Gordon Price

Some cold-water considerations

The plan seems to be about the desire to provide certainty in uncertain times. The dilemma, of course, that there may be events or forces of such seismic nature that the assumptions on which the plan is based may mean it will be less able to respond to the conditions that led to its creation; i.e., less able to respond to change. No plan can incorporate apocalyptic catastrophe, whether economic or environmental, of course – but the reality is that the former has already happened and the second is a distinct possibility.

The process seems to imply equity — that is, the costs and benefits of growth will be widely distributed across the city. In truth, they probably won’t. Perhaps that should be clarified at the political level. Will all neighbourhoods be expected and required to accept growth – and if so, how much at minimum? Would neighbourhoods be able to reject city-wide priorities or obligations, or have a veto over development? Yes or no?

Don’t over-promise. Better, perhaps, to accept a more modest scenario of limited growth that won’t upset those for whom all imaginable circumstances must be mitigated, but which has a chance of being scaled up as circumstances require. (Hence the relevance of different typologies.) But no specific growth parameters at all would be even more suspicious.

If the target number of new units per year is, say, 4,000, some visual expression of that over time should be a rendered. (We have on average been accommodating 2,800 units annually for the last 35 years – and that barely keeps us up with demand, much less affects affordability.)

If “what matters” is more affordable housing, then the implications should be very clearly stated — one of which is that the character of some communities will be changing.

Recognize the affordability paradox: no policy would be acceptable that deliberately aims to lower the cost of the housing below that level which already exists. In other words, someone recently acquiring a mortgage would not be pleased to discover that the value of their home has dropped below what they paid for it thanks to a city-wide plan. The consequence of that is all new housing, except for assisted or non-market, will be seen to be expensive.

Some understanding of changing intergenerational values and expectations may also be helpful. And the responsibilities, if any, of those who have benefited from their timing to those who aren’t already here.

Finally, where are the infrastructure maps? Water and sewer lines, their age and their capacity strike me as essential as maps of parks and greenways.


Gordon PriceGordon Price is the Director of the City Program at Simon Fraser University. In 2002, he finished his sixth term as a Vancouver City Councillor.  He also served on the Board of the Greater Vancouver Regional District (Metro) and was appointed to the first board of the Greater Vancouver Transportation Authority (TransLink) in 1999.

Gordon is a frequent speaker on transportation, land use and urban issues at conferences in many countries, and the recipient of several awards for his writings and contributions to city planning. He has published numerous essays and articles on civic issues and urban themes in professional and news journals and online, and locally conducts tours and seminars on the development of Vancouver.

He sits on the boards of the Sightline Institute and the International Centre for Sustainable Cities, and in 2009 was appointed by the Mayor to the Greenest City Action Team.