Anyone who witnessed on 19 April 2011 the seven hours — all morning and all evening — that Vancouver City Council spent cobbling together last-minute amendments to Vancouver’s Street and Traffic By-law (reference Agenda Item 1) should have an excellent idea of how bureaucracy cannot cope with freedom.

More than two weeks earlier on April 7, the issue of “Structures on Streets for Political Expression” had already eaten up an entire afternoon. By one well-placed account, the contentious report first appeared online and available to the public at 1:30 pm on Tuesday April 5. Report presenter Peter Judd made several apologies for the lateness of a document that the City had had more than five months to prepare. The public had only 48 hours of lead time. The five speakers heard on that first afternoon included Clive Ansley, legal representative for Falun Gong, and Micheal Vonn of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.

Despite the generality of the bylaw amendments proposed, the report to council (amended version) made clear a desire “to align with direction provided by the B.C. Court of Appeal in the matter of the Falun Gong.” The elephant in this bylaw closet was the ongoing protest outside the Chinese consulate on Granville Street. The bylaw amendment itself adopted a cumbersome and much vaguer designation to generalize its effect and coverage.

I) Vancouver’s ‘Reserve Army’

For Vancouver’s unemployed and working poor, social and economic life is increasingly precarious. Ruled by a post-Fordist economy determined by risk-finance and the micropolitical strategies of the crisis-State — flexibilization, dispersion of workers, a developer-run city hall — Vancouver’s poor confront employment, health care and housing needs with greater peril and uncertainty. While in the post war period large segments of the labour force experienced relative stability, assured employment and a regulated working day under Fordist production, the last couple of decades in Vancouver have seen a deepening of precarity.

In the contemporary labour field, precarity is understood as a general lack of guaranteed contracts, stable schedules, and secure employment, in which working time and leisure time fuse together in a mystical union. The irreverent alliance between capital and the State has historically waged persistent, running battles with labour in order to cut ties with stability, welfare and support, and for the last thirty years the balance of forces has veered in favor of profit and crisis. Submerged in the present recession, traditional labor is only a small part of the productive system within a city like Vancouver, constituting an unsubstantial rate of profit and little technological development. As structural underemployment entrenches itself, finance calls the shots from a safe distance. In Vancouver and elsewhere, the security of Fordism appears no longer the norm, but rather the exception, while precarity becomes the standard experience of life and work as such.

Made up of a motley crew, Vancouver’s precariat is its “reserve army,” to use Marx’s term for the unemployed. Temporary unemployment, underemployment and unstable contracts have become a general regime of the economy as the flexible precariat becomes the general standard for the labour field. In Vancouver precarity has historically been associated within women’s and migrant’s work (domestic or otherwise), but has grafted onto a litany of identities: low-income workers, students, unemployed, sex workers, artists, migrants, other social identities, all forced to accept the scraps of the service industry or other forms of cheap labour. Without a guaranteed living wage or income, coupled with the rising cost of rent and wholesale goods, labourers take on two or three jobs, work in flexible industries, work on short-term contracts, solicit work for temp-agencies, and not least, rely on friends and family for assistance. All the while, they attempt to construct a life at a distance from exploitation by over-paying for education, plunging deep into debt, getting drunk, or worse, retreating within the calming shelter of a veiled commodity culture and its latest consumption trends.

This week, City Council approved a massive rezoning request by developer Wall Financial Corporation for Shannon Mews in Kerrisdale. Kerrisdale is but one of many neighbourhoods forced to mobilize against unwanted development over the past two years. Before last Tuesday’s meeting a protest was held outside City Hall, organized by a group of activists from City Hall Watch and Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver under the banner: “The Rezoning Process is Broken — Let’s start Fixing it.” Over a hundred people took part outside and eventually filled the council chambers. Many residents of other neighbourhoods joined the Shannon Mews community in solidarity, having faced similar rezonings in the recent past. Others still will be facing unwanted developments in their neighbourhoods later this year.

The July 26th, 27th, and 28th public hearings act as good examples of Vision Vancouver’s planning and consultation regime. There were two significant rezonings taking place. The first regarded a series of three high rises directly across from the Olympic Village. The developer was asking for an increase in density of 50% and a dramatic increase in height above the existing zoning. Over a dozen speakers spoke against the proposal. Most were concerned about the impact of the development on the affordability of the surrounding area, as high towers creep up False Creek into Mount Pleasant. These concerns were left almost completely unaddressed by City Council, and the rezoning was passed with only Councillor Ellen Woodsworth voting against.

It’s about a lot more than viaducts.

On July 27, council’s Standing Committee on Transportation and Traffic voted to begin a comprehensive planning process for the future of the False Creek Flats, including exploring the reconfiguration or removal of the Dunsmuir and Georgia viaducts into the East side. The idea of reducing or removing freeways is something lots of folks are talking about, but this plan, called the Eastern Core Strategy Study, is about a lot more than just freeways.

At the heart of the study is the acknowledgment that reducing or completely removing the viaducts will bring fundamental change to this area, one of the last areas in the city with the potential for major redevelopment. The initial phase of the study, as adopted by council, will take what staff calls a “big picture” look at the flats, including “land use and development potential” should the viaducts come down. This area includes not only city-owned lands, but also lands owned by Providence healthcare (the Catholic authority which runs St. Paul’s hospital) and developer giant Concord Pacific.

Although the first phase of the strategy carefully avoids defining what it means by “development” (the staff presentation to Council focused on uses like parks), the elephant in the room is, of course, opening up what’s currently an industrial wasteland bisected by freeways to commercial real estate development. Read: condos.