Streets are an essential part of city life.
More than just avenues to a destination, streets are also a precious public realm. They are, ultimately, about people.
Last year, Vancouver city council approved principles to guide planners in preparing a plan for Broadway. The plan will integrate growth on and around the major east-west thoroughfare with the planned $2.8-billion subway underneath it.
According to councillor Melissa De Genova, people are going to be at the centre of the future plan, which reimagines Broadway as a “Great Street”.
“A Great Street is a place that people are drawn to,” De Genova told the Straight in a phone interview.
Inevitably, she said, the Broadway Plan, which city planners are expected to present to council in December, should be about affordability.
“It’s important that, with any investment that senior levels of government are willing to make into this area, we look at this with the lens of affordability and making this work for the people of Vancouver,” De Genova said.
Although housing is a major component, homes are not the only aspect of affordable living that the Broadway Plan should deliver, she said.
“This includes a focus on creating complete communities: parks, public space, childcare, and the inclusion of small business,” the Vancouver councillor noted.
Although anchored on Broadway—where most of the 5.7-kilometre underground extension of SkyTrain’s Millennium Line from VCC-Clark Station to a future station on Arbutus Street will run—the plan has considerable scope.
It covers 860 hectares, roughly 7.5 percent of the city’s total land area.
With 485 city blocks, the plan envelops the area from Clark Drive in the east to Vine Street in the west, and from 1st Avenue in the north to 16th Avenue in the south.
The Broadway plan area has a population of 78,000, or 12 percent of the city’s inhabitants. They are found in portions of four neighbourhoods, namely: Strathcona, Mount Pleasant, Fairview, and Kitsilano.
Twenty percent of the city’s renter households, or more than 30,000 households, live in the planning area.
In a report to council last year, city planner Kevin McNaney noted challenges in the rental market in the Broadway plan area.
McNaney stated that the vacancy rate for purpose-built rental apartment units has been at or below one percent since 2010. A vacancy rate of three percent to five percent is normally held as a balanced market.
McNaney also noted that growth in business is bringing higher than average incomes. This puts pressure to redevelop old properties that generally have lower rental rates compared to newer properties.
When council deliberated on McNaney’s report on October 22, 2019, members unanimously approved an amendment brought forward by De Genova to one of the plan’s guiding principles, which was titled “Support Affordable, Diverse, Equitable and Inclusive Complete Neighbourhoods”.
“Leveraging the investment in the Broadway Subway, new housing opportunities (particularly purpose built market and below-market rental and social and supportive housing) close to transit should be expanded for a diversity of household types, incomes, and backgrounds, while retaining and reinvesting in existing older rental housing and with the goal that renters can remain in the neighbourhood at affordable rates,” the principle reads in part.
In the phone interview, De Genova indicated that she also wants to see affordable home ownership included in the mix.
De Genova is likewise interested in having innovative solutions like cohousing considered in the Broadway Plan.
Cohousing is a model in which a group of people come together to acquire land and plan, develop, and manage a multifamily development.
“If done right, the Broadway Plan has the potential to be a catalyst for real change in our city and region,” De Genova told the Straight.
According to De Genova, Vancouver’s aspirations for an accessible, green, and healthy city will come together by “considering convenience, affordability, and community first” in the plan.
In September 2018, the federal government and the province of B.C. confirmed funding contributions to the subway project of $888.4 million and $1.82 billion, respectively.
The City of Vancouver’s in-kind contribution of land is valued at $99.8 million.
Construction is scheduled to start in the fall of this year, with service opening in 2025.
However, with the COVID-19 pandemic, public finances have been upturned as the federal and provincial governments scrambled to contain the economic fallout.
The federal budget deficit is projected to balloon to $250 billion in 2021. From a projected surplus for fiscal year 2020-2021, the provincial government is forecast to run a $5-billion deficit.
With ridership down because of the pandemic, the region’s public transportation agency, TransLink, announced in April this year that it is losing $75 million per month.
Neither TransLink nor the two senior levels of government have indicated whether or not the health crisis will derail the arrival of the Broadway subway.
De Genova noted that because of the pandemic, she doesn’t know exactly what the federal and provincial funding is going to look like. The uncertain times may “likely affect projected timelines”, according to the Vancouver councillor.
“I would hate to see this being a missed opportunity,” De Genova added.