Beasley dreams

Dreaming is a fundamental tool in planning.
– Larry Beasley

Today (Sun Oct 21), I attended a Dream Vancouver conference. A daylong Appreciative Inquiry exercise was facilitated by Bliss Brown. It demonstrated a process for engaging citizens in dialogue to dream of the possibilities for the future, work toward a consensus vision, and commit to actions toward that shared vision. The day also featured a keynote speech by Larry Beasley, former Director of Vancouver City Planning. The following are notes from that speech.

Anxiety limits us, prevents dreaming.

On building a sustainable city, “we’ve made a good start; we need to continue to improve.” We haven’t reached near our potential for culture — institutions, events. We need only look to Toronto to see how far behind we are culturally.

“Common wealth, public property does not get the care it needs” due to funding. Cities do not have appropriate or adequate access to the type of funding that would be necessary to keep streets and public spaces properly designed, built or maintained.

He has been working in Abu Dhabi of the United Arab Emirates. The Minister of Environment there is an avid falconer. From the impacts on the birds, he could see and appreciate the seriousness of environmental degradation. The country now has the most stringent environmental legislation in the world. They are creating a carbon neutral community with a population of 100,000.

He discussed a list of things he believes cities here should be doing with haste to reduce their environmental impact, including reducing waste, producing energy, create infrastructure that is not geared to cars, grow food closer to where people live.

There is a dire need for reasonably priced well-located market housing in this region. Middle-income earners are being pushed out to the urban edge. They have to drive to work which means they’re spending lots of time in their cars that they’d rather be with their kids, endure the expense of operating an automobile, waste fuel and contribute greatly to air pollution.

In Abu Dhabi, there is a government policy to provide a home to every citizen. “Housing is a basic right of humanity.” There should be affordable, suitable housing for everyone in Vancouver.

He expressed exasperated frustration seeing continuing “subdivision sprawl” spreading throughout the Fraser Valley.

“If you create the best city in the world but nobody can afford to live here, it becomes irrelevant.”

In form and function, and as a density alternative to highrises, there is “no better multiple housing” than the urban rowhouse.

He was very animated in proclaiming a need for a “third housing sector — the semi-market sector.” Homebuyers would be provided an opportunity to own an affordable, appropriate, and well-located home in exchange for them not using it as an investment. A legal arrangement would require that they not sell for more than they paid. They retain the equity created by paying the principal, but cannot take advantage of the speculative open market, thus it remains affordable for the next buyer.

“Urban success has to benefit every single person.” He noted a study that found frontline healthcare in the downtown eastside is the SRO hotel frontdesk attendant familiar with their tenants — “Have you taken your meds yet today?” His dream is of a Vancouver that is not only beautiful but also humane and inclusive.

“Environmental moves have to go along with densification.” To opponents of towers and density or those who are ambivalent to issues of affordability, he asks, where will your children live? Where will you live when you get older? However, “every community has to have its own definition to ‘ecodensity’. You can’t take one community’s definition and apply it here and here and here”

The following are bites from his responses to questions from the audience.

There should be flexibility in multiple housing for the garage to be used for uses other than parking, such as a workshop or storage.

There is a need for multiple housing to be designed to be suitable for children, and to accept children.

People commuting from the valley, and our society in general, need to give up the conflicted dream of the idealized house being 3,000 sqft with a giant lawn.

Another solution to create flexibility and affordability is to create and allow multiple housing that can be divided to have a rental suite.

It’s time to “pick up the co-op tradition that was so alive 20 years ago.”

Developers are very sophisticated. Their products are more than housing. They are creating neighbourhoods, whole communities. Developers accept that there is a common wealth that they contribute to.

Good civic leadership will ensure one development doesn’t negatively impact another development and make sure it contributes to the community. Regulation is accepted. Developers understand that regulations serve a necessary purpose and protect their interests. When there’s a problem with a regulation, it is not its existence in itself that might makes it wrong; it’s how it’s done.

Government should leverage its modest funds with the private sector to create housing. “There is enough wealth in our community and in the system to provide housing for everyone.”

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