Brent Granby: Social Impact Assessment would offer city planners another tool for evaluating projects
Vancouver needs a form of development that is appropriate for the communities where the projects are being built. I have previously written about the idea of inclusionary zoning and benchmarking a certain amount of units to the median income of a community to ensure a tangible benefit from the addition of more density in rezoning applications.
But if a proposed development project is not a rezoning, the city has few tools for evaluating its merits.
A good and controversial case in point is the Sequel 138 project in the Downtown Eastside. It's proposed on the site of the now demolished Pantages Theatre.
Early attempts to save the building through a heritage restoration were not successful. The building’s owner is now proposing a mixed-unit building combining 20 percent social-housing rentals with market-rate condos.
The project was approved by the development permit board, which set conditions.
Some groups in the Downtown Eastside are adamantly opposed to the construction of the Sequel 138 project, citing it as yet another building that changes the social mix of the community and the demographic of the area.
Furthermore, some are suggesting that lower-income folks are slowly being displaced from the neighbourhood by the addition of more market-based housing. Without going into the merits of the arguments of displacement, if the project conforms to area zoning and the building standard, then the city would be obliged to approve it.
A project like Sequel 138 could possibly be welcomed to create more affordable housing in other communities of Vancouver. But in the Downtown Eastside, it's very controversial.
Social Impact Assessment would help
If the city had another lens with which to evaluate a project, it could have flagged Sequel 138 as potentially not being well-suited to the location where it was being proposed.
The city needs to be able to conduct a “Social Impact Assessment”, which is an established methodology for assessing unintended social consequences of a project. While property owners would not support establishing criteria for the approval of project development other than “ownership”, an SIA would give the city the ability to have a form of development that would be more aligned with larger goals of creating more justice, equity, affordability, and ecological sustainability.
Brent Granby ran for park board with COPE in 2011. This commentary originally appeared on his blog.