, some thoughts about where Vancouver has come from in 2022, where we might go in 2023 and a hope that the new civic government led by ABC can move us in the right direction.

An end of year winter detail from “Departure” by George Lunden—photo by Brian Palmquist

I realize a year end recap is perhaps a cliché, but let’s face it. We are all of us chasing the last best present for a friend or loved one, even while we celebrate the season with friends and juggle work and other commitments. A recap allows both the writer and the reader to reflect without rancour, to listen without being forced to learn too much. Hence my contribution:

In Vancouver, 2022 was above all else the year of a civic election like none in my memory. I know I’m late to the political enlightenment party, but with barely 1/3 of Vancouverites voting, I’m in good if embarrassing company, although I plead that my 75 City Conversations this year (that’s three CCs every two weeks!) have contributed a bit to our consciousness of civic planning and urban design issues.

The percentage of citizens voting has declined for over a decade, even while direct costs (i.e., property taxes) and indirect charges (i.e., costs of most city services) have soared—and I would argue the quality of those civic services supported by taxes and fees have largely declined over the same time period. And I’m not just talking about snow non-removal, although it’s tempting. 

Equally concerning as the relationship between voter turnout and services is the inertia around civic governance. City budgets are being prepared based on a 5% tax increase in the midst of a recession. Spot rezonings continue to roll along under cover of the Broadway and Vancouver Plans as well as the endless revelations about reconciliation.

Will Vancouver in 2023 be any better? Too soon to say, as our new civic government has just started to roll up its sleeves. Their early report card is decidedly mixed: the road through Stanley Park is being reopened, but slowly; snow removal remains pathetic; street crime has not subsided much if at all; homelessness has not declined, even as city staff and the province continue to push a housing model doomed to failure.

Getting back to my 75 CCs over the past year, please indulge me while I summarize the unresolved planning and urban design events that I wrote about. The following are in the date order of their first emergence in CCs:

  • Affordable rental housing (January 2022)—Positive results from a simple approach in Burnaby were tabled. Its record remains a highlight and a glaring contrast to Vancouver’s pathetic performance.
  • Affordable owned housing (January 2022)—the former Mayor’s reality-light Making Home initiative withered to a well deserved end.
  • Green high-rise buildings (February 2022)—city staff, management and politicians continued to ignore all of the science, including from City and BC Hydro scientists, that tells us how energy and resource consumptive are concrete high-rise buildings, not to mention social science research about their soul destroying reality.
  • Ever expanding spot rezonings (February 2022)—projects that expand after community input from 5 to 40 storeys, from 8 to 18, from 16 to 28 continue. Existing high-rises built decades ago as towers in a park now propose to replace the parks with more high-rises.
  • The Broadway Plan (March 2022)—We wrote 13 separate CCs about the BP: we modelled it when the city wouldn’t; we calculated its real density; we exposed its numerous sleights of hand. Not only was the Plan passed despite overwhelming community opposition, but my writing is now under investigation after a prominent Architect accused me of professional misconduct, presumably for communicating the Plan’s real extent and implications.
  • Vancouver Plan (April 2022)—Even as the Broadway Plan was grinding through widespread opposition, the VP crept under the radar, replacing the city’s 22 neighbourhoods with six one-size-fits-all neighbourhood types.
  • Neighbourhood destruction (June 2022)—What the Broadway Plan began by eliminating eight neighbourhood plans and policy documents, the Vancouver Plan continues—elimination of neighbourhood plans and meaningful community consultation going forward.
  • Housing the homeless —the ideological approach (June 2022)—Homes for the hardest to house, using the failed congregate model that stacks single men with significant drug/alcohol addiction and mental health issues in metal bins across the street from an elementary school and a toddler park, with little or no onsite healthcare support. These continue to be forced on communities, even when they propose workable compromises.

Sadly, the subjects of some City Conversations from 2021 remain unresolved, including:

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