Vancouver Head Planner Brian Jackson Puts Sustainability First

VANCOUVER — When the City of Vancouver named Brian Jackson as general manager of planning and development in August 2012, he quickly took aim at the city’s community amenity contributions (CACs) — a system through which the city demands extra money from developers to help pay for additional amenities such as parks, social housing and daycares.


Jackson told The Sun at the time that the city negotiated CACs with developers on a case-by-case basis, but that system was leaving many developers uncertain of how much they would have to pay out in the form of “voluntary contributions” to get their land rezoned as needed for their developments. He called the method “unproductive and divisive,” while developers blasted the city’s CAC method as extortion. More recently, the province criticized the system in April, calling on municipalities to seek more “modest” contributions from developers or else risk even higher housing costs.


After slightly more than two years on the job and with the civic election just over a month away, Jackson spoke to The Sun about changes to the city’s CAC system and a few other real estate topics, including Vancouver’s flavour of nimbyism and what he considers to be the city’s most pressing development problem.

Q Earlier this year the city said it was reviewing its community amenity contribution policy in light of criticism from the province and developers. What has happened with that review?

A We have moved the dial in terms of addressing the issues brought up by both the province and developers. We are providing more certainty as to the amount of contributions we are seeking from the development community to accommodate growth. Prior to my arrival, we were at about 15 per cent of CACs that were fixed and where there was certainty. Now, with the changes in the area plan, we’re nearing 50 per cent. So this allows developers the certainty that they require to go out and purchase properties, and it is providing the clarity for the public in terms of understanding the kinds of contributions we’re asking for.


Q How can developers do more to hold up their end of the bargain when it comes to making Vancouver a more affordable and livable city?


A We ask a lot of our development community here. And when we look at a project, we look at it through a sustainability lens, but it’s more than just environmentally sustainable. It has to be economically sustainable and it has to be socially sustainable as well. In other words, we have to make sure that as growth occurs, that the new growth accommodates facilities and services that are necessary for that growth. That’s new parks, new community centres, new libraries, new daycares and other amenities that make our city one of the most livable cities in the world.


Q When it comes to nimbyism (the Not in My Backyard attitude), how does Vancouver compare to other places you’ve worked as a planner?


A I wouldn’t describe it as nimbyism. I would say that Vancouver people are more passionately interested in urban design and architecture, than [people] anywhere else I’ve worked. They want to delve into the details of how a project will actually work in the future and that shows their commitment to helping us create the most livable city in the world.

Q When you took over the job back in 2012, what did you see as the city’s foremost problem when it came to planning and development?


A The biggest problem was probably the fact that we do highrise development really well, we do single-family development really well, but there needs to be a diversity of housing types to meet the demand for housing in Vancouver.


Q What have you done to make our housing more diverse?


A The new area plan — which has been brought in — addressed that issue in providing a variety of housing types and tenures for people who want to move to Vancouver in Marpole, the Downtown Eastside, the West End and Norquay. These have all been approved in the last two years.


Q Give me an example of a large commercial development that you think has failed in Vancouver.

A I honestly cannot think of an example that has failed. I believe that we take enough care as a staff in ensuring that development response to the local conditions as well as the market conditions, and I honestly can’t think of an example in the last few years where a development has not responded well.


Q What do you see as Vancouver’s biggest challenge moving forward when it comes to real estate and development?


A Affordable housing. It’s an ongoing problem. It’s not a new problem of trying to improve the affordability of housing for people who want to move to Vancouver and do it in such a way and to facilitate growth … that still protects the single-family neighbourhoods and the quality of life that we have here in Vancouver.


Q In one sentence, how would you describe your vision for Vancouver’s commercial development?


A I keep coming back to the message that new development has to be done in such a way as to ensure our long-term sustainability environmentally, socially and economically.

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