Urgent: City Council Needs To Stop and Talk

September 30, 2012

On Tuesday, the Mayor’s Task Force on Affordable Housing will formally present its report to Vancouver City Council.  It is anticipated that Mayor Robertson and Vision will attempt to immediately approve the most far-reaching recommendations of the Task Force without further public consultation.

It is vital that City Council be stopped from such precipitous action.  The Task Force Report has only been made public for less than a week and no time is being allowed for response to recommendations that include significant upzoning that will affect many neighbourhoods across the city — without public hearings.

This is implementation of EcoDensity by stealth.  EcoDensity has been strongly opposed by the general public and was also opposed, supposedly by Vision in 2008.  And yet here it is again, about to be pushed through by Vision’s fiat.

It is vital and urgent that as many people and organizations as possible write to Mayor Robertson and individual aldermen before Council meets on Tuesday telling them to receive the Report only.  No recommendations of such a sweeping nature should be approved without much more detailed and informed public consent.


Grandview Community Plan Open House

September 29, 2012

Today was the first of the latest Grandview Community Plan Open Houses, this one at the Cultch.  The purpose of these particular events is to (a) link regional and municpal plans to the local community plan and (b) to elicit comments on the various areas where these plans intersect.

The over-arching policies include the Greenest City Action Plan (2011), the Housing and Homelessness Strategy (2011), the Vancouver Economic Action Strategy (2012), the Regional Growth Strategy (2011), the Culture Plan (2008), the EcoDensity Statement (2007), the Longoing Transportation 2040 Initiative, and older policies such as the City Plan of 1995 and the Industrial Lands Policy, also of 1995.

As with other Open Houses, the Planning folks put up display boards that serve as informational displays and access points for public comments.  I thought the boards this time did not really show how the various policies and principles will specifically affect decisions in Grandview and I really wonder at the true value of comments scrawled on post-it notes.  I guess they can get a “feel” for issues, but there is no room to discuss or debate detailed plans and ideas.

When I was at the Cultch today there were very few residents taking the opportunity to visit; and those that were there — like me — had also been at the previous open houses and discussions.  I hope that the genuine public engagement is broader than it seems.  I am a member of the Community Plan’s Public Access and Community Engagement Committee (PACE) which is designed to ensure that the process is widely known.  However, these Open Houses were planned and scheduled before PACE even met, which doesn’t help the process any.

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On a broader topic, I want to bitch about the fact that the Community Plan has to be subject to the top-down hierarchy of Provincial Policy, Regional Policy and City-wide policy.  Democracy should surely work in the opposite direction, with the lowest level — the level closest to the people — being the most dominant.  City-wide policies should be developed to meet the aggregation of local requirements, regional policies should represent the individual policies of the cities making up the region, and so on.  Anything else is just a cosmetically-pleasing form of totalitarianism.


Four Dancers

September 29, 2012

“Four Dancers” (June, 2008), acrylics on canvas, 16″ x 20″

People’s Co-op Bookstore

September 29, 2012

Last night I went to the Annual General Meeting of the People’s Co-op Bookstore at 1391 Commercial Drive.  The attendance was disappointing — about 17 of us — and no doubt reflects the emormous difficulties facing small independent bookstores these days.

There was some good news:  the operating losses are trending smaller each year, and about 50 members join the Co-op each year adding to the 500-600 members on the list.  There are also a good number of volunteers willing to put their time into the business, and donations of good used books are helping to tick over the cash register. However, the bad news was undeniably dominant.

The Co-op’s cash reserves are shrinking rapidly and it is a toss up whether the operational losses can be staunched beforfe the cash runs out.  Next Spring will be a critical point of review in this regard, with a good Christmas season a vital necessity for survival.

Due to the cash crisis, the Bookstore will not be represented at Word on the Street this weekend, the first time since the literacy festival began decades ago. Staff hours are being cut, and there are still difficulties getting and paying for new stock — the lifeblood of any bookstore.

The Bookstore has stopped selling event tickets as it was costing more money and staff time than was being generated by sales, especially as most events do not pay a commission for these sales.  The tickets were bringing folks into the store but they were rarely if ever buying any books during the visit.   A similar issue may bring a stop to the sale of progressive magazines and journals.  The magazine publishers were described by some as a kind of Mafia, forcing the Bookstore to take five or six magazines they didn’t want in order to get the title they did want (sounds like the cable companies selling TV channels to me.)

All in all this was a rather depressing meeting about a Commercial Drive institution that it would be sad to lose.  Perhaps the pundits are right: people just don’t want real books any more.  Can that really be true?   Can we save it by turning the store into a coffee shop with a sideline in books, perhaps?  Could we bring in more events, community and political as well as literary?  The Bookstore needs ideas and money and it needs both soon.  Remember, books are great gifts for Christmas!

Affordable Housing?

September 27, 2012

On the day that the Mayor’s Task Force on Housing Affordability was published, the folks next door — renting a house that is due for redevelopment at some point — came close to completing their own affordable housing structure:

Not so much a lane house as a front yard house, I guess.

Task Force On Affordable Housing

September 27, 2012

The Mayor’s Task Force on Affordable Housing has released its Report.  It is available here as a PDF, and I urge everyone to read it.  The Report is important in and of itself but is of especial significance given that we are currently involved in the development of a new Community Plan for Grandview — a plan that will be strongly influenced by the Report.

I have only had time to quickly skim through the Report and so cannot make any specific comments yet.  However, I did notice that it recommends an experiment with Thin Streets in Grandview, a concept that I have previously supported.

When I have had time to re-read and digest the Report’s recommendations I will certainly make my views known here,  In the meanwhile, please let me know what you think.

An Important Fellow, Barely Known

September 24, 2012

I’ve just written everything I know about a chap called James Guinet who, it turns out, was one of the major builders in Grandview’s early days.  Amongst other buildings he was responsible for the lovely Belmont Block on Commercial Drive.

The full piece is at the Grandview Heritage Group site.  I hope you find it interesting.