North Vancouver's own political BLOG dedicated to North Vancouver's political players and the decisions that shape our community.
Monday, March 10, 2014
Gordzilla in the City: How does all this density improve the lives of Citizens?
I was born in Vancouver and have lived in the city nearly all of my life. This has been both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because of what the city once was. And a curse from watching what it has become, where it is heading and how lousy I feel about the changes.
A lot of people sing the praises of the new “world-class” Vancouver, with all its shiny towers and go, go, go development, but you don’t hear it a lot from longtime Vancouverites.
We ask the question, what’s in it for us, but never get a satisfactory answer.
Now, Vancouver has always grown, and I appreciate that it is the nature of cities to gain population. But rather than let that happen at a gentle, natural pace, a cabal of profit-seeking developers, donation-and-property-tax hungry politicians, urbanist planners and university-coddled social experimenters have conspired to accelerate the pace of change.
I get it. You’re getting rich. Bully for you. But where’s the upside for citizens?
Every day of late we hear about some massive new redevelopment. Shocked residents were only coming to terms with the proposed $1.5-billion redevelopment of Oakridge Mall, which calls for 2,900 apartment units in towers up to 40-storeys high, when city hall announced a $1-billion redevelopment scheme for the Downtown Eastside that will double the population of that troubled neighbourhood.
Anyone who dares stand in the way of all this “progress” is branded a NIMBY or worse, some kind of a crank.
But who is this city for, anyway? The people who live here now — and pay taxes, by the way — or mythical future citizens, apparently OK paying a million or more bucks for tiny boxes up in the sky? Not much of a life.
And what is the limit to all this growth? Are developers and city hall politicians not going to be happy until they have squeezed every last drop of potential density out of Vancouver and it has been transformed to resemble Hong Kong or downtown Manhattan?
In my view, all they are doing is wrecking my once lovely town.
I appreciate this is a personal view not shared by everyone. But in the past, whenever a lot of us old-time Vancouverites visited bigger cities like Toronto or London, England, New York or Tokyo, it was always such a pleasure to come home to the slower, more humane pace of our hometown. Not all of us love the endless bustle of huge cities, which is why we made our lives in Vancouver.
Perhaps I’d feel better about all the growth if someone could point to some positives. But where are all the natural history museums, art galleries and other great cultural features common to other large cities? Despite the growth, we’re not acquiring any of the cultural attributes of large cities that at least provide some trade-off to a hectic life in an urban jungle. Let’s face it, we’re an artistic wasteland compared with truly great cities. How are all those condo towers blocking the spectacular views of the North Shore mountains and the ocean making us more interesting?
One of the biggest arguments for density is to improve affordability. But how’s that working for you? You now can’t buy a house west of Main Street for less than $1.5 million (really $2 million for something decent), condo prices are nuts and keep rising and try finding an affordable place with three bedrooms. No wonder Vancouver schools are down thousands of kids from full capacity. Despite population growth, enrolment in Vancouver public schools has been on a steady decline for years, dropping to about 51,000 in 2012 from nearly 58,000 in 1997. The percentage of Vancouver’s population aged 14 and under fell to 11.8 per cent in 2011 from 12.9 per cent in 2006. The national average is 16.7 per cent, meaning we have 30 per cent fewer kids than average Canadian communities. We also have a steadily increasing population of seniors. A decline in kids means a decline in families, which means that in that way Vancouver is dying. And since increasing density hasn’t done anything to improve affordability, why do we keep doing more of it, unless it’s just to sell more condos?
All we seem to get with growth is negatives — traffic gridlock, an overwhelmed transit system that we can’t afford to enlarge and crowded public spaces. How does any of that make Vancouver a nicer place to live and work?
Finally, we’ve become jerks. We used to be a pretty friendly town, but now we cut each other off in traffic, nearly run down pedestrians in crosswalks and everyone is angry all the time. It’s part of what the late U.S. ethologist John Calhoun called “behavioural sink” — the decline in civility that results from overcrowding. I’ve taken to calling the city of my birth the “City of D-bags,” not that I’m proud of it. And I never thought I’d say this growing up here, but one day I’ll probably leave.
If all of this is what it means to be world class, you can stick it where the sun don’t shine — on any sidewalk in Vancouver surrounded by all those towers.