THE CON­VER­SA­TION

Van­cou­ver's new head of plan­ning, ur­ban de­sign and sus­tain­abil­ity is keep­ing his eye on ways to foster a bet­ter econ­omy

BC Business Magazine - - Contents - By Felic­ity Stone

New Van­cou­ver plan­ning boss Gil Kel­ley thinks the city will be­come a mag­net for in­no­va­tors

Born in San Fran­cisco and raised in Port­land, self­de­scribed ur­ban­ist and West Coaster Gil Kel­ley be­came Van­cou­ver's new gen­eral man­ager of plan­ning, ur­ban de­sign and sus­tain­abil­ity in Septem­ber. Kel­ley was pre­vi­ously di­rec­tor of plan­ning and de­vel­op­ment for Berke­ley, Cal­i­for­nia; di­rec­tor of plan­ning for Port­land; and, most re­cently, di­rec­tor of city­wide plan­ning for San Fran­cisco, which, he says, has a worse hous­ing cri­sis than Van­cou­ver but less po­lit­i­cal will to ad­dress it. There seems to be an open­ness on the part of the city's politi­cians to give things a try, he ob­serves.

Van­cou­ver has one of the most com­pelling phys­i­cal set­tings on Earth for any city, and it has a di­verse, in­ter­na­tional pop­u­la­tion, Kel­ley says. “Those are ex­tremely good build­ing blocks for the fu­ture of Van­cou­ver, as is the sense that there's a real civic in­vest­ment here in mak­ing a bet­ter city.”

How is ur­ban plan­ning im­por­tant to res­i­dents and busi­nesses?

One of the pri­mary is­sues which I think the plan­ning func­tion here can re­ally help with is im­prov­ing what is now a rel­a­tively shal­low econ­omy in the metropoli­tan re­gion. We have a healthy tourist econ­omy; we know how to build con­do­mini­ums, par­tic­u­larly for for­eign in­vestors; we have a grow­ing port; but only a rel­a­tively mod­est tech­nol­ogy/ in­no­va­tion-led sec­tor. That part of our econ­omy needs to grow if we are to have ro­bust em­ploy­ment. I think Van­cou­ver is well po­si­tioned for that in­no­va­tion-led growth. Part of my work as the chief plan­ner is to help foster a deeper and more in­clu­sive econ­omy here.

What is the plan­ning depart­ment's role in cre­at­ing a pos­i­tive en­vi­ron­ment for busi­ness?

Pay­ing at­ten­tion to the struc­tural needs of the fu­ture econ­omy here is a big one. This year we're do­ing an em­ploy­ment lands needs study to in­form our plan­ning ef­forts. Most of the em­ploy­ment in Van­cou­ver, and about half of the re­gion's to­tal em­ploy­ment, is on about five per cent of the city's land. We need to be smart about sav­ing enough land and cre­at­ing enough space for a di­verse set of em­ploy­ment types, in­clud­ing of­fice, cre­ative in­dus­tries, tra­di­tional light man­u­fac­tur­ing, food pro­duc­tion, as well as arts and crafts, per­haps in an in­creas­ingly mixed for­mat.

One suc­cess we had in that re­gard was 10 years ago re­serv­ing the cen­tral busi­ness district within down­town for of­fice, re­tail, ho­tel and ex­clud­ing res­i­den­tial. The new of­fice build­ings that are at­tract­ing the Mi­crosofts and other high-tech com­pa­nies now wouldn't have been there be­cause they would have been built as res­i­den­tial build­ings. We're also do­ing a re­tail health study across the city to as­sess what's miss­ing as neigh­bour­hoods change and the na­ture of re­tail it­self changes.

What steps are you tak­ing to cre­ate af­ford­able hous­ing for mil­len­ni­als and young fam­i­lies in Van­cou­ver?

The re­cent hous­ing re­set that the city is en­gaged in has made clear that there are sev­eral bands of house­hold in­comes that are not be­ing ad­e­quately ad­dressed. We've ac­tu­ally pro­duced a lot of hous­ing units. The prob­lem is that that sup­ply is re­ally skewed to the top

end and to home­buy­ers only. So build­ing ren­tal hous­ing and more af­ford­able op­tions for the so-called miss­ing mid­dle or the gen­er­a­tion squeeze, the young gen­er­a­tion that's want­ing to ei­ther find a fam­ily-size ren­tal or to buy a first-time home, we need to pay at­ten­tion to that. That is the fu­ture of the city, and that is the work­force that's go­ing to be work­ing in the cre­ative econ­omy.

What are you do­ing to sim­plify de­vel­op­ment ap­proval?

One is, how do we sim­ply speed up the per­mit­ting process. I'm launch­ing a reg­u­la­tory re­view process in this com­ing year which will look at this hoary thicket of reg­u­la­tions in Van­cou­ver that's been built up over time. Par­tic­u­larly if we want to keep up with the need for af­ford­able hous­ing, we have to find ways to ex­pe­dite some of that. The other piece is that the Van- cou­ver de­vel­op­ment sys­tem is al­most ad­dicted to this no­tion of in­di­vid­ual prop­erty re­zon­ings as op­posed to do­ing that through larger area plans. It's very cum­ber­some, time-con­sum­ing and opaque both to de­vel­op­ers and to neigh­bour­hoods. One of the shifts I'm try­ing to make is to have that sys­tem be more uni­form across dis­tricts, be done at the time they do an area plan and be much more fixed-rate de­vel­oper con­tri­bu­tions.

How is Van­cou­ver like and un­like other West Coast cities?

All are highly pros­per­ous, po­lit­i­cally pro­gres­sive, highly liv­able and there­fore at­trac­tive for new peo­ple mov­ing here, for the young gen­er­a­tion of work­ers and en­trepreneurs. The other piece they share is an af­ford­able hous­ing cri­sis. That's the Achilles heel of all of th­ese great cities. In some ways Van­cou­ver and Port­land share a sim­i­lar­ity of neigh­bour­hood pat­terns and are both strug­gling with what in­fill growth looks like. They share also a high de­gree of civic in­vest­ment in the fu­ture of their cities. Van­cou­ver and San Fran­cisco share a more in­ter­na­tion­ally rec­og­niz­able kind of sky­line, an in­ter­na­tional pop­u­la­tion and a pres­ence on the wa­ter. Van­cou­ver and Seat­tle are so close that they're al­most be­com­ing one econ­omy. That's some­thing that Van­cou­ver can ben­e­fit from, but it still needs to find its unique iden­tity.

Some of that unique­ness is go­ing to come from home­grown in­no­va­tion. The con­ges­tion and the hous­ing prices and the sprawl­ing na­ture of the Seat­tle metro area are go­ing to make Van­cou­ver very at­trac­tive for a lot of the in­no­va­tion folks. I think Van­cou­ver is the next great place here on the West Coast. I re­ally do.

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