Sunday, 24 November 2013


I have read the West End Plan. At 127 pages, it is longer than the British North America Act (our Constitution) but without its perky style. It is 5 times longer than the former West End Plan.

The plan starts with a declaration of 7 universal goals or principles. 

  1. Achieve a green, environmentally sustainable urban pattern. 
  2. Support a range of affordable housing options to meet the diverse needs of the community. 
  3. Foster a robust, resilient economy. 
  4. Enhance culture, heritage and creativity in the City.
  5. Provide and support a range of sustainable transportation options.
  6. Protect and enhance public open spaces, parks and green linkages. 
  7. Foster resilient, sustainable, safe and healthy communities. 

Those West Enders who anxiously demanded more time to review the plan can relax. They will be pleasantly surprised that our local government is not proposing to clear cut the parks. It does not seek economic stagnation over robust resiliency. Creativity will no longer be the exclusive province of accountants. As to culture, some might have fearfully recalled Herman Goering’s remark, “every time I hear the word “kultur” I reach for my revolver.” Culture in our green, sustainable, robust, healthy West End is going to be “enhanced!”

Chapter 6 sets out built form guidelines. The first one is that the “dome of the skyline of the downtown as seen from a distance is to be reinforced.” This means that if a building is to be erected on a parcel of land, the developer should go stand somewhere else and gaze at the skyline. If from that perspective he sees the dome of the skyline, he must be sure that his building reinforces it. If the skyline doesn't appear dome-like from wherever he’s standing, it’s one less thing to worry about.


The 4th principle is to “recognize transitional roles in form and scale.” One of many helpful illustrations explains the geometry. Suppose you are a developer. You are thinking of buying a parcel that is near a high building. On the other side is a low building. Now, a building that is between two other buildings of unequal height should be an average of the two heights and neither too high or too low.


New buildings must be responsive to private views. Buildings should not block the views or privacy of other buildings. An illustration shows how this might be done, by aiming a balcony demurely in a different direction. Another way of course would be to build in New Westminster.

Chapter 7 deals with place. It explains that the West End has a number of distinctive places. If you think about it, this is another one of those great and simple truths. The plan observes that these places all have sub areas which the planners call villages and the villages in turn have sub-areas. If you are inclined to forget facts like this it is helpful to remember the poem,

Big fleas have little fleas
Upon their backs to bite em
And little fleas have littler still,
And so on, ad infinitem.

The three known  villages are each on Robson, Denman and Davie Streets.

Vancouverites are exhorted to  “Recognize and celebrate these three vibrant and distinct places. This is to be done by going to them to “gather, socialize and celebrate.”

There are general policy statements for almost everything.

The policies for the three villages are virtually identical and include, for example,  to “Limit residential development to ensure vibrancy at all times of the day.”


This is big news. It seems to me that for the last 25 years the City has been trying to require – not limit- residential developments above commercial developments to ensure vibrancy. Now the planners seem to have discovered that residents deaden the neighborhood. I hope the last generation of planners had liability insurance.

Another Policy that applies to Denman, Davie and Robson is to “Sculpt built form to maximize sunlight on the sidewalks particularly during the afternoon when Denman, Robson and Davie Villages are busiest. The Plan says, “Let there be light” and commands the UDI and member developers to turn it on.

Much of the plan is not concerned with land use planning. Rather it presents dozens of other good ideas relating to biking, walking, enhancing this and improving that. All of this used to be referred to as “peace, order and good government." The plan will be a useful reminder to administrations in the next 30 years to remember to replace dying trees, fix up the library, cut the grass, compost stuff, build facilities for special groups and generally lighten up and celebrate.


If you want to know about density and height, most of it is called for on Georgia and Burrard Streets. They have not prepared design guidelines yet. For those who might worry that the plan is too specific,  it contains the following warning: 

Building heights are subject to other Council-approved policies, guidelines, by-laws and urban design considerations, and minimum site frontage (39.6 metres /130 feet).  [See my blog, Part 1]

Don’t ask how much the plan cost. You will never find out because they abolished line items from the budget.

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