Eye on Norquay

Looking Out for East Vancouver


with 4 comments

East Van Gentrification:
Norquay at the Eye of the Hurricane

The city has nowhere to go but east!  — Bob Rennie

Hard lessons from years of Norquay struggle illuminate the circumstances that underlie many of the basic points that follow:

  Ever greater density is being dumped into the already far denser immigrant working-class neighborhoods of East Vancouver.

  The kind of zoning that is still protected for high-end Vancouver neighborhoods is being wiped out on a massive scale in East Vancouver, at the rate of hundreds of acres in a single public hearing. Value is being extracted from the affected areas, not added to them. The main beneficiaries are industries connected with development and real estate sales and property management.

  Promises of local area improvements to correspond with increase in population conveniently fade away when it comes down to allocating and spending money. The little amenity that politicians/planners ever deliver amounts to nothing more than routine basic maintenance of what was already in place. Consider only the travesty of raising the possibility of prioritizing the renewal of two existing facilities — Collingwood Library or Cedar Cottage Neighbourhood House — as possible major future benefit that Norquay might experience [1]. The politicians/planners unilaterally decide what happens and when it happens. And whether it ever happens.

  The direct financial “Community Amenity Contributions” (CACs) generated as development levies always seem to be scams that hype a pittance. Developers especially love to on-site their contributions as “in kind” construction that is valued at grossly inflated rates and goes mainly into enhancing the marketability of their own development projects.

  The small amount of CAC money that comes from some large development projects disappears into sweetheart deals and mitigations and sequestration black holes. Construction of the 403 dwelling units at King Edward Village brought in a CAC valued at $251,328.24, which mainly meant that the developer had one less long-term-unrented commercial space to contend with because a library branch moved in. (Disclosure to the uninitiated: the Kensington branch of Vancouver Public Library did not amount to “a new library.”) The $2.4 million in-kind CAC for 2300 Kingsway vanished into a 37-place expensive daycare that will benefit very few, and the general community not at all. The $105,846 from 2699 Kingsway got sucked into a fund to mitigate the new building’s unacceptable shadowing of an existing daycare immediately to the north. The $3 million cash CAC for 2220 Kingsway will be held in reserve and likely vanish into generalities — perhaps to be diverted into social housing that benefits only future direct recipients, with absolutely nothing coming back to residents of the existing affected neighborhood.

  Walled compounds like 2220 Kingsway privatize the benefits that used to emerge in shared public space, and FSR incentives reward the developer for that privatizing. Things that never materialize for the local community now hide behind the walls of new developments: gathering spaces, party rooms, swimming pools, rooftop plazas, exercise facilities, workshops, etc.


The Norquay area located at the geographic heart of East Vancouver will dominate a City of Vancouver (CoV) public hearing agenda set for 9 April 2013.

1 —  Half a square mile of land that surrounds a one-mile stretch of Kingsway (Gladstone to Killarney) will be subjected to new detailed zoning specifications. (Vancouver City Council set the stage for this on 4 November 2010 by forcing a contentious and little-supported mass rezoning onto the local community.)

2 —  At the same upcoming public hearing, 2.3 acres at 2220 Kingsway will be rezoned for three 14-storey towers to stand sentry around a walled compound. This is what revitalization looks like: out-of-scale opportunistic development at the extreme western edge of an area that was supposed to be getting a neighbourhood centre.

After 2220 Kingsway goes down, only two more such large sites will remain along the Norquay section of Kingsway. Over the past decade, two other sites (2239 Kingsway and 2300 Kingsway) have been built out, and a third is now under construction at 2711 Kingsway (Skyway Towers). Despite all the promises made along the way, almost all that the “planning” has done for Norquay so far is to dump additional density on top of existing density. We experience little more than land rush and hasty buildout.

More than six years of struggle have made it clear that a developer-compromised municipality feels it must kowtow to a construction industry that seems to be the only important business still based in Vancouver. Perhaps this purported business remains here only because it is impossible to export the associated jobs.


Norquay is not alone. Our particular local area occupies an interesting spot in the recent historical sequence of gentrification assault on the eastern half of Vancouver.

