Saturday, April 13, 2024

What WoodWorks and Lumon have in common

As noted in my previous post, my work with CWC/WoodWorks was the result of an introduction from Norm Couttie, with whom I worked many years ago at Michael Geller & Associates Limited, and who went on to better positions including president of Adera Developments.

Norm thought I might be a good person to assist WoodWorks in encouraging municipalities to offer incentives to promote mass timber because of the work I have been doing on behalf of Lumon, a Finnish company that manufactures a retractable glass panel system that makes balconies more functional year-round.

On behalf of Lumon, I have been meeting with municipal officials and politicians to explain why they should be encouraging the installation or retractable glass systems like those manufactured by Lumon and other companies without any impact on the floor space ratio of a project. So far more than a dozen municipalities have now agreed to this. In fact, only a few, including Vancouver, Richmond, and Surrey are still considering bylaw or regulation changes to help make this happen. 

If you don't know about Lumon's product and why I think it deserves wider application, check out a portion of this video. I say a portion since even though I like the sound of my own voice, it's much too long!

International Mass Timber Conference Portland Oregon, March 26-28, 2024

This past February, thanks to an introduction from my colleague Norm Couttie, I was invited by the Canadian Wood Council/WoodWorks to assist in encouraging B.C. municipalities to offer zoning bonuses and other incentives to promote mass timber buildings between 12 and 18 storeys in height. As some of you may be aware, the city of Vancouver recently approved height and density bonuses which are already attracting a high level of interest from developers. Now we want to get forward looking municipalities like Coquitlam, City of North Vancouver, Surrey, Richmond, Victoria and Kelowna, and others to offer something similar.

While I have never developed a mass timber project, I have had a longstanding interest and appreciation of the product. Five years ago I wrote a column for the Vancouver Sun celebrating mass timber projects after attending an awards program. At the awards ceremony I learned that the B.C. government was planning to increase the allowable height for wood projects from 6 storeys to 12 storeys and reported on this. While only a few projects have been built, the government is now about to announce that the maximum height will be increased to 18 storeys.

Over the past two months I have spent a lot of time learning about mass timber. After setting up a 'mass timber google alert' I receive daily news about new projects and initiatives around the world. When a google alert alerted me to a forthcoming internation conference in Portland I immediately signed up.

As an 'academic', I saved about $450 USD on registration!

Structure Craft is involved with many amazing projects around the world. They are based in Abbotsford

While I don't have the time to write about all that I learned at the conference, one significant surprise was the prominent role played by some BC companies across the US and around the world. These companies include Structure Craft based in Abbotsford which is collaborating with the Danish architectural firm BIG (Bjark Ingles) on a major project at John Hopkins University and dozens of other major projects around the world. 

Another company is Kalesnikoff which was one of the conference sponsors with a most impressive display.

The BC Govenment was also a sponsor, through OMTI, the Office of Mass Timber Implementation

Another Canadian company that had a presence at the conference and attracting international attention is Oliver Lang's Intelligent City which has been developing innovative housing concepts for many years and is now finally proceeding with on-the-ground projects.

For many, a critical consideration is whether mass timber is as safe as concrete. Interestingly, while I think this is a major public concern, it is not a concern of building department officials since they know mass timber chars, but doesn't lose its structural qualities in a fire.
This remarkable 25 storey mass timber building is in Milwaukee. I very much enjoyed meeting the developer, whose family originated from Ukraine, and spoke at the conference.

While many question whether mass timber is going to become a significant factor in building construction, I would suggest it is analogous to electric cars. When I purchased my first electric car more than 10 years ago, many people questioned the wisdom of this since they thought it was a fad that wouldn't last. Well.....

I expect something similar will happen with mass timber. It will take a while for more zoning bylaws and building codes to adjust to the reality that this is a very good way to build, especially from an environmental perspective. There are many other advantages of mass timber construction. It is a lot faster, is less reliant on traditional construction trades, and the cost premium is not always what many would expect. As Norm Couttie has observed, when you factor in the greater precision that comes with this type of construction, the 'aggravation factor', that can add to construction costs can be reduced. And the time savings, given the cost of 'General Conditions' can be significant.

There is another important consideration. It has to do with biophili design.

