Whose Community Is It?

September 21, 2022

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 Commercial 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 was deeply concerned in particular by the Boffo Tower proposal 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.  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 now the city-wide plans such as Broadway and Vancouver Plans currently being implemented and further 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 override 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 some while ago, 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.

Civic politics should not be about cult followings and strict ideological homogeneity.  It matters not that TEAM and I differ in some of the details of policy. What matters is it is TEAM and TEAM alone who understand that neighbourhoods are the vital partners in this enterprise of moving Vancouver forward, and it is only TEAM that will implement the processes of government that will strengthen that partnership.

On October 15th vote Colleen Hardwick for Mayor with a majority of TEAM Councillors!


2022 Mayoral Candidates Debate …

September 19, 2022

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Hopefully, all five will show up!


Sign of the Times

September 18, 2022

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The view along Adanac Street has been greatly improved with some simple signage.


Are You Better Off?

September 14, 2022

Mayoral Debate in Grandview

August 24, 2022

A Mainstreeting Event for TEAM for a Livable Vancouver

August 17, 2022

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Colleen Hardwick’s TEAM campaign will be mainstreeting on Commercial Drive tomorrow (Thursday 18th).

They will be meeting at the Entre Nous Femmes housing complex on Adanac & Commercial at 4pm and then proceeding south on Commercial Drive until about 5:30pm.

Come down and meet the next (and first female) Mayor of Vancouver and her TEAM!


Barbecue With The NPA

July 19, 2022

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Want to talk politics? For those that may be interested the NPA campaign is holding a barbecue this coming Thursday (21st) at 2365 Kitchener (corner of Kitchener & Nanaimo) at 4:30 – 6:30pm.

Note that this notice is in no way an endorsement of the NPA campaign, just a PSA. I will be happy to post notices of any events from any other party if I am notified in advance.


The Broadway Plan: A Synopsis of Comments

May 31, 2022

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This afternoon and evening, Vancouver City Council will hear the last of three days of public comments on the Broadway Plan and Council will likely debate Councillors’ amendments and proceed to a final vote.

The Upper Kitsilano Residents’ Association (UKRA) has circulated a mailing to its members discussing the public hearings to date which, with their permission, I am sharing here as I believe it represents a fair summary of comments to date and the issues facing the Plan:

“For three days 160 Vancouver residents spoke to Council about the Broadway Plan, and the results show a city divided. With about another 30 speakers still to be heard, the schism is clear: on one side are those who believe the Plan calls for excessive change and ignores the voices of neighbourhoods; and the other side — young people who have the backing of organized groups like Abundant Housing, biking groups, and the development industry — who say the Plan doesn’t go far enough.


Council has a tough decision ahead of them to either accept, amend or reject the major planning blueprint for the future of the Broadway Corridor, a scheme that has taken staff over three years to complete. The Broadway Plan, already a densely populated area that includes 500 blocks surrounding the coming Millennium Line subway, envisions adding about 50,000 new residents in the next 30 years. Staff have proposed towers anywhere from three (low-rise) to 40 (at subway stations) storeys in most areas along Broadway, from Clark Drive to Yew Street, and from 1st Avenue to 16th.


Theresa O’Donnell, head planner for the City, called the Broadway Plan a “generational plan” that will likely bring discomfort to some. O’Donnell said there has been broad support for the Plan and that the public has had several chances to be involved in the planning process. But that’s not what Council heard over three days of meetings.

Opponents talked about the lack of engagement between the planners and neighbourhoods (residents were not asked their views about the height or built form of towers, which were only made public in the final draft plan). Dunbar resident Carol Volkart reflected on her community’s past planning involvement with the City, when she and her neighbours collaborated on their own community plan involving input from 1,600 neighbours. “Residents could be trusted” then, Volkart said, “their opinions mattered” to the City.


Vancouver resident Mark Battersby, Professor Emeritus at Capilano University and author of Is That a Fact? said the City surveys use “bogus methodology” that has nothing to do science. He told of his experience attending a Broadway Plan presentation, where staff were trying to convince residents of one particular point of view while offering no alternatives.


