Course:GEOG350/2012WT1/Cambie Street Corridor

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Land-Use Alteration along the Cambie Street Corridor in Vancouver

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The Cambie Street Corridor is an extremely busy and economically viable neighborhood of Vancouver. It has also become increasingly accessible thanks to significant improvements in public transit through the addition of the Canada Line, which runs along Cambie Street. Recent controversy has arisen as Vancouver’s city council has voted to allow developers to construct mid-rise buildings around the various Canada Line stations that run along the Cambie Street corridor in the upcoming years. This has created a lot of concern from within the community because these changes in land use will alter this neighborhood significantly. It’s traditional style single-family and low-rise dwellings will be torn down and re-developed, allowing for higher density mid-rise apartment and mixed-use complexes. Issues with housing affordability, sustainability and infrastructure are of general concern as the plan will add an additional fifteen thousand residents to the Cambie corridor.

The increased demand for higher density and up-scale homes within this area will only further the polarization already found in the city of Vancouver. It will also further exaggerate the city’s existing housing affordability problems. The Cambie Street Corridor plan does include a plan to provide twenty percent of housing units for social housing, however, these actions are not adequate enough to help with issues of affordability. The social issues created by gentrification and densification within the area are also of interest as they are often looked over by city council and private developers responsible for construction and alteration of land-use along Cambie Street. An in-depth analysis of the Cambie Street Corridor plan will be provided along with a discussion regarding the potential benefits and harmful cogitations that this plan could have on the overall quality of life within this community and Vancouver as a whole.

The aim of this project is to develop an understanding of the issues that could arise when there such large-scale urban transformations occur within a bounded neighborhood. It will also consider why land-use changes should be of concern for the local community and city planners, and finally discuss what can be done in order to decrease economic polarization that leads to the displacement of local populations.

The Neighbourhood Analysis


Cambie Street is located within the City of Vancouver, and it has two distinctive sections, which run north and south of False Creek. It received its namesake from Henry John Cambie, an Englishman and chief surveyor – later chief engineer – with the western division of the recently founded Canadian Pacific Railway (Wikipedia). Cambie earned this posting after he pushed for the expansion of the newly built transcontinental railway through the Fraser Canyon and into the Burrard Inlet.

Cambie Street North reaches down to Water Street in Gastown while south of the Cambie Street Bridge it runs to the Fraser River past Southwest Marine Drive. Cambie Street South is comprised of five diverse neighborhoods, which include the Cambie Village, Queen Elizabeth Park, Oakridge Town Centre, Langara and Marine Landing, each of which is home to its own unique, locally-owned shops and services (City of Vancouver 30). The street spans an active pedestrian environment around King Edward Avenue, through a green park-like setting along the Queen Elizabeth Park section, and into the lively urban area around Oakridge Mall and further south towards Langara (City of Vancouver 44).

The Cambie Street Corridor runs along Cambie Street from the South Fraser River in the south to North 16th Avenue and includes four Canada Line Stations (City of Vancouver, 2011a). The Cambie Corridor area includes portions of the Riley Park, South Cambie, Oakridge and Marpole communities (City of Vancouver, 2011b). As noted by the City of Vancouver (2012), there is a new Cambie Corridor Plan in place, which is a land use policy “which will guide future development along Cambie Street from 16th Avenue to the Fraser River between Heather and Manitoba Streets” (para. 1). The plan has been created in order to develop opportunities to connect business and housing development with transit plans to ensure that the current neighbourhoods along the Corridor are able to grow in a sustainable way over the long term.


The built-form of these different neighborhoods vary from one section to the next, however, from King Edward Avenue to Southwest Marine Drive there has traditionally been single-family and low-rise dwellings. These homes have largely been occupied by couples and families who are looking to purchase or rent relatively affordable housing close to the city center. Many families have settled in this area over the years because it is a quiet neighborhood, it is easily accessible via newly built transportation infrastructure, and it is located in close proximity to a variety of medical facilities, local schools and parks. The South Cambie area, which has found itself prone to extensive development as of late, also serves some of Vancouver’s major institutions, such as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police training facility and the Children’s and Women’s Health Center.


