THERE IS THE physical setting, beautiful enough to enrapture tourists, enduring enough to permit generations of politicians and developers to pursue their interests without seeming to harm it. Glittering expanses of salt water irrigate the city. Stanley Park abuts it, a peninsula of tall trees. Views of the green North Shore mountains fill in the holes in clouds, the spaces betv/een highrises, the ends of fetid alleys in Gastown. There is the temperate climate that permits a university to be built around an open mall on a mountain top and its architect to live in a shelter in the corner of his garden. There is the lifestyle, open, unaggressive, tuned to the mountains and the sea.
But there is trouble in this Canadian paradise, and Vancouverites, awakening to the fact, are as vociferous in their dismay as once they were strident with expressions of parochial pride. Only such a booster as Mayor Tom Campbell could still see, last fall, the city’s youthful malcontents as “successors to the zoot-suiters” to be combated with bargain-priced king-sized riot sticks and the War Measures Act. Vancouver’s hippie colony had no better solutions than Maoism or anarchy, but it did — by agitation and example — put its grubby
finger on major problem areas that later came to exercise taxpayers, householders and a whole new generation of middle-class activists.
The city now has more than half a million people; the metropolitan area, a million. The offshore breeze can no longer be counted on to cleanse the air, nor the tidal flow to cleanse the water. From Grouse Mountain, Vancouver is sometimes obscured by a haze of air pollution. There has been an occasional health hazard for swimmers at city beaches due to the inability of municipalities to treat sewage properly and the fact that the city, with an annual rainfall of more than 50 inches, has no separate storm sewer. Rush-hour traffic backs up at the bridges and a new crossing of the
First Narrows by bridge or tunnel is essential, a step leading inevitably to more traffic, more parking lots, more pollution. A proposed $300-million rapid transit system would be limited to a 24-mile route, most of it downtown, and would not be operational until 1990. Like so many sore thumbs, salmon-colored highrises in the populous West End — where 40,000 people live in Canada's most densely populated square mile—block views and strain park, beach and community facilities. The whole downtown area is, in the phrase of Vancouver’s world-famous architect, Arthur Erickson, “disastrously ugly.’’ He blames city hall: "Our elected representatives are seldom concerned with the quality of life.”
Happily, the people are
concerned. During 1969 a public outcry challenged and stopped a spurt of industrial development in the heart of Vancouver. The concept of downtown freeways, discredited too late in many cities, was attacked furiously by such vulnerable neighborhoods as Chinatown and defeated, apparently for good. “A lot of wrong decisions made elsewhere haven’t been made here,” says Michael A. Goldberg, an economist at the University of British Columbia and one of two academics heading an ambitious computer project involving city and regional governments to plot the social and ecological future of Greater Vancouver. “We have fantastic options open because our institutions are new and flexible, because the city hasn’t done much — urban renewal is a joke — and because the people are aware of what they have and what they have to lose.”
The fight to save Vancouver has been waged on many fronts by many people, alone and in groups, motivated by love for a part or the whole, by idealism, by self-interest. In the following pages Maclean’s relates five widely differing battles and skirmishes, and concludes with a plan to keep Vancouver the livable city it has been. □
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