Community growth and change
Change. There is likely no word that brings more apprehension than the word “change.”
It can be change in your community, in your neighbourhood, at your workplace. For most people, there is a reluctance to accept change. Status quo is easier, safer, and more familiar. However, when it comes to urban planning, there is no greater impediment to positive growth, renewal, or revitalization than “no change.”
Our City of Vancouver is at a watershed moment in its life cycle with challenges of affordable housing, a limited land base, a growing young population that must seek housing outside the city boundaries, while trying to maintain a robust civic economy. The City also has opportunities in its world-class natural assets, a new investment in public transit, and a greener, healthier vision moving forward. For these reasons, our firm Brook Pooni Associates supports the City of Vancouver’s ambitious plans to embark on a comprehensive city-wide land use plan.
Our city and region have both experienced unprecedented community growth and change over the last decade. In Vancouver, with a past focus on the development of the downtown core, there will need to be greater emphasis placed upon neighbourhood planning – to ensure that the communities outside the downtown continue to grow, renew – and change.
Just as the City has taken the lead on key municipal-wide issues like housing, climate change, and sustainability they need to take a proactive leadership role when it comes to land development across Vancouver. Pre-zoned, readily developable sites are now almost non-existent and consequently home builders are moving into new neighbourhoods. The development community has become an agent of change, or pioneers, in these neighbourhoods where change and development is relatively new.
The rate of change has also led at times to an adversarial relationship between neighbourhoods and the home building industry. The public must also see that development industry is indeed a partner in community building. A city-wide plan that openly discusses these challenges, conflicts, and manageable solutions is needed if Vancouver is to remain a healthy, accessible, sustainable city.
The most prevalent civic issue we are facing is housing affordability. Demand for homes in Vancouver with a growing population will continue to place pressure on house prices and negatively impact affordability unless we find a way to increase the supply. Vancouver needs more homes for more people, and this will undoubtedly bring more change to our neighbourhoods. Providing more homes for everyone should be an integral part of a new city plan.
The City has the opportunity to be an effective leader, provide clarity and certainty to its citizens and the home building community. Before embarking on this new civic plan, Brook Pooni Associates is recommending that the City consider the following:
- Continuity. The City has already taken a positive, pro-active role by implementing visionary plans in the Greenest City Action Plan, Housing and Homelessness Strategy, and the Cambie Corridor Plan. These three, bold initiatives should be continued and embodied in the new city plan.
- Equity. A new city plan will have the ability to unite our diverse neighbourhoods, but also show how each one of these neighbourhoods has to equally accept some renewal. The texture of Vancouver varies from neighbourhood to neighbourhood, yet each one of the city’s key areas will need to take on new housing, economic development, and infrastructure.
- Engagement. Everyone – the City, communities, and the home building industry – needs to do a better of job of communicating with one another. Even before a development application is submitted to City Hall, there needs to be a better effort to share knowledge, educate each other, and use better engagement tools where a broad audience’s opinion is solicited when it comes to community building and city building.
- Clarity. As Vancouver continues to grow the City should continue to be a leader and provide clear direction. The City has previously stated that all communities within the City need to take on their share of change. How big, how tall, and how will the impacts be mitigated? Providing clear direction in these key areas (particularly with height and density), will not only provide direction to the home building community, but also provide certainty and assurance to the community about the future vision for their neighbourhood.
- Transit. There is an incredible opportunity for our city to take advantage of transit. The common denominator when it comes to housing affordability and a greener city is our public transit system. Perhaps the greatest opportunity for new growth is adjacent to our transit connections. These areas should be a primary focus and opportunity fully explored in the city plan. Land uses adjacent to transit need to be maximized, not optimized.
- Cost. The City should have an open dialogue with the public and development community about financing sustainable growth. Through the provision of more information on the process and where/how the contributions from development will land in the community will provide a clear link for community members to see how specific developments can and do contribute to their community. Similar, providing the financiers of this growth (the home builders) with a more certain cost structure would assist the industry in providing more cost-effective housing.
We are looking forward to participating in a new city plan, and helping to shape the future of Vancouver.
In his role as president of Brook Pooni Associates, a Vancouver-based development planning consulting firm, Gary Pooni provides counsel on projects throughout BC. His expertise includes a broad knowledge of planning principles, policy planning, and public consultation, and during the past 15 years has coordinated approvals for more than 300 private and public development projects.
Gary has an MA in Environmental Design, and is a member of the Planning Institute of British Columbia and the Canadian Institute of Planners. He is also a member of the Urban Development Institute (UDI) where he served as chair of the UDI Under-40 Committee, the UDI Industrial Committee and the UDI New Westminster Committee.
Gary remains active in Third World planning initiatives as Vice-President of the BC-based Indo-Canadian Friendship Society (ICFS), an NGO providing people in Punjab, India, with clean water and more sustainable infrastructure. He was awarded a Business in Vancouver “Top 40 under 40” award in 2009.