Open Letter To The City

June 29, 2013

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.


In Honour of ….

June 28, 2013

Which Way?

… the one hundredth Tour de France which begins on Saturday.


Change Is A-Coming — We Hope!

June 27, 2013

I spent most of yesterday at City Hall supporting the Coalition of Communities position on the viaducts.  The Coalition — consisting of the Grandview-Woodland Area Council, the Strathcona Residents Association, False Creek Residents Association, the Ray-Cam Collective, Stratchcona Elementary PAC, Strathcona BIA, DTES Neighbourhood Council and the Vancouver Chinatown Revitalization Comittee — has announced its support of the demolition provided it is tied directly to the planning for the so-called Eastern Core Strategy which will design traffic flows east of Gore and to the development of a new and more transparent collaborative process for community engagement.

What surprised me most, as I listened to more than 30 speakers, was that more than half called for an improvement in the current consultation process. This even included the Vancouver Board of Trade.  Along the same lines, our online pepition, which is really about change in the consultation process, has been a wow of a success on just our first day.

Do we dare to hope? Will Vision actually listen?


Online Petition To Delay Community Plan

June 27, 2013

GWAC has now set up an online petition to Vancouver City Council:

 

City Council Must Listen To The Residents!

The land use rezoning proposals in the ‘Emerging Directions’ document and map were never discussed in any Community Plan Workshop or Open House and came as a complete surprise to the community when they were published in June 2013. The community demands a reasonable period of time and an open and collaborative process to discuss, debate and select preferred options with regard to these proposals.

The current schedule does not allow for this process to be put in place. Therefore, we, the undersigned residents of Grandview-Woodland, demand that the schedule dates outlined in section 6.1. of the Terms of Reference be expanded by at least six months in order to allow for the process described in the first paragraph.

 

We need to have the rush to Plan halted. Isn’t it better to have a good plan, a plan agreed to by the community, than to stick to a schedule come what may?  If you agree, please sign the petition and let Council know that we need to be listened to.


God With Chili Sauce

June 27, 2013

I just love some spirituality with my Chinese food!

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A Radio Documentary About Us

June 26, 2013

I realise that this blog is rapidly becoming concentrated on the Grandview Woodland Community Plan.  I make no apologies for that because the future of our glorious neighbourhood is at stake, threatened primarily by those who don’t live here and don’t have a stake in maintaining what is today a highly successful urban village.

That is by way of introducing an interesting radio documentary from CiTR by Andy Longhurst. He interviewed a range of sources including, as he writes, “community leaders, residents, Translink, an urban scholar, and a member of the Mayor of Vancouver’s Engaged City Task Force.”

The documentary lasts an hour and is worth every minute of your time if you have an interest in Grandview’s future.


Planning Failures Aplenty

June 25, 2013

The current round of community planning has essentially collapsed.

  • As I have written here several times, the Grandview-Woodland Community Plan completely failed to discuss land use and rezoning during the “consultation process” and now that a land use map has been issued by the planners, uproar has ensued, partly over the zoning itself, and partly over the complete absence of civic engagement in the creation of this draft plan;
  • In the Downtown East Side, the Local Area Planning has failed completely, with major players exiting the City’s process and attempting to create their own;
  • It appears the Marpole Community Plan process has also resulted in mass meetings of protest.
  • I suspect from personal conversations with interested parties that the West End Plan is facing similar difficulties.

Surely it is about time for City Council to wake up and smell the acrid stink of a failure.  Surely they must recognise that the Planning Department process is out of control and causing them future headaches galore.

I am not one to give useful political advice to Vision Vancouver but can they not see that, if these four plans are pushed through under the current process, then next year — election year — will be full of community protests, not by anarchists or even activists but by regular folks, their supposed constituency.  If on the other hand, they were to rein in their staff and re-organize these planning exercises into genuine examples of community engagement, then perhaps they could be seen as belated heroes, worthy of another term.

City Council should call a halt to the Community Plans today, have a re-think, cancel the present Terms of Reference and re-launch them with a more inclusive process.  After all, what’s the rush?  Isn’t it better to have Plans supported by the people even if it takes 5 or 6 months longer than originally scheduled?