Gregory Baker: Changing the conversation about development

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      I was born in 1970 and grew up in Dunbar. Vancouver— and my neighbourhood—has never stopped growing. A gas station, kitty corner to my house, has been replaced by a four-storey apartment. Three more of these buildings were built nearby, without protests or lawsuits.

      That is what the zoning allowed, that is what the plan called for, and that is what happened. It is not that way anymore.

      In the past six years, it almost seems that Vancouver has been hijacked. We are being led in a direction where the whole town will be covered in Manhattan-style density and the rest of the region will be sprawling suburbs. While I love to visit New York, I don’t hear many Vancouverites say that they would want to live there.

      I was guided towards municipal politics at an early age. My father Jonathan Baker, a former city councillor, was my major source of inspiration. Dinner discussions often centered on civic issues.

      In 1982, when I was 12 years old, Dad would take me to the Hastings-Sunrise Community Centre for weekly meetings of the Osborne Computer Club. The Osborne was the first portable computer. It was the size of a microwave. They were called “luggables”.

      Computers got smaller quickly. The Osborne was soon replaced by one of the first laptop computers: the Radio Shack Model 100. All of that led me to the idea of opening PC Galore in 1994. At the time, it was Canada’s first computer consignment and recycling business.

      Through my dad and the Osborne Club, I met Harry Lash. Lash had recently retired as head of the GVRD (now Metro). Dad admired Lash because under his direction, the GVRD came up with the Livable Region Plan.

      The idea of the plan was to protect the urban and rural environment in the face of anticipated growth. It aimed to create a series of six or seven compact communities each with a high-density node. People could live where they worked and be less dependent on cars.

      What happened?

      Contrary to neighbourhood input, glass towers are springing up everywhere, with little regard for the impact on neighbouring buildings. Not only are these towers not energy efficient, but the units within them are tiny.

      Miniaturization of computers is good. The same principal does not apply to dwelling units.

      Vancouver is now one of the least affordable places to live in the world. It is also losing the quality of design that gave Vancouverism its good name. Today, Vancouverism has become synonymous with unlivable housing supplied under secrecy and deception.

      Somehow, the city’s developers have persuaded politicians that to keep costs down, they should exempt them from the levies that are required to pay for the infrastructure costs imposed by their developments. When a small but powerful interest group prescribes a cure for the problem that makes them rich, we should get a second opinion.

      Vancouver is badly run. The Vision Vancouver-led city council has abandoned community and neighbourhood-based planning. Citizens complain. Council ignores.

      Until recently, change happened in measured steps. Matters of density, planning, parks and zoning were products of true community input and consensus building.

      We—Gregory Baker, Kirk LaPointe, and the NPA team—can restore that process. It is as easy as listening.



      Dave p

      Oct 6, 2014 at 5:28pm

      Sounds great, but how can we trust the NPA do actually do anything to address the problem? Kirk and party silent on issue. No plan. I'm voting Green, enough of this nonsense with civic parties almost wholly funded by developers.

      Arthur Vandelay

      Oct 7, 2014 at 6:02am

      Did your father also spew trite platitudes like, "It's as easy as listening"?


      Oct 7, 2014 at 8:24am

      The traditional pro business, pro market party is now arguing that increasing the size of individual unit dwellings in Vancouver will somehow increase affordability, and this will be done by slowing down the zoning and planning process?

      All that will come out of this approach is those in the well heeled areas of the city keeping the lane way houses and condos out of their neighbourhoods, while protecting their own property values.

      The disingenuous nonsense coming out of the NPA this year is truly stunning.

      It is only marginally less insane, but not any more likely to earn my vote, than COPE and their "we are going to start a property development arm to compete in the development market to drive down housing costs" fantasy.

      NPA (Not Peters Association)

      Oct 7, 2014 at 9:46am

      Strange I can't remember voting for you to represent the NPA. As a member I find this NPA to be closed and secretive. When is the NPA going to have a real AGM?

      NPA bears no responsiblity?

      Oct 7, 2014 at 12:14pm

      Mr Baker, I was born in 1970 in Vancouver as well.

      I seem to recall all of this density beginning around False Creek in the early 90s with the multi-million dollar boondoggles surrounding that area's development. West Side parks would be tended to with care, while East Side parks were little more than grassy garbage dumps.

      So Mr Baker, I assume you are old enough to remember who was in government before Vision? Gordon Campbell? Phillip Owen NPA names ringing any bells for you here?

      In my estimation Vancouver is a changing city. It is so young, how could it not? The difference is that Dunbar is no longer in charge of doling out our tax dollars. Vision has done a great job of bike lanes, and changing the garbage collection to be more green. I don't recall anything good coming from NPA. Unless you think the debt Sammy Sullivan left us from the Olympics is a good thing?


      Oct 7, 2014 at 1:30pm

      It's easy to say that Vision has abandoned community based planning if your definition of not listening is not obeying. Governments are never elected to do things that are easy or that please everybody. Unless you can show that Vancouver is going to contract, a rational civic government tries to build out more spaces. Unless you can show that these spaces are going to come from single family dwellers (like NPA supporters) voluntarily giving up their 33x100 lots so that we can build affordable low rises, developers are going to come to the city with proposals for podium and tower.

      It wouldn't matter if it was Vision or the COPE or the Scrotie McBoogerballs Party that was in charge.