The drift takes me off the street into the back lane for a change in perspective. I enjoy perusing the eclectic items left there, and the little idiosyncrasies that often belie the official, public side. And its quiet: outside of morning and evening commutes or garbage pick-up days, these byways are usually deserted.
It’s a strange place to post a notice of an open house and an on-line questionnaire for a neighbourhood planning process. Unless the intention is not to notify, not to inform.
A public notice in an empty space: the calling card of the enemy, the bureaucrat†.
Saturday, May 25th, and the WISE Hall is wall to wall with charts highlighting “Emerging Directions” and “Emerging Policies”. Emerging, all right, straight from a steer’s puckered bunghole. It’s the ol’ paper flood, designed to drown the hapless citizen in a swirling sea of factoids.
I ignore all the bumf and make for the centerpiece, the “Emerging Land Use Map”. (But as this process is about 90% towards completion, I prefer to call it for what it is: a Land Use Map.)
The pastel colours and full-on bullshit of trees running down the middle of Nanaimo Street can’t hide the massive rezoning this blueprint announces. Guess what? More condos –many, many more- including a clusterfuck of c. 25 story towers crowned by the le piece de resistance, a 36 –thirty-six!– story monstrosity at the corner of Broadway and Commercial. Hello higher property taxes and rents, goodbye Rio Theatre and anything else nearby that’s remotely interesting.
To add insult, the map employs plenty of blank space where many, myself included, actually live. A modern echo of Lauchlan Alexander Hamilton demarcating the supposedly silent solitude of the primeval forest. In place of a wooden stake driven into the earth, think podium & tower, 5% down, with a little Italian car thrown in to sweeten the deal.
I look about the Hall. There’s a crowd, but its modest considering the scale of the changes being proposed. The civic curia has executed its containment protocol most effectively.
The Planning Department nabobs are noticeable by their absence. They’ve left the dirty work of dealing with the public to the nominally friendlier, and casually dressed, Housing Department apparatchiks.
Some cross-eyed flunky asks me whether I have any questions. Just one: why wasn’t I directly informed of the consultation process? She drones a poorly memorized mantra of publicly posted notices, mailbox fliers to those directly impacted blah blah blah et cetera. I get it: I’m in a “white zone”, by decree of the mandarins I’m not affected by the proposed razing.
I convey my dissatisfaction with the process and, as anticipated, am promptly directed to another functionary further up the pecking order. To him I express my view that the process is a farce -not about community consultation at all, but a highly proscribed ratification of an already defined plan that is tightly framed by the need -not of residents- but for property developers to have access to rezoned land to build over sized and incongruous structures distinguished by fat profit margins.
“This is Vancouver,” he says unto me. “It’s always been this way.” (Sic)
Ah, yes: the rallying cry of the nomenklatura.
I thank him for his candor and ask where he lives.
In the May 1st issue of Vancouver Magazine (“The People vs Gregor Robertson”), Frances Bula interviews Councillor Andrea Reimer on the public consultation challenges faced by the Vision Vancouver-dominated City Council: “Reimer believes that the reason they’re seeing so much backlash is not that they didn’t consult enough, but that they consulted so much. More people involved in the issue means more people unhappy that they didn’t get their way.”
Some, of course, are happy. And you’ll never see them at an open house.
† Officials afflicted by fixed routine but lacking intelligent judgment. Not to be confused with the civil servant.