No Stanley Cup riot, no Occupy camp outside the Vancouver Art Gallery, no civic election.
Kind of a boring news year, really.
So how to pick the Courier’s annual Newsmaker of the Year when a ho-hum 2012 left us scratching our collective heads as to what one event, person, policy or trend resonated with Vancouverites.
Last year, we chose the power of social media and how communication platforms such as Twitter and Facebook were used to organize and inform citizens about the major events of 2011.
In 2010, we avoided the predictable choice of the Winter Olympics and instead published a photograph of Mayor Gregor Robertson’s bicycle on our cover.
Two words: bike lanes.
The build-up and hype to the astonishingly expensive Games and the ripple effect it had on policing, business and civil liberties got our nod in 2009.
The voter dominated 2008 for casting ballots in a federal election, two provincial by-elections and a civic election in the space of two months.
Homelessness was an easy but unfortunate choice in 2007. It’s a topic that continues to be chronicled in these pages because of the occupied sleeping bags on our sidewalks.
So what about 2012?
We heard a lot about the mayor’s drive to get more affordable housing. We saw more social housing buildings open on city property.
We learned the city wants two-thirds of all trips in Vancouver to be by foot, bike or transit by 2040. We heard that a $3 billion subway needs to be built from the busy Commercial-Broadway transit hub to the University of B.C.
And, hallelujah, we can now recycle all our food scraps.
The feds told us the Kitsilano Coast Guard base will close next year, which triggered a backlash from city council, mariners, and the chiefs of police and fire.
The Independent Investigations Office opened and now handles all police-involved deaths and serious injury cases, including at least three Vancouver files.
In Marpole, the Musqueam Indian Band continues to be embroiled in a land dispute with a property owner over intact remains believed to be ancestors of the band.
On the environmental side, residents from across the city mobilized to pan Kinder Morgan’s plans to almost triple the volume of crude it funnels down its pipeline to the shores of Burrard Inlet.
All worthy candidates for Newsmaker of the Year.
But throughout 2012, it was the revolt rolling through neighbourhoods and ending up on the steps of city hall that caught our attention.
Looking back at our stories and letters’ pages, residents from across the city directed a heck of a lot of dissent at city hall and developers this year.
That was evident in protests at 12th and Cambie, at packed public meetings in Dunbar and in the words of dozens of speakers weighing in on a controversial rezoning in Mount Pleasant.
Bowlers, one of whom dressed as a huge bowling pin during a march on city hall, even spared some time to speak their mind.
At the root of the dissension was development. The ruling Vision Vancouver council is governing at a time when new single-family lots are non-existent and the population increasing. They favour building up instead of out, creating office space for jobs around transit hubs and squeezing affordable housing onto an already dense land mass.
Thin streets, anybody?
This direction is competing head-on with the values of longtime owners of single-family homes who don’t want their neighbourhoods to change.
Others, who rent and are struggling with careers, fear development really means new digs for the rich and a signal to catch the next bus out of Vancouver to a more affordable city — and one that still supports old movie theatres, bowling alleys and independent bookstores.
They all say city hall can do better and city council should spend more time listening to people and slow down development.
But Vision says its agenda is clear and that getting convincingly re-elected in 2011 on a mandate to build an economically thriving “green” city that is affordable is proof it’s on the right track.
Obviously, not everybody is buying it.
So that is why we’ve chosen neighbourhood dissent as our Newsmaker of the Year for 2012. Here are three notable reasons for the choice:
Let’s begin with the Rize Alliance development.
In April, city council gave the go-ahead to Rize’s rezoning application to redevelop a city block in the heart of Mount Pleasant into a $150 million mixed-use complex featuring a 19-storey tower.
The six nights of public hearings attracted more than 100 speakers, including Chris Bevacqua, a computer animation professional who lives in the
“I fail to see how the community benefits from this highrise,” Bevacqua told council. “I am happy for the new residents who move into these top-notch buildings with their rooftop gardens and stunning views, but what does the rest of the community receive? What normally happens to long-term residents in communities who experience this type of change is a loss of local businesses and a massive increase in rent.”
Lucas Berube, an urban planner and nearby condo owner, was among the minority of speakers who supported the development. “It is no secret that housing affordability is a major concern here and there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that many young, educated people and young families leave the city every year because of the disparity between wages and real estate prices,” Berube said. “The retention of professionals and young families is essential to a city’s health and I believe that increasing the housing supply by providing highrise developments like this one is a first step towards ameliorating our affordability.”
In the end, council’s support of the 241-home project, which includes commercial space, came with some design changes but no demands for affordable housing.
Instead, the developer agreed to give $1.7 million towards affordable housing projects in Mount Pleasant and $4.5 million for “cultural activities” such as artists’ space in the neighbourhood.
“I think we have to come to grips with the fact that towers are not a magic bullet but they’re not the work of the devil, either,” said Vision Coun. Geoff Meggs in supporting the project.
In Dunbar, 81-year-old Jane Bourne suggested in October that a residents group be created, which is now called Dunbar Re-vision.
