Metro Vancouver’s elevated rapid transit system, Skytrain, is now 30 years old. Over time, Skytrain development — real or promised — has supported construction of at least 150 residential towers, some of them located in isolated, pedestrian-unfriendly clusters away from services.
Joyce/Collingwood, at the eastern edge of the city of Vancouver, may be the most liveable of the post-Skytrain tower developments. The tower landscape has been softened by continued construction of four- and six-storey buildings, parks and pathways, and a neighbourhood house (social services and recreation centre) paid for from development charges. Retail and commercial services are available along historic Kingsway up the hill. But there’s also a plan to build more towers, and this is creating tensions in the community.
Our friend Ken Gracey has lived in a four-storey apartment building overlooking Aberdeen Park with his spouse and kids since 2006. He recently hosted me and co-tourist R.J. Smarz on a walking tour of this evolving urban village.
From the 1890s into the 1950s, Collingwood was a stop on the Interurban railway that ran along Kingsway and out into the Fraser Valley. This charming detail is a possible explanation for the Kingsway strip’s long-time association with low incomes, crime and the sex trade. More recently, low commercial rents enabled the proliferation of retail and commercial services that cater to immigrants, especially the growing Asian population. Kingsway east of Joyce is home to the cheapest fruits and vegetables in Vancouver, says Ken; you can also get your hair cut or your tax return prepared in any one of a dozen languages. In the present decade, the escalation of Vancouver real estate values and associated rents has put pressure on small operators and added to the volatility of this commercial area.
As we return north on Joyce Street, the shops give way to a four-block run of residential-only use down to Euclid Avenue, where the Collingwood Neighbourhood House marks the start of a mixed-use station precinct. There don’t appear to be any plans to fill the Kingsway-to-Euclid gap, but the block just north of the station is marked for serious densification. The City of Vancouver’s planning process generated activist pushback in December 2015.
Vancouver has established controls for the preservation of rental housing, but there are overtones here of the Metrotown story and the eviction of renters in the city of Burnaby. As reported by CBC:
The City is working on a precinct review that could include rezoning around the station to allow for condo towers up to 35 storeys, as well as townhouses.
Chanel Ly with the Joyce Area Residents Association said she’s worried about how the potential changes will affect the neighbourhood’s cheaper rental housing.
“The community is made up of a lot of immigrant, working-class families,” said Ly. “The redevelopment isn’t meeting the needs of the neighbourhood, and we’re concerned about displacement, unaffordability, and the consultation process not being authentic or thorough enough.”
The difference here may be that Vancouver’s consultation process is more careful than the process in Burnaby, and the residents are better organized, but we shall see.
[This is post #31 in our Urban Villages series.]