Divided & Conquered
On February 28th, at SFU Woodwards, Bob Williams delivered the second annual Jim Green Memorial Lecture.
Formerly a city planner, alderman (as we used to call them), cabinet minister and de facto Number Two in Dave Barrett’s government, the CEO of Crown Lands and ICBC, the Chair of the Vancity Credit Union, and a barkeep, amongst other things, Williams was introduced as “a force to be reckoned with.” A political pugilist from the East side of town with a knack for being on the right side of history, Williams fought against the proposed wholesale destruction of Strathcona in the 1960s, and for the Agricultural Land Reserve, Robson Square, Surrey Centre, and countless other unconventional projects, leaving a trail of badly bludgeoned bureaucrats in his wake.
His latest battleground is the abandoned police station at 312 Main Street. Williams calls for the cleansing of the stain of the botched missing women’s investigation and its repurposing as an innovation hub for social entrepreneurs, artists, non-profits, and others -a legacy to the memory of Jim Green. The City prefers to gloss over its development monomania with the patina of high-tech: it plans to turn to turn the building over to San Francisco-based NestGSV.
A sharp blow to the solar plexus came in Williams’ assessment of our civic bureaucracy –specifically, the capture of their political masters. In place of hybrid committees of elected and appointed officials, which offer the elected direct access to information and public voices, the nabobs have engineered a separation between the two –reinforced by their near-total control over the data flow. Effectively isolated, if not neutered, councillors fall obediently into line.
To my mind, this goes a long way to explaining why our elected representatives would accept, prima facie, the Engineering Department’s assessment that 439 Powell is structurally unsound despite copious evidence to the contrary, or the mandarins’ assertion that a subway is the only viable public transit option for Broadway, or a factotum’s decision that two-week notice of public hearing is entirely reasonable to consider such weight matters as the Downtown Eastside Local Area Plan.
At the reception following the talk I note that Geoff Meggs is in attendance. Jim Green’s ol’ buddy and the “smartest guy on council,” he doesn’t suffer any apparent lack of motivation or capacity for seizing the moment. And yet, here we are, building a nest for Nest.
Clearly, some are giants, while others heed the advice of apparatchiks that standing on the shoulder of giants is not advisable for reasons of safety, liability or some other limp dick rationalization.