An approximation of ten storeys on east side of Ontario street in red, while homes would face the park on Little Mountain to the west
The usual complaint about a development that adds density to a neighbourhood is that it will block light or a view of existing housing. Or that it will attract too much traffic. Or that the requisite public services don't exist for the added density. At the Little Mountain housing site, not a single one of these arguments will stand. There is an opportunity, and an imperative, to increase the density at this site commensurate with the public amenities and transportation infrastructure of this community. What follows are my reasons why.
It is important to remember that this site will create even MORE social and subsidized housing for thousands more people living in the city. As Minister of Housing Rich Coleman stated in his interview with CityCaucus.com, there is a LOT of value in this project that will translate into more affordable homes.
The Little Mountain social housing site has been the cross to die on for activists for years. Even just last week columnist Allen "The Beekeeper" Garr talked about "those poor souls at Little Mountain ... tossed out on the street," which is the kind of rubbish hyperbole usually employed in descriptions by the left. It outright ignores that every single one of the previous residents in this project were:
- Provided alternative homes in other parts of Vancouver
- Had their moving expenses covered by BC Housing, and
- Former residents are being given first dibs on the brand new units that will replace their 50-year old apartments.
So let's stop whining about the folks who've moved from this moribund building and start thinking about the poor souls who should have social housing in Vancouver, but can't because this project is still just a hole in the ground.
Before anyone sets their hair on fire because they only read the title of this post, I'm not suggesting that the whole site be tall buildings. Nor am I suggesting that there be towers, but I'll let the architects figure out whether a slab style building can work. There are single-family residential streets adjacent to the project, and it would be unfair to stand steep buildings higher than four storeys immediately next to them. The sheer size of the acreage where the Little Mountain housing project sits allows for a graduated increase of height moving from east to west.
Just so we can imagine what this might look like I've posted three images from the site, with a solid colour to imagine what ten storeys might look like. The first image you can see above is along Ontario Street, looking south from 33rd avenue. The second is looking west from 33rd Avenue and from the vantage point of the nearby houses. The final image looks from the direction of the park, east back toward the site.
The long edge along Ontario Street faces a steep hill that rises up to the peak of Little Mountain itself. There are no obstructions, other than the mountain itself, which local residents have always had towering over them. When it comes to sunsets on our rare sunny days, they happen just a little earlier in the day for those who live east of Queen Elizabeth Park.
Along this street city planners should abide by the wishes of the Province and the developer to go as high as possible. My arbitrary suggestion is ten storeys at a minimum (some have argued even higher), which is 2 storeys higher than recent public consultations have proposed.
There is an interesting precedent for this kind of development just east of Central Park in Burnaby (see Google Street View). Back in the 1980s, Burnaby city planners wisely began putting in highrises beside Central Park, which stands as a wall of tall evergreen trees next to Patterson Avenue. Now a vibrant dense community next to the Patterson Skytrain station exists. Would anyone shrink this community now?
Let's look at the nearby amenities and Main Street itself. Little Mountain is at the crossroads of one of the most amenity rich communities in Metro Vancouver. It is next to Main Street, the lively strip of restaurants and great shopping that is creeping further south toward 33rd avenue. Little Mountain is at the intersection of three city bike routes. It is beside the huge, shiny new Hillcrest community centre development, with a brand new pool and ice rink. The area is served by two major bus routes, including articulated buses on Main, and it is just minutes from the Canada Line rapid transit station at King Edward.
As I said earlier, Little Mountain's density must be in proportion to its surroundings, and there is no doubt that this site can take a lot of people, and that adding that population will only make this community stronger.
I have no doubt that the Little Mountain housing project will continue to be a political football, and a rallying cry for both left wing activists and NIMBYs alike. In fact I spotted a documentary crew out shooting the site as I drove by to take photos, and I highly doubt they were rooting for Rich Coleman. But if the city is able to get past the inevitable rancor, a great addition to this community will be built which will provide a vital housing legacy for Vancouver and the rest of BC.