You Should Be An Architect

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A Planner Spills The Beans

For over a year and a half many of us have been aware, from leaks inside the Vancouver Planning Department, that the plethora of towers presented at Commercial & Broadway in the “Emerging Directions” document did not represent the views of the local planners.  Rather the towers were inserted into the Plan on the orders of higher management at the City.

It has been juicy gossip, but without a smoking gun.

But now, Scott Hein, Senior Urban Designer at the time of the GW Plan has gone public with devastating revelations concerning upper management interference in rubbishing a “best practices” plan and insisting on multiple towers.

We put together what we believed was a reasoned overall plan for GW towards increased residential and employment opportunity. We fully appreciated the development economics of the Safeway site at B+C that, given active revenue generating impacts on the pro forma, related phasing considerations, noise impacts and view opportunity up and down “the cut” and believed that two modest towers in the range of 20 to 25 storeys maximum located on the easterly half of the site could be considered to make the Safeway site developable and, more importantly, improve the challenging interface conditions (all four sides) of Safeway while pedestrianizing the Commercial Drive frontage by integrating those shallow depth properties into a larger development opportunity. We imagined a series of related, modestly scaled low and mid rise buildings in this scenerio.


Otherwise, we believed that the appropriate approach to intensifying an already relatively high density community, of what must be seen as “special urban fabric”, was in transitional mid to low rise form.


We absolutely did not support towers outside the focused “Safeway Precinct”.


We were instructed to put this plan (in our view based on thoughtful urban design best practice) in the drawer never to see the light of day. We were then “told” by senior management to prepare a maximum tower scheme which we produced under protest as we declared we did not support such an uninformed approach for the GW neighbourhood.


Our next plan yielded 20 towers which was advanced to the decision makers (I cannot confirm who saw this plan). We were then told to produce a third plan which cut the towers in half down to 10. We prepared this third plan, also under protest, which was taken out to the community. The public process imploded soon thereafter.


Our work in the city’s Urban Design Studio for over 10 years was always about best practice and integrity of process. We always believed that meaningful, honourable co-design processes could yield win-win if conducted properly. We were never given this opportunity in GW.


The story about the third plan ties in nicely with the information circulated earlier this month by an insider who approached Ned Jacobs.  That insider described a meeting in which Mayor Robertson suggested ameliorating some of the excess towers — but still keeping at least half of them.

People have questioned us time and time again about why we question the very process that this Plan is working under.  It is because it always subject to political interference.

As every municipal party — with the exception of Vision — agreed at a recent meeting, the Grandview-Woodland Community Plan needs to be halted right away and discussions started with active bodies in Grandview as to how we need to proceed.

Citizens’ Assembly: Public Round Table 11/26

Many thanks to a member who shared the following information:

The Citizens’ Assembly will be hosting a Public Roundtable that is open to everyone in the community. This is a formal opportunity to have good conversations with your neighbours about what they want to see in Grandview-Woodland. I encourage you to invite anyone you think might be interested. I’ve included an invitation below, which you can forward to your friends and neighbours.

Here are a few key pieces of info:

  • The Public Roundtable will be on Wednesday, November 26th at the Maritime Labour Centre, 1880 Triumph St
  • Doors will open at 6:45pm, and the meeting will finish by 9:00pm

Conversations will take place at tables. At least two Assembly members will sit at each table. The conversations will focus on:

1) Getting feedback on your draft set of values

2) A discussion of the issues community members would like the CA to address in our final report to City Council.

We encourage you to think of specific questions you’d like to ask members of the Assembly.  Facilitators will be at each table to take notes, but this is your opportunity to ask questions and listen to other community members.

Mark your calendars!.

Citizens’ Assembly: Questions & Answers

Last week, OCOP was sent a series of questions from the Citizens’ Assembly.  After a lively and collaborative discussion within the group, OCOP responded this morning as follows:

Q1: What does OCOP suggest as an alternative / transparent formula or process to define ‘affordable’ housing? How would that formula / process keep pace with cost of living, inflation, and be resistant to political tampering and continual redefinition by gentrifying neighbourhoods?

OCOP adheres to the CHMC definition of affordability that a maximum of 30% of income should be required for housing/shelter costs. This formula insulates the definition from inflation. We also suggest that this formula be included in the Vancouver Charter which would prevent governments, such as the current City Council majority, from abandoning the CHMC definition.

 Q2: OCOP was telling people at the CA [during a previous presentation] that there doesn’t need to be a new Grandview-Woodland plan…. Without one, how would Grandview-Woodland halt erosion of affordability in housing as limited housing gets produced for/rented by those with the highest incomes?

After participating in good faith, we have lost confidence in the City’s Grandview Woodland plan. The sudden appearance on the land use plan of multiple high-rise towers has made us suspicious of the entire process. We are concerned that it has become politicized and heavily influenced by the interests of big developers.

OCOP believes that the existing Grandview Plan, adopted in 1980 at a time when Grandview was failing as a neighbourhood, has produced the Grandview that we all love and cherish. OCOP believes this Plan, in essence, continues to work. We believe that future planning needs only to build on the successful Plan already in place.

At an all-candidates’ meeting on 15th October, every municipal party running in the present election – with the single exception of Vision — agreed that the proposed GW Plan should either be scrapped or paused for more consultation over the process. Further, at an all-candidates’ meeting in Grandview on 30th October all parties – including Vision – agreed that high-rise towers were inappropriate for Grandview Woodland. As Vision Councillor Andrea Reimer put it “we know they won’t fly in this neighbourhood.”

Finally, we want to recognize that the area of the GW Plan sited south of Broadway is already included in the KCC Community Vision Plan of 1998. We believe that area should be excluded from the GW Plan and be allowed to develop in line with the KCC Visions Plan, thus respecting the hard work already done by that community, and already approved by City Council.

 Q3: Does OCOP believe the population of Vancouver (and/or Grandview Woodlands) should be capped somehow, and internal migration restricted? If GW doesn’t absorb a reasonable share of the projected population increases in the next few decades, would GW not be contributing indirectly to urban sprawl?

OCOP does not believe in capping population or internal migration (even if such a bizarre suggestion could be implemented, which we doubt). This neighbourhood has always been welcoming to people from around the world.

