Vancouver Plan prepares city-wide growth of 260,000 more residents

Apr 6 2022, 12:04 am

A planning process that began about three years ago to provide Vancouver with its first comprehensive and cohesive city-wide master plan is in its final stretch, now that a draft plan has been produced for public consultation.

The draft Vancouver Plan released today outlines how the core city of Metro Vancouver will accommodate the forecasted growth over the next 30 years of about 260,000 additional residents for a total population of about 920,000 people, and up to 210,000 more jobs for a total of about 630,000 jobs.

It took Vancouver roughly 50 years to gain its most recent 260,000 residents; Vancouver’s population was just over 400,000 in the middle of the 1960s.

Currently, Vancouver’s land area of 115 sq km is home to 25% of the region’s residents (662,000 residents), 30% of the region’s homes (328,000 units), and 34% of the region’s jobs (337,000 jobs).

Based on this forecast, Vancouver in 2050 will have a comparable population to the 870,000 residents who live in San Francisco today, which has a land area of 121 sq km. Vancouver will still come ahead of Surrey, which is forecast to see about 884,000 residents by 2050.

During a briefing with media today, Theresa O’Donnell, the chief urban planner for the City of Vancouver, stated the city is expected to remain the core and preferential employment city of the region, but its proportion of the region’s population is likely to fall over time from the expected growth of the suburban cities. The projected growth of Vancouver, she says, is aligned with the regional growth strategy by Metro Vancouver Regional District, which is typically 1% annually.

To accommodate the growth, while also aiming to make a dent in the structural issues that exacerbate housing affordability issues, the Vancouver Plan envisions the transformation of single-family neighbourhoods across the city with a minimum baseline of gentle densification — such as townhomes, multiplexes, and low-storey multi-family buildings. Multiplexes would be permitted in all single-family neighbourhoods.

Today, 57% of Vancouver’s land is zoned for single-detached homes, and there are 68,000 single-family lots.

There is also a particular goal to make densification “equitable” by introducing more growth across the Vancouver Westside — the half of the city that has traditionally absorbed less growth, relative to the Eastside. A balance will be sought between accommodating growth and “respecting the local character of our neighbourhoods.”

vancouver draft area plan

Densification strategy of the draft Vancouver Plan, April 2022. Click on the map for an expanded version. (City of Vancouver)

vancouver draft area plan

Densification strategy of the draft Vancouver Plan for rapid transit corridors near stations, April 2022. (City of Vancouver)

Higher densities can be expected for areas where they can naturally be expected — along major arterial street corridors, and near existing and future SkyTrain stations, other rapid transit, major bus services, the core of the city and region (downtown Vancouver peninsula and Central Broadway, collectively known as the Metro Core area), and the Oakridge Municipal Town Centre. Transit-oriented development and integration are also highlighted as an objective.

New housing would be aimed to tackle specific supply issues for the “missing middle” of the shortage of suitable housing options for the large segment of households that are middle class, including new options in lower-density areas for this group.

Preserving existing and creating new purpose-built rental housing and social housing will continue to be key housing tenure priorities.

The Vancouver Plan also envisions how businesses and employment will grow in the city over time — everything from small-scale commercial uses such as bringing back corner stores to large-scale uses of better ensuring there is sufficient long-term office and hotel supply, which will be focused in the Metro Core.

Through the concept of “complete neighbourhoods,” the goal is to have 76% of residents be within a five-minute walk of shops, dining, essential services, and schools — up from 58% today.

Over the decades, Vancouver has lost much of its industrial land supply through redevelopment, primarily for residential uses. But the Vancouver Plan aims to address the depletion by protecting and intensifying industrial uses.

vancouver draft area plan

Opportunities to increase employment areas under the draft Vancouver Plan, April 2022. Click on the map for an expanded version. (City of Vancouver)

As for the transportation network to support the growth, the city intends to double down on public transit expansion, aligning itself with TransLink’s Transport 2050 plan approved by the Mayors’ Council earlier this year.

