Posts Tagged ‘Vision Vancouver’

The “Non-Partisan” Association, Vancouver’s zombie political party

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

NPA Vancouver

This post is for Vancouverites who are either new to the city or who are urban or civic politics nerds but may not be acquainted with the early historical roots of the local civic political party known—somewhat hilariously—as the Non Partisan Association (NPA). In power for many years, the NPA was recently all-but eliminated by a new developer-funded party, Vision Vancouver. However, lately the NPA seems to be attempting a zombie return from the dead, so a review of its history seems useful.

Some excerpts from the 1967 Vancouver Sun article above (read it here (jpg)]:

“It was the success of the CCF—now NDP [now COPE]—at the local level in the civic elections of 1936 which was a second major factor in the organization of the NPA [the first was the move from a ward system to an at-large system in 1936]… [I]ts purpose was to keep CCF-socialist politics out [of city hall]… Unquestionably the NPA has been the “party” of the west side of the city, and has helped to maintain the split of east-side west-side which has been of fundamental importance in the politics of Vancouver for nearly 50 years. Because NPA candidates have dominated the civic boards for 30 years, west-side interests have made policy for the city for 30 years…. It was the fear of the policies and legislation which east side, “socialistic” representatives would bring to city council and civic boards, and of more importance the concern with the political power which civic office would bring them, which prompted the organization of the NPA…”

… & so on. It’s fascinating reading, revealing a party that is the furthest thing from non-partisan. Even when it pulls in candidates from across the city, it represents a particular establishment and political stripe.

By raising this party’s past I am not suggesting that a political party cannot drift from its original purpose. I’m suggesting that this one hasn’t. I would also say that it is usually difficult for an institution to alter its very DNA, and when political DNA does change, historically it has been infinitely more common to see a drift from left to right (via a co-optation by business interests) than to see a drift in the other direction. Certainly it seems very unlikely that a party this genetically close to west side and business establishment interests will be truly interested in, for example, the open government and “transparency” issue it has now mounted on its campaign like a parade float mascot.

While the NPA’s activities may have been more benign during certain periods—say, the administration of Mayor Philip Owen in the 1990s—it is worth taking a look at the most recent NPA regime of Mayor Sam Sullivan. Sullivan’s euphemistic “ecodensity” program turbo-charged the tower development bonanza that is laying waste to this city’s affordability and built heritage, and that Vision Vancouver has even further accelerated but just under a different name.

Which takes me to my next point, that the incumbent faux-green party Vision Vancouver is no alternative to the NPA. Vision Vancouver and the NPA have a great deal in common, not least their identical corporate real estate funders. While Vision is backed by an NDP element, its  ties to the construction industry’s unions have only rendered it more friendly to rampant luxury developers and property speculators. This is all shorthand for a much more complicated situation that I’m not going to footnote or otherwise elaborate on here. Much ink has been spilled on this topic, and better ink than this.

Tactically speaking I believe the best we can hope for in the November 2014 civic election is a minority civic government. We then at least have a small chance of getting some traction. I will be supporting a number of candidates (TBA) including the three Green council candidates Adriane Carr, Pete Fry and Cleta Brown, and Keith Higgins and Gayle Gavin of COPE (with Meena Wong for Mayor). These parties do not take developer donations. In the second-most unaffordable city in the world relative to median income, a distinction Vancouver has won the past three years in a row, we need to try something else.

Vancouver did many things right in the 70s. Most of the things it is now rightly famous for were the work of more progressive administrations, not of the most recent developer-funded administrations. We need to return to a progressive civic politics. Bike lanes and faux-transparency do not a progressive housing agenda make.

The intention of this post, hastily written in the news doldrums of pre-election summertime, is merely to provide a little interesting reading on the topic of the NPA’s ancient history. Maybe this is also a bid for some consciousness of civic history in this famously amnesiac town.

Here is a link to a 5 MB jpg of the news story above. Feel free to download.

