$1-billion Downtown Eastside Improvement Plan proposed

Dec 19 2017, 9:49 am

Update, March 15, 2014: The City of Vancouver has approved the $1 billion plan.

The City of Vancouver has a billion dollar Downtown Eastside plan to improve the look and livability of Vancouver’s oldest neighbourhood, a neighbourhood that is already going through some intense revitalization.

The goal of the Downtown Eastside (DTES) local area plan is to create a vision and plan for the Downtown Eastside that will focus on ways to improve the lives of low-income DTES residents and community members.

The DTES local area plan will be developed in partnership with the DTES Neighbourhood Council (DNC), Building Community Society (BCS), and the Local Area Planning Committee.

Through each phase of the planning process, there will be a range of community engagement opportunities, where Vancouverites can share their ideas and offer feedback.

The Downtown Eastside is a collection of neighbourhoods, and each area will benefit from this billion dollar improvement plan.

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Downtown Eastside Neighbourhoods and Improvement Plan

Victory Square

Victory Square is Vancouver’s historic downtown and is the transition area to the Central Business District. Named for Victory Square Park, a significant public park and ceremonial space, the area’s primary streets include Hastings Street, Pender Street and Beatty Street.

The aim of the plan is to facilitate compatible new residential and mixed-use development, while reinforcing the existing scale and character of the area. The plan calls for rehabilitation of heritage buildings, including residential (SRO) hotels.


The plan for the Victory Square area also calls for the continued fostering of growth as an emerging centre for arts, culture, and higher education uses along with increase in office space, especially along Beatty street up to Dunsmuir (see example of such addition in the photo above).


Vancouver’s first municipal neighbourhood, Gastown has long been recognized for its historic value and rich architectural character. In 2009, the neighbourhood was designated as a National Historic Site.

Predominantly defined by Water Street and Maple Tree Square, Gastown has significant public realm areas including the Carrall Street Greenway, the former CPR right-of-way, and Blood Alley Square. As an important tourist destination and retail/service area, Gastown has attracted significant investment and redevelopment in recent years which is expected to continue into the future.

Expect to see improvements in the streetscape including the possibility of a re-do of the cobblestones streets that cover Gastown’s streets.


Vancouver’s Chinatown is one of the last remaining, large historic Chinatowns in North America. It is an important cultural and tourist destination, and has long-served as a market district for specialty Asian goods and services. It is on the verge of transitioning as locals are reinvesting in the once overlooked area.

The Chinatown area includes several prominent retail and service streets, such as Pender Street, as well as numerous secondary streets that access other adjacent areas. Public spaces are defined by larger public and private parks and open space, including the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden as well as the fine-grained pattern of streets, lanes, breezeways and courtyards.

Chinatown has seen increased development interest in recent years, including heritage building rehabilitation as well as new mixed-use development.

A midrise development currently under construction in Chinatown

A midrise development currently under construction in Chinatown

The focus going forward will be to accelerate implementation and implementation of the Economic Revitalization Strategy, and to continue to work with the community to advance neighbourhood revitalization.

Oppenheimer District

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The Downtown Eastside Oppenheimer District (DEOD), a.k.a Japantown, is a central neighbourhood of the DTES and is the heart of the low-income community. With its origins dating back to pre-settler history as the site of seasonal trading camps of the Coast Salish aboriginal communities, the area has been home to numerous immigrant groups over the past 120 years. Two of its most notable early associations is with the Japanese-Canadian community and its longstanding linkages to industry and the labour movement.

The plan affirms the base development rights for the neighbourhood, and updates the zoning’s bonus density mechanism to meet the goals of the Housing Plan by prioritizing the area for rental housing. Using innovative development models, the City will encourage mixed-income rental buildings (60 percent social housing and 40 percent secured market rental), to build and support sustainable social housing units and encourage market rental development rather than strata-ownership housing in the area.

In addition to housing, the plan identifies and encourages commercial activity in the DEOD through upgrading existing commercial uses and developing new commercial uses which serve both local residents and the working population. This will be achieved through land-use policies to ensure locally-serving uses meet the needs of residents, and through future exploration of retail policies to encourage and support small, local businesses (i.e. maximum frontages or floor areas for certain uses).

