(Below is an opinion piece submitted to CityHallWatch.)
The Future of Our Vancouver. Let’s Use Change to Nurture Neighbourhoods
by John Geddes
I care deeply about our city. I believe we can do better than the current Vancouver Plan, the Broadway Plan, and the Jericho Development Proposal by predicating the evolution of our city with a focus on people and their connections to one another.
Let’s build people-centred housing rather than replicating Metrotown. The distinctive character of our neighbourhoods is an asset too valuable to throw away.
This is my response to the recent opinion piece by Brent Toderian (Vancouver Sun): “New Broadway plan badly needed to tackle climate and housing crises”.
I agree with Mr. Toderian that we must do things differently. I also agree that a good plan must “skate to where the puck is going to be“ instead (in his words) of being excessively fixated on the interests, controversies and fears of today.
But it is clear that he and I have very different view of “where the puck is going to be”.
In his world and world of planners like himself, especially those in Vancouver, he believes that this must be determined by:
– the climate crisis,
– the housing/affordability crisis,
– the infrastructure and service cost crisis (aka the urban financial crisis),
– the social equity/racism/classism crisis,
– and the public health crisis. . . . all nice buzz-words*.
(* “Buzz-words – often an item of jargon, that is fashionable at a particular time or in a particular context”. I am not saying that these issues are not important; rather that they are being used with loaded assumptions in the context planning here in Vancouver.)
In my world, we need to be focused on building neighbourhoods. The weakening of community is tearing at our social fabric, and on many fronts, threatens to get worse. Our planning should be moving toward supporting neighbourhoods and building community. Toderian can claim expertise in urban planning but I don’t believe I need a degree in planning to see that Metrotown-like forests of towers are not the way to nurture neighbourhoods. Let’s compare the Arbutus Walk neighbourhood with Coal Harbour. Which has the greater feeling of community?
I don’t understand how planners can defend proposals like the Broadway Plan and Jericho Lands development? Where is the community in these walls of 40-storey monsters and supporting cast of 15 and 20 storey towers. How does the re-creation of Metrotown in Jericho/Point Grey relate to the natural beauty of one of Vancouver’s most loved park areas, to the long-standing Vancouver connection to the land? How does a collection of high rises build and support connections between people? How does it help them reinforce their community values? In my view, it does none of these things.
Plans like the Broadway Plan, the Vancouver Plan, and the Jericho Lands proposal attack the concept of community. It is proposed that we sacrifice existing neighbourhoods, their values, and their traditions on the altar of today’s planning buzz words.
Make no mistake, I am not saying that we do not need to accommodate the future including significant additional density, but other great cities show us there are better paths. We can do better but it will take a change of mindset that puts community first.
I scanned the draft Vancouver Plan for any use of the word “neighbourhood”. I found no specific references to any existing Vancouver neighbourhood**. Doesn’t it strike you as odd that such a plan does not contain an inventory of existing neighbourhoods, their history, and their character? Doesn’t it strike you as odd that this plan makes no reference to how it will support and nurture our existing communities as it expands them into the future?
When I visit great cities – London, New York, Paris — I am always aware of the neighbourhoods within the larger whole. These cities have preserved and built upon their neighbourhood traditions. They have not bulldozed them into oblivion. They have not torn them apart. They have not displaced existing residents in wholesale clearings.
I suggest that the residents of Vancouver are not served by (in Toderian’s words) “transforming a big part of the city”. We want to live here. To grow here. To make friends here. To have connection with others.
The residents of Vancouver are people that are invested in their city, in their neighbourhoods, for the long term. They are not “units of housing occupation”. They are not transitory elements to be moved from one “new town” to the next to satisfy the needs of a CAC-hungry City administration or the profit needs of major developers. [CAC = community amenity contributions normally paid by developers when major rezonings/development projects get approved]
Toderian and like-minded planners appear to me to have completely lost sight of the right goal. Even with the best of intentions, they have become detached from the people they say they are serving. They are skating to what will be an empty part of the rink. And tragically they are determined to take us all with them.
Well, I for one am not interested.
Respect us and our communities or step aside.
** The word “neighbourhood” appears only ten times in the 150-page draft of the Vancouver Plan. Of those only two mention a neighbourhood name. One refers to the False Creek Energy Utility and the other as part of tag line for a picture mentions the Little Mountain Neighbourhood House. It is more difficult to search for specific neighbour names (e.g Kits, Point Grey, Mount Pleasant, West End, Fairview, Marpole, Renfrew, etc) but for those I checked, I found nothing except some picture captions.