July 29, 2019

The Co-Creationist Idealism of Pete Fry

According to Vancouver Green Party councillor Pete Fry, consultation won’t build us the city of the future.

“Where we’re going, we don’t need sticky notes on a wall,” he said (kind of). To Fry, consultation simply means, ‘the plan has already been written’ — not the right approach for the city-wide plan. Ironically, it was a lack of consultation that almost resulted in a freeway blowing through his Strathcona neighbourhood, but that’s a story for another time.

He wants co-creation. Neighbourhoods helping to design their communities. And if people — like, any people we assume, but at the very least highly organized people, unless he literally meant all people, but honestly we’re not entirely sure about any of this — if these people see something planned for their neighbourhood they don’t like? Council could, Fry suggested, “consider veto feedback on its merit”. (Really.)

That should go well.

This idea of co-creation, whether belonging to Fry alone, Vancouver’s Green Party, their fellow councillors, or (just maybe) staff themselves, is either a brilliant new way to govern, or a new word for old tricks. It could also be a moot point, as it is likely doomed to fail, though in principle we see it working already; certainly, one could interpret the recent rejection of the Granville Street townhouse development as one outcome of co-creation. No surprise to Green-watchers, of course, that all three Green councillors confoundingly voted against the application (“I stand by the Shaughnessy vote,” says Fry).

As he chats with Gord — and meat ‘n’ sizzle co-host Rob McDowell — Pete Fry is crystal clear on one thing: as keen as he is to co-create with his fellow citizens, there are still some hills upon which he’s willing to fight, and we presume die.

Like the pending Georgia and Dunsmuir viaduct removal. Or what we do with the city’s existing zoned residential capacity. And why reconciliation is part of decolonization.

More important, though, is what Pete Fry thinks Elizabeth Murphy really doesn’t get about our housing crisis…

The Co-Creationist Idealism of Pete Fry

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  1. The logic of the Green Party vote against the Granville rental complex, and their convoluted explanations, defies logic. That should have been an easy one with easy-to-understand consequences. To paraphrase Brent Toderian on another Green vote a few years ago, How does voting against creating more housing create more housing?

  2. If I recall Project 200 and the freeway had mid-rises in Strathcona. Instead Pete Fry enjoys a low density gentrified neighbourhood close to downtown. Why would anyone expect him to support density?

    1. I lived in Strathcona for two years in an 80-year old four-story rooming house conversion in the early 80s, and even then the more acceptable gentle increases in density around it were evident. On the other hand, the McLean Park housing project was a result of the freeway madness planning epidemic of the day, and it’s got at least one mid-rise. The project obliterated a two square block area with dozens of older Victorian homes that were ultra-affordable. Hogan’s Alley jjust kitty corner was destroyed for the viaduct at the same time. It was all in the name of “slum clearance” and Mosessian Progress.

      Since those days thankfully ended there has been plenty of appropriate and sensitively done infill that kept the heritage intact. Anyone who is familiar with Koo’s Corner will know this. Anyone who has seen the many examples of great Strathcona infill projects over several years of heritage homes tours will know. The older heritage houses and larger structures (in one case a girl’s school that was converted to lofts) were retained while building more housing in the basement, in the backyards and over the garages. One project comes to mind where two 25-foot lots with late 1800s single-family Victorians were combined into one project with no less than eight homes for people of varying incomes and family types, virtually tripling the population while keeping the heritage, including much of the interior millwork. Moreover, Strathcona accommodates more than its fair share of social housing, and today fourth and fifth family generations continue to live in the original family home that was paid off decades ago.

      Slum clearance is an accurate term that describes what actually occurred there during that dark period of Vancouver’s history. “Gentrification” is not and is quite prejudicial when wielded in the context of this neighbourhood. In fact, Strathcona is a model of the kind of gentle and appropriate mixed income density Vancouver needs in all its static, frozen-in-place RS districts, even if one of its councillor-residents doesn’t agree on projects in other neighbourhoods with vocal NIMBYs. Pete Fry probably heard the cacophony of a minority of loud voices and was reminded of another time when his own community was threatened with destruction. That would be a case of having one’s eyes closed and mind turned off when the voices are clamouring in far fewer numbers to retain a certain status quo in a neighbourhood that was never threatened by anything other than the dilemma of where to park Daughter Number Three’s beemer.

