City watchers are still buzzing about a meeting held behind closed doors last month at UBC’s School of Community and Regional Planning. It was all about what Michael Geller describes as Vancouver city hall’s “diminishing respect for the importance of urban design and planning.”
The biggest deal breaker was the re-zoning application for the contentious Brenhill project at 508 Helmcken, which spurred an April 13 letter sent to mayor and council.
It was signed by no fewer than 10 respected urban planning and design experts who attended that meeting, including three former senior members of Vancouver’s own planning department as well as planning consultants and associated professionals, and professors from both SFU and UBC. Among the latter was Mr. Geller himself, who’s also an architect, planner and real estate consultant. (You can read more about the meeting and issues in a piece he wrote for the Vancouver Courier here.)
You have to ask yourself why so many experts found it necessary to hold such an unusual meeting and send such a powerful letter to the mayor and council.
The whole event reminds us that municipalities have many tools in their toolbox. But by far the most effective tool is the one that also has the most impact on our daily lives, and that’s their ability to shape the built environment through the use of zoning.
Unfortunately, Vision Vancouver has consistently misused this most powerful tool. As a result the City of Vancouver is now facing a crisis of confidence, not just by the general public but also by a very broad community of urban planners with decades of expertise in this area.
I predict that, unfortunately, the situation will get even worse until we address the root cause of the problem.
With Vision Vancouver spending record amounts at election time, literally purchasing election outcomes, and funding its election budgets with massive developer donations, sound and wise urban planning will continue to be thrown out the window and replaced by whatever is in the financial best interests of developers.
I’m cautiously optimistic we will see fundamental electoral financial reform introduced by the provincial government before the November 2018 municipal elections.
With a bit of luck, donations from corporations and unions will be done away with, and municipal parties will be forced to rely on donations only from individuals.
This will hopefully bring back the day when municipalities used the power of planning to positively create the built environment around us rather than improving the bank accounts of developer-funded political parties.