Vancouver may be running out of land on which to build more housing, but there’s plenty of space overhead – we just need to rethink the value of specific views, the Urban Development Institute’s incoming chair told listeners of the Real Estate Therapist radio show March 26.
Speaking to Joannah Connolly, editor and content manager of REW.ca and host of the weekly Saturday morning call-in show, Jon Stovell said that radical measures had to be taken to vastly increase density and meet the demand for housing in Vancouver. He argued that only by increasing supply in much greater measures would affordability be achieved.
On the live radio show, Stovell, who is president and CEO of Reliance Properties, the developer behind the One Burrard Place highrise project on Burrard Street (pictured), said, “Vancouver has arrived on the global scene. Whether we like it or not, this change is upon us. People are coming from all over the world, which is a great thing. But it’s sad that it means that a lot of local residents can’t afford to own homes, or often even to rent them.
“But this is completely a self-inflicted problem, on our part, where we’re simply not responding to the influx of investment and growth as an opportunity, and instead we’re trying to raise the drawbridge and fill the moat with alligators. We should be welcoming the world in, we should be finding ways to create supply of housing.
“There are almost infinite opportunities in which we could increase supply, and all of the constraints are built around artificial barriers or sentiment or parochial attitudes about not changing the way we live. We need to break this wide open and really start tackling this in every neighbourhood and on every front.
“There should be a pervasive and massive increase in supply of housing and there are lots of ways to do that. My go-to neighbourhood to increase density is downtown – it’s extremely well served by transit, it’s walkable, it’s got great amenities – yet there is the sentiment that it’s built out, which is simply wrong. We have tower zones that are limited to 300 feet high – why not 500 feet? We have zones that are 700 feet, why not 1,000 feet? Why not 2,000 feet high?
“To my mind it’s a false barrier. Why can a building only be so high? What role does a city in creating these artificial barriers when that air space above our heads is free. We talk about having a limited land base, but we have an unlimited land base above our heads. And there are many, many buildings in downtown Vancouver that are only three to five storeys high.”
When asked about public concern over the protection of viewpoints and view cones, Stovell responded, “The view cones are maybe a questionable extravagance, at this point. Our mountains are 4,000 feet high. The view cones protect certain viewpoints at a certain moment. I don’t know that the view cones are something that will be able to survive the continuing growth pressures of the city.
“As for public concern, if you look at what’s going on in terms of public concern over development in Vancouver right now, most of it is more related to the outer neighbourhoods. Most people are accommodating of the idea that downtown Vancouver is where the growth and super-densification occurs.
“It’s only when the city started to stop a lot of the development downtown, and you move out into Grandview-Woodland and Marpole where we started to get some really strenuous pushback from people, as the changes are much more alarming to them.”
Click here to listen to the full show, and scroll through to hear Stovell’s solutions for low-level densification while preserving traditional detached-home neighbourhoods, how to create affordable family housing, and a discussion of civic duty and nimbyism.
Tune in every Saturday 9-10am to the Real Estate Therapist Show on CIRH Roundhouse Radio 98.3FM and listen live or on demand at www.roundhouseradio.com.