Vancouver and the rise of Sullivanism

"EcoDensity" is so 2006—make way for Sullivanism

What is "Sullivanism" and why should it matter to Vancouver urbanists? A quick Google search comes up with a Facebook fan page for a drummer, followed by Georgia Straight's recent cover feature penned by accomplished freelancer Daniel Wood. It's a feature story about how former NPA Mayor Sam Sullivan has embraced the urban planning accomplishments of Mayor Tom Campbell.

First, you have to consider the context. This is the newspaper forged out of the fires of social change during the late 1960s. It is a paper whose editorial thrust was and continues to be opposed to political organizations such as the NPA. Celebrating the ideas of Sam Sullivan and Tom Campbell on the front cover is certainly rare if not bold.

The opening paragraph of Vancouver's density debate pits Sullivanism versus the ideas of Jane Jacobs begins like this:

From where former Vancouver mayor Sam Sullivan sits on this blustery April day, the past and the future are equally visible. Across the mouth of False Creek from Kits Point rise the towers of the West End. They are the legacy of Sullivan’s Non-Partisan Association (NPA) and its 1960s developer-cum-mayor, Tom “Terrific” Campbell, who called hippies “scum” back then and those who opposed his plans to densify the West End, Kitsilano, and Kerrisdale “pinkos, commies, and hamburgers”.

You gotta love the late Mayor Tom Campbell–he certainly called it like he saw it. But was the mayor whose name has become synonymous with "old" Vancouver, pilloried and mocked by his successors and left wing media, one of the city's true visionaries? Sam Sullivan seems to suggest this. The idea might at first seem quaint if not for its heretical suggestion that the saintly Jane Jacobs might have been wrong when it comes to tall buildings and urban density.

Sullivan tells me he has just come to a shocking discovery. Considering the fact that suburban sprawl is—with its spacious, energy-consuming homes and requisite commuting—a disaster for the planet, then, to Sullivan’s mind, Campbell was right. Stacking people was right. Towers are good. And all the New Urbanist, low-rise, Jane Jacobs–loving, fuzzy-wuzzy antidevelopment forces were wrong when they brought a halt to the city’s concrete and steel densification in the early 1970s.

Those who know Sam appreciate that sometimes he catches you off-guard with his candor. Remember his "step on your opponent's neck" analogy in the Citizen Sam documentary that got him in trouble (most folks didn't appreciate that would be hard for a quadraplegic to accomplish, but the image stuck nonetheless). True to form Sullivan tells Wood why – in his opinion – Campbell was right and Jacobs wrong.

With thousands of newcomers moving into Vancouver annually, the city’s population is predicted to almost double in the next 50 years. That’s 500,000 new people. But with virtually no undeveloped land in the city, where will they go? There is no money—and few government incentives—for developers to invest in rental or social housing. And the scores of laneway houses and secondary suites now under construction will absorb only a fraction of pent-up demand. Says Sullivan: “The market is screaming! It’s the result of a planning regime that’s deaf to the city’s needs. And left-wing rage against development and towers means they’re on the side of the one percent.”

These comments unleashed the predictable backlash, but are they in essence correct? If you look at the planning direction the City of Vancouver has been taking for most of the past two decades, and certainly not waning under Vision Vancouver, "Sullivanism" is alive and well in our city.

It's funny to think that Vision used a planning label once to damage Sullivan's credibility. Back in 2006, then Mayor Sullivan and his Chief of Staff Daniel Fontaine were preparing to make a presentation at the World Urban Forum in June. The story goes they were scrambling to brand a new policy direction based around the idea that cities must find ways to reduce their energy consumption and shrink their carbon footprint. Statistics suggested that it would take the resources of "three planets" to fulfill the needs of one planet — ours. Sullivan and Fontaine tried the label "One Planet Living" at first, but discovered that it was already in use. "EcoDensity", so the story goes, would have to do.

Sullivan, who in his role as a director of the Disability Foundation had previously lost a company name because it was not legally registered, suggested to his staff that they patent the term "EcoDensity" in order to protect it as the intellectual property of the City of Vancouver. Vision leaked the story to a Vancouver reporter who turned Sullivan's patent of EcoDensity into a front page story. It was even used against him by Peter Ladner as one of his excuses for challenging the Mayor's leadership in 2008.

