What Makes Drivers Not Liable For Murder?

December 9, 2011

If you get drunk, grab a loaded gun, go into a public space and shoot one or more people, what charge will be laid?  Murder, right, 25-to-life.  If you get drunk, pick up a wrench and smash it over someone’s head, what charge will be laid?  Murder, of course, 25-to-life.  If you get drunk, get into your car and mow down pedestrians on the street, what charge will be laid?  Vehicular manslaughter if we are lucky, 4 or 5 years.

What’s wrong with this picture?  Why do killers with cars get away with murder?

1622 Commercial Drive

December 9, 2011

I have a new posting at the Grandview Heritage Group website about the history of 1622 Commercial.  Take a look!


Urban Design In Safe Hands

December 8, 2011

I was fortunate enough to have a simply marvelous day yesterday.  I had been invited to be a reviewer of the presentation of an Advanced Urban Design post-grad studio class from UBC’s School of Community & Regional Planning (SCARP) and it was a great experience.

The 8 students in the studio under Erick Villagomez were tasked with looking at the portion of Commercial Drive from 1st south to 18th Avenue and suggesting design interventions that could alleviate perceived community planning issues. They came up with seven specific proposals (one of which was shared by two students) each of which was presented to the class and the reviewers.

There were a lot of great ideas:

  • turning the Royal Bank parking lot at First & Commercial into a permanent plaza featuring food carts with a design that attempted to link the north and south sections of Commercial Drive;
  • re-invigorating the area west of Woodland to Clark Drive by designing structures that incorporate workshops on the ground level with living accommodations above;
  • improvements to the Sky Train/bus interface at Commercial & Broadway;
  • enhancing the interesting series of public gardens that run down the lane east of Commercial between about 10th and 15th;
  • a series of traffic calming measures for the Victoria Diversion section that is often a racetrack today;
  • re-creating Clark Park into an ecological learning centre; and,
  • improvements to bus stops to make them safer, more comfortable.

The presentations and the accompanying drawings were of a very high quality (SCARP studios are heavy on drawing skills, I’m told). In my remarks as reviewer I was happy to add whatever historical context I could to some of the proposals. But mostly I listened — to the students and to the heavyweight reviewers (Andrew Pask and Scot Hein from City Planning, urban planner Brendan Hurley, and SCARP professor Maged Senbel) with high-level design and planning backgrounds who could poke and prod to elicit more clarity.

It was a fascinating experience for me, and one from which I took away a number of new insights regarding my neighbourhood.

If this group of students is representative, then the future of Vancouver’s urban design will soon be in new creative and safe hands.


December 8, 2011

“Meadow” (2008), TIFF print, 36″ x 30″

The Development of the 1500-Block Commercial

December 6, 2011

I just posted about the history of the 1500-block Commercial at the Grandview Heritage Group website.  Take a look!

Local Issues

December 6, 2011

It was the monthly meeting of the Grandview Woodland Area Council last night and a good number of folks showed up, including some from the Occupy movement — good to see them there.  It was a busy meeting, too.

There was a report from the Vancouver Port’s open house last week and extended discussion regarding the traffic implications of changes at the Port.  The Port has extended their “pilot” program to actively discourage trucks from using Nanaimo Street now that the Clark Drive entrance is closed. They are told to use Boundary instead. The program was due to close on the 25th November but has been pushed to 25th January. The question that was raised last night was: do floods of port-bound trucks return to the residential districts of Nanaimo Street on the 26th?  And if so, what then?   The Port does not seem to have any immediate answers.

The Co-Here supported living development at First & Victoria is still an issue. The Church developers still refuse to discuss either the look of the project or the four-storey height — the two problems that most of have with the development (the fact that the parking lot on the site could be better developed is a given, and no-one objects to the idea of supported living communities in the neighbourhood; quite the opposite).

It was good to have a representative of the Co-Here Community liaison committee at the meeting to confirm the Church’s intransigence on these points, and to state their opposition to the project on those grounds.  City Council is expected to rule on the zoning variances required in the early Spring. GWAC has prepared a long letter to Council outlining the difficulties with the project, opposing the current design.

Andrew Pask, the city planner directly connected to the development of the new Community Plan for Grandview, gave a brief overview of the planning process and invited everyone to a focus group meeting to discuss the local Terms of Reference for the Plan. This focus group will take place at the next GWAC meeting on 9th January. Given the number of people expected to attend, the meeting will be in the Learning Resources Centre beneath Britannia Library. That will be well worth attending if you are at all interested in the future of Grandview and Commercial Drive.

We also heard more about the development planned for the middle of the 1500-block Charles Street. I had earlier suggested that it had no heritage implications but the houses to be demolished are apparently from 1902 and 1908. Just on an age-basis alone they deserve a pause before they are made to disappear in the name of progress.  In addition, it can be shown that the plans do not meet the published guidelines for the Britannia area; and a lady made a passionate defense of the views that would be lost to her (but not to the new households).  She also was persuasive on the parking issue (only 6 on-site spots for 8 suites is guaranteed to put pressure on an already crowded street parking).  GWAC has drafted a letter in opposition to the development that details significant variance to the Guidelines.  However, I feel the case is fatally weakened by the existence of a similar multi-unit development just a few lots down the hill (the old block-busting “precedent” bugbear comes home to bite). Letters for or against the proposal had to be in by today, I believe.

One interesting thing to emerge from the Grant Street debate was the business intelligence of the developers Wesbild. Best known for building large retail malls, they have apparently decided to move into the “multi-unit housing” market; and they have pegged Grandview as the perfect neighbourhood to “gentrify.”  Hang on to your hat’s folks; that old tornado is about to hit us again.

Finally, there was a chap who owns 1978 Charles Street, a structure originally built before 1906. The building is not in healthy shape and he and his wife have struggled with City Hall to make improvements and changes for the last nine years. The process has been expensive both financially and psychologically and it was interesting and disheartening to listen to the tale of frustration. He is certainly not the first person who has complained that City officials from different departments often cause baffling delays and requests, disapprovals from one department cancelling a previous approval from another.  Hopefully he got some helpful advice from some of the others in the room. His case is being heard once again by the Board of Variance tomorrow.  I wish him the best of luck.

It was an informative and lively meeting. The next meeting on January 9th will feature the City planning focus group.

Barcelona Balconies

December 3, 2011