Britannia: Housing, Imagination & Purpose

Yet again, another Elizabeth Murphy opinion piece in yesterday’s Vancouver Sun has brought me to the keyboard. Yet again, she uses an attack on the revamping of Vancouver’s Community Association management agreements (an attack with which I agree in general terms) to push her negative and unimaginative opinions about the future of Britannia, a site that is irrelevant to, and outside the boundaries of, the power-grabbing centralising dispute disturbing other parks and recreational facilities in the City.

She writes as if allowing certain housing options on Britannia will guarantee a loss of some of the precious little green space that Grandview currently enjoys. Quoting Darlene Mazari, she claims that adding housing to Britannia will make the management structure too “complex.”  She declares that Britannia “is a fabulous model of combined services.”  I take issue with each of these points.

When it was constructed in the 1970s, there is is little argument that Britannia CCS was a progressive move forward in the delivery of services to Grandview. However, designed and constructed using the then-chic Pattern Language style it has long been recognised that Britannia is no longer fit for purpose; its buildings, working spaces, and interior connections form a barrier to the type of programming that Britannia wants to deliver to its 21st century clientele. I am certain that this failure was what drove the original impetus for a Britannia renewal in the first place; because it was no longer “a fabulous model.”

Created outside the standard model of Vancouver Community Associations, the management of the Britannia space has always been complex. It is governed by agreements between the Vancouver School Board, Vancouver Parks Board, and the Vancouver Library Board, and has a Board elected from the community.  Although this governance structure has presented challenges over the Brit’s existence, the form has proven to be both durable and workable. Adding a housing component will certainly expand the complexity but to believe this will collapse the governance model is an insult to the professionals (and residents) who will make it work.

The housing options I have discussed in previous posts assume that spaces/buildings can be multi-functional: Housing options can be developed above other required Brit facilities; above gyms, above the library, above programming spaces. In fact, I am a strong believer that the future of a land-poor Vancouver will not look well on us if we restrict ourselves to single-use properties in such developments. Given the number of buildings required at Britannia, I am certain we can place all the housing we want on site without the loss of any green space. Imagination and creativity can allow us to have our cake and eat it, too.

As regular readers will have noticed, I have now come to the conclusion that housing on the Brit site is both required and desired. However, I need to stress once again the three inviolable principles for this:  all housing on site must be government run for low income residents; all present green space is to be retailed; and a maximum height of four storeys must be maintained.

I know that even with these caveats, there will be lots of opposition from my heritage and development-activism colleagues, and I am sure I have already discouraged a number of them with my earlier ideas for densifying Grandview.   However, I am equally aware that the affordable housing crisis is genuine and needs to be faced directly with urgency and imagination.  I also know that a large number of individuals and groups within Grandview support the idea of on-site housing, including perhaps a majority of the Brit Planning & Development committee, I hope my ideas can be used as an input to a final conclusion.

Under doctor’s orders, I was unable to make either of last week’s Britannia meetings and I apologise if this post has fallen behind the times.

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2 Responses to Britannia: Housing, Imagination & Purpose

  1. Grandview Citizen says:

    I scanned her opinion piece, Jak. That’s 4 minutes of my life I’ll never get back.

    So who is this Elizabeth Murphy and why should anyone care what she writes? Does Elizabeth Murphy live in the Britannia neighbourhood? If not, she shouldn’t be wasting people’s time. What are her credentials? Who exactly does she represent? And, who “elected” her to be a mouthpiece for Vancouver’s housing symptoms?

    Luckily, she’s part of a dying newspaper (propaganda) trade so her opinions will soon disappear.

    • jakking says:

      Elizabeth Murphy has a long history in housing, having worked for the City at some point. A decade or so ago she helped found the NSV municipal party and has run as a councillor. She does not live in GV but owns a number of small apartment buildings here. She is not a journalist but her professional background and political activity has allowed her a regular op-ed spot in the Sun. She is as qualified as any other politically active citizen to comment on these matters. One makes ones own judgements about the value of those comments.

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