      1. If you compare the development of the two neighbourhoods closest to downtown since the late 1940′; the West End and Strathcona, it is clear the amount of extra density Strathcona has taken on is laughable. Given family demographics, I bet it’s population density is lower than it was in the early 1900’s. Your argument is really no different than those made in Shaughnessy or Point Grey.

      2. Population growth 1996-2016 was 3.5% in Strathcona and 4.6% in all of Vancouver (source: Vancouver community statistics). Strathcona was never subject to the same high density zoning as the West End. Apples and oranges. Best to compare to other neighbourhoods with similar character and zoning, like Grandview Woodlands, for a level field. Both are way above Dunbar, West Point Grey, Sunset, Killarney, Arbutus Ridge, etc. with human-scaled urbanism. These neighbourhoods would benefit immensely with better quality and more infill and low rise projects with creative ideas borrowed from Strathcona. Which was my point.

        1. Hm, not sure which statistics you were looking at, but that’s not what I get from the City’s Local Area data.

          From 1996 to 2016 the City of Vancouver population grew by 116,085 – a 22.6% increase from 515,400 to 631,485.

          In the same 20 years the West End grew by 6,260, 15.3%, from 40,940 to 47,200.

          Strathcona grew by just 940, or 8.1%, from 11,645 to 12,585. Grandview Woodlands lost 40 people over that 20 years, although that will almost certainly change in future with the relatively new plan starting to deliver new housing. Similarly the edges of Strathcona, especially along East Hastings, will add population in new higher density buildings.

          1. Oops. I misread the line. The above figures are for change over 5 years ending in 2016, not since 1996. You and I are still correct: Lots of people continue to move to Vancouver despite the high housing prices.

            Doc: Vancouver census data for Strathcona (1996-2016)

        2. Not really apples and oranges. Immediately postwar both were neighbourhoods made up of largely wood frame homes on small lots. It’s clear Strathcona took on far less density. It’s an inconvenient truth that clearly illustrates the hagiography of the Jane Jacobs followers who killed the freeway also wound up with a stereotypical Jacobsian gentrified neighbourhood.

          1. Gentrification is such a nebulous term whirled about by NIMBYs for just about any change anywhere in any neighbourhood.

            Does it apply to the East King Edward Ave demolition last week of a clearly rotten house with gaping holes in the roof, decades of mould and vermin penetration, a two-week contract of asbestos removal effort by men in bubble suits, and no intact materials or heritage features left? It’s a big lot so no doubt there will be duplexes (at least) to replace it.

            Does it apply to owners who put in 20 years is sweat equity painstakingly replacing the lost heritage of their fixer upper and upgrading the structure and systems to meet code, giving tenants of the basement suite good quality housing at an affordable rent, clearly an improvement over the condition of the house before?

            Does it apply to slum landlords running their rentals into the ground and fostering a locus for drugs and crime, who sell out to a developer building high-rises, 20% of which are slated for affordable rentals?

            Does it apply to the destruction of smaller heritage character homes and their replacement at 1:1 with soulless homes from stock plans designed by a development company promoting blandness and mediocrity in California?

            Does it apply to a development where the original character home is retained by perhaps shifted on a site to free up space for infill housing that is sensitive to neighbourhood heritage?

            One of these is clearly a Yes in the most negative connotation. A couple more are Maybes. One or two are in the Bring It On category because they are clearly improvements over what came before.

            It’s not as simplistic as you paint it.

  3. I do not see Strathcona as a significantly gentrified neighbourhood. The median household income is one-third the median income for the city. Also, 80 per cent of the households are tenants, similar to the West End.

    If this is a “Jacobsian gentrified” neighbourhood, than that must mean a neighbourhood that continues to primarily provide homes for low income tenants, as well as some higher income households. No doubt the significant number of non-market housing developments in the area contributes to significantly to the presence of affordable housing.

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