Community Amenities in Vancouver

Liam in his waterpolo cap

I’ve been peripherally involved with the use & planning of Community Amenities in Vancouver for a long time – by being politically involved with the Park Board;as a both a participant and board member for the Vancouver Ultimate League; as a parent of a kid in Vancouver Thunderbirds Hockey; as parent of a kid in Vancouver Vipers waterpolo; and as a parent of a kid in Vancouver United FC Soccer. And, there’s a few things (that are probably in some ways obvious, but let us be explicit here) to note about doing all this in Vancouver. Let’s of course be clear that this is all anecdotal based on my experience and limited conversations with other families.

  1. With the exception of my experience as an ultimate player, community sports is heavily weighted towards the periphery of the city: rinks, pools, courts, fields are all generally on the western & eastern edges of the city. If you live in the centre, you’re pretty much guaranteed a fairly lengthy commute. It is sort of the inverse of the home-job principle.
  2. There are not enough playing-surface resources in the city of Vancouver compared to the number of participants. Ultimate, which has the *most* fields, because of the surfaces they’re willing to use, probably has this best. But it is still not enough. In my experience, from least available to most, it is probably: pools, quality fields, rinks, flat(ish) grass surfaces. I don’t know about baseball, but from the outside, it looks like each “area” has a really nice-looking “home” field where stuff happens.
  3. UBC is a terrible community partner. Each association I’ve been part of has been “forced” to use UBC’s fields/rinks/pools because there’s not enough in Vancouver, but each association complains bitterly about how expensive renting UBC’s facilities are. I’m not entirely sure of the justification for this, outside of free-market economics (supply v demand), but it sucks.
  4. The lack of playing surfaces leads to some pretty crazy scheduling decisions by the related associations. In practice, this has meant my elementary-aged kids are doing sports both SUPER early in the am (which generally sucks more for the parents) – as early as 6:15am Sunday in my experience – and also SUPER late at night – as late as 10:30pm Friday in my experience. Perhaps not surprisingly, this leads to some drop-off in participation.
  5. Compared to kids in related associations in the suburbs, Vancouver kids have way less access & time to their chosen sport. At younger ages, this has translated primarily to my being jealous of how little other parents are paying per hour-of-activity. At older ages (let’s say 10+) this tends to translate directly into a lack of competitiveness. In each sport I’ve participated in, as a general rule, suburban teams play at a higher level than Vancouver-based ones. Beyond that, we’ve seen several Vancouver families move their children, if not their actual domicile, out to be part of suburban associations just to give their kids access to higher compete levels.
  6. At an association level, these constraints put incredible pressure on the few paid staff & mostly volunteer organizers. I’ve sat in on several board meetings, AGMs and ad-hoc parent meetings where participants and/or parents complain about fees, ever-reducing availability of activity-time, and so on. And, at the core, the answer is always the same: the association is making awful trade-offs between allowing access to participate vs cost vs scheduling. These are generally pretty committed fans of the activity, and the wear on them shows.

So, what can be done?

Real Estate pricing in Vancouver means we are pretty unlikely to find large tracts of land in the city centre (increasingly, anywhere) to build new pools/rinks/fields. As far as I know, developers are not incentivized to build these sorts of community-centre amenities alongside developments. While I’ve always been a big fan of the existence of our park board, I increasingly wonder if it being distinct from city council really just lets council punt community amenity discussion out of “prime” discussions, to somewhere no one really cares about (if you’re to judge by average number of votes it takes to win a seat come election time).