I'll be writing much more about the pros and cons of mass timber construction as time progresses, but for now, you too might want to set up a google alert for mass timber to get a sense of all that is happening in the industry. And to mayors Richard Stewart, Linda Buchanan, Brenda Locke and Malcolm Brodie, I'll be calling soon. But in the meantime, you may want to discuss with your officials how best to encourage more mass timber projects in your municipalities. After all, wood is 

Saturday, March 9, 2024

March 9. A memorable date - Narod goes into receivership

In March 1981, I left CMHC after working ten years in Ottawa, Vancouver, and Toronto and joined Narod Developments. Before taking the position, I had been talking to a headhunter conducting a search for a Vice President-Development at BC Place to work under Alvin Narod. (Alvin had sold Narod to David Mooney in 1978 and retired before becoming BC Place Board Chair.) 

David Podmore got that job and started work on the 21st floor of Scotia Tower at 650 West Georgia. I started work in Narod's offices on the 22nd floor of the same building, directly above Dave. We have stayed friends ever since.

At Narod, my primary responsibility was managing the planning, approvals and future redevelopment of a master-planned community on lands owned by BC Packers along the Steveston Waterfront. The lands extended from Number Two Road westward. I hired my former classmate Norm Hotson, who had designed Granville Island and together we prepared a plan for 1700 homes, a school, restored heritage buildings and new public access to the waterfront, while maintaining some fishing related activities. 

At the time, Narod, along with Daon Developments, was one of the major development companies in Vancouver. We built MURBs at Arbutus Village, Fairview Slopes, and South Shore False Creek. We also developed several office buildings including  Fairview Point and The Atrium at 808 West Hastings to which we relocated our head office on the top two floors. We had an operation in Seattle for which I was responsible, and Portland. I was also looking after a proposed head office for Price Waterhouse.

While I often drove down to Seattle early in the morning and returned in the evening, occasionally I stayed with Sally and a very young Claire in the company apartment in Kirkland overlooking Lake Washington. It was always stocked with expensive champagne and fine wines.

Narod staff set up the volleyball net at a management meeting
Coralie Waddell, the president's wife at a management session
Peter Horwood, Craig Waddell, and David Mooney discuss why the company refuses to undertake industrial developments. They're too boring.
The marketing division's Mel Grebinsky and Michael Tham, joined by Ruth Tham and Holly Horwood
On the way home we would stop off at the Oyster Bar on Chuckanut Drive, which along with the Four Seasons was regarded as a company dining room. There were extravagant company golf tournaments, management sessions on the beach, and Christmas parties at David's West Vancouver waterfront home and the Four Seasons Hotel, our home away from home.
The Queen's Royal Yacht Britannia arrives in Vancouver on March 9, 1983
Unfortunately, this all came to an end on March 9th, 1983, the day Queen Elizabeth arrived in Vancouver to formally open BC Place Stadium.

While she was in the stadium, and David was golfing with president Craig Waddell in Maui, some receivers came into Narod's new offices at 808 West Hastings and put us into receivership. 

$100 million is about $300 million today. While it may not seem like much, it was a lot of money at the time.

I have jokingly blamed Kelly Heed at Colliers for our receivership since we went under, as he put it, about three minutes after we closed on the $22-million Wright Engineering property he had sold us on Pender Street. In fact the 22% plus interest rates might have also had something to do with it.

Last year was the 40th anniversary of Narod's receivership. I had planned to organize a reunion, but something came up. So this year, I decided to try again and thanks to a good suggestion from former VP-Marketing Roger Moors, yesterday eight of us joined David Mooney in the clubhouse at the Point Grey Golf Club. It seemed only appropriate since golf was such an important part of Narod's corporate culture. Our management meetings often took place at Salishan, La Costa, Pebble Beach and Sudden Valley, and before joining the company, I had to commit to taking up the game!

In attendance, along with David, Roger,  (Roger's wife Sandy who belly-danced at many Narod functions) were Vera Hromada, David's long time executive assistant, Peter Horwood, who managed the Portland Office, Michael Tham, part of the marketing team, Gordon Chow, financial officer, Michael Sung from our construction division, Lee Barter, who did a bit of everything, and me. 

Sadly, some former colleagues were missing since they are no longer alive. They included George Millward, John Brown, Heinz Stuhlmuller, Mel Grebinsky, and Peter Rezonsoff (who along with Tony McGill co-founded ITC Construction). Former President Craig Waddell now living in Scottsdale was unable to attend. Sadly, we were unable to track down many others who we would have liked to have been there.

