Sunday, 6 November 2011

Vancouver Election Preview

With Vancouver municipal elections on November 19th, I thought now was a good opportunity to reflect on what are the key issues that should be being debated in the weeks aheadI stress 'should be' because unfortunatley the past weeks have been dominated by the continued occupation of the Vancouver Art Gallery.  For a group that claims to want to discuss the 'big issues', it is ironic that their occupation of VAG has deflected all attention away from the real substantive issues facing the city.  So to put this right, here are my top three issues that prospective politicians should be focusing on in Vancouver.   

1.  Housing Supply
If a prospective politician cannot describe how they will increase the supply of housing in the city, they do not deserve to even be considered for election.  This is a pressing issue for many contemporary western cities, but is particularly acute in Vancouver.  With house prices considerably out of reach for the majority of young families the current situation is not sustainable.  People will either be pushed out of the city into the suburbs or pay an increasing proportion of their household income on rent.  This article from Vancouver magazine sums up excellently the position that many young people find themselves in.  And the result is that many are leaving Vancouver and taking their skills with them.

Vancouver's first laneway home by Lane Fab Design
Local politicians must therefore clearly articulate how housing supply will be increased.  This must include laneway housing, increased densities in areas that are near transit and financial support to allow a greater segment of the population onto the housing ladder.  But this is only a start and all parties must be creative in finding solutions to significantly increasing the housing stock.

Visions Vancouver's housing platform is here.
NPA's housing platform is here.

2.  Transportation
The NPA used their streetcar plans (seen here) to kick-off their election pitch back in September.  However, little has been heard of it since then and the party have even admitted that the Broadway Corridor is in fact their main priority (see here).  Likewise for Vision.  They trumpet the importance of active transportation in meeting their 'Greenest City' aspiration, but also admit that the Broadway corridor is the bigger issue.  Yet it is hard to fight an election on this issue because so much depends on TransLink, the Province and the wider Mayor's Council on agreeing funding.  

Where there has been a difference between parties is on the bike lanes.  Vision have rightfully articulated their successes in establishing Downtown bike lanes, whereas NPA have questioned the economic case behind this new infrastructure.  As a cycling advocate this strikes me as political posturing - a way of trying to present a clear difference between the parties when in fact there is very little (especially compared to my experience of local elections in London).  The economic assessment which claims businesses have lost $2.4 million is a very poor piece of research.  Few businesses opened their books for the assessment and therefore the final figure is highly questionable.   

My demand would be for support for greater cycling infrastructure, a resolution to the helmet issue and a recognition that transportation must be considered more alongside land use in order to support Transit Orientated Communities. 

3.  Economic Strategy
This builds on my previous article (see here) on the need for a regional economic strategy.  OK, this is isn't a strictly local issue, but I think it should be supported and advocated by City of Vancouver councillors.  Key decisions need to be made on what type of economy Vancouver will be in the future.  How much should the city rely on the port and Asian trade routes?  What does a green economy actually look like?  How can small to medium businesses be supported?  Like the issue of housing supply, all prospective politicians must be clear in establishing what the future economy of the city will look like.  Currently there is too much vague talk of the Pacific Gateway and being the Greenest City, and not enough detail.

Happy voting!

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