Opinion: Geller’s Affordable Housing Solutions #5 – Homes over Streets, Tracks

The following is an edited extract from the audio transcript of "Twelve More Affordable Housing Ideas" – a presentation by local architect and planner Michael Geller to a sold-out audience at SFU's downtown campus on April 6, 2016, and reproduced here with his permission. The lecture was the second of his SFU presentations on the topic, and more of Geller's ideas can be found in "Related" below.
Michael Geller
August 16, 2016

OK, so we’ve discussed housing on rooftops, over industrial buildings, and laneway, modular and infill housing.

How about housing over streets? Or railway tracks?

Now, of course, we don’t have any railway tracks that we could build over in Vancouver… Or do we?

What about Arbutus?

Now, I know what you’re thinking… “Now he wants to ruin our future greenway.”

In fact, I love the idea of the greenway and I think the City did the right thing in buying the land, it was a reasonable deal.

But let’s develop certain portions of that greenway, especially where it hits 41st Avenue and other key streets, but keep the corridor. Keep the greenway, and the space for pedestrians.

And I know that you’re now saying, “But there isn’t enough room.” But there is enough room because, remember, the City owns the street on each side of the greenway. So instead of having 60 feet, you actually have 120 feet to work with.

Now, where we could be reallycreative is in terms of skinny streets, like the idea that won the Mayor’s affordable housing task force competition for innovative solutions. Take a look at this proposal to take a wide street in San Francisco [pictured above] and build down the middle of it.

So you have a car lane and a narrow pedestrian sidewalk on one side of the new building, and the same on the other. And yes, you’ve got a very tight space between cars and pedestrians, and some people are going to be very upset by this – but you can stagger the windows, you can do things to improve it. But what an intriguing idea.

My point is to say, there are lots of ways that we can start to make better use of space. And let’s start using the public lands that we’ve got.

Next time: Building on green spaces and over water 

Michael Geller
Michael is an architect, planner, real estate consultant and developer with more than four decades of experience in the public, private and institutional sectors. Some of his notable projects include the redevelopment of the South Shore False Creek, Bayshore in Coal Harbour and UniverCity at SFU. He is an adjunct professor at Simon Fraser University and is an affiliate of the UBC Masters in Urban Design program. Michael is a well-known commentator on real estate and housing and an adviser to the City of Vancouver's Affordable Housing Task Force. He is also a past president of UDI Pacific and UDI Canada, and has been honoured as a Fellow of the Canadian Institute of Planners and a Life Member of the Architectural Institute of BC.