Alternatively take a look at this useful 1976 grad thesis on the origins of the NPA (PDF).

 

A friend put this captioned magazine page through my mailbox

Thursday, May 29th, 2014

death of design

This made me laugh pretty hard.

Also, courtesy of the enjoyable fuckyournoguchitable tumblr: antlers, actual real taxidermy, fake taxidermy, steer skull and cardboard antlers.

Meanwhile, as Vancouver’s historic Chinatown gets very quickly gentrified–evacuations of historic businesses, sales and demolitions of buildings, and the erection new glass luxury condos—we see it  filling up with upscale little restaurants and cafes full of… antlers. This white man’s pioneer or settler style, circa 1890s, sits aggressively in Chinatown, which was itself founded in the very period these antler references hark back to, if not decades before. It’s as if Chinatown never happened.

Downtown Eastside Local Area Plan or DTES LAP

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

DTES LAP

The Downtown Eastside Local Area Plan or DTES LAP is a comprehensive plan for a significant area of downtown/East Vancouver. It goes before City Council this week, where Council seems likely to pass it despite significant opposition.

You can get a copy of the LAP—which released only two weeks before going to Council, despite consisting of 450+ pages—from Publication Studio in Chinatown, who have kindly printed it for public accessibility on a pay-what-you-can basis.

The plan is, in my opinion, a fairly massive giveaway to condo developers by the developer-friendly civic party Vision Vancouver. It conforms to a way of running and envisioning cities that is increasingly being termed neoliberal urbanism. See also this article on this approach.

I am by no means an expert on this very complicated plan and all the issues involved. But based on what I have learned from months of discussions down here in the DTES as well as living down here for 12 years, I find the following takes on the issue compelling (and will be adding more soon).

Advocate/PhD student Melissa Fong’s speech to Council is excellent.

Carnegie Community Action Project letter to Council

Statement by Strathcona Residents Association

Why developers don’t like the DTES LAP by Media Coop (in effect, developers dislike the only parts of the plan I endorse)

Where do working class ethnic enclaves fit into our future cities, in Megaphone Magazine

And the official links:

Staff Report and Plan

http://vancouver.ca/files/cov/report-downtown-eastside-local-area-plan-2014-feb-24.pdf

Social Impact Assessment

http://strathcona-residents.org/files/social-impact-assessment-2014-feb-26.pdf

Corporate Communications presentation for media

http://vancouver.ca/files/cov/executive-summary-dtes-local-area-plan-2014-feb-27.pdf

Lastly here is an interesting comment on the DEOD section of the LAP (please comment if you disagree, or have anything to add):

“Lastly, there has been a good deal of concern over proposed “no-condo zone” in the 10 blocks of the DEOD. In many respects we feel this is a bit of a red herring. The pretense includes 40% market rental and 20% “affordable” housing – with the remaining 40% split between shelter rate and CMHC’s Housing Income allowance (30% income) rate. To put a dollar value on that, a one bedroom at the CMHC rate would be about $950, a one-bedroom at the “affordable” rate would be about $1350. The scheme proposed significant height and density increases and relies on uncommitted federal / provincial money and developer levies. We feel that the “upzoning” being proposed will cause significant land lift and resultant speculation that will negatively impact retail and industrial diversity as well as social sustainability and liveability, and ironically the very “affordable housing” it is proposing to protect. For perspective on the market economics driving purpose built rental, we suggest the Western Investor’s recent “Why New Rentals are Being Built” article provides some context behind the market economics behind schemes like this and Rental 100 in the West End.”

We also need to talk about the City’s rather arbitrary population growth projections which seem to be the justification for allowing developers the density bonuses they seek. Not that density is bad, but how is the idea of density being mobilized and for whose benefit?

Imminent demolition of 122 year old building in Vancouver’s old Japantown

Tuesday, December 3rd, 2013

Demolition of 120 year old Ming Sung Benevolent Society building/SRO/art space

The frantic festival of demolition continues in Vancouver, a city whose demolition rate is double that of Toronto’s. And Toronto is no paragon of heritage either.