The construction of the Canada Line SkyTrain and ensuing re-zoning of the broader Cambie Street Corridor has resulted in a dramatic increase in property values along this street. This has created massive incentive for a number of developers to purchase land in this area in order to build mixed-use, high-end and -density condominiums (condos) along Cambie Street. In early 2011, Vancouver city council approved Phase 2 of the Cambie Corridor Plan, which allows for up-zoning along the street. This encourages greater land-use densities and increases the number of businesses found along the street. New condo developments are allowed to be significantly larger in form and they will be built from City Hall to Southwest Marine Drive, in turn adding an estimated 15,000 new residents to these neighborhoods. With new buildings ranging in height from 12- to 40-storey towers, there will be a dramatic change in the local landscape. The overall increase of population in this area and transformation of the built-form will put further stress on the local population who are already being pushed out. Although the city claims it will reserve twenty precent of these new residences for low- to mid-income families, keeping the remaining new-builds at prices that are affordable for locals will prove to be a significant challenge. Small residential and commercial tenants are also beginning to suffer because wealthy property developers are pressuring them to put their houses on sale - pushing them out in the process. This will cause major issues within these communities as demand for quickly built developments will increase the value of individual houses, creating potential 'hold outs' where residents wait until they are able to secure the highest price for their property. Many of these residents actually want to remain in their homes, however, they feel continued and repeated pressure from real estate agents or developers so they leave at the earliest opportunity.

A major problem that we have identified here is that this plan only serves to further exacerbate an already serious crisis in the city of a lack in affordable housing. This is contrary to promoting a theme of sustainability. It has been alleged that the densification of Cambie Street, as well as other parts of Vancouver is justified by 'green-washing. This is when the city acts to promote a specific type of ‘sustainability’ to area residents in order to further (and justify) their own cause. By building large amounts of unaffordable housing, the city is not contributing to its overall sustainability efforts. This is especially true when there is already such a large number of residents who cannot afford to live in some of the most expensive real estate in the country. It is important that in re-zoning the Cambie Street Corridor the city of Vancouver pays close attention to the diversity already existing in these neighbourhoods, as well as within the local population. The gentrification of the Cambie Street Corridor is part of a Vancouver- and Canada-wide tendency to allow properties to follow market values while failing to address widespread demand for affordable housing. As this is necessary for both social stability and sustainability, this is a serious problem that needs to be adequately addressed.


According to the 2006 Canada Census, which is the most recent data available, the total population in the Cambie Corridor area was 21,445 people in 8,240 households (City of Vancouver, 2011b). In this area, the prominent linguistics groups include English (45 percent of the population) and Chinese (37 percent of the population). Children under 15 make up 13% of the population in the area and seniors, 65 and over, make up 18% of the study area population, which is higher than the city-wide percentage (13%). The average median household income in the Cambie Corridor area in 2006 was $73,284 which is higher than the city-wide average median ($47,299) (City of Vancouver, 2011b). At the same time, a new plan is needed as the population of Vancouver set to climb by more than one million people by the year 2035 (Finlayson, 2012, para. 2).

The emphasis for the area is on mid-rise buildings in order to support a new form of urbanism in Vancouver, transitioning away from the high-rise style which is more common in the downtown core. The focus is to be able to support development in which people are able to choose walking, biking and public transit as alternatives to the automobile through proximity, or “the power of nearness”, in order to create long-term environmental and demographic sustainability in the area.


As Vancouver and many other large Canadian cities continue to grow and develop a number of issues will most likely develop and need to be acted upon accordingly. Based on the City of Vancouver and the Cambie Street Corridor's communities specifically, the following issues demand attention:

