Jacobs and Florida and Gehl oh my! Who really influences our local politicians?

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In Vancouver a similar scene played out in my neighbourhood of Strathcona, in the latter half of the 1960s as Vancouver's mayor and council were set to put a freeway system similar to Seattle's through the heart of the city. The Strathcona Property Owners and Tenants Association rose up in defience of Tom Terrific Campbell, NPA Mayor at the time and against his Moses-esqu urban renewal plans. Which made it all the more ironic that Strathcona found itself embroiled once again in a battle with the City over the past year about how the Viaducts, the only remaining remnant of that freeway plan, should be taken down.

Fittingly, Green Party Candidate for City Council Pete Fry (Yes, Hedy Fry’s son) who is the Past Chair of the Strathcona Residents Association and Green Party Parks Board Candidate Mike Weibe also cited Jane Jacobs as someone whose ideas they look to as “the greenest building is the one that’s already built”. Fry and Wiebe emphasized this when discussing the rate of demolition of heritage homes and smaller single family housing in Vancouver. The human-scale development of low and mid-rise housing also being something they want to see more of. The fact that Fry has engaged UBC’s Patrick Condon for the past year or so to provide a second opinion on the built form chapter of the DTES Local Area Plan, inviting him to speak at a community forum when Fry was Chair of the SRA, further supports their purported allegiance to Jacobs’ ideas - at least insofar as they relate to the retention of the existing character of Strathcona (and other communities) in the face of higher density taller forms of development. Fry even noted past City of Vancouver City Planner Ray Spaxman as summing up “Vancouverism” (that tower pedestal driven urban form and flexible ad hoc value capture process that  has now been exported around the world) as the ‘Bastard Child of Jane Jacobs and Le Corbusier’. Both Weibe and Fry also mentioned Charles Montgomery’s Happy City. Which brings me to NPA City Council Candidate Rob McDowell, a hell of a nice guy who appears to be living proof of Montgomery’s ideas.

Rob was featured in a Globe and Mail Article about Montgomery’s work. Turns out his experience living in a highrise tower was alienating and not too fun. Once Rob sold that unit and moved down to the townhouses below, where there was a courtyard and people playing volleyball and neighbours were just generally more engaged, his lived experience in Yaletown dramatically improved. He absolutely agrees that there’s a connection between urban design and built form and the emotional, social response of people in their communities. I bet many of the people living in SROs in the DTES would agree.

But let’s get back to the answers our Mayoral Candidates provided us at the CBC SFU Urban Studies debate.

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