Custom Design West Coast Island Homes


Vancouver and the Tyranny of the Parking Space

Vancouver has recently been named the fourth most liveable city in the world by Mercer and frequently tops a similar list from The Economist Intelligence Unit. What neither listmaker mentions is that Vancouver is an especially nice place to live if you happen to be an automobile. It's hard to imagine that the City's planning policies could be any more conducive to the creation of warm, dry parking spaces. These policies permeate every scale of building in Vancouver, easily trumping sustainability and affordability in policy priority.

At the large scale, highrises and apartment blocks are required to provide so many parking spaces that they make many projects prohibitively expensive. This is especially true of rental units, which require the landlord to pay for the parking spaces over time, with rent payments, rather than outright, with the sale of high-priced condos. Rental vacancy rates in Vancouver are under 2% in part because so few new rental units are being built. This lack of supply drives up the price of rent and makes the city unaffordable for many.

(The underground parking lots in large buildings also end up determining the spatial layout of the units above, as the column pattern required by parking is extruded upwards into the living space - another reason, perhaps, that condos in Vancouver seem to have a generic feel. Actually, that feeling you get from the rooms of a condo is not generic: it's the feeling of living in drywalled parking spaces).

At the smaller scale, new duplexes are required to provide a two-car garage on the lane. Never mind that this two-car garage is similar in size and scale to the laneway infill building that the City generally forbids in these two-family zones. Never mind that the lost yard space could have been used to plant a garden. Never mind, either, that most people simply park on the street and use the garage for storage space, since their cramped duplex is too small to accommodate all their stuff.

And if you are trying to build an accessory building in the backyard to do something worth while - say, pursue art, or set up a bicycle workshop, or, god forbid, house one of those tenants desperately looking for somewhere to live - the City will likewise require you to take that floorspace away from the main building. Unless, of course, you want to create new parking spaces, in which case Vancouver is more than happy to accommodate your automobiles with a building permit.

Vancouver makes much of its liveability, its greenness, its bicycle-friendliness, its creative class - but when you get to the nitty gritty of its planning documents, the reality is that the thinking in the planning department is permeated with rules that require or promote parking spaces, often at the expense of those other, much worthier endeavours.