Critics of the Plan predict widespread displacement of tenants living along Broadway, home to some of the most affordable rents in the city. A recurring theme over the past three days of meetings is a growing lack of trust that the City would meet its own commitments to residents. Even with Mayor Kennedy Stewart’s beefed-up tenant protection plan, many renters say they can’t trust government to provide the help they need. The Mayor’s plan has been widely rebuked, even by the Vancouver Tenants Union.


David Webb, a renter in Fairview, said if housing affordability is the goal of the plan, why not keep what [older, affordable units] we have now? He said he and his neighbours don’t want to leave their community and move into new smaller apartments. “Renters stand only to lose. It’s a terrible plan, awful,” said Webb, arguing that the Plan will negatively affect renters for decades to come. Another speaker echoed Webb’s comments: “This isn’t a plan for renters. When I look at it, I don’t see development, I see displacement.” Regarding the huge increase in density planned for the area, one speaker complained he didn’t want to “live in Manhattan.” Vancouver,” he said, “needs to be treated with kid gloves. The Broadway Plan is a sledgehammer.”

Noting that the city’s population has grown by about one percent a year since 1986, retired architect Brian Palmquist called the envisioned density “a growth ponzi scheme.” Others criticized the lack of amenities planned for the area, such as schools, community centres, seniors’ services, and parks. Although one in five Vancouver seniors live in the Broadway area, the Plan makes no mention of adding seniors housing or amenities.


Supporters said Vancouver needs thousands of new homes now, preferably starting in the city’s low-density neighbourhoods, and that more commercial businesses should be built off-arterials. Some complained that the work should have started yesterday. “I was born after ’86 and I don’t have time for all the dithering, one speaker told Council. He pointed out that 3,600 citizens completed the Broadway Plan survey and over 50 percent of people said the Broadway Plan could make their lives better. Most developers who called in expressed basic support for the plan, with some minor adjustments.

Outspoken critic Patrick Condon, who teaches Urban Design at UBC, said the Broadway Plan deserves more than one consultant. He encouraged the City to meet with outside planners who can share ideas on how the Plan can be improved, particularly when it comes to housing affordability.


Whether or not the Plan can deliver housing affordability and livability has always been the burning issue at City meetings. The Broadway Plan envisions market rental apartments will make up 80 percent of the new housing, with 20 percent assigned to below-market rates. Many Councillors struggled with that number at the meeting, and asked speakers for ideas on how more affordable housing could be delivered.

Developer Michael Geller has used his blog to criticize the Plan and is well worth reading. One of his professional correspondents opposes what he calls “the sterile and generic vision the Broadway Plan puts forward for Vancouver’s future.”

The speakers list has closed but you can still send your comments to Council and I urge you to do so this morning. Let them know what you think of this massive redevelopment of our city and the displacement of affordable rentals it will bring in its wake.


Rally At City Hall

May 3, 2022


GWAC and CoV’s Head of Planning

April 26, 2022

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WE Should Decide On An Olympics Bid

April 9, 2022

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Next Tuesday, Councillor Colleen Hardwick’s motion on getting voter approval for any new Olympics bid will come before Council. Mayor Kennedy Stewart has intimated that we should have no say in the matter even though it will likely cost Vancouver tax payers billions of dollars, and remembering that we still have no idea what the 2010 Olympics cost because of a secret deal to hide the figures until at least 2025.

Hardwick’s motion is simple: She asks that we all get a chance to have a vote on the matter during the October civic elections. The question she wants on the ballot paper is equally simple and neutral:

“Do you support or do you oppose the City of Vancouver’s participation in hosting the 2030 Olympic Winter Games and Paralympic Winter Games?

_ YES, I support the City of Vancouver’s participation.

_ NO, I oppose the City of Vancouver’s participation.”

The full text of the Motion is here:

 https://council.vancouver.ca/20220412/documents/b4.pdf

Given the Mayor’s opposition to public participation in this decision, there is a chance that even this motion might not be allowed to be discussed. That is unless we the public make sure the Council know that we want and need to be consulted on how our money is spent.