2003  Vancouver had the misfortune to “win” the bid for the 2010 Olympic Games. The bid was spearheaded by developer Jack Poole who notoriously proclaimed: If the Olympic bid wasn’t happening we would have to invent something.

2004  The first “neighbourhood centre” at Kingsway and Knight [2] slid past local residents on snake oil, with lukewarm support. King Edward Village then sprouted up at the “centre.” The Kingsway-oriented shopping-area portion of that planning somehow never happened. Notice that in the current listing of Vancouver neighbourhood planning projects Kingsway and Knight has vanished from view and is no longer considered an “active” plan [3]. Here’s what one area resident had to say [4] eight years later:

        We were sold the story when they changed the zoning in the Cedar Cottage neighborhood that we
        would have more density here but it would mean that there would be more affordable housing for
        families — and I don’t know what kind of families can afford $1.2 million for the top half of a house.

2006  CoV launched planning for a “Norquay Village Neighbourhood Centre,” which eventually they perverted into a Kingsway Corridor plan. A few months previous to starting the planning, Council approved a blockbusting 22-storey tower for the southeast corner of Kingsway and Nanaimo. In 2007 a crude clone of the Kingsway and Knight Draft Plan met with massive opposition in a survey and failed [5]. Then the struggle began. (PS: That was the last time CoV ever carried out that kind of formal survey.)

2007  About 15 acres lying east of Little Mountain was put into play with federal transfer of land to the Province of British Columbia. Most of the existing social housing on the large parcel was demolished in the fall of 2009, and the land still sits empty [6].

2007 Area planning was launched for Mount Pleasant. Plan approval followed in November 2010. April 2012 saw approval of rezoning for 228-246 East Broadway and 180 Kingsway (Rize Alliance) after six nights of overwhelming opposition at public hearing. Started up in 2012 is a Mount Pleasant Implementation Committee that has become an ongoing battleground between residents and city planners [7].

2008  The Sam Sullivan EcoDensity™ initiative found approval after seven nights of public hearings. Partly in consequence, Vision Vancouver trounced the NPA in the fall municipal election — and then proceeded to inject NPA policy with developer steroids.

2009  Rampant speculation along Cambie in the wake of the Canada Line construction for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics encountered its first sign of reward when Council approved terms of reference for “Cambie Corridor” planning at mid-year [8]. (The Canada Line was one of the four 2010 Olympics megaprojects that served to convert public money into development industry profits, and at the same time to establish infrastructure necessary for yet more development industry profits.) Director of Planning Brent Toderian’s tough talk to speculators may have contributed to his getting fired in early 2012.

2011  In the spring, Council fumbled around with the Historic Area Height Review of the Downtown Eastside, and eventually split the area in two. That meant they could immediately loose developers onto the southeastern sector, much of which coincided with Chinatown [9]. Rezonings have been coming thick and fast. Since then, planning for the unrezoned portion has “engaged” many Downtown Eastside residents in an excruciating and extended struggle [10].

2011  Just before shutting down for August vacation, Council decided to pursue simultaneous planning in three separate neighborhoods: Grandview-Woodland, Marpole, West End [11].

Land Grab

When conflict erupts on many fronts at the same time, the nature of the simultaneous widespread activities can be hard to make sense of. Factor in everyone’s understandable tendency to focus on their own immediate home territory.

In eastern Vancouver, the bigger picture is becoming clear. Developers have decided that this is the decade or two to exploit multiple large parcels of land for rapid dense development, with minimal respect shown to surrounding existing communities. Particular attention fastens onto large sites that can be treated like empty land. This pattern is not restricted to East Vancouver, but the impacts have tended to concentrate there. (Instances in Marpole and the West End can be related to the number crunching that comes later on).

Costs of construction are relatively fixed. Costs of finishing can vary. The basic margin for profit expands with the lower land costs of East Vancouver. Kingsway and the Hastings “corridor” seem to define two of the primary axes of perceived developability. A distribution map of the rezonings that occurred under the original STIR program demonstrates concentration in three areas: West End, Norquay, and Cambie Corridor [12].