Fast forward to today, and EcoDensity barely raises the blood pressure of many in this city but a few. You could argue it's a term whose time has already passed. Ironically, "Sullivanism" seems to be taking its place.

So at the next controversial re-zoning by Vision Vancouver, where they put density into a block where none previously existed, you can credit Vision's embrace of Sullivanism for it.

– post by Mike

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  • Steven Forth

    Towers on a plinth of retail and/or social amenities or a more solid 4-6 floor row? Both can drive density and perhaps we need both to create a livable city. My favourite take on this comes from Trevor Boddy. (though why the designer thought it was a good idea to shout everything in upper case is beyond me).

    Where should we have towers? Clustered around tranist nodes perhaps. Where will lower silhouettes work? Perhaps along retail streets and branching off from them? Many people have pointed out that you can get density both ways and that the towers do not necessarily create more density than a lower profile. Many cities have density without towers.

  • Brilliant

    Jane Jacobs also failed on thinking delightful little mixed communities would arise out her ideals. Look at Greenwich Village, where they were incubated, and you see all that ocurred was gentrification by any other name.

  • Thought of The Night

    “Form follows function.” – Sullivan, said it… not Sam… but, Louis.

    I don’t want to take anything away from our local Sullivan. EcoDensity is what it is these days in Vancouver, but the ‘tower = density’ …is a 100 years old idea.
    Architects on many continents have tried to adjudicate it, but in the end one Chicago architect by the name of Louis Henry Sullivan got stamped with the logo “Sullivanism”.

    Father of a new form of design, where the tower shot up to the sky with a perceived aggressiveness, with first floors capable of street-accessible shops, with the second floors filled with easily accessible public offices., and going further “honeycomb” offices, while the top floor was ( a very bad idea indeed as we know now, the PHs are the most expensive spaces in a skyscraper) for water tanks and building’s mechanical equipment, HVAC…

    Sullivan wrote: “The tower must be tall, every inch of it tall. The force and power of altitude must be in it the glory and pride of exaltation must be in it. It must be every inch a proud and soaring thing, rising in sheer exultation that from bottom to top it is a unit without a single dissenting line.”

    Despite Louis’s theories about the tall buildings, which included a tripartite composition (base-shaft-attic) based on the structure of the classical column, his partner Dankmar Adler considered their buildings to be nothing but a new utilitarian intervention:
    “In a utilitarian age like ours it is safe to assume that the real-estate owner and the investor in buildings will continue to erect the class of buildings from which the greatest possible revenue can be obtained with the least possible outlay…The purpose of erecting buildings other than those required for the shelter of their owners is specifically that of making investments for profit.”

    Vancouver traverses its days of podium-tower- typology, mixed use developments, with lots of extrusion, repetition and hermetic glass/ fabric/ stone curtain walling.
    We’ll probably see more of them.
    And I’d take Adler’s utilitarian consideration to the bank any time.

    I wouldn’t want to see the “Eco-Density” term disappear as it is a local invention, and it’s catchy, and if you are not involved in Urban Design or any of the many related specialties, you wouldn’t lose sleep trying to find out what it is.

    In order to better differentiate it from the old “Sullivanism” I would call the local current… “Samism”, or the epitome of compliment instead.

    I’d go even further, if Louis Sullivan was the father of Modernist Skyscraper than Sam Sullivan shall be the Father of Eco-Density.

    Don’t we all want to be different, unique, in the end?
    Sammy said it before! Not Sullivan… but Davis Jr. 🙂

    We live in Vancouver and this keeps us busy.

  • Bobh

    Sam has been proven right, but Gregor Robertson and his band of cronies are now running the City of Vancouver. Is that not irony? Especially when Robertson has no vision?

  • Steven Forth

    “Samism” is kind of cute but let’s stick with “EcoDensity” and debate (i) is this the direction the city should go (I think yes) and (ii) how to best achive this (is there one answer?).

  • gman

    Don’t worry folks the ICLEI are in Rio right now making these decisions for us,and you gotta like how they practice what they preach.

  • gman

    And here is a candid report on the use of the terminology to promote different agendas.It certainly instills a sense of urgency. I agree we have to plan for more density but lets do it for the right reasons and not because of some scary terminology.

  • Steven Forth

    There is a difference between ‘plan for’ (passively accept that this will happen) and ‘plan to have’ (actually encourage). I believe EcoDensity is about the latter, design, zoning, and other rules that encourage higher densities and a lower ecological footprint.

