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The Drive vs. high-rises: Emerging Directions plan alarms Commercial Drive residents

City Hall seems to be recognizing the pattern of communication breakdown in its neighbourhood-planning drive.

Will this be Commercial Drive 2.0?
Rapid vertical growth planned for Commercial and Broadway.

What we have here is failure to communicate

Commercial Drive is changing. Soon it may not be the skinniness of the jeans, nor the grizzliness of the beards, but the height of the buildings. It's no secret that a midrise complex is on its way to Commercial and Venables, but did you know about the colony of 30-story towers proposed to surround the Commercial Drive SkyTrain station?

But up until very recently, neither did anybody else, not even the Grandview-Woodlands community residents whom had supposedly been consulted on the City's "Emerging Directions" plan. The idea of condo towers, ranging in height from 22 to 36 storeys, surrounding East Van's major transit hub came as a shock, which was must have been anticipated by the City.

Residents were reportedly not warned of the scope of the proposal (at the moment, you won't find much above three storeys along The Drive), and because nobody at City Hall will take credit (or blame) for proposing such scale for the development of the area surrounding the SkyTrain station.

The recent feedback from residents has been so strong that as of July 5, the City backtracked and said it would put plans on hold. Still unresolved is whether or not a higher level of disclosure will figure into the city's public-engagement strategy earlier in future projects.

Growing pains

John Cooper, a 25-year resident of the neighbourhood, told me what he loves about The Drive and what it stands to lose:

"How do you accept the reality of change and the need for growth with a lifestyle? We're a part of the city that is unique, with its own vibe. It’s got its own life that adds to the texture of the city. A community of harmony where people from diverse cultures are able to mix in a public way. It feels like a little village, right?"

For Cooper, part of the draw of Grandview-Woodland is the low building height: "It’s not the same feel as downtown or Kingsway and Knight.”

He concedes that some "compromise must be made," but draws the line at plunking something so "freakish" as a high-rise in the middle of it. 

This is how Cooper sees the ongoing spate of development, Greenest City 2020 goals or no:

"It’s a great city, but the commerce part of it… the gluttony is too much. I don’t believe it’s about making Vancouver a better place to live. It’s about making a lot money on a small piece of land."

That mindset runs counter to the tides that have shaped Commercial Drive since back in the day:

"It’s a model community, I think. I don’t like the word ‘tolerance’, because there’s nothing to tolerate. It’s integration. Commerce changes that.” Sure, The Drive has changed. There’s been a slow gentrification, but Cooper insists that the soul persists: “There’s a lot more money walking up and down the streets, but there still is all that diverse character to it."

(Ecotrust Canada founder Ian Gill, meanwhile, did not mince words in an email to The Tyee's Charles Campbell: "The proposal for the Broadway-Commercial corner presumably is a joke. If it isn't, then it's going to be the urban equivalent of Enbridge's Northern Gateway. Absurd, totally out of proportion, and ultimately doomed.")

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