The City of Vancouver is attempting to force demolition of the 122 year-old building which belongs to the Ming Sun Benevolent Society. The building, on a significant block of Vancouver’s vanishing old Japantown, functioned as a clean well-run SRO with eight units and a community reading and meeting room, all above an extensive cultural space rented out to an art collective called Instant Coffee. The art collective produced the poster above.

The building was said to be structurally damaged (it wasn’t) when the building next door, for unknown reasons (vandalism? sabotage? maintenance issues?) cracked and then was hastily ordered demolished by the City. By most accounts the City bears  responsibility for this situation. Following the demolition next door, the City then condemned the Ming Sun building and barred tenants from entering. These elderly tenants, mostly Chinese Canadian and First Nations, were evicted without warning. They were given no time to collect their belongings. The City took no responsibility for finding replacement housing for them, and some went on to sleep rough. It now appears that the building will be demolished by this Friday. The owner, a Chinese family association, is unable to pay for the demolition and rebuilding and will therefore be forced to sell the lot to the City.

Members and former residents of the Benevolent Society are beyond distraught.

In all of this there is rumoured involvement of a neighbouring landowner, said to have ties to the City, who has had his eye on these lots, but this is not yet confirmed. In any case there have been reports of what appears to be suspicious vandalism of the Ming Sung building since the City closed it off.

Access to the building is currently barred. The Instant Coffee art collective is unfortunately away in Korea working on a project. Its friends in Vancouver would like to help but are unable to enter and clear out all its goods. The City has been arbitrary and unresponsive throughout with all parties. Its uncommunicativeness serves to give the appearance of wanting to bury the story and complete the demolitions as fast as possible before an outcry can be raised. If the belongings of the tenants are destroyed in a demolition – and since tenants can’t get in to retrieve their possessions this seems inevitable – will the City compensate them? And in a city that is the 2nd most unaffordable in the world relative to median income, where will these tenants go?

The City has said, and will no doubt continue to say, that the public doesn’t have all the facts (and given the lack of transparency of the current administration, there’s often some truth to that), that the offending building is a “fire trap” (ie. the municipal version of the “national security” excuse), and in short that the City knows best.

But does it?

This is one of the the twenty oldest buildings in the City and a good example of that era’s boomtown architecture. It offers affordable housing to seniors in the Downtown Eastside. It is an important component of cultural life for the Chinese community.  It played a major role in the history of Japantown and the Japanese Canadian community in Vancouver. And it provides valuable affordable art space in a city where that commodity is fast diminishing. Affordable housing, a hedge against homelessness, a sturdy old resilient building made of old growth lumber that would be non-ecological to replace, a piece of architectural heritage for many communities and for the whole city, and affordable studio space for the arts. This building matched every stated objective of the current regime at City Hall. And they’re now mandating its demolition, for no reason. They must make this right.

How is any of this in line with the City’s stated commitment to affordable housing, to protecting the arts from unaffordability, and to heritage values? The city’s new heritage plan was announced only this week. Other cities maintain buildings in far worse shape than this one.

How is any of this demolition part of a Greenest City initiative?

Those of us who live and work down here are closely watching the City of Vancouver, the ruling Vision Vancouver party run by Mike Magee, and City Manager Penny Ballem. This level of hermetic and arbitrary behaviour is undemocratic and just one more example of the poor urban management we’ve been enduring here.

Powell Street demolition

The first demolition on the Powell Street block in question. This photo taken in August.

Interior design and architecture in a world gentrifying at a surreal pace

Thursday, June 20th, 2013

hong kong micro apartments

New York condo penthouse

In case you think that what follows is an exaggeration, please take a quick look at the recent articles listed below. They are only a small selection from a rising wave of articles on gentrification and the new super-rich. It’s interesting that the New York-based City Limits piece mentions Vancouver first; we are after all a world leader in unaffordability, non-regulation, luxury towers and property speculation. But the Paris article is particularly depressing. I’m not even going to go into the mega-developments inflaming Istanbul.