    So the first debate really needs to be whether EcoDensity is something we actively want to promote. NPA and Vision both seem to support this approach.

    If EcoDensity (or Samism) is the goal then we can argue about how to achieve this.

  • Working Mom

    So far Vancouver’s version of EcoDensity = shoe box living = poor construction = poor building design = poor amenities = still high cost of real estate. So far I have not been convinced on this EcoDensity manta and it is not suitable for a family lifestyle.

    • Steven Forth

      Is it the concept of more density that is the problem or the execution? What do you see as alternatives?

      Do you think buyers will eventually punish developers (and people who have already bought) for poor construction = poor building design = poor amenities?

    • Higgins

      I agree with you. Eco density sounds good on paper but how does it help the housing affordability cause? if it does anything it opens the doors to more towers in the low rise/ single houses neighborhoods… selectively. So far the only two tall (that do not fit) towers built / under construction are the ones on Kingsway… Clark & Kingsway/ nanaimo & Kingsway and soon to come Broadway & Kingsway.
      You look in Kits/ Dunbar…
      You better start call it Towering Density!

      • Steven Forth

        So do you prefer the ‘Jane Jacobs’ style density of 4-5 story buildings or a much lower level of density overall? Are there places where towers make sense?

        • Dave Brockaw

          I think 10-12 stories bldgs, would fit well at large busy intersections, taller if the road is ascending from there (ex. main/ Kingsway @ 2nd or down on Arbutus/ Burrard @ Cornwall) just an example and 4/5 max 7 stories on ex. Broadway corridor. My opinion.

  • Cristian Worthington

    Opponents of Sullivanism tend to be people who don’t like high-rise buildings and prefer more square footage at the expense of a better location.

    My message to those folks is … RELAX! No one is forcing you to move to a high-rise and/or downsize your home.

    There are plenty of people happy to buy smaller units in high-rise buildings. No one is forcing buyers to pay high prices for condos – the market has spoken.

    High-rises in the city core are wanted by the market and are better for the environment.

    If you don’t want to live in a better location with more amenities, that’s your business.

  • Steven Forth

    Hopefully EcoDensity will be about more than just building form and unit size. I think Sullivan’s vision extended to the provision of shared social amenities by developers, integration of different transit options (even bicycles, though Sam Sullivan never struck me as a cycling advocate), new ways to provide infrastructure etc.

    It seems clear at this point that EcoDensity by itself will not address affordability. It may be part of the answer, but not all of it. What else is needed? Are there different forms of ownership that would help (co-op perhaps), can we change taxes to encourage more rentals, should people with young children get some form of tax credit, … I am not advocating any particular policy but it would be great to get more policy options on the table for debate.

    • Working Mom

      Co-op is a good solution – however the design of some of these homes leave me shaking my head. I have one friend in Vancouver who has three VERY young children and they have a three bedroom coop.

      Her home is a freaking 6 story shoe box. Enter in the home go up three steps that is kitchen and dining room, go up 4 steps that is one bedroom, go up 5 steps, another bedroom, go up 3 steps bathroom, go up 6 steps living room, go up 4 steps, main bedroom. Its a shame that some bad designer thought that this is comfortable living. Certainly not for a family, or anyone who has a disability.

      Another concern for me is the building design for EcoDensity – cram as many people into a small space!

  • Working Mom

    @Cristian Worthington –Is basically what you are saying with your comment that if you don’t like how things are progressing in Vancouver then move out? Don’t the many people who in Vancouver have a right to voice their concerns regarding EcoDensity? You say the market has spoken – well let’s see… many of the buyers are foreign investors or young single people who will have to face the same concerns when they are ready to settle down and have a family.

    It’s the developers who love the idea of selling shoe boxes at ridiculous prices that foreign buyers are willing to spend.

    There has been no thought of family living in Vancouver so for us to voice our concerns you are saying that we should just up and move to the burbs?

    When I hear EcoDensity all I keep thinking of is the movie Blade Runner and the imagery of a rainy city with the tall dark buildings, over-crowded streets huge monitors on the side of buildings promoting drugs and high crime rates.

    I look at that huge condo complex by Kingsway and Knight, right now it looks great – but in a few years I wonder if it would turn into a ghetto rundown looking place.

