The struggle for Little Mountain…and my memories of Little Norway
I spent some of my early years in emergency housing in Little Norway in Toronto (right next to the Maple Leaf Stadium). Toronto was experiencing a massive post-war housing shortage and an Emergency Housing Program was implemented, making housing available to returning veterans. It made a powerful impression on me. I remember it well, though I was only three years old when we moved in and five when we left. We lived in barracks that had been occupied during the War by personnel from the Norwegian Air Force. The site was at the front of Bathurst Street near the Lake. Some of the Stanley Barracks buildings were demolished and others converted to family housing for civilian use. Several families were living there by July 1946, when this photo of me was taken.
By August 1947, 772 people were living there, with many families with children. Lots of children! Some residents complained about unsanitary living conditions and lack of sufficient heating. Rents were $25 to $40 a month! (We paid $25.)
I remember that my mother was ashamed and fearful. Little Norway, she felt, was beneath her. She came from an upper-middle-class established family in leafy, sedate Orillia. Even a small child could sense that her mother felt she was slipping into a lower class. She wondered how and why she’d ended up in such a desperate and barren place. Her son had died at birth the year before and she was fragile and anxious. I now realise that she was chronically depressed.
My Daddy had just returned from the War. He’d been a RCAF wireless operator. He was not ashamed. He accepted his responsibility for military service (he was much too old to be drafted and had enlisted). Little Norway was, by his account, the only housing he could find during an acute city-wide housing shortage. We were eligible and he took it.
I remember living in constant terror of polio. The young boy in the next apartment had it and he was crippled by it. I had to keep my distance from him. The hygiene of the shared bathrooms that were only occasionally cleaned also frightened my mother. She was often frightened and anxious for my health and safety. Our stay at Little Norway was short — not more than two years. And in just over three years, I had a baby sister and we were living in a brand new house in Vancouver!
Little Norway Park
Little Norway housing is no more.
There’s a waterfront park where our housing once stood. See: https://www.yelp.com.au/biz/little-norway-park-toronto
It does not feel right to me to find a park there when I visit in 2006 but I guess it’s progress. And cities always need parks. They were barracks, after all, not really permanent housing for families. But to me, as a small child, it was “home”.
I remember picking mushrooms in the neighbouring Coronation Park with my grandmother and marveling at how she could discern between an edible mushroom and a toadstool.
Little Norway was fine with me and I was fine with Little Norway. To me, it was big, not little. It had a big impact on my life.
I am certain that this early exposure to the fear and stigma of housing for disadvantaged people made a profound impact on me and sensitised me to important social housing issues.
Here are some of my drawings, based on my memories (and one photo).
From Little Norway to Little Mountain
You can see that it’s not surprising that I’m a strong supporter of Vancouver documentary filmmaker, David Vaisbord, who is giving everything he has to tell the compelling story of the Little Mountain
housing project in Vancouver.
Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign
David Vaisbord has launched an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to help complete a documentary that has been six years in the making.
David’s story is a poignant one. Little Mountain is not a little story either. It’s a huge story and one we all need to know about. Understand. And share.
Had I been living in Toronto when Little Norway housing was bulldozed to make way for private housing and a public park, I’d have been seeking a heart-present filmmaker like David to help with the activist project of saving — or at least documenting — this precious gem of Toronto’s history.
Maybe more than just documentation could have been the outcome. As is the case with Little Mountain.
David Vaisbord’s project
David’s project has resulted in much more than documentation. That’s the magic of it.
David’s story of Little Mountain goes like this. When the British Columbia government began tearing down the buildings at Vancouver’s oldest social housing complex, they had evicted everyone except three families, which refused to leave: a woman and her aged mother, two blind senior citizens, and a pensioner and her cat. Together with the immense support of their community, the residents won the right to stay in the last row house on Little Mountain until new housing was built.
Summer time at Little Mountain
The action by the residents of Little Mountain and the community had a powerful impact that resonates today around the work. Their activism – supported by the documentary filmmaker — resulted in changes to Vancouver’s municipal bylaws.
Finally, when the British Columbia Government tried a second time to evict the last tenants, the residents and their supporters staged an even stronger fight. And, with the help of their community, they brought a final defeat to the eviction process.
As a direct result of their courage and resolve, 54 units of NEW SOCIAL HOUSING for senior citizens are being completed on the site.
It’s the only new housing to be built on the 16-acre site. It’s a triumph of community activism and it’s a story that needs to be told around the world.
We all need to hear about examples of “the study of success”, as Australian urbanist High Stretton called it, to keep our activist fires alight.
Vaisbord’s documentary will be complete once the former tenants move out of the last row house and into their new building.
I am eager to support this important project because there’s an inspiring and compelling story to be told about how a government was taught an important lesson about ethics and compassion at the hands of its most vulnerable citizens.
David Vaisbord is hoping to raise $50,000.
The money will go towards shooting final scenes, interviews, editing, and post-production.
David is offering perks that range from a precious ounce of Ground Social Housing, to a day-long workshop in hyperlocal documentary filmmaking, to an invitation to a personal dinner prior to the film’s premiere.
Are you able to support his important project? If you are, please visit his site before June 23rd, the closing date of the campaign!
For more information
See: The Little Mountain Film: https://www.littlemountainfilm.com/ for more information and a link to the four-minute trailer on the campaign site.
Additional information can be found on the campaign’s Facebook site at: https://www.facebook.com/LittleMountainFilm
Contact David directly
Or contact David directly at his gmail account: email@example.com
With all my heart I believe that this is a project worth supporting.
All of us who value public housing — and housing security generally — should cheer on this brilliant community-led initiative. And support David’s important documentary film.
It’s been ten days since the text arrived announcing the suspension of Metgasco’s license to drill for oil at Bentley.
Only ten days — and life has changed dramatically for many of us.
I search for a word for this new feeling and find an old one:
Embolden: “To give someone the courage or confidence to do something.”
What really happened at Bentley?
I did not camp there and visited on only a few occasions, so I can’t say for sure.
What I do sense is the aftermath–the spin-offs, the unintended effects.
