5 Questions for Brian

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Brian Jacson, Vancouver City Planner, will be at the West End Community Centre tomorrow, 28 august 2013 to answer questions about the neighbourhood plan. Here are 5 questions I would ask Jackson about the City’s plan in Mount Pleasant.

1. Why are we not using apartments and row houses, rather than towers, to intensify neighbourhoods? 

  • The Mount Pleasant Charrette Plan show that we can double the neighbourhoods 2011 census population of 26,400 building using buildings NOT higher than FOUR storeys.
  • Human-scale urbanism is more sustainable, producing walkable neighbourhoods, livable streets and affordable regions.
  • The same principles apply in other neighbourhoods in Vancouver, other municipalities in the region, and elsewhere in North America.
  • We can achieve significant local intensification by moving from suburban products (cottage lots) to urban products (row houses and apartments).
  • Towers should not be seen as “the default choice to increase density” outside the Central Business Districts built in the 1970s snf 1980s.
  • Built neighbourhood comparisons show that the difference between towers and human scale urbanism presents in the resulting quality of place. In human-scale neighbourhoods people report higher levels of social functioning; and community cohesion.

2. Why is the proposed built form on neighbourhood arterials being specified to exceed the solar angle on the winter solstice?

  • The winter solar angle is 18° in Vancouver. That yields a ratio of 1 : 3. If the building height is 1/3 of the width of the fronting street, then even on the shortest day of the year, at noon, the sun will penetrate to sidewalk level. Build higher than that, and you shadow the street!
  • The issue is not just the sun angle. If the streetwall is allow to overbuild, then the streets take on a mean, dark quality. Street wall that is taller than 1/3 of the width of the fronting street will block view of the sky.
  • Tall narrow streets may be desirable in warmer climates like San Francisco, and Melbourne (both 37° latitude), but detrimental to northern cities like ours.
  • The City’s plan for Mount Pleasant is calling for building heights that are 1/2 the width of the street. This will result in shadowing most of the winter months, precisely the time the sun is most needed to animate the Sense of Place.
  • Similar mistakes are being perpetrated in the other neighbourhood plans.

3. Why is there no specific target for Social Housing stated in the plan, complete with clear mile stones for their completion?

  • What is it going to take to get the City to realize that people suffering from mental health issues—as the city is reporting to be the case with every homeless person in Vancouver—should be housed?
  • Whether this is paid for by the Federal, Provincial or Municipal government really doesn’t matter. Vancouverites pay taxes at all three levels all at the same time.
  • A tax revolt—if that is what it would take to get the other levels of government involved—would be easy to organize. I doubt very much one would be necessary.

4. Why is Transit not being planned integrally with Community Intensification? Is the Planning Department ready to recommend that car space be turned over to transit so that we can implement Trolley Bus Rapid Transit (BRT-trolley) on all neighbourhood arterials?

  • Bus service is still sub-par, lending fuel to the assertion that “buses are for losers”.
  • Translink has trolleys parked that can’t deploy.
  • BRT with signal priority can deliver subway levels of service at a fraction of the cost.
  • Electric trolley are 0-Green House Gas emitters and much quieter than buses.
  • Developing a transit grid improves the quality of transit experience & service.

5. Is he studying the use of Tax Increment Financing (TIF) to pay for neighbourhood amenities?

A TIF is like a mortgage. A municipality “sets aside” a small amount of revenue from new construction and uses it to service a 40-year bond. The money from a municipal bond issue is ready to use now; once they materialize on site the new taxes from new construction are here to stay. Every year brings more.

  • CACs are fuelling land speculation (CACs—Community Amenity Contributions).
  • Housing has been pushed beyond the affordability of working families and singles.
  • Tower forms are not needed to achieve densification (see Question 1)
  • Alternative funding strategies like TIF are used throughout North America to pay for neighbourhood amenities.
  • In the Mount Pleasant plan the Towers-for-CACs reads like extrusion: a quid pro quo exchanging profits for the development industry in order to pay for community benefits.
  • Why are Vancouver neighbourhoods held ransom to deliver what the City has been given the power of taxation to provide in the first place?
  • Where have we gone wrong?

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