In addition, moderate bonus density is available without the social housing requirement to support the expansion of existing commercial and industrial uses.

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Hastings Street

Hastings Street is the principal street of the DTES, crossing most neighbourhoods and serving as a significant regional transportation route. This street has always had different character areas along its stretch, and today it still embodies different roles as it passes through different neighbourhoods. In certain sections, it was once a historic “great street”, with a vibrant commercial and retail function, with high pedestrian volumes and numerous small businesses serving local residents.

Today, certain sections of Hastings Street serve as a living room for people living in single room occupancy hotels (SROs).

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An objective of the plan is to make Hastings Street a “great street” again, with focussed efforts on building vibrant hubs along different sections to meet the needs of the communities through which it passes. To do this, the plan addresses the Hastings Street corridor in three parts: Hastings – West (Victory Square), Hastings – Centre (DEOD – Sub-area 1), and Hastings – East (M1) for which smaller sub- areas have been proposed (Heatley Avenue to Campbell Avenue, Campbell Avenue to Glen Drive, and Glen Drive to Clark Drive).

Furthermore, it sets the foundation for additional work to develop and detailed urban design framework including a public realm plan for this significant corridor.

955 East Hastings

955 East Hastings

Strathcona and Kiwassa

Strathcona is a primarily residential neighbourhood that forms a significant portion of the DTES, with Kiwassa being a smaller sub-area within Strathcona. It is a diverse neighbourhood with a mix of residential homes, including single family, co-ops, apartments, and several medium density social housing developments.

Some areas of Strathcona also include light industrial uses, wholesaling and commercial activities.

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Railtown is a small industrial area of the DTES, defined by its unique built form and street configuration. It’s a neighbourhood that has emerged in recent years and is becoming a hub of activity attracting entrepreneurs and established businesses alike. Aritzia’s head office is one of the more prominent located in Railtown.

Centred primarily around Railway Avenue and Alexander Street, from Princess Avenue to Main Street, Railtown is an informal sub-area of the larger industrial area supporting the rail and port.

In the western portion of the Railtown area, there are a large number of heritage warehouse buildings that have been converted to office use. Community interest has developed around identifying and marketing Railtown as a special area, with emphasis on the growing cluster of small, high-tech, creative, and design sectors, noting there are successful industrial uses and businesses are also located in the area.

The goal of the improvement plan is to affirm and update Railtown’s role as a historic warehouse district with a mix of local, regional, national, and global-serving industrial and office uses.

Hogan’s Alley

Hogan's Alley Vancouver Future

The City reviewed the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts land as part of a larger strategic planning review of the area called the Eastern Core, which includes portions of North East False Creek and the False Creek Flats. The viaducts, which are two elevated roadways connecting the Eastern Core area to downtown Vancouver, are the remnants of a 1960s freeway system that were abandoned after significant public opposition, much of it from the Strathcona and Chinatown communities.

Through their construction, the viaducts had significant impact on the DTES including the loss of the physical and social heart of Vancouver’s Black community, known as “Hogan’s Alley”.

Through their continued existence, they also cut off many neighbourhoods from the False Creek waterfront and each other, including Chinatown, Strathcona, and Thornton Park. A proposal to replace the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts with an at-grade road network has been put forward to dramatically improve the area. The key benefits associated with the removal of the viaducts include:

  1. Create more park and open space
  2. Repair the gap on Main Street
  3. Create opportunities for affordable housing on the City-owned blocks
  4. Reconnect communities to False Creek and to each other
  5. Re-instate Georgia Street’s ceremonial role
  6. Improve the transportation network

Summary of 10-Year and 30-Year Housing Objectives

Given the sensitivity to the amount of housing need, condition of current low-income housing in the private sector (i.e. SROs) and consideration for mental health and addictions support services, the housing objectives for the DTES have been strategically staged over the life of the plan.

The first 5-10 years will be to mobilize partnerships and innovation to address the current housing and health crisis in the neighbourhood. Years 10-30 will continue to build and sustain a vibrant and affordable community next to the urban core.