At the final Bentley dawn service on Tuesday 20th May, Ruth Rosenhek begged several hundred cheering Protectors and supporters to go gently after the close of the Bentley Blockade, to keep up the warm hugs and looking into people’s eyes when she’d meet them in the street in Lismore.
Everyone was nodding
agreement. We must not let this fade; we must keep this connection.
Most local people I speak with confess to having had a good long cry after the victory. I certainly did.
Some are in a shocked and fragile state.
Most are simply astonished.
And even those known as being “the voice of reason” admit the need to celebrate such a magnificent triumph.
Whatever happens next — here and elsewhere – the Bentley Blockade was a massive victory that Australia will never forget.
The ham-fisted tactics of a cowboy mining operation have brought forth the most sophisticated social action this country has seen in decades.
Metgasco has done us all a great favour.
We are emboldened. Our courage and confidence have been strengthened.
The Bentley Blockade is a powerful symbol for those who believe in freedom. Everything about the operation communicated care, love and concern.
What could be more heart-warming than the Camp’s beautifully tended vegetable garden?
“We who believe in freedom cannot rest”
When I was younger, I listened to Holly Near and Sweet Honey in the Rock sing Ella’s Song:
“We who believe in freedom cannot rest.
We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.”
So many people – and so many older people – putting their lives on hold to camp in harsh conditions powerfully affected the rest of us. We cannot rest now.
All of my communications with local people begin and end with Bentley. “Go, Bentley” is a salute to all who showed they cared.
I remember — in 1992 — when I discovered that I was consecrated in the service of the Earth.
My heart softened and opened. I ached with love. I’d wake to the shock that I loved the Earth. My heart vibrated with the power of that knowledge.
It’s that way now with Bentley. Waking with a yearning https://www.acheterviagrafr24.com/viagra-definition/ heart, soft and open.
I yearn to return and place bouquets at the Bentley gates.
In gratitude to the Protectors who gave us so much more than social action.
I bless them – all of them, that motley crew – for renewing my courage and confidence.
Emboldened, I turn my face to the morning sun.
I believe in https://www.viagrasansordonnancefr.com/viagra-ou-cialis/ freedom.
I cannot rest.
I am ready for more.
Emboldened by the Bentley Blockade
I am old enough to have studied Latin in high school. It helps make me a good speller.
A moment of hilarity
And today, Latin provided a moment of hilarity in battle to bring Metgasco to see reason about gas mining in the Northern Rivers.
The goss now is that Metgasco is encouraging its shareholders to write to the Minister Anthony Roberts and the Office of Coal Seam Gas and say – wait for it – that the community consultation they undertook for the Bentley tight sands gas site was excellent.
I gagged when I heard it.
So I thought I’d better have a look online at Metgasco’s community consultation policies – to give me something to assess them by.
Well, that’s where the Latin came in!
Here is the website at 10:35 am on Thursday 22 May 2014. For posterity.
I can easily imagine the desperate in-house conversation in the Metgasco office, which would have gone something like this:
Fred, we gotta get some sort of consultation policy online while we’re negotiating with the Minster and the Office of Coal Seam Gas.
You know that stuff. It’s easy to write. Just a few bullet points. Any sort of placeholder will do, Fred.
Just get something up and get it up quickly and make sure it’s got all the usual buzzwords in it. Got that, Fred?
And Fred (or Freda), bless their heart, did not realise that on a website and a blog you have an option to go public. (Or stay private.)
Metgasco is public with their ungrammatical “Community Consultative” Latin page.
Here’s what is says in Latin.
Sed odio nisi, lacinia eu interdum in, varius sit amet arcu? Maecenas aliquam sapien in ipsum dapibus bibendum. Quisque ac justo nunc. Quisque vulputate sem vel est adipiscing pharetra! Praesent interdum magna in quam dapibus sit amet ornare augue euismod.
Suspendisse facilisis condimentum lacus eu suscipit. Pellentesque eu enim lorem, vehicula iaculis nibh.
Quisque egestas leo a purus feugiat et mattis augue mattis. Nullam sagittis tempus enim ut laoreet.
Nulla mollis, est vel accumsan dictum, ante tortor ultricies enim, eu fermentum purus est at augue. Praesent scelerisque erat vel ante tempus tempor. Nunc imperdiet auctor eros nec mattis.Phasellus interdum varius tellus id bibendum. Mauris elementum mauris auctor magna venenatis vitae luctus libero imperdiet.
Nam euismod, arcu a accumsan malesuada, sem mauris vestibulum libero, sed rutrum mi eros vel augue.
Duis scelerisque, massa eu mattis dapibus, mi nisi elementum lorem, quis hendrerit justo nisl sit amet augue. Maecenas congue varius justo, et placerat est auctor ut. Curabitur pharetra justo non magna ullamcorper fermentum. Praesent imperdiet aliquet erat sed molestie. Maecenas orci justo, pellentesque id tempor ut, facilisis a ligula.
And here’s what an on-line translation yielded. My favourite line is this:
I’m a great quiver just, do not worry yeast.
But the hatred unless, on the fringe of EU is at times in the is various cancer cells? Learn some Tips for the same protein drink. Each and just now. Korea’s beef, whether the scenario is immigration processing! So sometimes it’s the tips on how to decorate the likelihood of protein is an important investment.
Americans spent to improve the park fun and exciting. Technology that your kids for their vehicle, the vehicles targeted options.
Anyone want a lot of research and a lot of travel attitude. Here’s arrows, for the time is to be proud of.
No soft or scientific sense, window glass for computer troubleshooting is free at the company. It’s a crime, either at the time. Now the financing of the United States or mattis. Phasellus sometimes variable region this dynamic. Important source of data elements to create the magic of free software financing.
For more, player-oriented styling, a lot of drugs manufacturing department, but to help my team or organization.
It’s chocolate, the mass of the football a lot of protein, my dear, unless the element of the Internet, which of the players Bureau to the righteous, It’s OK. Developers across the various equity and real estate is the seller. I’m a great quiver just, do not worry yeast. It’s modern, but it was effective employee. It’s the United States, the just, the kids that time had been when, easy of a bonus.
