At the time of my campaign announcement last April there were many things to prepare, and it never occurred to me that I would take the speech that I wrote for that day as a blog post. Here again are my thoughts as to why I'm running for Vancouver city council…
I’m here to make it official, and to let Mayor Gregor know…I am an NPA Hack.
I’ve read the bio of one of Vancouver’s most charismatic leaders in our city’s history, Mayor Gerry McGeer.
Mayor Gerry did what would seem incredible today. He went against the powerful city establishment back in the 1930s, and was determined to build an iconic and important city hall in what was known as Strathcona Park at 12th & Cambie, which he did in nine months!
In one of his most famous speeches he called Vancouver “A City of Destiny.” A city of destiny.
Destiny can mean a lot of things, but during those hard times it probably sounded like hope for the future. You’re in Vancouver. This jewel location set between the mountains and water, at the outer edge of the Empire. We can create something great here.
Look what we’ve done since. Vancouver as a city has accomplished so much.
Our West End is admired across the continent for its vibrant downtown residential communities. We’ve invited the world here twice within a generation, during Expo in 86 and the Winter Olympics last year. We’re consistently praised for being the world’s most livable city, with clean water, clean air and our peaceful, pluralistic neighbourhoods.
But I fear we may be taking that success for granted. We’ve started to believe our own hype.
For Vancouver to be more remarkable in the 21st Century as it has been in the 20th it has to overcome some major challenges.
Vancouver has become too unaffordable for too many people to live here. I’ve seen friends leave our neighbourhood with their families over the years for Burnaby, the Tri-Cities and Surrey because they simply can’t afford Vancouver any longer.
Vancouver needs a housing strategy that creates supply that will diversify the market, and drive down costs. We’ve wasted scarce resources by building million-dollar waterfront social housing units, and it’s simply not sustainable.
Vancouver must become once again a city where young people want to live and start families. We may not be able to give you a white picket fence, but we need world-class amenities and walkable communities, safe streets and excellent modern schools to attract the next generation.
Jobs and opportunities are packing up and leaving Vancouver as well. When Mayor Gregor said he was going to create green jobs I had no idea what that meant, so I looked up the addresses of all these great companies he said would create jobs on this side of Boundary Road. Turns out they were in Surrey, Burnaby, North Vancouver, Richmond.
What I want for our city is for my daughter to be able to live here and have meaningful employment. Today we’re seeing a new kind of brain drain, but not to Toronto or the US, but to the suburbs. We have to retain that talent in Vancouver.
Do we want people to live in condos here while they drive out to Coquitlam to work? Of course not. We need more buildings in our downtown core to be filled with jobs, not just condos.
Did you know that one of the last manufacturing companies inside the borders of Vancouver is Purdy’s Chocolates? It’s Easter weekend coming up, and their bunnies are to die for so be sure to buy some.
We need to protect our diminishing industrial land base. Nobody’s talking about how we’ll create good jobs on our industrial land, but you’re going to keep hearing it from me.
Vancouver also needs to reassert itself as Metro Vancouver’s leading jurisdiction. Our city can play an important role in creating a regional economic strategy. And we need to bring in an important partner who has so far not been at the table – our immediate neighbour, the City of Burnaby.
Vancouver is an aging city. Year over year we’re getting a little bit older, yet where is our strategy for seniors? I admit I’m being completely selfish on this one, because before I know it I’m going to be an old man. My bootcamp instructor says I’m one already!
I’ve knocked on many doors over the years and it’s as plain as day for me that we have no strategy on how to build communities to allow for aging in place.
We need to revitalize our town centres initiative, which has been on the backburner for years in Vancouver. We need more communities like the core of Kerrisdale or in the West End where seniors can walk, socialize, shop and seek services within the span of a few blocks.
Vancouver must take care of its less fortunate. We’ve shouldered a greater burden when it comes to homelessness than in other cities, and while Mayor Gregor says he’s going to continue to ramp up shelters, I think we know that a cot in a church basement isn’t the answer. The answer is to build safe, supportive housing.
