Governance & Politics
February 22, 2021

The Number One Fear On Sidewalks & Why Vancouver City Council Doesn’t Care

What is the biggest fear of someone who is classified as a “vulnerable” sidewalk user?  It is falling on the sidewalk. And for those vulnerable people using sidewalks, be they seniors or people with any type of mobility impairment or vision disability a fall can lead to death within months.

Despite clear international evidence that keeping sidewalks clear of impediments is a universal standard, the Vancouver City Council voted unanimously to allow for electrical charging cords to be placed on vinyl conduits over city sidewalks. Every present  member of council cited the importance of their Climate Emergency Action Plan (CEAP) and with no acknowledgement of the irony of placing the rights of vehicles over sidewalk users, voted to allow cords with covers to be placed on the sidewalk.

As James Carter who owns a car dealership that sells electric vehicles  said on a CKNW radio show with Lynda Steele

They make people shovel snow off the sidewalk by 10 a.m. but they are going to allow people to place power cords across the sidewalk? It just does not sound like a good idea to me”. 

Mr. Carter also pointed out that there are lots of free charging facilities set up by B.C. Hydro and others across the city. There’s no electric charging drought.

This policy of placing electrical cord conduits on sidewalks does not impact most of us. But it does impact the most vulnerable of any sidewalk user.

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It’s no secret that when election ballots were alphabetized in the City of Vancouver that they seemed to favour people who had names at the top of the alphabet. You can take a look at this list of Mayors and Councils dating back to 1887. From my unscientific examination that there appears to be a heck of a lot of Councillors with last names beginning with the letters  “A” to “D”.

In 2005, six councillors had their last names with the initials “A” to “D”. In 2008 there were four Councillors that had their last names starting with  “A” to “D” initials. The City of Vancouver Council has ten members, as well as the Mayor.

If you have a slate of councillors you want to get elected with, knowing that their last name started with a letter from the front of the alphabet has historically helped.

It made sense to randomize the ballot, but what to do with the very long slate of names, many names people voting for Councillor might be unfamiliar with?  Alex Strachan reported in a 1993 article in the Vancouver Sun  that “studies show voters choosing a slate from the list of 40 names or more may choose several selections at the top of the list before realizing they have a few choices left”. 

Sadly it appears to be human nature that people go to the bottom of the list and then work their way up~”overlooking the names in the middle”.

In 1993 the ballot was randomized, with the order of ranking on the ballot being decided by names being drawn from a ballot box. The successful mayor, Phillip Owen was number two on the ballot; his main opponent, Libby Davies was in the 11th spot.

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It’s only mid-January, and already we have a nomination for ‘Article of the Year.’

Doug Ward’s long-form analysis in The Tyee of the No. 1 story in this town is a must-read if you want an informed perspective on the particulars of the housing challenges in Vancouver, what actions and proposals have been taken, and where the various factions on council stand.  It’s the best read so far of the political players, their motivations and critiques of each other.  It’s a lot of material to pack into a single story, and this one is as good as we’ve seen so far.

Here’s Doug’s conclusion:

The politically low-friction days of filling brown fields with new developments are over. And nowadays, almost all densification in established neighbourhoods happens on the east side of town, while on the wealthier west side, says (Andy) Yan, “The homes have become larger and emptier. It’s getting less dense.”

Something’s got to give….  (But) Stewart and his councillors have yet to forge an agenda that reflects the mood of crisis that delivered them to their posts in the first place. They have until the fall of 2022 to demonstrate otherwise.

My thoughts:

The housing challenge cannot be met within the boundaries of Vancouver.  Housing is, at minimum, a regional challenge, involving every level of government.  City of Vancouver politicians should never be so presumptuous as to think they have the levers to solve it between Boundary Road and the UEL.

Also unquestioned (even in Doug’s piece) is the presumption that the City should replace the market as the short-term determinant for housing supply and affordability.   Let’s leave aside the question as to whether that’s possible (it isn’t), the fact is that most citizens, including immigrants, would be distrustful of an ideological solution unless it manifestly benefits them directly.