Therefore, whether you support the Olympics or not, I urge you to email City Council demanding that we have a say in this decision during the next municipal election and supporting the Motion. Your email must arrive before Council starts to sit on Tuesday 11th April. Please copy it to:

kennedy.stewart@vancouver.ca; CLRbligh@vancouver.ca; CLRboyle@vancouver.ca; CLRcarr@vancouver.ca; CLRdegenova@vancouver.ca; CLRdominato@vancouver.ca; CLRfry@vancouver.ca; CLRhardwick@vancouver.ca; CLRkirby-yung@vancouver.ca; CLRswanson@vancouver.ca; CLRwiebe@vancouver.ca


How Bloated IS Vancouver City Hall?

March 24, 2022

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The always excellent CityHallWatch has published the latest “sunshine” list of Vancouver City staffers. Almost 1,800 of them make more than $100,000 a year, and 19 make more than $200,000 a year. It is no wonder they seem tone-deaf to the needs of residents for whom the median income is closer to $50,000.

The publication of the list prompted me to compare Vancouver’s civic staff and costs against those of Toronto which has a population of almost 2.8 million, many times larger than the 663,000 in Vancouver.

  • Toronto’s staff costs for 2021 were $883,546,834 or about $317 per resident.
  • Vancouver’s staff costs for 2021 were $586,049,613 or about $885 per resident.

Toronto’s civic staff totals 7,239 employees, while Vancouver is budgeting to employ 8,798 in 2022.

Who do you think is getting a more efficient service for your tax dollars?


Broadway Plan Public Engagement

March 3, 2022

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The Broadway Plan is almost upon us. It will be going before City Council in May for approval. Before then, the public is offered one last chance to make comments until March 22nd.

According to an email I received, you can:

  • Learn more: Detailed information on the Draft Plan, planning process, and engagement opportunities are available on our Shape Your City website.
  • Take the survey: Provide feedback through the online survey which is open until March 22, 2022. Take the survey here.
  • Attend the open houses:
    • ​March 2:  Mount Pleasant Neighbourhood House (800 East Broadway) from 4:30 – 7:30pm 
    • March 5: CityLab (510 West Broadway) from 10:30am – 1:30pm
    • March 7: Kitsilano Neighbourhood House (2305 West 7th Avenue) from 4:30 pm – 7:30pm
  • Talk to the team: Book a time to chat over the phone with a member of the Broadway Plan team through our Office Hours.

If you have any questions, please email us at broadwayplan@vancouver.ca.

Of course, those of us who have seen the utter futility of so-called public consultation in this City for the last dozen or so years may wonder whether it is a worthwhile exercise. Clearly the Planners have already decided what they want, and this is just a PR operation.

In a report about the development at 1477 W. Broadway, the Fairview/South Grandview Action Committee noted that:

“7 times throughout the Report, City staff state that the proposed height and density of the proposal aligns with the Broadway Plan Refined Directions, even though the Broadway Plan is not finished, nor has it been approved by Council.

In other words, the fix is already in, and these “consultations” are basically just to make us all feel a bit better about a process we have no control over.


Building For Whom?

March 2, 2022

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Elizabeth Murphy, an experienced observer of the Vancouver housing scene for many years, has written a well-argued piece in the latest Business in Vancouver delving into the recently-published census figures.

The pro-developer supplyists in this town keep on and on about our rising population providing, they claim, an urgent need to keep building more and more housing. However, as Murphy points out, the census shows Vancouver’s population continues to grow only at a modest 1% per year, just as it has done for more than a generation.

It is this kind of real data that infuriates the pro-developer crowd. They do their best to ignore it, as do their buddies in City Planning and City Council who have forced through building growth more than 20% greater than actual population growth in the last five years.

This extraordinary rush to build is at least partly responsible for the incredible rise we see in land prices as developers vie for lots to build on, leading us to a situation where the average household can no longer even dream of owing a home (absent a lottery win or a rich parent) nor even, indeed, of renting a place big enough to accommodate a family.

And still the developers and their shills want more even though as Murphy notes: “Development in the approval pipeline is already decades ahead of population growth, contrary to the supply deficit narrative.” This is far from a new problem here. I wrote a similar story back in 2016.

