Thoughts from a Broadway Plan Rally

By Bruce A. Gilmour, DRA President

On Saturday, May 7, I joined a rally at Vancouver City Hall!  I gathered with those curious, concerned, hoping to learn more, or wanting to voice their opinions to the current Mayor and Council about the Broadway Plan and citizen participation in civic democracy. 

Regarding engagement at the neighbourhood level, has the time arrived for Vancouver neighbourhoods to petition Council on what change we are prepared to adjust to in housing mix in the traditional single-family neighbourhoods?  For example, mixed zoning changes one or two blocks off arterials. A housing design plan that provides for single-family, duplex, fourplex, and sixplex housing –market, fixed income, rental, and seniors’ housing and supports.

Would this zoning approach protect views, natural light and trees, sustain form and character, and attract the eight-to-80 demographics wanting active and healthy living?  Let’s have the conversation at the local level to learn what we can live with as we plan for growth and change.  The Broadway Plan rally raised the following questions for me:

  • Affordability – for who?
  • Capacity – are City Council and staff locked into building up without considering unrealized zoning potential?
  • Trust – does getting the plan through before the end of the current Council’s mandate engender trust?
  • Liveability – has a reliable inventory of what residents define as their neighbourhood values been completed?

Turning to the Vancouver Plan, I ask whether it has created the opportunity for engagement and feedback at the neighbourhood level about residents’ definition of liveability.  This would include walkability, retail diversity, accessible transit services, rent controls, green and park space for play, seniors’ housing and supports, and ‘K’ to 12 education.

Does densification of housing supply threaten these neighbourhood values with the introduction of medium (six-storey) to high (40-storey) towers to increase housing stock?  Common thought is yes. 

Housing is needed, but are taller buildings going to preserve neighbourhood values defining liveability?  As often is the case, we did not know what we had until it was taken away – irreplaceable, taken-for-granted values, such as faces at the street level, ambience, mom-and-pop commercial retail diversity, the public realm!

I live in a single-family home where we raised a family.  I experience overwhelming gratitude for living in a friendly, welcoming neighbourhood.  I am incredibly grateful for the neighbourhood values which have meant a positive experience of liveability.  I accept that growth and change are inevitable.  I also understand my responsibility to stay informed, to advocate, and participate in citizen-created forums.

The past two years of COVID ruined opportunities for face-to-face citizen participation.  Consequently, news talk radio interviews, mailouts, print media coverage, surveys, and social media have been utilized to educate and message the taxpayer.  Has the process been effective? Do you feel you have any agency in this far-reaching government-led neighbourhood planning? Has the City put in a checkmark in the community-consultation box?  The jury is out on this decision!  Perhaps more to learn in this fall’s municipal elections?

WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW CAN HURT YOU

by Carol Volkart, DRA Newsletter Editor

If you don’t know about two massive city-changing plans that will transform the look, feel and texture of Vancouver over the next 30 years, you’re not alone.

Mention the Broadway Plan and Vancouver Plan to most people on the street, and you’re likely to hear, “I didn’t know about that!”  

The plans, both expected to be approved by City Council in the next two months, will densify the city significantly by 2050, allowing high-rises in many new areas and more intensive building everywhere.

The Broadway Plan, which covers 500 blocks from Vine to Clark Drive, from 1st to 16th, will allow as many as three towers per block, some as high as 40 storeys. The overall Vancouver Plan replaces traditional neighbourhoods with a patchwork of generic neighbourhood types based on the kinds of buildings each allows. All include more density; some allow high-rises where none have been permitted before.

Why don’t you know about this? Probably because you don’t belong to the “stakeholder” groups targeted by the City in the years it’s been developing the plans. Certain groups, including the building industry, were heavily consulted, but curiously, neighbourhood groups and associations were scarcely notified, if at all.

Another reason is the process – top-down, with staff drawing up the plans, then inviting feedback through online surveys and Zoom workshops. For non-stakeholders who don’t follow City issues closely, especially during COVID, it was easy to miss.

