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Too much low-rise — Theresa O’Donnell in conversation with Larry Beasley

I attended the above talk last night over Zoom. (Shoutout to Michael Mortensen for inviting Slate’s development team and for helping to moderate the Q&A.) The talk was a conversation between Larry Beasley (former Director of Planning for the City of Vancouver) and Theresa O’Donnell (the newly appointed Director of Planning for the City of Vancouver). Prior to this, Theresa was the director of planning for cities such as Las Vegas, Nevada, and Arlington, Texas.

I’d like to point out two comments that she made last night that I found interesting.

The first is that community meetings over Zoom actually aren’t all that bad. And the reason that they’re not all that bad is that they tend to draw out larger crowds (they are easier to attend), and so the feedback on development applications tends to be a bit more inclusive / representative. I agree with this overall view and I’ve been arguing for years (here on the blog) that the typical approach to community engagement is pretty much broken. The opinions become lopsided when you erect too many barriers to participation.

The second point has to do with the amount of land in Vancouver (and other North American cities) that is dedicated to low-rise housing. It’s too much and it’s going to need to be addressed in order to increase overall housing supply and to chip away at the housing affordability problem. This won’t be news to this audience, but it’s interesting to see how widespread this belief has become. Of course, the big questions remain: How gentle should gentle density be? How much intensification should these neighborhoods see?

I also appreciated her comment that it’s pure lunacy (my words, not hers) to have higher order transit lines running through mostly low-rise neighborhoods. We need much higher densities to sustainably support these kinds of investments in infrastructure. For us Torontonians, a good example would be (most of) the underdeveloped Bloor-Danforth subway line, though there are other culprits.

Welcome Theresa.

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