Vision Vancouver can always be relied-upon to see one thing with clarity: image. While I find many faults with the current city council, their skill as political illusionists never ceases to amaze and entertain. Vision’s currency with the language of façade, symbol, gesture and token won them the last election and makes them formidable adversaries even today.
The scalping of the Ridge Theatre and placement of its iconic sign atop the condos that destroyed it, the greening of the roofs of unaffordable coffin suites built atop once-affordable housing: these are the most physically obvious of Vision’s mastery of these arts. But this artistry extends far beyond the corrupt greenwashing of the assault on affordability and the arts. It is, I would argue, most impressively practiced in the field of civic democracy and public accountability.
Few feel that the construction of the Canada Line was a positive experience for local residents, merchants and taxpayers, but Vancouver’s current developer friendly City Council feels that it deserves to be replicated on the Broadway corridor between Clark Drive and UBC.
According to the Metro’s summary of the report that Council warmly received, it will cost $2.8 billion to provide Broadway corridor rapid transit. The line will simply have to run through a tunnel. Whereas to run at-grade transit or elevated rapid transit, “it would remove 90 percent of parking, restrict turning at 90 percent of intersections, narrow sidewalks and chop trees.” In the City transportation director’s own words, “[i]n fact, the entire corridor would have to be rebuilt from building face to building face.”
Recently Vancouver’s ruling party, Vision Vancouver, appears to be working at cross purposes with itself. On one hand, it is pursuing the most aggressively pro-development, pro-demolition agenda in the city’s history, far more expansive and ambitious than Gordon Campbell’s NPA-sponsored development orgy of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. On the other, it has undertaken one of the most enterprising and comprehensive public consultation processes the city has ever seen around issues of governance, planning and development. Local area planning and citizen engagement processes seem to be a genuine priority for Gregor Robertson and his council majority. Meanwhile, neighbourhood activists throughout the city with concerns about densification, demolition, renoviction and gentrification are being actively courted as stakeholders in creating official local area plans.
Moves toward accelerated development would seem to contradict the active involvement of opponents in official long-term neighbourhood plans, consultations, planning commissions and the like. The contradiction is less sharp than we might think when we begin to recognize how and why Third Way governments use public consultation processes.
Third Way-ism is a fairly young political tradition. Developed by Britain’s “New” Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair in the 1990s, it became the label under which previously social democratic parties could enact conservative or neoliberal policies. In a post-Cold War era, where the incentive for corporate capital to tolerate the existence of welfare states had suddenly disappeared, Third Way-ism was nothing short of essential to the survival of First World social democratic parties, as well as that of centrist brokerage parties like the US Democrats and Canadian Liberals.