If this is what Metgasco want us to read about their community consultation policy, that’s fine with me because it accords perfectly with that we’ve experienced in this region. That it’s incomprehensible.
I live only 40 kilometres from the proposed Bentley gas well.
I am here, on my half-acre property — just up the road. Waiting.
Nobody knocked on my door, nobody rang, emailed or asked my opinion in any form.
And I get lots of mail and the local post office is very reliable.
I get lots of phone calls and emails.
All my communication systems are working fine. Metgasco: the problem of non-communication must be at your end.
Am I not
Not living close enough?
Not likely to be affected?
Not seeking influence?
Not caring about my health and that of my community?
Not one of the “usual suspects”?
Until this morning, I thought Metgasco’s community consultation policy did not exist.
Now I know it does exist.
But it’s in Latin.
I think I’ll keep my gate locked, just in case.
While I wait for the English version of Metgasco’s “Community Consultative”, whatever that is….
And while I wait for the phone to ring.
UPDATE 5:14 pm May 22nd:
Fred or Freda are on the job at Metgasco.
A neighbour emails that “Community Consultative” (in Latin) has been removed from the Metgasco website.
In its place, a long, self justifying letter from the Chair about how great the community consultation has been and how it’s
even better than the State Government’s community consultation. Eek!
I searched for the Metgasco Community Relations Policy while I was at it. It’s half a page of bullet points!
These folks need help!
Meanwhile, the rest of us must go gently.
In mid-2011, a speaker’s agent rang me to say he had an invitation for a good speaking engagement.
“It’s with APPEA,” he said, “And you can talk about community engagement.”
APPEA. Hmmm. I rang off and logged on.
APPEA: Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association is the peak national body representing Australia’s oil and gas exploration and production industry. They call themselves “the voice of Australia’s oil and gas industry”.
“Do you know who they are?” I exclaimed an hour later.
“No, but they pay well” was his response.
“They`re the peak industry body for the coal seam gas industry,” I moaned. “How can I speak to them?”
“I’ll leave that up to you,” was his reply.
In the end, I made the speech. I sought advice from politicians, academics environmentalists and activists far and wide, sharing part of my fee.
I spoke to APPEA’s Environmental conference in November 2011 in Coolum, Queensland. To a marquee full of young miners. I told them what I could see coming if they persisted with their plans to mine for gas in the Northern Rivers.
Most stared at me as though I’d come from Mars. The young ones shrugged it off”¦ But the older ones – men my age – they listened and asked lots of questions.
Not surprisingly, once I’d given them a serve, they did not ask me to speak to another APPEA conference.
Now, looking back, I feel like poor Cassandra. Doomed to see the future but not to be believed.
My observations in my speech amounted to something like this: If you continue the way you’re going (like bully-boy cowboys), your approaches will not lead to successful outcomes. Your reductionist and coarse utilitarianism will be seen for what it is: ethically and politically suspect. There will be strong suspicions of corruption.
I can imagine what will happen. It will happen in ten stages.
The young companies, acting like cowboys, standover merchants and bully-boys (the Wild West) will take over from the regulation-oriented companies that are trying to do things properly. Eclipsed will be the wise, older and more experienced operators who know how to consult and build and maintain trust.
Local politicians and activists will try to uncover what’s really happening.
Meetings will be held and approaches made to local politicians. There will be press coverage, especially letters to the editor.
As things hot up, there will be an increase in anxiety and conspiracy theories.
Local action will intensify: committees, petitions, letters to the editor and politicians, more meetings, plans for non-violent direct action”¦ Neighbours will be pitted against neighbours in a climate of fear and intimidation. Press coverage fans the flames in an atmosphere of fear, confusion, distrust and anger, fuelled by `cowboy’ tactics, especially secrecy and bullying.
A neighbour opens his or her gate. He’s short of cash, can’t pay his rates, his rego is due … whatever”¦ He signs an agreement. There will be trucks, equipment, activity, noise, lights”¦ Drilling begins (or will soon).
People are galvanized into action. Activist campaigns are extended and strengthened. New organisations form, with signs, websites, social media”¦
Citizens engage in direct action.
The industry (acting like Grabbit and Runn Pty Ltd) follows the Canadian example and begins a massive public relations campaign: We Love CSG. Locals are left with
David and Goliath comparisons. Local politicians and activists organise but feel lied to, kept in the dark, intimidated and steamrolled.
Ordinary people feel they have no voice. “The big end of town is against us. We are treated like ignorant country hicks.”
New alliances form. Activists and politicians form (often previously unheard-of) alliances. Politicians, farmers, hippies, experienced activists, young people, environmentalists, townsfolk”¦ old and young, city and country, Left and Right, rich and poor”¦ I told them about the warnings of Dr Wayne Somerville, a consulting psychologist in Lismore: Now another storm of upheaval and protest is brewing. And Australia might be in for an even more terrible time than the Vietnam War.
The press has a field day. Politicians and activists now capture media interest. Bad news overwhelms the industry’s “good news” stories. This is not good for the oil and gas business.
Finally, I told them, your industry is on the back foot. Now science is argued in public. The industry has no control over the quality or accuracy of information. Nobody loves the miners except those who opened their gates. Many of their neighbours are now not speaking to them. The industry’s media campaigns backfire.
That’s what I suggested. It did not turn out that way – exactly – but a lot of it is similar to what has occurred at Bentley.
I told the miners:
“The economic forces you understand well “¦ and manipulate well “¦will work to your advantage. But not totally and not forever. And If you don’t find a way to engage with communities — an authentic way that’s going to work – you will have a community that engages with you.”
And you will have the biggest protest that Australia has ever seen.”
At the end of my 2011 talk, I asked a rhetorical question: “How will this end?”
My reply: “In tears. This will make Terania Creek look tiny.”
I looked out at my audience. Blank, young, confident faces everywhere.
I gasped: “Does anyone know what happened at Terania Creek?”
Then the Chair of my session, also the Chairman of the organisation (and close to my age), spoke up.
“I remember,” he said.
He remembered the non-violent direct action at Terania Creek. Premier Neville Wran called it his proudest moment when he banned rainforest logging in NSW. He only wished he’d done it earlier.