I don’t have answers, but do have some things I wonder about:

  1. Could/should the city strike some sort of deal with UBC to allow community groups access to UBC facilities at a deal closer to what they pay for city amenities? What if the city bought all the available slots at UBC and then re-apportioned them via the existing city model? I don’t know enough about the political/fiscal relationship between Vancouver & UBC to know how possible that might be. If only from an operational/staffing view, a single purchase-source would be good.
  2. The Park Board’s operational & capital plans are being set for the future. Much like the issue with class-sizes & schools, they strike me as being planned for what’s there now (and not nearly enough), not what is coming in the future, regarding population size. But, I recognize they’re incredibly resource-constrained (both budgetary & physically). I don’t know what the answer is to that, outside of investment from perhaps all 3 levels of government & private enterprise. I’ve been historically averse to having corporate sponsors of community amenities, but if that would, say, double the available pools & rinks and/or cut costs by some significant %, maybe it would be worth it.
  3. Open up school resources more, including private schools, perhaps via the same methods as with UBC. Ontario’s LCBO gets good deals on booze by being (I think) the world’s largest single buyer of alcohol. Why couldn’t the city of Vancouver do that for space on behalf of the residents, and let associations just have one source, at, hopefully, lower costs, rather than various small associations all competing with each other across various sources?

 

Quick thoughts on Current Politics

While Harper was PM, it was politically useful for opponents to ascribe all policy to him; indeed, he cultivated that (“the Harper government”). It hid the body of Conservative support somewhat, which helped focus opposition.

However, now that he’s resigned, it strikes me as much more useful to talk about those same policies as Conservative party policies instead: raise the profiles on the ministers who enacted them; don’t let them escape their actions through amnesia. Remind everyone that it wasn’t one man, it was a plurality that all believed that. Rona Ambrose shows signs (sensibly!) of wanting to distance the party from Harper: don’t let that happen. They’re all responsible for what I’m already starting to thing of as “Canada’s Lost Decade”

Thoughts on #occupy

(Wherein i list out a bunch of thoughts on something I don’t fully understand, in the hopes that the act of writing will help me come to some sort of internal resolution or understanding. Or trigger commentary that might just do that too.)

For the most part, I stayed well away from the #occupy movement (aside: in my head, it always is preceded by a hashtag – likely because I mostly interacted with it via twitter. But I suppose it’s not required. I’ll keep it though). In part, I was deeply cynical of its origins – it struck me as disingenuously spontaneous, in the same way that a good flash mob is actually a carefully choreographed and well-rehearsed performance – but it also made me vaguely uncomfortable. I don’t feel part of “the 1%”, but nor do I particularly feel part of #occupy’s “99%” – that likely has more to do with my reluctance to be placed in any big-tent definitions.

I wandered through Vancouver’s occupation on the 4th or 5th day. The optimism, the stringent beliefs, the signs, the dress code reminded me strongly of hanging with the socialists in my first year at UBC talking society, future, politics in a blissfully abstracted manner. I spent an hour or so of my lunchtime there – so definitely not a long time – and came way inspired and invigorated by the half-dozen people I met and talked to, but even more suspicious of the movement itself. The Vancouver edition might well be different from Wall Streets, but it was uncomfortably similar to finding myself unexpectedly in a Tea Party demonstration in San Diego a couple of years ago: the wisdom of crowds was sorely lacking.

And then I watched from afar. In Vancouver, the media-focus (hopefully the movement’s focus as well – my understanding was filtered mostly through twitter, and in particular @raincoaster) dwelt on housing-related issues. While this was definitely a part of the myriad messaging elsewhere, Vancouver’s felt, from my position, somewhat unified around this. The videos of the human-megaphone were darkly humorous but seemed non-scalable as a viable societal solution. Vastly more exciting was the  huge volumes of Ustream citizen-reporting – most of it execrable, but thrilling in its very existence and portent for the future.

And then it got really dark, really fast and I was suddenly dragged back into paying attention: As the days dragged on in to weeks, the fair-weather idealists went back to work, to school, to the suburbs, to their parents, to their apartments – to wherever, and we were left, all over North America, with the dedicated few idealists – and the homeless, the addicts, the sick. And it was fascinating. Watching these groups try to interact; the idealists try manage (not really the right word – support? include?) a group of people who seemed to not care one iota about “the cause” but where there because there was a gathering, it was safe, there was food, there was shelter, there were other people. Watching the media stories increasingly report on addictions, on overdoses, on the homeless with shock and disgust like all these various sad, sad stories didn’t exist prior to #occupy.

