Appeared in North Shore News – June 11, 2010
“Urban waterfront redevelopment in Metro Vancouver has made our shorelines sterile and boring.”
So Bob Ransford begins his May 29 Vancouver Sun column, followed by this left-right to the solar plexus: “This is in contrast to the gritty, bustling and eclectic waterfronts of Metro Vancouver’s past.”
Sterile. Boring. West Van’s isn’t. But in future?
I’ve long admired and always read Ransford, a former real estate developer and now public affairs consultant with Counterpoint Communications.
Being congenitally disagreeable, I doubt if he and I would be in complete accord about the Spirit Trail project from West Van’s Argyle Avenue at 13th to John Lawson Park, an act of official vandalism of a mature “people place” (I never thought I’d use that sticky term). Driven by mountain-biking cabinet minister Kevin Falcon under the umbrella of Gordon Campbell’s flavour-of-the-month greenism, and abetted by the premier’s obedient corporals at North Shore town halls, it’s being sacrificed to recreational cyclists, bladers and boarders, and a doubtful number of backpackers.
But if our words differ here and there, I relish Ransford’s music. He overturns the convention: Metro’s waterfronts were once “homes to everything from greasy-spoon cafés that fed longshoremen, mill workers and fishermen, to repair shops, ship chandleries, small grocers and rooming houses. . . .
“Today, miles of shoreline have been reclaimed from industry, cleaned up and moved upmarket.” Upmarket — bang-on. Ransford’s own once-busy Steveston waterfront neighbourhood “has one of the most unexciting, sterile stretches of Fraser River waterfront.”
Radical and right. I may be the only Vancouverite who misses Sweeney’s cooperage and Granville Island’s gritty factories and ugly lumber mill — real people, real jobs (now exported to China), however attractive its present consumer-sucking glitter.
West Vancouver held an entirely bogus Waterfront Plan open house — easily spotted as one of the phonies because it was held after council’s enabling decision, meant not to consult but to mollify restive residents — complete with a motherhood questionnaire no one should have completed that will allow Mayor Pam Goldsmith-Jones to declare: “We’ve listened to your concerns. . . .” (To be fair, under pressure council is reconsidering removal of the boat ramp.)
Councillors — all but Michael Smith, absent in Africa — were there to sound sympathetic to all points of view. Coun. Michael Lewis, who evidently reads this column, told me what I thought lay in Argyle’s future: “Coney Island! Ferris wheels!” He’d have read my mind more accurately with late columnist Jim Coleman’s 65-year-old Thought-Recording Machine, which ran on vacuum tubes.
But coincidentally I’d been thinking of another island: Martha’s Vineyard, which I’ve cycled around, and nearby Nantucket. Their famous weather-beaten houses are essential parts of the seaview, not obscuring it, as Argyle’s are stupidly considered.
Lewis also scoffed at my belief that such houses along lonely beaches at night are a safety factor. Who, in the hermetic condos on the north side of Bellevue, could hear anyone’s daughter crying for help, screaming rape? Lewis plainly considered this melodramatic nonsense.
Freshly back from Africa, Smith wrote me: “I do not want to see any major change along Argyle either, as this is a special place. The Spirit Trail I think should be put on the back burner for now. Even though the province pays some of the cost, as we have discussed West Van does not have the funds to proceed further. The reserves are pretty much spent and the routing is far from settled.”
A relief to hear. It carries weight, especially from a possible future mayoralty candidate. (As for West Van’s empty coffers, just the short Spirit Trail section from south of Park Royal to 13th Street– a project that moved glacially, apart from ruining a perfectly good path — cost an alarming $1.2 million, about half paid by Victoria, i.e. all B.C. taxpayers.)
I asked, in careful detail, Mayor Goldsmith-Jones how the Silk Purse could possibly survive in present form as a music and art venue under the coming dispensation (no parking, beachgoers six metres from the piano, artists lugging heavy frames back and forth to somewhere or other).
She answered a question. But not mine. She’s become adept at the politician’s 177-word answer to a question not asked — Premier Campbell did a similar classic job of filling the largest amount of air with the smallest amount of information when CKNW’s Bill Good asked him if his next move was appointment to the Senate.
But the mayor did state unambiguously that the Silk Purse will stay as it is. I’ve bet a lunch against that. I think covetous eyes are cast on the Silk Purse and its priceless location. My sense is town hall hugely favours the glossier Kay Meek Centre, a newer, bigger venue, all the more as budgets get tighter.
My take is shaped in part by the fact that a few years ago Patricia Leslie, town hall’s communications manager — very capable, very professional, who recently departed for a job in Whistler — ran for and was elected to the Silk Purse board. A conflict? In my eyes that raises questions about what she might have mentioned even in casual conversation about the Purse back at town hall.
I’d even hazard a guess that a certain amount of jealousy hovers over Silk Purse director Cheryl Karchut, because she’s done so much with so little. She may even have grumblers on the Purse’s board.
Hell, I even guess that a visibly political appointee might succeed Karchut when she retires Sept. 30. (Go ahead, call me a cynic. That’s what they said when I was a very early skeptic about Blair Wilson and Kash Heed.)
Shot in the dark: former councillor Liz Byrd.
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Speaking of town hall open houses, Susanne Petrik was exercised when one was held recently over installing a traffic light at 15th and Mathers.
She claimed that 90 per cent of attendees were opposed — but it was a “done deal” and “basically, no one cared what the residents thought.”
Currently this is one of many four-way stops on the slopes. And, a testament to people’s (or anyway West Van people’s) civility when they are free to behave co-operatively, they work well. At predictable times this is a slow intersection, sure enough, with two schools nearby. But Susanne Petrik writes: “We are concerned that the traffic will be much faster on 15th as people race to catch the green light.”
Dead right. The students are likely to be at greater, not less, risk. To say nothing of residents near the corner in danger of finding a car in their living room.
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Strange, perhaps unforgiveable oversight: The recently unveiled plaque marking the 71st anniversary of the Lions Gate Bridge ignores the Guinness family that built it, albeit with the self-interest of accessing its British Pacific Properties — one of the shrewdest real estate investments ($75,000 for 4,700-odd acres) since the Indians sold Manhattan. BPP project manager A.J.T. Taylor also goes unrecognized.
The Guinnesses are a fascinating family, worthy of books — and they’ve been written. Especially, as my numerous literary readers know well, about and by the madly diverse daughters of Lord Moyne, the Mitford girls.
Oh well, the plaque initiative involved Ottawa, and what do they know?
© Trevor Lautens, 2010