This includes not only the SkyTrain extension from Arbutus Street to UBC, but also rapid transit lines west-east from UBC to Metrotown via 41st Avenue and 49th Avenue, west-east along Hastings Street, north-south along Commercial Drive and Victoria Drive, west-east along Marine Drive from Marine Drive Station to Burnaby, and north-south to the North Shore via both the First Narrows and Second Narrows. Some of these new routes could be accomplished by at-grade rapid bus.

Also aligned with Transport 2050 is the city’s call for major capacity relief upgrades for the Expo Line and Canada Line.

More efforts would also be made toward expanding and improving active transportation. The goal is for all residents to live within a five-minute walk of a greenway route for walking and cycling.

The broader aim is for Vancouver as a whole to reach carbon neutral by 2050 and potentially “negative emissions” beyond 2050.

vancouver draft area plan

Map of potential public transit network in the draft Vancouver Plan, April 2022. (City of Vancouver)

When it comes to new and improved public amenities, the draft plan suggests strategies to integrate childcare into the complete neighbourhoods concept, along with more community and recreational spaces, public libraries, green and open spaces, naturalized areas, and improved public washroom access.

In an interview with Daily Hive Urbanized, Donny Wong, the City’s engineering lead for the Vancouver Plan, said they worked very closely with Vancouver Park Board staff on developing the public amenities and ecological strategies of the Vancouver Plan. The 2020-approved VanPlay master plan for parks and recreation services was used as the baseline and then expanded upon.

O’Donnell adds that the Vancouver Plan is the first overarching attempt to “straighten things out” given that the city has accumulated a significant number of policies that compete with other plans, added through the decades in a hodgepodge manner. In fact, she says, the municipal government does not know how many policies it has.

The City is now conducting its final public consultation in the Vancouver Plan planning process to gauge the public’s opinion on the draft plan, before it is finalized for Vancouver City Council’s final consideration. An online survey is available from now until April 24, 2022.

City Council is expected to review the Vancouver Plan for approval before its summer break. If approved, the plan will be implemented between Summer 2022 and late 2024.

It has been emphasized by the municipal government that the Vancouver Plan provides an overarching high-level vision for the city’s future. However, it does not enable rezoning or development applications and provide specific guidance about a person’s home, nor does it override other important policies and initiatives. It does not supersede the current 10-year Housing Vancouver strategy of building more supply through 2027, and it is not a replacement for the various area plans already conducted by the city.

vancouver draft area plan

Opportunities for more housing in the draft Vancouver Plan, April 2022. (City of Vancouver)

The Vancouver Plan, however, does provide a framework for the consideration of creating future additional area plans and new policies.

Wong says if the Vancouver Plan is approved, City staff will begin this summer creating phasing and sequencing plans for future area plans to come.

Area plans completed by the municipal government over the past 15 years include Mount Pleasant Community Plan, West End Plan, Downtown Eastside Plan, Cambie Corridor Plan, Grandview-Woodland Plan, and Marpole Community Plan.

City Council is expected to review and finalize the Broadway Plan this May, prior to its review of the Vancouver Plan.

And just last week, City Council approved the planning process for the SkyTrain Rupert and Renfrew Station Area Plan, which is expected to reach the draft area plan stage in Spring 2023.

For example, he says, the areas around SkyTrain Nanaimo and 29th Avenue stations are identified in the Vancouver Plan as opportunity areas. But there is a myriad of considerations to consider before engaging in an area plan planning process, such as exploring the feasibility and cost of the utilities, infrastructure, and amenities to support the added residents and jobs from densification.

“In some parts of the city, it is expensive to service, so there might not be something as fundamental as drinking water capacity and the ability to handle sewage without major investments,” said Wong, adding that other considerations include community centre capacity, and the availability of public parks.

O’Donnell notes 70% of Vancouver is currently not covered by an area plan — not linked with a public benefits strategy, which identifies the need for amenities, and establishes the financial plan for implementing the amenities.

The municipal government is currently in the midst of an infrastructure deficit, with an inability to keep up with aging infrastructure in need of replacement, and building added infrastructure to keep up with growth. In an update to City Council last week, City staff stated there is currently about $300 million annually available for renewal infrastructure funding against the needed funding of $800 million annually. This means the City’s infrastructure deficit is roughly $500 million per year.

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