Possibilities (2007)


August 23, 2007 at 3 AM

The Best License Plate On Earth

Dear me. It’s been awhile.

I’m in Vancouver, enjoying the late summer breeze and cheap sushi. It’s a fine place to be. One of the better places to be this time of year, perhaps. But the best place on Earth?

New BC Olympic license plate

Behold the new British Columbia license plate. I thought it was a vanity plate at first, but it’s actually being distributed as a regular plate, albeit as a “special edition” until the 2010 Winter Olympics (which will be here in Vancouver). After the Olympics, BC will presumably revert to being merely Beautiful, rather than The Best Place on Earth.

It’s my current plan to move back to Vancouver after my jaunt in England finishes next year, but I found myself explaining to someone yesterday why part of me isn’t that enthusiastic about it. Vancouver is at turns pretentious, smug and unfriendly. It’s difficult to make friends here. It’s also phenomenally more expensive than when I last lived here, 10 years ago — Vancouver increasingly feels to me like a city for rich people only. There is also a dominant obsession with “lifestyle” rather than plain old “life” that is evident in the clothes many people wear and the cars they drive.

That trend is also evident in the breakdown of good citizenship. Voter turnout at the last municipal election was below one-third. In other words, the government that affects the daily lives of its citizens the most is the one people feel the least connected to. Meanwhile, there’s this staggering city homelessness problem that everyone in government knows about, but nobody seems to want or care to fix. The disparity of the poor here is shocking and embarrassing, especially when contrasted with the extreme wealth of so many. But affordable housing is non-existent. City hall, with the provincial government’s blessing, has broken agreements that were in place to build more social housing before the Olympics. Why? Social housing isn’t profitable for developers or for the city tax base. Rich people don’t want poor people as neighbours. The agreements were actually part of the winning bid to host the Games, but there is no mechanism in place to hold anyone accountable except these elections where nobody votes.

I love this city but it breaks my heart to see it failing in so many ways. Then again, maybe I’m just grumpy from the smell of garbage and the fruit flies everywhere. There is currently a civic strike, you see, which means municipal services like garbage collection have been halted. Parking enforcement is, of course, considered essential so that’s what the management are busy doing. And the people at the bargaining table have nothing to say to each other — they’re not even negotiating. I can’t even tell if its about money — it seems to be more about egos. Yes, it’s The Best Place on Earth Without Garbage Collection.

British Columbia is more than Vancouver of course, but a license plate like that could only have been imagined by people from this city who delude themselves at how wonderful things are.

Subsequently: The New TV


The picture on the plate sure doesn't look like the "best place on earth".... It looks like a frozen wasteland. Maybe it's the best place on a frozen moon around Jupiter. Anyway, it's a very stupid, arrogant slogan.

— bob, August 31, 2007

Although I'd be the last person to defend City Hall right now, your emphasis on their broken Olympic housing promise, needs to include the bigger culprits. Historically, the construction of social housing in Canada has always been funded by senior governments, with the city's role that of a land provider. It's not to say the City of Vancouver couldn't do a lot more--for starters, it should reverse its own reversal of the former city council's decision to subsidize the construction of 2000 units of housing for 2010 Olympic workers, which, after the Olympics, would then become a mixture of social and market rental housing: 1/3 core needy, 1/3 low-subsidy and 1/3 market rental. This development was to be a major part of the Olympic housing legacy. The plan for South East False Creek, particularly the income mix, is similar to how South (west) False Creek developed in the late 70s with funding from all three levels of government, and became internationally reknown for its livability. There's no doubt the right-wing majority on Vancouver city council made a despicable decision, but more damaging is the federal government's continuing refusal to return the successful social housing program that enabled South False Creek and produced affordable housing and mixed income comunities throughout BC and Canada. However, don't stop there, either. The government of BC would rather stash away $250 million dollars in trust, from its 4.1 billion surplus, than build housing now for the thousands of British Colombians who sleep on the street or in shelters. All three levels of government, along with the Vancouver Olympic Organizing Committee (VANOC) promised in their Olympic bid submission to ensure the 2010 Olympics left a positive legacy. They appointed a committee of developers, architects, community and housing activists, representatives from VANOC and all three levels of government, to come up with strategies to implement the Olympic bid commitments to housing. They called the committee: "The Inner-City Inclusivity Housing Table", a title which just about guaranteed its place in Ottawa's basement, instantly elicits yawns and desires to check text and voice messages, and is a distinct disadvantage when attempting to get media attention. Despite the handle, and the diverse mix of committee members who rarely see eye-to-eye on anything, let alone meet in a room for three months, the ICI Housing Table came up with 25 recommendations to implement the Olympic bid commitments. Astoundingly, 24 of the 25 recommendations were unanimous, including the # 1 recommendation: to construct 3200 units of social housing in Vancouver by 2010. Also unanimous, and an absolute neccesity in order to end homelessness in Vancouver, was the Housing Table's recommendation to eliminate the barriers to accessing welfare, and to raise welfare rates: currently $575 a month for a single person. The average price of a bachelor apartment in Vancouver is $740. You can check out the ICI Housing Table Report yourself: http://www.city.vancouver.bc.ca/commsvcs/housing/pdf/icihousingtablemar07.pdf Released at the end of February 2007, the Report was completely ignored until last June, when the city and province said essentially: nice, but we're not funding this. To date, the federal government has yet to acknowledge the Report, or its own obligation to fulfill the commitments agreed to in the Olympic bid submission. Vancouver's 2010 Olympics are now destined to go the route of Atlanta and Salt Lake City. Developers and houisng experts agree that in order for a social houisng project to be ready for occupancy by 2010, the construction must be started no later than this Fall. Meanwhile, back in Vancouver City Hall, Instead of ending his civic strike and fast-tracking social housing projects, Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan is talking about re-opening a former mental institution, in the suburbs, and relocating Vancover's homeless. What an Olympic legacy! Like many people in Vancouver, I voted for the 2010 Olympics because of the promise made to leave a legacy of social housing in Vancouver. I'm so embarrassed that I was so easily duped. Whew! Thanks for the opportunity to vent.

— Laura Stannard, September 8, 2007

I started a petition asking for BC's slogan to be changed. Sign it here: http://www.petitiononline.com/bcslogan/ and pass it on to your contacts.

Alex Batko, March 15, 2008

Just returned to Vancouver after 11 years in Australia. The disparity here is just unbelievable! The city is ugly and crass, and there are so few places that have a sense of community. Even though I was born in Vancouver, and many of my family live here, I can not feel connection with this place that has changed so terribly for the worst.

— Kim Currie, March 24, 2008