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Vancouver’s only citywide plan goes back almost a hundred years

Vancouver may be one of the most “livable” cities in the world, but the local government hasn’t had a new citywide plan for decades.

In fact, its only complete citywide plan, which was created by Harland Bartholomew, goes back almost a century ago to the 1920s.

Since then, the city has mostly relied on area plans for its neighbourhoods and communities.

Even then, in Bartholomew’s letter to the Vancouver Town Planning Commission in submitting his 310-page “Comprehensive Town Plan”, he wrote that “a new and larger plan will become necessary” for Vancouver as the city’s population grows.

U.S. urban planner Harland Bartholomew designed much of Vancouver’s streetscape in the 1920s, which helped the city accommodate automobile traffic.
Strauss Studio

Now, as Vancouver is facing housing and climate change crises, city manager Sadhu Johnston is seeking funding to develop a new, complete citywide plan that would address Vancouver’s emerging challenges.

In a policy report to the Tuesday (July 8) council meeting, Vancouver’s planning and urban design manager, Gil Kelley, recommends that council approve $17.9 million over the next three years to create the new citywide plan.

The report is in response to a motion passed last year by city council, which directed the city staff to report on “a work plan to develop a citywide plan informed by equity, accessibility, spatial justice, and the right of housing”.

Johnston stated in the report that a citywide plan will “offer us a chance to develop a unified version, strongly aligned with regional planning initiatives” for Vancouver, as the city will continue to be transformed over the coming decades.

“[The] direction is to undertake a city-wide planning program that will determine, with the Vancouver community at-large, what we want Vancouver to become, and how best to address our current challenges like housing affordability, [and] the need to create a more sustainable and equitable future,” Johnston noted.

He added that this program would also advance reconciliation with First Nations and help build a strong economy.

In recent years, the City of Vancouver has focused on area plans rather than engaging in a citywide initiative.
Aria Nasimi

If granted the funding, by 2022, Vancouver will have a new citywide plan that will “reflect the needs of residents, workers, and interested parties through a strategic, long-range vision and plan to guide future changes and growth”, the report stated.

With more than 630,000 residents, Vancouver is one of the densest cities in Canada.

And as a rapidly transforming city being affected by global phenomena, Vancouver is facing what the World Health Organization identifies as the three global threats to urban centres: inequalities, climate change, and chronic diseases.

These challenges—including higher rates of poverty, a growing gap between rich and poor, and lack of affordability in Vancouver—have worried many of its residents.

Vancouver city planning staff say that the citywide plan will address people’s concerns and lay out a long-term vision for future generations of Vancouver.

In 1995, Vancouver city council adopted CityPlan: directions for Vancouver, which outlined broad policy directions for the city’s central area and neighbourhood centres. It laid the foundation for a series of citywide policy plans but as it lost momentum over the years, it was eventually redirected into a series of area and community plans.


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