Will this iconic part of Vancouver's downtown become an election issue?
If you're familiar with Robson Street in Vancouver, you probably know that the 800-block has been closed to cars for almost two years now. During the 2010 Olympics it became the "heart of the city" as the Province of B.C. sponsored nightly fireworks shows and the very popular Ziptrek line at the site.
With the City of Vancouver about to re-open the street to vehicular traffic in a few weeks, the debate about the future of this part of our road network has begun to flare up once again.
The debate first got started last year when NPA mayoral candidate Suzanne Anton brought a motion forward to Vancouver city council asking that it become part of a new town square. At the time Vision Vancouver poo-poo'd the idea and decided to shoot down Anton's motion in favour of one that called for yet more studies.
Needless to say I was a bit surprised to read Jeff Lee's article on this topic in the Vancouver Sun on Saturday. It focused on how Heather Deal and Vision Vancouver were supportive of a permanent closure.
Lee's story failed to provide any reference to Anton's previous motion, but it did quote Deal who now appears to have had a change of heart regarding this precious strip of real estate. Rather than reminding voters she voted against Anton's previous motion, Deal told Lee:
I would love to see it turned into a permanent public space. I personally greatly hope that cars never return to that street.
Very interesting how Deal is now 100% behind the closure when only a few months ago she wanted more studies. In politics, they call that a colossal flip-flop!
But what is even more interesting to me is who is behind the move to close the street permanently. A fellow by the name of Andrew Pask with the Vancouver Public Space Network (VPSN) has set up an online petition asking for the public's support for a permanent closure.
So just who is Andrew? Well, he's no average City Hall lobbyist. That's because Pask is actually on the City of Vancouver payroll as full time staff. That's right, the fellow pushing for Robson Street to be closed permanently actually works for City Hall in the planning department.
Further, the VPSN organization have been enlisted to assist the City's planning department with public consultation. While the VPSN & Pask do some good work advocating for public space, they have to recognize that they've created a conflict of interest for themselves and their employer by not declaring up front their relationship with the City on their petition.
The fact that Vision Vancouver are now all over this issue while the VPSN is spearheading it only adds to my concern. Vancouver City Hall has become politicized enough as it is under Vision's rule, and now groups like the VPSN could be seen to be advocating on behalf of the government whether they are or not. Even Mayor Gregor is tweeting out his support for the VPSN's Robson scheme, which suggests this plan has been all but approved in advance.
I have no problem supporting the concept of closing the 800-block of Robson Street permanently, and we've discussed it many times here at CityCaucus.com. Since we're assigning credit to the idea of turning it into a public square, I'll remind readers that it was NPA city council candidate Mike Klassen (former editor of this blog) back in March 2010 who made the case for reshaping that stretch of Robson into a true downtown square.
As for Vision Vancouver's Johnny-come-lately endorsement of the concept, I applaud them for finally coming to the realization that giving this part of Vancouver back to cars is a very bad idea. It's just too bad they didn't find a way to agree with Anton months ago, instead of forging ahead rebuilding the street which is likely now to be torn back up again. This is the kind of stuff that makes taxpayers crazy.
What do you think? Are you in support of the closure? Do you think the VPSN should have declared that Pask was also working for the City while lobbying to have the street closed? Does this make a difference to how you think about this issue? Let us know by leaving a comment.