Updated: Sep 17, 2020

Written by Joyce M. Drohan, Architect & Urbanist, CanU Board Member

The following blog is the summary of a CanU 2018 presentation by Joyce Drohan while leading the City Design Studio at the City of Vancouver.

Can Vancouver remain one of the most liveable cities in the world?

Vancouver is at a watershed moment. The transformation of the downtown peninsula, which forged the city’s reputation for “liveable urbanism”, is largely complete. The next challenge is developing areas beyond the downtown core. Can the city successfully weave many more residents into these existing neighbourhoods? How will they move around and how will they flourish in a city that has become both unaffordable and, to a large extent, inaccessible for many? The new city plan will determine whether Vancouver remains one of the most liveable cities in the world.

Design is key to giving citizens the tools to make informed choices

Without serious design thinking, the City Plan will remain a set of good ideas, policies and processes not likely to be realized. Why? Because for citizens to embrace a plan that affects their lives so directly, they need to see the implications of what is proposed.  They need to understand how the three-dimensional city and the spaces within it will look and feel.  Good design connects ideas, policies and processes and produces a framework that allows citizens – and the city -- to visualize the future and make informed choices.

The City Design Studio looked at the critical issues facing Vancouver and produced an approach that enables the city to ask the right questions, set the required goals and measure its progress in achieving them.

Our approach looks at development through three lenses: mobility, liveability and resilience. Each refers to a broad set of issues which when taken together determine whether a city works for its residents. Mobility encompasses roads and public transit but equally important, networks for walking and cycling. Liveability includes housing affordability but also density mix, availability of social housing and crucial to all of these, access to daily needs such as food, services and amenities, all elements of a complete community. Resilience, the most complex lens, refers not just to the city’s ability to respond to catastrophic events like earthquakes or windstorms but also to protecting and enhancing natural systems including water, air, plants and animals; as well, this lens considers remedies to the many stressors of urban living by giving residents access to green space or by fostering community cohesion.

Our approach was well received at the 2019 CanU10 Summit, an annual conference hosted by the Council for Canadian Urbanism, where it was presented and commented on by experts in urban design from across the country. They were particularly interested in the tool we developed with colleagues in Sustainability, Resilience, Engineering and other City divisions to measure a neighbourhood’s resilience. We are testing that tool in partnership with The Centre for Integration of Sustainable Research at the University of British Columbia by doing a post-occupancy evaluation of Vancouver’s flagship sustainable community – Southeast False Creek, home to the 2010 Olympic Village. Our goal is that our approach will be the new standard for design applied at a city-wide scale over the course of the work on the City Plan.

In the sections that follow we discuss the importance of each lens; provide examples of challenges, either existing or emerging, under each category; and suggest how our approach will help Vancouver continue its practice of exemplary city-building. _1


Broadway Subway will transform how we move around the city

Providing residents with a convenient, economical means for getting to jobs, services, amenities and attending to their daily needs becomes increasingly critical as cities expand – so critical that many cities are recognizing mobility as a human right. Vancouver has long recognized that part of the solutio