Policy wonks having tough time connecting with civic election

Post by Daniel Fontaine in

10 comments

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What kind of issues should civic candidates be debating over coming weeks

If you’re starting to wonder whether there are any other issues to be discussed in this civic campaign besides the Occupy Vancouver squat, you’d be in good company. Right about now candidates should be at numerous all candidate debates talking about everything from taxes to densification. But most of the focus remains on the 100 or so squatters camped out for free on the front lawn of the Vancouver Art Gallery.

For all of you policy wonks (all seven of you) I thought I’d dedicate this post to a number of civic topics that might not get the attention they deserve over the coming weeks. For the sake of democracy, let’s hope a few of them also generate some headlines.

What follows are some rambling thoughts alongside a number of questions for consideration. It's all meant to get the debate stirred up regarding a few issues that should be top-of-mind for our civic politicians.

I’ll try to do a few more of these as we get closer to the election…but only if I see this one has generated a real online debate and discussion! Here goes:

Transportation:

Does Vancouver need a streetcar? The NPA are proposing a P3 to get it built, while Vision say no way.

Should Vancouver be advocating to make rapid transit on Broadway the top regional transit priority after the Evergreen Line? Surrey politicians say over my dead body.

The Mayor has not said whether he'll advocate to make Broadway rapid transit a top priority for TransLink. Should he be doing so?

Meanwhile the NPA started the ball rolling on the Broadway rapid transit discussion back in ’07, so it safe to say they support this infrastructure - but will they push for the streetcar first?

It's also worth asking if limited transit dollars should service existing demand (Vancouver) or help shape future growth (south of Fraser River)?

Policing/Crime:

Statistics continue to show that overall crime rates are plummeting, yet police budgets continue to go up, up, up. Is it a good strategy for cities to be hiring more police at a time when our population is ageing and committing less crimes?

If you had the choose between hiring a city planner or a cop, which would it be?

While we’re on the topic of police, does anyone out there support the Vancouver Police Department’s decision to use sworn officers to work in their communications department? Should the VPD even have a marketing department in the first place?

Homelessness:

Overall homelessness has gone up since 2008, but “street homelessness” has dropped significantly in Vancouver. Is it right for politicians to claim victory on the homeless file when the actual number of people without a home is still on the rise? Should the millions of dollars being spent on temporary shelters be redirected to long-term housing, or will that turn out to be a bad public policy in the long run?

With their Streetohome Foundation, Vancouver has entered into the world of partnering with the private sector to help find solutions for homelessness. Should we do more or less of this?

Economic Development:

The Metro Vancouver region is comprised of 20+ member municipalities. Each of them have their own economic development strategy to help create and attract jobs. At times these cities are working at cross purposes instead of putting forward a united front to potential investors. Does this make sense?

Why don’t we have a comprehensive regional economic strategy? Is it even possible to do this with the current governance structure in Metro Vancouver?

Should Metro Vancouver board of directors become the lead body coordinating a regional approach to economic growth?

Affordable Housing:

Vancouver is a desirable place to live, work and play. As such, a lot of people have been moving here over the last decade and the price of housing has soared. In fact, Vancouver has become one of the most unaffordable cities in the world to live. But what can your city governments do about it?

Economists will tell you this is a basic story of supply and demand. There is clearly more demand for housing in Vancouver than there is supply. Vancouver is essentially “built out” and there is no way to build more homes unless you go up or add density in places like back lanes.

Vancouver introduced a program called STIR which provided subsidies to developers to build market rental housing. But does this really tackle the affordability issue?

Are Vancouverites prepared to really brace densification as land use policy to help significantly increase the supply of housing? It’s rather doubtful if past experience is any measure.

Is it realistic to think Vancouver can ever become affordable again? Or is the best city government can do is make it more affordable? It’s a complex question but with so much of Vancouver’s land base dedicated to single family homes, it’s unlikely any major change will happen quickly

Now it's your turn! Weigh in with your thoughts and what you'd like to see in our next policy roundup post.

- Post by Daniel. You can follow us on on Twitter @CityCaucus or you can "like" us on Facebook at facebook.com/citycaucus.

10 Comments

They better hurry up with some polices that we like or their not getting my Vote on Nov 19,2011

Transportation.

It's not either/or. We need both and more. We have no problem finding billions of dollars on pet highway projects trying desperately to hold on to 1950's technology to solve 21st century problems. We need to have an integrated system that moves people and goods as efficiently as possible. Investing in transit frees up space for goods and others who need road space to the benefit of us all.

Re Homelessness - how is it that Vision figures "street" homelessness is down when the count was taken ONLY while winter emergency + HEAT shelters were open?

Since those shelters are not operational for over half the year, ANNUAL numbers actually indicate no victory whatsoever. The number of homeless folk, street or otherwise, is increasing.

However they choose to spin it, Vision gets a FAIL from this voter.

(...trying to keep a post about actual policy alive...)

Economic Development and a regional approach--This is a tricky question. It makes sense that we share/pool resources, but the same could be said for a number of topics. We do share transportation and there's nothing but complaining--we aren't getting enough, we need more, etc... I think the only way we get a functional regional approach is to abolish individual municipalities. That of course has its problems as we've seen in Toronto.

Streetcar--great idea. The track is there which is typically by far the biggest hurdle, this seems like a no brainer. Diversity in a transportation system is important.

First, thank you Daniel. More thoughts to come.

On affordable housing, I am sure that we will need more density, a lot more density. But I am also sure that won't be enough to keep the young, creative people we need to build a sustainable city around. I expect we need to find some more innovative ways to provide housing. The co-op movement was once an important source of affordable housing. Can it be reimagined? Are there zoning changes that would make a difference? What role will tranist play in this? If we had better mass transit and cycling would it take some of the pressure off?

"But I am also sure that won't be enough to keep the young, creative people we need to build a sustainable city around"

Are you thinking we wont be able to get enough density to house them all or that group won't want to live in the density that would be required?

I am thinking that density alone won't lead to afforable housing. We need to come up with some more creative solutions. Of course having first class universities as magnets sure helps, so I hope the province will deliver on that.

From that point of you I agree – density in isolation won’t fix the affordability problem. There needs to be more effort at the municipal level to reduce the red tape, time delays and effective “all in” taxation around new housing. We seem to think rental is the only form of affordable housing. There needs to be more effort around the entry level (first rung) of the ownership ladder.

On the subject of hiring more police while the crime rate is falling:

1. Even if the crime rate is falling, the requirements of the Charter and a couple of Supreme Court decisions impose an administrative burden on the police that far outstrips and decline in the crime rate. In the 70s a drunk driver could be processed in 20 - 30 minutes from roadside stop to jail. Now it would take a two-man car at least 3 - 4 hours. Two detectives could clear a routine murder in as little as 8 hours and the entire case file might be 1/2" thick. Now the same case will take weeks of work and can fill 5 or 6 bankers boxes. Even with present strength of about 1300, the public is getting less service that VPD gave them in the 70s with approx. 700 members.

2. The VPD maintain a Public Affairs Unit in order to do a professional job of communicating with the public which is essential to effective law enforcement by enhancing public confidence, keeping the public informed of the work being done to keep them safe, and issuing warnings and requests for information. If the VPD abandoned this function they would likely be the only law enforcement agency in North America to do so.

I'm no Vision supporter but do your homework.

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