Not only is this frenzied building creating vast numbers of empty homes (about 23,000 according to the latest figures) and destroying all hope of affordability, the City has been unable to keep up with the basic infrastructure required to service these properties. As Murphy writes:

“The city has not kept up with promised amenities for rezoned areas such as Norquay, Fraser Lands, and Marpole. The Cambie Corridor doesn’t have enough servicing , such as sewers, for the rezoned capacity. There are billions of dollars of infrastructure and amenities required for even what has already been rezoned, plus what is proposed … Development only covers a small percentage of the actual costs of related infrastructure. And in the case of rental housing, most development fees are reduced or exempted. So most of these costs must be carried by property taxes and capital debt financing.”

She also comments on a possible solution:

“While growth is inevitable, there is a choice as to how this is done. The challenge is to do it in a way that provides the needed housing, without overwhelming  existing infrastructure. This requires incremental growth at a scale that new needed infrastructure can be affordably provided without inflating land values. These are the fundamentals of planning for a livable, affordable and sustainable city, not just unlimited growth promotion.”

As my Twitter handles states: we need to build for need not for greed.


Local Improvements?

February 6, 2022

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It’s an election year in Vancouver, so we can expect a steady stream of announcements from City Hall showing how well the administration is managing your tax dollars. These are usually delivered in the form of small local improvements or planning exercises. And sometimes they are used to take peoples’ minds off more important matters such as housing affordability, the opioid crisis, money laundering, and the developers’ hold over City business.

So, it was in this rather cynical frame of mind that I read two such announcements from this week.

The first was about the distribution of $2 million in grants to groups — such as the BIA and the Kettle — to help with street cleaning functions using homeless folks. Hard to argue with the utility of that, and it helps employ some of the Kettle’s neediest clients.

The second item involves the beginning of a four-year plan to upgrade the City’s 44,000 street lights, many of which are old and faulty. There is now an app you can use to report lights that are not working.

Much of the talk among my local group when this was announced was about replacing the current lights with ones that dim or switch off when not needed. It was noted that the energy savings alone should be enough to cover the costs of the relevant sensors.

Your tax dollars at work.


Steamrolling The Drive By Stealth

December 15, 2021

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In a short while, if the small business human scale vibe that is Commercial Drive is erased in favour of a homogenized street from anywhere, these are the names you will be able to blame:

The so-called Streamlining Rental report that I have discussed here and here was approved in full last night by all Councillors other than Cllr. Hardwick. It makes a great deal of the Vancouver Plan meaningless by pre-zoning huge areas City-wide.

More immediately for those of us in Grandview — and nothing to do with “streamlining rentals” –, it plants yet another boot in the groin of the Grandview Woodland Community Plan by encouraging greater height and retail spaces more suited to chain stores than local owner-rent-payers. This goes entirely against the Plan’s insistence and promise that:

“Zoning will remain unchanged [on Commercial Drive] … Because of the area’s significance to the community and the strong desire to maintain its low-scale character and form, the plan will ensure that other City policies that may otherwise allow for additional height will not apply.” (p.40)

The Mayor and the nine Councillors who voted for this Motion have obviously decided that promises made to East Vancouver about development hold as much water as their broken promise to keep taxes below 5%. This doesn’t come as much of a surprise.

Let’s make sure we remember at the next election those who voted today to ignore and disrespect the long-considered opinions of the local residents.


Yet Another Parks Board Mess

December 14, 2021

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Parks Commissioner Stuart Mackinnon of the Vancouver Green Party has introduced a Motion at Parks Board that advocates the “co-management of parklands” in Vancouver with the local First Nations. That sounds like a fine idea but, as with some other of this Board’s choices this term, it is being handled about as ineptly as one could imagine.

For all its reconciliation positivity, this Motion is illegal, impractical, and grossly undemocratic.

The Vancouver Parks Board operates under the Vancouver Charter which states, without ambiguity:

The Board shall have exclusive possession of, and exclusive JURISDICTION and CONTROL of all areas designated as permanent public parks of the City in a manner prescribed in subsection (5) of this section, and such areas shall remain as permanent public parks, and possession, jurisdiction and control of such areas shall be retained by the Board.”

As local filmmaker and activist Elvira Lount points out in a detailed response to the Motion, the definition of “exclusive” is “not shared”. Therefore this Motion is illegal as it seeks to share management and control. The Motion should be called out of order and withdrawn for this if for no other reason.

