Stories from the NIMBY, Stories from the BING

What are we talking about when we remember the dead? I’ve recently helped my family in Israel produce a book in memory of my father. He passed away a year ago, roughly at the same age as Bing Thom. Both were dreamers. One of them, a city dweller. The other, a city builder. Thom was on a trip to Hong Kong when he passed away, October 4, 2016. I saw Bing talk a few years ago, at a Lulu Series lecture in Richmond. My impression of his achievements was that they amount to much more than just drawing nice buildings. He had a profound understanding of politics, social benefit, marketing and business making. He knew how to connect. Remembering the dead can inspire our own engagement with life.

bingthom-projectsIn late November, I receive an email from Westbank: “Bing Thom & the Future of our City ” December 6th, 2016. Knowing it would generate high demand, I sign up immediately. A few days later, I stand in line outside the Rio Theatre, roughly fifteen minutes before ‘open doors’. For Westbank’s marketing machine, this venue is an easy choice in promoting their development agenda. The planning process in recent years for Grandview Woodland has raised enough resistance and suspicion in the neighbourhood. The Rio is physically and symbolically in spitting distance from the intersection of Commercial Drive and Broadway. Bing Thom Architects (BTA) is involved with Westbank in the proposal for the Safeway site precinct at Broadway and Commercial Drive.

The snow from the day before hasn’t melted away yet, but it wasn’t too cold outside. As I work on preparing my phone to show my ticket, the guy ahead of me realizes he doesn’t have one. I try to help him solve his issue. I later see him successfully enter. I talk briefly with a downtown resident who worked in a kibbutz in the seventies and then the doors open. My screen is scanned and I find a seat in the middle of an advanced row: good view of the stage; broad connection to the audience.

It’s too dark to read through the program I was handed. Within the rows of seats of the theatre I find myself wondering how long we have until something meaningful starts. Maybe fifteen minutes to 7 pm, I stand up. If we are going to continue sitting until nine o’clock, I better stretch a bit. From the motion surrounding Ian Gillespie’s arrival, a few minutes before 7 pm, it looks like everyone was waiting for him. Is it him? The band on stage seems to be enjoying themselves. Later I see in the program, that the hour between ‘open doors’ until the event starts was planned into the agenda. This is not the right venue for spending an hour waiting.

I kind of learned to appreciate Ian’s performance on stage from previous events. He’s personal, visionary and charming. His vision is obviously “limited” to massive scale business opportunities. Is there anything there for me or you, the small-scale Vancouverite? Is he the developer that will save The City? Are any of us? Who WILL determine the future of our city?

In his closing remarks, Ian mentions Leslie Van Duzer and her great work at the University of British Columbia’s School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, but when he exits the stage, Hellen Ritts—Director of Marketing and Communications at Bing Thom Architects—replaces him. Hellen’s introduction to working with and for Bing provides a heartwarming transition to the rest of the evening. It’s interesting to hear from her about Bing’s way of promoting his staff by challenging them to stretch their own limits. He seems to have been a father-figure to many who had encountered him. The loss of a leader can be our opportunity to be empowered.

Then it’s Michael Heeney, one of BTA’s principals. He surveys the professional impact of Bing Thom on the global “industry” of architecture. He weaves into his story the wider context of urban and political development. My two highlights from Michael’s presentation are Bing the connector and Thom the developer.

When Leslie Van Duzer appears onstage, she is accompanied by the panelists. They occupy the sofas waiting for them: Charles Montgomery, author of Happy City; Bruce Haden, who is establishing his own practice following a partnership at DIALOG Architecture and ; Sonja Trauss, founder of SF BARF, the San Francisco Bay Area Renters Federation, as well as Michael Heeney.

Van Duzer’s moderation is somewhat dry, academic, a few anecdotes worthy of branching into comedy, engagement and questioning, but at times slow paced. Montgomery’s edgy discomfort is a promising spark of light in an otherwise stifled discussion. Sonja’s inclusion in the panel is an intriguing piece of casting. A Grandview-Woodland Citizen’s Assembly member might have been a more inspired or insightful contributor to the exchange. Who knows.