Total 30-Year Objectives:

  1. Create 4,400 new social housing units in the DTES
  2. Address the need for an additional 3,350 social housing units for DTES residents outside the DTES (including social housing, supportive/scattered site housing or rent subsidies)
  3. Request 1,650 ongoing rent subsidies from the Province for DTES residents to increaseaffordability in existing social housing and private market rental housing
  4. Achieve partnership funding for 1,900 scattered sites (income and health supports) for DTESresidents with mental health and addictions and 150 residential beds in the DTES
  5. Encourage 2,200 upgrades to SRO rooms (including 1,100 renovated BC Housing rooms and1,100 upgrades to non-profit operated rooms to contain private bathrooms and cookingfacilities)
  6. Create 3,000 new units of secured market rental housing (including Rental 100 projects, 40 percent market rental policy in DEOD, and converted SRO rooms to units)
  7. Accommodate estimated 8,850 new affordable home ownership units

First 10-Years Objectives:

  1. Create 1,400 new social housing units in the DTES
  2. Request 1,650 new rent subsidies from the Province for DTES residents to increase affordabilityin existing social housing and private market rental housing
  3. Achieve partnership funding for 1,300 scattered sites (income and health supports) for DTESresidents with mental health and addictions and 150 residential beds in the DTES
  4. Encourage 1,900 upgrades to SRO rooms (including 1,100 renovated BC Housing rooms and 800upgrades to non-profit operated rooms to contain private bathrooms and cooking facilities)
  5. Create 1,650 new units of secured market rental housing (including Rental 100 projects, 40percent market rental policy in DEOD, and converted SRO rooms to units)
  6. Create 1,650 new units of affordable market rental housing in the DTES

Proposed changes in Downtown Eastside housing stock

DTES Housing Plan

DTES Transportation Plan

The transportation network, which includes sidewalks, bikeways and greenways, transit routes, major and local streets, and laneways, is an essential component of our communities, the city, and the region. Enhancing sustainable transportation choices will allow us to address the challenge of continued growth without increased road space.


Pedestrian mobility is an important priority for the DTES Community, both as an active mode of
transportation and as an affordable one. Concerns about walking safety and accessibility have been highlighted in various studies specific to the area and some of the highest pedestrian collision locations in Vancouver are located within the DTES. Recent changes to Hastings Street, such as reducing the speed limit to 30 kilometres per hour, installation of countdown timers for pedestrians, and adding a mid-block crosswalk between Main Street and Columbia Street, are aimed at improving safety for people on foot.

Focusing enforcement on unsafe behaviours, such as speeding, reckless driving and cycling, and failing to yield to people crossing the street in marked and unmarked crosswalks, is a high priority.

Enhancing the comfort and safety of the streets throughout the neighbourhood can help to encourage walking. Potential connections to the waterfront and across the railway will
help to improve the connectivity throughout the community.


Cycling provides a low-cost, healthy, and sustainable transportation option to the residents of the DTES, especially considering the close proximity to the downtown core. The Adanac Bikeway is one of the busiest bike routes in the city and has recently undergone upgrades to make it safer and more comfortable for people of all ages and abilities.

Providing additional east-west cycling routes will help provide alternate options to the Adanac Bikeway. New north-south bike routes will help improve connections to the waterfront, False Creek and, in the future, the updated Great Northern Way Campus. Routes should be designed to accommodate people of all ages and abilities and to reduce conflicts between road users.
This may include separated bike lanes on high-volume routes.


The DTES is served by several bus routes and transit ridership in the community is high. Future high capacity transit and restoration of the streetcar routes could help to further improve transit connections in the DTES.

Despite the availability of transit in the DTES, the cost of transit fares has
been identified as a barrier to accessing transit for many residents. Safety and comfort around bus stops has also been identified as a concern for the community.

Goods Movement and Loading

The port adjacent to the DTES is linked by a north/south rail corridor and provides a significant asset and opportunity for the community. Mitigating the negative impacts of the movement of goods to the port may come through future improvements and road/rail separation.

The plan for the improvement of the DTES is essential and a key turning point in the city’s future. As downtown Vancouver becomes built out there will be continued pressure eastward to expand. The DTES side is currently in the early stages of transformation. With a city focus to improve the public realm, it will help further establish the area as the creative and cultural hub of the city.

The plan goes before council on March 12.

Source/Images: City of Vancouver

DH Vancouver StaffDH Vancouver Staff

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