The Jericho countries need a reconsideration on a human scale

The small print in the current proposal for the Jericho Lands development in Point Gray allows for buildings at these heights and masses, according to calculations by a voluntary group of citizens, the Jericho Coalition. Image via the Jericho Coalition.

Vancouver is destined to have a new neighborhood on its west side, one so densely populated that the Council recently approved directing the proposed subway to UBC through the so-called Jericho Lands and building a station that instead of in the Point Gray Village commercial area four blocks up ad bakke.

The expansion of the Millennium SkyTrain, which runs underground to campus from its currently planned terminus at Arbutus Street, is not a complete deal. $ 4 billion in funding still needs to be secured ($ 800 million from local sources, $ 1.6 billion each from the province and FB). But let’s assume the plan does not fall apart.

There are many reasons to hope that a vibrant, beautiful, highly habitable community could emerge in the 90-acre parcel bounded by West Fourth Avenue, Highbury Street, West Eighth Avenue and Discovery Street in West Point Gray. The land is owned by three First Nations – Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh – along with a federal crown company called Canada Lands Co. There is a chance for something special.

So far, what do we know about what is going on in the lands of Jericho? Photos released last October by the City of Vancouver suggest it is home to many towers of sizes that are far out of proportion to the surrounding cityscape. The concept shown is called “Eagle”. There is a similar concept called “weaving” with the same density.

The ‘Eagle’ option for rebuilding the Jericho lands was proposed for the city of Vancouver. Image via City of Vancouver.

Tall buildings of such mass cast shadows to match. We have seen the shadow simulations. Expect serious consequences for Jericho Park and habitat areas. And yet even these representations do not fully represent the maximum number of extra-tall buildings that the city has signaled it can consider. While the representations show a combination of medium to high-rise buildings, the plans and their explanatory key indicate that buildings can go “up to” significantly greater heights.

The Jericho Coalition is a group of committed and concerned volunteer citizens – including planners, engineers, architects and environmentalists – who have come together after only recently learning about the city’s proposals. They are against the proposed approach, not only because of the maximum heights, but for several reasons. The towers are too big, unsustainable and units will be too expensive, to name a few.

Moreover, their modeling leads them to conclude that the “scaled-down” version rendered by the proponents above could actually be the scenario below including the view of 63 towers. The coalition has used these “up to” maximum heights to produce the images below.

The artist’s reproductions from two angles of Jericho Land’s ‘Eagle’ project, if extended to the full heights specified in the plan. Photos via Jericho Coalition.

Vancouver area planners have a term for placing clusters of dense high-rises around train stations – “transit-oriented development.” A good example is Burnaby’s Metrotown. And now it seems that something of a similar monumental scale has been proposed for the west side of Vancouver.

Is there an alternative? Are there better ways to build this place out that produce just as many housing units, just as much density and a similar number of units per. acres? And if so, would the city consider a less overwhelming option?

In the past, the Vancouverites have managed to defeat this kind of bad design. There were to be large towers on 12th Avenue and Vine until the community retreated. The site was instead turned into the Arbutus Walk, now recognized as a carefully scaled, densely populated, mixed residential community with a distributed open space system that all nearby residents can enjoy. Everyone got what they wanted.

When a large tower design was defeated, the Arbutus Walk instead became a new Vancouver neighborhood with five- to seven-story, large footprint buildings. Image via Creative Commons.

The same thing happened with the Olympic Village on city-owned land, a concept that started as towers but eventually became a midrise community that still provided the same salable floor space.

Now comes another moment for management at City Hall to consider such precedents.

Instead of a cluster of high-rise buildings, this is what the Jericho Lands community could be:

Two angles on what a low and medium height option would look like for Jericho Lands – a design that provides the same number of units as the current ‘Eagle’ option. Photos and designs via Jericho Coalition.

The alternative approach shown above, produced by the committed volunteer citizens of the Jericho Coalition, suggests a much lower overall scale with more effective footprints, tightly arranged to enable a vibrant street-level community with sunlight to reach open areas even in winter .

Instead of living among menacing towers, how would it feel to move around in the scale and style of the built landscape proposed by the Jericho coalition? We draw on recognized international best practice precedents such as these below:

Scenes of similar proportion to the Jericho coalition’s alternative proposals for the Jericho countries. Freiburg, Germany (top) and Hammarby, Sweden Eco City (bottom). Images via Creative Commons.

It is socially productive places, at modest heights, that allow the spaces to enjoy the sun, grow food, play and thrive. We are convinced that the cost of housing would be significantly less because structures could be made of locally produced pulpwood instead of concrete.

Now, some would say that best transit-oriented practices require us to develop land more intensively within walking distance of expensive transit investments. And that’s right.

Guess what? The comparative images below similarly produce the same developable floor area (approximately 693,000 square feet or 7,459,390 square feet), with the same density and with the same net building footprint (approximately 100,000 square feet or 1,076,391 square feet) and even provide community suggestions. more public parking space (additional 4,685 square feet or 50,429 square feet). The contrast between visual influences from eye level is obvious. But the difference in community quality is even more marked.

An illustration of the ‘Eagle’ plan submitted to the city by advocates (above). An image produced by the Jericho Coalition shows a low and medium high plane with the same density and from the same angle (bottom). Top image via City of Vancouver, bottom image via Jericho Coalition.

Finally, we fear that the builder’s proposal, which is currently being promoted above, will not be well received by the public if there are no guarantees that the people who need housing in this city will be able to live here. Creating a large number of new housing units on the west side of Vancouver is only a good idea if it is affordable for ordinary people. It’s not a good idea if 95 percent of these devices are marketed for the same $ 2,000 per year. square feet that they ask for, by e.g. the towers and transit development now rising at Oakridge in southern Vancouver. A two-bedroom unit will sell for $ 2 million or rent for market rent close to $ 5,000 a month.

The opportunity exists here to insist on affordability for at least 50 percent of the units built in the Jericho countries. This would go a long way towards creating new housing for members of First Nations, students and our city’s service staff who are currently leaving us.

The key is to bake this expectation into the early stages of planning, which in turn will suppress land price inflation. Combine these savings with more informed planning and cost-effective construction, and the unique partnership between three First Nations, the federal government and the City of Vancouver can provide a groundbreaking model of a neighborhood designed from the ground up to be habitable and affordable – a prototype deserves international attention.

If, instead, the Jericho lands are transformed into an overscaled playground for the rich, then why should we spend public money on the subway to operate it?


This piece was originally published in The Tyee on April 6, 2022.


Scott Hein is a retired architect, former senior urban designer at the City of Vancouver and the University of British Columbia. He is an adjunct professor of Urban Design at UBC, a lecturer at Simon Fraser University and a founding board member of Urbanarium.

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