Currently there is a debate raging about the pros and cons of Save-on-Meats in the Downtown Eastside. The latest is a polarizing sandwich token program to help feed the poor. According to the plan, restaurant customers can purchase tokens from Save-on-Meats and donate them to people in the neighborhood. Critiques have been made here, here, and here, as well as at The Mainlander, with Peter Driftmier’s “Beggars Can’t be Choosers” (Peter used to be a sandwich maker at Save-on-Meats).
The reception of these debates runs a winding path but gravitates to the falsely-posed question of whether people “like” or identify with the entrepreneurial genius behind Save-on-Meats: Mark Brand. “The frontier,” Neil Smith wrote in his New Urban Frontier, “represents an evocative combination of economic, geographical and historical advances, and yet the social individualism pinned to this destiny is in one very important respect a myth.” Mark Brand, treated as either a hero or villain of the urban frontier, enters the field of mythology and becomes a new Jim Green figure for our time, garnering a similar respect for balancing “social” and business concerns (if Green started in politics and moved into business, Brand seems to finish where Green left off and moves back into “politics”).
Over the past two years, a proposed development in the heart of North Vancouver has severely divided public opinion. This conflict came to its apex last week when the developer, Onni, announced in a letter that it intends to quit the project at 1308 Lonsdale, on 13th Avenue. The letter came after North Vancouver council voted 4 to 3 in favor of postponing the decision and holding another public hearing in the New Year. Councillors argued that another meeting was necessary because not all interested parties were able to speak at the November 19th hearing.
Onni first brought their proposal to city hall in 2011 prior to the election, where the council at that time voted against it 7 to 0. The vote did not kill the project but instead prompted Onni to revise its proposal, scaling back the height of the project and moving from three towers to two towers. It also prompted Onni to seek better links with city councilors. In the lead-up to the November 2011 election, current mayor Darrell Mussatto received a $5000 donation from RMPG Holdings Ltd, a parent company of Onni, and $5,000 from Pinnacle International, which is owned by the De Cotiis family. Councillor Linda Buchanan also received $1,500.
This is something which councillor Rod Clark feels has overshadowed the process. While it did not amount to a legal conflict of interest, Clark says, “morally and ethically? It stinks.” In response to council’s decision to hold another hearing in the New Year, Onni is no blaming Clark and fellow councilor Pam Bookham for holding back the approval.
Heather Place public housing near VGH, which is slated for demolition and redevelopment in the coming years, has received significant media attention this week. An article in the Straight, called Heather Place tenants wait in limbo, explains how many tenants are uncertain about their future, concerned about suffering the same fate as their counterparts at Little Mountain Housing. On Wednesday, Metro Vancouver Housing Corporation (MVHC), which owns Heather Place, posted on its website a response to tenants’ concerns, in the form of answers to “frequently answered questions.” Vancouver City Councilor Geoff Meggs also appeared on CBC radio to defend the demolition. However, the responses provided by MVHC and Meggs only serve to confirm the fears expressed by tenants.
First, it is now more clear than ever that the majority of the people living at Heather Place will be displaced. There are currently 86 units of affordable homes which house 200 people. After redevelopment rents will increase an extra-ordinary amount. Whereas today the highest rents are around $1,100, after redevelopment two- and three-bedroom units will rent at “competitive market rates” expected to exceed $1,700 and $2,100 respectively. This means that two-thirds of tenants who are not on subsidy will very likely be displaced unless they agree to an extra-ordinary rent increase. For these tenants the Heather Place redevelopment plan is essentially a large-scale “renoviction.”
Should BC Housing subsidize a Downtown Eastside (DTES) condo developer when our neighbourhood has 850 homeless people and 3500 living in crummy hotel rooms that need to be replaced? Is Condo King Bob Rennie, also on the Board of BC Housing, behind a sweet deal that will probably increase property values two blocks away from his own office?
These are two questions that shocked Downtown Eastsiders are asking after learning that BC Housing plans to loan up to $23 million to condo developer Marc Williams. Williams plans to build 79 condo units plus 18 social housing units (only 9 will rent at welfare rates) at the site of the old Pantages Theatre, 138 E. Hastings. He calls the project Sequel 138. According to The Province, the loans will be at 1.29 % interest, much lower than the going rate from a bank.
Editors’ note: This is the first part of a series exploring the politics of sustainability, development and urban entrepreneurialism. The second part of this series will build on the analysis put forward by exploring specific case studies in Vancouver.
Vancouver has a complicated relationship with nature. Over the last decade sustainability discourses and city policies are increasingly mobilized to defend private development, in particular, condo mega-projects which are marketed as transit-oriented developments. Sustainability is embedded within a broader language and policy framework of urban entrepreneurialism and relentless ‘global city’ posturing. Urban sustainability is constructed as post-political, striving to avoid traditional ideological divisions between left and right…
Vision Vancouver has recently approved a long-term transportation plan. One of the stated aims of the plan is to increase the percentage of foot, bike and transit trips in Vancouver from 44 to 66% by 2040. Is this one of those “radical plans to attack motorists,” as the editors of the Province claim? Certainly not. Despite a dramatic lack of public funding for transit, Vancouver is already in the midst of a long-term shift away from primary dependence on the private automobile.
The plan is alarming, but not because it represents a “war on the car.” In keeping with the BC Liberals’ premise of austerity and declining public funding, the 2040 plan adopts TransLink’s logic of regressive fees and privatization. Vancouverites should reject the plan first because it accepts the provincial government’s framework of neoliberal financing for buses and trains.
The 2040 Plan is also a developers’ Charter of Rights dressed up as a transportation plan. Under the rubric of transit-oriented development (TOD), the plan delivers a reckless blank slate to developers at the expense of housing affordability. Among other things it builds an umbilical cord between transit funding and new high-priced market condo development. This strategic move by developer-backed Vision goes beyond the policy framework of the BC Liberals pioneered by Kevin Falcon, which ties transit development directly to the private development industry. By approving the 2040 plan the city is positioning itself politically to the right of the provincial government, rejecting the notion of a commercial property tax increase in a city with the second-lowest combined corporate tax rates in the world.
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.