When finally the audience has a chance to participate, quite a few members have already left. Some trivial, yet worthy questions start to flow and then a white-haired fellow a few rows ahead of me states: “Build cities for people somewhere else. I like my detached, single family home residence. I was here first.” he expresses his typical NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) view in admirable honesty.

Montgomery’s sharing of his controlled rage with the NIMBY’s words is, on the one hand a welcome comic relief. On the other, it is a moment in the discussion that illustrates our weakness as a democratic urban society. Dealing with the development pressures of a growing city has always been a matter of massive experimentation. NIMBYs Hate Change. Change eventually comes.

No single person has the power to resist Big Money. Democratic urban societies are a random collection of individuals trying to advance individual dreams. Their degree of education is hardly a tool in use for the benefit of urban well-being. The panelists on stage sound intelligent and educated. The NIMBY in the audience baffles them. If they are so dumb-struck by a single audience member, what chance do we have with our professionals in dealing with City Hall? Some of us need to become Bing the connector and Thom the developer.

Earlier in the discussion, Sonja’s remarks reflected nicely on the reality of people’s views in light of a person’s position in life. If you own property and are not in any significant pressure to earn your living, your interest in densification might be low. This easily translates into resistance to change. The current illustrations of disconnect, between interest groups in the world come to my mind. Vancouver’s own planning mess at City Hall is one; Brexit is another example; the election of Donald Trump to president; Sonja’s own call for less planning illustrates a conflict on a personal scale; the 2015 Transit Referendum anyone?

For me, these are research worthy topics, showing our own failure to engage with those who ascribe to a NIMBY attitude. Find out where they are right and work with them on solving the challenge; on dissolving their fears.

We are all born with at least a thread of NIMBY in our vocal fold. By understanding the NIMBY we can advance beneficial urban development. We can make progress either by working with our neighbours or building new connections. Instead, we trench ourselves in holy knowledge of what’s good for society. “Why can’t they understand how stupid their own ideas are?” Why should they?

The existing balance between democracy and indoors discretion doesn’t always benefit social good. This balance seems to me to be the struggle we will always face in promoting well-being in our community. Whoever has control over resources, be it land, knowledge or anything with a price tag, will not surrender it willingly. I’m left with a sense that a crucial point in this evening’s opportunity was missed.

I walk out to the chilly sidewalk outside the Rio Theatre strangely inspired. In his anonymity, my father touched the lives of the many people he knew. With his wealth of awards and the societies he’s touched, Bing Thom is still relatively anonymous outside of professional circles. The loss of people, which for some leaves a void, can transform into a space for action. All of us have an opportunity to work with that space for the benefit of generations. Leadership is not a role exclusive to the elected few; Bing Thom’s model of development is a significant take away from the evening.

Anarchy is not always a threat; our challenge is to harness the power of change into a positive driving force. Let’s Make Vancouver Ugly Again; this paraphrase on Trump’s election slogan doesn’t have to be taken literally. There is promise in the changes Vancouver is going through. Whatever threat we can think of, can become a source of growth. By embracing our inner NIMBY we can benefit from its strength.

The evening in memory of Bing Thom ended in Bruce Haden’s reminder that Bing left us with a legacy of pushing boundaries and boldly exploring possibilities. I can live with that.

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Many thanks to Erick Villagomez for his editing of my article, that appeared first on Spacing.ca. The title above is a paraphrase on an album by PJ Harvey.

Interfacing Our Literacy

check-outPeople have no idea what a library is. Two separate librarians uttered this phrase to me without hesitation. It was expressed with joy and a big smile. The joy comes from the sense of opportunity to enrich people’s lives. The smile is that of hope and enthusiasm.