It is no coincidence that everyone in attendance went on to have a successful career after Narod's demise. David built projects in the States and Vancouver. Roger, often considered the best joke teller in Vancouver's development community, enjoyed success at  United Properties, UBC Theological Precinct and Ledingham McAllister amongst other places. Craig became a successful developer in Arizona. Vera enjoyed careers at Four Seasons and Fairmont Hotels. Peter Horwood left real estate to manage Bridges Restaurant. Michael Sung built pulp mills around the world, Lee Barter did well enough to spend most of his time playing golf at Capilano. Michael Tham has enjoyed considerable success in real estate marketing and development, and kept alive the Narod tradition of enjoying fine wines. We know this since he brought along a very special vintage champagne to the reunion.

One Friday afternoon in 1981 while I was working at Narod, David came into my office to congratulate me. Why? I asked. You've just been elected to the Board of Directors of the Urban Development Institute. How did that happen? I asked. "I just paid them all the outstanding fees we owed."

Through UDI I met Phil Boname, Joe Hossein, John Evans, Lyall Armstong, Ted McLean, Olga Ilich, Jon Wener, and many others. Eventually, I became president of UDI Pacific, and much to the surprise, and disappointment of many, UDI Canada. These were experiences that changed my life, just like my two short, but wonderful years at Narod. That's why I was so pleased to arrange yesterday's reunion for some former colleagues and David Mooney, who gave each of us one hell of an education. All being well, we'll meet up again on March 9, 2028 for the 45th Anniversary of Narod's receivership.

Letter to Vancouver is Awesome re: need for changes to the Broadway Plan March 8, 2024.

Behind every story there's a story. A few weeks ago, several people living around West 14th Avenue near Yew Street wrote to me to ask if I had seen what they considered to be an atrocious new 18-storey apartment building proposal in the middle of their block, surrounded by 2 and 3 storey duplexes. I took a look at the plans and agreed. 

A high rise building with trees and a street in the background

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As a retired architect I should not really criticize another architect or his work. But in this case I had to agree that not only was the building form wrong as a result of a flaw in the City's Broadway Plan, but the design was totally inappropriate. Moreover, the drawing was misleading. The adjacent properties were not stubby blocks as drawn, but lovely duplex homes (see below). 

Furthermore, this building would not cast gentle shadows as shown in the drawing, since in Vancouver the sun is in the south, not the north. In reality, the shadows would be much more significant, as illustrated in one of the many shadow drawings included in the architect's submission (below).

When the Broadway Plan first came out I had many serious reservations that I shared in a blogpost that was subsequently reprinted in the Georgia Straight.

I did not oppose the Broadway Plan two years ago as ardently as I should have since I had previously been lambasted for speaking out against a rental housing proposal at Broadway and Birch. At 28 storeys and a 10.52 FSR, I thought it was out of scale with the surrounding neighbourhood.

Many questioned why anyone should listen to someone as affluent and old as me, with such old-fashioned ideas about planning. Younger people suggested it was time for them to make planning decisions for the Broadway Corridor. After all, I would be dead while this plan was being implemented.

Well, today, the first Broadway Plan proposals are coming forward and fortunately I am still here. I have therefore decided to share my concerns in a Letter to the Editor of Vancouver is Awesome, published by Glacier Media. Below is the letter which, as expected, is generating much criticism on Twitter. However, I do hope that all city councillors will take a careful look at what I have written, and reconsider this flawed aspect of the Broadway Plan. As we are starting to see, there are literally dozens of new highrise rental apartment buildings being proposed, and many areas, including portions of the light industrial lands, where they should be proposed. They just shouldn't be happening, at least at this time, along West 14th near Yew, and along other low scale, low density residential streets. 

Dear Editor

On June 22, 2022, Vancouver city council approved the Broadway Plan. According to a press release at the time “the plan is intended to guide growth and positive change in the neighbourhoods surrounding the Broadway Subway over the next 30 years.”

As an architect, planner, real estate consultant, and property developer, I have spent my career seeking zoning approvals for higher density forms of housing. However, at the time, I had serious reservations about proposals contained within the 500-page planning document. 

They included the unfavourable impacts of high density, highrise buildings on established low-density neighbourhoods four to six blocks away from Broadway. 

