A staff report outlines a litany of complaints from Vancouver's cultural community regarding the kind of red tape they face helping Vancouver shed its "No Fun City" brand
"Over time, the growth of the regulatory systems that govern the use and safety of live performance spaces has resulted in a complex structure that is not always consistently applied, up to date or harmonized with other regulatory systems. As a result, rather than enabling the sustainable creation and operation of live performance venues, the City’s regulatory environment often creates barriers that result in significant restrictions on the dynamic nature of this sector. This includes forcing live performance venues underground â€• operating outside of the regulatory systems, driving them into inappropriate neighbourhoods and/or forcing them outside the city altogether." - Vancouver City Staff
What you just read is an excerpt from a City of Vancouver report going to council on Thursday. I also happen to think it provides some of the best insight as to why Vancouver has become known as "No Fun City". The report exposes what most people have been grumbling under their breath for years - a labyrinth of regulations, red tape and bureaucracy are stifling opportunities for us to let loose and have a bit of fun.
Unfortunately, the report is considered as "information only" and does not require any immediate action by council. That's a bit disappointing considering a number of items listed appear ripe for someone to shake up the system. In fairness, we should recognize that someone is at least acknowledging there is a problem. Acknowledging you have a problem is the first step in helping to resolve it.
The staff report titled "Regulatory Review for Live Performance Venues" is filled with a bunch of humdinger quotes which clearly must have made some public service staff nervous. As part of the consultation process, the City amusingly hired "The Yes Resolution Group Inc" to assist them in obtaining feedback. Clearly they did a good job, as many of the participants didn't hold back in voicing their frustration.
There are numerous pages of comments from senior representatives in Vancouver's cultural community. That includes Julie Smith of Coastal Jazz, Marg Watts of The Roundhouse, Byron Lonneberg of Commodore Ballroom to name a few. Some of the comments included in the report were quite pointed:
- City staff appear to have a “gate keeper” mindset rather than an enabling one.
- City staff do not appear to have an understanding of or experience with the “realities” of creating and operating live performance venues.
- Application processes take too long and are unpredictable and subject to unannounced change and to too wide a range of interpretation.
- City policy is interpreted and applied differently by various City staff within each Department.
- Regulations are often either outdated or inconsistent.
- A single resident complaint appears to be able to “shut down” or prevent an event without consideration of benefit of the event to the larger community, larger community support or the costs to the event organizers and participants.
- Associated secondary costs of creation and operation of live performance venues are prohibitive, particularly for newer or younger events (e.g. zoning variance costs, rental costs during renovation, architect’s fees, engineers fees, noise reduction costs,security costs, costs related to completing multiple applications and reports)
There are dozens more of these types of comments which generally paints a pretty bleak picture. Interestingly, staff chose to place a direct but unattributable quote on the top of page 5 of Appendix D which states:
It’s not a corrupt system, but if you have a relationship or you know the right person, it is "influencable".
Just in advance of the 2010 Games, this report doesn't provide much inspiration for those hoping Vancouver will soon shed its "No Fun City" moniker. Whether or not the excellent feedback provided by Vancouver's cultural community to the City will go from information to action has yet to be seen.