Friday, January 2, 2015

Opinion Vancouver Courier New Year's Eve 2014

New Year’s Eve: A time for reflection, predictions and resolutions

2014 was my first year as a Courier columnist.

Since starting this column in May, I have enjoyed numerous twitter and email exchanges with readers. While some columns garnered limited response, others struck a chord with many of you. As we look forward to 2015, I expect that the topics that generated the greatest response in 2014 will continue to be of importance to Courier readers.

In May I wrote about the increasing number of older homes being demolished with a resulting loss of traditional neighbourhood character. The city subsequently imposed a moratorium on the demolition of pre-1940’s houses in Shaughnessy and new regulations related to demolitions elsewhere in the city. While some readers questioned whether government should be interfering with private property rights, others saluted these initiatives.

Rather than impose moratoria, I believe the city should offer incentives to preserve older houses. These could include permission to build a second home for sale with unused density, or subdivision of larger houses into suites. I predict we will see creative new zoning measures in 2015 to address this ongoing concern.

This is not an isolated case. Many street medians are similarly neglected.
Is this any way to treat a once prized waterfront walkway?
Sadly far too many people still consider city streets and planters to be ashtrays.

In June I wrote about the dismal state of many streets around Vancouver with weeds growing through asphalt medians and along sidewalks. I was troubled by the increased number of unkempt properties and cigarette butts and other garbage strewn about the city. While some thought I was being rather petty, many of you shared my concerns and this column attracted considerable media attention.

Sadly the weeds remain and the city’s overall cleanliness has not improved. If anything, areas like the Downtown Eastside are getting worse. I expect we will all have much more to say about this in 2015.

In July, following participation in a national planning conference, I wrote how well-designed cities can contribute to better health. I noted the irony that in trying to make cities and buildings safer and more accessible for those in wheelchairs, we were discouraging children from walking to school and the rest of us from using stairs.

As healthcare costs rise, we are going to have to look at innovative ways to improve public health. I predict many discussions on reducing healthcare costs in 2015.
As the municipal election campaign heated up at the end of the summer, we heard a lot of concerns about neighbourhood planning around Vancouver. My column suggesting that expert planners should have as much input as neighbourhood residents did not sit well with everyone.

In 2015 we will get to see if the City is going to change its approach to planning neighbourhoods, as well as how the Citizens’ Assembly model works out.
In September I wrote about parking concerns, bicycle accidents and registration, and whether the Mayors’ Council really agreed to fund an underground subway along Broadway. All three articles generated considerable interest and I expect debate on these matters will continue in 2015.

As an electric car owner, I will be particularly interested in how older condominium and rental apartments accommodate the parking and charging requirements of an increasing number of electric cars.

As someone wanting better public transit, I will be awaiting the outcome of the Transit Referendum, or as one reader suggested I call it, the Transportation Referendum, noting TransLink has responsibility for roads as well.

A topic of great interest throughout the year was the impact of foreign buyers on the cost of housing. Following my October report from London, others questioned whether municipal governments could really address this issue without support from the federal and provincial governments. I predict this issue will not be going away.

The management of urban trees is an issue I resolve to address in 2015

And now for some resolutions. In 2015 I resolve to explore the need for better management of public and private trees in the city; what to do about deteriorating conditions in the Downtown Eastside; how to improve community neighbourliness, and what to do with older social and public housing projects and whether governments should encourage longstanding residents to purchase their units.

Until then, thank you for your interest and comments over the past year and best wishes for a happy, healthy and humour filled 2015. @michaelgeller