During the previous NPA council, we got those commitments. Over 2,000 new housing units are coming online now, and Vision want to take credit for them. Ask the Province or the federal government how much they’ve invested in housing since Vision took office and you’ll get a blank stare. That’s because Vision think it’s sporting to take cheap shots at the Prime Minister and at the Province.
We need a government at City Hall that can bring back decorum and build partnerships that will address our homelessness crisis.
Speaking of partnerships, why aren’t we talking about bringing in private partners for a streetcar line? I’m not sure how many of you rode that fantastic Bombardier streetcar during the Olympics, but it was a great ride that I think ended too soon.
We called on the Mayor to put out an RFP for a private partner to help us to build a permanent streetcar link between downtown and the south short of False Creek. Ministry of Transportation staff in Victoria were telling us they were prepared to listen to the City’s plan if they had one.
Vancouver has another more urgent transportation need that it faces not in the future, but now. We need to finish the Millennium Line along West Broadway out to Arbutus. Twenty-five per cent of Vancouver’s economy is generated in the West Broadway corridor. A new downtown is rising up at the south end of the Cambie Street bridge.
When have you heard this Mayor and council speak even ONCE about the need to get rapid transit across the Broadway corridor? Out in Port Moody they talk about rapid transit over breakfast, lunch and dinner. Mayor Watts out in Surrey just did her state of the city speech standing in front of a 10’ high poster of a light rail car.
How did Vancouver become a city that stops listening? I think it’s because we’ve got a city government that is dictating to us what their vision for the future is, not ours.
Look at the rancorous debates we’re having about how we build our neighbourhoods. The strangest one I think is the response to building height. We have limited land, and we have a strong imperative to end sprawl.
I’m convinced we’re not afraid of tall buildings. Rather, I think we’re tired of bad architecture.
If we were to build another Marine Building, Sun Tower or Dominion Building – once the proudest accomplishments for a young city – and were to make them two or three times as tall, would the voices in opposition be quite so loud?
Vancouver is home to some of the best urban designers, architects and planners in the world. So why aren’t we tapping into that talent to design a city of striking architecture and public spaces?
Vancouver can and should be a city that walks. We’ve heard lots about bikes during this council, partly because we give tax dollars to bike advocacy groups. How come we’re not doing that for pedestrians? I made the mistake of driving past a school the other day and got stuck in a traffic jam. Too many of us are using cars for short hops, but we can change this by building and promoting a walkable city?
There are so many great ideas but we know that Mayor Gregor and his colleagues aren’t interested in listening. They’ve got their minds made up, whether its on where to put bike lanes, or the future of the Bloedel Conservatory. What Vision has accomplished is dividing our city, not bringing it together.
How come we aren’t using Vancouver’s diversity for its advantage? Our citizens provide business networks to China, India, the Pacific Rim and the rest of the world, and they’re there if we only ask.
As you can imagine, after penning thousands of words on the subject of our city in recent years, I’ve formed a few opinions. But let me leave you with one more goal.
We need to set a positive tone at City Hall. How is it that a workplace that was heralded as one of Canada’s best has some of the lowest morale in its history in only two years? We have a GREAT City staff, and we need to work with our public service and union leaders to see that they get the support they deserve.
So now I will seek the support of the NPA membership to make me one of their candidates for city council in November. Sometimes we forget that it was under NPA governments that we built our seawalls, and hundreds of kilometers of bike routes. Under NPA governments we developed the Four Pillars strategy to deal with drug addiction and mental health issues facing the Downtown Eastside, and partnered with the Province to fund and operate the largest social housing commitment in Vancouver’s history.
As your city councillor, I will work hard to build on that legacy.
Just because you have Vision in your name doesn’t mean you actually have vision. I think we need a change in government, and to that end I will appreciate your support.
My campaign website is at klassenforvancouver.com. You can support my campaign in several ways including by making a financial donation or by volunteering some of your time before the November 19th Election Day.