Financial Times:  Priced Out of Paris: Our great, global cities are turning into vast gated citadels where the elite reproduces itself
Financial Times:  The Future of the American City
City Limits:  Embrace the Worldwide Movement Against Gentrification
CBC:  World’s Wealthy Richer Than Ever

I’ve noticed little consideration of what the disappearance of the middle class is going to mean, in a concrete way, for cities, architecture and design.

As most of us are quickly priced out of our former living arrangements by the buying and investment practices of the new global elite—by the lack of regulation that allows these practices and by the real estate development industry that profits from them—most of us have only two choices. We must either migrate out to suburbs or outlying towns, or we can attempt to hang on in the cities, accepting smaller and smaller spaces, higher rents, higher land prices and rising property taxes. (Or move to another city altogether, hoping for a job in a place not subject to global speculation.) Meanwhile the very urban “density” supposedly designed to combat unsustainable urban sprawl now sits largely empty, awaiting infrequent or nonexistent visits from jet-setting owners, and sprawl proceeds apace while big developers make wild fortunes at everyone else’s expense.

It feels increasingly creepy that the “shelter magazines” promoting home decor haven’t really dealt with this yet, except in an accommodating manner. Yes, they’ve always pandered to the very rich, and to those who like to look at the homes of the very rich (myself included), and they will keep doing that. (Though I’m not sure how they’ll deal with the increasing unease about income disparity that is starting to seize all sectors of their readership, at both the top and near-bottom of the income scale.) Meanwhile there is now an entire industry in “decorating in small spaces” publications. Despite being a homewares designer myself, I realized lately that somewhere along the way I stopped buying shelter magazines. Maybe it’s that their disconnection from reality  crossed a threshold into a creepy surreality that’s part Brazil, part David Foster Wallace, part generic dystopia. That whole world seems to have its fingers in its ears right now.  La la la la I can’t hear you.

As for the design effects, the eradication of the middle class is almost certainly already affecting the design and quality of manufactured items, as well as the form of our architecture and the development of architectural styles, in ways no one seems to talk about. I’d be curious to know if anyone has yet inventoried these formal changes and market patterns. The loss of quality, the loss of design integrity, the cheapness at the low end, the grotesque baroquerie or conspicuous consumption at the top.

The first pattern that comes to mind is architects taking a back seat to developers and marketers in the profit-maximizing climate. The result is what’s known around here as “marketecture.” Increasingly the form of buildings has nothing to do with what city-dwellers or planners would like to see built, or that good architects would envision. Instead it has everything to do with what developers can get away under the limits imposed upon them by building regulations and horse-trading with city halls. The architect of these structures is pure profit maximization in partnership with what’s allowed by building codes. Insert those two parameters into a blender and what comes out at the other end is a generic glass tower. When a think tank of Harvard planners visited Vancouver last year, one of the remarked upon looking at downtown Vancouver from across False Creek “can you have good urbanism without good architecture?”

Pardon this meandering essay, which takes on too many points at once around the issues of income disparity, design, property speculation and a host of related problems. Just thinking aloud.

As for the design magazines and house porn I’m not saying we shouldn’t look at beautiful places, or that it’s wrong to be curious about how others live, nor that we should spend every minute in painful awareness that we’re fiddling while Rome burns, even if we are. It’s just that personally I don’t want to browse through any more photos of tiny, boring, contempo, cream-upholstery-with-dark-wood-veneer, cheaply built 600 sq.ft. condos that cost half a million bucks as if everything is still fine. Why are we willing to live in cramped and indebted conditions when all our surrounding culture and vibrancy is quickly exiting our cities and relocating in the suburban sprawl? While small living is good, environmentally speaking, cramped living must be offset by other cultural benefits and vibrancy. The thing is, the opposite is happening. The current speculative climate is driving those compensations away, leaving us just with unaffordability and urban sterility.

