City Blows Off Residents and Neighbourhoods in 30-year Plans, says Planner
by Carol Volkart
Neighbourhoods and the people who live in them have been dismissed and disregarded by the Vancouver and Broadway Plans, says long-time professional planner Stephen Mikicich.
The result has been a divisive battle echoing the anti-freeway fights of the late 1960s and the potential loss of the very elements that have made Vancouver an attractive place to live, Mikicich wrote in June 5 and July 5 letters to Council about the 30-year plans.
“[T]he draft Vancouver Plan is a ‘bomb’ ready to annihilate Vancouver’s established neighbourhoods, and the legacy of thoughtful planning that has made Vancouver the livable city that it is today.”
The Broadway Plan, which will introduce hundreds of new high-rise towers and increased density to 500 blocks along the Broadway Corridor from Vine to Clark Drive and from 1st to 16th, was approved 7-4 by Council on June 22. TEAM Councillor and mayoral candidate Colleen Hardwick voted against it, calling it a boondoggle reached through a substandard process.
The Broadway Plan is part of the larger Vancouver Plan, which will increase density citywide through a patchwork of “neighbourhood types” that replace locally created neighbourhood plans and visions. The Vancouver Plan goes to Council July 22 for debate and decision.
Both plans have been controversial, sparking volumes of correspondence to Council and long lists of speakers requiring multiple days to be heard.
In his submissions to Council, Mikicich focused on the City’s failure to consult with residents and its dismissal of the importance of neighbourhoods -- to the point that traditional ones were not even mentioned.
Consultation for the Vancouver Plan appears to have been focused on the development industry, advocacy groups, and targeted ‘equity’ groups, far from the “extensive” engagement that staff boasted of, he wrote. “Shouldn’t we be listening to all voices?”
As for the Broadway Plan, Mikicich noted that many speakers told Council they knew so little about it that they had to scramble to get up to speed to comment in the short time they had after its release. Meanwhile, the development industry has “apparently been actively engaged in the process over the past three years.” The lack of consultation and short time frame sets “an extremely dangerous precedent and may seriously damage public trust in the City of Vancouver,” he wrote.
Whether it’s the Broadway Plan or the Vancouver plan, “what is clear from each level of planning is the disengagement felt by local area residents and the apparent dismissiveness with which their input has been received.”
This failure to consult, combined with top-down plans that dismiss the importance of Vancouver’s unique neighbourhoods, has set up a divisive battle for the “soul” of the city, he wrote.
“On the one hand we have a group advocating for massive densification across the city as a path towards equity and housing affordability. On the other hand, we have neighbourhood residents who feel they are not being heard or respected in the planning process, and that their communities are being targeted for redevelopment.”
The battle echoes the city’s urban reform era, when citizens rose up to save the historic neighbourhoods of Gastown, Chinatown, and Strathcona from forced evictions and wholesale demolition for a major freeway, he wrote. “That battle brought about change at City Hall and ushered in an era of fine-grained, participatory planning.”
Similarly, today’s residents are fighting the plans to replace their unique neighbourhoods with “sterile and generic” neighbourhood types scattered citywide. “Vancouver residents identify with and take pride in their local communities. This is something that has been well understood by elected officials and city planners for decades, and is reflected in a legacy of thoughtful local area plans created with the support of residents.”
Mikicich believes there are better ways of planning for the future: “Rather than create division, would it not make sense to bring Vancouver’s neighbourhoods to the table to plan the city’s future together?”
(Stephen Mikicich is a Kitsilano resident who has been a registered professional planner for more than 30 years. He is a member of TEAM for a Livable Vancouver’s board of directors. His letters to City Council on the Vancouver Plan and Broadway Plan were published on the CityHallWatch website.)