What’s needed, I said, was a good engagement process. It has three criteria: representativeness, influence and community education. I explained how to do it. Simple rules that required authenticity, honesty, accountability and transparency. Above all, I warned them, “avoid conflicts that involve the police.”
* * *
I think we’ve all seen what an appalling community engagement process looks like.
For me, I wish I’d been wrong. I feel like Cassandra: the prophetess who wasn’t believed.
Now we can see what communities can and will do. What resourcefulness and resilience look like.
What they sound like.
Believe me, Metgasco
Believe me, Metgasco, this is just the beginning. There is much more where this came from.
Best you start listening now.
And best you read your environmental history.
New South Wales — and especially the Northern Rivers (what on Earth were you thinking?) — are not for the taking.
Postscript 18 May: See this great article in the Green Left Weekly: https://www.greenleft.org.au/node/56473
It would have looked better if I were digging out the composting toilet or planting organic veggies. But the truth is I was half-way into an egg and sausage McMuffin in Casino when the text came from Bentley.
I had to ring Yollana to make sure I had it right.
We’d won at Bentley.
Or at least, a major victory had occurred. (I’m too old for complete acceptance that “all is now well.” The Bentley Blockade had succeeded. Metgasco’s license was suspended and they were referred to ICAC.
But, you know, your body speaks its mind and in a second I was weeping.
I was weeping in Maccas in Casino.
It took me a while before I realised how much I love this country. How much I love this Earth. Since I migrated to Australia in 1968, I’ve had a few `falling-in-love-with-the-Earth” moments. Deep Ecology rituals specialise in helping that response emerge in reluctant humans.
Tall Tree Country
Nevertheless, having grown up
in “tall tree country” in Canada, I spent a long time coming to love this part of our Earth. It’s not what I was used to.
A year living alone in the bush at Humpty Doo helped a lot and generated a PhD thesis on caring for Nature: https://researchrepository.murdoch.edu.au/289/
And fog in the valley in Nimbin can do it.
But this weeping in Maccas?
Something else altogether.
- Weeping for gratitude to many protectors who braved discomfort and hardship to keep the vigil at Bentley for so many weeks.
- Gratitude to the canny politicians and wise negotiators who kept seeking a political solution when many thought that was impossible.
- Blessings on the parents who brought children to the dawn gatherings on the hill when warm beds beckoned.
- Gratitude to a brave landowner who made his property available to the protectors.
- Close friends of mine who put their lives on hold to give all they could.
Yollana had another insight into why I was weeping in Maccas.
All of the press reports – and the Bentley Alert text – identified inadequate community consultation as the key factor it the Government’s decision.
Yollana writes me:
Let it be known and remembered loudly and clearly:
Bentley was won,
Not because a politician stepped in!
Not because of a loop hole in the law!
Not because a dirty industry found a conscience!
The official reason for the cancellation of the drilling license is:
Insufficient community consultation!
In other words,
Bentley was won because the people stood up, protested and refused to back down!
Does anybody really care about that? Community engagement has been my life’s work. I’ve written eight books about it.
I often feel like a boring old fart. Banging on about community engagement.
Well — yesterday morning — someone cared about community consultation.
enough to keep me banging on for another 25 years.
Bentley CSG Blockade, NSW
5 May 2014
Open letter to the NSW Minister for Police, Brad Hazzard
I am a 71-year-old resident of the Northern Rivers of New South Wales and a Life Fellow of the Planning Institute of Australia.
I hold a doctorate in
environmental ethics from the Institute for Sustainability and Technology Policy, Murdoch University.
In recent years…
In recent years, when you were the
Minister for Planning, you had a number of occasions to hear me speak on the value of community engagement regarding planning decisions that affect people’s lives.
Now I am writing you about unconventional gas mining and, specifically, the Metgasco proposal to mine at Bentley in Northern NSW.
Bentley is just down the road from where I live.
I observed when you were Minister for Planning that you often appeared reluctant to listen to the voices of ordinary people speaking out to protect their homes and neighbourhoods.
Now we are speaking out to preserve the living Earth and the lives of all species for generations to come.
I am worried that you might use heavy-handed tactics as Police Minster. If you possibly had that intention, I seek to dissuade you.
A large group of conferenced residents – of all ages and political persuasions – is fighting to save the Northern Rivers from unconventional gas mining mining.
fighting for our lives.
If you wish to be successful in your new position, I’d advise you to listen to the voices of the people of the Northern Rivers.
We know what we are talking about. We are not ratbags and we are certainly not taken over by factional interests. We are local grandmothers and grandfathers – and children and others – who simply want to protect the Earth.
Now is the time, Minister, to distinguish yourself as the Police Minister who was willing to listen.
We are willing to listen levitra for cheap real as well.
Please do not shut the door on conversations with the activists at Bentley.
We must Shut the Gate to Metgasco but we are open to talking with you.
We are peaceful, loving, non-violent local people seeking a better life for all who live on Earth.
We are singing our hearts out on the hilltop at Bentley.
We are singing for our lives.
Ironically, we are also singing for your life.
Dr Wendy Sarkissian
Nimbin, 28 April 2014
It was bucketing rain at dawn at the Bentley Blockade this morning. The blockade against unconventional gas mining. No guitars or drums because of the rain. There were lots of people there but not a lot were singing.
Then, magically, about 5 am, a woman with a strong, melodic voice began a song that only a few of the older women followed. I was among them.
It’s a song by my hero, Holly Near. One of my favourites: “Mountain Song”.
I was delighted to hear Holly’s song in our blockade. Hers is a powerful voice for change. After 30 years of work in social change movements, Near’s historical perspective, as well as her contemporary activism, continue to challenge and inspire. I last heard her perform a year ago in Berkeley. She made me cry.