OCOP is not concerned about more new residents. But we reject the imposition of increased density from above. We also oppose the displacement of existing residents, who won’t be able to afford the neighbourhood that would result from the GW Plan.

According to the City’s own figures, Grandview Woodland is already more densely populated than about 70% of Vancouver.

After more than two years of asking, the City has still not provided density or population projections either for the City generally or the Grandview-Woodland neighbourhood. Such projections when given should include detailed analysis of how the numbers were computed, and explain how that density is to be distributed with some reasonable equity across the City. We encourage the CA to investigate this lack of data.

 Q4: OCOP / Jak King reports that at the CA meeting Oct 4, James Roy, senior policy analyst at BC Non-Profit Housing Association and Thom Armstrong, ED of the Co-op Housing Federation of BC, spoke “from the housing industry view”. What perspectives/topics should they have discussed that they didn’t? Who would OCOP nominate as better equipped (and likely willing) to discuss these issues and possible solutions with the assembly?

While OCOP believes it was interesting and important to hear the industry perspective, the CA has not yet heard from a non-industry-linked house owner, or renter, or local co-op member. OCOP encourages the CA to hear from more independent residents to get a neighbourhood perspective on these issues.

Q5: How do other cities create incentives for owners of aging rental apartment buildings to retrofit and renovate without displacing existing renters?

This is an important question, especially for the areas of Grandview that contain most of our rental housing. The Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods and OCOP are currently investigating what has worked in other jurisdictions. We encourage the CA to conduct their own reviews of other cities’ plans in this regard.

Q6:   OCOP has been very critical of the CA’s barriers to participation. How does OCOP itself surmount barriers to participation by marginalized groups…. for how many languages does it provide interpretation so that a wider range of people [beyond the usual activists who typically participate in multiple organizations and can afford to devote many hours per week] can participate in its meetings? Does it offer free food, subsidies for transportation, child care, elder care? How does it schedule its meetings so that a majority of people can attend?

OCOP has always made its meetings and discussions open to all residents of the neighbourhood. Our meetings are regularly scheduled for Tuesday evenings at a central and accessible community centre. Our group represents a cross-section of the neighbourhood: including indigenous people, people with disabilities, renters, homeowners, elders, youth and those with English as a second language.

OCOP is an unfunded volunteer organization without the resources available to government institutions and therefore we, like virtually every other such group, have no ability to supply services such as the questioner describes. However, we note that we formally requested a portion of the Community Plan budget so that such services and others could be provided, and our request was declined.

We also note that translation services are not currently being offered for CA sessions and we encourage CA members to continue to request that this be put in place for all future meetings.

 Q7: OCOP refers to better neighbourhood planning processes in…. Can OCOP cite any such processes that adequately included ethnically/culturally/socioeconomically diverse groups and marginalized citizens? How was that achieved in those cases? Have these produced legally binding plans?

OCOP confirms its adherence to the Principles & Goals for Collaborative Neighbourhood-based Planning in the City of Vancouver” document of the Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods. We note that the document calls for 100% household surveys or, to put it another way, we call for complete inclusivity in the process, quite unlike the current Plan exercise. The document is based largely on the City Plan process that directed planning in Vancouver until the early 2000s. A number of neighbourhood plans have been implemented through the City Plan and Community Visions process that was an extension of City Plan. We encourage the CA to specifically investigate the success of City Plan.

Society Act Changes

As previously posted, OCOP has supported a letter written to the Province regarding concerns about proposed changes to the BC Society Act.  The following story from News1130 discusses some of our concerns:

Local organizations fear they will be more vulnerable to frivolous lawsuits, if the province goes ahead with changes to the law governing non-profits. They believe the effort to make non-profits more accountable goes too far.  At issue is a proposed new clause in the Society Act that says any appropriate person can make an application to the courts on the grounds that the society is carrying on activities that are detrimental to the public interest.


Jak King with the Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods [and OCOP] believes organizations like his, which have opposed certain developments, could become the target of lawsuits launched by the affected developers. “It would become a real barrier for us to continue our protest against the development, because we are a neighbourhood organization with no resources and completely run by volunteers.”


King’s colleague on the coalition, Larry Benge, takes it one step further. “Maybe it threatens the future of that society, because it would go bankrupt trying to defend itself.”


The coalition says while transparency is important in a non-profit, over-regulation of small grassroots organizations can be very harmful. More than two dozen B.C. societies have expressed similar sentiments.  A letter penned by the West Coast Environmental Law says the legislation “invites harassment of societies by any deep-pocketed and litigious opponents.”

Stop BC Housing Privatizations

OCOP has signed on to a letter sent by the Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods to BC Minister Rich Coleman regarding the proposed privatization — and potential redevelopment — of BC Housing supportive housing projects in Vancouver.  The full text of the letter is below:

Dear Minister Coleman,

RE: Neighbourhood Engagement in Planning and Development

The Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods is a consortium of 25 Vancouver Residents’ Associations representing residents across the city. As a coalition, our purpose is to ensure that planning and development in our neighbourhoods happens within specific guidelines that focus on meaningful consultation, public engagement and collaborative planning.

We are writing to express serious concern with your proposed plan to offer significant public lands and housing throughout the City of Vancouver for sale and potential redevelopment without any prior discussion with impacted neighbourhoods. There is a tendering process currently underway for the first two such properties. Therefore our concerns are immediate and urgent.

It is our position that there is no need for haste in selling off BC Housing operated land. On the contrary, there are many reasons to undertake a thorough collaborative planning process with residents and the communities in question, with a focus on local preferences for land ownership and development. We believe that this must happen prior to any decision any one of BC Housing’s holdings.

We are alarmed by the speed of this drastic change in policy. While it is understandable that nonprofit housing societies would want to purchase rather than lease the lands on which they operate, it is unclear whether or how the public, or the neighbourhoods, or indeed residents of the housing will benefit from such a change in ownership.

Local input is critical to ensure that these properties continue to meet their goals. As such, any plans for use which will bind BC Housing’s ability to deliver services must, in our view, incorporate such input. The tender must be halted to ensure the future viability of these properties.

On behalf of the many Vancouver residents we represent we ask that you terminate the current tender, and suspend the policy to allow for a full and open public discussion of the merits and efficacy of undertaking such a change. As taxpayers and residents we share ownership of the properties in question which your government manages on our behalf. We wish to have sufficient time and information to allow for fulsome consultation and collaboration on the future of these public lands.