    I am more concerned that we are pushing this EcoDensity mantra without any real planning for the general public vs. a certain group of people, politics and special interest groups.

    What about our beautiful skyline here in Vancouver? That is rapidly disappearing with the building high-rises.

    As I have always said, there needs to be some real balance when it comes to housing in Vancouver. Build those shoe boxes if you want, but also build affordable decent sized row houses for growing families.

    • Heather

      I identify with your post WM! To all moms out there … this post is required reading! If we only had some real urbanists in this city instead of Vision sycophants, at all levels of City hall, from the door man to the City Manager. Sad.

    • Steven Forth

      Do you see in-fill housing as also playing a role? If allowed I would like to build in-fill housing for my wife and myself and then turn our own house into a home for my children and grand children. We can’t do this under current regulations though.

      My own image of EcoDensity is very different from yours. I see density opening up public spaces where children can play, better transit options for families with children (one reason I support bike lanes is to make it easier for families wth children and older people to get around by bike, I prefer vehicular cycling myself), and more nature integrated into the city (yes, chickens and wheat farms).

      But I think you have a good point. It seems that much of the housing in towers is not designed for families. My impression is that there is not much good rental stock for families with children and pets, and that design for people with disabilities (most of us at some point in our lives) is weak.

      • Ron

        That infill housing isn’t actually codified in Vancouver is simply a case of ignoring reality.

        In some areas like Kits the overwhelming majority of the large houses are effectively subdivided into many units. Heck, the place I used to live in Burnaby was divided into three different units.

        I suppose you could try to sic the zoning police on people but when the cost of living is so high the motivation to do this kind of developement will be consistant even if “illegal”.

        Ergo, why not make it easy and cheap (admistratively) so that all these conversions (which will be happening anyways) are done in a way that actually ensures things are built properly and that it all happens in a way that can be planned for rather than the current uncontrolled haphazard way it’s happening?

        • Steven Forth

          In our case we want to actually build another building, but our block does not have a lane. And when (I am hopeful here) I build it I don’t want to waste space on a garage for a car I don’t expect to have.

  • boohoo


    You seem quite concerned with space. First, you should check out the rest of the world for some perspective. Second, why not advocate for better public space? I grew up with a yard and space but where I wanted to be was the park with my friends. Playing street hockey on the road with my friends. A bigger private space isn’t necessarily better. What I find troubling with the current trend in Vancouver is an increase in densities but without an increase in high quality public spaces.

    • Heather

      yes boohoo. And the majority of all the public spaces that are available, there are no kids playing, not on their own they are not. Not anynmore. Not how it was when we were kids. I grew up in North Vancouver, and my parents would let me out with my school friends until late evening. No worries. Now look what’s going on in Canada, and of course in Vancouver… what good is to have more public space when you cannot afford to live here and if you do, you are afraid to let your kids playing outside unsupervised? You are not suggesting this city should become a city only for the 20ish to the 40ish? 🙁

      • boohoo

        “And the majority of all the public spaces that are available, there are no kids playing,”

        ? Where do you live?

        “what good is to have more public space when you cannot afford to live here and if you do, you are afraid to let your kids playing outside unsupervised?”

        So you want to plan based on fear? No thanks.

        “You are not suggesting this city should become a city only for the 20ish to the 40ish?”

        I have no idea how you arrived at that conclusion.

    • Working Mom

      Yes Boohoo as a mother I am very concerned about space when my child’s bedroom is so small that he cannot have many toys to play with, nor have sleep-overs because of the lack of room or because the neighbors might complain.

      We live near a park – a wonderful park that is in so neglected that it is shameful. We have people crapping and dropping litter and there is nothing we can do about it. Many parks are also littered with needles, condoms, vomit, and rubbish!

      We even have many restaurants in Vancouver that are not even family friendly but we are expected to go to white spot or MacDonalds as a choice.

      You don’t see many kids in parks 1. because of safety, 2. because many families are moving out of Vancouver.

      Yes there should be more green space for kids, people and dogs it looks great that on paper having green space will look great, yet right now this city can’t even maintain what we have?

      • boohoo


        Perhaps you should find a place to live where those things won’t be an issue? You might have other issues though, there is no perfect solution.

