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.


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