Lessons from Portland – Transit

During my recent trip to Portland, I did something that I rarely, if ever do when I am at home – I took transit. Why is that? Is there something about different transit systems that make them more or less useable than others? I would argue that of course there is! When a system is designed to be used, you can tell. Everything about the Portland system is complete and user friendly. From the weather protected bus shelters with their digital displays telling you what busses are coming and how low the wait is going to be, to the efficient and quite cost effective ticketing and pass validation system, Portland definitely wants you to use their transit system. There are transit maps at every stop so if you havn’t used your smart phone to plan your route on their incredibly user friendly website, you can use the old fashion but beautifully designed old school app.


Portland’s system is made up of buses, trains and street cars. It would be very easy to say that they take you everywhere that you want to go, but that would be misleading. I have read that much of the recent development in Portland has gravitated to new locations adjacent to the various networks of transit lines. Transit has influence development to such an extent that the places that you likely want to go have moved to a location along a transit route. This is something that planners often fail to recognize. A permanent transit system, like a street car, far more than flexible bus route, will give the development community confidence that the city is serious and committed long term to their plan and that leads to new development along the line. So it should not have been that much of a surprise that when I took the train to the Knob Hill shopping district on the edge of downtown, I was greeted with the most delightful of small scale, pedestrian friendly, mixed use shopping and dining areas, quite different from the downtown core only 10 minutes away by street car.


It was pretty cool to ride the streets cars and be smack dab in the middle of the roads that were shared with cars and cyclists. This approach certainly has to be more cost effective that the “skytrains” and “subways” of the world.  And the best part is with so many people using the street cars that go where people want them to go, the use of cars is way down and the streets are not as crowded which makes them so much better to use for everybody.


For those of you in my community, we don’t need another bridge that will actually increase car traffic, we need a well planned street car system between communities!

WTF!!! That’s a lot of gas for a little CAR!

WTF!!! I just pre-approved my credit card for $50 to fill up my little Fiat 500 and the pump stopped before the tank was full!! Are you kidding me? Must be the summer fuel prices again. What does it cost to fill a 3/4 ton pick-up these days?

Who wants to join me and put an end to this extortion by designing and lobbying for more compact communities where walking and cycling is actually a real option? Smaller & denser, complete communities are the answer, where using painted bike lanes to commute or to go visiting another community is a choice, not a requirement of simply existing.Image

So, I am thinking about starting to host design “salons” in my office design theatre for all those interested in creating the built environment of their future, or at least generating ideas about what they would like to see the developers and investors and newcomers to the Comox Valley consider when planning their projects.  Some early ideas for session themes are:

  • The new hospital precinct – what should the area around the new Hospital be like?  Some would argue that is should be located at the center of an efficiently engineered freeway system while others see an opportunity to leverage this huge investment to created a wonderful, liveable and walkable community.
  • Healthy Main Streets – Comox, Courtenay and Cumberland – what are the factors and conditions that contribute to the health of Main Streets in towns.  How can we fix the problem issues?

Let me know if you are interested at tom@tda.ca and I will start a list.

The New Comox Valley Hospital Location – Part 2 – “Is there another way?”

This post is Part 2 of my thoughts on the proposed site for the new Comox Valley Hospital.  In Part 1 I provided a critique of the proposed site from the point of view of the Living City Challenge, a design competition that asked communities to re-design themselves using the seven petals and twenty imperatives of the Living Building Challenge.  There were a number of different responses to this criticism.  Some people skipped over the details of my comments and were disappointed that after all the Comox Valley has been through, anyone would give VIHA any more reason to delay this project.  “We need this new hospital so let’s just get on with it.”  Others seemed content with where the new Hospital was NOT going to be located.  “As long as it is not in Cumberland or Mt Washington, I’m OK with the proposed site.”  This blog post addresses a last group of comments that centered on a question: “If not there, where would you suggest it be located?”

