My Thoughts on Vancouver’s Laneway Housing Policy

It is an interesting time and questions arise on how to grow vancouver in the correct, ecologically friendly way … that maximizes the enjoyment of the citizens
there are always disagreements, confusion, spins, … on everything …
we all talk about density being good for a city but is it really – i don’t know the ultimate answer to that
i have read many books on the topic
density seems to be the direction we are going and at least it helps protect as much agricultural land as possible that will be vital in feeding the city in the future

where laneway houses really really work for me is in neighbourhoods where alley ways have become a sore spot
whether that is because crime has made it’s way into the alley or for other reasons it is a sore spot
this redevelopment tends to work because it is in a small geographic area and the density is increased quickly
the full laneway then becomes a neighbourhood
and to me it is the neighbourhoods that make a city
even helping these particular troubled lanes with my taxpayer money would be fine with me
incentives like this act to reduce crime … in these particular troubled areas … and give new residents an affordable launching point to help vancouver grow
a much better approach to social housing than the institutional approach in my mind

another area where a laneway house program also make sense to me is when it is designed to increase density around major transportation hubs
that way the increased density starts to feed the transportation system and all the small businesses that surround the public transportation system
fuelling additional growth from these hubs outwards
additional subway/train/bus stops can be added … as the density grows and the need arises
this takes full advantage of infrastructure that is already built
it also allows the laneway house program to develop laneway neighbourhoods close to these hubs
and the proximity of these laneway house neighbourhoods to public transportation hubs, grocers, … keeps them affordable when all costs are examined
a neighbourhood is not created by one laneway house getting built per block but instead by a whole block of laneway houses
being close to transportation hubs the increased density from a laneway neighbourhood puts less pressure on the roadways, parking, traffic, … because a car is not required
as time goes along the laneway house program could be expanded further outwards

but instead vancouver’s approach has been to allow this laneway house program to exist for 94% of all single family residential areas in vancouver
without consideration of where these houses get built, what kind of infrastructure they rely upon, and whether they turn into laneway neighbourhoods
a broad brush approach to a laneway house program does not seem to be an ecologically, economically, environmentally or particularly smart way to grow a city for the citizens enjoyment
many laneway houses are built away from public transportation hubs that they create an increased reliance on the car for transport
more cars on the road, more cars parked on the street, more damage to our atmosphere, …

and in many cases these laneway houses get built for the wrong reasons
the major build trend of the last 10years in vancouver for residential housing that i have noticed is the concept of “maximizing square footage”
many of these laneway houses are getting built just for that reason alone
let’s take an example in my neighbourhood that is just getting approved now
the site’s square footage is just over 11,000 sq ft – this means the owner can build a main house roughly 6200 sq ft in size
plenty of room to build a guest suite or apartment in the basement …
the cost of land is $4.2 mil+ and the cost of construction will be $4-6 mil with a total cost in the range of  $9-11 mil
but the owner has applied and will get or already has approval for a laneway house
it will be the only laneway house on this block
it will most likely not be rented – the owner obviously doesn’t need the rent – nor would it be affordable to most
so a laneway neighbourhood will most likely not be created as a result of this laneway house
especially because most of the residents don’t require additional space because their houses are large enough already
maybe this particular one will just become pool house – not a great use of resources
especially when you consider all the carbon going into building it just to have it sit idle

as far as the laneway house permit process is concerned i think a few things need some additional thought and adjustment
firstly, these houses really impact neighbours at the beginning of the program
there is no question that these houses intrude on neighbour’s actual or perceived privacy
in my mind those neighbours should have a chance to see the plans and provide input from their perspective
whether that input is listened to or not by the planners doesn’t really matter
the planners at the city are very smart, diligent people but even they miss things that may matter to one of the neighbours
at least having the input from neighbours allows them to feel they are part of the process in building a new neighbourhood in their lane
that way they are part of, engaged in and connected to the program that is supposed to help build a better vancouver
also, this permit process needs to take in more consideration to the topography of the land that it is being installed into
designing a laneway house in a steeply sloping neighbourhood should have different requirements than designing one in a flat neighbourhood
sloping neighbourhoods can create bigger overlooks, privacy concerns, bigger shadows …

in summary, there are merits to the laneway house program but i believe it needs some important adjustments
it needs public funding to clean up some troubled laneways (perhaps a better way to address social housing needs than bigger institutions)
it needs to be changed to focus increasing density around public infrastructure and then grow the program geographically from there
it needs neighbour input so that they can buy into the program and support it
it needs tweaks in the design requirements to take into consideration the topography of the sites

thanks for listening,
trevor watkins
4606 west 2nd avenue
vancouver, bc, v6r 1l1

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2 Responses to My Thoughts on Vancouver’s Laneway Housing Policy

  1. Brian says:

    Thoughtful, Trevor thoughtful, even if you remind me just a little of a theologian discussing how many angels can sit on the head of a pin, while meanwhile the Spanish Inquisition is doing its nasty work.

    Couple of points:
    1) The “planning” department has been co-opted by this city council, which in turn is in the pocket of developers. On EVERY development issue ((NorQuay, Shannnon Mews, Chinatown, Cambie corridor etc, etc, etc) the current lack-o-vision council comes down on the side of the developers. In such a context, its no surprise they re-zoned virtually every single family residential area in the city for laneway housing. They don’t give a damn about what you or anyone living in neighbourhoods think. The pol/developer/immigration cabal won’t be happy til the Regional Growth Strategy has the Lower Mainland from Vancouver to Hope looking like this:
    http://www.straight.com/article-376815/vancouver/metro-vancouvers-regional-growth-strategy-remains-unsupported

    If you want to keep an eye on these clowns: http://www.cityhallwatch.ca

    2) Studies show that the most livable cities are medium sized and not megalopoli. Remarkably, even the Toronto Star has figured it out: http://www.thestar.com/Canada2020/article/106702

    3)The oxymoron “sustainable growth” is just greenwashing blah-blah. The human population of the world took the entire course of history to reach 1 billion in 1830. Only 180 years later it is unsustainably growing to 9 billion:
    “The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function” — Prof Albert Bartlett:
    http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=6A1FD147A45EF50D

  2. Gordon Campbell says:

    Hey Brian – if you are so concerned about over population – why don’t you reduce it by one?!
    Over population – we can accommodate everyone – even yourself!

    It is not that there isn’t enough food or land to go around – there isn’t enough love – your comment is a testament to that!

    Trevor gave insightful thoughts and you think it is what (cool – funny – intelligent), to allude to the Spanish inquisition – you seem like a sad person with few friends who sees only the negative in life. Are you employed? Do you own your own home? Are you one of those creeps who protests wearing a black mask?

    Do you believe in a welfare state where people who “do nothing” should benefit from the work of others?

    Trevor made good points and all you did was be negative – I am glad I am not your neighbor!
    You sound like a whiny: pathetic, sad, negative, overly anxious person and what Nixon called an effete snob!

    We can expect 1 000 000 more people in the lower mainland in the next 20 years – but “Not in your back yard?”

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