Tuesday, 2 October 2012


Yesterday I drove along the Coast of France to various lovely villages in Brittany,  like Periac and Quemiac. The most spectacular view points in many ocean front towns remain occupied by  WW2 German block houses. Whatever fault one may find with Germany's thoughtlessness in periodically invading France, they know the importance of location. The block houses are an example of what a determined government that wants what it wants when it wants it can do outside of the narrow constraints of zoning or referenda.

                      Sensitively placed German Blockhouse

Which brings me to my first and only positive point. If the Vancouver Affordability Report is going to be implemented, Vancouver should buy all of the German bunkers, float them to B.C. and place them within 1.5 blocks of arterials or on thin streets.

In his section of the report developer, Michael Geller, provides nice illustrations of various forms of housing existing in far away places with strange sounding names. These run the gamut from row housing to steel containers. I would add German Bunkers. They are spacious and mostly underground. Respectful of their neighbours, unlike the buildings proposed by the report for Vancouver, they do not obscure light and views. They should be added to the list.

The result of adapting the Manager's recommendation to immediately implement a key part of the report will at best be catastrophic. We shouldn't blame the authors. Developers though some may be, they just want to get their hands on good locations. We don't blame foxes for their taste in chickens.

The Manager has decided that there is a market rental housing emergency. 

There is no such thing. The problems faced by people who can't find cheaper market rental housing or, for that matter, reasonably priced single family dwellings, is not quite the holocaust the authors make it out to be. It is a market. 

 Those who can't find market rentals in  Vancouver find them in surrounding suburbs. Middle class families who can't afford an apartment in Shaugnessy or Kerrisdale are not sleeping under bridges. They are sleeping in Yaletown, the West End, Coal Harbour or even Surrey. That is not a cruel or unusual punishment.

The Manager's report is politburo politics. It reeks of a Brezhnev era Five Year Plan. It imposes a uniform standard in all neighborhoods, relating to the distance from certain sized streets. All neighbourhoods near such streets, if the Manager and Council have not noticed, are not alike. Some are ripe for change and others are not.

City Hall is aiming a blunderbuss at all residents in Vancouver who happen to live near any street. Any street can be reclassified to an arterial. There will be a drive to consolidate lots in these neighbourhoods. The disruption of construction including noise, traffic, loss of trees, blocked views etc. will continue indefinitely. The report calls this "making transitional neighbourhoods."   Transitional areas will metastasize.

The Vision Council has no mandate to make these kind of changes. It is ironic that an earlier Council under Larry Campbell held a referendum on whether to host the Olympics. By contrast this Council, funded by developers, appoints a gang of them to tell them what they want to hear, but has consistently ignored Community Groups from Norquay to Dunbar.

It should not take long for a politician to realize that the democratic process does not end with his or her election. It begins there. These inflated martinets don't get it.

The time has come to bring this nightmare to an end. Vancouver is a creature of statute. It is the only City that operates under the Vancouver Charter. At this point all Community Associations should write off Council. They should deal directly with the Provincial Government through their local MLAs. With a Provincial election looming they ought to demand a series of immediate amendments to the Vancouver Charter including:

  1. Restore Vancouver elections to every 2 years. This should apply retroactively to the current Council.
  2. Require an Official Community Plan in all areas of the City.
  3. Spot zoning, the practice of rezoning one parcel of land, should be subject to new strict regulations.
  4. Discretion in zoning should be brought into line with Development Permits under the Local Government Act so that it is limited to changes in siting but not changes in use or density. 
  5. The Board of Variance should be empowered once again to hear third party appeals under limited circumstances. They should allow appeals of decisions relating to conditional uses.
  6. A Municipal Board should be instituted to handle land use appeals similar to the one in Ontario.

1 comment:

  1. Not to quibble with any of your other 5 points, a lot of them are quite fine looking, but point 1 seems needless, counterproductive and problematic.

    We already have a high degree of politicization in Vancouver politics. The NPA and Vision while in power recently have governed in a kind if 'permanent campaign mode' because of the money involved in running a campaign.

    Two year process of campaigning, along with the time for handover and learning curve for new governments/councilors would result in a senselessly ungovernable city.

    City councilors would spend the vast swath of their time at fundraising events, government action would become primarily about show rather than actual good governance and much of the actual governing would be suborned to non-elected appointed staff positions.

    If all of that sounds familiar, it is. The US House runs 2 year elections, which makes the body a defunct body, incapable of governing.

    The other factor is one of agreement/disagreement. It's always vogue to call for reform when the government isn't acting the way one wants them to. We have a legitimacy in our country based not on the will of the majority, but of the acceptance of the minority.

    We don't always like what the gov we didn't vote for does, but we accept give and take. They won overwhelmingly, so it's clear the people are happy with what they are doing, those who oppose them need to organize in a way that relates to Vancouverites.

    Perhaps the dinosaur campaign of last civic election is a bad example, but the NPA was utterly incapable of relating to the modern Vancouver voter. A permanently dominant party is bad for democracy, so aim your blame at the parties not able to garner any real support...