Stories As Policy Input

February 19, 2014

There were a couple of very important meetings in Grandview last night. Obviously I couldn’t be at both and so I will post later about the Eco-Density meeting that a number of kind correspondents who did go have written to me about.  I chose instead to go to COPE’s Rent Control Forum at the Grandview Calvary Baptist Church.

The meeting was arranged by Sean Antrim and COPE’s Housing Committee, and was moderated by Rider Cooey. The panelists were Maureen Burke, Theresa Diewert, Patrick Stewart, Garth Mullins and Jon Leah.  About fifty people filled the small hall.

COPE meeting panelThis was a policy forum immersed in story telling, and certainly none the worse for that.  As Wendy Sarkasian has written: “People relate to stories more than to data, evidence or directives … When stories are shared, each person gains a new perspective.”  And so it was last night.

Maureen Burke told us the harrowing story of her renoviction from the Aquilini apartment building on Adanac.  From this she led us to understand the weaknesses of the Residential Tenancy Act and the need for a Housing Authority and an Ombudsman to assist renters.

Theresa Diewert regaled us with stories of homelessness and displacement.  She noted that Grandview is (or has been) both welcoming and affordable, but she fears for the neighbourhood as condos are planned and built.

Architect Patrick Stewart spoke of his upbringing in care and interlaced Aboriginal issues with the failures caused by our lack of a National Housing Strategy.  He opposed the “scattered sites” policy being pushed these days as destructive of community.

Garth Mullins talked about all the types of accommodation he has lived in since moving to the neighbourhood.  He noted that the Drive itself has gentrified since his earliest days here, where simple coffee shops have become chains, and political spots like La Quena have been transformed into yoga studios. He decried the need for tall building, noting that they inevitably became the centers of widening ripples of social and economic displacement.

The last speaker, Jon Leah, gave us the sad story of a senior having to move from her own home to an apartment in a co-op which, having started with great hopes, has itself become old and fragile and somewhat unsafe.  She believes that forms of rent control will allow seniors to age in place, and wants to see some guarantees against eviction.

These were all moving stories, stories that generated thoughts of change and thus of policy.  It will be interesting to see how COPE puts this information together.

What Do They Have To Hide?

February 19, 2014

In a previous post, I asked what politicians could ever object to Clr. Adriane Carr’s motion to make it easier for Vancouver residents to find out how each City Councillor voted on each issue.  Well they found reasons enough.

“Too expensive”, “too much work for staff”, “not important enough,” were just some of the quotes (you can see them all here).

Vision Councillor Tim Stevenson — yes, the same guy we just spent a bunch of money on to send on a trip to Sochi for a photo op for his next campaign — called the whole idea of making this information more readily available “pie in the sky.”  He said, “I haven’t had people knocking down my door to do this.” The City staff shouldn’t be burdened with this effort, he said.  I guess not when there are endless more condo towers to plan and build and livability to destroy.

Frankly the NPA was no better.  Clr. Elizabeth Ball said this should go ahead, but only “if staff decide this is a good idea.”  Is this a final admission that Penny Ballem and her staff are running things at City Hall and not our elected representatives?

In the end, Andrea Reimer who was in the chair relied on a letter opposing the idea from the Vancouver Public Space Network (VPSN).  The VPSN is a City-funded front organization meant to deal with public space and amenities, not City Hall governance and accountability.  Why should their letter be taken more seriously than the letters sent in by Vancouver citizens supporting the motion?  Letters which, Adriane Carr pointed out, had not been forwarded properly by staff.

Finally, knowing it would look bad to actually vote it down, the motion was “referred to staff”, buried until it is too late to matter.  This is a disgrace for an administration that claims to support transparency and accountability, but just another day of mis-management for Vision Vancouver.

Date for the Calendar: The Future of the Drive

February 19, 2014

A group with the name of the Commercial Drive Action Group has called a meeting for 7:00pm Monday evening at the Britannia Boardroom. Their pitch begins with:

“Are you interested in helping Commercial Drive become a more vibrant, human-centric high street? Does the prospect of having additional crosswalks, wider sidewalks,and bike lanes on Commercial Drive get you excited?”

Personally I think the Drive is already extraordinarily vibrant and human-centric.  That’s what makes it the Drive.  Sure, there are a few small changes that would make it better, I guess, but certainly nothing major.  Even the City Planners, not renowned for their keen neighbourhood insight, recognized that large changes to the Drive would not fly and would, doubtless, cause more harm than good.

The balance of the Action Group’s pitch is strongly oriented toward the imposition of bike lanes. The less I say about that the better, perhaps, other than I am a supporter of bike lanes in many places, but the Drive — especially north of First — is certainly not one of them.

However, I will attend the meeting and I encourage everyone else to join in the conversation.

Talking About The Weather

February 19, 2014

Anybody living in Vancouver knows that it just poured down with rain yesterday morning. Sheets and sheets of the stuff.  Luckily, it had stopped before I went out to a meeting last night but on the way home, walking through Victoria Park, one of the bocce courts was completely flooded, looking in the dark just like a lap pool or a koi pond.

Today, on the other hand, was my perfect weather — cool and brisk and dry, with a blue sky and sunshine.  To be honest, I’d be happy if we had 365 days a year of this.

After a long walk down the Drive, I sat outside Britannia Library in the warm sun, enjoying the day.  I shared the bench with a fellow about my age who had come to Canada from Eritrea in 1984.  He spent the first couple of years in Edmonton before moving to Vancouver just before Expo.  We talked about the weather and I suggested the cold in Alberta must have been a shock after coming from the Horn of Africa.  Not so much, he said, as in the winter in some parts of Eritrea the water freezes on the ground.  However, what was a surprise to him was that snow fell from the sky!  We laughed.

It is a good weather day.