Whose Community Is It?

The main part of this article is a repeat post. Over the next few weeks I will be reissuing some of my previous posts that, in my view, still pose serious questions and raise issues that remain outstanding.


Whose Community Is It?

As an architectural and social artifact I have no real issue with high-rise towers.

When I moved to Vancouver in 1979, I lived first at what was then the Plaza Hotel at the northern end of Lions Gate Bridge. I worked as a freelancer and so needed a corporation to invoice my services. My first company was called Twenty-Third Floor Productions, which accurately reflected the position of my apartment. I loved it up there. When North Vancouver became inconvenient for me commuting without a car, I moved to the West End and happily lived amid (though not in) the towering glass and concrete erections.  No, I have no issue with high-rise towers.

In fact, I have often said that if the residents genuinely approved 15-storey towers on every block on the Drive, I would have no problem with that. I would definitely move because that’s not the Drive I want; but the point is that I will always support the right of the neighbourhood to make that decision.

From a planning point of view, I am deeply concerned in particular by the Boffo Tower on Commercial Drive because of what the success of the developer against the expressed wish of thousands of local residents would mean for any concept of genuine neighbourhood control in the future.

It matters not whether we are talking about towers or townhouses or row houses or supported housing or a new transportation option or a change in the use of roads; the issue always comes down to where the power of approval lies.  Right now, the disproportionately asymmetrical power equation of developers + money + a developer-friendly City Council and Planning Department versus ad hoc volunteer groups trying to protect the right of the communities to choose means that the ability of Vancouver’s neighbourhoods to control their own affairs, in matters of zoning and streetscapes, business and housing, is slipping away at a fast and increasing rate.

It is vital that we re-establish the rights of the electorate by pushing powers down to the lowest, most local level.  In terms of municipal policy this means making “city-wide” policies subject to local opt-in or opt-out.  Today, this would mean that the Interim Zoning policies enacted after the Mayor’s Task Force on Affordable Housing, land use policies under Transportation 2040, and the city-wide plan currently being devised by the Vancouver City Planning Commission would all be controlled and enacted — or not — by each neighbourhood in Vancouver.

This also means that regional groupings, such as the unelected Metro Vancouver, need to become operational liaisons only with no executive powers concerning local development, and certainly no authority to over-ride neighbourhood decisions through Regional Context Statements and similar.  If necessary, the City of Vancouver should be prepared to withdraw from Metro in order to ensure this level of local control.

And we must oblige the Province to amend the Vancouver Charter so that we, the residents of Vancouver, have full control over the style of council we have, the financial terms under which elections are fought, whether or not we become members of larger groups such as Metro and Translink, and all the powers needed to ensure that we can at least address the pressing crises of unaffordable housing, homelessness, and the low salaries paid to Vancouver employees compared to other large cities in Canada.

In a Twitter exchange with me, major Vision supporter and developers’ mouthpiece Bob Ransford called “parochial decisions” and “endless debate” a problem.  No, it’s not a problem.  After so many decades of top-down control and crony management, parochial decision-making after legitimate local debate is exactly what we DO want, what this City needs.

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