Vancouver city council approves staff recommendations to push harder to create arts and culture spaces

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      In the past 10 years, the City of Vancouver has delivered more than 150,000 square feet worth of arts spaces through community amenity contributions.

      That doesn't include nearly 50,000 square feet that are being developed in the Howe Street Studios, the Main and 2nd Avenue housing project, and the 801 Pacific Cultural Hub.

      But now, the newly appointed general manager of arts, culture and community services, Sandra Singh, has a mandate to develop more tools to create more cultural spaces in the city.

      That's because council has unanimously approved nine recommendations to address this issue in an era of rising land values.

      They include setting citywide targets for arts and culture spaces.

      The new policy encourages cultural-services staff to work with other departments to integrate these spaces into city-owned buildings, including housing projects, libraries, and community centres.

      The policy also opens the way for the creation of cultural districts and mixed-use cultural hubs, as well as density bonusing in return for creating arts spaces. 

      In a document presented to council, staff noted that a creative hub in Toronto offers a 50 percent "assessment/tax reduction" for spaces less than 5,000 square feet.

      In New York, developments of less than 60,000 square feet that lease five percent of the space for arts uses are eligible for density bonusing.

      The document also pointed out that arts and cultural workers contribute 7.4 percent toward Canada's gross domestic product. And Statistics Canada reported in 2011 that Vancouver has the highest concentration of artists per capita the country.

      Meanwhile, a report commissioned by the city in 2016 found that 50 percent of arts and cultural organizations are worried about losing their space in Vancouver.

      According to a survey conducted as part of this study, two-thirds had leases for less than five years and one-third had leases of less than a year.

      These types of issues have led to artists fleeing urban areas around the world.

      The new policy is designed to prevent this from happening in Vancouver.

      "While the City holds one of the lowest average tax increases in Metro Vancouver, rampant real estate price escalation continues to drive up land values, resulting in significant volatility in property assessment and taxes each year," a staff report states. "The arts and culture sector is hit particularly hard as it tends to be located on potential redevelopment sites."