31 October 2013

Is asphalt the new green in Vision’s Vancouver?

The Province, October 31, 2013. 5:22 pm • Section: Opinion

For a political party whose goal is to make Vancouver the greenest city in the world, Vision’s disdain for green space seems oddly out of place. In one of their first budgets, Vision stripped funding for street trees and ripped out the heart of park maintenance. After being re-elected, Mayor Gregor Robertson mused on destroying a green space in Langara to put up affordable housing. The idea of cutting the Langara golf course up to make way for condo towers was surely one of his more bizarre ideas.

Then there was the idea, pushed by Vision, to cover Vancouver’s last natural foreshore on Burrard Inlet, along the waterfront from Kitsilano to Jericho, with a concrete path. The latest is to take green space out of Kitsilano and Haddon parks for a bicycle route so cyclists could have a view of the water.

For a party that promotes itself as green, it appears to have a great affection for concrete and asphalt. Vision Vancouver seems to view our parks as some sort of “land bank” that they can make withdrawals from whenever they feel like it. In fact, our parks and beaches are a legacy left to us by our parents and grandparents and held in trust by us for our children and their children in perpetuity.

Where does this seemingly odd contradiction come from? Could it be that Vision is so beholden to lobby groups and their development donors that they only pay lip service to their green credentials? Or could it be that their vision of green is completely different from what other people see?

Many Vancouverites would agree getting people out of their cars and onto alternative modes of transportation, like bicycles, buses and sidewalks, is the right direction. Many also would agree that we need to build affordable housing. What I don’t think most citizens would agree with is that it should be done at the expense of our parks and natural spaces.

Vancouver has had the silent goal of being a green city since its inception in 1886. The first act of the newly formed city council was to create a park board to manage Stanley Park. This single decision has ensured that Vancouver has always meant that parks and green spaces are a priority and that citizens have a direct say in what their city would be like. Over its history, Vancouver has planted street trees, maintained our beaches and parklands and encouraged the population to enjoy nature in the city.

Until recently that is.

Being green is not some new concept made up by Vision Vancouver no matter how they spin it. Under independents, NPA, TEAM, and COPE administrations, Vancouver has always been a “green” city. It is bizarre that the first administration that actually calls themselves that and has a goal of making Vancouver the greenest city in the world, would have such a little regard for the green areas of the city. This may ultimately be Vision Vancouver’s downfall — their Achilles heel.

As Abraham Lincoln is attributed as saying “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time”. Come election day next November, the citizens of Vancouver may not wish to be played the fool for a third time.

Stuart Mackinnon is a Vancouver teacher and former Green Party Vancouver park board commissioner. 
["Is Asphalt the New Green?" is quickly becoming the slogan when talking about the Vision PB. Thank you John Hudson for coining these words.]

21 October 2013

It’s an ill wind that blows against Vision’s empire

 The Province, October 21, 2013. 12:41 pm • Section: Opinion

Vision began as a protest movement, fighting against what its members saw as the radical agenda of the leftist COPE party. Many saw them as opportunists wanting re-election more than putting forward the policies they were elected on.

COPE was in favour of electoral reform, strengthening neighbourhoods and citizen participation. They were against mega-stores and big money developers. Vision has rejected electoral reform and embraced any kind of development to the point where they are now the party of choice for developers’ donations.

While they send out messages that they listen to the citizenry through public hearings and open government, they have alienated more neighbourhoods in the past seven years than arguably any other civic government since Tom Campbell.

For the past several years, media stories have been filled with individuals, community groups and whole neighbourhoods complaining that city hall has been forcing ill-conceived plans and developments on them with nothing but the most cursory of public process.

The park board has seen its fair share as well. A public meeting that went on well into the early hours of the morning with little if anything to show for it; lawsuits brought against it; and changes in the rules and process of meetings that many see as a Harper-inspired stranglehold on democracy.

Only the school board seems to have been able to keep public support; however that might be because the NPA opposition has been bizarrely linked to American far right wing/evangelical causes and seen as nothing more than fringe players.

Yet despite this growing upset and opposition, Vision Vancouver appears on the verge of a third sweep at the polls next year. Rather than solidify the opposition, the disparate groups have chosen to splinter and splutter into small movements without direction or cause.

New parties like Vancouver First and the Cedar Party appear to be little more than cults of personality or one-issue ponies while dissatisfied NPAers jumped the proverbial sinking ship for the all new TEAM that looks anything but new.

After several years in the wilderness, COPE appears to be putting its house in order, but it may be a case of too little, too late for the next electoral go-round.

Today, Vision is probably better organized and better funded than at any other time in its existence. With the deep pockets of the development community, the wealth of organizational skills of street-smart young marketers and a splintered opposition, it looks, 13 months out, to be a slam-dunk for Mayor Gregor Robertson and his group.

If an opposition to the incumbents wants to rally its forces and take a shot at wresting city hall from the ruling party, it is going to have to do some serious thinking and come up with a common front.

A strong independent candidate for mayor who is not saddled with the NIMBY or wing-nut label may be the only hope for change at 12th and Cambie. A strong candidate who could bring along five or six other independents onto council could break the electoral behemoth of Vision.

Is there such a person? A few years ago that knight in shining armour was seen as Carole Taylor, who chose to stay out. Today there doesn’t seem to be anyone waiting in the wings. On the right, former park board commissioner Ian Robertson was once seen as a solidifying force; on the left the likes of David Cadman are long lost.

Without the presence of people like these former politicians, it doesn’t seem likely at this point that there will be much change in civic politics in Vancouver.

Vision Vancouver may think that it is an ill wind that blows against their empire, but fresh air always follows the worst of storms.

Stuart Mackinnon is a former Green Party Vancouver park board commissioner.

 The editorial pages editor is Gordon Clark, who can be reached at gclark@theprovince.com. Letters to the editor can be sent to provletters@theprovince.com.

19 October 2013

Park Board needs a better communication plan

What is with the Park Board? They pass a motion to put a new bicycle path through Kitsilano and Haddon Parks and then crumble when the public object. The motion came with a map clearly showing the route would put the path through both passive and active green areas. An unknown citizen took that map and marked it out on the ground and all hell breaks loose in the neighbourhood.

Most of the community had no idea this path was coming. Park Board did their usual drive-by consultation of sending out a survey-taker and interviewed some park users with an ambiguous question asking if they think a dedicated path is necessary. Having got the answer they wanted, they proceeded to draw up their plans without consulting the neighbourhood.

The survey results were accurate. A dedicated bicycle path is necessary. It is necessary for both commuters and recreational users. It is necessary for the safety of both riders and pedestrians. What is not necessary is the route mapped out in the plan.

Rather than a clear communication plan to ease the fears and instead educate and consult with the community, they send out Vice-chair Aaron Jasper to say too bad it's a done deal."To be clear" Jasper said to the Vancouver Courier "this decision will not be reversed". This is working with the community? This is engaging residents? This is responsible government?

And now after a week of citizen protest, the Park Board Chair sends out, on a Friday, a press release saying the route hasn't been chosen yet. That everyone should calm down and that consultation with the community will take place.

This is a communication plan? Make a decision, send out the pit-bull to defend it and then back away saying everyone opposing the plan was confused and wrong? The bullying tactics the Vision Commissioners started in their first term continue. Meaningful consultation means working with the community, not telling them after decisions are made to suck it up. Good government means working for the people, not against them. It means bringing communities together, not pitting them against each other.

A good communications plan lays out the decision making process so that everyone can see a transparent and fair process. Once again the Vision Vancouver commissioners have shown that they have neither the communication skills nor the leadership at Park Board to bring about change within the city. Once again our elected have failed us.