I had hoped to at least find out what the terms of reference were for the team hired to review site location options and what the site selection criteria was.  I have not been able to engage in any dialogue with VIHA prior to this post so I will have to make some assumptions.  We have read in the newspapers that 21 sites were proposed initially.  Then 3 sites were short listed, and presumably negotiations were held, in camera, with the land owners.  The gleeful comments of the winning proponent, Crown Isle, tell us the rest of the story.  We know that the selected site is 15 acres in land area with an additional 5 acres available for expansion.  This is a lot of land at just over 650,000 square feet.  Based on my reading of the latest VIHA reporting on the Hospital project, some crude “rule of thumb” estimating, and finally a few “back of the envelope” calculations, I have determined that approximately one quarter of the site will be required for the new hospital and the remainder of the site will be used for circulation and parking.  The actual building, or buildings, will require about 4 acres of land with the remaining 11 acres needed for parking the cars used by patients, doctors and Hospital Staff.

Is there a better site than the proposed one on Ryan Road?  Perhaps not, but without the terms of reference, we can only speculate.  Why not release the terms of reference and the locations of the other 21 proposed locations?  Again we can only speculate.  Keeping the public in the dark, for what ever reasons VIHA feels are necessary, will only fuel the passions and raise the ire of the local people that care about our community as a place to live.  They are not against the Hospital project – they just want the wonderful and significant investment to provide the greatest benefit to the widest swath of people.  There will no doubt be many that will speculate on the reason various decisions have been made.  Politics and back room deals with the “old boys” of the Comox Valley will be high on the list for sure but I want to steer clear of this line of thinking in this post.  I am certain there are other blogs out there for that.  I want to look at other sites in terms of urban infrastructure including transportation and municipal services.  This perspective is critical to economically sustainable city planning.  Yes – I said “economically” sustainable!  We have a big problem with the current thinking that is used in developing most of our cities.  A short term gain is welcomed without long term planning to ensure that the projects we undertake today are affordable 25, 50 and 100 years down the road.  Imagine the young couple with a new born child, or a retired empty nesting couple on fixed income winning one of the big TV lottery $2.8 million dream homes and locating it on a big lot on the edge of Comox, then going broke during the first winter because of the huge heating bills and then finally bankrupt paying the taxes.  Remember that nightmares are dreams too!  We are told that this Hospital will serve us for the next 100 years but I see little evidence in the development approach that understands what this actually means.  A Hospital out in the middle of nowhere is a pretty big gamble that will require a lot to fall into place if it is to succeed.  It is part of vision for Courtenay that will require tremendous growth, beyond what is predicted, and an outward sprawl over undeveloped land with consequences we are unwilling to face.  Is it possible to make this location succeed and what would it actually take?  This will be the subject of another installment of this blog.  For now, let’s look at some other sites.

I took a quick look at some other Hospitals that I have been to in the last few years just to give myself some perspective.  I was actually a bit surprised to discover that they occupied a lot more land than I imagined.  Size does matter!  Close to home I zoomed in using Google Earth (the pro version for those that want to try this at home) on the two existing local Hospitals in the centre of this issue.  St. Josephs Hospital in Comox occupies 12.6 acres of land and the Campbell River Hospital occupies 8.8 acres.  Each of these sites contains multiple buildings.  I then moved southward and measured the Nanaimo Hospital at 20 acres and it also has multiple buildings on the site.  Going all the way to Victoria General Hospital where we once drove there and back for a 15 minute treatment, I measured its site to be 33 acres with two buildings.  Looking at this relatively new hospital in a remote location in a sprawling suburb miles from Victoria adjacent the highway one gets the sense that this is the model that VIHA is looking at for the Comox Valley.  The Royal Jubilee Hospital in Victoria occupies 41 acres of land and it contains an entire campus of buildings.  To complete my survey, I looked at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver which occupies 6.4 acres and Vancouver General Hospital which occupies 21 acres.  Both Vancouver hospitals are very dense, urban facilities with multiple buildings located on land that is woven into the existing grid network of streets and public spaces.

