The following letter is circulating in Grandview-Woodland regarding the proposed densification and upzoning of our neighbourhood. It was written by resident Conor Murphy and, with his permission, I am reprinting it here:
“Vancouver is a young vibrant city of exciting possibility. However, like many dynamic urban centres, it faces challenges in the provision of affordable housing, efficient public transit, and environmental sustainability. In order to responsibly manage future growth, I believe the City and it neighbourhoods need to strike a delicate balance between increasing density and preserving the integrity of its thriving neighbourhoods. Unfortunately, the dramatic increases in density set out in the Grandview Woodland Emerging Land Use Directions proposal would fundamentally transform our area. It would strip it of its unique diversity and threaten it vitality. The liveability of our community would be severely compromised.
In her book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, urban philosopher and activist Jane Jacobs suggests that people feel most connected to their community when they feel part of the life that unfolds in the public space. Currently, the housing stock in Grandview Woodland is comprised of a healthy balance of single family homes, duplexes and low rise -three and four storey – apartment buildings. The scale and design of our neighbourhoods foster the forging of meaningful social bonds between residents. Neighbours look out for one another. There is openness in the way we interact. People have a tendency to walk and shop locally and to nurture personal relationships with nearby shop keepers. Block parties, potluck dinners or a casual glass of wine on a neighbour’s front porch are a common occurrence. We keep an eye out for our elders living next door and the neighbourhood kids riding scooters out front.
The City’s proposal to set aside significant tracts of land that feature apartment buildings 6 to 36 stories in height will systematically undermine the social and aesthetic landscape of our community. It will unravel the connectedness and social engagement that are an integral part of healthy, energetic urban spaces. It will put increased stress on the existing infrastructure like sidewalks, roadways and an already overwhelmed transit hub. It will place more pressure on existing public amenities like schools, libraries and community centres. Moreover, it will further exacerbate the lack of available park space in the area. Grandview Woodland is currently provided with .56 acres of park space per thousand residents; this is 5x less than the Parks Board standard of 2.75 acres per thousand residents and an astonishing 16x less than the provision of parks for residents in Dunbar-Southlands. Dramatically increasing the resident population without creating spacious new parks in the community will only worsen the current situation.
In 2009 the City proclaimed the 2020 Greenest City initiative that sets the ambitious goal of making Vancouver the greenest city in the world. A key part of this document recommends the creation of high density neighbourhoods in line with what is revealed in the City’s draft community plan for our area. However, not all environmentally committed cities and urban institutes share this visioning. Organizations like the Cascadia Region Green Building Council questions the wisdom of attempting to “green” existing, healthy neighbourhoods by building high rise residential towers. Instead, it promotes the idea of encouraging more community friendly density as found in such European cities as Barcelona, Copenhagen, Paris and Stockholm. These forward thinking cosmopolitan centres have created clusters of more neighbourly residential buildings that do not exceed five stories in height. Globally, these cities are lauded for being both liveable and ecologically responsible.
I am also deeply distressed by the implications this City plan will have for our economically vulnerable neighbours. According to recent census figures (2011), two thirds of Grandview Woodland residents are renters, ten percent are of aboriginal descent and the medium household income is $35,000 per year ($12,000 less than the City wide average). Private developers planning to cash in on investment opportunities realized by this land use proposal will undoubtedly create condo units that are out of reach for the majority of existing wage earners. The affordable rental stock will be gutted. Large numbers of low income residents will be displaced. I fear that Grandview Woodland will be transformed into a neighbourhood for wealthy new property owners and outside investors. Retail lease rates will skyrocket and local independent businesses will be forced out by ubiquitous retail franchises catering to a more conservative, well-heeled clientele.
In my opinion, there is a long history of institutional neglect in Grandview Woodland. This is sadly exemplified in the area around the Broadway Skytrain Station. Despite years of assurances to the contrary, the intersection of Broadway and Commercial has been an unmitigated disaster. Over a decade ago, when the station was to be expanded and renovated, I attended a series of public forums hosted by the City of Vancouver and Translink. The design team showed sketches that promised a Paris like utopia – leafy streetscapes and sidewalk cafes. Some of us dreamed of a linear plaza, public art, ornamental trees, native grasses and flowering shrubs ; not unlike the area outside the Broadway and Cambie station on the City’s west side. Tragically, around our east side station, the Council approved the construction of generic office buildings with soulless retail spaces below. It issued business licences to a toxic retail mix of greasy fast food outlets, fortified pharmacies dispensing methadone and exploitative payday loan franchises. The garbage bins overflow with disposable food wrappers and the sidewalks are covered with cigarette butts. Authorities recently erected a chain-link barrier on Broadway to separate the crush of people waiting to board overcrowded buses and pedestrians trying to push their way into the Skytrain station. At night, the area around the station feels more like East Baltimore than Boulevard Saint Germain. In fact, a comprehensive 2007 study undertaken by the Canadian Urban Research Studies at SFU found that residents of Grandview Woodland felt more unsafe around the Broadway Skytrain station than in any other location in the area. As a Block Watch captain living nearby, I can attest to the problems first hand – break and entries, theft from auto, street level dial a dope drug activity, public urination and a horrifying arson attack that finally forced me to seek a new home outside of this ring of crime. My countless conversations with both constables on patrol and district managers with the Vancouver Police Department single out the Skytrain station as the biggest contributing factor to crime in our neighbourhood. Within law enforcement circles they jokingly refer to it as the crime train. This perception is validated by the monthly statistics compiled by both the VPD and the Transit Police. As a twenty-two year resident, I maintain that the City, Translink, and our senior levels of government are all culpable for the long term neglect and public disorder that thrives at Broadway and Commercial. In my view, building a massive cluster of mid and high-rise towers will only serve to further compound the plethora of problems.
There is a currently a high level of distrust and an emerging cynicism that exists between the development aspirations of the City and residents living in its communities. Neighbours involved in the Grandview Woodland consultation process contend that the City’s plan does not reflect the overall input they provided emphasizing responsible density and affordability. In recent years, we have seen a growing outcry as City Council seems to ignore the voices of residents. Instead it has started to push ahead by approving the erection of glass skyscrapers outside of the downtown core. These business ventures provide exceptional investment opportunity for developers. One needs only to look at the City signing off on the building of the nineteen story Rize tower at Broadway and Kingsway. This development was approved by Council despite the intense opposition from area residents. The Mount Pleasant Residents Association felt so betrayed by the City, the public consultation process and the developer, it considered taking legal action to halt its construction.
In closing, I would strongly urge the City Of Vancouver to undertake a major review of future development in our area. There is an extraordinary opportunity to partner with the community and work together to enhance an already thriving urban district. We are a progressive neighbourhood that embraces diversity and champions a robust independent – community minded ethos. We want a neighbourhood that is livable, environmentally sustainable, and that protects its vulnerable residents and local business owners. We are not opposed to responsible increases in density but these changes must not threaten the healthy urban vitality that is at the core of our community. The City for its part needs to temper its aspirations for redevelopment on a massive scale. It needs to engage us in meaningful dialogue and work with us to craft a plan that reflects the true values and aspirations of the people living together in Grandview Woodland.”
Very well said, Conor! I urge everyone to sign our online petition which is a demand that the City gives us the proper time and resources to debate and choose our own future.