Posts Tagged ‘City Hall’

Downtown Eastside Local Area Plan or DTES LAP

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014


The Downtown Eastside Local Area Plan or DTES LAP is a comprehensive plan for a significant area of downtown/East Vancouver. It goes before City Council this week, where Council seems likely to pass it despite significant opposition.

You can get a copy of the LAP—which released only two weeks before going to Council, despite consisting of 450+ pages—from Publication Studio in Chinatown, who have kindly printed it for public accessibility on a pay-what-you-can basis.

The plan is, in my opinion, a fairly massive giveaway to condo developers by the developer-friendly civic party Vision Vancouver. It conforms to a way of running and envisioning cities that is increasingly being termed neoliberal urbanism. See also this article on this approach.

I am by no means an expert on this very complicated plan and all the issues involved. But based on what I have learned from months of discussions down here in the DTES as well as living down here for 12 years, I find the following takes on the issue compelling (and will be adding more soon).

Advocate/PhD student Melissa Fong’s speech to Council is excellent.

Carnegie Community Action Project letter to Council

Statement by Strathcona Residents Association

Why developers don’t like the DTES LAP by Media Coop (in effect, developers dislike the only parts of the plan I endorse)

Where do working class ethnic enclaves fit into our future cities, in Megaphone Magazine

And the official links:

Staff Report and Plan

Social Impact Assessment

Corporate Communications presentation for media

Lastly here is an interesting comment on the DEOD section of the LAP (please comment if you disagree, or have anything to add):

“Lastly, there has been a good deal of concern over proposed “no-condo zone” in the 10 blocks of the DEOD. In many respects we feel this is a bit of a red herring. The pretense includes 40% market rental and 20% “affordable” housing – with the remaining 40% split between shelter rate and CMHC’s Housing Income allowance (30% income) rate. To put a dollar value on that, a one bedroom at the CMHC rate would be about $950, a one-bedroom at the “affordable” rate would be about $1350. The scheme proposed significant height and density increases and relies on uncommitted federal / provincial money and developer levies. We feel that the “upzoning” being proposed will cause significant land lift and resultant speculation that will negatively impact retail and industrial diversity as well as social sustainability and liveability, and ironically the very “affordable housing” it is proposing to protect. For perspective on the market economics driving purpose built rental, we suggest the Western Investor’s recent “Why New Rentals are Being Built” article provides some context behind the market economics behind schemes like this and Rental 100 in the West End.”

We also need to talk about the City’s rather arbitrary population growth projections which seem to be the justification for allowing developers the density bonuses they seek. Not that density is bad, but how is the idea of density being mobilized and for whose benefit?

Imminent demolition of 122 year old building in Vancouver’s old Japantown

Tuesday, December 3rd, 2013

Demolition of 120 year old Ming Sung Benevolent Society building/SRO/art space

The frantic festival of demolition continues in Vancouver, a city whose demolition rate is double that of Toronto’s. And Toronto is no paragon of heritage either.

The City of Vancouver is attempting to force demolition of the 122 year-old building which belongs to the Ming Sun Benevolent Society. The building, on a significant block of Vancouver’s vanishing old Japantown, functioned as a clean well-run SRO with eight units and a community reading and meeting room, all above an extensive cultural space rented out to an art collective called Instant Coffee. The art collective produced the poster above.

The building was said to be structurally damaged (it wasn’t) when the building next door, for unknown reasons (vandalism? sabotage? maintenance issues?) cracked and then was hastily ordered demolished by the City. By most accounts the City bears  responsibility for this situation. Following the demolition next door, the City then condemned the Ming Sun building and barred tenants from entering. These elderly tenants, mostly Chinese Canadian and First Nations, were evicted without warning. They were given no time to collect their belongings. The City took no responsibility for finding replacement housing for them, and some went on to sleep rough. It now appears that the building will be demolished by this Friday. The owner, a Chinese family association, is unable to pay for the demolition and rebuilding and will therefore be forced to sell the lot to the City.

Members and former residents of the Benevolent Society are beyond distraught.

In all of this there is rumoured involvement of a neighbouring landowner, said to have ties to the City, who has had his eye on these lots, but this is not yet confirmed. In any case there have been reports of what appears to be suspicious vandalism of the Ming Sung building since the City closed it off.

Access to the building is currently barred. The Instant Coffee art collective is unfortunately away in Korea working on a project. Its friends in Vancouver would like to help but are unable to enter and clear out all its goods. The City has been arbitrary and unresponsive throughout with all parties. Its uncommunicativeness serves to give the appearance of wanting to bury the story and complete the demolitions as fast as possible before an outcry can be raised. If the belongings of the tenants are destroyed in a demolition – and since tenants can’t get in to retrieve their possessions this seems inevitable – will the City compensate them? And in a city that is the 2nd most unaffordable in the world relative to median income, where will these tenants go?

The City has said, and will no doubt continue to say, that the public doesn’t have all the facts (and given the lack of transparency of the current administration, there’s often some truth to that), that the offending building is a “fire trap” (ie. the municipal version of the “national security” excuse), and in short that the City knows best.

But does it?