The Coalition’s Statement of Principles and Goals outlines more completely what collaborative planning entails. We attach a copy for your reference.

We need to keep these lands in public ownership or – even better — find some creative way to transform this into a resident-owned and managed situation.

Besides that, there was no consultation in this case with the residents or Ray-Cam which currently helps manage the properties. Residents of Grandview need to be particularly concerned because McLean Park will no doubt be the next target.  This needs to be stopped.

Scrap GW Plan Say Candidates!

Mayoral candidates KIrk LaPointe (NPA) and Meena Wong (COPE) have called for the scrapping of the current Grandview-Woodland Community Plan process.  They were joined in this call by Council candidates Adriane Carr (Greens), Glen Chernen (Cedar Party) and RJ Aquino (OneCity).

At an all-party election Town Hall meeting last night , put on by the Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods and attended by an enthusiastic full-house crowd of almost 400 residents, the candidates were asked whether, if elected, they would replace the current process with one that followed the Coalition’s Principles & Goals.  All the candidates that were asked the question agreed.

The NPA’s Kirk LaPointe noted that the level of contention in the neighbourhood showed there was clearly something wrong with the current Plan, while OneCity’s J.J. Aquino agreed that using the Coalition’s Principles as a blueprint for a new process was the way to move forward.

Adriane Carr, leader of the Green Party reminded the audience there had been no consultation of any kind regarding the high-rise towers that were proposed for Grandview, and she agreed that the Citizens’ Assembly was set up to sideline the process.

The Cedar Party also agreed the present Plan need to be replaced by one matching the Principles. Glen Chernen noted he was sad for the people who have joined and put their hopes in the designed-to-fail Citizens’ Assembly.

Vision’s Andrea Reimer was not asked the question though, in the recent past, she has been a fervent supporter of the Plan as currently established.

For those of us who have fought against the details of the GW Plan process for so long, this was a night of confirmation and hope. Confirmation that we are not alone in our distress with the Plan; and hope that something better could be achieved.

Another Slap In The Face For Grandview

Since it began in 2012, the Grandview Woodland Community Plan has been been one community engagement disaster after another. And now we have yet another one.

As part of the training/indoctrination of the appoointed members of the Citizens’ Assembly, they are being offered heritage walking tours of each of the neighbourhood’s seven sub-areas. That is a great idea; Grandview is famous for its fine heritage architecture and for still being, as Bruce Macdonald has coined it, an Edwardian village.

Moreover, Grandview has the only long-established and extremely active Heritage Group in the entire City. It is an organization that was recognized by the City last year and won Vancouver’s Heritage Advocacy Award just last year. The commendation for the award noted that GHG has “a successful community-based education and awareness program.” 

The GHG has, as active members, three of the City’s finest and most recognized heritage tour guides — Michael Kluckner, Bruce Macdonald, and Maurice Guibord — who between them have conducted scores, perhaps hundreds, of popular educational tours; and all of them live in Grandview-Woodland. But did the Citizens’ Assembly staff choose any of these expert and appropriate local resources?  No they did’nt.  They went outside the neighbourhood to source these tours.

They completely ignored the Grandview Heritage Group (no contact or discussion was ever offered to them) and they completely ignored the local heritage tour experts.   They hired another expert to handle the tours; an expert that we all recognize as one of the City’s finest historians and tour guide. The skills of John Aitken are not in question in any way.  What is in question is the deliberate choice to ignore local resources and expertise.

After all the community engagement problems that have plagued the GW Plan, and just after the Assembly held a thoroughly unrepresentative housing forum followed by a less than adequate speed-dating event with local organizations, and as Assembly members begin to leave the troubled process, it would have been simple common sense for the City and its consultants to avoid yet another PR problem.  Especially as the Chair, Rachel Magnusson, wrote to me that “drawing on local talent and knowledge is certainly a good thing.”  Fine words not backed up by action.

I have been in correspondence with Ms. Magnusson in an attempt to change her mind on this particular issue, but she has refused, suggesting only that GHG could put on a superfluous eighth tour.  Do we really want to put the already-stretched Assembly members to what could only be a repeat of material already covered.

The company being paid $150,000 of our tax dollars to manage the Citizens’ Assembly was hired for their “expertise” in community engagement.  Frankly, if their expertise was that good they would have recognized the value (both political and educational) of using GHG/local resources to handle these tours.  They didn’t, and we can only assume this was a deliberate slap in the face to Grandview.

Society Act of BC: Protest Proposed Changes

OCOP, through its membership in the Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods, has joined its voice with a multitude of other organizations to protest proposed changes to the Society Act of BC.

The BC Society Act is the governing legislation for many of the non-profit and community organizations that do so much to maintain civility and honesty and transparency to our lives.  Under the proposed changes, corporations (developers, say, or pipelines or mining companies) would be given the right to sue such organizations in court, claiming they were not acting “in the public interest” (this latter term to be defined by the judge at trial).  The organizations, generally volunteers with little or no resources like OCOP, would be forced to expend all their time and energies on legal defence against these SLAPP suits.

The Coalition’s letter can be found here.

News & Backgrounders: October 12

These are a few of the articles that piqued our interest over the last few days.  Note that these are updated to the Resources Page.

Community Plan:

Vancouver Planning:

Lessons From:


Voter Suppression In East Vancouver?

OCOP has been actively involved in the exposure of what Garth Mullins has called the creation of a “democracy desert” in East Vancouver.

The issue is the siting of the advance polling stations for the municipal election in November.  There are no polling stations in the Downtown Eastside, Strathcona, Grandview, Hastings Sunrise, and most of Mount Pleasant creating the desert.

Map from CityHallWatch

In larger terms, there are five polling stations west of Main Street, two to the east, and one, on Main Street, on the border between east and west. Moreover, the 4km radius circles around both of the stations east of Main include wide swathes of Burnaby.

More intimately, the map requires the least able in our city — the low-and-no-income folks, the mentally challenged, the seniors — get to be the ones who have to travel by bus or walk long distances to exercise their constitutional rights.  This is just a mess.

DTES Votes, an organization working to register voters in the DTES, held a press conference on Thursday morning.  Garth spoke for OCOP.  The meeting got good coverage in the Straight and the Courier.  Further coverage here. 

