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!


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?


Echo Density

June 25, 2013

echo density

Please click on image for a better view.

A Sense of Place and Feeling

June 24, 2013

Yesterday I was part of the street party crew that celebrated the restoration of the Shelly’s sign at William & Victoria; in particular, I manned the “Ask the Experts” table at which we discussed neighbourhood history.  On the same table we had all the materials for the Community Plan, including the “Emerging Directions” document and the map showing the massive up-zoning plans. I spent a lot of time discussing history, but even more talking about the Plan that has caused such controversy.

I was pleasantly surprised about how many locals residents had been following the debate about the Plan, and how adamant they were that the planners have got this all wrong,  There was a strong sense that the neighbourhood felt good about itself, about how it is right now; and that the fear generated by the Community Plan proposals was palpable.

I suspect that the meetings scheduled to discuss the Plan — the Historic Context meeting tonight, the Astorino’s site meeting and Broadway forums next week, and the 8th July GWAC Public Meeting — will be lively affairs.

The Community Plan — Again

June 20, 2013

Here is a useful article by Allan Garr in the Vancouver Courier.

Your’s truly gets a couple of quotes in the middle.

Come Celebrate The Sign!

June 20, 2013

shellysposter_smallerThis Sunday, at 3:00pm the Grandview Heritage Group will be unveiling a plaque to celebrate our work on preserving the wonderful Shelly’s 4X Bakery sign on the corner of William and Victoria.   This plaque ceremony will be surrounded by a street party from 1 until 4 that should be great fun!

Making Place — Sharing Space

June 19, 2013

SharingSpaces copy

This is a very important issue in Grandview — what goes on in our parks and on the Britannia property.  Come along and learn what might be done to improve the sharing of our public space.

Update:  There were perhaps 50 people at the meeting last night, with a lot of interesting stories to tell: first nations’ mothers, homeless folks from Grandview Park, workers from Britannia.  After all the discussion, Britannia will prepare a propsal to deal with some or all of the issues and put it to the community for agreement.

Interview Morning

June 19, 2013

Another early start today with an interview about the Grandview Community Plan on Co-op Radio.   You can listen in at:

The interview starts at about the 37 min 30 sec mark.

This was followed by a couple of print media interviews on the same subject.  I am so glad we are getting publicity on this thing now. It would be terrible if this Plan just slipped through, as the Regional Context Statement did, under a cone of silence.

I am so looking forward to our Public Meeting on 8th July.

Last Barber Standing

June 18, 2013

I went to Tino’s for a haircut this morning, as I have done for just about every month since the mid 1990s. We chatted amiably as usual, and then he mentioned that Frank’s had closed down two blocks down from him.  Frank Covelli had run his tiny shop since 1981 but had retired when the rent on his place went up. That means that Tino is now the only real barber left on Commercial Drive between Venables and Broadway.

Once I started looking, I quickly discovered that Tino was actually the last barber to open the Drive — and that was back when he took over Tommy’s in 1993. That surprises me, because I just don’t see men as a whole cutting their own hair, and so there will always be a need for barbers. Perhaps, as Tino thinks, they’ll go to “those Vietnamese places” where they don’t have any idea how to really cut hair; they can use the automatic clippers, he says, and that’s that. I worry more about the chains of modern “cutters” that remind me of fast food.

Either way, they will be a cheap and efficient alternative, I suppose, to the relaxed sociability of the old-fashioned barber shop. But it sure won’t be the same.  I’ve told Tino that he had better not retire until I am fully bald!

At the Grandview Heritage Group site I have created a list of all the barbers that I know of who worked on the Drive.

The Community Plan and Me

June 17, 2013

While I manned the tables at Car Free Day on Commercial Drive today, a lot of people asked me about the Community Plan — what was my position? what was GWAC’s position? They are not the same thing, but a number of questioners assumed it was.

