Course:GEOG350/2013ST1/Point Grey

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Although originally home to the Musqueam People, Point Grey is located on the north-west end of Vancouver’s peninsula and was founded by Captain George Vancouver. Named after Captain Vancouver’s friend Grey, this English name for the area dates back to the year 1792. As Vancouver was incorporated as a city in 1886, the Point Grey name precedes the City by almost a century. Being once a municipality of South Vancouver, it amalgamated with the City of Vancouver in 1908. Today, Point Grey is bounded by Blanca Street to the west, Alma Street to the east, 16th Ave to the south, and Spanish Banks at English Bay to the north. This mature and well-established neighbourhood is one of Canada’s most exclusive and is home to beaches, the Pacific Spirit Park, and boutique shops.

In recent years, sustainability and designing green in Vancouver has been a primary concern (A Bright Green Future); therefore, we are looking at Point Grey as it is one of the least sustainable neighbourhoods and offer ideas on how to transform it into a more eco-friendly neighbourhood. In order to understand what needs to be changed, we will analyze the current demographics of Point Grey and then we will introduce what the idea of sustainability means to different people and organizations and use their opinions to aid us in how to implement our ideas on to Point Grey.
Furthermore, there has been a great deal of literature and information produced on the subject of sustainability which has generated a cacophony of standards, guidelines, and methodologies for measuring and creating sustainable communities. Generally speaking we have come to recognize two broad types of literary rhetoric with respect to 'sustainability'; indicative literature and prescriptive literature.Indicative literature includes a wide range of indexes, lists, and rankings designed to measure, quantify, or indicate a level or state of relative sustainability within a specific geographic area. Some types of indicative literature directly refer to specific places and specific components of sustainability, such as the 'Walk Score'. Others are broader and meant to be applied to a given area, such as the 'UN Circles of Sustainability'. Government census statistics generated to help quantify and identify relative sustainability or un-sustainability are also what we would call indicative. This is contrasted with prescriptive literature, which establishes goals and targets, setting out strategies, recommendations, and bylaws to help achieve those goals. Examples include Patrick Condon's "Seven Rules for Sustainable Communities: Design Strategies for the Post Carbon World" and the "Vancouver 2020 Greenest City Action Plan". These respective forms of literature and information are best utilized when considered in tandem; that is, the most benefit can be gained when both indicative and prescriptive literature is applied to a problem in sequence. Indicative literature enables us to identify a problem, where prescriptive literature helps provide a solution.

In this project, we have identified a neighbourhood (Point Grey) that we consider un-sustainable. We will first discuss several of the major themes of sustainability and proceed to analyzing Point Grey with the aid of census statistics, Walk Score data, Circles of Sustainability, and the Vancouver 2020 Action Plan. We will then assess how Point Grey compares with neighbouring areas. Finally, we will provide some potential solution to Point Grey apparent lack of sustainability, addressing both the ecological and social needs of the community.

The Underlying Issue

Map of West Point Grey

Prior to venturing further, we must first establish the route cause of Point Grey's relative un-sustainability, the key players and stakeholders in the neighbourhood, and most importantly, who's affected. A general perception exists amongst Vancouverites that sees the Point Grey area as a suburban enclave of wealthy elites. While the average household income of this neighborhood is relatively substantial, the area is, in fact, very diverse and dynamic. As the site of one of Canada's most prominent universities, this area hosts a very transient population segment of students and academics. Within this segment of transients includes a component of extreme transients- the hyper mobile neighbourhood population of daily commuters who funnel in and out of the area en route to their places of study and work at the university. Of the 30,000 undergraduate students, over 24,000 are classified as 'commuter', while of the 10,000 graduate level students, over 9,000 are classified as 'commuter' (i.e. not living on campus) (University of British Columbia). Also adding to this commuter group are approximately 3,300 faculty members and 9,200 staff (maintenance, administration, food services, etc.) (University of British Columbia). Many students, faculty, and staff live in rental units throughout the Vancouver area. However, due to real-estate prices in Point Grey, few are able to live there. Hence there is a great demand for dense, lower cost housing to satisfy the needs of students and staff. Potential areas for new development include various sites surrounding the UBC golf course and along the arterial routes of 4th and 10th avenues. Moreover, a larger discussion has surfaced about a proposed skytrain line extension to UBC.