The current rate of development across Vancouver seems geared far more to opportunities for speculation than to the actual population growth. The disparity between housing as a good that meets a need and housing as a mechanism for profiteering grows ever sharper. Governments have shown no inclination to shelter Vancouver residents from market rapacity by measures designed to connect the economics of ownership with use of property as residence.


Early on, Norquay residents recognized that mass rezoning would likely mean displacement of the existing immigrant [13] working-class community. Planner-supplied data specific to Norquay showed a 2001 census figure of 32% for low-income households, and a dwelling population density 50% greater than the Vancouver average [14].

Remember how the Olympic Village social housing fiasco started out with a premise of 1/3 and 1/3 and 1/3 “mix” of income levels [15]? Norquay already had the ideal social mix, at least at the lower end.

So why was Norquay selected for massive redevelopment? Ad nauseam, city planners said things like this to us: “Shouldn’t your area do its share to house people? Don’t you want to make housing more affordable? Shouldn’t young professionals like us be able to buy a brand-new unit for less than a house on a lot costs?” [No fixer-uppers for those yuppies!]

The rejected 2007 Norquay Draft Plan itself made it clear that the effects of redevelopment would be to make the area less affordable:

        How much will the housing cost?
        New units are always more expensive than older ones of a similar type and size.
        (p. 4 document / p. 5 pdf) [16]

This item was emphasized by Norquay residents almost from the outset. Check out the web site that presented our struggle during 2007-2008 [17].

A standout fact: a city planner told Norquay residents that acceleration of change was a purpose of mass rezoning, and that rezoning specifications could aim for a specific increase in rate of “redevelopment.” The anticipation for Norquay was to double the rate, the same as what planners had determined for the first neighbourhood centre at Kingsway and Knight. Here’s a record from 2009 of exactly what was said:

        Brief discussion of rate of change led to Miller providing this information about the mass rezoning at
        Kingsway and Knight. Across the city, redevelopment occurs at a rate of about 1% a year. The target
        at Kingsway and Knight was 2%, and so far (about five years on) it measures at about 1.7%.  [18]

The failed affordability of the Kingsway and Knight project has been noted above.

What Is Going On?

A good person to seek a take on the situation from is real estate honcho Bob Rennie. This is the guy who marketed and sold off Norquay’s first condo tower at 2300 Kingsway.

Here is direct quotation from the notes for Rennie’s 2011 speech to the Urban Development Institute:

        81. I believe that there is still a Westside demographic that believes that after Granville Street the next
              bus stop is in Province of Alberta.
        82. Larry Beasley and I thought we were geniuses agreeing to dovetail our messaging. Boasting in 2002,
              that “the city will move east.”
        83. Who were we kidding? The city has nowhere to go but east!  [19]

And this is from his 2012 speech:

        Mike Magee is here today. Gregor’s Chief of Staff.
        He knows the challenges first hand of moving density to sensitive single-family neighborhoods.
        Very powerful and very vocal community groups are causing moratoriums on development.
        In the West End, Grandview Woodland, Marpole, and now the DTES.
        All obstacles to affordability.  [20]

Isn’t there something absolutely weird about proclaiming the city will move east when east side population density is already greater?

Vancouver local areas can be divided into four rough groupings. (See Appendix A for greater detail.)


   Region            Hectares      Population 2011     Persons/Hectare

   Peninsula            579             99 233              171

   West               3 315            115 375               35

   Middle             2 368            123 583               52

   East               5 023            266 880               53

   Totals            11 285            605 071               54

Peninsula = West End, Downtown
West = West Point Grey, Kitsilano, Dunbar-Southlands, Arbutus Ridge, Shaughnessy, Kerrisdale
Middle = Fairview, Mount Pleasant, South Cambie, Riley Park-Little Mountain, Oakridge, Marpole
East = Downtown Eastside-Strathcona, Grandview-Woodland, Hastings-Sunrise, Kensington-Cedar Cottage,
       Renfrew-Collingwood, Sunset, Victoria-Fraserview, Killarney

Taken all together, the Bob Rennie overviews of 2011 and 2012 paint an ugly picture. Simply put, the premium placed on West sector real estate grows through policy that continues to expand the differential. If Kitsilano is removed from the West sector calculation above, the figures change to: Hectares at 2764, Population at 74,004 and Persons/Hectare at 27. That’s a density at half of the city average. The Middle and East sectors are at the city average.

