A number of political narratives were scrambled by Vancouver’s electorate on October 20th.
Of note was the carefully curated story, or perhaps image, of the Non-Partisan Association as the party of the west side establishment. Think of Southlands, Dunbar, Point Grey, Kitsilano, Quilchena, Kerrisdale, Shaughnessy, and Oakridge — these are the neighbourhoods long associated with the wealthy class, members of which have also long held the political reins in the city. The homes of many mayors and councillors to be sure, but also party backers and benefactors. The NPA has also historically been the party where the great distaste for greenways, transit, and integrated community healthcare facilities has been nurtured, and where the pushback against densification has bloomed.
So, one would be forgiven in thinking that a five-member NPA coalition on council would indeed mean continued representation of this western flank, and those who live there.
The map at the top of this post (and here), depicting the home neighbourhoods for all 11 Vancouver council members, tells a very different — and a very new — story.
- Blue = independent Mayor Kennedy Stewart, OneCity’s Christine Boyle, and COPE’s Jean Swanson.
- Green = Adriane Carr, Pete Fry and Michael Wiebe of the Greens.
- Purple = Colleen Hardwick, Sarah Kirby-Yung, Lisa Dominato, Melissa De Genova and Rebecca Bligh of the NPA.
Only Kirby-Yung and Hardwick are west of Cambie Street; nobody is west of Arbutus. The 9 remaining council members live either downtown, or east of Main Street.
This would have been unthinkable 20 or even 10 years ago. Beyond busting prior conceptions of the NPA and the influence of Vancouver’s west side, the map also highlights an even bigger gap (on par with the pigmentation issue cited elsewhere) — the complete lack of council representation south of 43rd Avenue. In fact, Kirby-Yung is the only council member south of 12th Ave.
All told, ten council members reside within a 14km polygon at the north-east part of the city, just one-seventh of Vancouver’s total area.
Of course, as we well know, the at-large system means every councillor represents the whole city; the idea of geographic representation has no actual teeth.
Then again, housing. Given the recency (ie. now) and severity of the issue, it’s not surprising that the personal living situations of our elected, governing body is of interest to average Joes:
I'm shocked that the NPA claims to live in East Van given how much the NPA hates East Van and the people who live there. It's insane that Vancouver doesn't have wards. https://t.co/Rm3ExH48vM
— Joe Bowser (@infil00p) October 28, 2018
Not to mention a past campaign issue that may, one day in the future, grow those teeth.
Mayor-elect Stewart’s promise to seriously look at the idea of a ward system, both mid-campaign and since winning the mayor’s chair, now has a bit of firepower.
In an alternate universe, wards would have precluded the possibility of a council-elect with such a limited residential make-up (and possibly also produced more than 10 of them). Wards would have also, ironically, virtually guaranteed NPA a few councillors from their old strongholds; they would have also made it much more difficult for them to make the inroads they did on the east side.
As it stands, for the next four years the majority of council will be living amidst — or as part of, for some — the ‘Missing Middle’.
Compare the new council’s ‘hood map with a general population map (from the 2016 census) of Owned vs Rental, courtesy of Jens von Bergmann:
See any familiar shapes?
As for what a ward map could look like for Vancouver, we should all hope ‘similarly data-driven’ would be among the governing criteria.
Even with great data, a ward map could also end up looking similar to the city’s current neighbourhood map, still used for its council liaison program:
Either way, the concept of a ward system is sure to trigger more advance complaints of ‘the tyranny of the neighbourhood association’.
My thinking: how would this be different from the NIMBY-ism (fine I said it) that already persists today across the city, on any number of matters?
The tyranny of the Kits Point Don’t Tread on Me Amateur Basketball Association. The tyranny of the Marpole Residential Council of Sounds-Like-a-You-Problem. The tyranny of the Commercial Drive There’s No Business Like Street-front Parking Business Association.
The at-large system already supports endless kowtowing and catering to preservationist interests who outshout the facts, and (more importantly) outshout the cautious progressives seeking to accommodate the growth we may be powerless to stop. Progressives who actually encourage development and densification in places typically hostile (or zoned against) such intrusions. The at-large system has done nothing for 60 years to correct this.
And now the at-large system, thanks in part to the enormous, omnibus ballot and confused party politics, has swung council the other way. There is no voice for three-quarters of the city’s constituent neighbourhoods.
That includes landowners on the west side. Call me crazy, but I think even they still need a voice too.