Prospects for new development and infrastructure has created a great deal of tension in Point Grey. Many established residents are unwilling to witness any major changes in the built fabric of the neighborhood, primarily for fears of real-estate devaluation. There is also concern about a perceived aesthetic compromise, with some notions circulating the higher rise buildings and transit developments would make the area more crowded and unsightly. These attitudes can be generally described as NIMBYism, an abbreviation of the phrase 'not in my back-yard', denoting a reluctance to permit changes in the composition (physical and social) of the neighbourhood.

It is precisely this tension that makes Point Grey a superb subject of inquiry. The neighborhood serves as a microcosm exemplifying the types of transition occuring in contemporary cities, where low density, auto-dependent communities appear to be trending toward higher density urbanism. Such trends however, are not without conflict. Upon first consideration, this issue may appear to be a conflict solely between residents and students-one generation breaking away from the constraints of another-when in reality a much greater number of people are affected. Shopkeepers, transit operators, faculty, university staff, and service workers are all embroiled within the debate. We must also take into consideration the fact that much of the undeveloped areas surrounding UBC belong to the Musqueum peoples, a fact that can easily be taken for granted.


Although one of Vancouver’s oldest neighbourhoods, within the three census tracts that make up the Point Grey confines, there lives only 12,803 people in 5,778 private dwellings. Along the shoreline up until Broadway, the population density of residents is between 1589.4/km2, but between Broadway and W16 Ave, the density is more than 4000/km2. This is significantly different from its younger abutting neighbourhood of Kitsilano where the density is more than 5000/km2.
The average age of the people living in Point Grey is 42 and more than 52% of the population, according to the 2006 census, have graduated with post-secondary education which may indicate why the unemployment rate is so low at less than 8.2%.
In addition, between 27 to 44% of the people living here take some form of sustainable mode of transportation when commuting to work, and despite being a wealthy neighbourhood of Vancouver, only 15.5% of the residents living along the shoreline spend 30% or less of their income on housing. Lastly, between 15.6-35.8% of residents living further away from the water spend 30% of their income on housing.


In the 20th century there was a rapid increase of natural resources which caused environmental problems globally, but now in the new century, environmental awareness is more evident. Not only do surveys for the “World’s Most Livable Cities” now include an environmental category, but the United Nations has a programme of sustainability which reaches across four social domains: economic, ecological, political, and cultural. With this, the United Nations hope cities from across the globe will adopt and implement these holistic approaches to sustainability. Furthermore, sustainable development is encouraged by Patrick Condon (2010) who offers seven rules to creating sustainable communities in his book, “Seven Rules for Sustainable Communities.” Three of these rules include designing an interconnected street system, providing diversity of housing types, and locating commercial services, frequent transit, and schools within a five-minute walk.
There is no single definition of 'sustainability' as “it takes on meaning within different political ideologies and programmes underpinned by different kinds of knowledge, values and philosophy” (Huckle 1996: 3). Although Condon and the United Nations programme have different approaches to sustainability, yet also having critiques in their approaches, these two sources are seemingly beneficial in encouraging sustainable measures to Point Grey.

Vancouver's Greenest City 2020

When comparing factors of a city like car ownership, green space, bicycle usage, recycling, and water consumption, it is perhaps no surprise that Vancouver is one of the world’s “green leaders”. The steps taken in Vancouver’s Greenest City Action Plan focus on three environmental challenges: carbon, waste, and ecosystems. This plan is attempting to create higher density neighbourhoods, however, some neighbourhoods, including Point Grey, continue to resist this change despite that “it’s up to everyone to do their part, to rethink, re-evaluate, and re-imagine the way Vancouver works and how we lead our lives” (A Bright Green Future). A change in Point Grey is difficult as it is the municipality that influences housing and land development (Walker and Carter in Bunting and Filion 2010). Despite already being one of the world’s greenest cities, the City of Vancouver continues to aim to lower its ecological footprint by 33% by 2020 and officially label it as the greenest city in the world.