As the West sector becomes the exclusive preserve of global capital, the further degraded Middle and East sectors become a refuge for still relatively affluent local persons who can afford extreme Vancouver ratios and/or persons who are willing to lower their expectations of location/land/square-footage in order to arrive at a manageable housing cost. Meanwhile, little to no investment gets put into corresponding enhancement of public realm facilities.

Poor and low-income persons simply get pushed out. Increased allowance of buildable space accelerates the process. Older buildings with cheaper rents become the first to be torn down.

Mass rezoning tends to serve as nothing more than a covert tool for expropriation and dispossession.

What a Map Shows

A 2013 mapping of Property Values for Single Family Home (RS) Districts shows the over-$1-million-blue category now cropping up strongly in the southeast of Vancouver for the first time [21]. Correlation with the low Persons/Hectare figure of 42.0 for Killarney seems unmistakeable. Lack of “corridors” with heavy traffic volume are a likely factor in that particular geography.

The large white spot at the north end of the Kingsway diagonal represents the extraction from RS zoning of 1600 properties in the Kingsway and Knight mass rezoning of 2004. The new RM-7 and RT-11 and apartment zonings to be forced onto Norquay will affect 1900 properties. One of the achievements of the Norquay struggle has been a retention of the option to build under RS zoning as well, something effectively not permitted by the Kingsway and Knight specifications.

The bottom line: as RS zoned properties become ever scarcer, that growing scarcity predictably increases the value of what remains — likely out of proportion to any increase that may accrue from an “upzoning” to “new housing types” to achieve moderate increase in density. Appendix B demonstrates a value gap expansion in favor of detached Vancouver houses that starts around 2003, the year of the acceptance of Vancouver’s Olympic bid. To what extent have actual and prospective mass rezonings contributed to this increasing disparity? Most of the profit opportunities in rezoned-area redevelopment probably will fall to a developer rather than a current property owner. After all, would the value of any existing single-family house be enhanced by adjacent redevelopment that casts greater shadow and puts more cars on the street?


Some neighborhoods are clearly better treated than others. An outstanding example is the population decrease of 15% that Shaughnessy has experienced over the past four decades, despite its proximity to city center [22]. No other neighborhood in the entire city has experienced an actual decrease. Quieter and more spacious and ever more valuable.

The social housing requirements that have been a part of the zoning for the Downtown Eastside Oppenheimer District have mitigated development pressures in that area. Yet the economics of development in Vancouver has now reached a stage where building will occur even with that requirement in place [23]. The conclusion of the current planning process for the Downtown Eastside seems likely to see Council lift even that restriction, which would set off a serious land rush in the western portion of the Hastings Street corridor.

The further down the socio-economic ladder a neighborhood sits, the greater the danger it faces from profiteers. The most exploitable disparity is the greatest one. Marginality offers the most scope for expansion of margin.

The immigrant working-class population of Norquay is destined to suffer a density-dumping that further degrades the existing quality of life. This has been going on for years. It has already become clear to Norquay residents that increase in development never brings corresponding amenity. The fine words of the community vision already stand exposed as outright lie:

Each proposal for a new housing type has been made conditional not only on an increase in community facilities and programs needed to serve any population growth generated by the new housing type but also on an assurance that parking and traffic impacts would be addressed.  [24]

The older and more affordable rental housing will be the first element to disappear so that “affordable” new construction on less land can be sold to yuppies. Very roughly speaking, redevelopment accelerated so that they can purchase a place for $400,000 instead of $800,000. The proximity of Norquay to anomalously distributed East Vancouver pockets of “non-resident occupancy dwellings” (see Appendix C) provides grist for additional speculations.

Meanwhile, the homeless, the barely housed, and the poorly housed of the Downtown Eastside face an even more rapid obliteration of their only possibility of survival in everywhere-upscaling Vancouver. There is literally no other Vancouver neighborhood for them to head for. Governments play number games with dubious statistics while mouthing off about social mix. It is clear that without significant capital injection (and none is visible on any horizon), “mix” can only mean let’s stir things up and make the down fall out.

