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The future of Vancouver’s West End

Spacing Vancouver recently published an interesting look at Vancouver’s West End neighborhood. And it led me into a deep dive of the neighborhood’s recently adopted Community Plan (November 2013). So today I’d like to talk a bit about the neighborhood and also their plans for managing growth over the next 30 years.

Officially established in 1969, the West End spent the next 3 decades as the most densely populated area of Vancouver. But starting in the 2000s with the development of high-rise condo towers in neighbouring areas such as Downtown South to the southeast and Triangle West and Coal Harbour to the northeast, the West End lost this position. Today it’s the 4th most densely populated neighborhood in the city.

The bulk of the housing (77%) is in the form of apartments with 5 or more storeys. And 81% of residents are renters. This is well above the city average of 52% and is likely a reflection of the neighborhood’s younger demographic (25-29 years old is the largest segment) and its position as a landing ground for new Vancouverites.

But as a large central area with exceptional access to natural amenities, I would imagine that development pressures are and will continue to be significant. To plan for this growth, the city wants to intensify the central areas of the neighborhood with low-rise and mid-rise form and the periphery with high-rise towers. And already this is happening with developments such as the 62-storey Shangri-La Hotel.

Here’s an image depicting their 30 year vision:

But what stands out for me in the Plan is Vancouver’s continued commitment to laneway intensification. The Plan refers to it as “Laneway 2.0” and they specifically mention the opportunity to redevelop the West End’s wide laneways with “ground oriented infill housing.” Below is an example of how this could be done on a small residential lot, but the Plan also includes images for how the same might be accomplished on underutilized apartment building sites.

Laneway housing is a topic I’ve written about extensively on ATC. Toronto is absolutely behind on this. And as I’ve argued before, we need to be looking at urban intensification across all scales, from low-rise to high-rise, if we want to create inclusive and vibrant cities. With the West End Community Plan, Vancouver seems to be doing just that.

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