By the end of the week, most political leaders had written to the Electoral Officer suggesting more polls.  Hopefully she will come back to work on Tuesday and get on with closing these gaping democracy gaps,

OCOP’s 12 Point Program

As part of our attendance at the Citizens’ Assembly, we handed out written material.  The summary document is shown below, with links to other parts of the material.


The Our Community, Our Plan (OCOP) group of Grandview-Woodland residents was formed last year in response to the disastrous first attempt at a Community Plan contained in the document known as “Emerging Directions”.

Many of the members of OCOP have been closely involved with the Grandview-Woodland Community Plan process since it began in 2012, and have been involved in prolonged discussions with the City and its planning department. OCOP is a member of the Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods formed by twenty-four community associations from across the City, created specifically to improve the planning and development process.

OCOP believes that the entire GW Plan process has been faulty since its inception and that the Community Assembly portion of this process is equally flawed. Our belief is that GW has become a wonderfully diverse and popular neighbourhood under the existing Community Plan, and the neighbourhood should be allowed to continue evolving at its own pace and as desired by residents.

That being said, here we are, and we hope to persuade you that there IS a better way.

This package includes:

  • The Twelve Points that represent important views expressed during OCOP’s deliberations (2 pages);
  • One-pager lead in to …
  • Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods Principles & Goals for a more respectful relationship between the City and the neighbourhoods (5 pages)
  • Flyer for Development debate on 15th October

We suggest that the All-Party debate on development and community engagement on 15th October will be a useful learning exercise for all CA members.

We urge you to stay in touch with OCOP through its website and please feel free to join us at our Tuesday evening meetings at Britannia.

The Citizens’ Assembly Starts Work

On Saturday 4th October, the Citizens’ Assembly portion of the Grandview Community Plan held the first of what might be just a few public sessions — a Panel on Housing Perspectives.  That same afternoon, in a closed session, a dozen groups were allowed to make 12-minute presentations (including Q&A) to a small number of Citizen Assembly members. OCOP was one of the groups.  Jak King reported on these meetings:

It was an interesting day, and further evidence, if more were needed, that this is someone’s experiment , we are the guinea pigs (with no safety net other than the election this November), and that its results could cost GW its future as an effective and livable community.

About 25-30 non-CA types attended the meeting, including mayoral candidate Bob Kasting. After being instructed by the CA Chair that we were not allowed to take photographs or video, the day began with the first public session: a 90-minute panel on Housing Perspectives.

I had written earlier about the skewed nature of the panel’s industry-based perspectives.  Apparently, after some similar complaints, the CA management at the last minute added panelists who could talk about co-op housing and low-income options.  However, the panel still had no-one who was a renter, an owner-occupier, or co-op member who was not attached to the housing industry.  Thus, the persepctives given were all from the housing industry view.

Speakers were: Abi Bond, director of housing for City of Vancouver; James Roy, senior policy analyst at BC Non-Profit Housing Association; James Evans, a local developer; Thom Armstrong, ED of the Co-op Housing Federation of BC; and Nick Sully, a principal with Shape Architecture.

Did we learn anything that was genuinely relevant to the GW Community Plan?  Perhaps, but most of the talks concerned much broader issues, including many that are outside municipal government.

  • Abi Bond talked in general terms about City policies toward “affordable” housing. She said — against all other evidence — that City policy considers 30% of income as the upper limit on “affordable” (Rental100 rents, far above this level, are the reality). She also said the City had $125 million set aside in 2015-2020 for “affordable” housing, though it was not clear whether this was for the City to actually build at that level.
  • Thom Armstrong and James Roy spoike in more generral terms about the difficulties being experienced in raising finance for low income housing of all kinds. Of particular concern is the Federal withdrawl from all housing programs, including those for co-ops.
  • Nick Sully gave a short illustrated talk on the housing pods hios company has created in Strathcona and elsewhere. This was to illustrate the alternative types of development that we might use here.
  • James Evans, developer of the Jeffs Resident development in GW, examined the difficulties under the current system of dealing with major renovation and retention of the heritage buildings that are such a feature of GW.

Because of timing problems, very few questions were asked of the panel, and all but one of those were limited to CA members.

When the session was over, I was able to speak with many in the audience, both CA members and others.  There seemed to be a sense of disappointment in the presentations, some even talking of a condescending tone.  It was also clear that the CA members were already swamped with the information streams coming at them.  It was about to get worse.

After a very decent lunch (unfortunately organized and pushing us even later than we were before) we moved on to the one and only time a number of local groups would have to present to the CA.  I had earlier described this process as speed-dating but in fact this was speed-dating, with multiple partners at the same time, in what might as well have been a tin shack in the middle of a rainstorm — the ambient noise level was high enough to make it very difficult to hear and talk.

The set-up had a dozen local associations, including GWAC and OCOP, on groups of chairs around the hall.  Every twelve minutes, a group of CA members, three to five at a time, arrived at the OCOP station, and one had a few minutes only to shout out, as quickly as possible, the points one wanted to get across.  That usually left about five minutes for questions and dialogue and, just as one got into a good rapport with a group, the Chair loudspeakered that the CA members had to move onto the next group. This happened four times. It was exhausting for us, and I have little idea how valuable it could have been for the CA members.

It was, I agree, a good opportunity to tell how much we disliked the process and what we might do to improve it; but even then we only got to talk with sixteen CA members.  For the rest, we have to hope they will actually read the materials that were emailed to each member.  And that leads me to some hope.

First, I have to say that I was astinished at how few of the CA members had any idea about the process that went on from the fall of 2012 and ended in September 2013.  They had interest, but no background in the struggle. That being said, I was glad to hear so many of them tell me they knew they were being fed a line from the City and they were determined to make up their own minds.  Hopefully, then, the OCOP materials will help them see through more of the charade, and to show that a more efficient process is available.

Another sign of hope is that 48 CA members, 25-30 other residents, and a dozen or more City folks were willing to give up a very pleasant fall Saturday to do their civic duty by participating in a process, flawed though it may be, that is vital to the future of the neighbourhood we all love and cherish.

The next meeting of the Assembly (members only) is not until the end of November.  The next public meeting?  Not sure.