        “We live near a park – a wonderful park that is in so neglected that it is shameful. We have people crapping and dropping litter and there is nothing we can do about it. Many parks are also littered with needles, condoms, vomit, and rubbish! ”

        There is something you can do about it, you’re choosing not to. What park is near you anyway?

        “We even have many restaurants in Vancouver that are not even family friendly but we are expected to go to white spot or MacDonalds as a choice.”

        Who expects you to choose that?

        “You don’t see many kids in parks 1. because of safety, 2. because many families are moving out of Vancouver. ”

        I disagree you don’t see kids in parks. Your perception of safety is your own creation. If you are truly fearful of the neighbourhood you live in, do something about it or move. You live your life seemingly based on fear, that’s a shame.

  • Ron

    If people are worried about the places being shoeboxes not fit for families you can allow for zoning that lets you go taller but install a mininum required square footage per unit and average per building overall that would allow the developers to design the building for a range of income levels while still providing for many larger units.

    Easy breazy.

    Remember! Unless the feds decide to turn down immigration (unlikely) then for every developement turned down in Vancouver it will ultimately be replaced by somewhere else in the Valley. Already Surrey is probably higher in population than Vancouver and you can bet that in a generation it might end up being double.

    Ultimately all that will be accompilished by the luddites that don’t want any growth in Vancouver is to loose market share in everything until Vancouver ultimately becomes a bedroom community to the suburbs. Which come to think of it, is probably the goal of those that oppose developement in Vancouver proper.

  • Steven Forth

    “What I find troubling with the current trend in Vancouver is an increase in densities but without an increase in high quality public spaces.”


    What kinds of public space could we grow in Vancouver (I would like to see more and wider sidewalks – would even give up bike lanes for this). I would also like to see more ‘linear parks’ that provide green connections between different parts of the city.

    • Ron

      Well, if there were plans for large scale redevelopement one thing that could be done that would make you an enviromental all star is unburying some of the 50 or so streams that run through the city.

      Not only would it make for less trouble to the stormwater systems it would also create nice pedestrian corridors along the banks.

      Of course, for that to be feasible, you would be redeveloping several city blocks at at time. This in a place that has single family homes a literal stones throw from 25 year old skytrain stations. So while it sounds nice the odds of that happening are slim to none.

    • Ron

      Oh, or you could simply do a lot of this growth on the west side of Vancouver, where there already is a LOT of greenspace. And where there’s already towers at places like 10th and Tolmie.

      Simply put in the minimum square footage requirements as part of the redevelpemens for the densest and include lots of large unit midrise and townhouses and you could jump the population significantly while keeping it family/toney in nature.

      • JJ

        bang on! Only problem.. The easiest things in this city are the hardest to start going!

      • Steven Forth

        That makes sense to me. Are there arguments against this approach? Density with green spaces and some units large enough for families.

        • Working Mom

          Hey – we are all in agreement! Loving it!

  • Working Mom

    BooHoo, I live in a great area of Vancouver, but since Vision has come into play our parks are run down and even the streets are poorly maintained. It was pretty sad state of affair that a City of Vancouver worker was so embarrassed when he would drive by that he decided to cut the grassy areas himself. Which took him most of the day because it was so bad.

    Run-down parks and green spaces only encourage people to not show respect and attract the riff-raff.
    If we want more green space that encourages people to use them more, then we dam well should make sure we have the budget and maintenance infrastructure to keep it up. Take a look at the condition of the bike lanes now?

    We also have a huge development project here and the developers, Polygon, are very open that they only want to sell to the Chinese market, and have no interest in building a great community. The town homes they are building right now are Executive Town homes, again focusing on foreign buyers. The next phase to build family homes is in 7 years. Until then it will all be 1 and 2 bedroom condo. I want to stay in this neighbourhood but it looks like I have to wait 7 years until homes that have 3 – 4 bedrooms will be available – and even then they may not be affordable for regular working families.

    When I am also talking about more amenities I am referring to ,additional community centers that provide more weekend and evening programs for working families. What about more after school programs again to help working families. If Vancouver provides more of these kind of services along with better and affordable family living conditions many families will move back here rather than moving away and dealing with a commute.

    • boohoo


      Again, if you’re concerned you should do something about it. I don’t know what the bike lane looks like, I’ve never used and it very rarely go downtown. I do know I was just over at Kensington Park off Knight and it looked great, freshly mowed, baseball just wrapping up, skateboard park being used responsibly, all with the back drop of probably the best view in the City. Just one park yes, but no less of a sample than yours.

