Toronto at its worst, not Vancouver at its best!
Oakridge—Vancouver’s best suburban mall—is proposing towers in a BIG way. Adding density without urbanism will add sprawl and congestion. A subway stop by itself is not enough reason for towers. Oakridge neighbourhood lacks the mixture, number and quality of services and jobs available downtown in the only urban zone we have in the region. This is towerization at its worst! And the mistake is being repeated at Gateway minutes south on the Canada Line and elsewhere along our transit spines.
The project is a gigantic set of ‘spaceships’ that really belong in outer space… Or the moon. But not in our neighbourhoods! The profits are so large that they will hack our democratic process. This blow is one from which the neighbourhood will not recover. The streets and the intersection will be lost forever. The tell-tale sign is that just 30 years after the first make-over of the 1959 Woodwards shopping centre was approved—and after not moving on a 2007 approved proposal—they’re back for A LOT more.
The subway is cited as the reason to add density and double the retail area from its current 1 million square feet. However, experts tell us that there is very little correlation between density and transit ridership. Since the urbanism is not there at Oakridge—and this monstrosity won’t deliver it—most folks here are going to be hopping in their cars and driving. The congestion caused on the streets by this hyper concentration of density will be the real story here.
Subways all over the world serve high density neighbourhoods where the maximum building height is not greater than 50 feet. Copenhagen, Barcelona, London and Paris come to mind as the most famous. But there are countless other places that don’t get the press. Places with open government, social equity and stable economies where the dominant quality of place is the livability of the street and the walkability of the neighbourhood—rather than the soaring height of the architecture.
So, how dense is it? 2800 residential units in 27 acres is over 100 units per acre. That is about the density needed to support transit cutting through a cluster of urban neighbourhoods. Single family neighbourhoods are 6 units per acre. ‘Good’ urban neighbourhoods start around 50 units per acre and top out around 100 units per acre. Yet, good urban neighbourhoods are plugged into an urbanism that extends in all directions.
Here we are being shown an island in the sun. An intrusion in a neighbourhood that violates principles in good urbanism like: human-scale build out; short distances; private owned houses mixed with condos; a mix and variety of destinations; and many hands and many developers building one place.
This proposal has something more. The retail and commercial has to be added to the residential density. 2 million square feet of retail are the equivalent of another 2500 residential units. So double that density to 200 units per acre, or DOUBLE the density over the top end of ‘good’ urban neighbourhoods.
The consequences of this project are pretty clear. The intersection of 41st and Cambie will be lost to the flood of new cars, trucks and service vehicles. The present 3300 parking spaces will double with obvious consequences. Traffic will be generated by this site, drawn to it like a vortex due to excessive clustering in a suburban part of our city. Grid-lock will set in on the street along with rising levels of air pollution.
Do we really need that in our city? Or should we be putting pressure on the Oakridge group to be model citizens and build ‘good’ urbanism instead. Be part of the solution, rather than just piling on for profit.
All these eggs put in the Oakridge basket will sag demand for product where revitalization is needed to achieve a better neighbourhood mix. The problems we should be addressing through redevelopment of Vancouver’s long-standing neighbourhoods include how to intensify neighbourhoods in order to:
- Support social functioning,
- Reduce traffic on the arterials
- Create local destinations as generators of pedestrian trips
- Revitalize our arterials with People Places nearby
Of course, neither the Oakridge plan or any of the other neighbourhood plans either approved (Mount Pleasant) or underway get the urbanism right. Outside the downtown where the urbanism is 130 years in the making City Hall has run out of ideas. They are hanging on to a planning ideology straight out of the cold war era. Our local government has stopped answering the call to shift paradigm from suburban to urban planning in the neighbourhoods.
The switch is stuck. Proposals like these just show how bad the condition really is.
We should be leveraging redevelopment to achieve walkable neighbourhoods and livable streets with a mix new fee-simple and incremental products that deliver density with human scale. Mixing row houses with apartments along urban spines and around new or budding neighbourhood places and destinations will articulate the neighbourhood footprint and reduce vehicular trips. More walking trips means active and bustling neighbourhood centres with fewer cars. Plonking down gigantic podium with mega towers on the transit stop is not ‘good’ urbanism. If built this proposal will benefit one corporate interest and set our democracy on a slippery slope.