“INTERFACE IS WHERE THE EXCHANGE

EITHER EXISTS OR IS LOST”.

Libraries existed as early as ancient times. Today’s library around the world is in a quick transition from what most of us are familiar with. What do you know about the library near you? I thought I was a reasonably educated patron of libraries until I set out to write this composition.

I was curious what people actually know about libraries

It was interesting to consider what they should know.

And then, how do we make people care about libraries?

In Roald Dahl’s Matilda, a librarian at the beginning of the story provides the book’s subject the means to escape a reality, of growing up in an extremely dysfunctional, corrupt family. As fantastical as the details of the story might seem, the power of literacy is one that most of us regard as unquestionable. It is evident in our lives each day. Starting from your alarm clock to fixing your own breakfast, the ability to read makes every step of the way that much more accessible. As you go further in life, literacy connects us to become the society we are.

“Knowledge is Power” is a well-known phrase, coined by Sir Francis Bacon back in 1597. Access to knowledge is key to that power. Literacy was never cheap and a strong society is a literate one. The technology that brought us the book has come a long way. From being the property of the elite and the wealthy, the book is now a widely available product in a variety of prices. The evolution of the public library dates back some centuries ago. Together with the book, it has reached a point where questions over what the library should be are shaping it into its future.

People still come to read and acquire knowledge in a library. In order to facilitate the focus required for effective learning, we need to be considerate with each other’s space. I grew up appreciating the need to be quiet in a library. However, it is a public space. So the tension between socializing and privacy is always there. The librarian of my youth was usually the person in charge of policing readers’ experience.

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I’ve had an interesting conversation a few years ago with a librarian. One of the things she mentioned caught my attention: they are working hard on finding ways to gain public interest because otherwise they will lose their job. For me it was disturbing. I understand that it is difficult for anyone worried about their livelihood to separate themselves from the justification for their work. As a member of society who supports libraries wholeheartedly, I am interested to find ways to discuss this support without bias.

When my daughter was a toddler, a friend of ours re-introduced me to the library. It had been a few years since the previous time I visited one. I always found them useful if a bit stuffy and restricted spaces. But in my search to occupy my child in more than one way, the library seemed like an excellent variation. It turned out to be one of our favorite venues.

I’ve been borrowing books, including eBooks and videos for quite a few years now. This is great and usually painless. At times there is a book in high demand so it might be frustrating to wait for a copy. We live close to a few jurisdictions so sometimes I benefit from a wider selection. While in the library, staff have always been very friendly and absolutely helpful. However, interaction with them is usually restricted to what I need from them within the scope of services they provide.

Naturally, books are still an extremely valuable asset of libraries. In her younger years, our daughter could attach to a single book. She could listen to us reading it for her over and over again. On a lighter note, borrowing a book was a fantastic way of posing a restriction over how long we can stay with it. When she started reading on her own, the excitement of going to the library became even bigger. And of course we already knew that we could borrow more than just books.

Eventually, there are other functions this space needs to address. As information technology advanced throughout the years, the needs of the public from the library have shifted. It is less of a reference hub and more of almost anything else.

Activities of the library exist, that are not directly related to books. You can’t miss the notice boards going in and out of the library. This is how my wife and I joined a discussion in one of the reading clubs. It was a great way to gain exposure to interesting information. This time it was a highly recommended book: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot. Interacting with other readers of the same book was a bonus.

Librarians experience the shift in services they are required to provide at the front desk. Their interaction with the public provides valuable information as to how well the services provided are accepted or even acknowledged. The library is a complex system. What it offers and how it can be accessed is a layer of information that needs to be communicated. How to provide this information to a person without overwhelming them, is a daily challenge.

A friend of ours is a storyteller. She might have filled this composition with praise for librarians and the library more quickly than I could press the enter key to start the next paragraph. In storytelling events you truly experience the friendliness of librarians. Our friend is deeply grateful for their helpfulness and dedication to literature and literacy.

