Vancouver Plan for guiding city growth now fully approved by City Council

Jul 23 2022, 12:10 am

After 3.5 years of planning and public consultation, the Vancouver Plan of providing the City of Vancouver with a guide on how it will grow and address its most pressing issues has been approved by Vancouver City Council.

The creation of a planning process for a city-wide plan was initiated by City Council very shortly after the 2018 civic election through a member motion by Green Party Councillor Adriane Carr and supported by TEAM Councillor Colleen Hardwick.

Today’s approval of the final draft of the Vancouver Plan was made during one of the last meetings of the outgoing City Council, with major amendments to the strategy. Hardwick and NPA Councillor Melissa De Genova were the only members who opposed the plan as a whole during voting.

The plan provides strategies for broad issues and themes of neighbourhoods, housing affordability and supply, economy, transportation, environment, and equity/resilience.

This high-level plan will help guide how Vancouver will add about 260,000 more people by 2050 — increasing the total population to about 920,000, and adding over 200,000 more jobs for a total of about 640,000 jobs, based on forecasts.

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Land use and density under the Vancouver Plan. (City of Vancouver)

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Transportation strategy under the Vancouver Plan. (City of Vancouver)

Generally, the plan’s varying density increases are where they can be expected, with the greatest densities near existing and future rapid transit stations and corridors, along arterial roads, and within existing commercial hubs and core areas like Central Broadway and Oakridge. It also suggests more density for the Vancouver Westside, which has traditionally seen less density than Eastside areas and makes the “multiplex” the minimum baseline density for the entire city including all single-family neighbourhoods.

The plan takes into account all recent area plans, such as the West End Plan, Grandview-Woodland Plan, Cambie Corridor Plan, and the new Broadway Plan. But on a policy level, it does not serve the same regulatory purpose as the area plans.

The Vancouver Plan serves as a framework or foundation for the future creation of legal land use plans that provide intricate details, prescriptions, and stipulations, including creating new area plans for areas without an existing area plan or having an outdated area plan. For example, the forthcoming Rupert and Renfrew Station Area Plan — to be considered by the next City Council in 2023 — is guided by the Vancouver Plan.

Unlike other major municipal jurisdictions in BC, the City of Vancouver does not have an official community plan (OCP).

“I always feel jealous that other cities have OCPs, and we don’t. This is a significant step towards getting us to an OCP,” said Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart during his final remarks.

“The job of the next council is to take this and make it into law. I know we’ll need some help from the province with changes to the Vancouver Charter, but I do think my sense is that will be possible and very welcomed. We are the biggest municipality in the province, the most important economically, and what happens to us affects the rest of the province. This will put us in a very good stead both as national and international city leaders.”

City staff and City Council previously stated a new city-wide plan is needed as the last one for the entire city dates back to the Harland Bartholomew’s plan in the 1920s. A city plan was also created in 1995 to outline broad policy directions for the downtown peninsula, neighbourhood centres, community services, the economy, and the environment.

“This decision today closes a loop on the initial direction from this council to staff and has been a key priority for us over the course of your term. With this decision, you’ve accomplished something that hasn’t been done in Vancouver for a century,” said Vancouver City Manager Paul Mochrie after the vote.

“The absence of this comprehensive planning framework has been a real impediment in managing Vancouver’s growth and evolution. Your plan is guided by very different principles and intentions that Bartholomew and it is going to generate some very different outcomes as well.”

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Artistic rendering of a concept of a retail street under the Vancouver Plan. (City of Vancouver)

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Artistic rendering of a concept of a mixed-use residential area with a public park under the Vancouver Plan. (City of Vancouver)

This was the single most expensive planning effort conducted by the municipal government, with about $10 million spent upon the end of the process this summer. Prior to the pandemic, City Council budgeted up to $18 million for the project, and set aside up to 35 City staff.

Due to the initial scope of the project and then the pandemic, the progress on the planning work was delayed. The pre-pandemic approach for public consultation was largely abandoned as a direct result of the pandemic, which helped reduce the cost.

“I really believe this plan will improve equity, livability, economic sustainability, and environmental sustainability. I really believe that we did the absolute best we could in engaging people under the COVID parameters to get them to be there in the plan,” said Carr.

Hardwick, who supported Carr’s member motion for the city-wide planning process nearly four years ago, stated she wanted a Vancouver Plan for entirely different reasons.

“Vancouver needs a city-wide plan, without a doubt. But as I’ve said many times, the devil is in the details,” said Hardwick, asserting that the Vancouver Plan as finalized does not take into account institutional knowledge accumulated by the City’s previous urban planners over the decades.

“This plan takes a wrecking ball to Vancouver or steamrolls… What the residents have been telling us has been largely disregarded,” calling it a “flawed process” that ignored established communities and disengaged residents.

“Today, all of this stands, all of the good work, just stands to be destroyed by a top-down, one-sized fits all approach to urban planning. Instead of a plan that reflects the nuance of neighbourhoods in the way it balances and adds to human-scale housing solutions, addressing mobility, community amenities, economic activity, green space, and affordability, the rebranded Vancouver Plan is deterministic. Its so-called priorities are applied in an autocratic manner through building typologies applied arbitrarily city-wide without context. It does not reflect neighbourliness.”

She adds that “this is not the city-wide planning process I advocated for all these years. The Vancouver Plan, sadly, has entirely lost the plot to the detriment of our children, children’s children, and for new residents.”

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Artistic rendering of a concept of a low-density residential area under the Vancouver Plan. (City of Vancouver)

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Artistic rendering of a higher density area next to a subway station under the Vancouver Plan. (City of Vancouver)

The amendments proposed and passed by City Council on the Vancouver Plan today include exploring city-wide rental tenant protections, considering more possibilities for new affordable housing through zoning and City-led land acquisitions, creating policies that address historic racism, considering impacts to neighbourhood character, and protecting heritage, and creating a phasing timeline for the strategy’s implementation.

“I’m very wary of the idea that increasing supply will automatically create affordability,” said Swanson, who introduced the amendments relating to city-wide rental tenant protections.

“What actually happens here will be based on the next council, and whether it meets the affordability and climate needs, and protects renters… If the protections we call for don’t come true, then we don’t have to go for the increase in density. But if they do come true, then it could be a huge win for renters throughout the city.”

ABC Councillor Sarah Kirby-Yung suggested the next City Council after the October civic election needs to focus on providing public benefits — park space, and community and recreational centres — to support the forthcoming population increase supported by the new density.

ABC Councillor Lisa Dominato said while the Vancouver Plan is needed as a guide to help address emerging issues, the city planning effort should adjust and pivot as needed when conditions and demands change.

“A city-wide plan or strategy is important, but it is a guide — nothing is truly set in stone. We have to be nimble,” said Dominato.

“Strategies and plans are ultimately about getting to action. If you don’t have it, you’re flailing in the wind.”

“Every resident will be able to see their priorities reflected in this plan,” she added.

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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