Saturday, 30 March 2013


Art Phillips truly was a colossus. He surrounded himself with brilliant people. His TEAM Council was a mix of the best and the brightest across the political spectrum and included academics,  professionals and community activists. In the first election, in1968  Phillips and Walter Hardwick were elected. 

In the next election May Brown, Marguerite Ford, Darlene Marzari and Mike Harcourt, physicist, Fritz Bowers, Traffic Engineer Setty Pendakur and Architect Geoff Massey.  

They were a team that had more collective intelligence and talent  than any level of government in Canada since. 

Unlike so many politicians who turn to Machievellian principles, Phillips achieved control through a combination of blazing intellect, wit and charm.
He was also tough, sensible and decisive and not afraid  of changing his mind.

Phillips and his council are remembered for a series of major initiatives that set the tone for the next forty years. 

·        Flexibility was introduced into the planning and design process;
·        planning became  neighborhood based
·        cultural institutions flourished including the Vancouver East Cultural Centre  (the "Cultch"), the Academy of Music, the Contemporary Art Gallery, the Childrens' Festival; heritage areas and policies; the Orpheum theater was created from a movie house that would have been demolished.
·         the bureaucracy was overhauled;  
·        The property endowment fund was set up. 
·        Although Granville Island was an initiative of the Federal Government, TEAM and in particular, Mayor Phillips and Walter Hardwick made significant contributions.
·        Until TEAM the City had no heritage preservation policy. Under TEAM one was introduced.

Phillips and TEAM took control in 1972 (elections were every two years) the old council was mostly turfed and a new TEAM Council was elected.  The two NPA members who remained were excellent Councilors.

There were two City Managers at that time called The Board of Administration. One was an Engineer named Lorne Ryan. The manager in charge of Planning, was the Imperious Gerald Sutton Brown. He  ran a tight ship. He was also a brilliant planner and administrator in his own right.

The first thing Phillips and Team did was to get control of the bureaucracy. They fired the City Manager, Gerald Sutton Brown.  Ray Spaxman, an architect,  was hired from Toronto as Planner.  He was an advocate of neighborhood planning.

Prof. Fritz Bowers, later become the City manager.  Prof. Bowers ran City Hall like a University dean. Power was decentralized.  The morale of the staff greatly improved. 

As to Sutton Brown he told me that being fired was the best thing that ever happened to him.  He was promptly hired by Mobile Oil  as head of its massive real estate branch. He planned new cities all over the world. 

When Mayor  Phillips retired a  roast was held.  I wrote a poem for him  which touched on the unpredictability of life and plans. It was read at the party. The opening three verses were:

You Never Can Tell”

Remember the day you deposed Sutton-Brown?
The words spread like measles all over the town,.
You were quite ruthless to make him step down
How could you do this
To that helpless old toothless?

But as it turned out his career didn’t spoil
He was hired to plan towns for Mobile Oil
He travels to places wherever its sunny-
The way it turned out, it was funny.

You never can tell, you never can tell
What wonderful fortunes can spring from the well
Of potential disasters
That turn out quite swell
Till the end, you never can tell

The first symbol of the Phillips administration was the information booth in the entrance to City Hall.  Until then  a visit to City Hall was a Kafke-esqe adventure.  There was no way of knowing where you needed to go and once you got there what to do.  There were no signs.  Many offices had no receptionists. After that they opened up Council and Committee meetings so that people could attend outside of their normal working hours.

TEAM produced Vancouver’s first urban core bike network when it closed streets in the West End. It also introduced traffic barriers in Shaughnessy making streets both pedestrian and bike friendly. The plan and the process yielded exceptional results.  

Vancouver became one of the very few Cities with a livable high density core under a plan that was neighborhood based. Similar Official Development Plans (ODPs) were created in Shaughnessy, the Downtown, Downtown Eastside, False Creek, Coal Harbour.  Phillips was not a micro manager but he kept a watchful eye over them all.

God is in the details.

Before Phillips’ TEAM, apartments could not have balconies because the zoning penalized the developer who sought to add them.  Under TEAM there were enormous improvements in design and siting. 

Phillips  recognized that substandard buildings were the markets’ response to substandard incomes.  Policies were implemented to provide affordable housing of a reasonable size and quality.

Phillips set up  the system of discretionary zoning that enabled more control over citing and design including view preservation. 

Before Phillips there were no sidewalk cafes on City Streets.  He led the initiative to lease portions of sidewalks to adjacent restaurant owners.

He encouraged debate on Council. He was confident in his own abilities and those of his colleagues that he welcomed all sides on all issues. He did not impose party discipline because he did not need to.

After 4 years (two terms) the City was on track.  Phillips declined to run again. He returned to his investment business. 

He was a great man.


  1. Sure miss him - we need someone in city hall who understands Vancouver as well as he did.

  2. Those were the days my friend....
    This man had a vision, he was a leader. Now we have backlanes which look like moonscapes. Eroded by constructiontruck traffic, garbage all over, dandelions thriving in the parks, livable houses carted to the dump, including the trees and greenery. All in the name of progress. We wouldn't need "community vision" groups if there would be capable people at City Hall.

  3. Yes
    He was a great man
    I lived in Vancouver from 1991-1999
    And I knew he left a great legacy just by having the opportunity in living in your great city
    You can feel that greatness at the time

    Thanks Mayor Phillips