The argument for density: Livable, affordable and kind to the climate
Published: Tuesday, February 26, 2008
I think that we need to know what is tacked on the end first
Peter Busby is managing director of Busby Perkins + Will Architects Ltd. in Vancouver.
Now he is, no doubt, a Good Bloke. But he is hardly impartial, as he depends for his living on developers. Architects do not work for anyone else. And he makes some good arguments. But once again I have to repeat that calling people names is not a way to answer their legitimate concerns. And they are not necessarily NIMBYs, and as property owners would probably like to see the value of their investment rise. But they are right to be suspicious.
Fundamentally what is wrong with ecoDensity ® is that it is being proposed by Mayor Sam Sullivan. And the people of Vancouver do not trust him. Even people in his own “non party” do not trust him, and will not give him a clear run at the next election.
As always, the devil is in the details, and the City of Vancouver cannot deliver on one of the most important. The City of Vancouver gets better transit than the rest of the region already. To make increased density outside of the present dense areas work, there will need to be more transit – and it is not up to the City to deliver it. And municipalities outside of Vancouver are getting very fed up with being promised more transit only to see those promises broken – and more than once. And as long as the Province thinks that the Gateway and a tube tunnel under West Broadway are the most important priorities, there is not going to be more transit for the rest of the region – or more bus service for the currently low density areas of Vancouver.
UPDATE February 28
An op ed piece by Micheal Geller in today’s Sun continues to bang the drum for eco-density:
We’re beginning to get the ‘Eco’ — but what’s Density?
It seems to be mainly about building height, as if that were the only concern. There is also this mnarvellous bit of throw away
Concerns about traffic and parking can be addressed through better transit, and creative off-site parking solutions.
If you do it properly, you can actually reduce the need for parking. Because walkable, multiple use dense development reduces the need for motorised trips. And it is much more than “off site parking”. But getting more transit has to be the crunch issue. And I would say that the chances of getting enough transit to even satisfy existing demand are pretty low, because once again a massive rail rapid transit project – designed mainly to get transit out of the way of the cars on Broadway – is the centre piece. Not better bus services.
He is of course using the word “get” to mean “understand” – because we are not “getting” any more “eco” in these proposals as far as I can see. When I worked on these issues a few years ago with what is now the Community Energy Association, the big issue was the restrictive municipal rules and regulations which tied developers to a building type which was actually contrary to best planning practices. And while we looked at the issue through the lens of energy consumption (which neatly converts to greenhouse gas emissions) we also pointed to the need to deal with issues like community safety (i.e the size of fire trucks) how you deal with waste – solid and liquid – drainage and so on. Mandated single use of land doesn’t help either: mixed use and distributed retailing have to be added in. Not to mention parks and schools – which tend to be a bit of an afterthought (see current issues in downtown Vancouver with lack of primary schools and kindergartens.)
In fact, height may be the least of the problems with eco-density – or rather the current proposals in Vancouver. It has to be done right – and so far it hasn’t been.