Five wise men who love Vancouver draw up the guidelines that can keep their city livable

January 1 1971

Five wise men who love Vancouver draw up the guidelines that can keep their city livable

January 1 1971

Five wise men who love Vancouver draw up the guidelines that can keep their city livable

ON THE PRECEDING eight pages we have shown what some people are doing to improve Vancouver. It’s not enough. A few dedicated people cannot change the fact that Vancouver is the nation’s most livable city not because it has been beautifully planned and built, but because of its natural environment. That environment —mountains and sea — is also the reason why Vancouver is in crisis. The sea and the mountains limit the city’s options. They are the impregnable hedge around just 800 square miles of the Fraser Valley available for development, an area already being eroded by strawberrybox tract housing. Maclean’s went to a panel of five men well qualified to suggest some solutions to the city’s problems. For different reasons, each believes Vancouver may be eyeball to eyeball with catastrophe.

Each believes it can be averted. And each also believes that because of its environment, Vancouver has more to lose than any other North American city if its problems aren’t solved.

The five: Ecologist Dr. Albert Turnbull, Simon Fraser University; architect Arthur Erickson; urban sociologist Dr. George Gray, University of British Columbia; Vancouver’s city planner William Graham, and geographer Dr. Walter Hardwick, of UBC, who is also a city alderman. Here are their findings:

Big is bad, so curb the city’s growth

Vancouver’s growth rate is an explosive 7% per year. And that is felt to he disastrously fast. The ecologist said: “To preserve even our present livability, we should find some way to limit the population. The growth rate is so fast it’s impossible to handle without a sweeping plan for the future and powers to enforce it — which we don’t have. It leads

to appalling tract development, which eats up scarce land, and creates social problems that affect everyone. The various governments should at least stop the “Come To Glorious Vancouver” promotions that attract people. Here, big is bad.” The architect: “We need a period of status quo. If growth can be slowed for a while, there would be time to decide where we’re going and to preserve the environment by reclaiming the waterfront for public use, including the Gulf Islands now largely privately — and American — owned.” The sociologist offered a plan. He said: “The sensible way to slow things down would be to induce or force new industries to locate elsewhere, perhaps in now stagnant centres in the BC interior. That way, industrial and administrative operations wouldn’t go where the work force is; the work force would have to go to the work.”

Let the people plan their own Vancouver Vancouver may have more citizens’ groups concerned about their environment than any other Canadian city. They have also operated with more success than elsewhere — SPOTA, for instance, which saved Chinatown. City planners don’t present final development plans to council until citizens and citizens’ groups have had a chance to comment on, and influence, their first proposals. Even so, the experts think new ways to involve citizens must be found. The sociologist was most emphatic: “Some way must be found to give all social, cultural and ethnic groups more influence in running the city. Without it, these groups coalesce, feel alienated, embattled, frustrated and hostile to others. Vancouver’s problem is the exclusivity of its two main power structures. The Non-Partisan Association (NPA), which traditionally runs city hall, is business-

oriented and conservative; inevitably, its aldermen see the city from a sort of realestate and business standpoint. The other power group is The Electors’ Action Movement (TEAM), dominated by academics and social activists

— essentially a middle-class elitist group. It would make more sociological sense to elect aldermen to represent certain ethnic or income groups.” The geographer, also a TEAM social activist, said: “In recent years a sort of city - focused Naderism has grown up. It has to be developed so all citizens have constant access to a more flexible power structure. The young only learn that evolution is better than revolution if they are involved.”

Start planning — or become a rural slum

Vancouver has no regional government and, in consequence, no effective land-use policy. This means inadequate public control over what development is located where. Land that farsighted experts know will be needed as park or other open space inside a decade is being covered with houses, apartments, industries. The ecologist said that without a master plan, “the city’s environment will become a massive rural slum.” Vancouver, he said, “can’t afford the detached single-family house any more