Environment and Sustainability

Due to proposed development along the Cambie Street Corridor, their will be an influx of population and an overall demand for infrastructure improvements to waste management, transit and ecological locations. Although the City of Vancouver is predominantly urban in nature, existing habitat area’s support a wide variety of diverse flora and fauna, which need to be adequately protected. The challenge for urban planners in this area will be to allow for the protection of these differing landscapes while providing an urban setting that is both sustainable and economically viable. Planners also need to build according to the guidelines provided to them by the City and the Cambie Street Corridor Plan. High quality urban areas have been shown to offer ecosystem services such as purer water, cleaner air and provide local populations a connection with nature, which are essential elements that need to be considered in the development of blocks of land along Cambie Street. Due to the densification, gentrification and overall competition for land currently found within the Cambie Street Corridor, this aspect of urban planning is often overlooked by local land developers who view the current use of the land a waste due to its lack of efficiency and density. Habitat in the city can provide stress relief, improve health and well being, therefore, it is important to identify its role in the development process. Population health is commonly correlated with the amount of open space in a community, and the ability to readily access it. But when developers are converting land from single family dwellings to densely populated mid-rise apartment style condos, it often leaves little room for green space within new communities. Within the City of Vancouver specifically this is a growing issue as competition for available land ready for development stands in opposition to the cities goal to be 'The Greenest City by 2020.'

Strong, Safe and Inclusive communities

A common issue when developing an urban landscape or converting lad-use is how to evoke a connection to the local community. Guidance for future decision making on land-use, amenities, affordability, services and infrastructure can not only be developed from city planners and property developers, but also has to include input from local populations. Engaging with diverse viewpoints ensures that the process is simultaneously inclusive of local needs while providing for the sharing of innovative technologies and information. Although there is typically a consensus when it comes to improving an urban landscape, within a community issues such as the proposed location and type of development often arouses concern within long-term residents. This is where another type of 'hold outs’ are created, where these locals do not essentially agree with the land-use conversions that are occurring and they decide that the value of their home, and memories within them, are more important then the communal trend towards redevelopment. At the same time, some residents have other concerns that the alteration of land-use from primarily single-family homes to larger mid-rise apartments does not adequately address their concerns for affordability based on individual economic means. Therefore discussion among the local population, community advocates, city council and property developers is essential to outline the proposed development along with future land use actions, but also to allow for communal debate, mutual learning and a balanced decision making process.

Homelessness and Affordability

There have been major challenges to providing low- to moderate-income citizens in Vancouver with affordable housing for decades (Hulchanski 2002). Historically, the federal government has funded social housing but it has withdrawn monies regularly since the early-1990s, in turn, downloading responsibility to the various provinces who increasingly pass these duties to various municipalities. Some have described this as an abandonment of responsibilities that has left local governments scrambling to access funding for affordable social housing wherever they are able to get it (Hulchanski 2002). They are largely failing: housing prices in British Columbia specifically have increased by thirty percent between 2006 and 2008, in a market-dominated, rather than socially responsible style (Curran and Wake 2008). The Canadian housing system relies almost entirely on the current state of the market, which means prices continue to rise and lower income families remain unable to afford housing within most of Vancouver proper.

Continued Economic Success

The Cambie Street businesses also had a very difficult time, especially during the construction stage of the Canada Line SkyTrain. Cambie Street merchants, however, have recently started to recover from their economic losses related to this construction. The existing commercial spaces are affordable and the levels of office, entertainment, creative incubators, educational facilities and retail space are generally appropriate. The property values and sales increased dramatically since the completion of the Canada Line.

The Cambie Street Corridor Plan


An integrative approach has recently been developed by city planners, geographers along with private developers in order to successfully integrate a complete land use alteration within the Cambie Street Corridor. This approach is unique in terms of size as something of the scale has not been done within the City of Vancouver before. The proposed plan places emphasis of the integration of higher density land uses with transit along with the use of low carbon energy sources in order to reduce the city’s carbon emissions and ecological footprint. As this ideology is a key aspect of Vancouver’s goal to be “the greenest city by 2020” (Douglas 2011) The land use plan has the challenge to create a compact and complete community that combines a concentrated, well designed mix of housing types, job space, shopping, local gathering places and community facilities. (Toderian 2011) As it is these aspects that are necessary in order to make neighbourhoods more walkable, livable and sustainable.

The Cambie Street Corridor plan as envisioned by the city will join the downtown peninsula and the Broadway Corridor as a leading example of urbanism in Vancouver, centred on the transit system, as illustrated in image on the right.