For a few years now, our library has been operating a digital lab. The public can come and compose music and edit it for free. Along with that, one can sign in to various online services, all for free, as part of the membership to the public library. The world around us is developing in such a pace, that not only the library is facing challenges of what services it can and should provide.

In spite of the access to many cheap and free services, life is becoming more and more expensive. As a publicly funded organization, the library is forced to forge alliances. Solutions might sometimes come up as compromising necessities. However, collaborations provide the opportunities to reach economies of scale, better outreach and circulation.

Urban development is one of current days’ realities. It is both an opportunity as it is a challenge for libraries. Funding resources are always at a shortage. When politics are involved, libraries are not immune to becoming victims. The story of the Troy Library is a cautionary tale of how things can get wrong. Creative thinking and quick action have worked out in this one. Not every story has a happy ending. When libraries are designated as amenities, it is all too easy to sacrifice them for the sake of a balanced bottom line. Fortunately, many see it as a crucial organization, to a degree that is almost unquestionable.

But what does urban development mean to us? Our cities are becoming more populated. The needs for public libraries are growing with our cities. The services required are constantly expanding. Cities grow naturally in some cases. In most cases, immigrants are a significant source of urban growth. These residents face many pressures that a good library system can effectively respond to. It is worth noting that many talks relating to this topic exist and you can reach them easily on the web. Here is a talk that covers some of the achievements libraries have with their public.

One of the gratifying sides of being a librarian seems to be the endless gratitude of immigrants for the help they get. Programs are available for resume writing, language skills and more. The position of the library within the network of social agencies is crucial for the success of both resettlement and the society into which immigrants move.

As both librarians I spoke with have said, people have no idea what a library is. With all the great intentions, the interface between institutions and the individual is where the exchange either exists or is lost. We have a fantastic infrastructure of support systems. And still, the people who can benefit the most from them, many times don’t. Language barriers for immigrants, time challenges caused by work load and family pressures are simple realities we need to acknowledge.

“PEOPLE HAVE NO IDEA WHAT A LIBRARY IS.”

The challenge is real. How to connect users with the services they look for and need, may seem simple and straightforward. However, institutions sometimes become burdened with too many tasks for their own workforce to handle.

My conclusion for this  article is open to investigation. The dynamic nature of life allows us to explore many options each day. Libraries need our help in forging the way to stay relevant. For each community, the balance between needs and aspirations is different. Asking questions is a good way to inspire responses and solutions.

Here are some to start with:

  • What are the main types of audiences a library has?
  • What are the characteristics of these groups?
  • Which are the best places to reach these audiences?
  • Who can do the job?

But the best insight to date I can offer is LAST: Listen, Ask, Suggest and Take action.

To Assembly And Beyond

A city in change can be fascinating and inspiring, as much as it can be sad and depressing. This is true, I suspect, for its residents and its governors, its business owners and developers. The city is a tool, a mechanism, a product. It is just as well an environment, a living space, an organism.

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The last session of three roundtables has been an interim conclusion to a promising process. Its promise, in light of the above, is plagued with question marks and challenges. The seven sub-areas of Grandview Woodland have each a set of unique characteristics. Together they form a whole that has the quality and charm of a metropolitan village.

Is this charm reason enough to leave things as they are? How can we productively articulate a set of directions that facilitate a healthy change?
150507-MechanismsAssembly-14It is evident that members of the Assembly have invested a considerable effort in this engagement. They have generated a list of recommendations that will be presented to City Hall later this year. The last roundtable was dedicated to fine tuning the various points for each sub-area.