      I agree we should have more community amenities, I include high quality parks in that category. Just because your local park is looking rough doesn’t mean we should abandon the idea and plan based on fear. That is the worst thing you can do.

    • Steven Forth

      Is there a role for communities to self maintain parks and keep streets clean, sort of like the adopt a highway program? Perhaps cyclists could self organize to keep the planters on the separated bike lanes tidy.

    • Ron

      What happened to the community funding their own community centres. There’s already a whole bunch of existing community centres in Vancouver.

      As for childcare that’s the responsibility of the parents. And if there WAS a government responsibility it sure wouldn’t be municipal!

      Part of the reason the city has no money to upkeep it’s streets and parks is it spends so much money on projects that are the responsibility of the province or the feds.

      • Steven Forth

        One could turn that around. Perhaps there are more things that should be a municipal responsibility – even childcare. But for that to work municipalities need to have more control over their own finances and less dependence on transfer payments. Maybe we need to flip the system and make the provinces dependent on the municipalities and the federal government on the provinces.

        • Ron

          That kind of system would result in places like West Van having far better services than poorer communities which would be the inverse of where the services are actually needed.

          Whether or not child care should be the responsibility of government period is one thing (and if it’s done the fair thing would simply be to give a greater tax credit per kid rather than providing a stick/carrot scenario depending on whether or not a parent stays home to raise the kids) but even if it was decided that childcare was a government mandate your system of reversing the power structure would be a non progressive way of providing it.

  • When words end in an “-ism” it makes me nervous. They’re often not very happy stories or successful endings.

    There is a general acceptance by almost all who I’ve come across recently in Vancouver that the City does need to densify. That has been an accepted objective in one way or another for many, many years, so why is it necessary to attribute this to one person?

    Daniel Wood’s Straight article was not quite the ringing endorsement Mike seems to think it is. Aren’t there a few notes of skepticism here and there? I believe the writer was also interviewing Sam and reporting what he said, not the now departed Ms. Jacobs. For instance:

    “Sullivan tells me he has just come to a shocking discovery. Considering the fact that suburban sprawl is—with its spacious, energy-consuming homes and requisite commuting—a disaster for the planet, then, to Sullivan’s mind, Campbell was right. Stacking people was right. Towers are good. And all the New Urbanist, low-rise, Jane Jacobs–loving, fuzzy-wuzzy antidevelopment forces were wrong when they brought a halt to the city’s concrete and steel densification in the early 1970s.”

    The mellow-drama! “… JUST come to a shocking discovery”? Quite a lot of people in the GVRD, as well as various other planners, politicians, and many informed citizens have understood the “sprawl” problem for quite some time. So it’s not exactly new news, nor a new “discovery”.

    And, once again, I must take issue with Mr. Sullivan’s attempt at misrepresenting history. Jane Jacobs was not the only resource that TEAM used in formulating its urban development policies in the 70’s. And to claim that:

    “… low-rise, Jane Jacobs–loving, fuzzy-wuzzy antidevelopment forces were wrong when they brought a halt to the city’s concrete and steel densification in the early 1970s”

    is utter nonsense and simply not true. In addition to a concern about “-isms” red flags go up for me when people resort to over-simplifications:

    “Towers are good. And … the antidevelopment forces were wrong”.

    It is insulting, in addition to being incorrect, to suggest that TEAM:

    “… brought a halt to the city’s concrete and steel densification in the early 1970s”.

    In fact the opposite has occurred. One of the results of our planning and development policies was that a balanced quality of urban life became possible in Vancouver. These planning policies have been widely recognized and replicated around the world. We created innovative zoning and Downtown and neighbourhood plans with open and transparent community consultation, and which we respected, using the full range of building types from single family to towers. Vancouver, as an emerging centre of the new urbanism made it possible to be the host city for Habitat 76, Expo 86, the G7 Summit and the 2010 Olympics. Tom Campbell’s towers from Georgia and Granville all the way to Newton, would have been a yawn, just another failed North American city, and a thank you but no thanks internationally.

