Archive for February 2011
Re: Jeff Lee. “Vancouver named world’s most livable city.” Vancouver Sun (22 Feb 2011) A4
Chalk up another big boast for a standing once again affirmed by the Economist Intelligence Unit. (The fifth year in a row — enjoy this while it lasts.)
The president of Tourism Vancouver rambles on about how “the city has all the right attributes. But being able to sustain something like that is a constant watch.” You bet. But nowhere does sustainability fit into this popularity contest.
The kicker, the key paragraph, lurks far down in the story:
Jon Copestake, the report’s editor, said mid-sized cities in developed countries that have low population densities generally scored well because they had cultural and infrastructure benefits but also had fewer issues with crime and congestion. [Emphases added.]
An already-dense Norquay stands on the verge of having yet more population dumped into its local amenity desert. In the process, our greatest amenities, which no one ever had to pay for, will be confiscated — sunshine and sky, greenery, relative quiet, open streets, social diversity.
City staff and officials salivate at the prospect of calculating how density bonusing can increase CAC levies. These pittances extracted from developers cannot even maintain the standard of living that the Norquay community already enjoys.
Meanwhile, the real agenda plays out: sell, sell, sell. Promote Vancouver as the most livable city … until it is no longer. Along the way, strip mine and clear cut present livability for fast and easy money, capital whose only homing instinct is percentage of profit.
Thus does the deliberate acceleration of development in Norquay herald the future of a down-ranked Vancouver! Anything goes, as long as property values manage to trend upward.
• To lob four-storey apartments into single-family neighborhoods
• To canyonize Kingsway with ten-storey condos
Although that pseudo-consultation part of the exercise is meaningless, there are at least two things that Open House visitors might achieve. One is to insist that an attempt to beautify the median of Kingsway should not waste valuable pavement that could provide a bicycle lane.
The other is the subject of all the prose that follows. The Norquay Working Group (NWG) identified a full-scale Community Arts Centre as the primary desired amenity. The geographic heart of East Vancouver provides an ideal location. The city already owns the land, presenting a rare opportunity. To create a neighbourhood centre literally out of nothing, a price tag of $30 to $40 million seems quite reasonable. Especially when 10,000 people already live in Norquay, and city planners are out to add even more density.
Setting the Stage
Jesus offers good advice on not looking stupid: For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? (Luke 14:28)
On 4 November 2010, Vancouver City Council ran cart before the horse to approve the Norquay Village Neighbourhood Centre Plan (guaranteed to raise property taxes for all residents). Recommendation C directs:
THAT Council instruct the Director of Planning, the General Manager of Community Services Group, and the Director of Finance, and [sic] to bring forward for Council’s approval, a Public Amenities and Infrastructure Financing Strategy to identify and recommend strategies for funding amenities and infrastructure upgrades in the Norquay Village Neighbourhood Centre area.
Translation of that incoherent planner phrase: Let’s do up a plan right now and then look around for some financing.
The Norquay Amenity Situation
During five years of jousting with city planners, the Norquay Working Group continued to insist that the area must not be forced to accommodate additional population without simultaneous defined improvement to amenity and infrastructure. Demonstrated existing deficiency requires additional catch-up. City data derived from the 2006 census shows that Renfrew-Collingwood 1996-2006 experienced a rate of both population and dwelling unit growth second only to Downtown Vancouver. That growth came on top of a density already greater than that of many other Vancouver neighbourhoods.
While Norquay and its surrounding neighborhood has accommodated this density increase, there was little addition to amenity, and area retail seriously declined (loss of grocery store, post office, bank, hardware store, etc.). At the Norquay Community Workshop #5 on Assessing Options (14 May 2009), four senior Vancouver staff demonstrated that Norquay itself is a public amenity desert — no community centre, no neighbourhood house, no swimming pool, no ice rink, and no library. One measure where Norquay manages an average grade is park space. (To the credit of the Norquay plan, “key priorities” (p. 15) include increasing the street presence and park accessibility of Brock and Slocan Parks, and greater emphasis on the long-promised greenway from Renfrew Ravine to Kingsway.)
How the Norquay Plan Calls for Funding
Under this heading fall two concerns:
• Mixing up infrastructure with amenity and benefit
• Tentative, hesitant, conditional funding language for a definite mass rezoning plan
Only with sharply separated discussion of and accounting for the two can Norquay assure itself of honest payback to the community.
At three key points the Norquay plan touches on funding. Under the heading Infrastructure Capacity (p. 17), strategy is invoked to finance upgrading of capacities for water, solid waste, and storm and sanitary sewer. Norquay residents would contend that this financing should in no way burden Norquay itself, or reduce or compete with funding for the amenities and benefits that enhance liveability. If the City chooses to impose additional density, it should outright fund that density support from general revenues and capital with no claims that Norquay has gained anything special.
At the second point, under the heading Public Amenities and Infrastructure Financing Strategy (p. 23), the Norquay plan makes general reference to the financing provided by Development Cost Levy (DCL), Community Amenity Contribution (CAC), and Capital Plans. The generality of this statement amounts to empty tautology.