It could be that city government won’t have to intervene in any major way (rezoning the city from one end to the other or budgeting to build thousands of units) so long as it can affect marginal supply at a time when more global factors align (especially interest rates and health of the economy – which influences immigration rates, domestic and foreign).  By assisting the market to strategically supply an ongoing expectation of new units (which is happening now, especially in the rental stock) in a sufficiently short period of time, the overall market may be moderated in price and scarcity to remove the issue as a political imperative.  The pandemic might do the same, but likely won’t make much of a difference in the medium term.  (It hasn’t so far.)

The hope being placed on the Vancouver Plan was naïve to begin with, and unachievable in the time left in this council’s term, especially given the disruption of the pandemic.  Trying to accommodate a visionary or ideological model of change for every neighbourhood simultaneously, especially when it involves the character or scale of a community, is simply not doable without having to pay too high a political price (assuming there is a disciplined majority willing to take the risk).

Such a city-wide plan cannot on one hand provide an overview of how growth will be accommodated (along with infrastructure and amenities) in a way that is accepted as equitable and, on the other, inform citizens on what can literally be built next door to them (which is the real purpose of zoning: to give assurance, continuity and control over the rate of change).  The Vancouver Plan has no chance of doing that, and so will be compromised into mush or deferred into the future if it isn’t abandoned.

Vancouver will muddle along, spot-rezonings and all, and manage to still end up with a remarkably successful (if expensive) city.

 

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Passing the Torch: Lessons Learned for Future Generations of Women Advocates~A conversation with Shirin Ebadi at Simon Fraser University

Shirin Ebadi is the first Muslim woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. The first woman appointed as judge in Iran, she was subsequently barred from her post after the Islamic Revolution on the basis of her gender. Returning to the courts as a private lawyer to defend controversial political and human rights cases led to her own incarceration and 25 days in solitary confinement. Despite these challenges, Shirin Ebadi continues to dedicate her life to fighting for human rights, especially the rights of women, children, and political prisoners. She will join us to talk about the hard-won lessons she has learned, to pass the torch to future generations of women advocates.
A zoom link will be provided to registered attendees via email.
About the Centre for Comparative Muslim Studies
The Centre for Comparative Muslim Studies has been established at Simon Fraser University to encourage the academic discussion and public understanding of the cultures and societies of Muslim peoples in the past and present.

Date: Wednesday January 27, 2021

Time: 12 noon Pacific Time

You can register by clicking this link.

Images: VanityFair,LessonPlanet.com

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The Fraser River runs 1,300 kilometers from the Rocky Mountains to the Salish Sea, and creates a wide river delta that attracts millions of migrating birds.  You can walk along the Fraser River or visit the George Reifel Bird Sanctuary (call ahead for a reservation during Covid times) to see some of the millions of migrating birds that pass through this area.

Roberts Bank where the Deltaport Shipping Terminal is has mudflats that are kilometers long during low tide, and provide nutrients for over half a million Western Sandpipers daily during the spring migration. It is a highly sensitive area in terms of habitat and use.

This article in Business In Vancouver by Nelson Bennett describes a new study that has just been published in the journal Conservation, Science and Practice.  This study was undertaken by a team of University of British Columbia scientists who estimate that  “100 species in the Fraser River estuary could go extinct over the next 25 years, unless better habitat management, restoration and loss prevention is implemented in a more harmonized way”.

The species identified include  Southern Resident Orcas, the four types of local salmon~chinook, coho, chum and sockeye, and the Western Sandpiper that uses the Roberts Bank area as one of their sole feeding grounds on their migratory route.

Habitat loss is a contributing factor, as well as climate change. And the fact that nearly three quarters of the biggest cities are located on estuaries puts tremendous pressure on the biodiversity. Add in items like Deltaport’s proposed Terminal Two expansion which would take out the biofilm required for migratory birds at Roberts Bank, and you can see the pressures on this ecologically unique area.

The scientists did conclude that there was a solution, and noted that there was not one overall piece of legislation and not one overall managing governance structure for the estuary, that would represent federal, provincial and First Nations leadership.

They proposed a 25 year investment of $381 million dollars ($15 million a year) to develop an overall regulatory act and to develop a “co-management” governance system. That on a per capita basis for each person in Metro Vancouver is the equivalent of one beer a year.

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