Robert Renger: The City of Vancouver’s False Creek South development—still a model community after over 40 years

New statistical information has shed more light on the types of people living in leasehold properties

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      By Robert Renger

      City council, city staff, and members of the public now have accurate demographic information from Statistics Canada about the 3,235 people living on the city’s 32 acres of developed residential leasehold properties in False Creek South (FCS). This is thanks to the hard work of False Creek South Neighbourhood Association (FCSNA) RePlan committee volunteers from co-ops and stratas.

      They accurately mapped the leasehold lands, gathered postal codes and unit counts for each development, and then paid Statistics Canada to produce separate data profiles for the leasehold and freehold lands in the FCS census tract (CT 49.02). That demographic data shows significant differences between the leasehold and freehold populations.

      It confirms that the leasehold neighbourhood is still a model community which has remained true to the objectives set out at its inception over 40 years ago. It is still a mixed-tenure mixed-income community with the same income mix as the city as a whole. FCSNA’s published data document “False Creek South Population Data – Portrait of A Model Community” can be seen online

      RePlan volunteers had to undertake this work themselves because city reports presented council, the media, and the public with demographics that covered the entire census tract, which combines the 2,730 persons on freehold land with the 3,235 on city-owned lands.

      Also, some reports providing separate statistics for city and freehold land were based on mapping which mistakenly classed some freehold buildings as city land, and some buildings that are on city lands as freehold land. As a result, some conventional and social media portrayed the community in an incorrect and negative light.

      Here are some of the true statistics about the FCS leasehold community.

      • 64 percent of the FCS leasehold is nonmarket and rental housing and 36 percent is market strata; the freehold land is 86 percent market strata.
      • The income mix on FCS leasehold land still closely parallels that of the city as a whole; incomes on FCS freehold lands are significantly higher.
      • 15 percent of the FCS leasehold residents are children, compared to 11 percent of FCS freehold and 16 percent citywide
      • 17.5 percent of FCS family households are single-parent, compared to 10.9 percent of FCS freehold and 15.9 percent citywide
      • The average value of FCS leasehold strata units is far lower (more affordable) than owned homes on FCS freehold and citywide
      • 2 percent of FCS leasehold dwellings are unoccupied or occupied by temporary residents, compared to 4 percent of FCS freehold and 8 percent citywide

      None of this information was available for the city’s flawed public engagement last February, or for the secret real-estate planning process for FCS that followed and continues to this day. That whole process flew in the face of decisions and commitments city council had previously made.

      In 2017 to 2018 the city’s planning department pursued the False Creek South Neighbourhood Planning Program, conducting “an extensive ten month consultation process with residents, surrounding communities, and the broader public” (a quote directly from the city website).

      Council then (again quoting directly from the city website) “approved a pause in the neighbourhood planning process so that strata, co-op, and non-market lease negotiations can take place with residents before further detailed planning work for the area takes place”.

      Negotiations with residents did not take place. Instead, after 2 years, consultants were hired to pursue a new secret real-estate planning process, with no citizen participation whatsoever.

      Counc. Colleen Hardwick made a motion for the October 5 council meeting "Regarding the Future of False Creek South", which provides an opportunity for council to put FCS planning back on track.

      Most importantly, that motion would bring openness and transparency back to the planning for FCS. Just because the land is owned by the city, and not by a private developer, doesn’t mean that residents and other citizens should be shut out of the planning process.

      There was lots of public citizen participation in the original planning for FCS, Champlain Heights, the Fraser Lands, and for the Olympic Village more recently. The fact that those were vacant city lands and FCS is a thriving model community makes it all the more important to have open transparent community planning for FCS.

      FCS residents are not NIMBY. In fact they are YIMBY—Yes In My Back Yard. But that Back Yard is the vacant land in the community, not the land under the residents’ existing housing. Demolition of existing affordable housing, which is still viable for many decades to come, goes against every accepted planning principle. Existing housing is the greenest and most affordable housing.

      Planning to demolish that housing, instead of planning for the adjacent vacant land, does not make practical or financial sense. It clearly goes against Vancouver’s climate change objectives.

      New housing is invariably more expensive than existing housing. Demolishing that affordable existing housing flies in the face of the city’s goals to support affordable housing. It would also require significant senior government funding to replace, rather than to expand the stock of affordable housing.

      FCS residents want to work with the city to build upon the success of the city’s original vision for False Creek South. There are lots of empty city-owned lands within and neighbouring the leasehold community, with very large amounts of development capacity. The city can and should start to plan these to expand and diversify the existing False Creek South neighbourhood.

      Residents have suggested strata and co-op lease extensions and a Campus of Care to allow aging in place and the freeing of larger existing dwellings for young families with children. They also want new development to include housing which adds further diversity to the neighbourhood’s social mix. Let’s get on with it.

      Robert Renger was the senior development planner for the City of Burnaby for many years. He was the city's lead for the planning and development of the UniverCity community at SFU. On October 7, council ruled that Hardwick's motion was "out of order" and moved onto the next motion on the agenda.