Vancouverites are accustomed to a different kind of planning process; traditionally they’ve been deeply involved in creating plans for their neighbourhoods. A prime example was the Dunbar Community Vision, approved by City Council in 1998 after Dunbar residents spent nearly two years figuring out how their neighbourhood should evolve. 

Dunbar has already been affected by the early approval of one aspect of the Vancouver Plan. The “Streamlining Rental” initiative passed last December allows six-storey rental buildings on Dunbar and four- to-five-storey apartment buildings on adjacent blocks. 

As for further impacts, a muddy Vancouver Plan map shows Dunbar divided into at least three neighbourhood “types” – “Rapid Transit” along 41st (meaning towers); “Neighbourhood Centre” along Dunbar (meaning an emphasis on shops and mid-rise construction); and “Multiplex Area” for the rest (purpose-built rental housing and “missing middle” ownership.)

While the City calls the Vancouver Plan an essential long-term strategy to support future growth, local architect and planning critic Brian Palmquist isn’t impressed. He says it will mean a continuation of the “years-long practice of spot rezoning a pox of development across our city, so that no resident of any neighbourhood will know how long their neighbourhood, their street, their view, their green space, their access to light will be preserved, or even respected.”

For more information: Vancouver Plan at https://vancouverplan.ca/, Broadway Plan at https://shapeyourcity.ca/broadway-plan

For analysis of what it all means, see Brian Palmquist’s City Conversations Substack at https://bit.ly/cityconv For Broadway Plan, see https://bit.ly/cityconv57  For Vancouver Plan, https://bit.ly/cityconv42 

CityHallWatch https://cityhallwatch.wordpress.com/ puts out a constant flow of information about city issues.

FIREWEED CLUB OFFERS OUTDOOR PLEASURES FOR SENIORS

By Andrea Sara

The Dunbar Residents’ Association is collaborating with partner members of the Westside Seniors Hub to offer a variety of summer outdoor activities focused on nature, art and well-being.

Free programs for seniors will be hosted at west-side parks and plazas throughout the summer and into the fall, weather permitting. There will be opportunities to enjoy gardening and herbal tea making, eco-arts and crafts, exercise and walking groups, history and photography, games, singing and dancing, and more.

Dunbar’s activities will be at Balaclava Park’s Butterflyway pollinator garden.  A new wheelchair-height planter box has been installed and summer veggie seedlings are sprouting. This is an inclusive community activity, very suitable for those of us who still enjoy gardening but can’t get down on our hands and knees anymore.

 We might also move a little slower, and take a bit longer to think of the right words in conversation than before the pandemic. We’ve endured a very long period of isolation and we’re all a bit out of practice with socializing, so the Fireweed Club is really about getting back outside and being neighbourly.  We are a patient group and truthfully, we just like to laugh and have fun digging in the dirt and admiring the flowers in bloom.

 Come by and check it out! Bring along friends, family and care partners. For more info, please email: fireweed.club@gmail.com or call 604.833.6355.

Blind Transit Rider Starts Website to Fight Bus-Stop Cuts

By Carol Volkart, DRA Newsletter Editor

More danger. Extra time. Less independence. That’s what Bus Balancing has meant for a blind Dunbar resident who has started a website and petition to publicize the impact of TransLink’s bus-stop-cutting program.

“I now have to ask strangers to guide me along streets and across intersections,” says Stephanie, a physically fit woman whose carefully established routines were turned upside-down by the loss of stops on the No. 7 and No. 2 routes.

TransLink says its Bus Balancing program is aimed at improving travel times and reliability while maintaining convenient access for passengers, but Stephanie says that for those coping with mobility or disability issues, it’s the opposite.

“I am very independent, but removing the bus stops is a huge problem and will be for so many other people,” she says. “I see it stopping people from going out and about, so it’s more isolation for seniors and people with disabilities.”

She says much of TransLink’s “propaganda” about Bus Balancing is misleading, and some is simply not true.

While TransLink says the program could cut two-and-a-half minutes off some one-way trips, providing an easier and more pleasant transit experience, that isn’t the reality for those struggling to get to more distant stops, she says. Its statement that it wouldn’t cut stops in busy convenient areas is the opposite of what she has experienced. Its assurance that bus stops won’t be so far apart as to make transit inaccessible is also not true. Many are four blocks apart, an impossible distance for those with mobility and disability issues, frail seniors, and people carrying young children and loads of groceries.