From this quick desk top study I determined a couple of things.  The first is that all but one of these sites is situated within the core of the community, surrounded by the existing fabric of development that includes in varying degrees a full mix of other uses.  The second is that all of these hospitals contained multiple buildings ranging from two buildings to entire campuses containing dozens of buildings where it is difficult to determine where the transition occurs from hospital precinct to city.  The third is that of the seven existing hospitals I looked at, 3 occupy less than 15 acres including a big city hospital.  Lets see how these points can inform an alternative evaluation of a hospital location in the Comox Valley.

A quick review of urban land in the core areas of our three communities reveals that there are no 15 acres parcels undeveloped, awaiting the arrival of a new hospital.  Only at the edges and boundaries of our core areas are there large undeveloped parcels of land.  It is likely that the VIHA site selection terms of reference were based on one preferred model for a new hospital and land parcels smaller than 15 acres were never even considered.  However, lets use this article to expand our vision to include alternative models for a new Comox Valley Hospital facility.  What if it were a requirement to locate the new hospital within the core of one or more of our communities?  What if the new hospital was developed in pieces within separate buildings located within the existing grid of our infrastructure?  What if off-street parking were required underground as it is for most other buildings in our core areas?  Using this approach, we would be more consistent with almost all of the other existing hospitals and we open up a lot more possibilities that would result in a benefit to a lot more people across the Comox Valley.  Now when we look again at the urban land in our core areas, we see it differently.

In Comox we actually have a couple of interesting options that would provide a starting point for the new hospital development.  We could build over top of the 2.6 acres of the surface parking lot at the Comox Mall and if we built overtop of the Mall as well, we could make use of a full 6 acres to create an amazing mixed use complex.  We could also build over the 2.6 acres of the surface parking lot at the existing St. Joseph’s Hospital.  As well, the as yet un-built project next to Quality Foods has a site area of over 5 acres that could accommodate all of the proposed building area.

In Courtenay East there are a couple of options that would meet our new criteria.  There are approximately 11.5 acres of Crown Isle land across from Home Depot and another 11 acres at the rear of North Island College.  Both parcels are adequate to accommodate the proposed building area and future expansion.

In Courtenay City there are many options that would help transform the City in a positive way.  We could build over the Driftwood Mall surface parking lot that occupies 6.5 acres and could be expanded to 12 acres if the adjacent properties were to be included.  The City of Courtenay Works Yards on either side of Cumberland Road occupy 12.1 acres.  The School Board offices and Old Courtenay Junior site occupy 3.6 acres and could be expanded to 7 acres by including the adjacent park.  There are a number of other areas with un-developed and under-developed lots in the City of Courtenay that could be transformed into a new medical wellness precinct with the addition of new hospital and services buildings.

Far be it for me to challenge the needs of VIHA in providing hospital services on Vancouver Island and I cannot begin to understand the complexities that must be involved, but I do understand the way that cities go together and I can objectively observe how existing hospitals interact with them.  I believe that our set of three requirements would result in much greater benefit to more of the Comox Valley by spreading the investment across a greater area and over a longer period of time while adding to the vibrancy and livability of the city.

By building within the cores of our existing municipalities, less money would have to be spent on new infrastructure services and what is spent could be used repairing and upgrading existing services.  Land values in neighbourhoods around the new facilities would rise for many land owners as entire communities benefitted in the short and long terms.  By default the new facilities would be located closer to where people already live and work which would reduce the amount of travel required for patients, doctors and staff, increasing the viability of cycling and walking and their related health benefits.  The new facilities would add to the densification of the cores and that would increase the viability of more functional transit.

By building multiple buildings on existing city blocks, there are a many benefits.  The hospital could proceed more quickly, one piece at a time.  Smaller, multiple approvals would be easier than one big all encompassing approval.  Smaller, multiple approvals would be quicker individually and the community would benefit by spreading the project out over a longer period of time rather than one big boom period.  The resulting facilities would be consistent with the existing street scale and likely more human in scale.  The land could be acquired from multiple sources, as required over time, spreading the benefit to more over a longer period.  Infill development would be possible as well as redevelopment of large surface parking areas, both beneficial to the creation of more livable communities.