We should be pushing for multiple forms of regulation of the real estate industry, including tax deterrents and other mechanisms, and we should be forcing on governments the understanding that housing, like food, should not be viewed as just another class of asset or investment tool. Housing must be viewed as a human right and should be protected as such.

This will improve not only the affordability of our cities, and thus ensure the vibrant mix of people who live in them, but it will also improve  the physical form of our cities,  architecture and design. But I think the architecture and design communities can no longer behave as if they operate in a realm separate from an increasingly distorted political economy.

What can we do? Vote in civic elections, and make sure we don’t vote for any candidate or party that takes donations from developments. That’s rule no. 1.

Photo at top via ABC News.

small-space-decorating

On Rize (Or Forcing A Luxury Highrise On A Neighbourhood That Really Doesn’t Want It)

Thursday, April 5th, 2012

UPDATE: This disastrous, precedent-setting development was passed by our City Council, dominated by supposedly “green” Vision Vancouver, in a 9-1 vote.  It was not sent back to design; only vague requests to the developer to make it smaller and less ugly were uttered. They mean nothing and have no weight; they were only meant to appease community rage. The only vote against was from Councillor Adriane Carr, the sole Green councillor on Council. Which is ironic, don’t you think?

Please not that the developer, Rize Alliance, made campaign donations to Vision Vancouver and it seems likely there were favours above and beyond recorded donations, as this is the way it works. We need electoral reform in this province IMMEDIATELY. City Councillors should not be considering development applications from the developers who donate to their campaigns. I supported candidate Sandy Garossino in the November 2011 civic election not just because she’s at least as good a candidate as all the others (that’s putting it mildly), but because she refused all campaign donations from developers. And I know for a fact that she was offered money by many developers. Vancouverites should be prepared to fight for electoral reform. In the meantime it should also prepare to fight the next tower/podium to be forced on its neighbourhoods. The development industry can’t win the next one.

____________________________________

This post is about a proposed luxury highrise development known as “Rize” (no comment on the name) in the heart of Vancouver’s historic Mt. Pleasant district. Like many other Vancouverites I see this development as setting a very worrying precedent for the city if it goes ahead. The desire to maximize profits off every plot of land in the city in an unchecked manner has contributed to a massive level of unaffordability and a climate of hot property speculation. This intrusive, tall luxury condo sitting on blocky big-box stores will bring this development behaviour out of Vancouver’s downtown core and into a vulnerable residential district.

[If you live in Vancouver and care about the way this city is increasingly un-piloted now that developers run the place, NOW is the time to write your letter. It’s easy—even one sentence is enough. Click here to send an email to Vancouver’s mayor and council. Just say no.]

Before I start, please see the following arguments against this development, far more authoritative than my own:

• Visit the RAMP (Residents Association of Mount Pleasant) website for many excellent resources on this topic.

Letter by Glenn Alteen, Exec. Dir. of the Grunt Gallery in Mt. Pleasant

Letter by Brian McBay and Allison Collins of 221A Artist-run Centre

Letter from Lorna Brown, Vancouver curator and Director of Other Sights

Letter by Federal MP Libby Davies & BC MLA Jenny Kwan

• Comments by Journalist Frances Bula and also read the comments by Vancouverites experienced in planning issues

• “What the hell is going on in this city?” by developer Michael Geller

• “Unaffordable, that’s what you are” by Sandy Garossino (on general unaffordability issues)

MAIN OBJECTIONS

Many Vancouverites have made excellent and detailed arguments regarding technical planning and zoning matters. I don’t need to reiterate those here, even if I could. They are all available on the RAMP Residents Association of Mount Pleasant website and in the arguments above. Instead I would like to address the way broader problems afflicting our City bear upon the Rize application:

CONSULTATION & LACK THEREOF

I’ve only opposed Vancouver developments twice. I’m not sure it’s a coincidence that both were in the last year. Vancouver is a turning point. Not only is it famously, drastically unaffordable, but developers have run out of empty industrial land in the downtown core and are greedily eyeing old neighbourhoods. Furthermore developers have an unprecedented stranglehold over City Hall.

