Archive for the ‘Planning’ Category

Pimp my house

Photo by entheos_fog

Photo by entheos_fog

Vancouverites, you’ll have to help me out with this – this isn’t a phenomenon I saw much of growing up across Canada. Like, maybe once. Now it’s everywhere. People jacking up houses, entirely renovating the old structure into something new, and usually something with a basement suite to rent out.

I think the first one I saw was around 5 years ago on Elgin street and it kind of blew my mind. They weren’t just adding a new basement foundation, they were creating a whole new ground floor – and that’s a considerable amount of lifting, compared to propping up a house, maybe jacking it a couple of extra feet to allow bigger basement windows. It wasn’t until I saw the final result that I saw the point was to create one suite upstairs, and another suite downstairs that is almost as attractive as the upstairs as it is more a walk-in suite than a basement suite.

Now I’m seeing this everywhere. Is it zoning, as in it’s harder to get a new design approved for areas, but a literal gutting of a house, while retaining the original shape is ok? Or is it a cost thing? Is it cheaper to retain the frame of a house, than to tear it all down and start from scratch? Or a combo of the two?

I will have to look into this more, but I have to share this picture of what it my favourite reno job to date, happening on my street;

Photo by castewar

Photo by castewar

The house is almost done now, but imagine with me; take the right side of the building, as you see it. That’s the original house – the left is a mirror image of the right that didn’t originally exist. Instead it was some asymmetrical, narrower portion of the house. This whole house was jacked up, the ugly left cut off, a new basement poured, and then the right was mirrored, leaving a duplex with a basement suite. It is ingenious.

Anybody else seen any good renos in Vancouver lately?

Hey, if you’re digging one big hole, why not two?

Remember last year, when the power substation blew up, leaving a large chunk of the downtown core without power for days and a few parts for nearly a week? Then refresh your memory. With that in mind, you’ll be happy to note that the addition of a third transformer (presumably to help avoid future problems), which wasn’t due to be completed until June of this year, is done.

And now, the BC Transmission Corporation is looking to upgrade the central Vancouver area in general. Does this affect you? Let me answer your question with a question; are you on the following map?

The blue lines represent the proposed route of new underground tranmission lines, leading to a new substation at Alberta and 6th. That’s not a bad area for a substation, being mostly offices and light industrial, but one look at the map shows a lot more dug up roads in the future.

If you’d like to read up on the proposed project, but didn’t get a notice in the mail (and most everyone should have) you can check the corporation’s project website. And if you’d like to be more direct in your learning, there are two open houses this month, related to the project proposal;

Wednesday, Feb. 18th
4-8PM (drop-in anytime)
Holiday Inn – Vancouver Centre
Arbutus Ballroom
711 West Broadway

Wednesday, Feb. 25th
4-8PM (drop-in anytime)
Central Vancouver Public Library
Alice MacKay Room, Lower Level
Library Square
350 West Georgia Street
(don’t forgot to wear pink – it’s Pink Shirt Day)

Port Expansion Roberts Bank BC 2008 04 12

It may be a really stupid idea, given that the US economy has gone into a tailspin, US freight and container imports in particular having been in decline for the last two years. It has also miserably failed any objective environmental assessment. And the port is actually under utilised at present. But the construction of new container berths at Deltaport continues.


A story in this morning’s Vancouver Sun emphasizes why this development has to be stopped.

An international team has discovered why half the world’s western sandpipers touch down on a specific tidal flat just south of Vancouver every spring. The secret is in the mud, more specifically in the snot-like “biofilm” coating the mud.

The tiny shorebirds, weighing about 30 grams each, suck a remarkable 20 tonnes of the sticky slime off the mud every day as huge flocks swoop down to refuel during the spring migration, the scientists estimate.

This is not a trivial issue. The port expansion has always been dubious from an environmental standpoint. Now it stands condemned. The response from the federal government (ports are a federal not a provincial responsibility) should be firm and swift.

Piccadilly Pub and Hotel

The Sun has extensive coverage this morning of the Piccadilly Pub and Hotel on Pender Street. This is one of a number of Single Room Occupancy (SRO) hotels which seemed likely to be lost for their current purpose as the greater rewards of the Olympics loom.

The owner blames a company he leased the hotel to, and the occupants.

Buying the hotel wasn’t done to “satisfy his penchant for charitable work or for helping the most unfortunate,” but as a business decision

And therein lies the cause. Our various levels of government have almost given up on social housing, and those wth a combination of mental health and addiction problems. In fact the mental illnesses are as much cause and effect of “self medication” for people who should probably be in resident care. But the resources for the mentally ill were lost when the psychiatric institutions were closed and not replaced with adequate care in the community.

The City through its bylaws tries to ensure safe and affordable housing – but clearly this policy has failed dismally as the province has been buying up SROs in an attempt to provide basic accommodation. But as the recent count of the homeless showed, there is not nearly enough. And just providing a room at a rate barely covered by social assistance is hardly an adequate response to the problems that are region wide but tend to be concentrated in downtown.

Canada Line Construction Cambie St

Canada Line Construction Cambie St, originally uploaded by Stephen Rees.