By building within the cores and on existing city blocks, closer to where people already live and work and where existing transit is already in place, the total required parking for the project would be drastically reduced and underground parking would be feasible.  The total amount of land required for acquisition, without the big need for surface parking, would be much less.  This strategy has been successfully employed at the University of Victoria where their last three major building projects were constructed over existing surface parking areas.  Reducing the number of parking stalls and putting them under the building, innovative buildings and site designs incorporating green roofs rain gardens, and aggressive public transit programs have made this part of Victoria a leader in the creation of communities that are moving in a progressive direction.

This large investment in the Comox Valley is welcomed by everyone.  It can be leveraged many times over to the benefit of everyone, or simply funneled through the coffers of an elite few.  Despite the drawn out process that is moving at a glacial pace, it appears that that VIHA is taking the easy and opportunistic road.  I believe that more open minded alternatives could get us more of what we want and what we need, and perhaps be even easier to deliver.  We need to express our views and our visions about what we want this place to be.  I look forward to your thoughts and comments.

The New Comox Valley Hospital Location

Well it was finally announce last week – the location of the new and much-anticipated hospital in the Comox Valley.  The site selected from amongst 21 possibilities is located on an undeveloped stretch of Ryan Road somewhere between the new Costco, Home Depot and Car Dealerships and the Entrance to the Comox Air Force Base.

The timing of the announcement coincided with the completion of an international design competition that had competitors re-designing the places where they live such that they comply with the standards set out by the Living City Challenge.  I was a member of a team that participated in this competition and over a period of two months we grew to see our place in the Comox Valley in a whole new light.  The design standards are based on the Living Building Challenge, an advanced green building program of the International Living Building Institute.  They are organized around seven “petals” that cover a broad spectrum of ideas and concepts that come together to challenge designers to “imagine a visionary path to a restorative future.”   Each petal contains one or more “imperatives” and there are twenty imperatives in total.  Every project must meet the requirement of every imperative.  It is through the filter of the Living City Challenge that I provide this critique of the chosen Hospital site.

SITE petal

01 Limits to Growth – Based on the premiss that we have already gobbled up far more land than we need, new projects such as the Hospital are only permitted on greyfield and brownfield sites, and NOT on land adjacent to sensitive ecological habitats, prime farmland, and flood plains.  The chosen Hospital location is a greenfield site, never previously having been developed and it is located immediately adjacent to one of the most productive pieces of farmland in the Comox Valley so it does not meet imperative 01.  It should also be pointed out that the selected site is a very important part of the hydrology of the Comox Valley, critical to the re-charge of our underground aquifers.

03 Habitat Exchange – not specifically a critique of the selected site, it should be mentioned that this imperative requires that for every development, either half of the site shall remain undeveloped under covenant, OR, undeveloped land must be acquired of equal size and donated to a local land trust and remain undeveloped in perpetuity.

04 Car Free Living – every new project should contribute towards the creation of a walkable, pedestrian oriented community.  The selected site is virtually in the middle of nowhere in terms of pedestrian access and is located fronting an 80 km per hour arterial.  While this may be appropriate for the occasional high-speed ambulance, no one can walk to the proposed site which means that everyone, including patients, medical staff and administration must all come by car to get to the hospital.  Transit is possible alternative but sustainable transit only comes with much higher development densities and the Comox Valley is decades, if not centuries away from achieving this, and projects located like this one are taking us away from transit sustainability, not closer.  As I understand it, the site is 15 acres in area and well over half of this is required for parking.  I will address this under another imperative.

WATER petal

05 Net Zero Water – I will use this imperative to discuss the infrastructure required for the project.  It is highly unlikely that the City of Courtenay has installed water and sewer infrastructure out into the middle of nowhere so it is assumed that the existing services are going to require extending, at significant cost, to reach the new site.  A more appropriate site would have been where services already existed, and even where services were older and were due for replacement and the project could “kill two birds with one stone.”  I will point out that a Living City Building would not require this infrastructure as they are required to be self-sufficient in terms of water use, either through the collection and harvesting of rainwater, or by using a closed loop system.  In addition, a Living City Building must treat and make use of its own waste without combustion or use of chemicals.

