April 7, 2017

Real estate: Q&A with Michael Geller

Architect and planner Michael Geller

Architect and planner Michael Geller

Architect and planner Michael Geller envisions a plan for the city’s future

By Michael Bernard

Michael Geller has seen a lot during his 40-plus years as a Vancouver-based architect, planner, consultant and property developer. Westcoast Homes & Design asked him some questions about Vancouver’s past and present urban issues and its future prospects. The following has been edited for conciseness.
Q: Mayor Gregor Robertson recently called Vancouver a “failing city.”  Is that how you would interpret the affordability issue?

A: To be fair, he said we were failing by having a lot of expensive, oftentimes empty houses, with insufficient children. I agree. But although Vancouver has always been considered an expensive city, even in 1974 when I first arrived here, housing costs have got completely out of line. We do have an affordability crisis, which is leading to too many people leaving.

Q: Of course, hindsight is 20-20, but looking back over the last 30, years do you see things that Metro Vancouver could have done to keep the region affordable?

A: While we have increased supply with a lot of highrises, especially in Vancouver, Richmond, Burnaby, Coquitlam, they tend to offer more expensive and less suitable housing for families with children. We should have rezoned much more of the single-family land in Vancouver and the “mature ring” suburbs to accommodate what everyone is now calling “the missing middle” type of housing. That is to say, more duplexes, triplexes, row houses, stacked row houses and small apartment buildings. This would have created much more affordable supply.

Q: What do you think are some of the “correct” things that urban planners and councillors have done over the years in shaping Vancouver’s future?

A: The livable region plans put forth by generations of GVRD planners, and now Metro, have been a good guiding framework. While we have not yet created the alternative downtowns many of us would like to see, we have made good progress in creating new town centres, like the one in Coquitlam. The redevelopment of Vancouver region waterfronts into exciting new communities is something we have done very well–north and south False Creek and Coal Harbour in Vancouver, Steveston waterfront in Richmond, New Westminster Quay and Lower Lonsdale, for example.

Q: Is Patrick Condon, a professor of landscape architecture at the University of B.C. and the school’s chair of urban design, right in saying the city needs to develop a new plan?

A: I agree with Patrick and others that say Vancouver needs to develop an overall city plan to guide future development. It need not be a detailed plan, but an overall framework, so that we can see the broader picture. We can all see what’s happening along Cambie Street. Is this going to happen elsewhere? If not, why not?

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