In fact, the new program “excludes seniors and people with disabilities from being able to access parts of transit so it’s a loss of mobility,” she says. “It also affects anyone who has had a stop removed where they live and for people with small children it makes it more difficult to get around.”

The reality, she says, is that Bus Balancing is “backward thinking and does not provide the service that is needed now or into the future.”  

Stephanie gave three examples of how bus-stop cuts have made her life more inconvenient, stressful and dangerous:

  • Fourth and Vine was a shopping hub for her, with its Safeway, Whole Foods and Shoppers Drug Mart on three corners easily accessible from east and westbound stops at Vine. The stops were removed when the No. 4 and 7 routes were “balanced” earlier this year. Now she gets off a stop early, at Balsam, and must depend on finding someone who will guide her the extra block to Whole Foods; she says it takes three months to fully learn a new block. “For the first time in 15 years of getting my groceries at Whole Foods, one of the employees there guided me to the bus stop because it was further for me to walk and it was a new stop and I had lots of food on my back, so lots of weight.”
  • Removal of the No. 2 stop at 10th and Macdonald has cost her time, independence and added a dangerous intersection to her route. “It is a transfer point so people would get off the bus at 10th then walk to Broadway and turn right to catch the 99, 9 and 14 when the 14 was going east on Broadway,” she notes. Now, she says, she must catch an earlier bus to make her transfer on time, get off at Broadway on the north side of Macdonald “and have to ask a stranger to guide me across the street so I can get the bus. That intersection is a very busy intersection with people running red lights and turning right on to Macdonald.”
  • Removal of the No. 7 stop at 26th and Dunbar has caused problems for her regular trip east along West 25th to Main, where she stocks up on two to three months’ worth of meat. She used to get off the northbound No. 7 bus at 26th, walk to 25th and turn right to catch the No. 25 on West 25th. Now she stays on the bus until 18th, then crosses Dunbar to catch the eastbound No. 25 at 17th. She chooses that route instead of crossing Dunbar at 25th because she’s concerned about aligning with the crosswalk when crossing such a wide street. “It adds up to 15 minutes to my trip and is an added stress.”

Stephanie says she started the website to draw attention to the problems Bus Balancing is creating for herself and others. She’s especially concerned because TransLink plans to expand the program throughout the region at the rate of four to eight routes a year, so all Metro residents will face similar issues.

Her website includes a petition link and offers readers a form they can fill out to tell TransLink what an “awesome” transit system looks like to them.

“Let’s not let TransLink’s short-sightedness dictate our lack of access to transit,” she writes. “Let’s design a transit system that is accessible for all people and one that is good for businesses and our community at large.”

Ron Hatch: A Life of Books and Adventure (1939–2021)

Residents involved in The Story of Dunbar remember the kind and professional support of local publisher Ron Hatch, who died in November.

By Carol Volkart, Newsletter Editor

“When I heard of Ron Hatch’s passing last fall, I googled him and found an outpouring – a flood – of appreciation for him and his work coming from the province’s finest writers,” recalls Dunbar resident Helen Spiegelman. “How amazing that he made time to help a little committee pull together a history of their neighbourhood.”

The history was The Story of Dunbar: Voices of a Vancouver Neighbourhood. Ron Hatch was the quiet man who helped his neighbours capture the century-long transformation of their community from forest to suburb in 12 polished chapters, complete with old photographs, and high-quality index and sources sections.

The Dunbar book is among about 300 titles published by Ronsdale Press, the company Ron Hatch and his wife Veronica bought (and renamed) in 1988 after his retirement as a UBC English professor. Headquartered in their West 21st home, it became a strong and highly regarded press in the B.C. and Canadian literary world.

Dunbar’s efforts to capture its early voices before they were gone fit well with Ronsdale’s goals of giving Canadians new insights into themselves and their country.

But why would a world adventurer, mountaineer and lover of the wilderness choose to set up as a book publisher in his retirement? Asked about it when he won the Jim Douglas Publisher of the Year Award in 2014, Hatch said: “I felt I could add something.”