    It’ll take more time than I have and more patience on the part of readers to discuss Mr. Sullivan’s, again, over-simplified notions of urban economics and population. Suffice to say that perhaps, as others above have suggested, a more measured, balanced and enlightened approach is preferable to opening the floodgates to satisfy the “…pent-up demand”. If one were to accept the claim that “the market is screaming!”, wouldn’t it be more prudent to strike a balance between trying to accommodate everyone who might want to live here (to start with that would include a large portion of the rest of the Lower Mainland if they could afford it), and to maintain and improve on the City’s quality of life? Mr. Sullivan’s previously stated solution to Vancouver’s urban dilemmas is to ‘fire all the planners’ (I’m not sure what he’s got in mind for the lawyers).

    Wait a minute, “…look at the planning direction the City of Vancouver has been taking for most of the past two decades…”, Gordon Campbell, who mentored with TEAM, and an enlightened Stephen Owen brought in City Plan in the 90’s, and which has prevailed until the Sullivan regime and Vision started derailing it. The last, sort of, City Plan was approved in 2010 as I recall. So how does that connect with “Sullivanism”, which apparently started in “2006”?

    And, is “Sullivanism” really alive and well in our city”? Not sure from this post what “Sullivanism” really is other than more towers and less planning.

    Most can agree that “reducing our “energy consumption” and shrinking our “carbon footprint” is a good thing. There is nothing wrong with the notion of ecodensity, it’s a question of achieving it well or badly. But, if the choice is Sullivan’s/Visions’ brute force, simplistic solution Vancouver is in peril.

    • Steven Forth

      Where is the “Like” button. Thank you. How did it happen that the two major civic parties are so aligned on critical aspects of urban development. Is there some overwhelming economic and social logic at work or is it something else?

      • The Angry Taxpayer

        Double Like! Steven, might I suggest that the alignment between the two civic parties rests in 1 word:

    • Working Mom

      Very well said Bill – Thank You!

    • Ron

      The reason you need less planners isn’t because fitting density into a community isn’t important, it’s because the planning process has made developement in Vancouver not come even remotely close to population growth. It even apparently doesn’t even matter how much it costs, it’s not like theirs a high vacancy rate (well, specualtion units aside, but that’s another matter).

      One can wax poetically until the cows come home how the density needs to have community in the mix, but people need to love somewhere, and the feds aren’t turning off the immigration taps anytime soon. So the end result of not putting in a tower will instead be putting in more single family homes out in the valley. So at the end of the day the cow won’t be coming home because it got taken by a human that wouldn’t be able to buy a place in the city even if they wanted to.

    • waltyss

      Thank you for a well reasoned post. I don’t think anyone who has thought about it was opposed to increased density however you labelled it.
      The issue is how and where you densify. Towers have a place but all other things being equal, most people would take the low rises of Kitsilano over the West End (excluding of course Campbell’s ugly monstrosity at the south end of the Burrard Street Bridge.)
      In the next issue of the Georgia Straight a letter writer noted that Paris has far greater density than Vancouver without high rises.
      The topic is an important one for all residents of this city even those who like me live in leafy single family Dunbar. It has elicited one of the better discussions on this website. However, it is not a game of gotcha, as Klassen would have it. It is a debate that will shape this city for generations if not forever. Most of us favour greater density; however equally most of us are not interested in a city that all looks like the West End or Yaletown.
      And having lived through it, I am thankful that neither Tom Campbell’s nor Sam Sullivan’s current iteration will hold sway.

      • Ron

        Where to put towers? How about within a block of all the skytrain stations with services at the bottom.

        Where to put all the midrise buildings? Everywhere withing the next three blocks.

        Where to put in townhouse buildings? Everywhere within the next four blocks.

        That would dramatically increase the density of Vancouver while still leaving the majority of it exactly the same.

      • The Angry Taxpayer

        Triple Like!!

  • gman

    Ineptocracy — the word du jour

    Ineptocracy (in-ep-toc’-ra-cy) –

    A system of government where the least capable to lead

    are elected by the least capable of producing, and where

    the members of society least likely to sustain themselves

    or succeed, are rewarded with goods and services paid for

    by the confiscated wealth of a diminishing number of


    • Ron

      Votigration – le mot de prochaine jour!

      AKA what happens as a result of an Ineptocracry.

      Rather than being a minority in an inept region and trying to change the minds of those in charge or of the public one votes with their feet by moving to a region with more sensible policies.

      • gman

        Ron how far do we have to go? At some point we will have to make a stand.