At the third point, under the heading Financial Implications (p. 23-24), the Norquay plan says that “public realm improvements” [translation: minimal one-time spending on streetside superficialities — lampposts, garbage cans, street furniture, tree planting, median establishment — to make it look like the new plan made something happen, with no upkeep afterward] and Clarendon Connector (existing long-term project rolled into the plan) depend on funding being sought through cost-sharing from TransLink and ICBC and through the 2012-2014 Capital Plan. Beyond that, an estimated $4.1 million of Infrastructure is also left to strategy. This does not include unspecified requirements for sewer upgrades which may be covered by existing Sewer Separation program.
What Norquay Needs and Deserves
What follows is single focus on a major neighbourhood-centre-defining amenity. (Silence here about other needs of Norquay should in no way be construed to recommend their neglect.)
For the 2400 Motel site, the Norquay plan specifies (Appendix A, p. 28) outdoor community gathering space of 20,000 square feet and indoor community gathering space of 15,000 square feet. (Planners told the NWG that this would be space only, without finish or furnishing). These capacities were determined by planning staff alone on the undemonstrated basis of narrow economic considerations. Nowhere thus far has Norquay planning incorporated the social assessment that a comprehensive long-range approach demands.
The Norquay amenity situation, described above, makes clear that scrabble-financing tokenism at the neighbourhood centre is not likely to produce a happy or sustainable result. Two well-qualified members of NWG spoke to City Council on this specific point before the Norquay plan was approved. Keith Jacobson, president of the Killarney Community Centre Society, characterized 15,000 square feet as “woefully inadequate” — Norquay needs a full-size community centre. Area resident Scott Kennedy, architect for the large 2239 Kingsway development, emphasized the importance of the 2400 Motel site and called for area-based charges to recognize and support that significance.
Expert city staff input to Norquay Workshop #5 left participants with no doubt that DCL and CAC funding are inadequate to support the ambitions of the Norquay plan. If Norquay is not to become the second and last neighbourhood centre — a failed winding down of the overarching CityPlan in progress since 1995 — the Capital Plan and/or Property Endowment Fund (PEF) must step up to the challenge. Does Vancouver say that $10 million plus can go to Woodwards, $150 million plus to the Olympic Village — but absolutely nothing to Norquay, already inhabited by 10,000 people? The PEF already holds the 2400 Motel site (acquired in the late eighties for $2 million plus).
All of Norquay — and the rest of Vancouver — need to keep an eye on what happens with this situation.
The City of Vancouver issued on 26 January 2011 an odd-duck news release about a February 1 annual report to Council on Development Cost Levy collection, allocation, and remaining balance. Taking care of ordinary business is not newsworthy.
[ Comment posted in response to Why Go Downtown? ]
Lance says: “And we are starting to see intensification in Vancouver’s suburbs such as Arbutus Walk in Kitsilano, Collingwood Village, and the development around Kingsway and Knight.” Really?
At Arbutus Walk, the neighbourhood had a real impact on the planning, and it shows in the result. Collingwood Village is developer droppings. Planners themselves have agreed with Norquay Working Group critics that King Edward Village is “a mistake.” East is east and west is west!
Lance, spend half an hour hanging around KEV: Grok on a streetscape deadened by a mass of retail still unoccupied after 2-3 years, dance the line of pigeon poo under the archway, dodge back-alley traffic while strolling the interior public space, muse on how accumulated dirt under the public art animals provides context, meditate on the 12 symbolic dead trees (over half of them) in the middle of Kingsway. City of Vancouver tosses in some minimal public realm and then immediately neglects it.
Welcome to Vancouver’s very first “neighbourhood centre,” the only concrete evidence so far of its multimillion-dollar CityPlan exercise launched in 1995.
By the way, that “new library” at KEV was no developer gift to the community – only a simulacrum sweetheart payoff of fitting out and providing ten years of no-payment occupancy. Closed since Oct 25 due to flooding. I bet the term lease clock ticks along all the while.
Over to the bike theme. That attempt at median beautification on Kingsway just eats up road space that should go to a bike lane. Up the hill, Norquay wants a bike lane, NOT a median tart-up. Come out the Norquay open houses on Feb 19 and 21 and tell that to the “planners” — who just will not listen to us who live here.
• Monitors what is happening in the Norquay area of East Vancouver
• Provides a forum for residents to communicate
• Documents how city officials implement CityPlan in Vancouver’s second “neighbourhood centre”
The interests of speculators, a developer-funded City Council, and compromised city planners may go against what renters and homeowners want to see happen in their neighborhood. Bad planning can contribute to damage of organic social fabric, loss of affordable rental housing, needless manufacture of unoccupied investment condos, skyrocketing property taxes, artificially accelerated rates of development, more people crowded into the same unimproved public space, aggravation of problems with parking and vehicle traffic, loss of views, poor quality in design, and severe shadow impacts. What is happening to Norquay calls for continuing independent community-based review. Please keep coming back to Eye on Norquay to stay up to date on news and to share your perspective.
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