Cedar Cove – The Edgy Residential Land
Hastings – The Industrial High Street
Britannia Woodland – The Rental & Affordable Stock
Grandview – The Residential Heritage Enclave
Nanaimo – The Truck Route & Historic City Boundary
Commercial Dr. – The Heartbeat of The Neighborhood
Broadway & Commercial – The Regional Transit Hub

For each sub area a table or two were assigned for discussion. From the two tables I participated in, the buzz of emotions was tangible yet somewhat subdued. There was urgency in the air mixed with despair; confusion alternated with decisiveness.
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Around the first table residents who want things to stay as they are sat beside a developer who is expecting zoning to allow more than four stories. More people than probably anticipated arrived at the Croatian Community Centre. As this was the last event where residents could participate in consultation, some frustration trickled into the discussion.

At the second table our facilitator was looking for specific feedback over points in the recommendations document. To me  they all seemed reasonably comprehensive. It looks obvious to me that the recommendations will never be perfect. What we need now is a look into the next stage of engagement. The Assembly members have gone through an admirable process of learning and contribution.
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One of the fascinating outcomes of the work of the Citizens’ Assembly in my view is the increase in connections. Neighbors got to know more about each other, more about their common interests as much as their differences. Residents experienced in a tangible way the tools in use for urban planning. Connections are what makes a city work. We need to make sure connections remain a priority in the management and governance of Vancouver. Wherever they are weak, our job is to strengthen them.

It is worth paying attention to the layers of connection. The following points are quick notes I’ve taken as discussions around the table evolved:

  • Within sub areas – enhance and improve the flow of pedestrians between streets and blocks.
  • Between sub areas – minimize or eliminate the separation between sub areas.
  • To adjacent areas/neighborhoods – Grandview Woodland is defined by thoughts and definitions. It also influences and is influenced by what people in and out of it are doing.

The wealth of ideas and insights from the work of the Assembly is dynamic. It can continue to nurture the productive connections created while the Assembly existed. As the Assembly is about to disassemble, established channels can facilitate the continued connections. New ones could surely emerge.

Possible channels could be the City website (Vancouver), the Commercial Drive Business Association (CDBS), Vancouver Public Library (VPL), Kettle Friendship Society (Kettle), The Aboriginal Friendship Centre Society (VAFCS) and other agencies. Each could have an interface established so that the engagement expands instead of being wrapped up.
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We need to support the achievements of the Citizens’ Assembly in making sure the discussion continues. Values & recommendation, zoning & policies are all open to interpretation. The documents we will see are generated in response to a commendable process. To fully benefit from the investment in this process, mechanisms of exchange need to be enhanced and maintained.

A city in change uses tools and mechanisms that become a product. That product is the environment we all live in and make into our life. It’s not about whether any of us wants change or not. The city is an organism that constantly changes. Participation in the process is the life of a city. We need to make sure that the tools for participation evolve with the changing city. This city is essentially who we are.

At the corner of Victoria and Ferndale

Playing music at the corner of Victoria and Ferndale: Brandon, Nao & Yuka

People Care

Imagine landing in Vancouver after a visit to a distant place. Is there anything missing here you’ve already seen elsewhere? Even the great things in Vancouver can benefit from fine tuning. How about issues that need fixing?

When Michael Geller invited the audience to share their ideas, his presentation finally delivered on its promise: 12 ideas on how to make Vancouver a healthier, friendlier, more beautiful and creative city. After the presentation, the number of audience members who waited to share their ideas was impressive. The video of the event will let you experience it as it was filmed. Here I will try to extract some of the points that raised my intrigue.

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One of the last Mic holders at the question period was a foreign student. He charmingly confessed to riding the Skytrain without paying. He’s been doing that ever since he realized he could. No Skytrain official approaches Japanese looking riders to check their fares. His point was not to brag about fare evasion and definitely not to complain about racism. He would actually like to see in Vancouver systems similar to those he knows from Japan; systems that work.

“The world is a more complex place than we think”, Michael Geller informs us. That “world”, me included since 2002, is coming to BC and Vancouver in a rate higher than local society’s natural growth (Births – Deaths vs Immigration). This city can become better but might find itself sliding the opposite way. It’s not the first time I come out of a local discussion feeling like “Vancouver is a culture, about to be consumed and trashed like any other commodity in our world”.