The two- and three-storey homes in these neighbourhoods have a Floor Space Ratio (FSR) of 0.6. This is the ratio of the size of the building to the size of the lot. However, the plan proposed buildings at a 5.5 FSR, a tenfold density increase, with heights up to 18 storeys. 

A few former Vancouver city planners expressed concerns about these proposals. However, they were criticized by economists and others for worrying about the protection of neighbourhood character when we should be addressing the housing crisis.

Theresa O'Donnell, the city’s chief planner at the time, agreed. She repeatedly told the public and politicians that while these densities were high, they were necessary to achieve the desired level of housing affordability. 

While some neighbourhood groups also criticized the plan for its negative effects on established residential neighbourhoods, most of the public attention was on the plan’s impacts on low-income tenants in older rental buildings. At the 11th hour, Vancouver city council imposed additional rental protection policies.

Unfortunately, the underlying rationale for such excessive densities was flawed. After five decades trying to create affordable housing in the public and private sectors, I have learned that while it is difficult to create affordable housing without density, higher densities do not always equate to affordable housing. 

Notwithstanding their tenfold increase in density, these highrise buildings would not deliver the level of housing affordability we are all seeking.

Below is a proposed building at 2156 - 2172 West 14th Avenue — a lovely leafy street lined with attractive duplexes. Two similar buildings are proposed on Carolina Street and Manitoba Street.

As Mayor Ken Sim is fond of saying, Vancouver does not have a shadowing crisis, we have an affordability crisis. However, if this building is approved, it will create a lot of shaddowing, but not much affordable housing.

To obtain bank financing, 80% of the apartments will need to rent for $5 per square foot or more. One-bedroom rents will start at over $3000 and two- and three-bedroom suites will be $4,000 and $5000, and more. 

So why would this type of building even be considered? A few economists argue that given our housing crisis, creating supply is more important than protection of neighbourhood character. I disagree. 

Rather than build highrises along leafy residential streets lined with duplexes, we should locate taller, high-density buildings along Broadway and other major arterial roads, in areas away from established low-density neighbourhoods. The recent provincial Transit Oriented Area (TOA) policy identifies many areas where higher density housing can and should be accommodated. 

Neighbourhood character is important. Unfortunately, although the city prepared a comprehensive multiplex zoning policy for single-family properties, it has yet to prepare a policy for duplex areas. Now is the time. The allowable density should be greater than 1.0 FSR which is currently allowed on single-family zoned lots; but significantly less than the 5.5 FSR proposed by this building. 

Finally, there is another significant opportunity the city planners should explore.

When you fly over Vancouver you see a lot of green and blue. But there is also a lot of grey. The grey includes streets, rooftops, and large swaths of industrial zoned land.

Historically, zoning bylaws prohibited residential uses near noxious industrial activities for health reasons. However, today’s industry is not your grandfather’s industry. 

Today, industrial zoned lands in Mt. Pleasant and False Creek Flats are developed with high-tech offices, warehousing, and craft breweries.

Although industrial land is in short supply, many properties are so close to transit and other amenities they should be used for housing, mixed with industrial uses.

In the past, city planners feared allowing residential uses in industrial zones would increase land value so that industrial use would no longer be viable. However, as long residential development is in addition to industrial development, not replacing it, does it really matter if land values rise because housing can be built above a high-tech office or mini-storage warehouse? 

The Broadway Plan will offer many positive benefits. However, some aspects are flawed, especially allowing 5.5 FSR 18-storey towers immediately adjacent to and across from two-storey duplexes along leafy streets blocks away from Broadway. 

City council should therefore reject this 5.5 FSR 18-storey building and similar proposals on the east side of the city and impose a moratorium on other high-density, highrise buildings on low-density residential streets until a) staff have studied the opportunities afforded by the new provincial Transit Oriented Area policy; b) prepared a comprehensive densification policy for the RT-duplex zoned lands; and c) explored opportunities to mix housing and light industrial uses in Mt. Pleasant and other nearby industrial zoned lands.

As noted in the city’s 2022 press release, the Broadway Plan will guide growth and neighbourhood change surrounding the Broadway Subway over the next 30 years. Council should now ask city planners to make changes to ensure these neighbourhood changes are positive. 

