One Last Kick at the Plan

CAtables

Tonight, the Citizens’ Assembly on the Grandview-Woodland Community Plan had its last community roundtable. The subject of discussion was the draft sub-area recommendations, on specific parts of the community like Cedar Cove, Nanaimo, and Broadway and Commercial.

I arrived shortly before seven and the line up of participants was nearly out the door, while inside, most of the tables were almost full. I managed to get a seat at one of the Britannia-Woodland discussion tables, then during the second round, sat at a Commercial Drive discussion table. People were still arriving as the discussion started and as with all of the meetings I’ve attended so far, there were enough participants to fill at least a half dozen more tables. As it was, people found space where they could, or sat two-deep for some of the more contentious discussions.

CAlineup

As always, I was impressed by the knowledge and commitment of the Assembly members and the community members who came to the meeting. There were fruitful discussions and agreement on many issues, though there will never be consensus on others.

Here are a few of the highlights from the summaries at the end of the night:

  • More creative use of industrial lands is needed.
  • Nanaimo Street needs to be developed, but in a way that respects current residential uses.
  • Affordable housing is the crucial issue for the Britannia-Woodland sub-area.
  • Cedar Cove needs to be better integrated into the neighbourhood, with transit and Commercial Drive-like spaces for small business.
  • Commercial Drive needs to be kept affordable for independent, small-scale businesses. Ideas like allowing businesses to make use of laneways might be part of the solution.
  • Public space needs to be truly public, rather that the private-public space seen in places like Yaletown, that’s not truly accessible to citizens.
  • Co-operative housing and other affordable housing need to be protected and promoted, so that we can retain a mixed income community.

No consensus was reached on the development at Venables and Commercial and there was also a concern that though there has been broad consensus at all public meetings on a height restriction of four storeys, the proposals that are presented to the public keep integrating greater height limits.

There was broad support, with some objections, to the plan for bike lanes along Commercial/Salsbury, along with wider sidewalks from 1st to Broadway. The active transportation plan for Commercial seems like it’s going to become a reality.

There’s a divide of opinion on how to protect and expand affordable housing in the neighbourhood. Some believe that density created through condo development and tower construction will achieve that, though the results elsewhere in the City show the opposite effect. Others (including me) believe that density achieved through infill, smaller development, and more distributed density will help protect existing affordable housing stock, while allowing more to be built. Creative approaches to preserving existing buildings, while allowing redevelopment are seen as crucial by many of us.

Those are just a few of the points made tonight. And there’s still a little time to comment on the draft before the Assembly’s last meeting on May 9th. You can email them at assembly@grandview-woodland.ca and you can download a copy of the draft here.

I don’t hold out much hope that the City will respect the recommendations of the Assembly or the neighbourhood at large. But I still don’t think this process has been a waste of time. The Assembly has done an admirable job of recording the views of the neighbourhood and sifting through all the information that’s been given to them.

Most importantly, the overwhelming interest in the process shows just how active our neighbourhood will be in challenging the City if it should present us with something that doesn’t reflect the concerns and ideas that this community has voiced.

Co-ops and the Community Plan

Definition 2

The Grandview-Woodland Citizens’ Assembly is nearing completion of its process. By early summer it will have presented its recommendations. Then, it will be up to the City to decide how those recommendations will figure into the final community plan.

Tonight, I attended a community consultation by the Assembly that was specifically geared to co-op housing members, a part of the community that can get ignored in the discussions that centre on the needs of owners and renters in our neighbourhood. There are only two members of the Assembly that live in co-op housing, which apparently represents the proportion of co-op residents in Grandview-Woodland. There are twenty-eight Assembly members that own their residences and another eighteen that rent. I don’t know if there is any representation from social housing included amongst the eighteen renters on the Assembly.

We considered six recommendation areas that concern co-op housing: how the expiration of co-op land leases are handled; the loss of Federal support at the end of co-ops’ operating agreements; advocacy for alternative ownership models in the City; supports for co-ops’ viability over the long term; and the potential for co-op housing to be built into new development.

There was also an initial discussion of a definition of co-operative housing. Though there was a wealth of ideas about what co-op housing means for co-op members and the community, we all agreed that it’s a model distinct from social housing, renting, and owning. The City, as it stands, classes co-ops as a form of social housing, which does a disservice to both models, as they serve different needs and provide different benefits. There is absolutely a need for dedicated low-income housing, but there’s an equal need for mixed-income models that provide security of tenure whether a resident’s income increases or decreases. Mixed-income, affordable housing is especially important in a city that’s becoming increasingly unafforable for middle-income and low-income people alike.