A centrifuge is revving up to spin the least powerful right out of the City of Vancouver, powered by the toxic fuel of rezonings. The only direction provided by that mechanism is out.

A recent editorial in the Globe and Mail about the current situation in Vancouver bore this main title: Rebirth Does Not Call for a Class War [25]. As the heartless real estate resource extraction game plays out right now, what looks like rebirth to some feels like death to others. Those who sense death approaching often conclude that they have absolutely nothing to lose.

•   •   •   •   •   •

[1]  Panel 13 of January 2013 Norquay Village open house. https://eyeonnorquay.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/10-18-norquay-village-plan-public-benefits-strategy-boards.pdf

[2]  http://former.vancouver.ca/commsvcs/planning/neighcentres/kingswayknight/index.htm

[3]  http://vancouver.ca/people-programs/neighbourhood-planning.aspx

[4]  https://eyeonnorquay.wordpress.com/2012/03/08/sold-the-story/

[5]  http://www.vcn.bc.ca/norquay/nrqsrvrslt.html  /  https://eyeonnorquay.wordpress.com/timeline/

[6]  http://vancouver.ca/home-property-development/little-mountain.aspx

[7]  http://www.rampvancouver.com/item/280/start-here/

[8]  http://vancouver.ca/home-property-development/cambie-corridor-plan.aspx

[9]  http://vancouvercouncilvotes.wordpress.com/votes-on-planning/height-review-chinatown/

[10]  https://sites.google.com/site/dteslapp/

[11]  http://former.vancouver.ca/commsvcs/planning/cityplan/Visions/nextplan/index.htm

[12]  https://eyeonnorquay.wordpress.com/2012/06/18/encircled-by-stir/

[13]  https://eyeonnorquay.files.wordpress.com/2013/04/norquaystatistics.pdf

[14]  https://eyeonnorquay.files.wordpress.com/2013/04/page72.pdf

[15]  “Concern about the proposed 80/20 mix; support for the 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 mix” (p. 7)

[16]  http://former.vancouver.ca/commsvcs/planning/neighcentres/norquay/pdf/newsletter3english.pdf

[17]  http://www.vcn.bc.ca/norquay/

[18]  https://eyeonnorquay.wordpress.com/documents/nwg-2009-reports/#3of11

[19]  http://storage.ubertor.com/cl1067/content/document/27119.pdf

[20]  http://forms.rennie.com/RMS/2012%20UDI%20Speech.pdf

[21]  http://www.btaworks.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/1mLine_RedBlue09-13_2013.jpg

[22]  https://eyeonnorquay.wordpress.com/2013/02/17/by-the-numbers/

[23]  http://themainlander.com/2013/03/24/proposed-condos-next-door-to-oppenheimer-park-already-hurting-low-income-residents/

[24]  Renfrew-Collingwood Community Vision, p. 30  http://former.vancouver.ca/commsvcs/planning/cityplan/Visions/rc/pdf/newhousing.pdf

[25]  Rebirth does not call for a class war. Globe and Mail (28 Mar 2013) A10

•   •   •   •   •   •

Appendix A

According to 2011 Census of Canada statistics, the average figure for persons-per-hectare in Vancouver is 52.8. Here are the local areas that fall above the average, in descending order:

West End 218.3 / Downtown 145.8 / Fairview 94.4 / Kitsilano 75.1 / Mount Pleasant 72.5 / Kensington-Cedar Cottage 65.7 / Renfrew-Collingwood 61.6 / Grandview-Woodland 60.9 / Sunset 57.9 / Victoria-Fraserview 57.7

And here are the local areas that fall below the average, in descending order:

Riley Park 44.3 / Arbutus Ridge 43.1 / Marpole 42.5 / Killarney 42.0 / Hastings-Sunrise 41.9 / South Cambie 35.4 / Strathcona/DTES 31.7 / Oakridge 31.0 / West Point Grey 28.1 / Dunbar-Southlands 25.3 / Kerrisdale 23.3 / Shaughnessy 19.7

•   •   •   •   •   •
Appendix B


Credit for graph above:  http://telf.ca/stats.html
•   •   •   •   •   •
Appendix C

Norquay outline superimposed on mapping of “non-resident occupancy dwellings” from 2011 census data.