This morning, the woman’s song resonated deeply within me as I stood on the hill and watched the darkness fade and a new day begin:
I have dreamed on this mountain
Since first I was my mother’s daughter
And you can’t just take my dreams away – not with me watching
You may drive a big machine
But I was born a great big woman
you can’t just take my dreams away – not with me fighting
This old mountain raised my many daughters
Some died young – some are still living
But if you come here to take our mountain
Well we ain’t come here to give it
I have dreamed on this mountain
Since first I was my mother’s daughter
And you can’t just take my dreams away – not with me watching
No you can’t just take my dreams away – without me fighting
No you can’t just take my dreams away
I have been visiting the Northern Rivers cialis levitra viagra cost comparison since the early 1980s and have lived in Nimbin since 2001. My husband and I shelter our dreams here and, truly, Metgasco, wherever you are and whoever you are, you may drive a big machine, but “you can’t just take my dreams away – not with me watching.”
With many of my neighbours, I am watching. I am bearing witness. Like many principled and concerned people in this region, I am on high alert.
This mountain is not for taking.
Metgasco, hear me! You have no social license to mine and destroy our land, our water, our health and the health of future generations of all species.
Not only are we watching, we’re also fighting. We’re fighting for our lives here in the Northern Rivers.
Please, neighbours, if you possibly can, join us. Join us now.
We need you now – before it’s too late.
Before the big machines take our dreams away.
“Engagement Done Well”
In a few days, Vancouver planner Brent Toderian will be speaking in Sydney, where last year he was training planning bureaucrats in the NSW State Government in community engagement.
His conference topic is “Density Done Well”. My topic in the preceding session was “Engagement Done Well”, making the point that density done well needs community engagement done well.
My speaking post was mysteriously cancelled – without explanation.
I wonder if it had anything to do with my support of the Better Planning Network’s concerns about the proposed NSW planning legislation.
In any case, while Toderian is selling Vancouverism to Australians, I am eagerly listening to Vancouverites – and especially to Vancouver’s activists. It’s a Council election year there and it’s on for one and all when it comes to community engagement.
But it’s definitely not on in the ways Toderian would have us believe.
I’ve written before about Toderian’s and Vancouver’s cultural imperialism (https://www.sarkissian.com.au/vancouvers-ecodensity-policy-reflections-on-australian-plannings-cultural-cringe-and-cultural-imperialism/).
Of course, Toderian is free to express his opinions about community engagement but they should not masquerade as facts when describing the Vancouver experience.
Vancouver is where we learn by bad example.
I was astonished to read a recent Planetizen post by Toderian and Jillian Glover: “10 Lessons in More Engaging Citizen Engagement”. I drew it to the attention of some Vancouver activists and acquaintances.
The Densification Wars
I’ve just returned from Vancouver and spent some time listening to the concerns of community activists. I also spoke at an activist meeting in January about what Vancouverites are calling “The Densification Wars”.
I have my own responses to the Planetizen blog. They have to do with matters of inclusion, governance and influence. Matters that go beyond the use of techniques.
But the Vancouverites have their own ideas – and they are sharp as tacks when it comes to spotting an “advertorial” for Vancouver.
So I asked my Vancouver friends what they thought of the Planetizen post by Toderian and Glover.
My computer was smoking as the furious responses arrived from the Canadians.
Initially, one friend replied that it was at worst “advertising” and at best “creative fiction”.
Jak King, Chair of the Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods, weighed in with his insightful comments. They are copied in full below along with his contact details. Seems to me that Jak knows what he’s talking about.
* * *
I read with interest the piece in Planetizen by Brent Toderian and Jillian Glover. Had they not kept mentioning Vancouver, I never would have recognized the city they are describing.
In one section, they claim that this is “a region known internationally for its public consultation” — really?
In whose fantasy is that?
The fact is that locally the current City of Vancouver administration is known for being complete failures at engagement. In 2013, one of our major local newspapers, the Vancouver Courier, conducted a survey to find the most important story of the year, and their readers chose neighbourhood discontent with civic engagement by a huge margin.
The Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods, of which I
am chair, was formed last summer specifically to focus and assist the unprecedented opposition to City planning from right across Vancouver. We began with 18 neighbourhood associations and now have 24, covering about 90% of Vancouver’s population.
The City recently published the final Report of the Mayor’s Task Force on the Engaged City. The report was completed without consultation with or input from any of Vancouver’s numerous and active residents’ associations – that’s a perfect example of how engaged they are.
What the Plantetizen article does highlight is this City’s administration’s ability and indeed willingness to create public relations exercises in which citizens are invited to participate but which result in those same citizens having no genuine influence on policies that, most of us believe, were done deals before the first invite was ever sent.
Bread and circuses are all we get.
Chair, Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods
Phone + 1 604 253-6232+ 1 604 viagra sans ordonnance 253-6232
I’m celebrating: 2013 was a great year for community activism in planning.
In New South Wales, concerted action by many forces, including the Better Planning Network (https://betterplanningnetwork.good.do/nsw/fund-the-better-planning-network-in-2014/), resulted in the State Government withdrawing the contentious and flawed proposed state planning legislation.
The Better Planning Network has more than 430 community groups and many more affiliated individuals (like me), and this number is growing every day.
On 28 November 2013, the NSW Minister for Planning and Infrastructure, the Hon. Brad Hazzard, announced that he would withdraw the NSW Planning Bills until February/March 2014. The Minister made this announcement because of heavy amendments made to these Bills in the Upper House by the Labor, Greens and Shooters and Fishers parties.
Aside from some misguided planners and the developers’ lobby, nobody had anything good to say about the community engagement components of the Bills, which were my main concern.
I argued on a number of occasions that it was unrealistic – strategically and psychologically – to expect residents to be happy with community engagement limited to the strategic planning stage. Many people, including prominent lawyers, judges and local government, agreed.
We are all praying that the State Government will avoid the old trick and not undertake the next stage of consultation during January (as often people do!). It’s too late to put the plans on display on Boxing Day in a distant galaxy – but stranger things have happened to hitchhikers in New South Wales!
It was a big win, nonetheless.
On a smaller scale but equally as important, we had a major win in South Australia, What architect Ian Hannaford called his “Dear Manitoba” has been saved from demolition or redevelopment, as have two other inner city site with public housing tenants.
I cried when I heard the news from a Manitoba resident.
I love Dear Manitoba; as a Member of the SA Housing Trust Board, I was involved in its planning and design in the early 1970s and even lived there briefly in the early 1980s. This year Manitoba will celebrate its fiftieth birthday.
