Malcolm Brodie became Mayor in 2001, after 5 years on Richmond City Council. As one of the longest serving Metro Vancouver Mayors, he has seen a number of significant changes in the Lower Mainland and in Richmond since he was first elected. I caught up with him with just 65 days to go until the 2010 Olympic Games open.
Mayor Brodie, how was the year for you?
2009 was a really a historic year in Richmond. We started the year off with opening of the Richmond Olympic Oval, we have celebrated opening of Canada Line, which is a major step forward for Richmond that we have been pushing for over 50 ears. We have also passed through many infrastructure programs, programs dealing with community safety and also our Official Community Plan.
Richmond does seem to be front and centre in the Lower Mainland recently.
How does the Official Community Plan deal with issues of sustainability and densification in Richmond?
The theme of the Official Community Plan is sustainability – it is called “My Sustainable Community”. The densification of our city is an important factor in this for us. Densification has been planned for long time and with the intro of rapid transit we are now able to get there. In the 1990s, the Social Credit under Bill Vanderzalm announced rapid transit to Richmond, but it was put on the shelf with the government change and eventually the funding became the Millennium Line to the North East. But in Richmond, we continued our plans to densify and develop in the City Centre area. These plans took on new meaning with the Canada Line commitment and construction. The City Centre area plan is one of the biggest components of the Official Community Plan and has already been approved. It calls for the densification of the City Centre area from the low 40,000 people today to triple that size in 80-100 years and all oriented around rapid transit.
What has the response generally been to the City Centre Plan?
Very positive. The concepts are quite simple – we will have five rapid transit stations and we will densify the greatest amount around the rapid transit stations. Density will be reduced the further you get from each station. The idea is really have focal points or nodes throughout the city centre as the city centre evolves over many years.
Will the increased population sustain more services?
Yes, more people need mores services, more parks, more community centres. If you plan properly, you can introduce these into the development areas and provide space for community in the new large developments. One project we have been working on is the new Capstan rapid transit station, which we would like included in new development. It is underway but with the economic downturn will take longer.
What has been the affect of economic slowdown in Richmond?
Really quite dramatic. For resident of Richmond, many have faced difficult economic times in losing jobs and reductions in their jobs. Everything we do keeps that situation in mind. We are seeing more access of local food banks and more need for social services.
In terms of city government and city operation, revenues have fallen due to much less development fee and cost revenue and inactivity. We think that we have now seen the turnaround. We are seeing interest in development again. It is not exactly on fire, but is getting better.
Do you think the Olympics have helped?
Not withstanding it is only really a three week event, we will see thousands of tourists and visitors into Richmond over the next three months. It has created attention for the city of Richmond and helped us to establish our own identity as a city, rather than being known as the bedroom community of Vancouver. For the Olympics, we have really focused our efforts around economic development, becoming a sport hosting base and for tourism in general.
And you’ve had some attention from south of border?
(Brodie laughs). Yes! Of course, we have had general attention, such as through NBC’s Olympic coverage. But the last three weeks through Stephen Colbert has been quite focussed! But I think everyone has taken it in the right spirit. It has been a little cheeky and it makes the whole thing less intense and provides a good laugh.
How has the economic challenges had an effect on your revenue side?
We’ve worked on the cost side. We did see this coming at an early stage and were able to do some cutting back last year. We were able to keep tax growth to a modest level, but it did require some cuts. We worked to phase these in so it wasn’t too alarming.
A big piece of municipal cost pressure is the new CUPE contract.
We have to factor any salary increase into the budget. It has had an impact.
Currently negotiations are fairly region wide now, frankly. We are not in the Greater Vancouver Labour Relations Board, but our efforts have tried to be tied in close to what others are doing.
Ok, changing gears a bit. What are the three things that make Richmond a great place to live and work?
Oh, there are many different aspects that this. I would say the first in our engaged volunteer community. Maybe because we’re an Island, we have a certain independence about us. Our volunteer networks are very, very strong. The benefits of this is that our volunteers are really interested and engaged in many things and the recipients have a better quality of life.
I would say another major strength of Richmond is our great diversity. We are one of the most culturally diverse cities in the country. By being about to attract and discuss different perspectives, this makes us stronger. There are other cities in the region who share this characteristic as well: Surrey, Coquitlam, Vancouver to name a few.
Finally, we have a very good overall liveability of community. Witness the fact that that statistically residents of Richmond live longer than any other in the whole country, all of Canada. Very good liveability with community services, parks and not withstanding the challenges of poverty and other issues, we are able to maintain a very good standard of living in Richmond.