Michael Geller is principal at The Geller Group and an adjunct professor at SFU's Centre for Sustainable Development, School of Resource and Environmental Management.

Vancouver high rises home to few children - Kerry Gold - Globe and Mail March 8, 2024

Last week I had a call from Globe and Mail journalist Kerry Gold who asked whether I had any thoughts on the appropriateness of highrise apartments for families with children. Did I ever! For years I have been thinking about this since my days at CMHC when we generally designed highrises for seniors but tried to accommodate families with children in townhouses, or low and midrise apartments generally not highter than the sixth or seventh floor. That is because social planners reminded us that parents wanted to be able to see their children playing outside and call out to them when necessary.

At CMHC, I also learned about the importance of building and suite designs for families with younger children. Exterior corridors were often preferable to long, interior corridors where children would run up and down and disturb other residents. In addition to outdoor play areas that had to be located where the kids were visible to the maximum number of homes, there should be interior play areas as well, if at all possible. We also needed to think about places to store strollers, prams, etc.

The suite design also needed modifications. While many people might be happy eating on a stool around an island, younger children really benefitted from an eating area in the kitchen with table and chairs. This was particularly true in the days when carpeting was the most common flooring in the dining and living area. For more information about designing apartments for kids, I suggested that Kerry check out a 1992 City of Vancouver publication 'Housing families at higher densities' which we used when designing Bayshore.

Although to be honest, we did not expect many kids to live at Bayshore since there was no nearby school. That's why we designed the play area as a 'sandbox' with a wooden boat replica, to look like a piece of art. You can find it in front of 1717 Bayshore Drive. 

While some say we just need government to mandate a requirement for more two and three bedroom suites, that in itself is not the answer. Why do I say this? Well check out this new 3-bedroom apartment. Can you imagine a family with three kids living there? For that matter, can you imagine any household living there? Just look at the size of the kitchen!

Yesterday, Kerry's excellent article appeared and generated considerable discussion. I was pleased to do a short follow-up interview with CKNW's Jas Johal who was interested in better understanding some of the comments I made in the article which you will find below. I hope this conversation continues.

With Metro Vancouver projected to add another one million people in 17 years, it’s no wonder that the province has unrolled so much legislation aimed at increasing density, particularly around transit.

If the projection is accurate, four million people will live in the region, and many of them will have kids. That makes high-rise living for families an essential part of the housing picture. However, we have a long way to go, Simon Fraser University City Program director Andy Yan says.

He found that only 15 per cent of Vancouver children under the age of 14 are living in multifamily buildings that are more than five storeys, either owned or rented, according to census numbers for 2021. In Burnaby, home to a lot of skyscrapers, only 17 per cent of kids live in these units. In Surrey, it’s 2 per cent. Region-wide, it’s 8 per cent of kids. In Toronto, by contrast, 35 per cent of children live in multifamily buildings.

Part of the problem for the Vancouver region, developer and real estate consultant Michael Geller says, is the drive for developers to sell enough units to qualify for financing, and in B.C. they typically only have a year to do so. With that kind of pressure, they cater to the investor who’s looking for studios and one-bedrooms to rent out, which is why two- and three-bedroom family units are often an afterthought unless there is government policy in place requiring a certain percentage of family units. He recalls recently arguing with a high-profile marketer who was pushing for small investor apartments in a project that didn’t even need to qualify for financing. But that is the Vancouver way.

“Other than government-funded projects and non-profit projects, it’s very rare that a market developer would develop or design a market condo or even rental project for families with children,” says Mr. Geller, who recently spoke on a panel about the reasons family housing doesn’t get built. “I know that most of the two-bedrooms we provide, we provide them because it’s an obligation, but rarely do we design those suites thinking there may be a toddler living in that unit.

“One reason is because, if it’s a new building, so much of the development program is based on what you can presell because if you can’t presell enough units, you won’t get your financing. And you might ask, why would the investors buy them? One reason is that the building might not be finished for four years, and most families are not in a position to buy something today that won’t be completed for four years.”

Mr. Geller started his career working for Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp., and he did a lot of social housing.

“In social housing projects, funded by CMHC, we were really designing for families with children, or empty nesters, rather than investors.”