All credit to Alice Clark and Shelter SA and the indefatigable residents of Manitoba and the other two sites.
And a compliment to Social Housing Minster, Tony Piccolo, who finally saw the light.
Brickbats to Renewal SA.
Brickbats to Renewal SA. Do you know that two years ago they hand-delivered their original letters to Manitoba residents on Christmas Eve?
Can you believe that?
The letters were very vague and contained nothing that could give anyone confidence; they created terror and anxiety at a time of year widely known to be difficult for vulnerable people (for all of us, actually)…
I find it hard to imagine that the Board of Renewal SA approved those sorts of heavy-handed and insensitive tactics.
There are experienced people on that Board who certainly should know better:
I can’t imagine the experienced Renewal SA officers I know doing such a terrible thing.
How did this happen? Who approved it?
And, more importantly, how can we make sure that
vulnerable public tenants are not treated in such a manner again?
Let’s hope the corporate memory of Renewal SA survives into any new incarnation.
The message is clear: Do not do such cruel things! Just do not do them!
A delicate balancing act
So, it’s been a good year for activism.
And a challenging one.
At this very moment, with my only sibling, I’m co-designing a memorial for my mother who died in her hundredth year. She was a shocker, severely mentally ill.
So you can imagine that it’s a delicate balancing act – emotionally and practically – to create such an event – for the two daughters and our friends and families.
Similarly (a comparison in sharp relief during this highly charged week), it’s a delicate balancing act being a planner and an activist.
Punishments are routinely doled out.
Doors quietly close and invitations are summarily withdrawn. People sidle away at cocktail parties, eyes fixed on their shoes.
Activists know the price we pay for speaking out when others cannot – or will not.
For activism is more than rubbing raw the sores of discontent, as the American activist Saul Alinksy would have it.
For planners with a conscience, activism is keeping the voices of marginalised people alive in public forums and debates about planning.
In tough economic times, I find (sadly) that some of my most respected planning colleagues simply ignore emails that ask them to speak out about ethical matters. They seem to have hardened their hearts against the plight of disadvantaged people. Or, at least, they’ve silenced their inner voice.
But, like finishing off the tiramisu at Christmas dinner, somebody has to do it.
And this year it was me. On both fronts.
I’m proud to have helped the courageous people (you know who you are), who really, truly, put themselves on the line for justice in planning and housing.
Here’s to 2014
Here’s to a 2014 with more planning and housing wins for vulnerable people in Australia.
And here’s to a 2014 with more
respect for those planners who choose to support them in ways that push the envelope for our more conservative colleagues.
Vancouver’s EcoDensity Policy: Reflections on Australian Planning’s Cultural Cringe and Cultural Imperialism
Australia‘s “cultural cringe”
One of the challenges of being a “migrant” in Australia is understanding the “cultural cringe” that infects so much of Australian life. I’ve lived and worked here for 45 years and it still puzzles me. For those not familiar with it, it is an internalised inferiority complex that causes us to dismiss our own culture as inferior to the cultures of other countries. It makes us vulnerable to cultural imperialism.
As a planner, I am constantly bewildered by Australians’ need to turn to other countries for planning models – for density, urban design and community engagement. We have many brilliant theorists and practitioners, yet we invite outsiders with sometimes mediocre credentials to brief our planning managers and train our staff. The results are rarely successful.
It’s easy for those outsiders to assume that Australia is “just like” Canada, the USA or the UK.
How wrong they are!
The Density Wars
As the “density wars” heat up in all Australian capital cities, turning to outsiders for planning advice becomes even more problematic. And, sadly, the one place Australian governments and developers turn is the one place we should avoid – at least for now. That’s my hometown of Vancouver.
As state governments in Australia try to find ways to sell increased housing densities to a reluctant public and recalcitrant local councils, one model has slipped into the conversation that should, in my view, quietly slip away. That’s the recent Vancouver invention of EcoDensity. This failed housing density initiative with a dodgy pedigree is being touted by visiting Vancouverism boosters as one of the answers to our housing density needs. Nothing could be further from the truth, as a significant amount of recent scholarly and practical research reveals.
Origins of Vancouver’s EcoDensity Policy
I was in Vancouver in June, 2006, when the then Mayor, Sam Sullivan, sought to impress World Urban Forum delegates with his new initiative: EcoDensity. The name was made up by his Chief of Staff. Sam took advice from people who did not know about or fully understand the complex and sophisticated legacy of CityPlan and neighbourhood planning. He passed the idea by several academics and developers unfamiliar with the CityPlan Neighbourhood Centre rezoning program. There was no other scrutiny, especially by knowledgeable planners and managers within Council. By the time the Vancouver City planners got the job of explaining and implementing it, EcoDensity was a “done deal”.
Sullivan even tried to patent the term.
Speed was of the essence: the aim was “Doing it faster”, unlike Toronto, which built only 200 laneway infill units (several years before EcoDensity was coined by Sullivan) before they abandoned their discretionary zoning policy.
A massive City public relations program from 2006-2007 trumpeted this new initiative, which was seen by the spin-doctors as more interesting with “eco” than boring old “planning” or scary new “density”. The 2008 Council meeting to endorse it lasted for six nights, with 151 speakers lined up.
The EcoDensity Charter
It took two years and four official drafts to approve the EcoDensity Charter. It is now widely accepted that the Charter misrepresented community views and did not adequately address issues raised in the public process. There were strong community complaints of misrepresentation by Council officers (and senior planners) of the contents of community submissions; there were serious weaknesses in the analysis of submissions about the draft Charter. In meetings to work out the Charter, it was observed that the moderator skewed public comments.
In the community’s view, the 2008 EcoDensity Charter represented a “battering ram” approach to densification. Considerable discretionary power was eventually granted to Council by the Charter, thus undermining well-established policies of community engagement and implementation. Despite the extensive publicity campaign, the community hated and distrusted the policy. It sank Sam Sullivan politically. Shortly after he announced it, his popularity went into steep decline and, despite thirteen years as a City Councillor, he lost candidature after only one term as Mayor. Anti-EcoDensity public sentiment was a significant factor in his 2008 election loss. The new City Planner, Brent Toderian, inherited the policy in 2006; he had to run with it. Not surprisingly, it took its toll on him, as well.
