Heritage Disappearing While the Dust Settles

640px-8171_2012-07-16_Gastown_Gassy_Jack_HDR_2012-07-16_Gastown_HDRFinally — finally — the city is moving with its Heritage Action Plan to update Vancouver’s heritage policies and registers, which themselves are fit for a dusty museum shelf they’re so old and out of date. But the whole process has been like molasses in January, dribbling slowly now into spring and on into summer.

A lot of people have been crying out for action on this for years, including me and my fellow COPE members. We were concerned about the heritage registry back in 2011 since it was started in 1986 and hadn’t been updated in 25 years. Make that 30 years now! [See my 2011 posting on heritage here.]

The past few weeks the city’s been holding open houses on the Heritage Action Plan. The thing is the plan was started in fall 2013.

Ironically, the open houses have been happening the same time people like writer Caroline Adderson have been crying out about the beautiful character homes being crunched down while city staffers were setting up the whiteboards for the sessions (see Caroline’s great Facebook page Vancouver Vanishes). Then we’ve got pundits and neighbours reacting in horror to the glass monster blob and other heritage threats from development pressure in Gastown, a National Historic Site — including proposals to demolish buildings already on the heritage registry! Likewise in Chinatown, our only other national historic area, whose concerned seniors were literally shouting at Mayor Robertson to stop new development there until threatened heritage features are reviewed.

Things are happening in all regards. But the “action” in the action plan is so painfully slow we’re literally losing the character and stories on our streets — and perfectly viable housing in some cases — while our landfills continue to get plugged with tonnes of demolition waste even with the new policy trying to limit it.

It’s a good thing the Heritage Action Plan is so comprehensive and far-reaching because when it finally gets done, it should be effective. But that’s also the part of the problem.

The plan has so many aspects it’s been dubbed a “project of projects” and includes different deadlines for real-time results. If you talk to city staff, some of them aren’t even sure some of the deadlines will be met, including the character home zoning review scheduled to go to Council this summer. That’s a long time and a lot of demolitions from now, given the only interim stop-gap in place has been a moratorium on demolitions of homes built before 1940 in the First Shaughnessy area. That leaves a lot of Vancouver’s heritage at risk until the dust settles.

If you want more info, or you’ve got something to say about our city’s heritage on the streets and missed the open houses, go to http://vancouver.ca/home-property-development/heritage-action-plan.aspx. You can sign up for emails and add to the conversation.

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