As well, developers of dense buildings generally don’t put a lot of thought into family amenities, he adds. Play areas for children are kept off to the side and out of sight if they exist at all. Eating areas often involve sitting on stools at a kitchen counter, and there is little storage area for strollers and toys. “In Vancouver, the development of housing has always been about form following financing,” Mr. Yan says. “The needs of children should take precedence over granite countertops and walk-in closets. And it’s not just about affordability, but also size, design and amenities.”

There are signs, however, that developers are properly stepping into the family-friendly space, especially rental. Because of interest rates, the condo market isn’t as financially viable as it has been in previous years, so many developers are pivoting to rental, which is in demand. Government policies have helped, including the federal break on GST for rental construction. He cites census data that show renter households grew by 21.5 per cent by 2021, compared with owner households, which only grew by 8.4 per cent.

Developer Brent Sawchyn of PC Urban Properties says the project will include B.C.’s first 24-hour daycare.PC URBAN PROPERTIES

Developer Brent Sawchyn is proposing B.C.’s first 24-hour daycare for his site at West 13th Avenue and Willow Street, across from Vancouver General Hospital. It will serve hospital staff who work the night shift, and will be part of a two-tower, 354-unit purpose-built rental development that will include large indoor and outdoor play areas. The site is currently duplexes that they assembled and purchased, so it won’t involve displacement of renters. Mr. Sawchyn says his company is not looking at older rental buildings in the Broadway Plan area because of the complexity of the city’s tenant relocation and protection policy and because of “sensitivities” around displacing existing renters.

His Willow Street project is responding to the Broadway Plan requirement for a minimum 35 per cent of two or more bedrooms in market rental housing. The plan requires three-bedroom units “wherever possible.” In social housing projects suitable to families, the target is 50-per-cent two- and three-bedroom units.

“It’s an example of how the industry is trying to respond to what the needs will be,” says Mr. Sawchyn, who submitted a rezoning application for the project, at 816-860 W. 13th Ave. and 2915-2925 Willow St.

“It’s a different paradigm that we are looking at,” he adds. “I think maybe the luxury of opening the back door and letting your kid play in a backyard in a set surrounding is not going to be attainable for a lot of people going forward.

“Here in Vancouver the universe of single-family homes is essentially diminishing,” he says. “In various cohort groups people have decided to give up on home ownership and have decided to just focus on rental as a way of housing for their future.”

His company, PC Urban Properties, has about 900 apartment units under construction and another 1,100 proposed for Vancouver. Their focus is the Lower Mainland, but they also have projects in Victoria and Kelowna.

The site is currently duplexes that the developer assembled and purchased, so it won’t involve displacement of renters.PC URBAN PROPERTIES

“As we go forward, we probably need to be more cognizant in developing more of these projects to accommodate families.”

But there are challenges, including policies that he says overcomplicate the delivery of housing. He cites the example of his Kerrisdale site where they benefited from the federal government’s removal of GST on rental housing, which saved almost $10-million. But the Metro Vancouver and city fees amounted to $12-million. It takes about 15 or more months to get to a public hearing and another year to get the development permit.

“The costs that go into a rental project, unfortunately, find their way to what a tenant has to pay in rent, and the larger the apartment home, unfortunately, the more the rent is going to be.”

Downtown rentals are at around $6 per square foot in the new projects, or $3,000 for a 500-square-foot apartment.

Like many, he says a big part of the problem is that the federal government stopped building subsidized housing for families decades ago.

“The federal government abdicated their responsibility. Now the older stock by default has become our affordable supply because we haven’t built housing since the 1980s.”

Affordability is a continuing problem, but in the meantime, developers can step up amenities to attract families. Concert Properties just launched a lending library at its East Vancouver 28-acre Collingwood Village development, where residents can now borrow kitchen appliances, tools and sports gear as part of a partnership with a lending library company called the Thingery. The five-building complex has 704 rental units and has focused on family amenities such as play areas and tennis and basketball courts. The new lending library saves families money and reduces waste, Grant Knowles, Concert Properties vice-president of property management, says in an e-mail.

“There is a growing need to build communities and residential areas that can support families,” Mr. Knowles says.

Postscript: Kerry advises me that she did include the following that unfortunately had to be cut due to space limitations. 

Mr. Geller suggests that designing for families could include special attention paid to the first five storeys of the building, which are most suitable to families who want to be near ground level, and the play areas. Although it’s seldom a design feature, developers could design buildings with exterior corridors that are sheltered from the weather, areas where kids could play. Municipalities could allow enclosed balconies for extra play space.

