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Vancouver’s First Chief Planner Gerald Sutton Brown, Chief Planner 1952-1973, represented the last of the British/London model of development in Vancouver, where development happens organically, incrementally and is resilient, responding quickly to market forces. Because of this, the price of housing remained stable despite rapid growth. The West End, the Vancouver Special, high-rise residential on the industrial waterfront and the sprinkling of townhouses, mid-rise and high-rise buildings throughout low density areas are part of his legacy. He wanted high-density living only in the most liveable areas away from arterial streets. This is why the West End, the highest density neighbourhood in the city, has mostly one storey retail with no residential on busy thoroughfares. He was born and raised in Jamaica and worked as an urban planner in England, rising to head planner of Lancashire, the second largest County in Britain after London, which contained cities like Manchester and Liverpool. He is credited with keeping UK cities functioning during the bombing of World War Two. He was hired under Mayor Fred Hume, a descendant of Royal Engineers who had been sent to British Columbia to prevent a US takeover. He wanted to hire someone from the Commonwealth to reduce the influence of US planning which had been brought in by Harland Bartholomew. Bartholomew had introduced Zoning and Comprehensive Plans to prevent market forces from bringing density to detached house areas, politicize development by freezing neighbourhoods in place, segregating them by demographic categories. The system of Comprehensive Plans for cities had been championed by the Soviet Union and had been introduced to Britain by the Labour Government shortly before Sutton Brown left. Sutton Brown developed a hybrid model called Discretionary Zoning which he described as “distinct from the United States and United Kingdom”. It harnessed the… Read More »Gerald Sutton Brown

Gerald Sutton Brown

Vancouver Development History Part IV: 1973 – Present TEAM (The Electors Action Movement) was a political organization that won Vancouver City government in 1973. Just prior to the vote, the new NPA Mayoral candidate was caught up in a scandal causing the NPA vote to implode. Although the TEAM vote remained less than was historically required it was enough to elect a Mayor and 8 Councillors. From 1952 to 1973, the most respected voice in City Hall was Gerald Sutton Brown, born and raised in Jamaica, responsible for Britain’s second largest city through World War II, he brought a British Commonwealth approach that was very different from US cities. His West End, Vancouver Special and high density residential on the industrial waterfront with public walkway does not have equivalents in the US. He ensured city development responded quickly to market forces so the price of housing remained affordable. TEAM candidates were among the academic and managerial elite of the city and they brought about such a sea change in Vancouver history that we can consider we are still in the TEAM Era. Their first acts were to fire Sutton Brown and downzone the West End and they introduced processes to ensure there would be no more loss of single detached house neighbourhoods. They brought this approach to Metro Vancouver and rejected numerous reports from economists and the real estate industry warning this would lead to rising house prices and other dysfunctions. Today there are less people living in most residential neighbourhoods than in 1973, even while many of the smaller old houses were demolished and replaced with much larger ones. TEAM brought new direction to Vancouver by supporting a federal Just Society LIP Grant for people living in low income SRO hotels around the downtown.… Read More »The TEAM Era

The TEAM Era

The Progressive Movement arose in the late 1800s in the US. It was a reaction against the corruption and incompetence that came out of earlier democratic reforms. Science, technology and professionals were revolutionizing life; people were hopeful about applying these to civic government.

History of British Columbia Cities: Second Wave Urban Reform

Harland Bartholomew

Vancouver Urban History 1928 to 1958 For 40 years, Vancouver developed without government planning. The Canadian Pacific Railway laid out Vancouver’s streets before the city government existed. The London-based BC Electric Company chose the arterial streets to maximize riders on its streetcars. London was the model, where order came from human interaction not human design. Robert Horne-Payne, founder of BC Electric Company sold it in 1928 then died shortly after. That same year, Harland Bartholomew presented his radical Plan for Vancouver, claiming cities are better designed and organized by planners than by natural processes. He had been the first full-time planner in the US, advising on freeways and slums. Mayor LD Taylor, originally of Chicago, endorsed him though many had wanted someone from the Commonwealth who understood British cities and institutions. The British Discretionary System is principle based; it starts with what cannot be built, everything else is possible. The United States Regulatory System is rule based; it starts with what can be built, everything else is not possible. The US system was top down originating in Bismarck’s Germany. The British system was bottom up, incremental, organic. British philosophers like Alan Turing, an inventor of the computer, were Emergentists. He described how complex structures assemble themselves without a designer. Jane Jacobs was influenced by the British Emergentists and wrote “no logic can be superimposed on cities. People make it”. Ants, termites and computer algorithms all produce unexpected emergent order in large numbers. When tiny polyps achieve critical mass they create coral reefs. When humans achieve critical mass they adopt a distinctive density gradient, to benefit the greatest number of people. Designed cities do not have this gradient, for example a Soviet city like Moscow or the completely planned Brasilia. Bartholomew installed planning regimes in hundreds… Read More »Harland Bartholomew

Harland Bartholomew