Wednesday, September 21, 2005

How does Vancouver do it?

Vancouver has doubled its downtown population in the past 20 years, mainly by building tall condo towers. But instead of being stressed by the rapid growth and high-density construction, the city has become more livable, more interesting and more fun than ever. Credit goes to the city's director of planning, Larry Beasely.
Beasley, who gave a talk Monday at the University of Pennsylvania, is a stickler for hands-on planning. "Having a developer present something to us and having us react - that simply doesn't work," he said. His department has spent countless hours working out design standards, so developers know in advance what will fly and what won't.
Here's a quick list of what Vancouver planners demand as a starting point:
-Elegant, thin towers, with floor plates no bigger than 6,800 square feet.
-To ease the transition to the street, most condo towers need to have a low-rise base comprised of townhouses, shops or low-rise apartments.
-Towers must be placed at wide intervals to preserve views of Vancouver's stunning waterfront and mountain scenery.
-ALL, yes ALL, parking must be underground. Imagine that in a downtown surrounded by water. There are dozens of new condo towers and not one of them sits on a parking deck.
-Between 20 and 33 percent of all new condo units must be set aside as affordable housing.
-Whenever a neighborhood begins to experience a building boom, city planners rush in to assess the need for parks, bike paths, playgrounds, schools and daycare.
Coming from Philadelphia, it sounds impossible that a city could demand so much and get developers to comply. But it works, Beasley said, because the demands are consistent. He also believes that good urban design begets good cities. "People will not be drawn to cities that are ugly or uncomfortable. They'll vote with their feet," he said.
Right now, Vancouver's downtown population is 85,000, exactly the same as Philadelphia's Center City. Wanna bet which city pulls ahead?


Blogger lance said...

The Edgewater development on the Schuylkill may not meet Vancouver's development criteria for elegant thin towers.

A city with a preconceived plan. What a concept.

The same time Larry Beasley was giving his presentation at Penn I ironically happened to see Wayne Spilove in the Home Depot. He had 12,350 sq. feet of asphalt loaded up and headed for 16th + Sansom.

10:23 PM  
Blogger Garris said...

Excellent post! I coped this and pasted it over in the Providence, RI section of (, where there is a roaring discussion about the role of developers vs neighborhood groups vs city planners in ensuring good urban design.

Unfortunately, here in Providence, our neighborhood groups have more suburban than urban design sensitivities. That makes them wild cards in ensuring good urban design. It seems that Philadelphia shares Providence's poor central planning, which is a shame, as I love Philly.

Vancouver, however, is my favorite North American city. No US city besides Portland, OR may approach its urban friendliness. Hopefully, with the burst of development now happening in Philly, the city will get bolder about making sure it is pedestrian friendly and contextual.

- Garris
Providence, RI

11:58 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home