Positively Civilcityesque: Gregor gets Garred, Plant packs up

Post by Mike Klassen in

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Just when you thought he was moving onto beekeeping full time, Allen Garr makes a comeback with this editorial criticizing the police crackdown in the Downtown Eastside. I'm practically getting misty at the prospect of Garr getting back on his game. It's like Seabiscuit.

Here's what Allen says:

In the words of one of his councillors, Robertson's fingerprints are all over the VPD's 2009 Business Plan. And a whole passel of folks who voted for Robertson are on his case because of a "target" in that plan to increase bylaw ticketing in the Downtown Eastside by 20 per cent to "improve livability by reducing street disorder."

Hmm. Doesn't this DTES crackdown sound positively Civilcityesque? Mayor Sam Sullivan's controversial crime and disorder initiative also set targets, as well as tried to address the issue of street disorder.

Speaking of Project Civil City, it appears that Geoff Plant's contract with the City was quietly ended on February 13th. A letter signed by Plant January 23rd, and then saved with a February 4th date is posted on the PCC home page. The date confusion suggests an awkward end to the former Attorney General's term as the so-called Civil City Czar.

In the letter, Plant writes:

Over the past 18 months since my appointment as Project Civil City Commissioner, a small team at City Hall has helped lead the development of innovative and progressive approaches to the complex issues of street disorder in Vancouver. We were specifically directed to search for ways to eliminate homelessness, the open drug market and aggressive panhandling, and to improve the City’s response to nuisance and annoyance issues. Our commitment was to sustainable solutions, not quick fixes. We were guided by our shared conviction that to make a city that is safe and secure for everyone you must meet the needs of the most vulnerable, establish fair laws and enforce them effectively, and include citizens directly in the task of taking responsibility for building a stronger community.

The way Geoff Plant describes his work, you have to wonder how PCC gained its reputation as a fire-breathing, Rudy Giuliani-inspired attack on the poor among the public. Part of the problem with the initiative began with how it was branded. Nobody, not even Geoff, appeared to like the name Project Civil City.

PCC was condemned from the get-go by the Vision/COPE opposition in the last council, and poverty activists labeled PCC as a form of civic fascism. The project received initial funding of $300,000 for a small staffed office at City Hall, and a salary for Plant, who was seconded by his employer Heenan-Blaikie. However, the opposition disingenuously suggested that Plant received all 300 grand for himself.

Despite the challenges going in, Plant and his staff set about coordinating an ambitious and multi-faceted plan for addressing the root causes of homelessness and despair in the Downtown Eastside. He collaborated with Senator Michael Kirby from Canada's Mental Health Commission on the issues of mental illness. He sought and received funding from the Province for street improvements in "Vancouver's oldest neighbourhoods." He helped coordinate programs for Crime-Free Housing, the Safer Parking Program and even the Ambassadors.

From all accounts Plant played an important role as lobbyist between the City and the Province in getting the commitments on 3800 units of new and restored social & supportive housing. His work began to let Vancouver's police begin to re-focus on crime prevention, instead of being social workers dealing with sick people.

Plant takes pride in other small changes he made, such as empowering Vancouver's parking meter bylaw enforcement staff to identify and report stolen vehicles. Before Geoff suggested it, no one thought to give Vancouver's "meter maids" (and meter guys?) the ability to check license plates against the VPD's list of car thefts.

As we wrote earlier, Mayor Robertson and his new Vision council seem less concerned about employing many aspects of Project Civil City into their own work, such as the Streetohome Foundation. Now, as Garr seems to be pointing out, the more aggressive aspects of PCC such as addressing street disorder are also being embraced by the new mayor, too.

As Pete Townshend once roared, meet the new boss, same as the old boss. Vision Vancouver may have railed against Project Civil City, but that won't stop them from slapping a new label on it and calling it their own.

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