Geller: Here’s a new few ideas for built form in Vancouver

On Thursday I joined Bruce Hayden and Patrick Condon at SFU's noon time City Conversations series to discuss whether there is a need for alternatives to the glass high-rise tower for Vancouver.  All three of us suggested that while there is a place for towers (well, two out of three were more supportive of building towers, right Patrick?) we all agreed that there is both a place and need for alternatives, especially those that can produce more affordable housing. These include fourplexes, sixplexes, townhouses, stacked townhouses, wood-frame apartments up to six storeys, and mid-rise buildings, both 'set on their own grounds', and with zero side yards.

This prompted me to suggest that some of the audience might be interested in the report that I prepared for the Mayor's Affordable Housing Task Force that examined these options and where they could go, and what changes might be required to facilitate them. In essence, I suggest ways to encourage more redevelopment along arterials (yes I know they are busy, noisy and dusty) but also propose a NEW TRANSITIONAL ZONE that might be established between the arterials and single family streets, and around transit nodes and community facilities.

I was reading Frances Bula's Blog and came across a number of discussions regarding building form and density. This has prompted me to share my report, noting that in the coming weeks, the Task Force will be issuing its final report. Then a full discussion will hopefully begin.

So far I have received one formal letter from a neighbourhood organization that criticized me and my report….It didn't even start off by saying how much it appreciated the effort that had no doubt been put into drafting the report….it just jumped straight into the concerns 🙂 but I will look forward to hearing what others have to say.

Roundtable on Building Form and Design

Geller: Preliminary Report Form Design

– post by Michael Geller


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  • Elaine Nesbitt

    Boy, Michael you are so good at putting together reports, presentations full of pictures, advice and such, just like Ballem and Gregor would like it! Question is… who’s going to read it? No, really, do you sincerely think that there is an iota interest in how to address affordability in this city? Definitely not from Vision, and surely not from Robertson, as for the city staff, they have no clue what to do next.. Gregor has to deal with his polished image, can’t associate himself with failures like this, he got burned a little with homelessness. Task Force is a bit of a joke, full of people that basically have nothing to do with the need for affordable housing, like yourself perhaps. So who put together this report, Michael? The architect, the developer, the politician, the Mayor’s office attention seeking guy??? Who? I’m a renter, and I think you are not speaking for me, nope, at least I don’t see it! 🙁

    • Steven Forth

      So what policies do you propose?

  • Ron

    The transitions is a good idea. With so many single family homes in Vancouver next to transit stations obviously densifying needs to be done intelligently.

    I would suggest that immeadiately next to transit stations (say like in waste of space safeway parking lot next to the major node in east Van) that clusters of large towers with commerce at the base be put in.

    Then within a five minute walk of the station infill midrise apartment buildings. Along the arterials you do mixed use developement. And along special streets like Commercial drive you do a mixed use midrise type development.

    Then within a ten minute walk you have your zones of townhouses and such.

    That way your delevopement actually matches the probability of them using transit vs. driving.

    Having all that density nears the stations would make commerce thrive and actually increase safety due to all the extra eyes on the street.

  • Working Mom

    It has taken me a while to read this report – but I had to laugh when I read in the intro letter of the report “..For instance, by modifying the RS zoning, it will be possible to facilitate the development
    of smaller, more affordable single family, duplex, semi-detached and coach house homes.”

    Smaller homes! Geeze Mike, have you taken a look at some of the townhomes they are building now? Shame on the architects and developers! The townhomes now are so small that the “staging” of the units are such farce and bold faced lies…that they have custom made furniture or extra small accessories just to that the place looks larger! The bedrooms are so tiny that you can only fit a twin bed and nothing else – not even toys! The townhomes are built tall and narrow – so narrow you are limited to the type for furniture that can fit! The staircases are steep and narrow – not safe for young children, seniors or larger pets, nor navigating strollers or groceries.

    What has to change in Vancouver are policies regarding home ownership and dramatically cut down foreign ownership of property in Vancouver, while making flipping of home/condo sales hard. We need to focus more on building rental homes for those who would prefer to rent and affordable homes for families and seniors.

    Enough has been done in building homes for the homeless and drug addicts, this issue a bottomless well of problems with no real solutions in sight. It is time to focus more energy on affordable housing for working people….the backbone of Vancouver.