— we don’t have the land.” He warned that the Lower Mainland is less capable of surviving pollution than most places. “Authorities should recognize Vancouver suffers even more acutely from the climatic and geographic conditions that bedevil Los Angeles. Despite that, public transport is so inadequate some families on the outskirts of the sprawl actually need three and four cars so that cars are responsible for more pollution here than they are elsewhere. This apart, there are 18 sewage outlets in and around Vancouver’s rivers

and waterways. All but two of them put out raw sewage.” Both architect and geographer argued that the city itself should relinquish its cherished image as a world port. The architect said: “It’s an absurd waste of a magnificent natural asset to use that waterfront within the city for warehousing. Freighters should be provided with port facilities somewhere else, where people aren’t.” The geographer: “Get rid of that damned port in Burrard Inlet next door to the downtown city. Harbor facilities should be like Roberts Bank superport — located away from developed areas. The pollution such facilities can cause — on a fine day, when they’re loading wheat, the dust can produce hay fever over a large residential area — is appalling.”

Build rapid transit, not expressways

The experts — predictably — agreed the city needs a rapid transit system. They disagreed about what kind. The architect and ecologist argued in favor of a grid system for the whole area; this would allow people to bypass downtown. They claimed the proposed radial system, in which all lines lead downtown, would destroy the city because the downtown core would become so overcrowded it would be unattractive. The ecologist also argued an extended transit system would result in intensive development close to the stations, thus slowing down the urban sprawl promoted by expressway systems. The geographer argued in favor of a transit system so good that people would realize a car is not a prerequisite of the good life. Said the planner: “We must devise new forms of communication. For instance, our downtown land is suitable for underground boring. We could have a whole road and transportation system underground. That would free the 37% of surface land

now taken up by streets for growth and environmental improvement.”

Homogenize housing to end alienation Sociologist, geographer, planner — all agreed that housing developments should be “homogenized.” The geographer: “We have highrise apartment areas occupied solely by single people, young childless couples and the elderly. There should also be accommodation in the same places for growing families, and of various types and prices, so that there is also a healthy age and social mix.” The planner: “In apartment complexes occupied by just the young and the elderly there are already signs of loneliness and alienation.”

Cut back the industrial sprawl

Can Vancouver remain an industry-based city? The consensus was: No. The ecologist argued that, mountain-locked on three sides and with the Pacific on the fourth, Vancouver lacks adequate communications to be an indus-

trial city. It also lacks the land for industrial sprawl, and the climate to deal with industrial pollution. The architect claimed that Vancouver is preeminently suited to be a repository of talent and expertise; a sort of “massive think-tank to the world.” But the sociologist warned: “Vancouver is already becoming a specialized city of managerial, academic and talented people. And that's bad. Cities need vitality that comes from interaction between differing social and occupational groups.”

Bar the auto, and end the ugliness Even the planner, a city employee, had to agree that Vancouver could look better. The others were more damning. The ecologist said: “If you dumped the place in the middle of the prairies it would look like hell and no one would enjoy living there.” The architect’s solutions were most sweeping, most idealistic. First, he said, all plans to provide more access to the downtown core should be halted, with the long-term aim of keeping all private cars outside. “All cities must do

this some time, but Vancouver is unique in that it could do so more easily than most. It is built on a peninsula surrounded by water. That means you can keep traffic out more easily. Downtown movement should be by rapid transit, cheap cabs and maybe even bicycles provided by the city. That done, some form of regional government should at first confine all major office and apartment development to the downtown area. It would become a privilege to build there, not a right. The clients for office and living space would demand the best, and developers would have to stop slapping together these slab-sided highrise human beehives.”

And who pays for all this?

The planner and the geographer emphasized that all things were possible if only there were money to pay for them. As the planner said: “The old property-tax system of city financing is absurdly inadequate. As the city grows we’ll need more facilities to maintain a lifestyle at least as good as the present one.

And under present financing systems we can’t afford to do that, let alone to improve things.” □

The Vancouver I Want To Live In —

by the Schoolchildren of Vancouver

The experts have had their say. Now Maclean’s would like to know what the youngsters of Vancouver think should be done to keep their city livable. We will pay $50 for the best essay by a public-school student and $50 for the best essay by a high-school student on this subject.

The winning essays will be printed in Maclean’s. They must be handwritten, not more than 500 words long, and be received by the editors on or before January 14, 1971.

Entries should be sent to: School Essay, Maclean’s, 481 University Avenue, Toronto 101, Ont.