I was interested in the following on-line The Tyee account of a panel discussion that I attended yesterday at the Globe 2010 conference....
No room for single-family zoning in Vancouver's future: panel
Vancouver could halve its greenhouse gas emissions simply through rezoning laws, said one of the city's leading green building architects today.
Peter Busby, of the firm Busby, Perkins + Will, joined Mayor Gregor Robertson and former mayor Michael Harcourt for a panel discussion of the future of cities, part of the GLOBE conference on business and the environment.
Rest assured, said Busby, there is no room for single-family zoning in cities of the future.
"We have this vast area of single-family residents. These are the models that emerged out of city planning post-war, when planning departments were set up," Busby said. "They largely thought this was the right thing to do. . . put all the officers together. . . you live out there in your houses, and over there is where you shop.
"But it's the wrong model today."
By creating 'nodes' around the city of dense, multi-use buildings clustered around major transit stations, the average Vancouver citizen could reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions from five to 2.5 tonnes, said Busby.
While all panelists agree that public education and outreach is key, they acknowledged that rezoning is a contentious issue and political hot potato. Mayor Sullivan's plan to brand and sell 'EcoDensity' was also a focal point for resident backlash against city-wide rezoning efforts.
Robertson said 'EcoDensity' was really just a bundling of existing city practices and planning, and said residential groups felt left out of the process.
"My approach has been, let's embrace this all together," Robertson said. "Keep them in the dialogue."
He pointed to city council's recent approval of laneway housing as a positive for density and individual property values.
Although it will take a "Herculean" effort to change zoning patterns, not just here but around the Western world, Busby said two trends offer a great opportunity for densification: Single-family homes passing from one generation to the next, and growing immigrant populations from countries like Asia where high-rise apartments, walking and public transit are typical.
"Single-family ownership of a place to live is incredibly important in this society," said Busby. "But there can be many forms of that."
Colleen Kimmett reports for The Tyee.
The first Globe conference took place 20 years ago in 1990, just as concern for the environment was beginning to become a regular front page story. As the President of UDI Canada, I was invited to speak at the inaugural event on the topic of real estate development and the environment. Working with my then speech writer Frank O'brian, we prepared a talk on how real estate developers could actually enhance, rather than destroy the planet. My speech outlined things like brownfield development/site remediation, densification, and transit oriented development as three examples of what should be done.
Just before starting my talk with panelists from other parts of the world, I realized that I was the only speaker from North America. So I decided to start out with how proud I was to be representing not just Vancouver, or British Columbia, or Canada, but my continent. At this point, from the back of the room, a lady stood up and shouted out "And I don't think there could be a more inappropriate person to be speaking!"
She wasn't a delegate, but rather one of the people who had been protesting the Spetifore Lands Development, with which I was involved at the time. She had read in the newspaper that I was a speaker, and had decided to crash the event. I never really recovered from her intrusion!
At this year's event, I attended the session described above in The Tyee story. There was no one there to heckle the Mayor, or Peter Busby, or Roland Aurich, President of Siemans Canada, or Mike Harcourt who moderated the panel. But it was a very interesting discussion and worth commenting upon.
Just after the Mayor finished his presentation, the person next to me whispered "he looks like Clark Kent but sounds like a politician". It was true. However, I will say that the Mayor seemed very comfortable and relaxed talking about the future planning of Vancouver, and comes across as a much better speaker than two years ago, when I first heard him.
Peter Busby's presentation is a must see for anyone who cares about the future of the city. While he somewhat wavered on whether we really need to replace all lower density single family housing around the city, his basic notion of creating a network of mid and higher density mixed use 'nodes' is worthy of careful consideration. Essentially, he is proposing an arrangement that would result in densification not only along main arterials, but at the intersections of secondary arterials...such as 16th, King Edward, 49th, and 57th and corresponding north-south streets. This would allow people to walk to shops and offices, rather than always having to get into their cars. The following image was not in his presentation, but is an illustration of an idea his firm put forward in a recent Vancouver design competition....Peter illustrated the GreenHouseGas impacts of different forms of development...comparing the West End with Kerrisdale and lower density areas. His conclusion was that the nodal approach would allow single family areas, with a mix of low and mid density forms to continue, while still allowing us to reduce GHG's significantly.
The first questions from the floor all addressed the most obvious challenges...how to get neighbourhood residents to accept increased density nodes, on lands currently occupied by single family homes. The mayor correctly talked about the need for political will. I'll be curious to see if he is prepared to demonstrate such political will when rezonings do come forward...so far he and his councillors did rightly support a higher density proposal at W41st and Balaclava.
However, I do have to somewhat disagree with the Mayor's assessment of why EcoDensity failed and the beneficial impacts of Laneway Housing. While I have been a longstanding proponent of this housing forms, and statistically he is right...there are 70,000 single family properties where laneway houses could be built, I doubt whether we will see any really significant take-up of this idea, as it is currently structured.For one thing, the forms of housing most people would like...a small flat over a two-car garage, or a single story inexpensive 'modular' home, such as I was proposing, are not permitted on most lots. Secondly, with the complex approval process and considerable fees, the total cost for a small rental unit is too high for most homeowners. (My understanding is that to date, about 33 laneway homes have received City Hall approval, and another 36 are in the system... quite modest numbers. I am also told the total cost is closer to $250,000 than $150,000 for a unit not much more than 500 sq.ft.) If the units could be sold off, the response might be quite different.
After listening to Peter promoting grey water recycling and a variety of other engineering innovations, I had to ask the panelist how to deal with government bureaucrats who are usually reluctant to allow such innovations to be constructed. Former Mayor and Premier Harcourt jumped on the question, pointing out how the Fire Marshall often determines the width of roads in communities, to ensure that two fire trucks can pass each other....etc. etc. The Mayor astutely observed that it is often a question of risk, and politicians have to encourage and support officials to take these risks when they have environmental benefits. He pointed to the 'district heating' system at South East False Creek as a good example of what can be done.
As for the gentleman from Siemans, he preferred to focus on the global perspective...his company is one of 70,000 truly global operations, with a very impressive array of products in energy, transportation, health care, etc. His company is keen to serve the increasing number of mega-cities rising around the world. So the challenges of a rezoning in Dunbar didn't really cross his radar. But he had some nice pictures.
In the afternoon, I moderated a panel on Smart Cities with David Helliwell, co-founder of Pulse Energy (a company that can measure energy consumed by buildings and communities), Eamann Percy, President of Powertech, BC Hydro's subsidiary specializing in clean energy; Anthony Haines, the new President of Toronto Hydro, and Hellmuth Frey, a gentle engineer overseeing a major project in Germany. I learned about new technologies that allow electric power to be distributed and energy to be priced according to the time of use, and other innovations to reduce consumption and GHG's.
In the audience was Dianne Watts, Mayor of Surrey and some of her councillors. I was impressed that they would take the time to attend Globe and learn about such innovations. It seems that Helliwell is already working with Surrey....he's someone to watch! And so is the Mayor of Surrey!