Circle of Sustainability Urban Profile

The United Nations Global Compact Cities Programme (UNGCCP) understands that sustainability is crucial in today’s day and age. Their “Circles of Sustainability” profile tool is a way of gaging sustainability of an urban core and its periphery, where it can be analyzed at the four social domains at local, national, and global levels. Some of Condon’s rules are mirrored by the criteria used in the Global Cities. As mentioned earlier, the United Nations measures sustainability across four domains: economic, ecological, political, and cultural. Within these categories, analysis of, but not limited to, flora and fauna, and emission and waste (ecology), labour and welfare, and technology and infrastructure (economy), representation and negotiation (politics), and identity and engagement (culture) are rated.


As previously mentioned, sustainability has a complex definition and is approached differently in each of Vancouver’s neighbourhoods. For residents of Point Grey, it must be difficult to re-think, re-evaluate, and re-imagine what the area could become as some would not want to lose the “localness and distinctiveness” (Infed) that is already associated with the name. Designing with a strong view of sustainable development “represents a revised form of self-reliant community development which sustains people’s livelihoods using appropriate technology” (Infed).


According to Patrick Condon’s rule for sustainable and dense development, there should be a minimum of ten dwelling units per acre. Within the three census tracts that make up Point Grey, only one satisfies his rule. The tract that is bounded by Blanca and Discovery Streets, and 16th and Broadway Avenues has 10 dwelling units per acre. Although almost considered sustainably developed, the tract next to the aforementioned tract, between Discovery and Alma Streets, has only eight dwelling units per acre. These two tracts are quite dense in comparison to the tract that includes the waterfront which only has two dwelling units per acre (GeoSearch).


Currently, the tracts that do not include the waterfront follow a grid system where W10th Ave serves as the main arterial. Located on this street, in between Blanca and Discovery Streets, is the main shopping area which caters to the Point Grey population. By entering the census tract that includes the waterfront, the grid network disappears and instead, a complicated and seemingly unorganized, dendritic system is used. Although numerous buses serve the W10th corridor, very few, and infrequently running buses serve the tract nearest the water, indicating that the most efficient way of commuting around this area is by car. This can be evidenced by the need of placing a 30km/h speed limit along Point Grey Road where “there has been excessive commuter traffic on [the] narrow residential street that residents say was not meant to be a major arterial” (Bula).
Pedestrians and cyclists have access to the seawall which runs along English Bay, trails through Jericho Beach Park, and non-separated bike lanes along 4th and 10th Avenues. There is also an existing designated bike path along 3rd Ave that connects Jericho Beach to MacDonald Street.

What Is Being Done

The City has taken some steps to promoting a more walkable neighbourhood. Although there are existing, non-separated, bike routes along few Point Grey and Kitsilano roads, there are three proposals about new, or improved, pedestrian- and cycling-friendly pathways that would connect Burrard Street Bridge to Kitsilano to Jericho Beach, a few blocks west of Alma Street. The first already-reviewed idea is upgrading the seawall leading up to, and along, Jericho Beach from the existing, yet improved, Seaside Greenway along Kitsilano Beach and Burrard Bridge. The existing street bikeway along 3rd Ave will also be improved and connected to the Seaside Greenway via Trafalgar Street. Action will also be taken to tackle the increase of traffic and speeding vehicles along Point Grey Road. Because of the car-dominated streets, the development of boulevards and sidewalks are being proposed as this will separate pedestrians and cyclists from vehicles. Furthermore, the City has suggesting the role of a “local street” by closing parts of Point Grey Road and extending park spaces across the road. Additionally, due to the increasing ridership on buses that use W10th Ave, plans have been proposed to implement a rapid transit system from Broadway Station to UBC, but this is meeting some resistance from Point Grey residents.

How Does Point Grey Compare?

A walk score is a tool which gages the walkability of a neighbourhood from a given origin, such as ones home, work place, or school to recreational and service destinations including, but not limited to, parks, retail stores, restaurants, and libraries. Maria Trimarchi includes in her “What’s a Walk Score” article that residents in neighbourhoods with sidewalks are 65% more inclined to walk which benefits both ones health and carbon footprint. However, for various reasons, between 1977 and 1995, there has been a 40% decline overall in the number of American adults walking everyday and there is a steady increase in the amount of short car trips being made (2008).