I should also note that this is the second time I’ve opposed a rezoning that Vancouverites overwhelmingly don’t want, an unpopular development that looks like a done deal before it’s even been properly presented to the public. The first was a mega-casino proposed for downtown. The second is “Rize.”

My objection is exactly the same for Rize as it was for the Edgewater mega-casino that I helped defeat last year. The supposed community consultation process is a manifest failure. Had it successfully encapsulated community values there would not have been historic and widespread opposition to this proposal. Dramatic shifts in zoning allowances should only come with a mandate from the community. That is missing here.

It’s the lack of sincere, effective consulation that has led to this pitched battle with the developer. The behaviour of the developer is not surprising; branding oneself a “community developer” and then calling the community NIMBYs when they oppose your plan is what you would expect a profit-maximizing developer to do. Despite the developer’s cynical chess game, the problem is fundamentally a failure at the City level. We need a better process for the sake of everyone involved. Does City Council—and do developers—really want to run the gauntlet of an irate community with every spot zoning? Should the community have to spend thousands of hours fighting wrong-headed developments that don’t serve their needs? This is fantastically expensive, undemocratic, and politically incendiary. Mt. Pleasant is Ground Zero of Vision Vancouver voters. Do they really want to risk their Van East base?

And as many have argued, there are better ways of building the city. If developers were made to work with the community from Day 1, made to find out what it is the community actually needs, both sides would benefit. Ward 20 in Toronto works this way; if a developer’s project wins early community approval, it is fast-tracked through City Hall’s permits process. Did the community consultation process impede development in Ward 20? No. That single Toronto ward enjoys the most development East of Winnipeg. And it won both development and community happiness in one go. Ours is not an anti-development, NIMBY position. It’s the position of people who would like to have a say in what building forms and housing supplies are plonked in their neighbourhood. Quite frankly, “NIMBY” ought to refer to the behaviour of those who don’t actually have to live around the consequences of their actions. Or around the impoverished architecture they’re forcing on others.

The only healthy end to this proposal is to listen to the community, send the project back to the design stage, and lower its height to a level the community can tolerate. 8-10 storeys. Remove some parking, remove the big box stores and the loading bay threatening historic Watson Street’s pedestrian and cycling life.

And then fix your consultation process, City Hall!

LUXURY CONDOS AND SPECULATION

Is this the right development for this neighbourhood, let alone this city? Do we need more luxury (ie. view) housing in this town, let alone highrises? No. As a friend of mine pointed out, all this talk of “supply” solving the unaffordability problem ignores basic economics. Remember market segmentation in Economics 101? Making more Lexuses simply does not bring down the price of a Prius or a family minivan. The supply we have been producing is expensive view properties in tall towers. However I notice the supply talk is becoming more muted, and maybe this is because the community is cottoning on. I certainly hope so, because we have to quickly face the fact that 20 intensive years of condo tower production has only been concurrent with skyrocketing property prices, not more affordability. How do the proponents of more towers explain this? It’s no coincidence.

In Vancouver, condos are widely considered to be great places to park money. They’re too small to park families, but they’re a great place to put your cash. And the more we build of them, the more appetite grows for them as investment units, for both locals and foreigners. Add to this the complete and unusual lack of regulations on property buying in Vancouver, and you have a perfect speculation climate.

Furthermore, towers do not add the density percentage their proponents claim. Local experts say towers don’t actually house very many people for all their impact on a community, including skyrocketing property prices. Vancouver’s West End, when it was lower rise, had 21,000 people. Then it went to towers, and now it’s only 32,000. Not even double, yet the effect on property values has been deleterious.