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Although Vancouver is sufficiently welcoming to new insights, it is also notoriously conservative and tied with too many restrictions. It’s not perfect – it’s changing. For some, it’s too much; for others it’s not fast enough. “Act quickly”, Michael urges. This tension between NIMBYism and impatient pressure for change can trash Vancouver. It is no one’s intention but it can certainly  happen.

Do we need to protect ourselves from a looming future or should we find the right mechanisms to improve what we already have? We could strive “to be like ______” (fill in the culture of your choice), but eventually we can work with what we have here. Introducing new ideas, locally sourced as well as imported, is an embraceable (i.e. worthy) challenge.

There’s a difference between seeing and looking, between looking and observing. In my own travels I used to “go to the non-exotic and look for the uncommon”, as Geller has suggested. What’s great about this approach is that you can apply it without even leaving Vancouver. Many of our side streets can be depressingly uninspiring. But as soon as you have an idea that inspires you to do something –  moving quickly should be your priority. Know your tools, be prepared and find the issues you really care about.

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As Geller’s entertaining talk approached its conclusion, a layer of whining started to wrap it up. “People care!” I blurted without really knowing what else to say. Initially I was a bit frustrated with the speaker’s delivery. The question period however, was the phase where our gathering truly justified itself.

“The World” is coming to Vancouver to get inspired. Part of it is coming here to stay. In doing so, That World is not only bringing ideas, but making them happen. Let’s open up to that reality and embrace what we already have.

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Michael Geller is an architect, planner, real estate consultant and property developer with four decades’ experience in the public, private and institutional sectors. His lecture was performed at the SFU Harbour Centre on April 1 2015.

What culture expects us in the future?

As I lock my bike to the railing beside the Croatian Community Center, another guy has just about finished locking his own. He grumbles something about the lack of racks to accommodate the mass of bikers who came to the planning workshop. “Pretty impressive” I share in irony. “We seem to have parking challenges” I smile and continue my unpacking. “Assholes”, he scoffs and walks inside.

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The last of seven planning workshops for Grandview Woodland concluded on Saturday, March 7, 2015. The series of workshops has generated an intriguing process of interaction. The neighborhood is made up of people from a variety of cultures. Can their various interests and intentions then constitute a Grandview Woodland Culture?

Doug Saunders, a Globe and Mail columnist and author of Arrival City, spoke at Surrey City Hall in November of 2014. His opening remark relates nicely with the process Vancouver is going through these days. “We have just finished five decades in which we got lucky… and, we are now at the beginning of five decades in which we will have to be skilled”. Saunders’ discussion focuses on “the urban districts that form the bottom rung on the ladder”. (The full talk by Doug Saunders can be watched here). However, his observation is valid for any planning process a city goes through.

In mid-2013 the planning process for Grandview Woodland ran into what can be seen as a clash of cultures. To the best of my knowledge, the people at City Hall, responsible for that process in Grandview Woodland, are all skilled.

Has the City of Vancouver missed on being smart? What qualities do we need to successfully head into the coming half century?

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Good will? Or in Y2K speak, Transparency? In 2012, the Commercial Drive Business Society (CDBS) commissioned a consultation process that resulted in a document: Vision and Design Guidelines. The Grandview Woodland Citizens’ Assembly (GWCA) has approached the CDBS in a request to share that document. I’ve been among those who signed an open letter that had urged the CDBS to allow circulation of the document in the community. However, I had a feeling that the two groups were heading into an unnecessary power struggle. I was very quickly happy to realize I had been wrong. On March 7 Nick Pogor, CDBS executive director participated in the workshop. Copies of the Visioning document were circulated in the hall. Not bad, eh?

The Citizens’ Assembly are in the final stages of working out their recommendations to The City. The learning process that they’ve gone through is sure to yield many benefits for the neighborhood as well as the individuals involved. The play between scales is at the core of planning, designing and caring for our city: the interests of an individual and the needs of the community; the livability of a street and accessibility within the region. A bench on the sidewalk is a result of a layered process that is more than just screwing it in place.

