Ask a random person what the purpose of zoning is, and they’ll probably mention that it keeps unpleasant or dangerous things away from homes. You wouldn’t want to live next to a garbage dump or concrete factory, right?
Most people agree that that’s a good thing, but zoning codes do a lot more than that. If you could ask the people who wrote our first zoning codes, you’d quickly learn that separating industry from homes was very far down their list of goals. Separating certain homes – specifically apartment homes – from other homes was the primary motivation for Vancouver’s first zoning code.
Our story starts in the 1920s, with 3 municipalities where Vancouver lies today: The City of Vancouver, Point Grey, and South Vancouver. Point Grey encompassed not just modern-day Point Grey, but most of the West Side. Point Grey was the first municipality in Canada to introduce zoning in 1922. The chairman of the Point Grey Town Planning Commission was eager to boast of the zoning bylaw’s “successes,” specifically, how it excluded lower-cost housing:
Such by-laws as these served, in no uncertain way, to implement the ideals held by the residents that their municipality was to be one in which the best type of home could not only be built, but also adequately safeguarded from the encroachments of undesirable types of development. That the quality and type of dwelling within the municipality at the present time is of a very high order is indicated by the study of the “dwelling permits” over a five-year period. The average cost of residences over such a period, these “permits” show, was in excess of $4,100. At the present time over ninety per cent, of the municipality is zoned for one-family dwelling districts. Point Grey has no slum district. (A Plan for the City of Vancouver, p. 297)
Vancouver’s Interim Zoning Bylaw
By 1927, the City of Vancouver was seriously considering a zoning bylaw of their own. They had hired Harland Bartholomew, a prominent urban planning consultant, to devise a comprehensive plan for Vancouver. But these things take time, and time was in short supply. Well before Bartholomew could finish his official plan, Vancouver commissioned him to write a temporary bylaw to stop the most pressing danger to the city: apartment buildings. His instructions were unambiguous:
“When Bartholomew asked what abuses he should consider in the interim zoning by-law of 1927 he was preparing, the chairman replied that ’the only serious abuse… is the intrusion of undesirable apartment houses into residential districts’” (Zoning and the Single-Family Landscape, p. 60)
Bartholomew was happy to state the motivation for the interim bylaw in official documents:
…largely to prevent the intrusion of apartment houses in single or two-family residential areas, an interim zoning by-law was prepared and approved by the Town Planning Commission, recommended to the Council, and became law on 5th February, 1927. (A Plan for the City of Vancouver, p. 211)