The year 2016 was packed with an extraordinary number of major moves in planning that will change our city significantly, both short-term and longer-range. Just a sampling:

  • Housing taxes: introduced on vacancies and purchases by foreign owners
  • Robson Square: permanently shut off to motorists and made pedestrian-only
  • New head planner: Gil Kelley, formerly director of citywide planning for San Francisco, appointed as chief planner and general manager of Vancouver’s new department of planning, urban design and sustainability
  • Arbutus Greenway: bought by the city from Canadian Pacific for $55 million as a rail-to-trail transportation corridor
  • Mobi: launched as the city’s bike-share
  • Grandview-Woodland: community plan introduced

And plenty more – here’s a shortlist published by the Vancouver City Planning Commission (VCPC).

On January 30, I sat in on Milestones, a year-in-review panel discussion held by the VCPC at City Hall revolving around these developments. Moderated by Stephen Quinn, host of CBC Radio’s On the Coast, the panel included Carla Guerrera, strategic advisor in urban planning and real-estate development; Mike Harcourt, former Mayor of Vancouver and Premier of B.C.; Jen St. Denis, urban affairs journalist, Vancouver Metro; and Andy Yan, director of the SFU City Program.

The conversation covered a variety of topics, from over-building in Chinatown to the rise in First Nations real-estate development and economic self-reliance. While acknowledging the good-news events of 2016, the panel was united in laying its major emphasis on the urgency of addressing Vancouver’s affordable housing crisis and the threat it poses not only to residents’ well-being but to the area’s overall economic sustainability. In that regard, the event felt to me less like a celebratory retrospective and more like a needed rallying cry.

Reconstructing urban history

The VCPC hosted the Milestones event as part of its larger project of compiling a chronology of major planning decisions over the city’s history since the early 20th century. According to the VCPC, such decisions were under-documented in the past, leaving a need for better records to inform the future. The VCPC intends to continue building this chronology in the years ahead as further projects emerge over time.

What do you think? Which recent planning decisions in the city are the most important?