06 Ecological Water Flow – I mentioned earlier that the chosen site was important to the local hydrology.  A requirement of the Living City Challenge is that 100% of the rain that falls om the site must be managed on site to feed the projects demands while at the same time not changing the pre-development water balance.  Water moves around above and below ground, and across property lines, so the aquifers and surrounding farmland cannot be impacted by development of the selected site.


07 Net Zero Energy – A Living City must provide all of its own energy.  Currently the power generated by the Comox Lake hydro facility provides only about 20% of our local power supply.  We have shown in our competition work that the more a City sprawls, the greater its energy requirement gets.  Conversely, the more compact a community gets, its energy requirement drops and more economic opportunity for exploiting waste to energy results.  This site is certainly taking us away from a compact community adding to our energy consumption.  Opportunity will be lost as the waste energy from the new heating and water systems will be too far from other facilities that would be able to use it.


16 Human Scale & Humane Places – All projects must be designed to create human-scaled rather than automobile-scaled places.  A 15 acre site is far larger than the size of the new Hospital so it must be assumed that a large portion of the land will be used for surface parking for the large numbers of users of the facility.  The massive parking areas that we seem to be getting more and more of like the Driftwood Mall, Wal-mart, Canadian Tire, Superstore, Home Depot and now Costco are extremely detrimental to our culture, our sense of place, our humanity.  They are not what we love about the Comox Valley and they are not necessary to our daily rituals and routines – before we head off to the places that we do love!  Hospitals are possible without oceans of asphalt, where they are fit into the existing fabric of a community.


20 Inspiration & Education – A Living City project celebrates its performance and all that is good about it, sharing it with the public and motivating others to follow suit and make change.

What will we learn from a new Hospital on this site?  Will we learn that it is OK to bulldozer raw land on the periphery of our towns?  It is OK to sprawl well beyond our local infrastructure because the engineers can do it and our resources our allocated for this purpose?  That we should not worry about the price of fuel rising in the future and that we will always be able to jump in our car and drive to work, or visit a sick friend?  That cheap land always trumps walkability and transportation?  Five of the seven petals of the Living City Challenge have a direct connection with the selection of a project site.  I think that they demonstrate that there is lot more that needs to be considered when making such important decisions in our communities.  I hope that these ideas resonate with your way of thinking, or that they move you at least a little closer to a more complete way of seeing the world.  In a follow-up blog post I hope to make some suggestions for some alternative sites for the new Hospital.  I might even know by then which other sites were considered.


Courtenay’s GHG Changes

Are you ready for all of the changes proposed by the City of Courtenay as they tackle the tough challenge of reducing our community’s impact on Climate Change?  Despite the misleading information that abounds regarding cause and costs, I believe that this challenge is about making the Comox Valley a better place to live, less expensive, and thus more resilient to the unknowns that we are all about to face.  Here is my list of some of the things that you just might see as we move forward:

Paying Less Taxes:  The City will be changing the way it designs and constructs its civil infrastructure including it’s water, sewer and transportation systems.  By concentrating these services in the dense and compact municipal cores, the exponentially increasing expense of extending services to the City boundaries will be eliminated and minimal tax will be required to maintain and upgrade the existing infrastructure.  Not having to build a 3rd crossing of the Courtenay River will save tax payers over $30 M alone.  Designing narrower city streets for pedestrians and cyclists will cost less than widening them for cars.  With this new approach to infrastructure, opportunities will be created for local, more efficient, district energy systems and we will be less susceptible to the pending increases in large scale regional energy costs.

Getting More Exercise:  In order to reduce the emissions from passenger vehicles, Courtenay will be designing their streets to accommodate the pedestrian first, then the cyclist, then the car.  Sidewalks will be designed to make the walking experience safer and more enjoyable.  City blocks will be designed to be smaller and more compact, making it much easier to get around on foot.  Shade trees will be planted along the edges of all streets to keep things cool during the heat of summer.  Narrow streets lined with buildings having minimal setbacks and broad canopies will provide wind breaks and protection from severe winter weather.  New zoning measures will allow new homes to be created within the same community as shops, offices and recreation so that there is better opportunity to live and work and shop in the same area, all within walking distance.

