The “Grandview-Woodland Community Plan, Nanaimo Sub-Area Workshop.” How it rolls off the tongue and seizes the imagination.
There’s a sizeable crowd at the WISE Hall; to my eye, a good 70 civilians. The Planning Department is in force, too. Estimating a conservative two per table, nine tables, plus graphic interpreters (two), floaters (several), the lieutenant, including volunteer wannabes … circa 25. A platoon!
Name tag affixed (“Concerned Citizen”) I see Matthew waving me over to a seat he’s saved.
“Did you get the email?”
I did. A 30-page backgrounder that arrived in my inbox just the evening before, for those wanting to “get a head start on things.” Oh, and by the by, “we’ll be looking at the specific policies that were proposed for the sub-area.” In other words, back to the soundly rejected 2013 community plan. Just thought you should know.
Sure enough, the hall is surrounded by the very same “emerging directions” propaganda prescribed 14 months earlier, although a few placards now sport an “I Heart GW” sticker. Emerging, like a flower, or a turd.
The 11th hour plan is for Matthew and I to do the initial session together –to get the lay of the land and compare notes- before splitting forces.
It’s a tight agenda.
And we’re off, and there’s no room to consider the destructive forces that hover just beyond the walls or even discuss the problematic math of population projections. “What do you like about the neighbourhood?” “What do you dislike?” We spend a lot of time on built form, and very little on social form, on the possibilities of tenancy -except ownership, of course.
I feel herded directed lured towards more and higher. Wait! There are discrepancies between maps: does the plan stop at the alley behind Nanaimo or go on to Kamloops? I’m thankful for the vocal people at my table, asking pointed questions, repeating apparently misunderstood statements, and expressing frustration with staff’s tone deafness. At his table Matt is calling for votes and, more often than not, finds unanimity.
Over the course of the afternoon I hear a majority opinion calling for a modest approach: two-lot aggregation limits, the amputation of “the fingers,” and height restrictions to respect the current scale of the neighbourhood -to preserve the Grand View.
The bureaucratic forces are diligent. Dissenting opinions –from the invested and/or deluded favouring more and higher- are meticulously reported. It’s just the cover the development troops need for flexibility and interpretational wiggle room. At the development sign up ahead … a Policy Twilight Zone.
And then, out of the blue, a foray: the closure of Templeton Pool because Britannia. So: more density, with fewer amenities? Less for more -is that what you’re saying? The speed of the retreat would impress the Italian Army.
For the last table exercise a set of colour-coded cards are distributed, indicating the planning/development-friendly generic components of a neighbourhood. They evoke the cards signifying ownership in that real estate board game. We’re asked to place these on a map.
The Monday evening following I’m standing near the corner of Main & Hastings, being passed over by the not full Sorry Bus Full 135.
I opt for the next local heading east. It’s an old school diesel, from the ‘90s, from the era when our transit system won international awards. It’s a rarity, a functional piece of history.
It looks at capacity. But the driver gets on the blower and encourages everyone to move back and remove backpacks, to make room for those still on the street, and we do.
Maybe it’s the mild winter evening, or a collective relief at the conclusion of a Monday, for the crowd is buoyant. I’m surrounded by conversations, some between apparent strangers and others from the chance encounter of friends. I take note of the little kindnesses, the youth giving up seats for the elderly and people gently squeezing by others.
With every stop -starting already at Gore- there’s a steady exchange of fresh passengers for those alighting. I picture a motorized needle making a detailed stitch along East Hastings.
From his seat a pensioner, a little guy, uses his cane to ring the stop. Only when the bus comes to a standstill does he get to his feet. More or less steadily he works his way through the crowd to the exit, deploying a Buddy Hackett/Jerry Lewis shtick to keep the doors open: “Thank you Mrs. Driver! Good Job! Watch out for me! Sometimes I fart and stink! Watch out!” I admire the laughter-inducing effectiveness of his routine. One day, it might come in handy.
By the time things settled down, I’m already at Renfrew and aware that I could’ve missed all this theatre for the dull, if speedy, SFU Express.
I think back to a card dealt out at the workshop, a blank “Wildcard” we were asked to fill in. I had left it unmarked.
What I want -for Nanaimo Street, Grandview-Woodlands, and Hastings Sunrise, for myself, my family and my neighbours- is far too fine, ephemeral, and grand for the confines of a Monopoly title deed.