There are three phases in the plan, as detailed in the graphic below. As is evident in third image, the plan is past the midway point at the present time, and therefore there are still significant additions to the plan and its policies which will need to be considered.

Planning Principles

The plan must take reference to not only this issues that are prevalent within the entire city such as homelessness and housing affordability but must also allow for the community to grow economically while doing so in an environmentally sustainable way. Emphasis will be placed upon continued development and reliance on local public transit along with the improvement of community interaction. Due to the increased population and therefore density within the region there will also be a correlating demand for increased amenities. Therefore a need to create a concentrated urban form is present, where jobs and services are close to housing and therefore promotes a healthier lifestyle. This results when people are able to choose walking, biking and public transit as alternatives to the automobile. In turn this decreased use of automobiles and further reduces carbon emissions along with contributing to overall household income as one does not rely and need to support the cost of a car.

Provide land use that optimizes the investment in transit

In order to sustain environmental integrity new developments should significantly assist in alternative transportation sources such as walking, biking, and most importantly taking public transit. Specifically the Cambie Street Corridor Plan will promote high employee and residential densities focused at public transit stations or at other areas of ecological significance such as parks. This will allow the greatest density of people to benefit from the convenience and low carbon footprint provided by the public transit within the area. An emphasis will also be placed upon ways to encourage travel at alternative hours and reverse flow traffic in order to reduce traffic congestion.

Provide a complete community

A unique approach within the Cambie Street Corridor Plan is based on the raw scale of the land use alteration. This is due to the fact that an enormous amount of people plan to live within a dense location all from different ethnic, social and economic backgrounds. The plan utilizes the ideology of a complete community; where alternative land uses will work together to provide opportunities to work, live, shop, play and learn together. In this way the plan will support rich social interactions and the inclusion of residents from different backgrounds in all aspects of community life. In order to work within the transit based approach to the plan, complete communities will be developed along the transit stations or in a way that will promote walking or biking between work places and residential locations. An importance will also be placed upon culturally important amenities or services, including entertainment and retail opportunities such as farmers markets, festivals or fairs in order to allow individual expression and community interaction.

Create a walkable and cycleable corridor of neighbourhoods seemlessly linked to public transit

One way to attract people away from automobile transportation is to ensure that routes and infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists are safe, attractive, convenient, navigable and accessible to public transit lines. The challenge lies for urban planners when attempting to connect the different forms of sustainable transportation in a way that allows for an enjoyable experience while not intruding with the other forms of transportation. This includes creating secure and safe walk ways for pedestrians that are visually appealing while clearly framed from both vehicle and bike transportation. An example will be the use of weather protected routes or interconnected paths that allow for a more attractive experience. Transit stations should also be easily located for pedestrians by providing directional signs and development directed towards stations. Finally low cost bike parking will be provided along transportation routes along with automobile parking at higher or unattractive costs

Provide a range of housing choices and affordability

One aspect of the complete community addressed above is the inclusion of a range of housing choices. This includes the development of new rental housing units, flex suites, cooperatives, social housing along with the continued use of the existing housing stock. By expanding the variety of housing forms within the community including an assortment of tenures, unit types and sizes; it will help evolve and support different land uses and most importantly promote diversity and housing affordability within the neighborhood.

Balance city-wide and regional goals with the community and its context

The Cambie Street Corridor land use alteration is in many ways a representation of the city wide goal for environmental sustainability. The plans scale gives it an incredible opportunity to inflict change to a large proportion of the city’s population. Its emphasis on reducing greenhouse emissions through increased public transit and increased density in many ways will be the leading cause or role model community if the city plans to meets its goal of greenest city by 2020. The approach is adaptive, innovative and interactive in a number of ways and will be the life line of Vancouver’s regional sustainability goals.

Ensure job space and diversity

The Corridor has a special opportunity through mixed land uses and overall ease of transportation to affect a larger diversity of Vancouver’s workforce. Therefore the plan includes the improvement of employment opportunities within a dense location. The alteration will ensure appropriate levels of office, entertainment, creative, educational and retail space are all provided for within a mixed use development commonly under one roof. Developments in close proximity to transit stations will also place emphasis on office and corporate businesses in order to attract high income occupants.


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