He says the province’s recent announcement to possibly relax requirements that every building has two exit stairwells will help reconfigure apartment living into a much more pleasant, spacious, brighter experience—similar to European apartment living. The two-stairwell rule for apartment buildings has meant apartment units are off long dark corridors, whereas a single-stairwell building can have a bright central staircase and an elevator. 

That design change could also offer increased exchanges with one’s neighbours, which is key for a lot of families. It’s also easier to build single-stairwell buildings on smaller lots, where floor plate size is restricted.

“It’s much more important for families with children to know your neighbours than it is for 20-something singles living downtown,” he says. “It’s a reality that families with children tend to depend on one another much more. You want your children to play together or encourage them to play together.”


Saturday, March 2, 2024

A Night in the Catskills - Jewish Humour Then and Now - JSA 20th Anniversary Gala - March 17, 2024

The following is an account of a forthcoming Jewish Seniors Alliance (JSA) Event as printed in a recent edition of the Jewish Independent, the community newspaper. I am proud to be one of the organizers and sponsors. It will take place on St. Patricks Day since St. Patrick was probably Jewish. How do I know? Because he liked green. 

The room has a capacity of about 200 people and as of today I am told 150 tickets have been sold. So if you are interested in attending, please reserve soon. And of course, you don't have to be Jewish to enjoy Jewish humour, and you most certainly don't have to be Jewish to attend this event! 

Kyle Berger, left, and David Granirer headline the Jewish Seniors Alliance’s A Night in the Catskills on March 17. (photos from JSA)

Kyle Berger, left, and David Granirer headline the Jewish Seniors Alliance’s A Night in the Catskills on March 17. (photos from JSA)

The Jewish Seniors Alliance of Greater Vancouver is celebrating its 20th anniversary with an event that’s all about laughter.

A Night in the Catskills: Jewish Humour Then and Now takes place at Congregation Schara Tzedeck March 17, 6 p.m.

“Jewish humour has enabled the Jewish world to gain strength through a history that shows that we should not be in existence today, but here we are bigger, stronger and better than ever!” said Marilyn Berger, a past president of JSA, who will make her debut as a stand-up comedian at the event. “Ask Kyle,” she said, referring to one of her sons. “I have given my family plenty to laugh about.”

It is perhaps not a coincidence then that Kyle Berger preceded his mother on the standup stage, and also produces comedy shows. He and David Granirer, founder of Stand Up for Mental Health, are headliners of the 20th anniversary event, which will include a performance by magician Stephen R. Kaplan, aka the Maestro. The whole megillah will be emceed by JSA board member Michael Geller, whose involvement in JSA was inspired by his late father, Sam Geller.

“He derived a great deal of joy from regularly attending JSA events and this is one of the reasons why the organization is so special to me,” Geller told the Independent.

Michael Geller emcees JSA’s A Night in the Catskills at Schara Tzedeck. (photo from JSA)

“This comedy night is a follow up to a similar event organized by JSA 13 years ago,” he explained. “It was initiated by a phone call from the late Serge Haber, who called to tell me that the province had just canceled JSA’s gaming grant, but he knew my father would want me to help replace the funds. I asked how much was the grant. He said it was $18,000. I told him that was too much for me, but I had an idea.

“I was a fan of the website Old Jews Telling Jokes. Since JSA served many older Jews, I offered to book a room, buy some deli, and invite 17 of my friends to join me and each put up $1,000 and we would entertain one another with our favourite Jewish jokes.”

Haber – who founded JSA – liked the idea, as did the board, but they also wanted to join, and couldn’t afford to pay $1,000 each. So, the format was changed to one where people would attend and donate what they could, said Geller. Held at Congregation Beth Israel, almost 250 showed up.

“We presented clips from Old Jews Telling Jokes and invited people in the audience to share a joke in return for a donation. Everybody agreed it was a fabulous event,” said Geller. “There was just one small problem. We didn’t raise very much money. 

“So, this year we are charging $118 dollars to attend. Some generous members of the community are coming forward and agreeing to be sponsors. This will allow other seniors in the community who can’t afford $118 to attend. It has also allowed us to hire Tim Bissett, an experienced professional event organizer to assist with the program.”