Most and Least Sustainable Neighbourhoods in Vancouver using subjective criteria with the guidance of Condon's rules and the United Nations programme

When comparing “walk scores” of neighbourhoods throughout metro-Vancouver, Point Grey does not appear to be the least sustainable in terms of this. After comparing Point Grey to the adjoining neighbourhoods of Kerrisdale and Kitsilano, the downtown West End, Queensborough in Richmond, and Moody Park in New Westminster, Point Grey appears to have one of the higher rankings. With a score of 74, it is the 11th most walkable neighbourhood in Vancouver behind Kitsilano and the West End which have 89 and 94, respectively. Kerrisdale ranked 63, which is still lower than the average walk score of New Westminster of 70. Queensborough, and much of Richmond is ranked at a dismal 55. In terms of density, as stated earlier, only one census tract in Point Grey has more than 10 dwelling units per acre. Like Point Grey, Kitsilano, the West End, and Moody Park all have 10 dwelling units per acre. Although Kerrisdale borders both Kitsilano and Point Grey, at 14-44%, it has the lowest percentage of people using a sustainable mode of transportation while 30% of the residents in Kitsilano and 27-44% of the residents in Point Grey use a sustainable mode of transportation. At an even lower percentage, only 14-26% of residents in Queensborough and Moody Park use sustainable means of transportation. In terms of green space, Point Grey offers 6 parks where as Kerrisdale supplies 8, and Kitsilano boasts 17 parks. Including Stanley Park, there are 7 green spaces in the West End, but this is still more than the 5 parks in both Queensborough and Moody Park.

From this analysis between these six neighbourhoods, we can conclude that the West End is the most sustainable and Queensborough the least sustainable. Because of Kitsilanos density, numerous green spaces, and high score, it is the second most sustainable neighbourhood between these six. Falling short due to its low density, Point Grey ranks third. Surprisingly, Moody Park appears to be more sustainable than Kerrisdale as it has higher density and a higher walk score.

The Post Modern Idea of Sustainability

The concept of “walkability” emerged as a concept that promoted sustainable urban development measured by how accessible daily destinations were by foot. Also known as “hetero-zones” or “live-work-play” spaces, these development initiatives seek to create multi-functionality through combining economic, spatial, and cultural attributes. (Quastel et al: 1068). In more recent sustainability studies however, the development of “walkability” in a neighborhood no longer serves as a sufficient measure of urban sustainability as numerous studies have shown that in many areas of Vancouver, the increase in density of a neighborhood has not necessarily shown a positive relation to increased switch to public transportation or decreased levels of automobile usage (Ibid, 1066). In the postmodern city, sustainable urbanization is increasingly marketed as a “landscape of cultural harmony wherein multiculturalism and cosmopolitanism are sought after as key elements in a socially sustainable life” (Lynch and Ley, 2010).

One main issue that arises from the move towards sustainable neighborhoods is the increases in gentrification postulated as a result of densification of urban neighborhoods. One of the social phenomena that challenge the traditional “sustainability-as density approach” – is the rise in inequality in within and between cities (Quastel et al: 1056). The Point Grey area is of particular interests as it falls within original geography of areas subject to densification pressures and yet has seen some of the most notorious rises in housing prices. The Point Grey area sought after for its proximity to English Bay, Downtown Vancouver, and the University of British Columbia is the most expensive area per square foot. Average housing prices of Point Grey begin at $2 million and sell for upwards of $25 million. Despite a decent level of accessibility to everyday necessities, the prices of in grocery stores and retails shops in the point area reflect the area’s housing prices where high end grocery and food shops such as Urban Farm, Capers, and Choices are among some of the closest stores to the residences. Even middle-to low priced retail grocery stores like Safeway have seized the opportunity to take advantage of the affluence in the neighborhood by scaling their prices upwards. The closest Safeway to the Point Grey area is located on Sasamat St. and is the highest priced of all other Safeway franchise locations across Canada.

While Point Grey has become arguably one of the most luxurious of neighborhoods on the Canadian West Coast, it is situated less than twenty minutes away from Downtown East Hastings, the squalor region of Vancouver. In contrast to the grand waterfront establishments in the Point Grey area, East Hastings is home to some of the most marginalized groups. Many government sponsored low-income housing are provided in close proximity to the neighborhood. The new era of sustainable city development must therefore necessarily take into account the urban political ecology and social effects that may result from such plan and curtail any further displacement of marginalized groups or close the widening gap in wealth distribution.

Potential Solutions

Given our assessment of Point Grey, there are two specific proposals that would make the neighbourhood more sustainable, benefiting both the ecological and social component of the community.

