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

Metro Vancouver needs new rules for smart-growth development

with 9 comments

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

9 Responses

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  1. One change that is required is legislation that allows the regional district (Metro Vnacouver) to enforce the LRSP agsinst member municipalities so as to prevent member municiaplities from rezoning for business parks or residential projects in the middle nowhere (that cannot be readily served by transit) instead of in the regional town centres. Glen Lyon business park in Burnaby comes to mind as do the business parks in Richmond (and the Riverport condo complex). Likewise the regional district should be able to impose penalties against, say, the City of Vancouver for failing to densify around a number of its SkyTrain Stations – Commercial-Broadway, Nanaimo and 29th Ave.
    i.e. Putting the power in the hands of the local politicians won’t necessarily yield the desired result either. Look at the Balkanization of the region that occurred in the votes for the Canada Line or the Nimby fuss created when the pre-trial centre was proposed for Burnaby (i.e. a central location). A local interest isn’t necessarily the same as the regional interest.

    Ron C.

    October 5, 2009 at 10:48 pm

  2. […] Sun] Scaffolding at Canada Place to let workers repair poles for sails [The Vancouver Sun] Metro Vancouver needs new rules for smart-growth development [Stephen Rees's blog] Interview with Sandra James on Vancouver’s Green Streets [The Dirt] The […]

    re:place Magazine

    October 6, 2009 at 7:02 am

  3. I think Bob Ransford is absolutely correct in calling for more provincial government direction to the Metro Vancouver municipalities. I wish someone would do an ‘audit’ of how the various MV municipal governments are adhering to the LRSP; why some municipalites do more around Smart Growth than others?; why some don’t take any initiatives to make housing more affordable?; why Vancouver with only 25% of the MV population has 75% of the shelter bed?; why some municipalities think that they are not part of the MV region?……and on and on. If some of these municipalities don’t ‘smarten up’ and see themselves as part of a great region – they may get what they don’t want. They will only have themselves to blame.


    October 6, 2009 at 11:05 am

  4. I might agree with you if the the provincial government showed the slightest interest in the LRSP. The same function – oversight of the plan and the extent to which municipalities adhere to it – would more properly be the responsibility of a genuine, regional government. One that is directly elected, replaces “Metro”, and has real power and resources but most importantly is entirely separate from the municipal government and its elected representatives. The present arrangement, as Ransford states, has not worked to produce any real change but is mired in the need for concensus. No municipal representative would vote against the interest of another municipality for fear of retaliation. And of course there ought to be some form of appeal against municipal development decisions, just as there is in most other jurisdictions. That could also be a regional role – it does not have to be provincial.

    Stephen Rees

    October 6, 2009 at 11:27 am

  5. Stephen,

    Whatever! But something must be done! Not all municipalities are ‘sharing’ the growth and will reject any future growth to protect their little principalities. As the saying goes: everyone wants public transportation, but no one wants a bus stop in front of their house. Growth is ok for the other guy, but not for me.
    While some may be sceptical of the recent ‘lane way’ housing bylaw that Vancouver passed, it’s a start. The only other MV municipality that seems to want to do something in the City of North Vancouver. They are proposing allowing secondary suites in duplexes. Not an earth shattering initiative I’ll admit. But when Burnabystan, Deltaville, Surreytown and West Vancouverish don’t even recognize them…well…This is symptomatic of the parochial approach some MV municipalities take to Smart Growth and sustainable growth. And it happens no where elese in Canada.
    Under our BNA Act, the municipalities are children of the province. Well some of these kids need their little bums kicked. And hard!
    not merely symbolic, but it would show they


    October 6, 2009 at 11:54 am

  6. “Growth is ok for the other guy, but not for me.” – actually I thought Port Moody wanted more growth but with the Evergreen Line fiasco they have put a halt to that indefinately.

    By the provincial government picking up the tab for Gateway after private financing fell through but not doing the same for Evergreen line, they send the message to local governments that road projects are effectively guaranteed by the province but transit projects aren’t. Thus regional governments are more inclined to plan for car-oriented growth even while saying they want smart-growth. How can they plan for TOD and smart-growth when they can’t be sure the province will deliver on promises for much needed transit enhancements?

    Chris S.

    October 6, 2009 at 1:12 pm

  7. You’re right, Chris S. But I think the problem lies deeper. Decades of parochialism must be overcome if we are to have a liveable region. I admit I am biased on the side of more affordable housing of all the issues. However, ‘Wounded Elk’ municipalities like Burnaby – most notably – yell and scream whenever they are asked to co-operate regionally on almost any issue. Look at the paroxysms that Corrigan went into over turtles!!! To him and a few other mayors, everything they are asked to do is downloading – even when it would cost the municipalities nothing to implement more sustainable municipal practices.
    I used to think the UBCM cowboys were ludicrous years ago when they said that their municipalities will never have homeless or drug problems. They were so wrong. The Leonards of the CRD and the Corrigans of the MV must be reigned in for all our good.


    October 6, 2009 at 2:29 pm

  8. Pardon me for being a naive foreign-born Canadian, but aren’t Metropolitan governments in BC a kind of super-municipal government made of all the municipalities in one area, all working as ONE for the good of ALL municipalities, from the biggest to the smallest???

    What Metro Vancouver needs the most is the power to run transit in the lower Mainland, as all the other metropolitan areas around the world that have great transit systems have done for eons. Unfortunately it will only happen once the Provincial government join the 20th (yes 20th) century.

    In the famous (infamous?) country where I was born the mayor of a sizable town is more often than not also either the (elected) head of the Regional government (a bit like Provinces here) OR a MP in the National government (and at times a minister) OR a senator (senators are elected by the municipal and regional councilors of the region they will represent)

    I used to think that it was outrageous but in fact this gives a lot of clout to many towns and their Metro area!!!

    Imagine if Gordon C and Carol J or..were involved in some ways at the national level, were familiar with other towns in the country, and had even used subways and commuter trains in Toronto and Montreal quite a few times…

    Red frog

    October 6, 2009 at 8:41 pm

  9. I guess I know pretty well the “infamous” redfrog country, and could draw far different conclusion on the “incestuous” political system at play in this country.

    referring to French city, I believe they are far of immune of interference of senior government, this include Paris, and here like there transportation project are highly political.

    Regarding government bodies, I tend to believe that the constitution is not the main question but more the way to work inside it…a question of culture, and BC political culture is very bully…whatever you will do, will end up like it,…unless you eventualy depoliticize the governance body…


    October 7, 2009 at 8:29 pm

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