    There needs to be new polices around developers seeing their hidden agenda is to sell to foreign buyers versus local people who want and need appropriate homes. There also needs to be policies around the design of homes that should be liveable for all types of people who want to buy and not just focused on young single buyers who are willing to live in a shoe box.

    Because property here is so expensive, home design should be done with long term ownership in mind as compared to now where developers seem to like the idea of flipping ownership. Let’s face it – kids today are staying home longer because it is so expensive. Having a more decent sized home would make it more livable for families and I am not talking about homes like Surrey – that is beyond ridiculous.

    Having affordable row houses that don’t have strata nor the need for property managers are the best solution. Have the sale of these homes with guidelines that they are long-term local ownership. AND that you MUST live in the home you purchase.

    There has to be significant changes when it comes to housing in Vancouver, however, with the crooked politicking and backroom deals with developers and architects I doubt that there will be any.

    The only solution for working families like me is to maybe move out of Vancouver where there is more decent housing and community resources for families and do the commute to Vancouver.

    • Steven Forth

      @Working Mom has some important points worth calling out and reinforcing. They could be points on which new policies and plans are tested.

      – focus more on building rental homes for those who would prefer to rent and affordable homes for families and seniors

      – homes that should be liveable for all types of people who want to buy and not just focused on young single buyers

      – Having affordable row houses that don’t have strata nor the need for property managers

      – home design should be done with long term ownership in mind (kids, extended familieis, older people who can’t handle stairs …)

    • Annelise

      “Smaller homes! Geeze Mike, have you taken a look at some of the townhomes they are building now? Shame on the architects and developers! The townhomes now are so small that the “staging” of the units are such farce and bold faced lies…that they have custom made furniture or extra small accessories just to that the place looks larger! ”

      Well said Working Mom, I’m with you on this one 100%! And just FYI I’ve just read almost the same statement in Glissando’s post http://citycaucus.com/2012/06/mrs-cars-and-mr-parking/

      “As if it wasn’t enough that most new condos are built for “little people”, with sliding doors, with kitchens where you could only prepare one sandwich at a time, with bathrooms where… when your butt sits on the loo, your feet are in the hallway, where only Post-it furniture is possible, well now, the dear developers are trying to squeeze out parking stalls either by eliminating them altogether, building less of them, or selling them separately to third parties.

      Terrific!

      With so many “good” things doing the rounds in Vancouver, with Task Forces studying Housing Affordability, with Vancouver Urban Forums taking place, and VeloCities coming to town, with all this excitement, I kind of got lost in translation.

      Good times!

      Or as my realtor friends would say, “it’s never been a better time to get into debt for a shoe box, especially when YOU own it!””

      Great to see that there still are smart people like yourselves out there that do not buy into the lies and reports of the people in charge of making sound “policy and regulations”. 🙂

  • Jane Ingman Baker

    ” I am writing as I believe that I am the author of the response to the Affordable Housing report that Mr Geller refers to in his note. I too am looking forward to other community groups’ responses and if it would be of assistance I invite them, and any others who are interested, to read the comments Mr. Geller refers to. They can be found on the DRA website http://dunbar-vancouver.org/archives/1952. along with that organization’s own comments on the report. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the residents of Dunbar for the thousands of collective hours that they put into formulating and producing their community’s plan for future growth and development. Their opinions on row housing, transitional structures and other housing forms that could lead to community enhancing increased density, can be found at vancouver.ca/commsvcs/planning/cityplan/visions/dunbar/vision.htm.

    Jane Ingman Baker, Chair Dunbar Vision Implementation Committee”

  • becauseimintheknow

    Did anyone actually take the time to read Geller’s article? I mean really did anyone ACTUALLY get suckered into reading yet another pile…

  • Von Pursey

    Well put, Mr. Geller. I believe it’s clear that the glass tower approach is not a fix-all for increasing density. Vancouver’s future must include a heavy focus on mid-rises and wood-framed apartments (I trust you are familiar with cross laminated timber, or CLT?). Towers worked for the downtown core and I support continued building in principle, however, other neighbourhoods require a different approach if they are to maintain some of their distinct identities and still support a growing population.