Fog At Sunset

February 23, 2014

Fog at Sunset_web


Our City of Disrespect

February 22, 2014

I’m sure that most of you by now will be aware of the proposed massive re-development of Oakridge.  This is a a development that will change the centre of our city for ever if it goes ahead, with a forest of huge towers and the first ever “public” park situated on the roof of private building.

Te redevelopment is described by the City in the following terms:

  • Two floors of Retail and Service Uses, which would double the amount of retail on site;
  • Over 424,000 sq. ft. of Office Uses;
  • 2,914 Residential Units (including 290 units of social housing and 290 units of market rental housing);
  • Eleven residential towers with heights between 19 and 44 storeys and three mid-rise buildings between 9 and 13 storeys in height.

The whole thing is profligacy on a massive scale, designed to feed the profits of the large developers involved, and as a way of introducing downtown-style high-rises into central Vancouver.   The sop is 290 social housing units (the other 290 mentioned are market rental, so no different from all the others) and $140m in “community amenities” which the City should be supplying anyway.

Important though this proposal is, our City Council has decided that public hearings and the public display of the amended by-laws should go ahead at a time that is as inconvenient as possible to most Vancouverites, thus depriving them of their right to speak to the issue directly.

Public Hearings begin at 2:00pm on Monday 10th March at City Hall.  The vast majority of voting-age Vancouverites are fully employed and thus unable – except at a loss of wages — to attend hearings on a Monday afternoon.  That is no doubt why they call them at that time.  The proposed by-laws will be available at City Hall on weekdays only from 28th February between the hours of 8:30am to 4:30pm.  Once again, exactly when most people will be at their work.

This is deliberate and it is a sign of the extraordinary disrespect in which this Council holds the ordinary men and women of our city.  I am sure it is inconvenient for Council and staff to meet in the evenings and on weekends; but there are just a few of them, and there are hundreds of thousands of us.  Surely our needs should come become theirs.

Catching Up Post

February 21, 2014

Yesterday afternoon I spent a long time in a formal interview with the sociology student I met at the beginning of the month. We covered a lot of ground and I was impressed with his knowledge and industry.  We covered some of the material from my book, but he also obliged me to compose a lot of my thoughts on the Drive in the 1970s, 80s and 90s that I am still researching in prep for the next book.  A very useful exercise for both of us, I believe.  He is currently waiting to hear back from the graduate schools he has applied to.  I hope he gets what he wants.

Last night, I thoroughly enjoyed the latest meeting of the Grandview Heritage Group. No contention, no egos, just useful and interesting discussions with intelligent people.  More of that, please.

Finally, in the catch up category, I received my new passport in the mail today.  That was just seven working days since I made the application.  Well done Canada!

Debunking the Myths of “Vancouverism”

February 21, 2014

I had an interesting morning today, having been invited by a UBC prof to meet with a group of ten “urban planners” from Thailand who were interested in hearing about community engagement.  We met at SFU Harbourside, and I brought along Fern Jeffries from the False Creek Residents’ Association.

The Thais, it turned out, consisted of four hotel owners from a small resort, along with six local city officials including the Mayor and their senior Planner.  They had spent the last few days meeting with Vancouver and Richmond City folks, Translink staff and developers, all of whom had regaled them with the joyous wonders of “Vancouverism ” — high density and even higher towers.  Today, Fern and I explained to them the other side of the “Vancouverism” coin — top-down planning that ignores the desires of local residents, and which changes skylines and lifestyles to the benefit of the developers rather than the people.

After the meeting downtown, the Thais, the prof, and I took SkyTrain to Commercial & Broadway to show them the Transit Oriented Development zone that would bring 30+ storey towers to our low-rise neighbourhood. (Here are some of them on the trip, with Prof Peter Boothroyd of UBC in the second image):

Thais 1Thais 2

They had visited the station under the auspices of Translink the previous day. I gave them a different view, I am certain.  We walked a block or so into E. 10th and I showed them a typical Grandview street of detached houses.  I believe they were genuinely shocked that such a beautiful and livable street could be under threat.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable time with a very pleasant group.  I hope we may have leavened the pro-tower stuff that our City planners and developers would have stuffed them with.

More Signs of Spring

February 20, 2014

The first signs of spring are upon us!

In that little bit of Parker Street that dribbles west of Commercial Drive are a couple of trees that are showing off precocious blossoms.


More unusual, though equally welcome, is the replacement of the grass verge on the southeast edge of Grandview Park.  You may recall that this was torn up by City Engineering to be a gravel parking spot during the Great Food Truck Controversy of 2013 (gosh that seems so long ago now).  The truck is now gone (hopefully not to be replaced) and now the physical evidence is being removed.

park verge

Community Mailboxes: Good or Bad?

February 20, 2014


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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.