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Planner urges Vancouver to get creative with land use

Last Updated Apr 17, 2018 at 7:39 am PDT

(Source: Metro Vancouver)
Summary

'We are not really running out of land,' says architect and planner

'It's sacrilege to suggest building on green space,' says Michael Geller

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – If it was a more affordable option in Vancouver, would you consider living in a houseboat? How about a modular home on a rooftop?

A prominent architect and planner has some creative — and maybe controversial — ideas to help ease the city’s land crunch, including using some green space.

“We are not really running out of land. There’s no doubt our land is constrained but I would argue that we are not really making the best use of the land we already have,” says Michael Geller, who is also a real estate consultant and developer.

“When you look at Vancouver from the air, you see a lot of blue and a lot of green, but you also see a lot of grey. A lot of those grey areas have potential for housing,” he tells NEWS 1130.

That includes, Geller says, modular housing on rooftops or in parking lots.

“It’s happening as close as Toronto, where a non-profit expanded the number of units it had by adding some modular units to the rooftop. Indeed, in the Affordable Housing Task Force — which the mayor of Vancouver organized — I suggested that by allowing people to put modular housing on rooftops of existing apartment buildings, it might be a great way to incent the owners to upgrade the buildings. These are ideas that are not as farfetched as they sound.”

While maybe not farfetched, the idea of using some of Vancouver’s green spaces for residential housing is certainly raising eyebrows.

“It’s sacrilege to suggest building on green space. But that being said, there is a strip of the Langara Golf Course fronting on Cambie Street that is worth hundreds of millions of dollars. While I’m not advocating developing the [city-owned] golf course, by just taking a 140-foot strip along Cambie, the city could generate a lot of land which could be used for market and non-market housing and create some value,” says Geller.


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He also suggests that a former railway berm along 6th Avenue near the south shore of False Creek presents an opportunity to build a strip of higher density housing.

One person dead-set against the idea of residential developments on city green space is NPA city councillor Melissa De Genova, a former Vancouver Park Board commissioner.

“We have to remember that Vancouver has a mandate to have 2.75 acres of green space per thousand people. This is what makes our city truly unique,” she says, adding that Geller may not appreciate the biodiversity of Langara Golf Course.

“I understand that it has an Audubon designation. It’s a protected area that is ecologically sensitive and has a very special biodiversity to it.”

De Genova suggests that it is easy to start looking at green spaces when affordable housing becomes scarce. “Often when times get tough we see development on those spaces, but we will never get them back as a city and I think that we have to consider that.”

Geller’s other ideas are perhaps less controversial. He’d like to see the city consider floating neighbourhoods.

“I’ve spent a lot of time in the Netherlands where they build lots of houseboats. Anyone who has been to Amsterdam has seen the boats and the housing lined along canals. They not only have individual houses, they even have floating townhouses and floating semi-detached duplexes. There’s a real opportunity, I think, to increase the floating home communities around Metro Vancouver,” he explains.

“And historically, we have always separated housing from industrial because it was noxious. But today, industrial uses include tech like Hootsuite or perhaps brewpubs, not the heavy industry uses of yesteryear. I think it’s time to start to think about combining housing in top of some of these light industrial uses.”

Geller believes it would be easy to accommodate a mix of residential and industrial in neighbourhood like Mount Pleasant.

“It would bring new activity into these areas. It won’t work everywhere but there’s opportunity on the parking lots, on top of those big flat roofs or simply on land around the buildings. Make better use of the land we already have.”

Geller says there are many ways to create new housing sites in the region if planners and governments simply use their imaginations.