A New Approach to Density in Vancouver

2009 Form Shift Vancouver, Design Competition, entry by the author

We have gone a little ‘Condo Crazy’ in Vancouver for the last 20 years. Podium-and-Tower can work Downtown. However, when it comes to the neighbourhoods, and the historic neighbourhoods, loud vocal opposition from local residents is clamouring for a new approach.

In my work I have called for the use of the fee-simple (called free-hold elsewhere in Canada), high-density, human-scale urban houses. The problem is that this building type has been banned from use since the city’s incorporation in 1886, and it will take an act of the Provincial Legislature to change it. [June 2012: the fee-simple row house was made legal by both the City of Vancouver and the Provincial Legislature just months after this post was written, in the early summer of 2012].

Assuming all this can be worked out, the question arises: where are we going to put all these new urban houses? The diagram above maps the occurrence of a key characteristic in Vancouver platting. City blocks front the arterials with cottage lots. Except in commercial zones, these lots have single family houses. Over the years, as traffic has increased, single family housing has become increasingly impacted by the negative effects of high traffic volume.

After years of worsening conditions, the arterials and the properties fronting are in need of revitalization. This might be achieved by combining two strategies:

  1. Incremental intensification of cottage lots with urban houses.
  2. Implementation of either Trolley Bus, or Surface Rail Rapid Transit.

Certain types of transit removes cars from the street by physically occupying road space, while at the same time returning many times more trip capacity.

The incremental residential intensification would be significant. We calculated in 2009 that it would be possible to double the existing city population by redeveloping the arterials with the 3.5-storey urban house.

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2 thoughts on “A New Approach to Density in Vancouver”

  1. What about crosstown arterials such as 41st Avenue, 49th Avenue, King Edward Avenue and First Avenue? I think these streets are just as important when it comes to densification as the north-south ones, especially as the city’s orientation continues to alter so it’s not just everywhere to downtown traffic, but everywhere to everywhere, and especially community town centres to town centres. Many people who work in Metrotown or other areas of Burnaby might want to live on 49th, 41st, King Edward or other crosstown boulevards more than Fraser and 57th.

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