GWAC has spoken several times in regard to the inadequacy of the planning process for this Community Plan. I have little doubt that, after the GWAC Directors hear what the community thinks on 8th July, GWAC will rapidly announce a position. That is as it should be for a member-driven organization.

On the other hand, I write here as an individual, not as GWAC President, and I have very definite opinions on the Emerging Directions document and map put out by the planners a couple of weeks ago.  Most of these opinions are already known. For example, my views on how quickly change may come; on Vision Vancouver’s view of civic engagement; on the Regional Context Statement, and on why the Fight Begins are published.

I have had issues with the process from day one, but I’ll concentrate this piece on the actualities of the Plan/Map.

Emerging Map 1 copy

The sheer scale of the proposed changes is the first thing that caught my eye.  What’s “protected” here is just a small sliver of Grandview from Commercial east to Templeton between Hastings and Broadway, and an even narrower slice from Commercial west to Woodland between William and 3rd .

Central Grandview is being set up to become a shadowed courtyard between walls of expensively stacked townhouses and high rise condos.

The entire stretch of East Hastings from Clark to Nanaimo is booked to become a mid-rise strip from 6 to 15 storeys tall. It is hard to argue that a major road like East Hastings should not be remodelled. But there seems to have been no consideration given to those of on the northern slope of Grandview who like our views into the dockside.  Even more worrying is the extension of this mid-rise development all the way down Commercial to Adanac, with stacked houses and apartment blocks much larger than we have today.

Moving south, the Venables-Commercial intersection is to be reconfigured with two mid-rise buildings (to 14 storeys) in a bizarre attempt to assist supported housing.  Venables and Commercial is very badly served by transit, with just one bus (#20) on the Drive and none at all on Venables.  In addition, there are moves afoot to significantly downsize the traffic on Venables/Prior as part of the Eastern Core Strategy. So to build a 14 storey tower, and accompanying buildings, on that site makes no sense whatsoever.

The City will try to sell it as a significant improvement to the Kettle’s ability to support the difficult-to-house; and there’s no gainsaying that.  But there must be other ways to deal with this issue than change a whole neighbourhood with an isolated tower. There seems to be too little thought (other than developer’s profit) going into that plan.

The upzoning along First Avenue for 4-6 storey is more understandable.  It is a major arteriel road and, if they finally added a bit of transit along there, it would definitely serve the purpose. My concern with this project is the loss of single family homes along First east of Commercial. My understanding is that many of those are now broken up into suites and provide a source of less-expensive rentals.  We need to ensure that economic ecology is not disrupted.

As for the six storey proposals at First and Commercial, I can live with that; especially if we get to replace the awful Il Mercato Mall with something that interacts with the street.  Neither the Mall nor the Royal Bank building (erected for Safeway in 1940) nor the cheque-cashing business on the north east corner are worth keeping.  Time for some innovative Commercial Drive-style modern architecture perhaps.

Moving to the far east of the district we find the serried ranks of rowhouses proposed for the entire length of Nanaimo Street from Hastings down to Broadway.  Given that this is a particularly wide street, I guess this might not be oppressive as it would be elsewhere. But I’m still not keen on it. And the bits that have caused so much controversy among residents in the area are the fingers of four-storey buildings that reach out to surround Garden Park and Lord Nelson School.  It is almost as if the planners had a quota of rowhouses to fill, and had to reach out randomly to make up the numbers.

I don’t want to leave Cedar Cove out of this discussion, but I know less about it’s current environment than the other areas.  It looks as if it is being sized up as apartment/condo city. I love the fact that the planning team heard several of us ask for access to the Inlet and the old beach that was there. Not much chance of getting with the Feds in the way, but a bright spot to imagine.

And that brings us to the transit zone along Broadway.  Perhaps, it wouldn’t be quite so bad if we were only talking Broadway, but this free-for-all development zone stretches from 4th Avenue down to 12th, and covers the full width of the neighbourhood.  Anyone who didn’t realize we were going to be deluged with development along Broadway must have been asleep, but the scale, once again, of this plan now revealed — 36 storeys in one instance! — is striking.  Given that the UBC extension of SkyTrain is no slam dunk (especially after the last Provincial election), how are all these new people supposed to be moved?  Where are they supposed to work?