Glass towers are not green, Vision Vancouver. They’re cheap for developers to build, but they are not sustainable. The claim that they are is a canard, and in the last year alone visiting architects from Harvard and across Europe have shaken their head at what’s going on in Vancouver. See this post on why these towers are not green: The End of the Age of Tall Buildings.

Condo towers were fine downtown perhaps (though as it turns out their production has undoubtedly fuelled speculation, and I’m not going to get into the problems experienced by our downtown tower neighbourhoods). At least we tolerated them there, green or not, livable or not. They were built on relatively empty industrial land. But now that these downtown lands have filled up, the megadevelopers who built that forest of glass towers wants to push them into existing neighbourhoods. Problem is, every time a tall tower is built, there is an immediate rise in surrounding property values, taxes and rents. This could quickly make every old neighbourhood in the city that much more unaffordable.

In the midst of what is either a bubble, or not a bubble but perpetually skyrocketing prices (and it’s hard to say which scenario is worse), introducing more luxury condo development into neighbourhoods already facing real dislocations due to rising prices is unwise.

Mount Pleasant is forward-looking. Unlike all neighbourhoods in Vancouver’s tonier West Side, Mount Pleasant made the bold step of agreeing in its community plan to accept more density. But when it gave an inch, developers attempted to take a mile. We are asking City Council to check the kind of profit-maximizing opportunism that got us into this affordability mess in the first place. There is a way of doing development that works for both developers and communities—but it’s City Hall that must lead the way. Developers will follow.

THERE IS MORE THAN ONE WAY OF DOING DENSITY

What’s the City’s objective? It’s to increase density & increase supply of affordable housing. But given the reality that the community overwhelmingly hates towers in its historic neighbourhoods for a number of good reasons, can density & supply be increased in some other way? Yes. It can.

The other night we heard urban design expert Lewis Villegas show how we can do plenty of density without towers and that city hall’s own provision to put mid-height development along arterials has never been acted upon. Why not?

I have assembled a list of developments worldwide, including in expensive cities, that fit into the category of density but at a lower human scale and that ensure a degree of affordable housing. It will feature in an upcoming post (will link to it here).

Thanks to Vancouver’s famous speculative climate, Mount Pleasant already contains a huge stock of houses over $1 million. The more units it adds at the higher end—such as luxury view properties with high ceilings and fancypants amenities and parking—the more you drive prices up.

As Jane Jacobs advised, let’s do density properly. Let’s see lower building height (as is seen all over Europe), less parking, fewer luxury amenities, and a wise, attractive manner of fitting buildings into existing local history and texture. We can still get an astonishing amount of density while avoiding distorted real estate economics and aesthetic ruination.

FALSE COMPARISONS TO VANCOUVER’S WEST END

Councillor Tim Stevenson and others have been talking about the West End: its successes, its heights and its density. They are comparing Rize to the West End as a means of promoting Rize’s proposed design. However, this comparison is based on a lack of understanding of Vancouver’s history. The West End was carefully developed over many decades. The development was carefully stewarded by the city with distinct policies ensuring affordable rental, and it was done in an orderly manner—carefully stepped back from the water and generally well-planned. The West End’s livability today is a result of that careful vision enforced out of City Hall. That is not even close to what we are seeing here.

ARTS: WHICH WILL IT BE—DIVERSIFICATION OF VANCOUVER’S ECONOMY, OR BRAIN DRAIN?

I am very worried about the unprecedented, rapid defection of cultural workers from Vancouver. At least 45 friends and colleagues have left in the last couple of years, taking with them experience, training and education. BC invested in those assets which now benefit Berlin, New York, Toronto, LA, Calgary. We now even have a wave of people going to Saskatchewan—and they’re not even originally from Saskatchewan. And I should point out that my comments on brain drain aren’t relevant only to the arts or to our narrow sectoral interests. It’s just that the arts are the canary in the coalmine. The flood of talent out of Vancouver, which is worryingly twinned with our failure to attract new talent here, is tied to Vancouver’s status as one of the most unaffordable cities in the world relative to median income. When things get unlivable, artists tend to leave first, because they already tend to live very close to the financial wire. Stressed too far, they leave. And then others follow.