I have been avoiding Cambie Street for a while now. But since I was at the CBC this morning, and I was in no rush, I thought I would see how they are getting on. The short answer is, they are not finished yet. Not by a long chalk. But the traffic is back – I think because people like Jane Bird have been talking up how much progress they are making.

If, like me, you just want to have a gander, you probably won’t mind too much. I had plenty of time to get my camera out, wind down the window, and try for a shot of the first Save on Foods in the City. And no one was held up while I did it as we weren’t moving anyway. The single file traffic starts on Cambie Bridge and goes all the way up to 16th with no left turns. And the road surface also acts as a traffic calming device – better than pavé and speed humps.

This development looks like a welcome change from the single floor retail that has been the norm on major streets in this city for far too long. Not only Save On, but Home Depot and Winners too – with a lot of small stores on the road frontage to let – and residential on the top. So chalk up another victory for dense mixed use. Though I have my doubts about how many car trips will be drawn to this corner once it opens up. The store is open. The street not so much.

It has been a strange week in Vancouver


and I don’t just mean the weather. Quite unexpectedly, after an overcrowded protest meeting in Pitt Meadows, BC Environment Minister Barry Penner announced that there would be no transmission lines in Pinecone Burke Provincial Park. This put paid to a series of proposed run of the river hydro projects on the Upper Pitt river, and was widely applauded, except, of course, by its proponent. But if you thought that might indicate a change of direction in Victoria, you would be wrong. Equally controversial, and almost as unpopular was the province’s decision to use park land to settle an aboriginal land claim. Though this was a regional park and not a provincial park, the Metro Vancouver directors were not pleased to learn that they could do nothing. And not because the use of park land seemed to violate an earlier promise by the premier (we have all given up expecting him to keep his word) but the absence of any compensation.

We also learned this week that the Ministry of Transportation has responded to all those comments on the Environmental Assessment of the Port Mann twinning Highway #1 expansion. They did that in December, but kept quiet about it. No doubt because they had actually not responded at all, simply repeated stuff from the original submission. But the whole premise of the Gateway now seems to be in doubt as the US economy has tipped into recession, and railways, truckers and ports are all reporting a decline trade. Not in BC of course. In the US – whose trade we were supposed to be taking a bigger share of in the future. I don’t think so, Kevin

Richmond Council votes for ALR exclusion for Garden City Lands

No surprise here really. As the accompanying opinion pieces made clear, the general feeling was that they had no choice. But perhaps is more interesting, simply because it is so unusual is that Linda Reid, the local MLA is taking an independent view. She has always opposed lands being removed from the ALR and this site, which is in her constituency, is no different. She even points out that for many of the things the City wants to do like parks and community gardens, exclusion is not even necessary, although the ALC would still need to consent. The problem is that the deal does not allow for the lands to be split – so it is all or nothing as far as exclusion goes. The other two MLAs for Richmond are busy distancing themselves from Reid, but I admire her for stickling to her guns and representing the wishes of the people who live here.

Food security is going to be a big issue here, as oil prices rise and water shortages start to threaten the areas in the US where we currently get most of our vegetables from. And many people who have no real choice but to live in high density apartments and town houses would love to have a small plot they could work. Their health would really benefit from fresh air, exercise and fresh vegetables. In fact if people became more physically active we might even begin to tackle the frighteningly rapid rate of growth in our “healthcare” budget which is about treating diseases which are easily preventable.

Places without cars

Zhongyang Pedestrian Street - Harbin

Turning Robson Street into a Pedestrian Mall was listed as No 5 of the things we could do. I think No 1 would be where I would put it.

Streets and squares have been pedestrianised all over the world. The image I chose for this piece happens to be Harbin in China. But there are many others I could have chosen – Monmouth (Wales), Lima (Peru), Las Ramblas in Barcelona Spain, Moscow, Nizhny Novgorod – I could go on for pages like this but you get the idea.

But for some reason Vancouver doesn’t. We seem to be highly reluctant to close streets to traffic. Vancouver only had part of Granville St as a bus only mall, and I am pleased that when Canada Line construction finishes, it will be again. Wider sidewalks, and a straighter alignment for the buses, but also places for permitted vehicles to park out of the way. So it may work a bit better.

But I still do not see it as the equal of any of the huge variety of pedestrian streets around the world. I have started a flickr group just to collect images of such places. This was partly inspired by Jan Gehl’s recent lecture in Richmond. He is the Copenhagen based architect who early on in his career decided that it was the spaces between the buildings that made the difference between wanting to be there or to get through it as quickly as possible. I cannot imagine a better plan than one that reduced the amount of space in Richmond devoted to cars.

Many places use pedestrian streets to help established retailers compete against modern shopping malls. Perhaps one of the reasons we don’t have pedestrian streets is that developers and retailers here have been more successful in protecting their shopping centres. There is no doubt in my mind that for a long time Pacific Centre was winning their battle with Granville Street. But a good pedestrian street is about much more than shopping. It is about having a good reason to stop and look around. To enjoy the place and the people there. The place becomes a destination, not just a thoroughfare. And somewhere to sit and people watch turns out to be the common denominator of all the really good places without cars.

As as others have noted there are other places we have where removing cars would be a huge improvement: Granville Island for starters. CMHC may even put in an extension to the heritage streetcar to serve it.

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