Striking the Metro Core jobs balance

The Metro Core Jobs and Economy Land Use Plan, adopted unanimously by council yesterday, drew little media coverage, but may be one of the most important decisions council makes this year.

The result of four years of economic analysis, consultation and research, the plan seeks to ensure there will be development opportunities for office and other economic activities in the Central Business District and the downtown core.

It’s the result of process begun in 2005 when Mayor Larry Campbell’s council slapped a moratorium on conversion of office space to condominiums. They wanted  to make sure people who lived downtown could actually work there. With office space disappearing, the future of this critical component of the provincial economy was in doubt.

Tuesday’s vote means that residential development will not be permitted — except in a very few circumstances — in the six-block by ten-block area that makes up the Central Business District (CBD).  Mixed use, with residential and housing, will be permitted under more liberal rules in the “shoulders” of that area.

There’s more to come. By mid-summer, council will receive recommendations on the land use policies necessary to ensure economic develop0ment continues in a much wider area bounded by Burrard Inlet, Clark Drive, Broadway and Burrard St. 

The CBD is the old economy’s core. This larger zone, full of opportunity for every kind of development, is where the regional and provincial economy could find a new centre of gravity.

Despite appeals to allow mixed use in the downtown core, council took a cautious approach. There isn’t enough room for new job space in the CBD, assuming economic growth continues, under the old zoning rules. Council allowed more density for office development in the city core.

But who knows what our future economy will require? Even elements of the so-called “creative economy” — like film, biotech and waste recycling — require large spaces, big building forms and isolation from residential districts. Those uses must find a place in our future city, along with economic activities no one has thought of yet, but may tomorrow.

Despite the 2010 Games, the homelessness crisis and the debate over the Burrard Bridge, this council must find the time in the coming months to deal with a series of development issues that will shape Vancouver for generations. Tuesday’s vote was just the first.

Still to come:

  • the discussion about the wider city core;
  • planned massive redevelopment of the area around BC Place, being considered through a very short process called the High Level Review;
  • revisions to the view corridors; and
  • a revised business plan for the Olympic Village, with all that entails for the surrounding lands.

It should put the Burrard Bridge debate in perspective — but probably won’t.