Tag Archives: 2010 Olympics

Why Cambie St. Should have been packed up.

* first up – apologies for no post yesterday. It was a holiday in BC. Sometime later this week I’ll describe in greater detail my ridiculously BC-like day of island hoping, sea kayaking and BBQing. And to complete the leftcoast feel, a Smart Car was involved too.<!–

Second up… The Canada Line, the new subway being constructed between Richmond, the airport and Vancouver. The damage the construction has caused to businesses along the Cambie street corridor has been getting an increasing amount of buzz in the press. The whole situation is a fabulous lesson in urban planning and civic policy-making – one that sadly the press has not articulate.

For those out east who are not familiar with the Canada Line or its construction, it looks something like this:

cambie 2

Photo by Stephen Rees, (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Sadly, these photos fail to do the situation justice. To put it bluntly, when there is a two story deep hole outside, traffic is at a stand still, the street is unpassable, and there is the endless sound of construction, people tend to stay away. This, needless to say, has made life difficult for the numerous businesses that populate the Cambie St. corridor.

As one can imagine, several businesses (most notably the restaurant Tomato) have moved, several others are complaining. The local MLA – Gregor Robertson – has even introducing a private member’s bill to provide affected businesses with direct financial support.

But is the construction responsible for the death of the Cambie st. businesses? Perhaps. But it is an inevitable death. And this is why the current public policy has so dramatically failed these businesses.

I’ve noted with interest that while businesses complain loudly about the construction and its impact, it is hard to find landowners who complain. One would think that the loss of tenants – and subsequent rental income – this would have generated a fuss. But it hasn’t.

Why? Because the landlords know that once the line is complete most of the Cambie corridor (currently composed of relatively low density commercial buildings) is going to be completely redeveloped. Higher density commercial and, more importantly, condos, are going to be common place along Cambie. Consequently, there is a good chance that if the construction hadn’t kicked these businesses out, their landlords would have in the ensuing rush to redevelop.

Thus the whole notion that Cambie businesses could be kept open was a mirage – a failure to look at the longer term implications of the Subway. Rather than waste time on a failed “Business is Open along the Canada Line” campaign (This is not a communication problem, advertising is not going to bring people to Cambie, only an end to the construction will) local businesses should have been offered money to move location and cover some of their transition costs. While this would have been painful for everyone involved, it would have been less painful then seeing their business dry up and having to move on their own dime.

I’m in favour of the Canada Line. I think it is great for the city. But that doesn’t mean that the Cambie St. businesses should have been left out to dry. The help they received wasn’t the help they needed. sadly, this is probably because giving them the help they needed wasn’t what they wanted to hear, or what politicians wanted to tell them…

* Aug 8th: The Vancouver Sun published this editorial piece on the same day as this post that provides a parallel but different perspective.

Two steps (or should I say decades?) back on homelessness

(Small note: For those less interested in Vancouver and looking for a national story check out my man Taylor’s take on Simpson’s Globe and Mail piece and why Iggy’s policy development process lead to such a strong outcome.)

As for me, I’m feeling frustrated about Mayor Sam Suillivan’s poll on Vancouverites municipal priorities. For anyone who hasn’t visited Vancouver in the last year there is no doubt that homelessness is the number one issue – an observation confirmed by the city’s residents. No big surprise, given the rising cost of housing and a sharply declining number of available low-cost rooms in single-room occupancy (SRO) hotels (those most affordable to low-income residents).

The challenge for the mayor (beyond actually solving the problem) is that it is hard to take his concern seriously. We need only recall that, after taking office, his second act was to reduce the amount of social housing that would be part of the Olympic village development. Moreover, during the debate over Project Civil City he voted down a proposed amendment to include the Minister for Housing on the Mayor’s Civil City Leadership Council. If you were concerned about homelessness and were putting together a team to tackle it, it would seem sensible that you’d want to pull together the relevant stakeholders – especially those with access to resources beyond the meager ones available to the city.

Vancouver is now preparing for the 2010 Winter Olympics without an effective homelessness strategy. Sadly, precedent does not look good. In the lead up to the 1986 World Exposition Vancouver managed a similar problem by simply expelling the homeless from the relevant areas. While the city was ‘clean’ for Expo ’86 the long term consequence was the radicalization of civic politics and damaged relations between city hall and the city’s most at-risk citizens. Combine this municipal approach with a Federal Government intent on treating drug addiction and homelessness as a legal and not a social challenge and you have the recipe for disaster. Be prepared for a new effort to ‘sanitize’ Vancouver – an effort that will almost certainly fray or destroy the social and support networks that help at risk communities and push the problem out to the surrounding communities of the GVRD.

[tags]Vancouver, Vancouver politics, Sam Suillivan, homelessness, social housing, 2010 Olympics[/tags]