Key questions to Mayor & Council

Statement on “Neighbourhood Planning Priorities” Motion, 4 November 2010
By Carole Walker
Download: Carole Walker, key questions to Mayor & Council, 4-Nov-2010

Mayor and Council:

On September 23, 2010, while discussing the motion on Transparent Neighbourhood Consultation, Mayor Robertson said:

  • “We really need to make some fundamental changes in how things are done.”

I agree that fundamental changes have to be made. Until those changes are made going ahead with even one neighbourhood planning process will be a waste of time, energy and money. And in the meantime rezoning must be stopped or one community after another will lose its character, diversity, liveability, affordability, and heritage.

  • “The West End is one of the great neighbourhoods of the world I would say and it has been stitched together through patchwork of process through many decades.”

I agree that the West End is a great neighbourhood.  We are such a neighbourhood largely because willy-nilly development was halted. A planning process which engaged the community was undertaken. The Policy Guidelines and Zoning that came out of that process were respected by both City Councils and developers until about two and one-half years ago. And, I might add, that there has been a lot of development within those Policy Guidelines and Zoning in the last 20 years. This proves that old processes and plans do work unless you change the goals.

  • “We need an evolutionary leap in how we do planning and development in this city and it has to bring neighbourhoods, developers, and the building industry, our planners and city staff and our council here together working in  sync  to have real solutions that make our city better, that allow us to respond to the challenges of affordability, climate change and environmental pressures and to aging in place and keeping our communities cohesive……”

Yes, Mayor Robertson, now we come to the crux of the matter.  This where the first questions have to be asked and answered in depth and with understanding before any meaningful planning can be undertaken.  Here are the questions:

1.      What will make our city “better”?  What does “better” mean?  How does each of Vancouver’s 22 neighbourhoods fit into making the City “better”?

2.      What does “affordability” mean?  “Affordable” for whom?  How is “affordability” created and maintained? How do we know?  What drives up all housing prices, whether rental or owner occupied accommodation?  What role does zoning and/or other factors play in “affordability”?   How and why?

3.      What are the needs and wants of “developers” and the “building industry”?  Are there limits to those wants and needs?  If so, what are they?  If there are no limits, what are the consequences for “climate change” and “environmental pressures” and indeed for “keeping our communities cohesive”?

4.      Are there limits to the population growth of the City?  If yes, what are they and what are the consequences?  If not, what are the consequences for the City, the environment, climate change, “community cohesiveness” and “affordability”?

5.      Can all wants and needs ever be met?  If yes, how?  If not, which will be satisfied and which sacrificed?

These are big and pertinent questions.  As I see it, only when these questions are answered will community plans have any hope of being sound, sustainable and workable for even the shortest of time.

In conclusion let’s answer the big questions and then get on with good, sound planning for as many neighbourhoods as possible.  “Put the horse before the cart” as the saying goes.

One thought on “Key questions to Mayor & Council

  1. A few days ago I read, Cityhallwatch: Citizen Reviews of Major Rezoning Applications in Vancouver and concluded this is a pretty potent blog.
    Essentially, many topics, current height increases downtown and how they impinge on views are reviewed.
    But, CityHallWatch also casts a wider net requesting Mayor and Council review the City’s planning process, particularly with the handling of public consultation and preparation.
    To me recent reviews and lack of searching insights describe a planning department, and indeed council, completely out of it, in a profound sea of confusion: current development in gross disarray attests.
    Evidently the Director of Planning believes he is understaffed, running now with sixty personnel: he opines a need for one hundred.
    Given what the input of cognizant, unfettered citizens’, experiences at ground level, the director of planning needs a wake-up.
    He needs go farther: absolutely the whole civic administrative apparatus needs to be reviewed: nay changed, re-educated: personnel, qualifications and attitudes.
    So far as his department is concerned, and in my decades of experience, what his department needs is not more but different, better, more sensitive and spatially aware planners.
    Above all he must announce conclusively his personnel is working in the interest of the city and its people . . . and mean it . . . not in the interests of the development community!
    Vancouver is a failed city:

    1. The City’s Mount Pleasant policy Report, Nov. 02, ’10 is a disaster: a worn out rote technique that in the end will be ignored because the developers have the last word on everything city-wise.
    MP is a mad house consumed by dangerous, ugly traffic and noise and dilapidated ugly buildings.

    I recorded decibel levels, recently, at 80-90 dbls on Main and on Broadway: absolutely unacceptable for a neighbourhood planned to be a Village on the Hill.
    Nowhere in the plan is traffic and traffic din addressed because, so far as I can see, most of the conversation is co-opted by poseurs constantly repeating their own pet obsessions, unwilling, incapable, of addressing the big picture.
    Too much density, not enough Eco: Indeed all density . . . no Eco!
    2. Vancouver has no wealth-creating base and is making no effort to build one. Everyone is a realtor, a barista or a government employee. With no import substitution policy if the San Joaquin freezes so do we!
    3. Vancouver is constantly comparing itself with other cities: i.e. Portland and Seattle, the latter being on an unsustainable war footing drowning in debt. Such imbalanced comparisons betray a deep sense of civic inadequacy.
    4. “Green” City is a mean and very shallow attempt to paper over problems: playing land lift with 600-700 hundred feet, making no attempt to calm traffic, indeed exacerbating the problem with Gateway, SFPR/NFPR, C$3.5M on bike lanes catering to a vociferous cohort that makes up 3% or less of road traffic. All of that is sheer cynical abdication of political responsibility. And don’t blame VV: this is an accumulation of vanity and empty promises.
    5. Translink, a supposed Metro transportation authority, is completely in the pocket of Bombardier and other corporate lobbyists. Talk of shiny underground trinkets disrupting and digging up viable through ways for years is absurd: expensive tunneling would be so expensive as to caste doubt on the sanity of its proponents, especially since the unacknowledged city debt level precludes the manifestation of such delusions.
    6. Affordability. We cannot afford to live in our own city. The only game in town is promoting off-shore money looking for a hedge against the US failing $! The city is building debt, denying it is building debt, playing legerdemain with the tax base and generally playing fiscal games.
    7. Aesthetically the city is in distress: elevating architects of mediocre talents and vainly looking for the signature building make matters worse: i.e. the waterfront conference center and CC west: derivatively blatant abuses of a magnificent site, and worse nobody knows it! The party wall is the secret to good urbanism yet it deprives the architect her right to strut her stuff. Bah humbug!
    The city needs change, big time, not more of the same. Evidently, in holding this opinion I am not alone.
    Need I go on? Failed city. Verdad. The list is too long, and until we find the jam to articulate the future, instead of showing off our cozy, prolix pusillanimous prowess, it can only get worse!

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