Some advice to the new council, and for that matter to TransLink and the Province: forget trying to push grade-separated transit through Point Grey to get to UBC.
For sure, there won’t be an elevated line. But even a subway, horrendously expensive whether tunnelled or, as on Cambie Street, built by cut-and-cover, will be fought off – and not just because of the construction disruptions.
These west-side neighbourhoods will unite to stop any fundamental change in the character of their communities – and they will defeat any politician who refuses to take their side. That includes their MLA, who in this case just happens to be Gordon Campbell, Premier.
Grade-separated rapid-transit line will change the character of the neighbourhood. That’s the point! More people, more density, more development. Otherwise, why build it?
But one thing I learned in politics: no one from City Hall ever goes to a neighbourhood meeting and says, “Hi, I’m here to change things. After we’re finished, you won’t recognize the place!” What they invariably do say is this: “We’ll protect the character of your community.” And then they promise a process which allows for lengthy discussion about what constitutes ‘change’ and what satisfies as ‘mitigation.’
The neighbourhoods along the Point Grey route to UBC already have reason to believe densification is the quid pro quo for improved transportation. TransLink has indicated that it hopes to finance new infrastructure by capitalizing on real-estate opportunities created by its investments – like, for instance, highrises around transit stations.
I wrote a column in Business in Vancouver on what that might mean in Point Grey:
… let’s imagine the reaction of those who live within spitting distance of 10th Avenue and Sasamat, the heart of West Point Grey’s commercial village, to the announcement that ten 25-storey higrises will be placed on the surrounding blocks, without any additional money for community amenities, park space or services. Or how they’ll react at a public meeting when told, “Hey, it works in Hong Kong!”
This is not a defense of the creme-de-la-creme. Many elsewhere in the city will argue that they should take their share of development, especially when it will benefit those who don’t have access to their leafy domain. But that is a losing strategy. It will be too easy to delay and defer the project, or to compromise the benefits that might otherwise come.
And there’s another way to do it. As Portland has demonstrated, it’s quite possible to integrate light-rail transportation into the fabric of existing neighbourhoods.
And with it can come change that doesn’t overwhelm the community. In this case, the Jericho defense lands between 4th and 8th Avenues await redevelopment. (In fact, much of the studies has already been done.)
Better to pursue a win-win strategy that has some chance of success than a win-lose strategy that doesn’t.
As the Province found out, a politician who speaks up for those negatively impacted by change can ride an issue into, well, City Hall – which is just what Gregor Robertson did for the merchants on Cambie, and for himself.
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