Brian Jackson Responds on Townhouses in GW

There has been a fast and furious exchange of emails in relation to Grandview Woodland which began with an article in the Vancouver Sun, complaints from Citizens of Grandview Woodlands and a reply from Brian Jackson, the General Manager, Planning and Development, for the City of Vancouver.

The Vancouver Sun article that started it all is below:

Then, both, Phillip Hill wrote to City Council and the Mayor, with his letter, which is attached. Brian Jackson 140822 Phillip Hill Letter.

OCOP participant, Linda Malek, also joined the discussion with her email Linda Malek Letter to Brian Jackson August 2014.

Which then resulted in the following reply from Brian Jackson Brian Jackson Reply August 2014 in which the closing line is:

“The City is starting fresh with a new expanded work program for the Community Plan and we fully expect there to be substantial changes to what had been proposed a year ago.”

Only time will tell if the City is truly listening to Citizens voices in GW.

OCOP Continues To Gather Support

As we come near the end of the Summer, OCOP is ramping up its activities with plans for Town Hall Meetings in September (Urban Planning Panel, September 10) and October (HYPER Gentrification Panel).

OCOP has also been meeting with people in the community to determine what they want to see in the community plan.

An Editorial Cartoon Courier August 8th 2014

The Editorial Cartoon above notes how the public sentiment is developing on the issue of land use plans that really listen to what the local community wants.

A recent email debate in the Tyee highlights the issue of spot zoning and what havoc it can play with community land use plans. Which can be found here (Note: Patrick Condon is a confirmed speaker at OCOP’s first Town Hall meeting on September 10, 2014, more details to follow):


Is Spot Zoning the Problem or the Solution?

[Editor’s note: On July 14, The Tyee published an opinion piece by University of British Columbia urban design professor Patrick Condon proposing that Vancouver’s way of “spot zoning” for new projects was playing havoc with the character of neighbourhoods and principles of democracy and transparency. Condon argued that Vancouver would do better to include citizens in a process leading to a one-time zoning of the entire city. His critique, which branded city hall’s project-by-project approval process a path to “soft corruption,” produced buzz for and against.

Many experienced voices argued that Vancouver’s approach — trading permission to build for public amenities and other city input — was key to the city’s success at evolving to accommodate changing pressures and needs. One of the most knowledgeable and experienced of those defenders of the current approach is former Vancouver NPA city councillor Gordon Price, now Director of the City Program at Simon Fraser University.

We arranged an email exchange on the topic between Price and Condon and asked if we could look in. Here’s the result.]



So, I’m supposed to defend spot zoning, am I? Maybe I should start out with something more sympathetic, like duckling abuse.

Seriously, you’re asking me to defend ‘soft corruption,’ on the assumption that the motivation for rezoning, whether soft or hard, is to tap the millions in Community Amenity Charges, resulting in ever-bigger, and hence inappropriately scaled, development.

Stop me before I rezone again!

But let me suggest that there’s a need for spot rezonings and regulatory changes in a world where we won’t or can’t anticipate the future. Let me use an example that occurred when I was a council member in the 1980s.

There is at the southeast corner of Davie and Howe Street a rather bland residential high-rise, just under 20 stories.

It’s not distinguishable now, dwarfed by the high-rises on all the other corners — but it sure was back when it was built in 1988, approved as, yes, a reinterpretation of the zoning bylaw. The planner at the time, Ray Spaxman, wasn’t about to approve anything other than what had come before: office and commercial with a few floors of residential.

But Andrew Grant, president of the PCI Group, was convinced there was a market for rental accommodation in this unlikely neighbourhood of parking lots and auto-body shops: “Downtown at your doorstep for $395.” He spent a lot of time trying to convince staff and eventually council to let him take the risk.

Council in response changed the rules at a single meeting — as much to see if Andrew was right. Which he most certainly was. That building was the beginning of what we now know as Downtown South: the thousands of units, condos and rentals that successfully accommodated so much of the growth in the core in the 1990s — and took development pressure off the West End.

It is also, as you note, where we began to employ Development Cost Charges — another innovation that came with Downtown South once the blocks between Homer and Burrard were massively upzoned to accommodate residential high-rises, along with design guidelines and public-realm improvements. That avoided the need to negotiate separate amenity requirements with each developer.

But note the words “massively upzoned” — something that was only possible on low-density industrial land like Arbutus, Concord, Coal Harbour, Collingwood Village and all the other megaprojects where we accommodated growth without intruding into residential neighbourhoods.

Your call for a city-wide plan to avoid the need for spot rezonings, I can bet, will not result in those kinds of ‘massive upzonings.’ Like CityPlan, it will most likely result in a reiteration of the status quo, with some token recognition of change, but mainly a call for further amenities and more affordable housing, without any practical way of achieving of it — certainly not by changing the character of the community with new forms of development.

That’s fine for those of us who already have a piece of this precious place. But if in the future, we believe there’s a need to try out new forms of development, then it will likely be done initially through spot changes — just as we did with Andrew Grant.

And that’s a good reason to keep it in the tool kit.


Hey Gordon,

I am not asking you to defend soft corruption my friend! When you were on council we were in a different world and Vancouver was a different city. It took some bold moves in the 1980s to make Vancouver what it is! But that was then and this is now. What worked for downtown is not working for the rest of the city. You seem to say that council has to step in because city staff and citizens cannot be trusted to do the right thing. But I respectfully disagree. Every other city in the region seems to be able to involve citizens when they create or update their Official Community Plan. Why can’t Vancouver? Sure they occasionally allow variances from their OCP. But at least they have a plan! Surrey has a plan that anticipates very large increases in population. Why can’t we?


Why can’t Vancouver do what other cities in the region do?

Land, Patrick, land.

Vancouver doesn’t have any large greenfield sites. It’s relatively easy to allocate growth in places like Langley’s Willoughby or Brookswood, Coquitlam’s Heritage Mountain, or South Surrey and South Clayton. But Vancouver City doesn’t even have the brownfield sites of the recent past that we used for megaprojects in the 1980s and ’90s.

Our Official Development Plan is the Zoning and Development Bylaw, accompanied by the local plans and policies that set direction. But regardless of the legal framework, woe to the council that proposes ‘bold moves’ in existing neighbourhoods. (Hello, Grandview.) Even a single development proposal can create a crisis. (Hello, Mt. Pleasant.)