Justifications for EcoDensity
You’d have to pity the City’s planners who were forced to implement this policy, this new “sustainability fix”. Their mandate was one of neutralizing opposition, while promoting social welfare through affordability. (And you’d also wonder why they did not speak up.) Instead, they went along with it, claiming that Laneway Housing was essentially “invisible” and easily absorbed. Laneway Housing before this time was about the only thing the new planning regime implemented on their watch (and it failed to deliver a significant increase in density). It was parallelled in terms of community opposition and distrust by the now infamous failed “Thin Streets” initiative (which had also been mooted in Council years before but failed to get endorsement).
With regard to Laneway Housing, the city’s planners argued, unconvincingly, that gentle, hidden and invisible forms of density were possible in suitable locations across the City with design that respected neighbourhood identity. It was promoted as having the same envelope as a permitted garage, but two storeys were allowed. In fact, 95% of Laneway Housing permits issued were for two storeys, thus negatively affecting privacy and shadowing back yards, which conflicted with urban agriculture policies and reduced songbird habitat.
My sister, living in Marpole, now wonders if her beautiful garden, that is her delight and solace, will be in full shadow throughout the day in all seasons with proposed height increases on Oak Street.
Will she have to move?
These were the sorts of concerns that Vancouver residents expressed in 2007 and onwards. Knowledgeable critics acknowledged some eco-footprint benefits in EcoDensity as, in terms of development and environmental stewardship, it showed some promise. However, community people soon pointed out that regulations made laneway houses unnecessarily costly to build. In violation of basic sustainability principles, EcoDensity in laneways — as currently implemented in Vancouver –encourages demolition and replacement of existing dwellings, with loss of embodied energy and character. Those two weaknesses alone neutralized its power as the “new sustainability fix”. The Council ignored suggestions from community members about how Laneway Housing could be less costly and intrusive but they were ignored.
Research reveals that even the City of Vancouver planners were not convinced that the policy would work. Brent Toderian was quoted in 2007 as saying: “EcoDensity won’t provide housing that meets average incomes. I don’t think we would affect housing supply to the point that prices would go down.”
A 2007 staff report agreed that the “trickle-down” effect would not work for housing affordability. If they were referring to so-called “filtering” (i.e., the concept in housing research that older residences, once sold by their owners so they can downsize, move into a retirement community, etc., become available as affordable housing to younger buyers), they were right that it simply doesn’t function in Vancouver’s housing market. Nevertheless, in November 2013, Toderian told a Sydney audience that, “EcoDensity gave a good context for an idea that didn’t have traction.”
Community and professional views
Research revealed that, in Vancouver, local people were not scared about density until June 2006, when the Mayor “put the fear of density into people.” EcoDensity was seen as an “institutional fix” to make densification acceptable: a “Trojan horse”. To many local people in 2006, density was seen as equal to development and profit to developers. Densification consistent with “Community Choices” had been approved under CityPlan Visions and under pre-existing Local Area Plans (but that density was primarily small-scale, not suited to major developers and overseas condominium pre-sales). #/nom-generique-du-cialis/ There was a pre-existing public understanding of density after years of sensitive community engagement conducted by the City. Those sensitive approaches and the densities they involved conflicted with the kinds of density envisaged by Eco-Density supporters.
The Sullivan initiative heralded a new era of top-down city policy making and implementation. People were frightened – and angry. One community view was that EcoDensity opened floodgates for more large-scale types of development, which were not consistent with existing plans or “discretionary” urban design guidelines. Researchers found that EcoDensity destroyed public confidence in “discretionary zoning”.
There is a great irony in this destruction of confidence. An approach which had been designed to placate opposition to housing density (to “clothe the wolf of densification in the sheep’s clothing of eco-trendy jargon”) had failed miserably. One of the two former City Planners (either Larry Beasley or Ann McAfee) was quoted in academic research as saying, “By putting the dirty word of density with the very sweet and tasty word of eco – you launder the dirty word of density.” Not surprisingly, others cottoned on as well. Community people challenged the discursive connection between density and affordability. It was seen as a prominent example of how environmental concerns can be co-opted to neutralize environmental opposition by promoting a value-free vision with “win-win-wins” among economic growth, social development and ecological protection. What was seen as manipulative rhetoric designed to break down resistance and opposition led to perceptions of false promises and misleading descriptions (in the engagement processes).
Some people argued that EcoDensity deceptively sells densification for profit – using the values of liveability, sustainability and affordability. Basically, they argued, it serves developers, not communities. Many experienced critics (including current and former City staff) felt that they were tangled up in political sloganeering and deliberate attempts to mislead, deceive and lull people into acquiescence. City planners were forced to promise one thing and enable another. Basically, for the communities, it boiled down to a simple suspicion: the whole policy was nothing more than a publicity campaign for the Mayor aimed at serving developers’ interests.
As a result, decades of careful policy development and trust building (guided by the stellar former co-director of planning, Dr Ann McAfee) became mired in distrust. Now Vancouver’s neighbourhoods were experiencing for the first time in decades a lack of genuine participation and the over-riding of community planning.
What people feared
What people feared was not density but overcrowding. Community concerns focused on problems associated with very dense neighbourhoods and what was coined “green overcrowding” (density without amenity). The policy was seen as greenwashing of developers’ agenda. Critics were concerned that EcoDensity would sacrifice liveability and that led to anxiety and open protests in a number of neighbourhoods. Before long, Vancouver’s neighbourhoods were in uproar. At risk were Ann McAfee’s carefully crafted visioning processes for neighbourhood plans under CityPlan. Now local people felt that EcoDensity would destroy their communities.
Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver (NSV)
EcoDensity had a strong effect on organising and uniting neighbourhoods and the modern wave of Vancouver community action (described recently by eminent Vancouver journalist, Frances Bula as “a peasant revolt”) we see today around Community Plans and rezoning was reborn at this time. In 2007, Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver (NSV) was established. It was the first time in the City’s history that neighbourhood groups from across the City had come together to protest. There were concerns about weak leadership in planning and a flawed engagement processes that allowed visions and local area plans to be overridden. More than anything, people were concerned (as they are today in Vancouver) that EcoDensity centralized implementation away from the community.
