September 15, 2006
Where You Put the Cars Helps
I'm in Vancouver, B.C. today with a group from Metro studying how they have made their regional centers work. They've achieved a lot more density in their centers than we have in ours.
Here's a streetscape photo from one of their centers, a place roughly equivalent to Beaverton or Gresham. You can see that there's a lot more density on this street than we have in either of those centers.
The streetscape is relatively attractive. One reason is that there is no structured parking visible! All the off-street parking is underground.
September 15, 2006 9:29 AM
Is that Metrotown in Burnaby? When riding on the sky train it was amazing how much density was all along the line. The thing I notices was how much better quality the midsize BC stuff was then the woodframed apartments we build, and also the towers. Would Zoning allow one of those BC towers at a MAX stop?
September 15, 2006 6:16 PM
Chris Smith Says:
It's Collingwood (Collingswood?), not Metrotown.
While we have a lot of density allowed at some MAX stations (it varies by station), I don't know that too many would allow this much.
The bigger issue may be public acceptance. We don't have ANY towers outside the Portland Central City. Vancouver has lots in its burbs.
September 16, 2006 4:27 PM
Ross Williams Says:
We don't have ANY towers outside the Portland Central City.
I thought the plan for Washington Square included high rise development. Its interesting that for all the complaints about a shortage of land, development in the region is still relatively low density. Is that because it can't get approved or the economics don't work?
September 16, 2006 7:16 PM
Bob R. Says:
What constitutes a "tower" for purposes of this discussion.
Since the 60's, there has been a large (wider than it is tall) residential tower in suburban Oak Grove, the Willamette View Manor retirement complex. 8 or 9 stories are visible from the road, probably 2 or 3 more from the river-facing side.
But the makeup of the place is decidedly "suburban campus" in planning, very auto-oriented, large setbacks, etc. But as far has having a precedent for height, it has been there for decades. What has prevented further developments of a similar style?
- Bob R.
September 16, 2006 11:24 PM
Chris Smith Says:
In Vancouver, I don't think they consider them towers until they hit 14 stories or so.
Land values are clearly part of the economic equation, but some of it is political acceptability too.
Imagine if instead of Orenco Station as it currently exists, we put up five or so 15-story towers. That's the kind of pattern they are seeing in centers outside Vancouver's central city (including their equivalent of Lake O).
September 17, 2006 4:49 PM
"Imagine if instead of Orenco Station as it currently exists, we put up five or so 15-story towers. That's the kind of pattern they are seeing in centers outside Vancouver's central city (including their equivalent of Lake O)."
What is wrong with doing exactly that? I would think the "IDEAL" scenario for development would be to recreate urban growth patterns of 14+ story buildings at places like Orenco Station? At least in TODs.
...can one find the plans for what was planned/is planned at each station and what is actually being done at each station along the lines?
September 17, 2006 5:19 PM
Chris Smith Says:
From a functional point of view, it could work very well indeed. I just wonder if we're psychologically ready for it :-)
As for the station area plans and zoning, I suspect you would have to check zoning maps for each municipality that has stations in it. I don't know of a comprehensive map or document.
September 17, 2006 6:19 PM
Matt C. Says:
I would echo the comments of Chris on this one.
There is a psychological barrier here to this type of density. Vancouver just doesn't seem to have the same inhibitions to this type of development, at least that is the impression we received from the people we spoke with.
There is another aspect here to these towers though that I think is important to mention. When these towers are developed amenities such as Community/Neighborhood and Rec Centers, schools, parks, greenways, community policing centers, etc are negotiated with the developer. This allows for both sides to achieve a number of goals while creating a desirable place to live for a wide range of people. These communities are extremely livable for those that choose to live there. It may not be for everyone, but it offers a choice that we don't have today outside of the major downtown areas. It also helps maximize our already substantial public investment in transit.
September 17, 2006 10:36 PM
Chris Smith Says:
Matt makes an excellent point. The contrast was striking. While we give our developers subsidy to do density, Vancouver demands amenities back from developers who want to do density.
Part of this derives from the higher land prices, but it's also about how government negotiates, including when and with whom (The key is to negotiate amenties BEFORE the developer buys the land, so the developer lowers the offer to the land owner. Down here we negotiate AFTER the purchase and the land owner walks away with the windfall.).
The Pearl would have twice as many parks, plus a community center and day care facility under the Vancouver model!
September 18, 2006 7:03 AM
Ross Williams Says:
Part of this derives from the higher land prices
I think this may understate things. Rather than being part of the reason, this may be almost the entire reason. Rather than "a psychological barrier" or a difference in government approach, it is the economics that are different in Vancouver. The Pearl, for instance, exists largely because there was public investment to encourage development in downtown. It was not that developers were clamoring to do high density residential development.
South waterfront is now in a similar situation. It seems like the city is desperately trying to promote development by making it easier on developers, not driving up costs by adding demands for public amenities.
September 19, 2006 11:04 AM
I'd like to remind that heights and density are related but separate things. You can achieve the same level of density at much lower heights. It is true that Vancouver has gone in the way of towers, and that reflects a psychological change due to some degree to history, the influx of Asians who are more used to living in towers and also the area's extraordinary geography of water and mountains, allowing them to exploit views as a key amenity. Gordon Price, former Vancouver councilman, everytime he comes to speak in Portland reminds us of the missed opportunities here in Portland to take advantage of natural views, which we have, but to a lesser degree.
I'd love to see more of Vancouver type of development, but heights are a relatively minor issue; the brilliance in their planning comes from being able to extract from developers public amenities, as mentioned, and to link transit to development. They are aided, however, by the fact that they hold the monopoly in Canada on Pacific Rim freight, Canada has a less libertarian bent to the concept of property rights, the city owns a lot more land ready for development, their regional planning draws a tighter green line around the edge, they have seen an influx of relatively wealthy immigrants used to living in high density urban settings, and their emphasis of late to require affordable housing (including units for families) in their central city area has created complete neighborhoods. Note also that most of the housing in the West end, created mainly around the 1960s, population 70,000 as of 2001, is rental.
Finally, economics does matter, as pointed out before. Bellevue, WA is seeing residential towers of 30 stories and higher...