Wednesday, January 8, 2020

@FormBasedCodes : Have we zoned
great, walkable places out of existence?

Zoning codes are the unseen, yet decisive guiding force that can either help or hinder the creation of great, walkable, people-scaled places. This primer gives you the basics on form-based codes: what they are, where they work, and how they can help create and sustain great places. More at Form Based Codes.

Image Bank | Congress for the New Urbanism

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Scorched earth : 1 : a failure of leadership

The Molnar residential project on Kennedy-Machleary application for Official Community Plan amendment and zoning variances was defeated 6-3 by Nanaimo city council at public hearing last week. There was well organized vocal opposition to the increased density and the citizens group successfully stopped the project but I doubt anyone in this process feels victorious.
The outcome as it stands now is scorched earth with much harm done and nothing accomplished. In my opinion the process that brought us to this point failed everyone and I want to a look at the process to try to find how it could have gone so wrong. How it could have done such harm and accomplished so little.
The large site is unlikely now to attract the kind of investment that building a badly needed mix of housing types in the city centre requires, Developers, investors, and lenders would know that the organized citizens group will effectively petition council for a lower level of density and they (developers, investors, and lenders) will instead build without resistance in car dependent sprawl. This city council has approved a number of these already, essentially putting sprawl on steroids by the introduction of hundreds of cars into unwalkable areas of the city.
And related, this outcome has made the pre-existing allowable institutional use probably the only viable alternative. This would allow a 240 unit seniors care facility to proceed with no requirement to consult with the neighbourhood: several dozen staff, 24 hours a day seven days a week with shift changes through the night; visitors; support workers; doctors and nurses; supply vehicles; maintenance and repair crews; and emergency vehicles.
I’m kicking myself now that I didn’t realize in time the red herring that the “corridor” designation introduced into an already complex discussion. I long ago came to the realization that what planners call things in their plans have little to do with what happens in the real world. They could have designated these streets “airstrips,” it being about as likely that this area could ever be what most of us would consider a “corridor” as it being airstrips.
I asked City of Nanaimo Director of Development Dale Lindsay if he’d explain why the application was coupled with the corridor designation. He responded quickly and clearly that staff felt that as corridor is used throughout the community in many areas transitioning to higher urban densities, that it was preferred over a new designation that would only apply to this one site. I'm thinking, and I figure some people within the planning and development department are thinking, this was a blunder, allowing the conversation to focus on the alarming notion of a corridor destination.

Scorched earth : 2 : council's authority given away cheaply

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Scorched earth : 2 : council's authority
given away cheaply

This city council was elected on Oct. 24, 2018. Almost 30,000 votes were cast, 40% of eligible voters. This is council’s legitimacy, its authority and its responsibility to govern and guide Nanaimo in the interest of all citizens, in the interest of the greater public good.
Great responsibility comes with winning election to city council. This responsibility is not council’s to assign to another party, unelected and motivated by narrow special interest.
One of Nanaimo's most important and consequential land use decisions was made last week. But it was not made by our democratically elected local government, it was assigned to an organized vocal not-in-my-backyard group. This is a failure of leadership that will have negative consequences for years.
Under the stewardship of this young and inexperienced council this process was not guided to a better outcome that salvaged something for the greater public good. I’m concerned that our new council see themselves more as a passive advisory panel than the seat of local government authorized by tens of thousands of voters across every part of the city by citizens of every demographic.
The comments of councillors as published in the Nanaimo Bulletin require comment, as they seem naive and ill-informed. I’m concerned councillors are not getting good advice.
Councillor Ben Geselbracht worried that "Moving ahead with this project as is would be a break in the public trust in the city’s planning processes.” A fundamental principle in official community plans is the recognition that circumstances from, in this case, 15 years ago, will be reviewed and altered by future elected councils who will have the responsibility to adjust the plan to current circumstances. Failure to do that erodes the public trust in planning processes certainly. From the OCP:
To become an “official” community plan, the Plan must be adopted by City Council as a bylaw, and all future land use decisions must be consistent with the Plan. However, the Plan is a living document, and the City may amend the Plan to adapt to new trends in the community, or respond to changing conditions.
Councillors Ian Thorpe and Don Bonner were quoted that they were concerned about “spot zoning.” The red herring of the corridor designation aside, as Mayor Leonard Krog said, "I think everyone surely must have assumed at some point [this site] was going to be a significant multi-residential development.” The nature of the site, its size and location was always going to require special consideration.
“I simply do not see this as a corridor designation…” councillor Erin Hemens said. “This has three dead ends on it; it’s in the middle of the neighbourhood.” Point taken but why did councillor Hemens not have that concern addressed sooner in the process? As development director Lindsay told me, there was an alternative.
Councillor Tyler Brown said the development was a great proposal that met the goals of the transportation master plan, for example, but said the OCP is about the community’s wishes, not council’s. This and similar comments by other councillors is at best disingenuous. Councillor Brown and his colleagues accepted a responsibility to apply today’s 21st Century realities to (often cynically manipulated) planning documents from 15 and 25 years ago. The “community" by casting almost 30,00 votes assigned that responsibility exclusively to our local  government : city council. That responsibility is not council’s to relinquish to an unelected group that resists change. A failure of leadership.