What’s distinct about creative brain drain, however, is that it has a serious impact on the whole city. It’s well documented that you can’t diversify an urban economy in a city without cultural vibrancy. In Vancouver we have a double problem: not only do new businesses not set up cities without housing affordability, they don’t set up in cities without busy cultural life. Some may say we’re plenty culturally vibrant, but quite frankly, they don’t see the cracks in the facade. We may still have arts organizations here, but they are almost all carrying massive deficits that grow every year, and unaffordability is a contributing factor. Not only are their own spaces expensive to maintain, but Vancouverites spend so much on rent or mortgage that they simply don’t have enough disposable income left to support arts in any significant way. Revenues and employment have fallen as a result. Individual artists, musicians, curators, arts workers and academics are leaving in droves. They’re the people who actually produce a region’s culture—and remember that they produce much of our shared culture mostly on their own dime. The brain drain has become so noticeable even the mainstream press is covering it now. Ask any cultural worker why he or she is leaving; they’ll all tell you the main reason is lack of appropriate, affordable housing and studio space. That’s another thing: most of the great old buildings that art’s generally made in—new ideas need old buildings, as Jane Jacobs said—have been demolished or converted into condos thanks to the investment market.

What does this have to do with Mt. Pleasant? Well, unlike Vancouver’s West Side, Mt. Pleasant is one of Vancouver’s cultural incubators. This has been true for many, many decades. The Western Front, the Grunt Gallery and many other venues, organizations and artists live and work in this neighbourhood. Much of Vancouver’s huge international fame in visual arts (a fame that sadly goes unnoticed in Vancouver) was gestated in Mt. Pleasant. Many of its non-art residents live there for that reason (look at the West Side: utterly sterile, culturally, if you exclude UBC). Mount Pleasant is a neighbourhood that deserves some protection from opportunistic production of luxury housing in the middle of an affordability crisis. Other cities do this; why is this carelessness rampant in Vancouver? Do we have no cultural pride?

CITY HALL SHOULD BE CITY BUILDERS, NOT RUBBER STAMPERS

I want City Council to be true, intelligent city builders, not rubber stampers for the very development industry that is choking every other sector out of our city. Its collusion with property speculation has produced an unaffordability that has made every other sector non-viable. The West End isn’t a successful neighbourhood today because City Hall just allowed a rampant free market to do as it would. It’s livable because City Hall interceded in the market to create livable, affordable housing. City Council, please work with your new Director of Planning—and I sure hope you find someone visionary, not just someone obedient—to find a workable consultation and development process, and to find a way to have smaller developers build a myriad of smaller developments affordable for families and couples and workers and seniors. Start with Rize. Send it back for a new design, and ask for a reasonable scale and housing that makes sense for the community. The developer can and will do this if you tell it to. It will find a way to make money. Developers always do.

Lastly, the idea of removing parking from the building altogether has been bandied about. Our City Council claims to be green. Take out the glass tower, take out the parking. I dare it to be that green.

Above, the pedestrian-unfriendly, big box store-containing monolith. It will also destroy historic Watson St, currently a cycle street, with truck loading bays for the big box stores at street level.

Postscript: Urban expert Lewis Villegas gave a good talk a couple of weeks ago outlining a better plan for densification in Vancouver, using many illustrations of successful low level density from other cities in North America and beyond. He proposes the following model:

NEW PLANNING PARADIGM:

1. Measure density at the scale of the Walkable Neighbourhood or Quartier

2. Devise a new “Vancouver Special”: fee-simple, high-density, human scale (not currently allowed in Vancouver. Often seen in Quebec City).

3. Design streets and squares to support social functioning.

4. Transportation: add trips, remove cars, revitalize streets

5. Regional Transportation: deliver affordable housing