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New coalition of neighbourhood groups demand more say in Vancouver city planning

October 26th, 2013 · 222 Comments

People concerned about the pace of development are not new to Vancouver. There’s been some discomfort almost since the day the city was founded about how rapidly it changes.

Neighbourhoods agitated for more control in the big, bad, freeway-building ’60s. In 1996, former alderman Jonathan Baker, who is now part of the new TEAM party that is challenging the way the Vision council has been handling development, started a new party that also was primarily focused on the pace and type of development. (He beat out then-COPE mayoral candidate Carmela Allevato in 25 polls in the Dunbar/Kerrisdale/Mackenzie Heights areas, an indication of a distinct level of unhappiness in traditional Non-Partisan Association territory.)

In the mid-2000s, Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver arose in reaction to then-mayor Sam Sullivan’s push for EcoDensity.

There has been a noticeable curve upwards in the past couple of years to a much higher level of anxiety. What’s interesting about this particular wave is the way groups are connecting with the general public, reporters, and each other through new social-media tools. That’s allowing them to get their message out much more effectively than small groups used to and also allowing them to form coalitions.

The result of that is in a story I reported Thursday, about the creation of the latest iteration of neighbourhood groups banding together to try to wrest some control from the city.

The group is holding a series of meetings to try to work out what they think good principles of community planning should be. (This is at the same time that Councillor Andrea Reimer has been heading up an “engaged city task force” to improve public input.)

I think pretty much everyone these days agrees there are some serious flaws in current public consultation.

People feel as though they’re being asked to select from a series of unpalatable choices. The consulters do not make it clear how public input will be integrated into planning. Neighbourhood groups who agree to one plan find themselves overtaken by new neighbourhood groups who say they were never consulted and are opposed to the plan. No one can seem to define how “community opinion” will be assessed — is it the planner’s impression of what the people at a particular set of consultations said? an opinion survey of the whole area?

So, good luck to all trying to make it better.

(BTW, the group did not say they were “anti-Vision Vancouver.” That was just an unfortunate headline, one of a series that has afflicted me lately, as Lewis pointed out.)


Boosting an already strong surge of protests over new development, bike lanes and growth plans in this rapidly changing city, some residents’ groups are joining forces to fight for more control over future projects.

“We’re very tired of the old model of city consultation,” said Fern Jeffries, a False Creek resident who has helped pull together 18 neighbourhood groups into the new Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods. “We want the respect that acknowledges that residents really are the experts on their own neighbourhoods.”

The new coalition is the latest manifestation of opposition that is growing more vocal and unified to the five-year-old Vision Vancouver party, which has an aggressive agenda to build more rental housing, create more cycling paths, plan for more density and streamline city operations.

It also comes as developers, who spent the past two decades building tower projects on empty industrial land downtown, have run out of room there and moved into more settled neighbourhoods.

The combination has resulted in huge brawls over individual projects, like the Rize tower at Kingsway and Broadway, area plans for four large districts in the city, new management plans for community centres, and new bike lanes.

Last weekend, two protests at opposite ends of the city brought out hundreds of angry residents, one group objecting to a plan for a bike path through a park, the other related to the fight over management at a community centre.

Vision councillors say opposition is not new in a city that has often been conflicted about change.

But they say that opposition has to be measured against the serious challenges the city faces and what the Vision party was elected to do.

“We’ve tried to move thoughtfully, but it’s hard to stare problems in the face … and not take action even if it’s difficult,” Councillor Andrea Reimer said.

Ms. Reimer said previous councils took a go-slow approach that left Vision to deal with a backlog, which has resulted in a lot of change.

She said the city recognized a year ago that old consultation processes were not working and it created a task force to come up with better strategies. The Engaged City Task Force is about to issue a final report.

“There’s a long history of neighbourhoods seeking a greater voice at city hall, but the expectations of the community are always rising and the tools are changing,” Ms. Reimer said.

Residents involved in the new coalition say a lot of distrust built up over the past several years as one project after another was pushed through. They are not sure that any recommendations from the new task force will help.

“Right now, there is tremendous suspicion,” Ms. Jeffries said.

Jonathan Weisman of the Dunbar Residents Association said city planners often do not give people a chance to make a free choice about what they would like in their neighbourhoods.

“It’s effectively push-polling. We’re given an opportunity to rank undesirable choices,” said Mr. Weisman, a lawyer who moved to Dunbar from Toronto four years earlier, little expecting to get enveloped in development tussles.

As well, people in the group have their doubts about the style of density that city planners seem to be pushing, especially the numerous proposals for future towers in low-rise districts.

In Dunbar, an expensive and leafy neighbourhood of single-family homes, the most recent fight was over plans for a six-storey building.

The city turned down the proposal this week. But residents are worried it could come back through a different channel, Mr. Weisman said.

“There seems to be a general notion that we need to build more, but it looks like we might just homogenize the city.”

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