Tools for a just city

Demo at 138 Hasting, Dec. 1, 2011

Vancouver needs a form of development that is appropriate for the communities where the projects are being built. I have previously written about the idea of inclusionary zoning and bench marking a certain amount of units to the median income of a community as a method of ensuring that there is a tangible and real benefit to a community from the addition of more density in rezoning applications Read Story Here. But in the case where a proposed development project is not a rezoning the city’s tools for evaluating the merits of a project are limited.

A good and controversial case in point is Sequel 138 project in the Downtown Eastside (DTES)More on the project. The project is on the site of the now demolished Pantages Theatre. Early attempts to save the theater through a heritage restoration were not successful. The building’s owner is now proposing a mixed unit building combining 20% social housing rentals with market rate condos. Tools that the city has to evaluate this project again are fairly limited and the project was approved the Development Permit Board which set conditions for the development of the projectDPB report .

Some groups in the DTES are adamantly opposed to the construction of the Sequel 138 project citing that it is yet another building that changes the social mix of the community and the demographic of the area. Opposition to project. Furthermore, some are suggesting that lower income folks are slowly being displaced from the DTES by the addition of more market-based housing. Without going into the merits of the arguments of displacement, if the projects conforms to area zoning and is designed to conform to the city’s building standard, then the city’s mechanism of approval would be obliged to approve the project.

A project like Sequel 138 could possibly be a welcomed project to create more affordable housing in other communities of Vancouver. But in the DTES the project is very controversial. A tool that the city needs is a “Social Impact Assessment” (SIA). If the city had another lens to evaluate a project this lens could have well been a tool that could have flagged a project like Sequel 138 as a project potentially not well situated to the location where it was being proposed.

What is an SIA?

Social Impact Assessment (SIA) is an established methodology for assessing unintended consequence of a project on a social levelWikipedia on SIA. While property owners would not support establishing criteria for the approval of the project development of other than “ownership”, SIA would give the city the ability to have a form of development that would be more aligned with larger goals of creating more justice, equity, affordability and ecological sustainability.

The purpose of SIA is to establish other criteria for evaluating a project other simple economic benefits of a project. Some of the criteria could probe issues such as how does the project create more equity in a community? How will the project affect the social cohesion of the community? How does the project work to reduce green house gases?

By having a SIA the city could give the development permit board a more comprehensive approach to evaluate projects that would allow it to consider other factors beyond the economics of a project.

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