This is one of the the twenty oldest buildings in the City and a good example of that era’s boomtown architecture. It offers affordable housing to seniors in the Downtown Eastside. It is an important component of cultural life for the Chinese community.  It played a major role in the history of Japantown and the Japanese Canadian community in Vancouver. And it provides valuable affordable art space in a city where that commodity is fast diminishing. Affordable housing, a hedge against homelessness, a sturdy old resilient building made of old growth lumber that would be non-ecological to replace, a piece of architectural heritage for many communities and for the whole city, and affordable studio space for the arts. This building matched every stated objective of the current regime at City Hall. And they’re now mandating its demolition, for no reason. They must make this right.

How is any of this in line with the City’s stated commitment to affordable housing, to protecting the arts from unaffordability, and to heritage values? The city’s new heritage plan was announced only this week. Other cities maintain buildings in far worse shape than this one.

How is any of this demolition part of a Greenest City initiative?

Those of us who live and work down here are closely watching the City of Vancouver, the ruling Vision Vancouver party run by Mike Magee, and City Manager Penny Ballem. This level of hermetic and arbitrary behaviour is undemocratic and just one more example of the poor urban management we’ve been enduring here.

Powell Street demolition

The first demolition on the Powell Street block in question. This photo taken in August.

Ecce Vancouver

Thursday, November 15th, 2012

Condo ad, Vancouver

Vancouver, is that your motto?

Out with the old, in with the new?

Condo ad, Vancouver

Meanwhile, this questionable object will replace The Ridge Theatre, one of Vancouver’s few historic repertory cinemas:

Condos replacing The Ridge Theatre

Apparently this passed a City of Vancouver design panel. Is there no end to the mediocrity of architecture in this city? Thousands of years of human activity culminate in this weak, destined-to-be-shortlived mess?

Why is any developer allowed to build housing developments a whole gargantuan block at a time, period, let alone a full block of this sort of architectural poverty? This town needs more small to medium developments, by widely respected architects, one or two lots at a time, not these overgrown disasters. Where is the porosity from the street, or texture, or true variety? On this note, see also the proposed Rize at historic Main/Broadway/Kingsway.

Apologies for the ongoing pathos; it’s just that others in this town are covering board-of-trade-style Vancouver boosterism so well, and so slavishly, it seems more worthwhile to concentrate on the city’s fast-accumulating wreckage instead.

Vancouver Ltd. by Don Gutstein

Monday, May 7th, 2012

What follows is the Preface of Don Gutstein’s 1975 book Vancouver Ltd., a thorough—and, as it turns out, prescient—analysis of the way in which Vancouver fell into the hands of real estate developers and realtors. I know Don from my postgraduate days at Simon Fraser University. He’s one of very few who has really taken a magnifiying glass to the way money moves in this city, and I think it’s time the book is reissued. Actually, everyone believes it’s out of print, and though it isn’t, it might as well be since no one seems aware that the publisher Lorimer still has a handful of hardcover copies. C$45 each. Very hard to find online but to get one, call or write Formac Lorimer Books. Email is orderdesk at formac dot ca, phone 1-800-565-1975. Mailing address 5502 Atlantic Street, Halifax, NS, B3H 1G4.

Some of the names have changed, but the city Gutstein describes in 1975 is still the city we’re in now—a town whose City Hall is controlled by the real estate industry, and whose every other sector is crippled by the resulting housing unaffordability. The issue of highrises is just at its beginning in ’75; we are now simply at a later stage in the process.

Fascinating, beautifully written (as you can see from its preface below) and understandable to the layperson, this is required reading for any Vancouverite. Or beyond. It’s a primer in the way in which developers rig the system.

“Far too quickly Vancouver has reached a watershed in its short 90-year history. The choice is clear: to continue on the mindless drive toward a high-density prestige ‘executive’ city — a Manhattan with mountains; or to redirect itself toward providing adequate housing and a decent environment for all classes of people. The first route is being promoted by those who currently control Vancouver’s development. The second route will require drastic changes in the priorities of the decision-makers.

I was more hopeful when I started work on this book four years ago than I am now. Somewhere during those years we seem to have passed a point of no return and embarked on that disastrous journey toward developer city. Yet I may be wrong. The course of Vancouver’s future could be redirected, given the collective will to do so. This book is my contribution to such an enterprise. I hope to show who does control our city, what is the structure of that control, and why decisions are being made that lead to the steady deterioration of the urban environment. I also present some ideas for discussion about what we need to do to get us going in that other direction.

This book is not about the grand abstractions of planners and geographers. I do not talk about pressures for redevelopment, market forces, location theories. In our society development is not caused by pressures. It is caused by individuals and corporations searching for profitable ventures. Neither is this book a biographical account of the lives and loves of those nasty developers. Individuals do appear throughout the book, but by virtue of the roles they occupythe mayor of the city, or the president of the corporation. To understand these roles we need to look at both the formal prerogatives of the rolethe mayor has the legal power to appoint aldermen to committeesbut just as important is the informal culture surrounding the role—most recent Vancouver mayors have been millionaires or developers or both.”

Don Gutstein, Vancouver Ltd., 1975

From the flyleaf. Drawings throughout the book are by noted Vancouver artist Eric Metcalfe with Barbara Shapiro. Nice dollar sign sunglasses.

Application to the City of Vancouver to develop an abysmal chasm for purposes of facilitating public reverie

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

"Abysmal chasm" by Aaron Carpenter

“Application to the City of Vancouver to develop an abysmal chasm for purposes of facilitating public reverie, contemplation and longing.” Makes me laugh every time I look at it. By my friend & Vancouver artist Aaron Carpenter.