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Spring Gillard
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Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood

I was speaking at a food networking event in the West End of Vancouver yesterday. As I rode into the seaside neighbourhood, I was struck by its vibrant and unique character, a lovely mix of green grocers, small shops, funky cafés and eateries. It’s on the doorstep of the seawall, a walking/cycling path that wends its way through Stanley Park; it was alive with people of all ages on all forms of wheels (except cars). I love the West End and always feel like I’m on holiday when I visit. In spite of the overcast skies, I spent a beautiful afternoon there.

When I arrived at the community centre where I was to speak, I also discovered what a lovely venue they have there, with a pottery studio, fitness centre and light-filled meeting rooms. The workshop was all about building a neighbourhood food network in the west end, put on by Village Vancouver, the Green Millenium Foundation and the Vancouver Food Policy Council. About thirty people turned up to get connected and find a way to build on all the good food and gardening initiatives already happening in the west end.

I’ve been to a lot of meetings in the last few weeks and all of them were focused on the neighbourhood, from grass roots to local government, we all seem to be placing our hope and energy there. I think we all believe that’s where real change can happen, where sustainability is possible, because there is a rich resource called people, our greatest community asset, with diverse skills and knowledge that can be shared, neighbour to neighbour, creating resilient local networks. Cash-strapped governments probably also hope to save some money by tapping into a passionate volunteer work force.

I attended another meeting this week, a Translink public consultation meeting on the rapid transit proposals for Broadway. While I did find the three hour session very informative and well organized, I was still mystified as to why the street car option proposed by Patrick Condon at UBC was not one of the alternatives (there are seven) on the table. The majority of the designs would plow through the west end of Broadway, another beautiful neighbourhood with Greek flavourings. Again, small shops, affordable green grocers, café’s and Greek delis, bakeries, restaurants, and the home of Greek Day during the summer. It’s pretty hard to close a street for a festival when you have a SkyTrain or Light Rail system running up the middle.

Many years ago planners and politicians decided not to put a freeway through the city. Back then, it was probably seen as a very unprogressive, even backwards decision. Now of course it’s seen as visionary. The current planning strategy is all about developing the arterials, or major routes, which means condo-fication and franchise-ation of those streets. All the small mom and pop shops that help give the area its character are driven out by high rents. The neighbourhoods begin to lose their flavour and become bland and homogenized. We’re watching it happen on 4th Avenue and to some degree on Commercial Drive.

After the Broadway and Commercial station stop, only thirty percent of riders continue on to UBC, central Broadway is the congested area, not the western most end. For what we are going to pay for a SkyTrain or LRT line, we could restore the entire streetcar system in the city, or dramatically improve the entire bus system, both community friendly options. Sure we would sacrifice a little speed, but it seems a small price to pay to preserve the flavours of our neighbourhoods.

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