Improve Rapid Transit Connectivity on the Main Arterial Routes

Point Grey is structured on a gridded street-system, with major routes intersecting one another at 90 degree intersections. This grid network is ideal for rapid transit, as it is conducive to direct, efficient, and uniform travel with regular stops at major intersections. Much of the discussion of rapid transit appears to be aimed toward a subway line extension towards UBC, however, there are alternatives which are both cost-effective and less disruptive to the neighbourhood's character.
As Patrick Condon argues, “streetcars” or tramcars are much cheaper and economically efficient to install and operate than traditional 'heavier' transit modes such as Skytrain or Subway (2010: 31-38). Skouda, a European manufacturer, is capable of constructing a streetcar line costing on average per two-way mile one-tenth the price of a Skytrain line (Condon, 2010: 32). The size and capacity of the individual cars would be equitable. The major difference in cost is the configuration of the two systems. A Skytrain or Subway system operates on a grade-separated track, meaning the track is seperated and closed off from nearby activity and external interference. This is incredibly costly to construct, especially for elevated tracks (such as the Skytrain) and buried tracks (such as traditional Subways and the Canada Line). Streetcars are capable of operating at-grade, traveling directly on the roadways along-side vehicle traffic, cyclists, and pedestrians, thus sharing the infrastructure with other modes, and allowing easier integration with the surrounding neighborhood. For safety, streetcars operate at much slower speeds, however, this relative disadvantage is offset by the cost savings and increased integration with the local streets cape.
Unfortunately Translink's formal study of the new UBC transit expansion does not examine tramlines as a viable alternative (Translink). Installing a tramline(s) will encourage local residents to utilize sustainable transport methods by providing a quick, comfortable, and reliable medium that connects to places of work, school, other transit lines, and green spaces. It also fosters walking and cycling, thus undoubtedly increasing the neighborhood's Walk Score. Regardless of what specific modes of rapid transit are implemented in Point Grey, it generally agreeable that some form of sustainable transportation solution is needed.

Future Sustainable Development

The grey portion indicates the Jericho Lands where potential sustainable development could take place in order to address the matter of sustainability in Point Grey

The two census tracts furthest from the water have sufficient density, according to Condon’s rule, but as mentioned earlier, this is not the case with the tract closest to the water. However, included in this tract, located in between 4th and 8th Avenues and west of Highbury St, is the Garnison Jericho on the Jericho Lands. Because the Garnison Jericho will eventually relocate next to the Seafourth Armory on Burrard Street (Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency), the Jericho Lands will act as a blank canvas for sustainable development and will be able to significantly improve this Point Grey census tract by adding density, jobs in close proximity to the new residences, and green space.

In regards to the current housing on the Jericho Lands, there are undoubtedly numerous PMQs (Personal Married Quarters; military housing). Whether or not new military quarters are built at the new site, new multi-family housing will have to be incorporated in to the Jericho Lands. Using a mixture of single-family homes, multi-family dwelling units, including towers, and mixed-use buildings, a minimum of 2500 people could reside on this piece of land which would significantly raise the density from the current density of 2 dwelling units/acre.

A portion of F.L Olmstead's Emerald Necklace in Boston which could be used as inspiration in the development of the Jericho Lands to connect it to Jericho Beach and Broadway

Furthermore, although there are already amenities and offices in the area along Alma, W4th Ave, and Broadway, the businesses in this developed area could mimic those on the side streets of Vancouver’s West End where they would cater to a smaller niche of people in a quieter atmosphere and creating a more social realm rather than trying to accommodate the general public. With the already close amenities and offices on top of the new ones that may be created, there will be less need for cars as people would be able to reach a variety of businesses just by walking.

Also, because Jericho Park is right across the street from the Jericho Lands, inspiration for the Jericho Lands can be drawn from F.L Olmstead’s Emerald Necklace in Boston. By linking the trails from Jericho Park to the Jericho Lands site, green space will extend further, as well as bike paths and pedestrian walkways.

By developing this site using some of Condon’s rules of sustainable urban designs, future residents will benefit from a walkable and highly connected neighbourhood, and current residents will be able to keep the rest of the tract the way they know it to be. Ultimately, the issue of sustainability will be addressed to the area by increasing the density of this tract, providing walkable connectivity between residences, offices, and amenities, as well as integrating nature into the neighbourhood.


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