Shopping List for the New Neighbourhood Plan

Georgia & Campbell

Historic Buildings, Strathcona

Here is a primer for what to look for in the new neighbourhood plan for the Downtown Eastide the place we dubbed Vancouver’s Historic Quartiers.

Human-scale urbanism

Small is Beautiful. Better to build 100 sites with 4 units each, than one site with 400 units. From the point of view of social capital and profits from re-development, historic neighbourhoods are better served by having many small interventions rather than just a few big ones. Towers don’t work everywhere, and they are a bad fit in historic districts.

Tax Increment Financing 

I worry when I see government in competition with the private sector. The mission of government is to regulate the private sector, not enter as a competitor. Government is given on competitive advantage over the private sector: Issuing Municipal Bonds. At something like 2% return, secure investment that looks pretty good in our low-interest economy. The municipal bond provides a vehicle for both individuals and corporations to participate in local regeneration of a truly unique place.

Relying on CACs gets the ball rolling in the wrong direction.  CACs in established neighbourhoods put new projects on a collision with local values of community and values of place. From the perspective of historic neighbourhoods, huge projects must be assembled in order to qualify for CACs. Typically, the problem is one of good fit. We can get the money we need for neighbourhood regeneration from other sources.

Municipal Housing Authority 

We can invest bond revenues in building neighbourhood infrastructure. One example is building housing as either improvement of city-owned lands, or conservation of historic buildings. These projects need to be created and managed from one central place. A Municipal Housing Authority provides the wherewithal to acquire property, develop land, hire designers and builders, coordinate projects, and negotiate with non-profits to operate and provide supports on an on-going basis.

Of course, this is another case of financing urban regeneration without CACs.

Historic Building Preservation as Residential Co-ops

CMHC has championed this formula. Successful CMHC initiated co-ops are everywhere in our city. We can take Quebec Manor in Mount Pleasant (1912 Parr & Fee) as an example. That experiment has been a run-a-way success! The community benefit is that another of our great examples of historic architecture is lovingly preserved and contributing to the neighbourhood’s overall functioning.

Of course, this is a viable alternative to SROs (single room occupancy housing) licensed by the City and run for profit by the private sector. I don’t understand winning a profit from providing social services. Social housing should be run from the non-profit economy.

A Traffic Calming Plan

The historic neighbourhoods are negatively impacted by 60,000+ vehicles per day crossing the half-mile district between the CPR  and Hastings Street.

Implementing Green House Gas-Zero transit on Hastings, Main Street and Clark is the first step towards returning normalcy to this part of the city. Street revitalization and greening are necessary to attract redevelopment to the historic quartiers.

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