Housing at Britannia?

September 11, 2017

Elizabeth Murphy has written another of her pieces in the Vancouver Sun. On this occasion, she is noting with horror the possibility of using public spaces, such as parks, to build housing in Vancouver.

I agree with many of the points she is making, including her thesis that the driving dynamic behind this movement is the desire to centralize, taking control from the locally based community centre associations, that was pushed forward so aggressively when Penny Ballem was City Manager. I also agree with her praise for new amenities that have been developed to include housing, such as the Strathcona and Mount Pleasant libraries.

However, when it comes to the redevelopment of Britannia, she has the history wrong and draws inaccurate conclusions from that faulty reading.  She blithely records that, during the development of the Britannia site in the 1970s that “housing was moved off the site.”  In fact, 77 houses were expropriated and demolished for the Community Center, many with barely grudging assent from the owners as recorded in Clare Shepansky’s definitive history of the removals. To this must be added 40 or 50 more that were torn down in the original building of Britannia School and the subsequent expansions in the 1950s primarily for playing fields.

It is entirely wrong to suggest, therefore, that the Britannia site has historically been a public asset. It was for many decades a thriving residential neighbourhood. The community could make a good and valid argument that we deserve to recover some of the housing that was lost to us in the 1970s, especially today when the need for affordable housing in Grandview is becoming acute.

It would seem to me that at this early stage where plans are not yet drawn up that we could take cues from the developments cited earlier in Strathcona and Mount Pleasant and possibly have the best of both worlds. The current green space could be preserved while a new library, gyms, pool, and schools could be designed with housing above (keeping, of course, to a maximum four-storey height). Let’s get creative!

I have not yet made up my mind whether I support the notion of housing as part of Britannia’s necessary and welcome redevelopment, but an inaccurate and revisionist history does a disservice to the people of Grandview and adds nothing to the debate.

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Important Dates for the Calendar

May 21, 2017

The Britannia Renewal project is moving ahead rapidly with a regular schedule of meetings and workshops. The next three are the following:

  • May 23, 7:00pm to 8:30pm:  Designing Safe Spaces.  Meeting in the Britannia Ice Rink Mezzanine. Speakers will discuss the design of spaces with two spirit, trans and gender variant, and women’s safety in mind.
  • May 27th, noon to 3:00pm: Public Outdoor Spaces Workshop.  Meeting in Gym D. Help imagine the kinds of public outdoor spaces the new Britannia could include.
  • May 29th, 5:00pm to 7:00pm. Housing on the Britannia Site. Meeting in B-Lab, Info Centre, Napier Street. There is a suggestion (perhaps even a requirement) that housing be included on the renewed site. What do you think about that?  Come along and debate the issues.

 


The Next Speaker …

April 24, 2017

…in the Britannia Renewal Speakers’ Series will be Ouri Scott, architect, and David Ramslie, sustainability planner. Their topic will be Learning and Community Growth and will take place on

Thursday May 4th, 7:00pm at Britannia High School Auditorium

I think it’s really about an approach to the environment. Not talking about the technical sense of the environment, but the sense of place. Honouring the past of that place, thinking about who and what came before, from people, trees and animals. And making references to the past and to cultural heritage.” – Ouri Scott

Everyone is welcome!


Library as Community

April 21, 2017

Last night I attended the latest in the Britannia Renewal Speakers’ Series. This was a presentation on the unique role of the public library in building community given by Asa Kachan, CEO of the Halifax Library system. There were perhaps just three dozen in the audience. She was an excellent speaker and deserved more.

Halifax has recently opened a new Central Library. It was this space — and the process by which it was designed — that was the central feature of the presentation.  The previous building, a 1950s slab, was no longer relevant or attractive to the current generation; the new building is entirely different. The concepts and design ideas were developed during an active and extended community engagement phase, primarily using World Cafe methods.

As a meaningful symbol of the engagement of the local community, the library handed out 400 pairs of scissors to residents to cut the ribbon in opening day.

Ms. Kachan repeated often that a modern library needs to be both “purposeful and surprising;” that the purpose of libraries and other public spaces is to “change the quality of people’s lives.”  The Halifax Library has been designed to be open and participatory, with flexible spaces that many groups and individuals can self-curate.  As she stressed, if you build good spaces, people will use them imaginatively.

The speaker also emphasised that the community engagement process does not end with the construction project. The same importance of public input continues into ongoing operations and programming.

It was an inspiring presentation in which she stressed that the library is for the people not the librarians, giving examples of how a library can make a significant difference to an individual. She noted that Halifax is a welcoming open library for the homeless and others without other access to technology. There is a new encouragement to include food with library activities and to make the library part of a food security network.

Throughout Ms. Kachan’s presentation — and especially in the Q&A within which a wide range of library-use topics were discussed — I got the sense that she would like to add even more of the social services and community components that already form part of the Britannia continuum. In turn, Halifax’s experience is one we should keep closely in mind as we develop the Britannia library as part of the renewed Centre.

 


Dates for Calendar

April 15, 2017

There are two meetings of interest at Britannia this coming week.

On Tuesday 18th April at 7:00pm in the Info Centre Boardroom, there is the regular monthly meeting of the team planning the Britannia Renewal Project. the agenda this month includes a discussion on housing, a report on the lease negotiations, an update on the speakers’ series, and other items of interest.  All are welcome.

On Thursday 20th April, at 7:00pm in the Britannia Library, there will be a discussion with Asa Kachan, Chief Librarian of Halifax Public Library. The topic will be “Learning and Community Growth” and again, everyone is welcome.

This Thursday would also have been the regular monthly meeting of the Grandview Heritage Group, but we believe the Library discussion to be of such interest that GHG has canceled this month’s meeting and will meet again in May.

 


GWAC, Britannia, and Reconciliation

March 28, 2017

Next Monday evening, in lieu of their regular monthly meeting, GWAC is encouraging its members to attend a presentation on “Reconciliation & Renewal”, given by Yvonne Rigsby-Jones from Reconciliation Canada.

The meeting takes place:

Monday April 3rd, 2017, 

6:00pm:  Community meal

7:00-8:00pm: meeting and discussion

Britannia Community Services Centre, Gym D

 

To quote the GWAC notice:

How can the Britannia Renewal project inspire positive change and engage community members in dialogue and transformative experiences that revitalize the relationships among Indigenous peoples and all Canadians?

The new 2017 GWAC Board of Directors will be there and they welcome your views and comments,

 


Next Date For Britannia

January 19, 2017

The first meeting of the new year for the Britannia Renewal Project takes place on Tuesday 24th January in the Info Boardroom, Napier Street, from 7:00pm to 9:00pm.

This will be chance to meet with the various project consulting partners — Urban Arts Architecture, Diamond Schmidt, EcoPlan, Space 2 Place, and Integral.

The meeting will also look at an update to the Renewal Visioning, a review of Britannia Management Priorities, and further discussion on Draft Land Use Principles.

Should be of interest to all who are concerned for the future of this massive community resource.