Source of map:  http://www.btaworks.com/2013/03/21/btaworks-foreign-investment-in-vancouver-real-estate-presentation-at-sfu-woodwards/


Written by eyeonnorquay

2 April 2013 at 11:41 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

4 Responses

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  1. Great work! I’m going to summarize my comments by saying that: (1) bad planning is at the heart of what we are seeing; and (2) the alternative must be supported by a groundswell of grass roots organization if we are going to succeed in reversing its prescriptions. Finally, we have to include a new, community-driven plan for Norquay in the mix. We have the ability to show the people, and political leadership at all levels, that the alternative is not only doable but much, much better.

    (1) It’s not just about density. We can add density to make “growth the engine of change”. However, the type of buildings we use to add density also matter. Towers don’t belong on Kingsway.

    (2) Re-zoning to towers only benefits a narrow segment of the market and too much power is being transferred to a too small industry sector.

    (3) The plan for the intensification of Norquay was horrible urbanism. I’d rather start the discussion there; create an alternative plan for Norquay in a community driven charrette. We can politicize bad planning; but I’d rather just show how it can be better.

    (4) A consensus-based intensification plan for Norquay would add value, in my opinion, because I am confident that as we have shown in Mount Pleasant, the consensus will support the value-adding approach. It’s just plain common sense. Of course, have to identify those community values first!

    (5) Agree that the carrots of the amenities contributions is a slippery slope.

    (6) The CAC approach is losing its legs. On top of that we have to factor that the new infrastructure that is only necessary to service the point loads created by the towers will have to be kept in working order in perpetuity by the city.

    (7) Tower urbanism amounts to the same mistake being built in reverse. We are adding residential towers downtown so that the infrastructure already in place doesn’t sit idle when the businesses close. But now we are building new infrastructure for residential towers that won’t get used during the day!

    (8) Add another one: The costs in increased staff time to handle these massive projects wholly out of scale with the neighbourhoods is straining our municipal budgets to the breaking point.

    (9) Add another one: Kingsway rebuilt as a neighbourhood spine, multi-way boulevard with 2 or 3 continuous rows of trees; wider sidewalks; BRT with higher levels of surface transit trips; and resulting lower levels of commuter car trips.

    lewis n. villegas

    23 August 2013 at 1:52 pm

  2. Eye on Norquay admires your current grassroots charrette efforts in Mount Pleasant. The history of the Norquay planning includes a July 2009 resident-generated plan that was supported by 2/3 of the Norquay Working Group. (See our Two Plans dated July 2009.) City planning then shut down the process, removed the existing planning team, and did all the rest of the specification in the back room, with occasional report-out on a we’re-here-to-tell-you basis only. In the end, Norquay got an ad hoc one-mile corridor, not a neighbourhood centre. Utter perversion. Since Norquay has been did, and seems likely to soon be tossed off the table as no longer active planning, all that remains to us is to politicize bad planning — unless the rest of Vancouver succeeds in demanding our reactivation. Kingsway & Knight didn’t even get the bad planning.


    23 August 2013 at 3:27 pm

  3. These are key issues: shaping neighbourhoods and re-designing arterials to function like neighbourhood spines.

    Kingsway — the oldest and most important arterial in our region — could have been seen as the jumping off point for planning a neighbourhood in Norquay, and down (and up) the line. By re-imagining Kingsway as the “Great Street” it undoubtedly is/should be, the powers of regenerative community building might have been loosened. Instead, Kingsway is being used as — well… — an open traffic sewer. We can do much better than that! And, unless we achieve higher value from community intensification, this process has the potential of spiralling downward to places unimaginable to us now.

    lewis n. villegas

    23 August 2013 at 9:17 pm

  4. Kingsway, mon amour. I do love the quirks of its grid transections and its natural relationship to landform. And even the gritty industrial remnants of its long subservience to the motor vehicle. A councillor fool refused to empathize with my professed enjoyment of walking along Kingsway. Planning that adores the sprouting of drive-to vertical gated communities gives the lie to its own bafflegab of walkability. End of paean that inevitably descends to unilateral flyting.


    24 August 2013 at 12:03 am

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