In just one month, Vancouver residents will elect a new City Council. What do you want to see changed at City Hall? Here is my top-of-list wish:
A common-sense reduction in overregulation. Regardless of which party gets elected.
What do I mean, specifically? Well, where to start? The City of Vancouver has developed a vast number of detailed regulations governing almost anything that people do, both private residents and businesses. Many of these regulations, although well intended at the time, now work at cross-purposes with broader Council policy and current community values. So obsolete or ineffective rules beget more rules. We tie ourselves in knots, and the city in a straightjacket of regulations.
Let me give just a few examples:
If you are a working artist in this city, it is almost impossible to find somewhere to legally practice your craft and live at the same address. Just ask any artist who has tried to get a building permit or an occupancy permit or a business license or whatever other permission is required, or has had a safety or health inspection of their premises.
The regulations around live/work artists are failing miserably, and we need to find a way to both enable and assist artists to work in Vancouver: our city needs a thriving arts scene at least as much as it needs new stadiums or bike lanes or more residential condo towers.
Try opening up a wine bar in Vancouver. Or re-designing your so-called ‘private’ wine store as you see fit. Or ordering a drink at a restaurant or café sidewalk table without a physical barrier between yourself and the passing pedestrians. Not possible. Those ridiculous fences and railings are required under provincial and municipal liquor regulations, making it impossible to do what consenting adults do naturally in virtually every other city I have ever visited outside of Canada. And guess what? The sky does not fall.
Our city’s (and provincial government) regulations around alcohol consumption – and retail sale or purchase, of course, but that’s another whole blog – are completely out-dated and ossified. Come to think of it, municipal regulations around sidewalk seating and patios are themselves far too restrictive, never mind adding alcohol into the picture.
What I would give for Vancouver to finally join the 21st century with respect to our laws and regulations around liquor. How fine it would be to join most other cultures in finding a more informed, balanced attitude to managing the legitimate pleasures and equally legitimate dangers of alcohol use.
Of course I’m not advocating for the unregulated, unlimited, or untaxed use of alcohol, nor am I minimizing the very real dangers of alcohol abuse. But history and travel elsewhere shows us that there is an enormous gap between these shared public objectives and our practices as we actually experience them. And rational public policies around managing these issues should be in place, which is something our new City Council could take a lead on and advocate for in this province.
Or let’s take land use zoning (and the myriad permitting and licensing requirements that support this). Despite years of admirable effort by the Planning Department (whose leadership largely gets it, but is often up against uninformed community resistance), we still have out-dated zoning regulations and way too many restrictions on what uses can go where and how much.
I know I’m simplifying a very complex field for the purposes of this blog, but bottom line is that single-use zoning is pretty much old hat, and if we are serious about becoming a more sustainable city we need to rethink many of the regs.
For instance, we have virtually no attached row housing on fee simple or leasehold lots in Vancouver. This modest, flexible housing type is ubiquitous in many other countries (think UK, for instance) and could fill a critical need for affordable market housing, something we have been notoriously slow in getting to grips with here.
Or what about local corner stores/cafés that act as micro-community gathering places, such as once existed all over Vancouver’s residential neighbourhoods decades ago? Nope, can’t really do them anymore, and the ones that remain are grandfathered, never to be replaced when they are inevitably torn down.
Ask those who organise street parties or festivals how easy it is to get the necessary permits and how many restrictions are placed on these types of events, compared to say Montreal. Or public art creators what hoops they have to go through to get anything approved by City Hall. Or street food vendors. Or Farmers Markets. Or anyone silly enough to want to open a Bed and Breakfast in this town, or, heaven forbid, a real boutique hotel outside of the downtown peninsula, like in, say, Kitsilano or Fairview Slopes or Commercial Drive.
And on it goes. To paraphrase Moses, Let my city go! You get my point. Maybe you don’t agree. Let me know.