Thursday, January 27, 2011

Some more musings on 150 foot buildings in Chinatown and the DTES

The discussion regarding the appropriateness of more buildings up to 150 feet in height in Chinatown and the DTES is continuing. Frances Bula has written about it, and many are talking about it. In the last few days, I have often been asked my views. So the following is a modified version of comments I posted this morning on Frances Bula's site.

I am troubled by the notion that we should consider taller buildings in Chinatown because some businessmen in the Chinatown community think this will lead to economic revitalization.

Conversely, I am troubled by the claims of 30 ‘learned’ academics that we should not allow taller buildings since they will result in a loss of affordable housing for the poor, and gentrification in the area.

With respect to the first comment, revitalization is already happening in Chinatown and in a limited number of DTES locations. I appreciate that some of the Chinatown merchants may not like the changes being brought about by the two new condominium projects V6A and Ginger, and the new restaurants and professional offices opening up in the area that are bringing a new demographic into the area, but the reality is that our Chinatown has changed forever, as a result of the emergence of Richmond’s ‘Chinatown’ and other 'Chinatowns' around the region.

In my opinion, there will continue to be new condominium developments catering to hip young buyers in Chinatown regardless of whether the height limits allow 10 storeys or 16 storeys. But I fear that allowing 5 new buildings up to 16 storeys along Main Street, (as staff are suggesting might be possible), will ultimately lead to a very different character for the area. It’s not just the five buildings…it’s the five more buildings that come afterwards, and then another five buildings and so on....

I worry that these taller buildings along Main Street will likely detract from the heritage character of the area. One reason I worry is that I don’t know what the new buildings will look like. That is why I have suggested to staff that they prepare drawings illustrating what 16 storey buildings might look like from different angles.

Now I admit I might be wrong. So please show me and others the pictures. Then we will all be in a more informed position to comment.

I also admit that some of my concerns are rooted in the above mentioned notion that taller buildings are necessary for economic revitalization. To me this is nonesense. I just don’t believe it.

So what’s the solution, In addition to seeing some illustrations, I would like to hear from architect Joe Wai, who has been working in Chinaotwn for four decades, and knows the area much better than me. He also understands what tall buildings can, and cannot do.

And although we have heard from 30 ‘learned academics’, I would also like to hear from other academics, especially those who are knowledgeable about architecture and planning.

I am troubled by the silence of professors from the School of Community and Regional Planning and the Faculty of Architecture at UBC. I would like to hear their views on the staff report.

I would also like to hear from more professionals in Vancouver’s architectural and planning community. I know some are conflicted, and some may be reluctant to speak out since they worry doing so might compromise their ability to get approvals from staff or Councils in the future. But the planning of important heritage areas in the city are at stake.

I think we all deserve second or third opinions on these important planning propositions.

(And while the professors and architects/planners are at it, I hope they will comment on the building heights/views/capacity report for the downtown.

And then they can comment on other current proposals for taller buildings and higher densities around the city.)

To be honest, I don’t know what they will say. They may completely disagree with my concerns, but I think it is important for staff and Council to hear from these people…not just from caring sociologists and related academics who might have been asked by activists concerned about the potential gentrification of the DTES (or by other colleagues who were approached by activists concerned about the potential gentrification of the DTES).

I would like to conclude on the subject of gentrification, which along with ‘revitalization’ seems to be at the root of this discussion,

I understand gentrification to mean the eviction of lower income households by the ‘gentry’ who move into an area as it is being revitalized and improved.

In the case of the DTES, a lot of the lower income households are living in affordable housing stock that is protected…since it is owned by governments and non-profits, or covered by anti-demolition bylaws. I acknowledge that some of the housing may be deliberately allowed to run-down, but the city can take steps to prevent this from happening too.

Furthermore, whether the building heights are 10 storeys or 16 storeys, we are going to see condominium development in both the DTES and Chinatown…and I think this is a good thing….they will result in healthier, more interesting and diverse communities.

The current situation in the DTES and Chinatown is not acceptable…there is a need for a broader social and income mix, and yes revitalization. But let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater. This might happen unless we better understand the ramifications of more 150 foot buildings.


Scales said...

Exact specs BH: I really loved getting to play a couple of movements of The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady. That was a first for me. All of that pixie / plunger stuff is a blast to play. 4.Mouthpiece Pressure

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