So you’re right: what worked for the downtown core in the past won’t work for the rest of the city. It won’t even work for downtown.

That’s why small interventions, like spot zoning, is the default mechanism of change.


Ah Gordon. Your examples are cherry picked. The City of North Vancouver, New Westminster, and Burnaby are similarly “built out” yet they have Official Community Plans. They even mostly follow them! The new 60 storey (yikes!) towers at Metrotown replaced low rise rental units, all in conformance with their OCP and area plan. No spot zone required. We can’t do that?

And I am surprised that you use our most notorious public process train wrecks to make your case: the Rize project and the Grandview Woodlands plan. The “bold” move at Grandview Woodlands came after a long deliberated low/mid-rise plan was trashed. Not bold enough it seems. Not enough high rises! Add ten! Table that plan tomorrow! Plenty bold. Some would say arrogant and counterproductive, especially since the changes did not add density, only height. This is planning mayhem, not courage.


I’ve never believed there’s any substantive difference between a ZDB* and an OCP** once the latter is translated into something as useful as the former. They are both expressions of what a city expects for the future based on the permissions of the past.

I suppose we could get into the weeds on the Grandview process (no argument, the city screwed it up). But the point is this: You will not get boldness, regardless of the process, if communities will only accept the most modest changes that, as a beginning assumption, will not change their character. If neighbourhoods have priority over city and region-wide plans, and can effectively veto their broad-based, long-term visions once implementation is required, why bother pursuing them in the first place?

* Zoning and Development Bylaw
** Official Community Plan


Yes this might get into the weeds, and that’s unfortunate; because this issue fuels the anger now rampant in our city. I happen to think that the Official Community Plan process used elsewhere is forward looking, while our Vancouver Zoning Bylaw and map only looks back. If it were forward looking we would not be changing the damned thing for every project that comes down the pike.

Gordon, with deep respect, you say we will never “get boldness, regardless of the process, if communities will only accept the most modest changes”. But our City of North Vancouver neighbours are advancing a draft OCP that anticipates projected 50 per cent increase in population in only 25 years! And it maps locations for all these new homes to boot.

Now that’s bold! That’s forward looking! That’s what city councils should do! Not spot zone.


I can understand your desire, Patrick, for an Official Community Plan for Vancouver, so long as it sincerely involves the people of Vancouver in a determination of their future and provides everyone, neighbourhoods and developers alike, with some certainty about what’s allowed.

I’d still maintain that it will not eliminate the need for spot rezonings. No plan can predict with sufficient certainty the forces that will shape our built environment, and there may well be times when changing circumstances or innovation justify an unanticipated intervention. All would agree, however, that spot rezonings should not be the customary mechanism of change.

But to avoid that, and still provide the latitude to accommodate the growth we can reasonably expect based on past experience, means planning for a scale of change that might well be a shock to those who rather like things as they are, or to those who acknowledge the need for change but not if it means change in the character of their community. Yet an Official Community Plan should, if it is a serious document, recognize that the city will be, in some profound ways, a different place as it accommodates those not yet here, and whose voices cannot yet be heard. It is a rare document that does so after emerging from a process of current stakeholders, and is sustained over time when the growth acceptable in theory becomes a white sign on a lot that threatens someone’s self-interest.

It is for that purpose — to accommodate forms of change not yet evident, to deal with growth not yet imaginable, to hear voices not yet present — that spot rezonings will and should remain an option.


Gordon, I know that you have stood up for the things you believe in many times, often withstanding harsh personal and political consequences. You well express how hard it is to plan a city for those who are not yet here, against the innate conservatism of those who are. You may think me naive; but based on my own experience I think you too readily assume folks won’t do the right thing when they get the chance. When you opened this debate you dismissed the CityPlan effort of the ’90s. This surprised me. When given the choice between no-growth, growth only downtown, unplanned growth everywhere, or growth in numerous neighbourhood village nodes, over 63 per cent of the 10,000 people involved opted for the later. I believe this spirit of inclusion still lives, if we could only find the right process to unleash it.

I, like you, am motivated by a love for this city and a fear for its future. I strongly believe that what worked within the small area of the downtown won’t work in the vastly larger city beyond. If we accommodate all our new growth through large spot-zoned projects we may get the housing numbers we want, but it will be in two cities. The one city will be formed of widely separated high-rise complexes, attached to the Skytrain, but cut off from everything else; an interior world of shopping centers capped with glass towers. In between these shopping centres will be another city, the leftover city of the streetcar era. An unaffordable and car dependent city — static and depopulated — with emptying schools, struggling shops and underused transit.

There are different paths. For example, the Kitsilano district has added very substantial density in a way that works with, not against, its innate structure. There are scores of neighbourhoods like it. We could easily double our population and find that our neighbourhoods looked better, worked better, and were more equitable as a result.

But it takes an effort to understand what this city should look like. That’s why I think our acceptance of spot zoning, and the CAC money it produces, is so indicative of our current affliction. Absent a coherent vision of the future, the more we depend on CAC taxes the further we drift from the city that is — the further we drift from the future city that could be. [Tyee]

Grandview’s Successful History of Activisim


The communities of Grandview and Strathcona both provide students for Grandview’s Britannia Secondary School and have a long history of successful student activism, citizen activism and political activism.

This independent spirit has persisted to the present and in Grandview there are now 19 housing co-ops, more than anywhere in British Columbia, as well as a woodworker co-op, a glass co-op and a car co-op.  The REACH community health centre was created in 1969, and the East End Food Co-op started in 1975 and is now Vancouver’s oldest food co-op. Commercial Drive’s CCEC Credit Union received its charter in 1975 while the Peoples Co-op Bookstore, founded in 1945, moved to Grandview in 1982. Commercial Drive in particular is also known for still having many small, locally based businesses and very few chain stores

When freeways were cutting swathes of destruction through North American neighborhoods in the 1950s and 1960s, local citizen activism blocked their advance through Strathcona and Grandview. As a result today Vancouver is famous for this unique lack of freeways, and people from all over happily remark on this unusual feature of the city.

