Tim Louis: The uncertain future of False Creek South

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      In the early 1970s, Vancouver’s Non-Partisan Association (NPA) lost its control of city council. A new party led by Mayor Art Phillips, the Electors Action Movement (TEAM) came to power. My mentor Harry Rankin, who was on city council at that time, described TEAM as simply a fresher, slicker, younger version of the NPA. While I agree in the main with Harry’s assessment of TEAM, this new party had some very significant and positive achievements.

      One of TEAM’s very progressive achievements was the redevelopment of the south side of False Creek. At that time, this 55 hectares (136 acres) of obsolete industrial land was owned by the city. Rather than selling the land to developers, who would in turn erect and sell condominiums to purchasers in freehold, TEAM decided to offer long-term leases on the land, typically for a minimum of 60 years.

      Most property in Vancouver is owned freehold. The owner is on title at the Land Titles Office and can sell at any time, almost always at a significant profit. This has had the unfortunate effect of pricing home ownership far out of reach to most of us.

      TEAM’s idea of offering leaseholds meant that the lessee paid much less over time than would have been the case for a number of successive freehold owners, who would have paid much more to cover land and housing costs.

      A second and perhaps equally positive effect of the city offering leaseholds and not selling freeholds was that the city retained ownership in perpetuity; the city, over time, was paid much more than it would have earned through a one-off sale of the land and still maintained ownership of the property.

      TEAM’s creativity and progressive thinking did not end with adopting this innovative form of ownership. TEAM also insisted on a mix of housing types—social housing, co-op housing, and free market housing—targeted to a social mix of 1/3 lower income, 1/3 middle income, and 1/3 higher income. The area contains no single-family dwellings. Finally, TEAM planned for moderate heights including stacked townhouses and mixed-use midrise apartments that were unprecedented in Vancouver.

      One need look no further than to the north side of False Creek and juxtapose the tower-focused developments there to the south side’s moderate scale to see the clarity of TEAM’s progressive thinking.

      Unfortunately, as I write this, the slightly under 6,000 residents of the south side of False Creek are lying awake at night. Their land leases are now coming up for renewal beginning in 2025. This was always to be expected as leases are for a finite term. Unfortunately, to date the current city council has been adamantly opposed to confirming to current residents that the leases will be renewed, or more importantly that the city is prepared to negotiate in good faith the terms and rates for the new leases.

      Also, the city has provided no assurances that it will not insist on the demolition of current low-rise buildings and their replacement with high-rise towers similar to those on the north side of False Creek.

      I recently attended a virtual SFU Lunch and Learn hosted by my good friend, the former chief planner for the City of Vancouver, Larry Beasley. In just a few short minutes, he delivered the most succinct and crisp summary of the plight the residents of the south side of False Creek are facing. His summary was packed full of relevant metrics.

      Here is just a bit of what I learned from Larry:

      • The False Creek South housing development was based on the latest thinking in community development at that time.
      • The 1972 housing plan was inspired by then Alderman Walter Hardwick, father of current Coun. Colleen Hardwick.
      • The development was planned to be dense but very organized, a framework of neighbourhood enclaves nicely scaled, everything close together so that people could really relate to one another.
      • The development included a lavish park and amenities, and featured the first addition beyond downtown and Stanley Park to the city’s seawall walkway and bikeway.
      • Some parking was added a few years later but it has remained an area with few cars.
      • This type of development with its wide mix of housing and mixture of residents had never been tried before in the city and has not been tried again since.
      • Forty-plus years later, it has proven to be a remarkable, livable place. It is convenient, and residents really work together, through mutual support and assistance, right across social barriers. It is a very well-organized community.
      • The stratas in this development are 25 percent more affordable than those in the private market.
      • Two-thirds of the residents would not find equal security or this quality of place to live in their price range anywhere else in this city today.
      • This is a world-renowned model, continually referenced everywhere as best practice in neighbourhood building.
      • In our city this is even more important because of the challenges we face: affordability, cost of community infrastructure, reuse of resources.
      • The community there wants to evolve, finding room for more people and continuing to be inclusive. Residents have been working on various plans to enhance their development and to use their neighbourhood as a model for other communities in Vancouver.
      • The city should take the False Creek South residents up on their offer to work together to plan for the future.

      I will wrap up by saying that if you are as concerned for the residents of the south side of False Creek as I am, I would urge you to send your thoughts to one of more of the following:

      The mayor and councillors can be reached by mail at 3rd Floor, City Hall, 453 West 12th Ave., Vancouver, BC V5Y 1V4​​​​​​​,

      Thanks to Larry for educating me and hundreds of other participants in SFU’s Lunch ‘n’ Learn about this very important topic.

      Daily atmospheric CO2 [Courtesy of CO2.Earth]

      Latest daily total (July 22, 2021): 416.17 ppm

      One year ago (July 22, 2020): 414.45 ppm

      Tim Louis is a Vancouver lawyer and former city councillor and park commissioner. This article first appeared on his blog, which lists the daily carbon dioxide count in parts per million in the atmosphere at the end of every post. The Georgia Straight publishes opinions like this from the community to encourage constructive debate on important issues.