Better Health:  In addition to the daily exercise you will be getting, the new measures implemented by the City of Courtenay will eliminate the pressure to develop (sprawl) out into wetlands, environmentally sensitive ecosystems,  and prime farm land; allowing more opportunity for nature nearby and for convenient local food production.  Public markets in every neighbourhood will provide easy access to healthy, locally grow food.  The various measures for the reduction in GHG production will improve air  quality and ensure an adequate supply of clean drinking water.

More Lifestyle Choices:  New types of communities will be developed to provide more variety and choice of lifestyle.  To supplement the existing single family subdivisions located in areas separate from the business districts, the City of Courtenay will encourage some of it’s existing  neighbourhoods to develop with a complete mix of uses including residential, retail, commerce and recreation.  As these new areas are discovered as exciting places to live, viable alternatives to what we have now, their compact and efficient systems will have a dramatic impact on reducing the GHG emissions in the City of Courtenay.

Having More Free Time:  The new dense and compact communities will be designed with local public green space and a variety of local public amenity, easily accessible to everyone in the neighbourhood.  The traditional high maintenance, ornamental front yard will be replaced by local parks, maintained by municipal staff to the highest standards, for resident use in all seasons.  No more lawn cutting, weeding, leaf raking, etc.  Walking to work and to get your groceries will eliminate the wasted time spent commuting and going nowhere on a treadmill in a gym.

Riding Enjoyable Convenient Transit:  The City will be working with BC Transit to make it serve the people better.  Transit routes will provide frequent, 5 minute service to the more dense compact areas where some new development will be approved, connecting more people to more of everything within minutes, not hours.

Personal Transportation Freedom at Lower Cost:  When needed for your personal trips beyond the reach of transit you will be able to choose a vehicle just the right size and type from the local community car coop, always clean and well serviced, paying only for the distance that you drive.

A Thriving Economy:  By localizing as much commerce as we can within our region, we eliminate the additional expense associated with importing many of our needs and we provide opportunity for local business to prosper.  By providing at least equal opportunity to local business as it does to national and global chains, the City of Courtenay will help to create a resilient local economy with a positive impact on everyone living in it.  A thriving local economy will provide greater opportunity for our children to live and work in their home region.

If these issues are important to you, please come out and express yourself at the Public Hearing.  You can read the proposed bylaw at the City of Courtenay website at www.city.courtenay.bc.ca.  This is our future that we all create together.

Tom Dishlevoy, Architect

New Coal Mine vs. High Buildings

I bumped into a friend and colleague this week and we had quite a conversation.  It started out about the likelihood of a new coal mine being approved in our regional district.  My friend is responsible for the preservation of our remaining environmentally sensitive lands and he was in quite a predicament trying to reconcile his thoughts on the coal.  “In our towns we know that we need to densify, and we need to start building up.  We can’t go higher than 4 storeys in wood construction.  We are going to need concrete and steel so we are going to need this coal.  How can I oppose this resource extraction?”  I went on to explain that 4-6 storeys could provide all the density that most sustainable cities will ever need and that we can keep building using wood, supporting our renewable lumber industry. It was his quandary that inspired this post, attempting to explain my reasoning!

I once heard a SmartgrowthBC spokesperson state that 13 residential units per gross acre of land area in a town is the minimum necessary to begin to support the infrastructure that we desire such as sewer, water and transit.  Increasing this density makes this easier and more services and amenities possible.  I have kept this in my mind ever since.  If you only build on 50% of your town’s land, allowing for parks, recreation and farmland, then you will need 25 upa over the developed area.  If half of the developed land is covered by schools, industrial parks, commercial development and roads, you are going to need to increase development to 50 upa in the areas where residential is provided.  According to CMHC documents, 50 upa can be achieved with medium density 4-6 storey construction, which can still built from wood according to our building codes.