I’m looking forward to seeing the end result of the Assembly’s process. All the members I’ve met have been passionate advocates for our neighbourhood, caring deeply about the diversity that Grandview-Woodland encompasses, and working hard to make sure they represent the need to protect this diversity over the course of the next three decades.

At the same time, I was reminded again tonight that the scope of the Assembly’s mandate is narrow, which makes it important that the community makes itself heard outside that process as well as within it. I hope that CHF BC makes its own submissions to the City with regard to neighbourhood plans across Vancouver, and that the Grandview-Woodland Area Council and the Our Community, Our Plan! group continue to lobby the City on behalf of our neighbourhood.

2012 – the International Year of Co-operatives

International Year of Co-ops sticker

I write about community-building here, well, when I’m not showing you photos of my dinner.

When you live in a city, even one that’s the size of Vancouver, community can be elusive. Your social circle emerges from the web of your identity and affiliations, but connecting across these lines can be challenging. Co-operatives can be a great way of making these connections. Co-ops can be specific or broad-based, economically-focused or centred around information and education. Most have a sense of social justice built into their structure and when they connect with each other, there’s potential for a movement that supports community-building across interests, identities, and status.

In practice, it doesn’t always work that way. Housing co-ops in popular neighbourhoods can become dominated by white, middle-class people; some small co-operatives can become cliques of like-minded hobbyists. But, at its best, the co-operative movement stands as an alternative to the atomized consumer-culture that many of us find so alienating.

As I’ve mentioned before, we live in a housing co-operative, which gives us a sense of connection across our neighbourhood, and more broadly, our region. We belong to a number of other co-ops, too. They enrich our lives and have the benefit of also being easy on our pocketbooks.

The United Nations has declared 2012 as the International Year of Co-operatives. Throughout 2012, there are going to be events across the world to celebrate the co-operative movement. Here’s a link to the official page and another that’s specifically for Canada:

IYC International

IYC Canada

And here’s a list of some of the co-operatives operating in Vancouver. It’s amazing how many needs the co-operative model can serve, isn’t it? There’s even a motorcycle repair co-op in Vancouver now.

CHF BC

The Vancouver Tool Library

modo – the car co-op

Vancouver Media Co-op

Co-op Radio

People’s Co-op Bookstore

MEC

East End Food Co-op

I’d love to hear about your experience with co-operatives. I’d also encourage you to check out co-ops in your area. You might be surprised at how many you find.

Swapping Soup and Building Community

Making soup can be a long, slow process, best done on a day when you want to stay home all morning or afternoon. The good thing about soup-making is that you’re generally not tied to the stove continuously, so you can use the time it’s cooking to do other things. This changes when you quadruple the recipe, turning your kitchen into an assembly line of sorts.




                       
                       
                       
                       
                       
                       
                       
                       
                       
                       
That’s not something I’d usually do, as I have a very small freezer. But, our housing co-op had a soup swap this past Saturday, so quadruple I did. I made Smitten Kitchen’s Roasted Eggplant Soup, which caused me to fill the kitchen counters with smashed garlic cloves and halved eggplants, tomatoes and onions. Thank goodness the recipe didn’t call for any chopping. I roasted the vegetables in shifts, then worked the roasted eggplant free of its skin and plucked off the leaves of the tomatoes. I split the ingredients into two pots, added the stock and the seasonings and then was finally able to let the soup cook itself down. While I started on the dishes.



                       
                       
                       
                       
                       
                       
                       
                       
                       
                       
                       
                       
                       
                       
                       
                       
                       
                       
                       
                       
At the end of the day, I had eight litres of soup, six of those ear-marked for the swap. I gave the extra soup to my parents and left the rest in my fridge overnight, so that the flavours could meld a little.

We met on Saturday afternoon, exchanged stories and snacked before we distributed the soup. Kids ran around while the adults chatted. There were exactly six households that could make it, so we all went home with a litre of our own soup, along with a litre from each of the other participants.

We live in a scattered co-op, which means that we have smaller properties around the neighbourhood, rather than one property with larger buildings and townhouses. Our smaller properties have more character than an apartment complex or concentrations of townhouses would, but it means that we have to work a little harder at building cohesiveness in our community. Events like this one bring us together as a co-op.

Holding events that involve sharing food also reinforces the idea that food security starts within our social circles and immediate communities. Once we start sharing food, skills and produce with our family, friends and neighbours, we’re on a path that has the potential to mitigate our reliance on industrial food streams. It’s also a path that creates the kind of networks that can support individuals and families through difficult times.

The larger issues aside, we’ll be having another soup swap in the new year and I’m hoping to organize a canning workshop for next summer. Maybe along with a community picnic.