Thursday, January 18, 2007

Beware What You Ask For...

The city of Vancouver's city planners wanted more people living downtown. The problem is, more people are living downtown.

When Simon Lim, president of the Holborn Group, bought a one-block building site in downtown Vancouver last summer, he had plans for a hotel and a commercial and condominium complex. But a few months later, city planners proposed rezoning the site, which is known as the Bay Parkade. The change would require Mr. Lim to double the amount of commercial space, with priority given to a new office tower.

“I have to admit when I first caught wind of this policy change, I wasn’t exactly a happy puppy,” said Mr. Lim, who is developing another downtown hotel-condo project, called Vancouver’s Turn. “I suspect there is some profit in developing commercial, but it is significantly more profitable to build residential.”

Over the last 15 years, downtown Vancouver has become a leader in North America’s urban housing renaissance. Under Vancouver’s “living first” policy, which was adopted 20 years ago, the downtown population has increased to 80,000 from 40,000, out of a total city population of 600,000. By 2030, planners expect 120,000 people to live in the city’s shimmering glass skyscrapers, which overlook the snowcapped North Shore mountains, English Bay and Coal Harbour.

But now, city officials and businesses are concerned that downtown Vancouver may become a victim of its own success, and that residential development will encroach on jobs and office space. Officials put a moratorium on new housing near the business district two years ago, after allowing two condo towers — one called Living Shangri-La — in what was supposed to be a commercial-only zone.

New Orleans is currently seeing a similar trend with more residents moving away from lower, flooded neighborhoods to the high ground, specifically downtown, the Warehouse District and parts of Uptown.

While people moving Uptown is not a problem as it is primarily residential. However, New Orleans' city planners need to beware not to push this too hard. Downtown and the Warehouse District have been historically businesses. Residential condos are a recent phenomenon. The goal of many of these city planners is to create mixed use developments so that people don't have to go very for for work or shopping. That is part of the appeal of living downtown. Otherwise we will end up with suburbia in the middle of downtown.


da po' boy said...

Thanks for pointing out that article. I would love to see a repopulation of the downtown area.

As far as commercial space, Canal Street from Decatur to Claiborne appears to have plenty of buildings that could use a commericial makeover.

Kinch said...

You are correct that Downtown could use more residents. Being originally from Baton Rouge I can attest the dead atmosphere found Downtown after 5 PM as it is mainly populated by State and City/Parish government offices, law firms and assorted businesses to support them. After business let off, there is almost no one downtown.

New Orleans is nowhere near that bad but there is no reason why we don't see more people walking the streets of Downtown much like that of the French Quarter, although not near as busy.

Converting some of the unoccupied or partially occupied building to residential or mixed-use would help immensely.