Ecodensity: save the best, junk the rest

  • Geoff’s letter on Ecodensity published in the Georgia Straight April 17, 2008.

Editor, The Georgia Straight:
Sam Sullivan’s Ecodensity Charter (patent pending) has sparked an uproar in communities that were comfortable with their community plans and committed to sustainability. They are indignant that the city seems to be trying to impose some massive density increase on them without consultation.
Vancouver desperately needs policies to make housing available to average working families. In the current market a family needs annual income of $147,000 to own a relatively modest home.
If anything, Ecodensity has set back changes in city policy that would make a positive difference.
Vancouver was well on the way to a sensible approach to increase the stock of affordable, sustainable housing until Sullivan’s NPA came along.
Sullivan voted against the Woodward’s project, a model of sustainable development, with a mix of affordable, social and market housing, as well as public space, commercial space and cultural amenities. Developer Bob Rennie now touts it as the way forward. (Woodwards is an example of reciprocal zoning, in which developers can achieve extra density in return for amenities like affordable or social housing.)
The South East False Creek plan, including the Olympic village, set an ambitious goal for mid-range market housing, but Sullivan’s NPA ripped out that provision as one its first acts in office. Now Ecodensity has neighbourhoods in turmoil.
Until communities feel their needs are understood and respected, Vancouver will be unable to move forward. The Mayor wants to make change, he would do well to shelve his current scheme and ask neighbourhoods to help chart a new direction.

Geoff Meggs

  • Geoff’s April 12 Ecodensity letter to the Vancouver Sun, not published.

Editor, The Sun:

The Sun is absolutely right that “smart policies will be needed to ensure Metro Vancouver remains a place where people can live” given the staggering disconnect between the average price of a Vancouver home and the earnings of average Vancouver families. (Growing population needs creative, affordable housing solutions – April 12) A family needs annual income of $147,000 to buy the average home, but more than half of Vancouver’s families earn only $60,000 or less.
But the current NPA council reduced the affordable housing component of the Southeast False Creek project as one of its first acts in office. The new Ecodensity charter — which has sparked a uproar in Vancouver communities — makes passing reference to affordability, but only vague commitments to how it could be achieved. This is not a smart way to proceed.
Private sector developers can help solve the problem of lower cost market housing, but they need clear policies from the city; swift and transparent approval processes; access to “reciprocal development” that links increased density to provision of affordable housing; and political leadership prepared to focus on the needs of communities, not patenting the latest buzzwords. None of those factors are present at the moment.

Geoff Meggs