Stephen R. Kaplan is a special guest performer at the 20th anniversary celebration. (photo from JSA)

Expressing gratitude to the sponsors on behalf of JSA, Geller said, “we are hoping other community members will come forward, especially those who regularly share their favourite Jewish jokes on the golf course. Sponsors will be invited to participate in the program by telling a favourite joke or two, or introducing a favourite comedian or routine.”

For his part, Geller is preparing for his role as emcee by watching vintage and contemporary Jewish comedians and selecting material. “The program will also include some professional comedians who are volunteering their time, and special appearances by local rabbis who have been urged to share stories they would never tell in shul,” he said.

“I am thrilled to be celebrating our 20th anniversary and look forward to going from strength to strength as my own children now, believe it or not, become seniors!” said Berger, who shared her appreciation for the organization that Haber started.

“As I gracefully age,” she said, “I thank Serge for enabling me to spend my golden senior years embraced by the love that Seniors Alliance offers.”

“JSA undertakes many programs that benefit so many Jewish seniors, including the excellent Senior Line magazine,” said Geller. “While we are supported by many community organizations and foundations, we need additional funding. I am, therefore, hoping this evening will help promote the organization’s good work and, this time, actually raise money to allow it to continue.”

For tickets to A Night in the Catskills or to become an event sponsor, visit or call 604-732-1555. 

ps. If you're not quite sure whether you like Jewish humour, here's a story about Herschel, the Magnificent Jew.

Friday, February 23, 2024

Co-living: another type of housing needed in Vancouver.

According to Vancouver Is Awesome North Vancouver is now the most expensive place in which to rent an unfurnished one-bedroom unit in Canada, with its new-to-market units averaging $2,802 a month in February; it also had the highest prices for two- and three-bedroom units.

Nonetheless, most single people live alone often in these expensive studio or one-bedroom apartments. While two unrelated people may share a two-bedroom apartment, rarely do two unrelated people share a one-bedroom apartment. Furthermore, the living room is rarely used at night. Why? Because the standard one-bedroom apartment design is not conducive to sharing.

I am therefore hoping North Vancouver District staff and Council will welcome our proposal for a new 5-storey building in Maplewood Village Centre offering 33 co-living suites designed for sharing. As a result of the unique design features, these 33 suites could provide more affordable accommodation for up to 88 residents.

If you are not familiar with co-living, it is different from co-housing, or cooperative housing. Instead, it is what many of us experienced when we were at university or starting our first job. It is living with other people and sharing...sometimes a bathroom, but always a kitchen (or two), and living/dining spaces. Sometimes the rooms are furnished or partially furnished and sometimes some services are provided.

Coliving often happens in an old house shared by five people, or it can be a large new building conplex like those being developed by and other similar operators. I personally experienced different forms of co-living which I wrote about five years ago in an article about the need for more innovative forms of housing. Some of these experiences resulted in some innovative designs at UniverCity, the model sustainable community I oversaw at SFU from 1999 to 2006.

I have recently been working with a developer and Integra Architects on a proposal for a residential development on a small site in Maplewood Village Centre in the District of North Vancouver, within walking distance of various shops and services and Phibbs BusExchange. While from the outside it appears like a conventional 5-storey apartment building, the building offers an excellent opportunity to create another form of co-living, with a variety of suite layouts designed for sharing. Our goal is to incorporate some of the best ideas developed at UniverCity and other co-living developments.

Below are illustrations of two such suite designs incorporating what CMHC and others sometimes refer to as 'flex housing' features.

In this proposal the flexible one-bedroom, two-bedroom and four-bedroom suite designs allow living rooms to become bedrooms at night. How? By simply adding a door to the living room and including a small closet.

The building also includes lock-off suite designs, similar to those pioneered at UniverCity. The lock-off potion of the suite creates a rental unit and mortgage helper for a first time buyer. However, in this building the lock-off suite also has a living room designed to serve as bedroom at night.

As my former colleague Norm Couttie, former president of Adera, who is working with me on this proposal recently said, given the housing affordability crisis, we cannot continue to do things just like we did in the past. We need to try and innovate. Some innovations may not work. But others may well lead to commonplace solutions in the future. I believe our North Van District proposal will work, especially if it can be regarded as a demonstration project. We just need to get the planning staff and Council to let us proceed, sooner rather than later, since the interest meter is ticking!