The 1968 citizen uprising against the destruction of dozens of city blocks in Strathcona under the name of “urban renewal” lead to the formation of the first citizen committee allowed to have equal power with government in planning and decision-making. These activists were successful in stopping all such federally funded plans across Canada. Instead of funding to demolish homes, new funding was provided to help fix them up.

After their work in Strathcona many of these young local activists went on to have successful careers in politics. Mike Harcourt, later became a city councilor, the mayor of Vancouver, an MLA and then premier of British Columbia. SFU student and activist Shirley Chan later served as Harcourt’s executive assistant and chief of staff. Margaret Mitchell later became Member of Parliament for Vancouver East.

Some of the Britannia students that were involved in the movement to stop the destruction of homes in Stathcona and Grandview moved on to working on the creation of the successful Britannia Community Centre in 1976, the largest multiplex of its time in North America. One of the student activists, Enzo Guerrero later became the Executive Director of the Britannia Centre.

Activist Tom Durrie is known today for his recent work in saving the York Theatre on Commercial Drive. In 1967 Durrie, a teacher and an activist, became the head of the New School, a progressive new version of a high school on Commercial Drive at 15th Avenue. This was one of the first alternative schools in British Columbia and its example influenced new programs in the regular school system.

Durrie later was part of the Free University established in 1969 on Venables Street that provided free classes for 3,000 students. After the university closed in 1974, activists established the Vancouver East Cultural Centre (the CULTCH) in the same old church building on Venables at Victoria Drive.

In 1971 the Militant Mothers of Raymur blocked railway tracks to get an overpass built. Their children’s school was across the street but the children were forced to cross railway tracks to get there.

It was two graduates of Grandview’s Britannia High School, both MLAs for Vancouver East, that produced North America’s first socialist government in 1973. Bob Williams, a Britannia graduate in1950 and Dave Barrett, a Britannia graduate in 1948, formed the core of the new government, producing numerous popular legislative initiatives such as the Agricultural Land Reserve and the Insurance Corporation of BC (ICBC). As a city councilor in 1965 Britannia grad Bob Williams successfully fought the proposed freeway extension of the new Georgia Viaduct through Strathcona and Grandview.

The first president of the Grandview Ratepayers Association was Harry Rankin. He served from 1952 to 1956, and then became the president of the Grandview Community Centre Association. In 1966 he became a popular progressive Vancouver city councilor and served until 1993, usually topping the polls. During this period Libby Davies, one of the founders of the Downtown Eastside Residents Association (DERA) was an activist city councilor, and today she is the Member of Parliament for Vancouver East.

In 1989 local activists successfully blocked the construction of a high-rise building at Broadway and Commercial Drive with the cooperation of local progressive city councilors Libby Davies and Harry Rankin.

Vancouver is divided into 21 local areas, but only Grandview has a citizens’ meeting every month as a local area council, the Grandview Woodland Area Council. Grandview even has its own community-based planning group, Our Community Our Plan, which meets every Tuesday at the Britannia Centre.


Bruce Macdonald    08 August 2014

East Van Fights Back – Read and Rant

Our Community Our Plan continues to push for increased and democratic citizen involvement in the Grandview Woodland planning process.

The media are listening but, the City Planning Department continues to ignore the real issues raised by OCOP.

In a recent article in the Vancouver Courier newspaper  the reporter referred to our Slice of Democracy contest and noted that while the Citizens Assembly continues on its way, OCOP continues to concerned about the process and is planning its own Town Hall meetings and other outreach projects.


Jak King was recently on Shaw TV and mentioned OCOP in his talk about community planning processes in Vancouver.  Jak has also written about  Bruce Macdonald as a one of Grandviews Living Treasures; we agree.


Finally, Garth Mullins prepared a popular podcast about what is going on in  Grandview Woodlands and gentrification and the planning process, and much more. Have a listen.


We will keep on speaking our truths to the powers that be. Perhaps, they will listen.

Slice of Democracy Contest

“History repeats, first as tragedy…..then as farce.”

We at OCOP are pleased to announce our  “Slice of Democracy” contest. With mere days to go before the Citizens Assembly closes its doors to those Citizens of Grandview Woodlands who want true, democratic participation in the planning process, we are having a contest for those who are most creative with their “lottery ballots”.

The Citizens Assembly mailed out over 20,000 English language only ballots to our neighbourhood. We hear that only about 400 people have sent in their ballots so far, so for the other 98%, what to do with you ballots? Why not use your creativity to re-use your ballots and post your pictures on Facebook at the OurCommunityOurPlan page or on Twitter, the hashtag is #OCOP and our Twitter name is @GWCommunityPlan

For the best entry, the winner will receive 48 slices of pizza (equal to 4 large pizzas). That’s right, at OCOP, every ballot counts, you can enter more than once and all entries will be considered. There are no limits to our process, unlike the “other guys”.

The Citizens of Grandview Woodland were already the subject of a community plan exercise that created much distrust (the tragedy of the Emerging Directions process), now there is the Citizens Assembly (possible farce?).


Ballot Compost Liners

Ballot Compost Liner


Ballot Slippers 2 Ballot Slippers


Ballot Slippers

Placemat Ballot

Ballot Place Mats


Have fun. We know that we plan to…..

Problems with the Citizens Assembly

Problems with the Citizens Assembly


To myself and others the Citizens Assembly seems to be a tactic by the city to put off the messy business of dealing with strong opposition to the city’s plans for the Grandview-Woodland area until after the civic election.


Selecting 48 locals to represent citizen input appears to be a way to eliminate local activists from the equation. It seems likely the new group of 48 will be subjected to an educational process designed by the city to achieve its original goals. The outcome, namely the non-binding recommendations that the Citizens’ Assembly makes, will carry no more weight than what the city determines they will in the end. This process seems to resemble a commission of inquiry or a royal commission, and like them, it may generate a lot of positive media attention and in the end the new ideas generated could just get ignored.


The people involved in My Community My Plan have lots to contribute to the educational process for the Citizens Assembly.


Jak King recently suggested this list of speakers:


Patrick Condon – A UBC professor, with over 25 years’ experience in sustainable urban design as a professional city planner and as a teacher and researcher


Richard Wozny – As a development consultant for Site Economics, he has worked on over 1,000 major real estate developments and argues against high-rise residential towers


Louis Villegaz – An urban design expert and a director of the Residents’ Association of Mount Pleasant


Wendy Sarkissian, PhD  – A planner, consultant, educator, author, and facilitator with 40 years experience in planning, design and environmental studies


Elizabeth Murphy – Worked in the City of Vancouver Housing and Properties Department, for BC Housing as a Senior Projects Development Officer and as a consultant to the Ministry of Transportation and to the BC Buildings Corporation.


