My friend Sandy Garossino, running for a spot on Vancouver City Council
Early readers of this blog are probably wondering what happened to it. Yes, it’s more political now and ostensibly less focused on pure design, but I’m not sure I believe in the existence of “pure design” anyway. I’ve argued all along that design and politics are intimately related, and that the way we make our houses and settlements and cities says far more about our beliefs than we realize. Whether we know it or not, aesthetics are the thin end of the wedge of our politics and philosophy, and to me it just seems artificial to de-link them. Design nerds already know that our environment affects our thinking and behaviour in many conscious and unconscious ways—from the objects and tools we use, to the interiors and buildings we spend our time in, to the cities and towns we live in or near. I suppose this is why I recently became more interested in urban planning, and as soon as you’re talking urban planning, you’re talking civic politics. The effort to produce a livable, well-designed city often entails intense political struggle, as I found out myself last year (see below). On a more personal level, even the effort to make my own house livable and well-designed has come up against obstructive City of Vancouver rules that just make zero sense. Let’s just say that the design rules are ill-designed. This is where my friend Sandy Garossino comes in.
As some of you know, last year Sandy and I founded a group to fight an idiotic proposal to expand gambling in Vancouver. Pavco, a Crown Corporation in BC, wanted to build a Vegas-style mega-casino smack in the middle of our downtown. However, we felt gambling had expanded too far already. Meanwhile a social contract had been broken, one also contrary to law: the proceeds of gambling no longer went to the charities that justified expansion of gambling in the first place. The fight was long and stressful but also undeniably fun, and it wasn’t just fun because we managed to defeat a terrible thing that we’d been assured was a done deal. Everyone likes to triumph after being told it’s impossible, everyone likes a righteous David and Goliath story, but above all it was fun because of the friend I was fighting alongside.
I guess by now it’s obvious I’m openly using this blog to endorse Sandy as a candidate for Vancouver City Council. Why did she decide to run? It started with the casino campaign experience, which really taught us how City Hall works. And doesn’t work. There’s nothing like running an activist fight at the city level to learn how City Hall is organized. While on the one hand Sandy discovered what was broken, the fight also gave her a stronger appreciation for the city and a feeling for what might make it better. A city is a complicated entity. It’s the ultimate puzzle for a natural problem solver.
Sandy is running for City Council as an Independent by choice. We both found the partisan politics at City Hall to be toxic and entirely counter-productive to problem-solving. I agree with her, as do many, that Vancouver is at the cliff edge of some serious problems: property speculation, skyrocketing house and rent prices, poverty, arts flight and general brain drain, too much unregulated control over City Hall by developers and other big players, and a resulting lack of coherent vision or neighbourhood consultation. Under these conditions, party politics are getting in the way of solutions. Other cities in the Pacific Rim have already put mechanisms to moderate property speculation in place; Vancouver is behind.
If anyone could begin to formulate solutions to these problems, it would be Sandy. A former Crown prosecutor, then a businessperson, then a publisher and effective arts advocate, she has an unusual diversity of experience and skills. She’s tactically brilliant, naturally inclusive and friendly, non-ideological, respectful and has a strong sense of social justice. She can work cooperatively alongside anyone. Her distrust of ideology doesn’t mean she doesn’t have views on how to solve problems; it means she isn’t bound by out-dated solutions. She questions everything, even her own assumptions, and this is partly what makes her a good listener. She doesn’t prejudge things; she intelligence-gathers. Having said this, though, if I had to pin down her politics down I’d say she’s a classic small-l liberal – she deeply wants to sustain and attract business here, especially knowledge and creative industries, but she also deeply believes in a compassionate society that takes care of its weakest members; she’s the lead advocate for charities and non-profits all over BC, and she stands up to power. She’s closely tied to culturally diverse communities, especially the South Asian community she married into. She’s a member of Asia & India-related think tanks at both SFU and UBC. I believe Sandy is unique in her credentials and in her way of doing things.
Some have said that Independents can’t make change against the backdrop of a party majority in Council. I don’t agree. When you have someone in the room who’s able to bring people together, to bring out the ideal in people, the whole climate changes. I saw this myself during our casino campaign – Sandy has a knack for bringing extremely diverse and often opposed people to the same table, and eventually everyone ends up allied in a cause and even shifting opinions while also having an extremely good time. It’s amazing. And she’s a riot. I love her. Vote for her! She has a chance if we actually get everyone out to vote. The city will be better designed on every level if we can just get her in to Council. Low voter turnout is the enemy of Independents.