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It was a beautiful day on the Saturday of the last workshop. My daughter wanted to get there in the car. My wife and I wanted to take our bikes. “It’s all downhill from our place to the Croatian Center” I told her, “We can take the Skytrain on the way back”. On our way back we cycled halfway and crashed at Inbal’s classmate’s home. They were very happy to see us and without delay opened a box of cookies. Both kids and parents had another hour of socializing. The rest of the way to our place was a piece of cake.

We can only plan some of our moves. The gatherings in Grandview Woodland exposed a multitude of interests and needs. What then is the culture of a neighborhood? How do you facilitate its success for the future?

Pressing Questions

The Emperor’s New Clothes‘ is an analogy that any of us can interpret in a variety of ways. When you ask yourself “how am I like the emperor in my own life?” you could explore some interesting insights that might turn into action. The same with the boy, the same with the swindlers. It really depends on how honest you care to be with yourself. If you were a comedian, many stand up sketches could come out of such an exercise.

What insights would it yield if you were a participant in a City of Vancouver neighborhood planning workshop? One problem with this exercise is that the workshop is part of a democratic process. The ’emperor’ is a curious story from a not so distant social structure. But are we really fully democratic? Yet again, you could question your own government as to its practices and, not to forget, you could question yourself. 150223-ConDiv The workshop for the Commercial-Broadway sub-area was held on Saturday, February 21st. A few days before that, White Rock City Council voted to eliminate question period from their agenda. In that city, 19,339 residents were counted as of 2011. The Grandview Woodland neighborhood is home to 27,300. What are the differences between the two communities? What similarities can we count?

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White Rock, with its recent questionable decision, is like a vestige from an extinct species. Will we be so lucky as to have someone pick on the comic perspective of it? The proposed community plan in Grandview Woodland of mid 2013 was a display of disregard to community consultation. Fortunately, the lack of listening on the part of Vancouver City Hall resulted in an interesting eruption of community opposition. The lessons from that process are still being learned, as information becomes available and is shared. Here too, some giggles and laughs will hopefully emerge.

The efforts to govern and serve a city these days are intriguing to the point of practitioners becoming overwhelmed. Within the context of change, we humans, are almost the only part of the city that stays the same. The transfer of responsibilities from federal to provincial to municipal in recent years means that we are all still adjusting. From a sleepy region up until 1986, the lower mainland has experienced a constant push for growth.

Right now the neighborhood is bubbling with experimentation that is yet to be determined as successful or frivolous. The extent of residents’ involvement in the democratic process is a crucial factor, in which direction we take. This is where the workshops in Grandview Woodland provide a platform of engagement. Within the context of change, that platform promotes a degree of stability. So how do we benefit from it?

In the Croatian Community Centre the City of Vancouver facilitators were busy framing the discussion. As usual, the questions we were asked included the topics of Local Economy, Arts & Culture, Heritage, Parks and Public Space, Social Sustainability & Social Issues, Transportation and Housing. The difference this time compared to previous workshops was the introduction of a request to express our impressions of convergent and divergent items.

Our discussion covered items such as pedestrian friendliness of the area around the Skytrain station, building-form-and-height, green-and-open-space, etc. The topics that resulted in a sense of general agreement, were framed as convergent. The topics of disagreement were framed as divergent. This process was presented as experimental. Some facilitators admitted to it being challenging for them as well.

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Has our platform lost its sense of stability? Listening is one of people’s ongoing challenges. The experiment on Saturday might have stretched the effort of listening beyond most people’s attention span. It has possibly also triggered the underlying question many of us have: are they truly trying to listen to us? Is this exercise employing the comprehensive planning tools in the best possible way or is it just a fancy dress up to “eliminate question period”?

The comic in me takes a step back to ask, what if that boy’s parents had a babysitter that day?!

