Yesterday I was pleased to be able to participate in the CityHallWatch-organized conference known as “The Future of Vancouver.” The conference was really more about the disastrous present state of Vancouver planning, but it certainly could lead to a better way of handling affairs in the future.
After an opening presentation by Elizabeth Murphy, and a brief discourse by Bruce Macdonald on the history of density in the West End, the afternoon was filled by a roster of representative speakers from neighbourhoods across the City — Grandview, Norquay, West End, DTES, Marpole, the Cambie Corridor, Shaughnessy, Kisilano and Mount Pleasant. Without exception, the speakers noted the dire lack of consultation in planning matters by the City, exemplified by the no-debate approval of the recommendations of the Mayor’s Task Force on Housing Affordability which could utterly change our City without our consent.
My own brief contribution was as follows:
“I am here today as a resident of Grandview, a neighbourhood that is characterized by two major themes: a heritage-dense housing stock, more than half of which is more than 90 years old: these solid old houses support hundreds of affordable rental units; and Commercial Drive, the vibrancy and popularity of which is due to its human scale, with its pedestrian-friendly narrow street and with most buildings at only one or two storeys in height. Both of these key aspects of Grandview are seriously threatened by the upzoning along arterials that this Council is pushing onto us.
At what passed for a debate a week ago, the Mayor said we don’t need more discussion about the Task Force’s recommendations because, he says, we have been talking about it for the last nine months. Well I want to tell you that there was not one consultative event in Grandview by the Task Force – not a single one. The Mayor may have been talking to himself and his friends for the last nine months but he sure hasn’t been speaking with us!
Right now, in Grandview, we are in the middle of a new Community Plan process for the neighbourhood; a process that was set up under Terms of Reference that significantly weaken community engagement when compared, say, to the earlier Mount Pleasant Community Plan process. And we have a senior planner who has arbitrarily changed the language of the Terms of Reference to make this engagement and review even weaker.
Neither I nor anyone I talk with in Grandview is opposed to change and progress – we recognize that Vancouver will grow, and Grandview along with it — but we want these changes to be under the control and guidance of the neighbourhood residents who will be affected. To do this, we need to watch this Council and its Planning Department very closely indeed. As an op-ed said in yesterday’s Sun, the Council has broken its social contract with its citizens.
It is unlikely that one neighbourhood can successfully push back against the powers of this Council. But forums such as this one today, when neighbourhoods and communities can come together and share ideas, help us to keep focus. I want to thank City Hall Watch for arranging it. And I want to thank YOU for coming out today to be part of the solution.”
Many of the speakers were both more articulate and more detailed than I, but the problems outlined were essentially the same. Some samples: Marpole is “taken for granted by Council”; “Council has almost eliminated community input” in the West End; “lots of lip service but little action” in DTES; the citizens Working Group in Norquay was “unilaterally terminated” by Council; the Residents Association has been “cut out” of planning decisions in Mount Pleasant.”
It was noted by several speakers that the political interference with the Planning Department that began under Mayor Sullivan has continued and been exacerbated under Robertson’s Vision, and has now been institutionalized with the departmental overhaul. There was a great deal of concern and anger and, more positively, a desire by all speakers to work together to re-engage the neighbourhoods in planning decisions.
What was equally clear was that this is now a political struggle, a struggle to defeat the contemptuous agenda of Vision (and probably the NPA) and their development backers. I am not yet sure that the party known as Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver (NSV) which ran in the last election is the group that can push this forward, but maybe they can. My urgent suggestion would be that they come out from behind the non-partisan and information-sharing CityHallWatch shield and start acting like a real political party striving for votes and Council seats. It may well take more than a single election to get Vision out of power (although their arrogance and disdain for the public is beginning to show more clearly these days) and so their challengers need to get organizing on the street right now.
Let us not pussy foot around — our entire City is at stake.