According to SmartgrowthBC, more density is even better and can provide for more services.  Downtown Vancouver, the 4th highest density in North America, should be a fantastic place, with a great deal of amenity for its residents.  And on many counts it is.  Vancouver is home to an amazing variety of things that only very high density can provide including conference centres, world class sporting venues, unlimited dining and shopping, transit by sea, by rail and by wheels, recreation and entertainment 24 hours a day – fantastic alright!  This density is achieved by building up.  According to Wikipedia, Vancouver has of 634 high-rise buildings over 115 feet in height, the tallest currently at  659 feet in height. These are expensive and complex buildings from a construction point as they must stand up to some challenging conditions from the regular winds, and the infrequent but inevitable large magnitude earthquakes.  To make them stand up and be safe to live in, engineers are required to design them using huge amounts of concrete and steel – two of earths non-renewable resources that consume large amounts of embodied energy to produce.

I lived for a few years on the eleventh floor of of a downtown Vancouver apartment building.  Those were good years and I remember them fondly.  They were also the years before family.  It was OK to ride in elevators daily and to be closer to the apartment unit directly across the street than it was to the ground below.  My own passion for high rises has wained somewhat since my early architecture days.  My first day on the new job after first arriving in Vancouver was helping set up a photo shoot in the 3 storey penthouse apartment on the twenty somethingth floors of a luxury building before a hollywood movie star moved in.  My next job was designing the 6 levels of underground parking for another high-rise apartment building.  Both of these experiences remain vividly in my memory.  Having lived in and designed a few high buildings, I feel that it is safe to say that a debate on the quality of life experienced in tower living is a valid one and will rage on for some time yet.

To make my point about sustainable and liveable communities in 4-6 storeys of building height, I needed to conduct a simple exercise – revision Vancouver without it’s high-rises and debate the outcome.  Using some math that I just learned helping my grade 4 daughter with her homework called “calcul mental” I determined that there were approximately 24,346 storeys of high-rise construction in the 634 buildings in Vancouver.  If we divided this number into groups of 6, we would get the equivalent of about 4,000 mid-rise 6 storey buildings. If we took all of these new mid-rise buildings and spread them out onto other sites, we would need an area roughly the size of Kitsilano.  The end result would be a city more like historic Paris and London, similar to other vibrant parts of Vancouver that already exist.

The Area required to accommodate all of Vancouver's high-rise buildings if they were broken down in to 6 storey pieces.

Would this be a good thing?  Would it still provide the density to support all the amazing things that Vancouver has?  Could Vancouver afford to replace some of its large proportion of single family housing with 4,000 new apartments?  Would we be better off living closer to the ground, in closer contact with the life of the streets and public spaces?  Is our need to go so high more about ego and real estate prices?  Would the planet be better off without all the concrete, steel and curtain wall glazing required for high-rise construction?  I am leaning towards a yes answer to all of these questions.  They are questions that I put to you for debate.

As to my friend and colleague, get back out there and keep protesting that proposed  new coal mine!

Dense Settlement => Effective Public Transit => Sustainable Comox Valley

We cannot solve the issue with current patterns of thinking. It would take as a pre-requisite that a transit company would have to have significant collaborative involvement in the generation of the OCP and clearly this is not happening… or in the terms of reference for either BCT or the Consultant working on the OCP.

We are going to need big new ideas to make any of this work, Ideas such as moving all 65,000 of us in the Comox Valley into about 1200 acres, about the size of the Town of Comox or the core of Courtenay. Living in more dense development with well planned green spaces, cycle routes and pedestrian streets, functional transit would be easy to design and cost effective to operate. Walking and cycling would dominate and transit would be frequent and easily accessible to all, probably free of charge as well.

Is this doable? Is this insanity? Most would probably say I was crazy, you can’t move everybody. But you could post this as the official community plan and regional growth strategy and then support and encourage future development activity that fit within the plan, restricting and placing disincentive on anything outside of this plan. Over time it could happen, likely within the time frames that our drafted plans are targeting.

I am currently working on just such a plan vision and will share with the world as it evolves. Anyone want to help?