They are planning to save MOBY, which I know will please a lot of people.  And with that, I’ll move on to the rest of the document.  In the sections about Public Space, Arts & Culture, Neighbourhood Safety, etc etc., it seems that the planners and their team did pretty well at catching the mood of those at workshops and open houses.  There is a great deal of material in there that I recognise from the discussions — more trees, street furniture, better parkspace, artists’ spaces, bike routes.  Well done to them on that.

But the language in these other sections is also different than that employed in the land-use sections.  The land-use sections are generally very specific, block-by-block, size by size, building form by building form.  On the other hand, in the other sections we find “work towards” and “look for opportunities” and similar less definite phrasing.

I have some other issues too, but this has gone on long enough for today.  I’ll no doubt be back at this topic shortly.

Sunny Day, Talking Day

June 17, 2013

I spent nearly all of Sunday on the Drive for Car Free Day, manning the tables for both GWAC and the Grandview Heritage Group. Managed to speak to a wide array of new and old friends about heritage, about the Community Plan, about the neighbourhood in general.  This is always so valuable, to meet so many people at one time.

Car Free Day arranged by volunteers always seems a much friendlier, less commercially-oriented event than the business-driven Italian Day.  However, it didn’t seem quite as busy as past years, and the crowds definitely seemed thicker last weekend (Italian Day) than this.

There also didn’t seem to be the level of fancy dress and stiltwalkers and other street cabaret that we have been accustomed to, but there is always, of course, the wonderful Carnival Band.

Carnival Band

All in all a great event, perhaps just a bit more subdued than I had expected from past experience.  The hot sunny day helped too (except for those of us who forgot their hats!)

Technical Difficulties …

June 17, 2013

I was due to do an interview with our friends at Co-Op Radio a little while ago, to chat about the Community Plan.  Unfortunately, technical difficulties at their end didn’t allow me to be heard on air.  So we will re-schedule for Wednesday morning.

Car Free Day!

June 16, 2013

It is Car Free Day on the Drive, and it looks like we’ll have splendid weather for it!

I will be manning both the Grandview Heritage Group’s booth and that for GWAC.  Luckily they are side-by-side on the west side of the 1300-block, right outside Highlife Music.

Please stop by and chat, either about history and heritage or the current Community Plan or just to chin-wag.

See you there!

Echoes of Childhood

June 15, 2013

Echoes of Childhood_web

How Long Will It Take?

June 14, 2013

I was speaking with a planner the other day. He told me we shouldn’t be worried about all the upzoning they are proposing for Grandview. He said that even if they approved everything in the current map, it would be many years, decades even, before we noticed much change. There would be the occasional new building going up soon afteer the change came in, but most of it wouldn’t be built up for a long time.

The argument they like to pull out is the example of Commercial.  They note that the Drive has been zoned four storeys for a great many years now and yet there are still very few buildings on the Drive that have sought to expand in that way.

What they don’t bother to add is that the Drive has Drive-specific issues with building up the buildings to four storeys; major issues with parking requirements, historic lots, and building sizes that make it difficult for the bottom line to swallow. The newest demolish/rebuild construction on the Drive is the two-year old Famoso Pizza on the corner of Kitchener and Commercial. It could have gone to four storeys but the more profitable option is a scant two storeys.

The more illustrative example is the West End, which was a single family house neighbourhood.  The zoning was altered in 1956 to allow for high rises essentially anywhere in the peninsular. By 1970, just 14 years later, the West End that had gone before was mostly no more; it was buried beneath the tall towers that dominated every block.

If a fresh rezoning throughout our neighbourhood cleared away some of the present obstacles, then I could see Nanaimo, Hastings, First, Broadway and parts of the Drive quickly becoming shadowed canyons.

Zone it and they will come.