        • Ron

          When the waves of fiscal incompetance coming crashing home (and they will) like the rest of the world that seems to fail at math, economics, and planning it won’t matter what people’s viewpoints are or who’s in power – simple balance sheets and a refusal to lend money at anything resembling affordable will come knocking and force a hard reset whether the entitlement lot wants it or not.

          • gman

            Yep your right Ron the only entitlement they will have is they will be entitled to stand in a food line.

          • Steven Forth

            I don’t disagree, but it is probable that interest rates and capital market returns will trend down for a long time as the underlying demographics change. This is a real problem for an aging population and for any organization sadled with defined benefit obligations.

      • Glissando Remmy

        Ron & gman… LMAO!
        Guys, you just made my day!

        “Ineptocracy — the word du jour
        Ineptocracy (in-ep-toc’-ra-cy) …”

        “Votigration – le mot de prochaine jour!
        AKA what happens as a result of an Ineptocracry…”

        Cheers, GR

  • Brilliant

    @Steven Forth-that “or something else” that links the two main civic parties=developers’ campaign contributions. It’s amazing how a pol can become a convert to condoized densification when they’re being built by the folks who paid for your (re)election.

    • Steven Forth

      Part of the problem is that unless one is a developer there is little incentive to get involved in municipal politics. The municipal government (any government actually) has almost no direct impact on my business so my motivation to donate any significant amount of money to any political party is small. But there are large indirect impacts – quality of life in Vancouver, taxation levels, investments in education … Money corrupts politics as we can see in the US and in Canada where the oil industry has bought the federal government. Don’t see a real solution though, other than blogs like this. Let’s face it, next election the developers will back the two parties most likely to be elected and will continue to have a big say in how the city is governed. Sigh.

      • I hope you and many others here who are not developers will consider donating at the next election. It does cost to run and candidates need and appreciate your support. My personal funds in 2011 were not from developers, just a lot of good friends.

        And, the other real problems are:

        1) the at large system requires a lot of money and favours parties over independents because your constituency is the entire City, 7 to 10 times larger than federal and provincial ridings;

        2) a limit needs to be put on campaign donations and spending; if everyone was on a level field, other less costly and less razzle dazzle means of connecting with the electorate would play a more important role, and I think for the better.

        • waltyss

          The NPA and the current Liberal government have opposed both.
          A change it is a coming to Victoria and hopefully the new provincial government will support transparent campaigns and a limit on donations.
          No Vancouver party will support wards again for a long time. So, support good independents as much as possible.

        • Steven Forth

          Is there a practical way to limit spending? I look at the US and the rabid PACs on both sides and I wonder.

          I will consider donating and even volunteering next time around as it is something I have long wanted to do – will need to find some candidaes (likely not parties) to support!

  • The Angry Taxpayer

    The issue of HOW we densify is the single greatest issue in our city. get it wrong 9as they have at RIZE) and we are hooped. That Vision has enllisted support from some of its green constituents to support this monstrosity, in return for favours in biking, or support of W2 or whatever, is as ever, a disgrace to all parties. Such a badly designed building, at that location, it’s an insult to urbanism and a slap at all neighbourhoods outside the urban core.

    Please, Kevin Quinlin, no phone calls to lambaste me! Please VV councillors, no snarky words and dismissive gestures at City Council meetings.

    Dear readers of this and other urban blogs: never mind trinkets like bike lanes or pedestrian walkways down the middle of Granville Bridge, dangled in front of you.

    These are designed to make us take our eyes off the development ball.

  • Brilliant

    @Steven Forth-not everyone gets involved for development reasons. You could look at any COPE candidate or the more patrician NPA candidates (Phillip Owen, Peter Ladner). It’s the ones in the middle you have to look out for.

  • Great comments. There are a range of opinions but there’s seems to be a general concensis that the planning process needs to be improved, including made more efficient, but that good planning is an important part of continuing to improve our quality of life while densifying intelligently and creating sustainable Neighbourhoods.

  • Allain Lepants

    Back when Canadian men fought and died for freedom they were looking forward to returning to their own place on the land. It has never taken much for a family to be self sufficient. Sadly it is soft handed weak minded exploiters who need to warehouse others to organize their wealth. How cheap can we package the product? Let the banks fail and the crops and life will grow on. When the banks fail we all win.