Effects on existing CityPlan processes
Until the arrival of EcoDensity, density discussions in Vancouver were proceeding amicably. One of the big differences between EcoDensity and earlier densification programs (like False Creek North, Yaletown and Downtown) is that the latter occurred in brownfields sites rather than in existing lower-density single-family neighborhoods. The earlier effects were not felt in low-density residential neighbourhoods. The City Plan Vision framework, approved in 1995, envisaged “A City of Neighbourhoods” and “community involvement in decision-making”. The community visioning process took CityPlan to the neighbourhood level, with communities developing detailed
local vision directions. With EcoDensity, these initiatives were ignored. The new language of EcoDensity was seen as undermining both CityPlan community visions and residents associations. Not surprisingly, community members questioned: Was this policy a continuation of CityPlan (city visioning processes) – or a disruption? Proponents of EcoDensity, including senior planners, marketed it as a continuation; opponents clearly experienced it as a disruption.
The tragic legacy of EcoDensity is a governance one. It undermined the effectiveness of CityPlan, whose artful design and implementation had had the effect of de-politicising the planning process. Now the Vancouver planning process is fully politicised. Decades of work by the previous two highly skilled City Planners was eroded. And the firestorm that we see in Vancouver today is the direct result.
The current situation in Vancouver regarding EcoDensity
Widespread opposition to EcoDensity-spawned top-down Council planning continues to grow. Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver (NSV) is running a candidate for the 2014 mayoral race, as well as candidates for the Council, School Board and Parks Board.
In 2013, the “Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods” (CVN) was formed to establish a “new planning paradigm. The CVN is currently questioning the City’s inflated population projections, demanding that community planning processes return to the CityPlan practice of public workshops and surveys to consider and select among various options for housing density âˆ’ not single options seen by community members as created in back rooms by the developer-influenced City administration.
It’s a great tradition that is set to continue: it is widely accepted that Vancouver’s liveability was founded on opposition to planning experts. EcoDensity has been continued only half-heartedly by the new Council, which now boasts the “Greenest City Initiative”. The current Council is also beholden to real estate development interests because of huge election campaign contributions (with no controls in British Columbia). They avoid the term EcoDensity because of its wide unpopularity and partisan rivalry. However, EcoDensity continues to be cited in staff reports and some EcoDensity policies continue to be implemented by the current Council.
In summary: Why EcoDensity is a failure?
- It arose from a top-down public relations initiative and never had widespread popular or Council support.
- The way it was initiated led to initial mistrust and the ways it was implemented continue to contribute to mistrust.
- It promised much more than it delivered.
- It did not make housing more affordable.
- It did a poor job of improving social equity.
- It did not provide enough new housing units to satiate the demand.
- It contributed to a breakdown of trust between communities and the Council.
- It re-politicised the planning process and destroyed social capital and relationships established through the extensive CityPlan processes.
What can we learn from this – in Australia?
This is a cautionary tale that we ignore at our peril – as communities, planners and governments. First, let’s learn from our own experiences, do the relevant research – here and abroad – mine the archives, refresh the institutional memories and learn to think for ourselves.
Second, let’s respect our overseas colleagues and engage with them – but as equals, not as supplicants. The City of Vancouver has made many mistakes, as have our larger cities. But it’s only a small place with 600,00 residents. We have larger cities and bigger problems – and many smart people to address them.
Third, let’s fearlessly face “the cringe” and vow to create our own planning solutions. We can learn from others. Yes. And we can come to our own decisions.
And finally, let’s beware of the spin-doctors. One recently told an Australian audience packed full of activists and planners that planners and governments need to “be more creative now about how you `brand’ ideas.”
The spin-doctors have all but ruined planning in Vancouver. Let’s not learn from them how to do that better.
Because if we want learn how to do spin doctoring better, Vancouver is definitely the place to go.
Brown, Ryan C. (2008). Reconciling Ecological and Social Sustainability: The Case of the EcoDensity Initiative. Research Report, Vancouver Island University, 30 May 2008, https://newcity.ca/Pages/ecodensity.pdf, accessed 19 December 2013.
Bula, Frances (2012). “Vancouver city planner sees term ended by Vision council,” State of Vancouver, 31 January: https://www.francesbula.com/uncategorized/vancouver-city-planner-sees-term-ended-by-vision-council/, accessed 19 December 2013.
Condon, Patrick (2013). Blog: “Whose City is it Anyway?”, The Tyee, https://thetyee.ca/Opinion/2013/08/26/Whose-City-Is-It/ 26 August, accessed 19 December 2013.
Eggleton, Crystal and Peter McMahon (2013). “What is EcoDensity?“ Clayton Utz Insights, 23 May, https://www.claytonutz.com/publications/edition/23_may_2013/20130523/what_is_ecodensity.page, accessed 19 December 2013.
Pacheco-Vega, Paul (2009). “Laneway housing, affordability and EcoDensity: Preliminary thoughts,” 4 August, https://www.raulpacheco.org/2009/08/laneway-housing-affordability-and-ecodensity-preliminary-thoughts/, accessed 19 December 2013.
Rosol, Marit (2013). “Vancouver’s “EcoDensity” Planning Initiative: A Struggle over Hegemony?” Urban Studies 50 (11), August: 2238-2255.
Sarkissian, Wendy (2013). “EcoDensity,” The NIMBY Clearinghouse, https://thenimbyclearinghouse.wordpress.com/tag/eco-density/, accessed 19 December 2013.
Sham, Fred (2012). The urban political ecologies of Vancouver: Sustainable development and affordability. Unpublished Master of Science in Planning thesis, Columbia University, May. https://academiccommons.columbia.edu/catalog/ac%3A147370, accessed 19 December 2013.
Sullivan, Sam (2013). “How Vancouver’s EcoDensity Ideas can Help Sydney”, 20 April 2013. https://www.samsullivan.ca/vancouvers-ecodensity-ideas-sydney/, accessed 19 December 2013.