Jak King has also suggested “the retail area of Commercial Drive be expanded into the lanes on either side of the main street. This would increase the business area thus making available a broader selection of shops and services, it would allow owners of many businesses on the Drive to increase the density of their properties without altering the current Commercial Drive streetscape, and would bring even more diversity and interest to the Drive… this might provide a creative solution to densification desired by the BIA without damage to an important heritage street.”


I will add that encouraging business owners to develop the sides of the buildings that face on to the side streets that join Commercial Drive to the lanes behind can also contribute to the same idea. Many restaurants facing Commercial Drive have done this, such as Marcello and Belgian Fries, but until recently the Little Nest Restaurant successfully did it on the corner of the back lane and the side street. Everyone loved it.


Another suggestion that might serve to keep commercial rents a bit lower is to encourage the retention of older buildings. New buildings are expensive and demand high rents, while older buildings often have landlords who have paid off their mortgages and are sometimes less demanding. One way to preserve the older buildings on Commercial Drive is to celebrate them as heritage buildings. Commercial Drive has the best collection of Edwardian Commercial buildings surrounded by wonderful Edwardian houses in the whole city.


This makes Commercial Drive Vancouver’s best Edwardian village, and the city should provide incentives and support for this designation and the retention and restoration of its commercial heritage buildings.


Bruce Macdonald

We Like Commercial Drive the Way It is

We Like Commercial Drive the Way It Is


One thing that makes Commercial Drive an interesting and desirable place is the unique make up of the area. Consider the people in the census tract that forms the heart of Commercial Drive, the area between 1st Avenue and Venables, between Clark Drive and Nanaimo Street. The 2006 census showed this area to be almost 70% rented dwellings, compared to 35% of the dwellings in Greater Vancouver. The people living there tend to be younger, with almost twice as many in their late 20s (13%, compared to 7% in Greater Vancouver), living in one person households (47%, compared to 28% in Greater Vancouver) and almost 5 times as many of them are employed in the visual and performing arts, communications and the humanities (10%, compared to 2% in Greater Vancouver). These young, artistic people, many of them single and renters, help to create the uniqueness and the appeal of Commercial Drive.


Last summer a special meeting of the Grandview Woodland Local Area Council on the planning process in Grandview was attended by hundreds of people. The speaker that got the largest response from the audience was Garth Mullins. Garth passionately spoke about the destruction of the Grandview he loves through increasing land values, higher rents and the city’s plan to introduce significant new density:

“For me I can see allowing no further density without there being social justice involved in that density. The city is undergoing a process of social cleansing right now. My generation, my cohort, is being moved out of this community now… People I know, people I loved for a long time are moving to other places, they can’t afford it… Right now you have gentrification going on… Someone like me I might have dreamed of getting married at Astorino’s and taking my kids…  to the Little Nest…  and maybe they can’t ever live here. Well, I don’t want that… We already have that social mix of poor and middle class…  of everybody the city aspires to elsewhere. We already have a sustainable community with a good balance of cultures and heritage… This is the model—don’t come here to fix it, export it to other places!


 [heavy applause]


Before I was born the city fathers said let’s not have giant flyways and freeways going through the city. They fought that. Every other big city in North America has them and hates them. In a few years people are going to realize packing themselves into giant glass and chrome towers in the sky is the same thing, and they’re going to hate them too. So don’t fall for the trend… We’ve seen the model, it does not work… the social housing never materializes,  so before any more density, let’s see social justice.”


One important observation that Jane Jacobs made was that communities that retain some of their older buildings assist in providing relatively inexpensive rents. New buildings and those using concrete construction are expensive to build and any new rentals are going to be expensive. This radically changes the neighbourhood, especially if less expensive older buildings with individual debt-free landlords are torn down and replaced by new buildings with large mortgages and professional landlords.


The plan currently proposed by the city, besides introducing more towers to the area, leaves untouched the area east of Commercial Drive that is zoned for duplexes. The new duplex units are going for about $700,000 for 1,200 square feet each, that’s $1.4 million for a 2, 400 square foot building on a normal lot.  But if an older house with 3 or 4 rental units is torn down to do this, the impact on the environment and the neighbourhood is significant. While the rents may double, the number of people housed on the site can be halved.


In the 1950s the city allowed owners in Grandview to convert their houses into 3, 4, 5, or even 6 legal suites called Multiple Conversions. Many of the older homes had basements and attics as well as two floors in between. Some houses were allowed to add 15 feet to the back of the house, enough room to expand the suites on each floor or add bachelor suites.  These Multiple Conversion houses provided a range of rental suites at a range of prices, from large 3-bedroom garden suites at the ground level, to 1 or 2 bedroom main floor and upstairs suites, to bachelor suites in the attic with a view. Allowing these homes a special heritage designation, with a heritage home building code would ensure relatively lower costs to create these new very ecologically green suites.


After two or three decades owners often have their mortgages paid off and are be less concerned about rent increases and high rents. In some cases tenants have been known to care for an aging owner in return for reduced rent, or for negotiating eventual ownership of the house.


These types of creative solutions to our local housing problems should be investigated and facilitated by the city. They can make an important contribution to retaining what makes Grandview such a desirable area, and to avoiding some of the things that might radically alter the neighbourhood we love to live in.



Bruce Macdonald


City of Vancouver Planning “Non” response to OCOP

When is an answer not an answer? Perhaps when it does not answer the very question posed.

OCOP wrote to the City of Vancouver, Planning department with four key questions:

1.0 How does the proposed recruitment process (for the Citizens Assembly) ensure a democratic participation?

2.0 What is necessary to ensure the CA’s final recommendations are incorporated, in their entirety, into the final Grandview-Woodland Neighbourhood Plan?

3.0 What population growth targets were used to determine the density?

4.0 What planning principles determined the location and form of development?

The answer OCOP received is attached. You decide. Were the questions answered?

Response Letter – Grandview Woodland Community Plan – 15-07-2014