A Vancouver that works for everybody: Mayor Stewart

Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart, a confirmed urbanite who believes there is nothing more wonderful than a great city, laid out his vision for the city to a sold-out crowd in June at the Urban Development Institute (UDI).

“We are at a crossroads. We have to decide what kind of city we want to be,” said Stewart, adding that Vancouver has never truly had a vision of where it’s going as a city, something he wants to correct.

Using a matrix of complex/simple for the horizontal axis and inclusive/exclusive for the vertical axis, Stewart offered four possibilities:

  • Inclusive and simple he dubbed the Wild West — easy to understand, few regulations, little order.
  • He likened the exclusive and simple quadrant to suburbia; pleasant, but too exclusive to be vibrant.
  • Excusive and complex is, in the mayor’s view, like a museum, a nice place to visit but stodgy and over regulated, hardly somewhere most people would want to live.
  • The global city Stewart sees lies in the fourth quadrant, inclusive and complex, and it is the direction he intends to take Vancouver moving forward.

“If you want to live in a museum, you’ve elected the wrong person,” he quipped at one point. And with the results of a citywide survey now in, he’s ready to begin addressing the actual issues locals want resolved.

Listening to the people

Results of the survey yielded interesting numbers. Sixty-three per cent of respondents favoured growth across the city, while 18 per cent (equally split nine/nine) wanted either no growth anywhere or growth everywhere except their own neighbourhood, proving that NIMBYism is still alive and raising hackles. Seventy-one per cent said they would be okay with duplexes, four-plexes, townhouses, or three-four-storey lowrises in areas that are currently single-family neighbourhoods, with only nine per cent strongly opposed.

Twenty-storey highrises were clearly the bad guy in many respondents’ minds: Approximately 37 percent would not want a highrise condo in their immediate neighbourhood, approximately 34 would not want a rental tower.

More than 30 per cent also indicated they were opposed to temporary modular housing near where they live. However, 77 per cent said they believed the
city of Vancouver should build more of it for our increasing numbers of homeless — which begs the question of where to build these structures.

Curiously, when it came to heritage buildings, the question posed was whether people felt historic buildings should be protected even if it came at the expense of new, purpose-built rentals: 77 per cent agreed and only four per cent were strongly against. No reference was made to how the public feels about new condominiums squeezing out heritage buildings.

Celebrate diversity

Stewart credits private land ownership as one of the key drivers that makes Vancouver a model of diversity. Recalling a meeting with foreign ambassadors from around the globe, he noted that in Vancouver, 91 per cent of housing is in private hands and 99 per cent of the housing values are in private hands — numbers unheard of in most other countries.

To meet the unrelenting demand for more housing, especially for households in the $30,000 to $80,000 income bracket, he acknowledged it’s important to streamline the approval process. He’s already tasked City Hall staff to investigate how this could be accomplished, however, he sidestepped revealing details of what the report has revealed. Instead, he indicated, “areas that were targeted have sped up, but there may be areas we didn’t target” — which seemed to indicate those untargeted areas have at best stayed consistent, or at worst, further slowed down.

Stewart also stressed he believes Vancouver needs to build a much broader range of housing types, not just the high-end, downsizer condos that have dominated the industry for the past years. “The world is watching us, and we must make sure we’re setting a good example.”

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