Hastings Workshop: Tooling Our Language

No matter what we say, our words will be wasted in the lands of politics and development. This, at least, is a common fear I observe in community consultations I go to. Indeed, the word, which is one of the core tools of human communications, is also a source of much misinterpretation and even distortion.

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The slope along Hastings is a feature of the sub-area. A part of the discussion relating to building heights, I tried to hear from my fellow residents around the table, what might be their preference of a possible future. The option here imagines a gradual reduction of building heights from Clark Dr. to Nanaimo Street.

We can’t let that discourage us from participating in life. Whether spoken or otherwise, our words lead to action. My challenge is to articulate insights into words that reflect my intentions. Our challenge as a society is to strike a fair balance between individual needs-and-interests and those of the community. The more we invest in articulating our interests and concerns the better we pave the ground for sustainable action. Our words then become building blocks and stepping stones.

While walking along the Hastings Street sub area I was looking for phrases to support my dialogue in the workshop that was hosted in the Aboriginal Friendship Center on Saturday, February 14. My first phrase is a question: how much of the local economy relies on visitors?

Immediately on arrival at the intersection of Hastings and Nanaimo you will notice the slope taking you down from east to west. Some of the building fronts are stepped in response to this slope. This feature as a carrier of character could become a message into the future. Let’s call it Shaping form in response to topography.

As soon as you step away from Hastings Street the relative quiet of the blocks is a pleasant surprise. Pandora park is being renewed and its field house is home to a group called ‘Dance Troupe‘ for the coming three years. It will be interesting to see how well the park serves the growing community. Could this sub area benefit from another park between Pandora and Woodland? Our future could benefit from Exploring unlikely opportunities.

The commodity of unobstructed views is a tough challenge. Does my quality of living rely so heavily on seeing the mountains from my bathroom? If I step out to dance in the streets, will I be better off or dismissed as a lunatic?

Pender Street, between Victoria Dr. and Templeton Dr. has an uncommon tree lined median that I wish we saw more of in our city’s streets. With proper landscape design such a median could encourage fantastic social activity. A larger number of residents is expected to live in the area as well as reach it for any purpose. A median such as the one on Pender could be a lovely landing, gathering and departure spot. The phrase I make of this example is Enhancement of existing features.

The more I go to community events like the ones in Grandview Woodland, the more I hope they continue. They provide layers of exchange that reach beyond their immediate purpose. Looking back at the workshop on Saturday, here is a quick list of the above points and some more:

  • How much of the local economy relies on visitors?
  • Shaping form in response to topography.
  • Explore unlikely opportunities.
  • Enhance existing features.
  • Maintain a flow of all trafic modes.
  • Develop programming that supports the built space.
  • Develop space that supports required programming.

Final Thoughts The word is one of the core tools of human communications. Since its first days of employment in our society, the word has removed us from the immediate concerns of survival. This in itself is both a source of inspiring opportunities and depressing dangers. Our ability to reach high levels of collaboration is based on stories that have united us in every step of history. The word is present in mind and matter: we can remember stories and pass them between generations; our products allow us to extend our control of the environment beyond the limits of our own bodies.

Variety is an often heard expression of desires. It makes life interesting, challenges us to accommodate each other, reflects our own personalities. If our policies successfully reflected this desire, our streets could become not only interesting but also part of our lives.

Variety is an often heard expression of desires. It makes life interesting, challenges us to accommodate each other, reflects our own personalities. If our policies successfully reflected this desire, our streets could become not only interesting but also part of our lives.

The city is human kind’s most complex tool. When we gather to discuss the future of that tool, I find it fascinating to reflect back on the word. It’s useful to see the connection between words and buildings, words and streets, plants and landscapes. Apart from having functional purpose they all communicate a variety of needs and interests. They have a language of their own. The gatherings in Grandview Woodland these days are an intriguing opportunity to both read the language of the place and help its future society have a compelling story to live and tell.