If Vancouver's planning department controlled Manhattan's development, would there have been any tall towers constructed?
I have been listening intently over the last few days as local residents in the City Gate area of Vancouver, such as the tenacious Patsy McMillan, have doggedly weighed in on the future plan for Northeast False Creek (NEFC). They are furious with Mayor Robertson and the Vision council for pushing forward on a plan to place up to 7,200 new residents in NEFC without the requisite public amenities needed to support them. In particular, they are upset about how few parks are going to be placed within the community. As for Gregor Robertson's reaction, he tells local residents to chill out, dude:
It’s great to have bigger park spaces and we have a couple in Stanley Park and Pacific Spirit Park and the beaches, but downtown we have to shoot for greener objectives that are more realistic.
City policy states that 2.75 acres of parkland should be set aside for every 1000 residents. Council decided to turf that objective and move forward with a watered down 1.8 acres per thousand instead. This is not sitting well with local residents who continue to watch their Vision council cozy up to the development industry in ways no previous NPA administration could ever dream of.
In fact, Vision seems to be going completely against a key principle of EcoDensity, that with more people should come more amenities like parks, community centres and daycares. That message from the public was clearly expressed in countless public hearings, community workshops and feedback that led to the development of the award winning EcoDensity framework.
When it comes to NEFC, Vancouver's Director of Planning admitted on CBC Early Edition this morning that the City could have put in more green space, but they decided not to. He told host Rick Cluff that more parks would have meant taller towers which would have impacted view corridors:
With all due respect to Brent Toderian (one of the few remaining non-partisan public servants left in the senior ranks), I think he's been stuck defending bad policy. Why can't we have more height in NEFC if it means this will leave enough room below for more parks? It's hard to believe that local residents will be living in a park deficient neighbourhood in order that someone standing at Broadway and Cambie can preserve their view of Mount Seymour.
Had council directed the Planning Dept. to ask Vancouverites if they would support taller towers if it meant more public amenities in this community, I suspect they would overwhelmingly say "yes". The City's aversion to tall towers in the downtown core is absolutely perplexing. If it weren't for the efforts of the previous COPE council – in particular Jim Green and Larry Campbell – Vancouver wouldn't even have the sixty-story Shangri-La tower in downtown Vancouver. A building that is now considered a model of downtown mixed-use development.
Just imagine if Manhattan had set a height limit in order to protect view corridors...you simply wouldn't have Manhattan. As everyone knows, Manhattan is one of the most desirable locations to live in the world. If it's good enough for Manhattan, surely Vancouver can go a bit taller if it means we can use the land at the base of the towers for better public amenities.
When it comes to NEFC, I think Vision Vancouver had the option of setting aside all the planning manuals and find a creative solution in order to get the park space residents so desperately need. If that means a few taller towers, is that really too high a price to pay in order to create liveable and sustainable neighhourhoods? I for one don't think so.
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