A plan to build high-rises in an already densely populated area of BC’s largest city raises questions about how urban centers can be liveable and affordable as populations grow rapidly in the coming decades.
With the construction of a new subway line under Broadway, a busy Vancouver street that crosses multiple neighborhoods, city planners have seized the opportunity to increase the number of homes in one of Canada’s most expensive cities.
The Broadway plan calls for existing homes along the line to be replaced with multi-storey towers, which can accommodate up to 50,000 additional residents. Near SkyTrain stations, mixed-use buildings of up to 40 floors may be allowed, while older rental properties, often small 10-unit buildings, may be replaced by housing projects between 15 and 20 floors.
The plan comes at a time when affordability is a big deal, not just in BC, but through the whole country: City, state and federal governments are looking for ways to increase the housing stock and, they hope, lower the cost of living for average Canadians.
The area is currently home to more than 78,000 people, and about 25 percent of the city’s tenants live along this corridor, according to Mayor Kennedy Stewart. The proposed changes would increase to 30,000 homes over the next 30 years.
A fight about the future
But some existing residents are concerned about affordability and increasing density, as this particular neighborhood is home to much older, small apartments that don’t cost renters their entire salary, unlike other areas on the west side of the city.
A demonstration was held outside City Hall last weekend by people claiming that the city’s draft plan would fundamentally change the character of the city.
“We want to stop the concrete canyons,” said organizer Bill Tieleman, who said high-rise buildings would be out of reach for many residents. “We already know that new buildings in Vancouver are very unaffordable.”
But proponents of the project point out that the Metro Vancouver region is expected to grow by one million residents over the next 30 years and housing is already hard to come by. Services such as a hospital and town hall are both located in the area. Urban planners say it makes sense to create living space there.
“If we don’t do this, then what?” said Charles Montgomery, an urban planner living in Vancouver.
“It is essential that we build more housing, multi-family housing, especially close to the places where people work.”
The early edition9:22Charles Montgomery on proposed Broadway Tower
The City of Vancouver planner Theresa O’Donnell says the Broadway area is responsible for about 20 percent of the city’s growth.
The neighborhood is also home to more than 84,400 jobs, with a staggering 42,000 over the next three decades.
Protections for tenants
The city also promises not to crowd out existing residents. Stewart says the plan has been changed to “include the strongest protections for tenants in the country”.
If a tenant has to move, they are either “lavishly compensated” or guaranteed the right to return with rent at or below the current rate.
Project Director Matt Shillito says anyone temporarily relocated due to development will undergo a needs assessment to find out what kind of space they will need when they return to ensure they move back to a unit that suits their lifestyle.
He said 35 percent of units must have two or more bedrooms to accommodate families.
But the Vancouver Tenant’s Union isn’t convinced the city will actually protect tenants.
“Renters have built their homes and these communities in Fairview and Mt. Pleasant. It is up to tenants to resist the approaching gentrification and displacement,” organizer Mazdak Gharibnavaz said in a statement.
O’Donnell acknowledged residents’ concerns about displacement and change, but told residents it will be a slow process.
“Looking at it now, it may seem like a lot, but in 30 years it won’t be. We’re asking this corridor not to do more than it can reasonably do.”