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After years of catering to superstitious Chinese, Vancouver will stop skipping “unlucky” floor numbers

City goes back to ‘basic math’ in numbering buildings … for safety’s sake

BY JEFF LEE, VANCOUVER SUN NOVEMBER 4, 2015
No more skipping 4, 13, 14, 24 in Vancouver floor numbers
 The elevator panel at 1033 Marinaside in Yaletown skips No. 4, No. 13, No. 14, No. 24 and No. 34 floor buttons.

Photograph by: Gerry Kahrmann , Vancouver Sun

Vancouver has long accommodated the superstitious by allowing certain floor numbers, suite numbers and addresses to be hidden or not used at all.

Across the city, many buildings with more than 12 floors are missing the number 13, jumping right to 14. It stems from a time when people also believed it was bad luck to step on a crack or walk under a ladder.

More recently, Vancouver has increasingly found itself approving developments with many more missing floors, including 14. From the 4th to the 54th, any floor containing a 4 has vanished in an effort to cater to superstitious Chinese.

Condo towers marketed to Asian buyers often don’t even have suite numbers containing 4. Developers and real estate agents know it’s harder to sell suites on floors containing a 4 because the spoken word for the number sounds strikingly similar to the spoken word for “death” in Mandarin and Cantonese.

It can make for some odd situations, such as the 53-floor Burrard Place condo tower under construction at Hornby and Drake Streets being marketed as having a 60th floor. That’s because the developer not only knocked out all the floors with a 4, but took out 13 for good measure.

Now the city, increasingly worried about the potential for confusion among first responders, and the consequences of emergency providers misjudging floors, has called a halt.

Not only are 4’s back where they should be, but so is 13.

“We’re back to basic math at the city,” Pat Ryan, the chief building officer said Tuesday. “It was very hard to justify why we were doing this if something were to go wrong.”

Ryan and two others, assistant fire chief Rick Cheung and building policy engineer Kevin Lau, said skipping floor and suite numbers could easily lead to confusion in an emergency, especially if a firefighter was navigating in thick smoke.

They recently issued a bulletin to developers saying the practice of eliminating numbers for reasons of superstition had to stop. It isn’t about culture or ethnic beliefs, it’s about safety considerations, Ryan said.

“The problem here is everyone has grown up with numbers that go in sequence. Under stress, emergency responders have a chance of making mistakes. Under pressure, you will simply count, because that is what you have grown up your entire life. The moment you start second-guessing yourself and start asking is that the fourth, fifth or sixth floors, it gets very confusing.”

Ryan said the new rule isn’t retroactive and will apply only to new applications, including applications to renumber house addresses.

He said the city consulted with developers and trade associations and most were supportive.

“There was concern from a marketing perspective, but it was hard to know exactly where that perspective was coming from,” he said.

Vancouver certainly isn’t the only city that has catered to triskaidekaphobians and tetraphobians (those afraid of the numbers 13 and 4). A few years ago, Richmond Hill, Ont., declared it would not use 4 in house numbering any more. And when the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission in 2011 proposed adding 474 as a new area code for Saskatchewan, SaskTel, the telephone service, gently said no thanks and persuaded the CRTC to give it the area code 639.

Some cities, such as North Vancouver and Surrey, have long resisted pleas to make 4 disappear.

Bob Rennie, one of Vancouver’s best-known condo marketers, said he doesn’t really think the change will make much difference.

“People who are superstitious and don’t like 4 aren’t going to buy on those floors,” he said.

Rennie, who said he’s “very superstitious” doesn’t like the number 4 either.

“Every car I have has at least a 5 and a 4 in the licence plate,” he said. “Five means ‘no’ and 4 means ‘death’ or ‘die.’ Some people like 8 because it means prosperity. I’d rather have “no die” in any car I drive. ”

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