Bourne’s suggestion came after growing opposition to a proposed seniors home development on Dunbar Street. A meeting in October attracted more than 200 people who used the opportunity to dump on the plans for the seniors home.
“Living in Dunbar is like being out in the country — I love it,” Bourne told the Courier at the meeting. “If [the seniors] building went up, we wouldn’t get any sunshine in the evenings in the summertime. We wouldn’t see the sunset.”
The dissension at the meeting grew to include criticism of Vision Vancouver’s “interim rezoning policy” that aims to increase affordable housing; Vision’s plan calls for at least 20 projects such as new row homes, townhouses and duplexes to be built one-and-a-half blocks from arterial streets and near major transit routes. Some developments could be 3.5 to six storeys high.
Dunbar Re-vision took its concerns to the steps of city hall in November and was joined by residents from various neighbourhoods to protest densification in Dunbar and across Vancouver.
Some of the 100 or so people held signs that read “Stop Vision,” “Vancouver Vision is shortsighted” and “Unhappy Planet,” a reference to the mayor’s Happy Planet juice company.
Resident Mike Andruff of Dunbar Re-vision urged residents present that day to begin mobilizing for the 2014 civic election.
“We have a choice to make our comments and our feelings heard in the next election by coming together as a group of residential associations,” he told the crowd.
Activist Ned Jacobs, son of the late city-shaping guru Jane Jacobs, criticized Vision’s new rezoning policy and suggested the party’s goal of building more affordable housing was a fallacy.
“[The policy] embraces a one-size-fits-all approach to land use planning which appeals to realtors and developers and serves off-shore investors who purchase condo pre-sales sight unseen,” said Jacobs, speaking into a microphone outside the main entrance of city hall.
He closed by quoting his mother.
“In order for a city to work well for everyone, it needs to be planned by everyone,” he said to applause.
What a sight it was in the October sunshine when a protester dressed as a bowling pin and carrying a sign that said “spare me” led bowlers on a march to city hall.
The demonstration was in reaction to Cressey Development’s plan to knock down Varsity Ridge Bowl and the adjacent Ridge Theatre for a four-storey condo and retail complex.
About 100 seniors, neighbours and people with developmental disabilities who bowl at Varsity Ridge Bowl packed a development permit board meeting.
They argued the alley was a gathering place that is affordable and accessible to all residents and hosts thousands of school children and multiple charity fundraisers each year.
Their opposition wasn’t so much directed at the development permit board, but at Cressey Development and its lack of consultation on what they say could have led to creative ways to save the alley.
The permit board agreed there wasn’t public input but Hani Lammam, vice-president of development and acquisitions for Cressey, said consultation wasn’t required by the city because the property wasn’t being rezoned.
After much back-and-forth, the permit board allowed Cressey to proceed with the development, albeit at less than the requested five storeys. The loss of the alley prompted Green Party Coun. Adriane Carr to table a motion at council that called for the city to work with the park board to provide a bowling alley on the West Side.
Varsity Ridge co-owner and operator Ken Hayden was upset that neither he nor any other bowler were able to speak to Carr’s motion at council.
“That’s the most disappointing part, that other than Adriane Carr, no councillor has been here to talk to the bowlers and no councillor is going to listen to the bowlers,” he said.
Council bounced the issue over to the park board, which rejected a proposal to investigate options to include bowling alleys in community centres or build a stand-alone facility.
Hayden made it clear at the park board meeting that real estate prices prohibit him from building a new centre.
“We are looking to the city to build and operate a bowling centre,” he said.
These were but three examples of riled neighbours taking their fight to city hall over development.
We saw this, too, in the Downtown Eastside with council’s eventual approval of a 12-storey complex at 955 East Hastings, where the 352-unit building will include 70 units for social housing.
The development divided the community.
The redevelopment of the old Pantages site near Main and Hastings also met with pushback, largely from housing advocates, some of whom have infamously disrupted development permit board meeting and the opening of so-called “micro-lofts” on East Hastings.
The level of development in the Downtown Eastside has many concerned about gentrification and displacement of low-income residents.
The city’s social planning department is currently developing a way of assessing how new developments in that neighbourhood affect low-income and vulnerable people, such as sex trade workers.
Public consultation and the lack of it has been a constant criticism of local governments. Larry Campbell got it, so did Sam Sullivan and now it’s Gregor Robertson’s turn.
The mayor, however, has said the city can always do more to hear from the public. And just last week, he announced that 22 citizens will serve on his “engaged city task force,” with the goal of improving the ways the city “engages and communicates with citizens.”
But when asked about transforming the city with highrises, townhomes, duplexes and row houses, Robertson makes no apologies.
“People expect the mayor and council to take leadership and make decisions for the good of the city and there’s no question affordability is a massive challenge in Vancouver that affects far too many residents,” he said in an Oct. 5 interview. “So we need to strike that balance between taking action and addressing the lack of affordable housing and ensuring that we’re getting good feedback and guidance from residents on how we do that.”
Over to you, residents.