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?