RAV line draws density
When the Canada Line becomes operational in late 2009, community planner Art Cowie hopes to see more than just a new rapid-transit system. According to the former Vancouver -Quilchena MLA, the approximately 19-kilometre course linking downtown Vancouver to Richmond and the international airport presents an opportunity to alleviate the housing crunch in the Lower Mainland.
Cowie, who once served as critic for municipal affairs, recreation, housing, and transit, envisions the Canada Line's route as a potential corridor on which to build dense and compact communities that are linked to each other by transit.
In an interview at the Georgia Straight offices, Cowie said that last summer he presented this concept in separate letters to Vancouver mayor Sam Sullivan and Richmond mayor Malcolm Brodie. "I've got a response from the mayors of Vancouver and Richmond saying they're giving this to their planning departments," he said. "I believe you're going to have high-density development along wherever you have transit stops."
Cowie, who is also a former Vancouver councillor and former chair of the city's park board, explained that this concept has worked in London, England, and in Scandinavian countries where transportation nodes have served as the base for urban growth.
"This is not being too adventurous," he said. "For years, we haven't linked land use with transit. We put the transit in but we don't design the housing to fit with it. The planning hasn't been done at the same time. They should, in fact, be planning for this area."
In the case of Vancouver, Cowie projects that the city will grow by 200,000 people over the next 20 to 30 years. The big problem, he noted, will be where to put them.
"We can't afford to build single-family houses anymore," he said. "So we have to go to row housing or condominiums or apartments."
According to the City of Vancouver, single-family dwellings take up 45 percent of the city's land, excluding roads. Only 11 percent of the land, excluding roads, is devoted to multiple-unit residences.
Last year, Sullivan unveiled his EcoDensity initiative, which aims to create more housing options in traditional single-family-housing neighbourhoods, such as duplexes, row houses, and apartments. However, this has come under fire from various community associations. According to critics of the plan, such as community activist Alicia Barsallo, EcoDensity is largely a developer-driven program meant to free up land for market housing.
Cowie said that while the city sorts out opposition to Sullivan's EcoDensity initiative it can also look at other options where multiple-dwelling units can be put in place. "The easiest place to put them where you're not upsetting people is along the Canada Line," he said.
Cowie's concept has about the same foundation as that of Patrick Condon, a UBC professor of landscape architecture. In an interview for the Straight's July 26, 2007, cover story entitled "Housing Solutions", Condon suggested that Vancouver's housing crisis could be partially addressed by allowing four-storey mixed-use residential-commercial buildings on every arterial road in the region. He defined an arterial road as any street that "has a bus on it now".
Condon also said that in Vancouver alone, this could create room for an additional 700,000 residents, all living close to transit. He also noted that four-storey mixed-use projects are often cheaper than high-rises because all that's necessary is adding floors onto an existing commercial building.
Cowie, a resident of Cambie Street where construction crews cut a trench for the line's underground tunnel, is content that his street was chosen as the bridge between Vancouver and Richmond. He noted that this means easy transit access to and from such areas like Vancouver City Hall, the Broadway district, Vancouver General Hospital, Oakridge Shopping Centre, and Langara College.
"They put it in the right spot," he said. "Now the question is let's do higher density along there. Let's do some social housing, let's do some rental housing, and let's do a lot of privately owned homes."