Problems with the Citizens Assembly

Problems with the Citizens Assembly

 

To myself and others the Citizens Assembly seems to be a tactic by the city to put off the messy business of dealing with strong opposition to the city’s plans for the Grandview-Woodland area until after the civic election.

 

Selecting 48 locals to represent citizen input appears to be a way to eliminate local activists from the equation. It seems likely the new group of 48 will be subjected to an educational process designed by the city to achieve its original goals. The outcome, namely the non-binding recommendations that the Citizens’ Assembly makes, will carry no more weight than what the city determines they will in the end. This process seems to resemble a commission of inquiry or a royal commission, and like them, it may generate a lot of positive media attention and in the end the new ideas generated could just get ignored.

 

The people involved in My Community My Plan have lots to contribute to the educational process for the Citizens Assembly.

 

Jak King recently suggested this list of speakers:

 

Patrick Condon – A UBC professor, with over 25 years’ experience in sustainable urban design as a professional city planner and as a teacher and researcher

 

Richard Wozny – As a development consultant for Site Economics, he has worked on over 1,000 major real estate developments and argues against high-rise residential towers

 

Louis Villegaz – An urban design expert and a director of the Residents’ Association of Mount Pleasant

 

Wendy Sarkissian, PhD  – A planner, consultant, educator, author, and facilitator with 40 years experience in planning, design and environmental studies

 

Elizabeth Murphy – Worked in the City of Vancouver Housing and Properties Department, for BC Housing as a Senior Projects Development Officer and as a consultant to the Ministry of Transportation and to the BC Buildings Corporation.

 

Jak King has also suggested “the retail area of Commercial Drive be expanded into the lanes on either side of the main street. This would increase the business area thus making available a broader selection of shops and services, it would allow owners of many businesses on the Drive to increase the density of their properties without altering the current Commercial Drive streetscape, and would bring even more diversity and interest to the Drive… this might provide a creative solution to densification desired by the BIA without damage to an important heritage street.”

 

I will add that encouraging business owners to develop the sides of the buildings that face on to the side streets that join Commercial Drive to the lanes behind can also contribute to the same idea. Many restaurants facing Commercial Drive have done this, such as Marcello and Belgian Fries, but until recently the Little Nest Restaurant successfully did it on the corner of the back lane and the side street. Everyone loved it.

 

Another suggestion that might serve to keep commercial rents a bit lower is to encourage the retention of older buildings. New buildings are expensive and demand high rents, while older buildings often have landlords who have paid off their mortgages and are sometimes less demanding. One way to preserve the older buildings on Commercial Drive is to celebrate them as heritage buildings. Commercial Drive has the best collection of Edwardian Commercial buildings surrounded by wonderful Edwardian houses in the whole city.

 

This makes Commercial Drive Vancouver’s best Edwardian village, and the city should provide incentives and support for this designation and the retention and restoration of its commercial heritage buildings.

 

Bruce Macdonald

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