Scorched earth : 1 : a failure of leadership

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Friday, September 20, 2019

Anyone who’s tried it will tell you it’s a lot harder to get people out in support of something than it is to pack a meeting with people opposed to something...

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

The elimination of Nanaimo's
Urban Containment Boundary : 3 :
The Downtown BIA : A cautionary tale

This is the third in a series of posts on how we lost the fight to protect the Urban Containment Boundary which protected from development the rural “green-fields” in the southernmost area of the city. Plans for a golf course resort and a big box retail “master planned community” didn’t proceed. A new proposal has come forward however, ahead of our upcoming Official Community Plan review.
In the first post I mention that a Downtown Business Improvement Area (BIA) had been organized. It had a board of directors that included two city councillors and met at the council table of the day at City Hall on Wallace Street.
Funding for the Downtown Nanaimo Business Improvement Association, from both a commercial property levy and matching funds from general revenue (the only BIA in the province double-funded like this), was withdrawn by the last Council and we're left with the cautionary tale of how not to structure a BIA. Its greatest failing was its inability to stand up to the perhaps greatest threat to downtown's future, the elimination of the UCB.
Over its history it had suffered membership revolts and the removal of its President by City Council. It was increasingly unaccountable and opaque.
It ran on hubris and too much money. It thought of itself as an unelected arm of government, directors sat around the Council table for their meetings giving them an inflated view of their own importance. Two City Councillors were also on the board of directors, if memory serves, Diane Brennan and Bill Holdom.
Individually board members would express opposition to the removal of UCB, but were compromised and co-opted by City Hall. The BIA had one job, protect downtown from the force that had done it harm: low population density car-dependent sprawl and the subsequent corporate-owned shopping centres. At the public hearing at which the UCB was eliminated the BIA didn't speak up, board members sat on their hands afraid to displease the Councillor board members or risk the loss of City funds.
Our downtown is again threatened by sprawling growth on remote green-field lands and there will be no doubt calls for the creation of a new downtown BIA. I hope we’ve learned how not to do it.
It’s time, in my view, for a comprehensive downtown plan, best organized around a modification of Vancouver’s Grandview-Woodlands Citizens’ Assembly. The success of small and large business downtown is important but it’s only one element of a vibrant urban core. Time too, for a review and updating of the National Urban Design Award winning 2008 Downtown Urban Design Plan and Guidelines.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Getting better, more broadly
representative public input

During a City Council’s term, aside from a referendum or sophisticated, costly polling, only its election is an expression of the collective, tens of thousands of votes across all areas and demographics.
I risk splitting hairs, it may be just semantics but when Councillors hear folks at public hearing they're probably not hearing an expression of “the public.” It’s good in my view Council is mandated to hear citizens at public hearing and good that citizens make the effort to appear but without a way to analyze a usually small sampling, speakers at public hearing probably don’t represent the views of the broader public. Important to add to that, again outside of a binding referendum, it falls to Council to make decisions for the longer term even if those decisions are at odds with current public opinion. Otherwise we could have government by algorithm.
Getting better, more broadly representative public input should be an ongoing goal nevertheless. Initiatives in Vancouver and in Portland may offer ideas we could modify here in Nanaimo.
Vancouver, frustrated with a fractious and polarized east side neighbourhood enacted the Grandview-Woodland Citizens’ Assembly tasked with putting forward recommendations for the neighbourhood’s Community Plan. From the website :
Invitation letters were mailed to 19,000 area residents, property owners, and business owners in late June 2014. In addition, hundreds of invitations were handed out at street corners, community centers, service centers and other key locations in Grandview-Woodland.
The 48 members of the Assembly were selected through a blind draw from the pool of over 500 volunteers. The blind selection process ensured an equal number of men and women; representative numbers of members from six neighbourhood zones; representative numbers of members from each age cohort; and, representative numbers of members who rent their home, own their home or reside in a co-op. Volunteers were asked to identify if they are Aboriginal to make certain we have representation from this community. In addition, two seats were reserved for business owners in Grandview-Woodland and one seat was reserved for a property owner who does not reside in the neighbourhood study area.
It's time for a new Downtown Plan here in Nanaimo IMO and this is the approach I’d hope we’d take.
The other initiative is Portland’s innovative way of working with neighbourhood associations. The City will officially recognize a neighbourhood association and allow it to access the resources of Office of Neighborhood Involvement if it complies with its requirements.
The rules aim to ensure a more representative body, clarifies membership is open to anyone living in or operating a business in the neighbourhood, ensures transparency, inclusion, non-discrimination and makes clear an association would not be allowed to charge a fee for membership.
Without this sort of guide we have to assume that currently Nanaimo neighbourhood associations—some more than others—though they’re composed of engaged well-meaning citizens, represent the views of a relatively few individuals not the broad view of the neighbourhood.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Why Big Cities Matter in the Developing World - CityLab
Architecture students know less about cities, urbanism, urban design, and place-making than you might think.