The North Shore is a self-conscious piece of paradise: the glory of post-war suburbia set into west-coast rainforest. Understandably, most residents would like change to reinforce that paradigm, not pave it over.
But municipal government is essentially in the paradigm-changing business when it comes to long-term solutions. In the short-term, however, anything that uncomfortably changes scale or character is objected to. Residents say they want better transportation, but their way of life is largely car dependent. They want affordable housing, but not an increase in taxes related to property. Lots of circles to square.
So what does an aspiring mayor or councillor do? I thought I’d ask a candidate with whom I had spoken prior to the last election. Tony Valente ran as an independent for council in North Van City, and lost by only about 500 votes. Now, as one of the next generation of aspiring leaders with more vacancies open, he has the odds with him.
What’s he hear? People, he says, are ready for something different, but they’re skeptical; they’ve been promised a lot before. Yet they can see, because of the severity of unaffordability and congestion, that they need more choices. It’s no longer just ‘I’m stuck in traffic, do something.’ It’s wanting more of what they’ve seen elsewhere: priority transit; ride-hailing and car-sharing; electric vehicles from bikes to buses.
Associated with that conversation is a darker side. Long-time residents have had a very privileged and comfortable life in suburban North Vancouver, and are now frustrated by the increase in traffic. They can’t drive to the supermarket in ten minutes anymore. They see highrises rising higher and more frequently than they’d like.
The outsider is an attractive target: ‘Keep them out so I don’t have to change.’
Fortunately, the City, more so than the District of North Vancouver and West Vancouver, has demonstrated, not without some pain, that it is possible to shift paradigms, as the exit interview with North Van Mayor Darrell Mussatto discusses. Valente will likely continue in that direction, aiming for a more inclusive community but sensitive to pushback that invariably comes with actual on-the-ground proposals.
There are other Valentes around the region, characterized both by youth and a recognition that, with more activist senior governments and more funding, progress on transit and affordable housing is possible. Will they then spend the political capital locally to, metaphorically, pave the way?
This election does have a ‘generational’ feel – a time, like 1972, when Vancouverites discarded the status quo and set a new direction.
But I wonder. Candidates like Valente suggest that directional change may not be that dramatic, perhaps more current trends accelerated. Housing policies and market conditions are already changing; transportation commitments have already been made. Residents are more familiar with urban development like Lower Lonsdale that turned our pretty well. They may be ready for more, but only if they are assured they can retain what they value or believe they’re entitled to. The challenge will be the pace of that change, how it’s communicated, how it’s massaged.
Assuming, of course, that voters want a little paradigm-shifting in their paradise.