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Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Archive for October 5th, 2009

Metro Vancouver needs new rules for smart-growth development

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Bob Ransford in the Vancouver Sun

He was a real estate developer. He now calls himself a public affairs consultant. Either way I am astonished to find myself writing this.

Regular readers will have noticed that posts have been scarcer in recent times. Partly that is because I found myself saying the same things that i had already written. So I decided not to write stuff just to make sure that there was a regular flow, but more to respond to issues where I felt I actually needed to write something.

So I read this Ransford piece with a growing sense of disbelief – but it does seem that he has at least diagnosed what the problem is, even if we can disagree about the prescription he wrote. He starts with a good description of what is wrong and then says that he thinks we need to reform regional government. Up to that point, I agree with him. But I do not think it is the first thing that needs to happen.

The real problem is the attitude of the provincial government. Not what they say, but what they do. And not just this particular government either – since the last lot were no better. They have to allow the region a measure of autonomy. The province has to stop micromanaging this region. It has to accept that the people of this region and their elected representatives are the right people to be making the decisions. Yes the provincial government is elected by those same people – but they are also elected by the rest of the province – and to do a different job.

There will always be places where overlapping jurisdictions grate against each other and no system of government is ever perfect. But just as there is an appropriate sphere for federal and provincial jurisdiction, so also is there a need for both local and regional jurisdiction. And each level has to have its own representative and responsible government with an adequate tax base to support its activities. Right now, in the lower mainland, all the important decisions about transportation have been imposed by the province onto the region. They have very little respect for the regional growth strategy that the municipal and provincial governments both signed onto. Far too much is being committed to roads, and not nearly enough to transit. While the province pretends that it is not interested in influencing land use, that is obviously a sham. We are being built into car dependent sprawl – and mostly because that suits the real estate interest who pay the BC Liberals bills. And the car salesmen, and the oil companies. The Premier seems to have forgotten all about his recent interest in climate change and there is absolutely zero interest in delivering any kind of affordable housing strategy.

So I cheered when I read

At best, provincial policies have contradicted the current government’s talk about making housing more affordable and addressing urban growth’s environmental impacts that are contributing to climate change.

The current provincial government has completely neglected its role in establishing effective and workable ground rules for local and regional governments when it comes to coordinating land use and transportation planning.

It is this coordinated planning and growth management that is so desperately needed to address the supply side of the housing supply-and-demand equation and keep housing prices within an affordable range. It is also this kind of regional and local planning that is required to shrink our urban ecological footprint and begin reversing the climate-change trend.

But I do not think that changing the boundaries of metro, or fiddling with 50/50 representation is the answer. What is needed first is a provincial government that actually gives a damn about environmental impact, affordable housing, and shrinking our ecological footprint. And that for sure is not Gordon Campbell and the BC Liberals.

It does not change anything if you do all kinds of local and regional chopping and changing – yet leave that problem unaddressed. Could we extract from this government a commitment that they will provide for an adequate local tax base and then refrain from deciding how it is to be spent? And if we did get such a commitment from this bunch – who in their right minds would believe them?

Written by Stephen Rees

October 5, 2009 at 8:21 pm