But there are all sorts of other reasons. Impracticality, for example. Quoting Ms. Lount once again:

“Adding a whole new layer of bureaucracy to the management of our 240+ parks is impractical, unnecessary and unrealistic. We already have a management system in place with an elected Board and the means for the public to have input through both electing Commissioners and providing feedback on various proposals …

“Adding a new layer of co-management bureaucracy is an expensive proposition … [with] all the staff and advisors working with that Co-manager in order to provide informed input. The additional cost would likely be in the many millions. How would this be funded?

And that brings up the issue of the undemocratic nature of the Motion. Again, Elvira Lount gets to the point:

“Adding a co-manager for all our parks would completely circumvent the democratic process, not only by ignoring the Vancouver Charter, but by favouring one group of voters over another, whomever they might be. It is no longer a consultative and advisory role, but a much more hands on, behind the scenes management role, and quite possibly not transparent and not subject to full scrutiny by the public … Who makes the final decisions when it comes to matters of management – the management staff answerable to an elected Park Board, or the co-manager answerable to no one?”

We are less than a year away from civic elections and a change of this importance needs to be decided by the entire electorate after a full debate, not just by the temporary majority on the Parks Board today.

I understand that this will now come up to the Board for consideration on 24th January, so there is plenty of time for you to get your comments about this proposal into the Parks Board.


The Olympics Is Obviously Not About Learning

December 10, 2021

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The City of Vancouver (or, rather, Mayor Kennedy Stewart alone), the City of Whistler, and four local First Nations today signed a Memorandum of Understanding to study the possibility of hosting the 2030 Winter Olympic Games.

You may recall that the 2010 Games led to the City of Vancouver incurring hundreds of millions of dollars of debt and, because of the machinations of Gregor Robertson, John Furlong, and Penny Ballem, the people of Vancouver are still not allowed to see the final accounting for a long time yet.

The 2010 Games were supposed to solve many of the City’s problems, not least of which was homelessness and affordability — but look at where we are today on those issues. The 2010 Games also led directly to a long period of austerity caused directly by the huge holes that the Games burrowed into both Provincial and City budgets. But we are supposed to forget about all that and cheer on another round of outrageous spending.

Councillor DeGenova, the Games uber-backer, says things will be different this time. Yeah, right.

I am not a great fan of the Olympics generally. However, I am content for them to happen here again but ONLY if there is a cast-iron guarantee that not one cent of Vancouver taxpayers’ money is spent, and that every service Vancouver supplies is paid for in full.


What Better City?

November 30, 2021

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I just received a mailing from Ken Sim for Mayor: A Better City. I suspect this went to every household as his well-heeled 1% backers can afford to spread their money around.

It is a full page letter in both English and Chinese, and in that full page there is not one word — not even a passing reference — to any policy statement. Nothing about housing and homelessness, nothing about development, nothing about the opioid crisis, nothing about transportation or economic development or public safety, nothing about schools or parks or indeed anything else.

Why would anyone want to donate to a candidate for Mayor who is only interested in talking about himself?

Our city is far too valuable to be put in the hands of someone who just wants to play personality politics.


The Broadway Plan: Wow!

November 19, 2021

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As time goes by we get better and more detailed analyses of the Broadway Plan. It sounded bad — a developer’s wet dream — from the very beginning, and ever-closer inspection reveals the horror show that could be inflicted on our city if it continues on its present path. With rumours afoot that the dreamed-up SkyTrain extension to UBC is getting pushed further and further back into the infrastructure priority queue, the entire Broadway Plan along with its attendant subway — the $3 billion hole to nowhere — seems more like development profit driving transit building rather than the other way round.

The always-diligent CityHallWatch have been digging into the bones of the so-called “shoulder areas” along Broadway which, they show, will soon “look like the downtown core.” And these are not insignificant little patches:

They further note that “most details” are still missing, and that Planners give no rationale for the identification of so much land as “shoulder areas.”

Their article goes into great detail about the problems inherent in this Plan and rather than try to summarize their excellent work I urge everyone interested in the future of Vancouver to give it a read.