What he added was apparent in the torrent of appreciation unleashed when he died on Nov. 25. Author after author – poets, biographers, novelists – wrote online tributes to his fastidious editing, his kind support, his honest opinion delivered, as one writer said, “with a twinkle in his eye.”

Spiegelman, who took over the editing of the Dunbar book after the death of the original editor Peggy Schofield in 2005, had the Ron Hatch experience first-hand:

 “As I settled into that committee following the death of dear Peggy Schofield, I sensed the presence of invisible forces guiding our work, providing us with behind-the-scenes support that made our project so much more than it would have been, and our work so much smoother and easier to do. In retrospect, it looks like a fairy tale,” she wrote.

“I met with the kindly man on West 21st a few times without realizing that he was the wizard making it all happen. He would be the one who sent us our copy editor, Naomi Pauls, who read our manuscripts and sat with us at weekly meetings at Pam Chambers’ dining room table hashing out details. He would be the one who thought of bringing in a little behind-the-scenes team that distilled out of the sprawling text (400+ pages long) the meticulously detailed index at the back of the book, so people could look up references to things and people that they were interested in. He would have been the one who had the eye and the experience to approve a really great cover image, clear photos, and graceful design inside.

“In all those tributes to Ron Hatch that I read online, I could see the same Ron Hatch that we’d known, smiling, gentle, helping make magic happen.”

Hatch was so notoriously modest that his friend Alan Twigg organized a celebration of the Hatches’ publishing venture in 2013 because he felt that “Ron’s low-key and determinedly non-self-referential manner was being under-recognized.” On Hatch’s death, Twigg, an author and creator of BC Bookworld wrote: “A keen environmentalist, a meticulous proofreader and a courageous soul, Ron Hatch was a gentleman and a scholar who never sought the limelight; always empowering others to do so.”

Dunbar Residents’ Association board member Sonia Wicken recalls Hatch as a casually dressed, quiet man who could be spotted mailing off packages at the local post office or walking his black Labs in the neighbourhood. Sometimes, he’d show up on her doorstep with a royalty cheque for the Dunbar book.

When the DRA and Hatch sat down to negotiate the book contract, there was no drama, says Wicken, who was DRA treasurer at the time. The DRA had to guarantee pre-sales of 2,000 for a 5,000-copy run, which it easily did, and the book sold well afterwards. “He didn’t lose money on it, so we were pleased about that,” she says. Hatch didn’t come across as a salesman, she notes, but he did a great job of distributing the book, working hard to get it into the airport and onto the ferries.

Hatch, born in 1939, grew up in Dunbar after his parents moved here from Thunder Bay, Ont. in about 1947. Except for a few years working for CUSO in India and studying and teaching in Europe, he made Dunbar his home. The house where he lived and ran his publishing operation was a block from where he grew up, his grandson Forrest Berman-Hatch wrote in a Ubyssey obituary in December.

But Hatch was also an adventurer and traveller, with a passion for mountains, wilderness and foreign scenes. As a young couple, the Hatches took “epic motorcycle journeys across South Asia and the Middle East and spent time in the Himalayas so my grandfather could climb among the world’s most legendary mountains,” wrote Berman-Hatch. “He completed multiple first ascents but would never mention them unless pressed.” Later, there were sabbaticals abroad, but always the wilderness too – hiking in Whistler, summers off-grid in northern B.C., and a cabin on Hollyburn Mountain. “He loved that cabin and would go up there to read manuscripts under a propane lantern for decades,” Berman-Hatch recalled.

And underscoring it all, literature “of the kind that champions the values of freedom, decency and critical thinking,” Berman-Hatch wrote. “To my grandfather, literature was about maintaining civilization in the face of darkness.”

Twigg recalled Hatch as “old-fashioned in the best possible ways,” never speaking unkindly of others, saving money on stamps by dropping off cheque payments by hand. “At a crowded literary event,” he remembered, “I once spontaneously introduced Ron Hatch to the person next to me by saying, ‘This is Ron Hatch. He tells the truth and he does things on time.’”