Shortly before the Vancouver election I wandered past, but not through the #occupy encampment again. I didn’t go in because it no longer felt welcoming. I’m very uncomfortable with the desperation that was so palpable there. I’m well off and often feel guilty about it but helpless to do anything. And how terrible is it for #occupy that not even this movement, all-inclusive, didn’t really seem to know how to handle this desperation any more than any existing service providers do. And how disgusting that this misery crystallized the general public’s (at least, as I read it through the Vancouver Sun’s coverage) opinion against #occupy (there’s been an overdose? go in now! evict them!). In the last dying days across North America, the movement seemed to magnify the particular problems of the most desperate in each city: Homelessness, mental illness & addiction everywhere, youth violence, racism, alcoholism, sexual predation & abuse. I imagine It must have been heartbreaking for everyone who was involved at the beginning – seeing this beautiful idea fall prey to such a vicious reality. Vancouver’s measured reaction was in stark contrast to the police assaults across America, where gross support for such police-state tactics seems to be more widespread, but the end result was the same: In the end, the dispersal and subsequent journey to find a new place to occupy just seemed sad.

In Vancouver, #occupy initially tried to relocate to Grandview park on the Drive – which has just been renovated & re-opened. I don’t know all the details, and I don’t actually think I agree with the response, but I was heartened to hear about the resistance from the Grandview-area residents to having their new park occupied. #Occupy may speak for the 99%, but their methods aren’t for everyone. And seeing on grassroots group resist the efforts of the other was, to me, a hopeful outcome: #occupy may or may not continue, evolve into something else, but it certainly showed the power of getting together with a group of like-minded people to defend an ideal in a space. And this battle over the new park showed the inherent conflict in the movement of occupying a space at the expense of the very people they’re in theory occupying it for.

Over-thinking Star Wars

I remember first watching Star Wars. The sense of excitement of watching a scrappy band of rebels try to overcome the infinitely more powerful Empire, led by the mysterious and evil Emperor was thrilling. It feels great to root for the underdog. I had imagined generations of freedom fighters laying down their lives fighting this ruthless inter-planetary dictatorship. It was awesome.

And then the prequels came out. And I learned that the Empire was only about 20 years old. And worse yet, the Republic, which in the original trilogy was an idyllic supposed utopia, worth striving for turns out to be a corrupt, decadent, bureaucratic nightmare ruled by a squabbling, ineffective senate clearly under the influence of special interest groups, and susceptible to meddling and manipulation. The citizens in the undercity of Coruscant live terrible lives in the dark; the ruling elite, while so physically close to them leading a life so unlike their own as to be unrecognizable.

The republic, faced with a threat, readily betrays principles of self-determination and personhood all in the name of winning the war against the separatists by embracing the use of clone-soldiers to fight their war, not a volunteer army of citizens. Worse than this, the Jedi Knights, supposedly a detached, impersonal embodiment of all that is good and right in the universe are culpable political puppets, doomed to defend  a society their own ideals should abhor.

Now with this in mind, the motives of Princess Leia become suspect: Is she really a devoted freedom-fighter? Or is she merely royalty who misses the perks her family used to have as ruling elites before the Emperor usurped their power?  Bail Organa, her adoptive father, is clearly a very influential member of the senate prior to the dissolution.

There is no doubt that the Emperor is a caricature of an evil, manipulative ruler. But I’m not convinced after watching the prequels that the lives of anyone except for the previous ruling elite were any worse for his rule. Indeed, if you look at the example of Lando Calrissian’s upward mobility in becoming the ruler of Cloud City on Bespin (no matter how short-lived, or how puppet-like it may be), the lives of the lower- and middle-classes may actually have improved with the loss of the previous ruling elites: there’s room for them to move up in the world.

My Opening Remarks

Last night was the Vision Vancouver Park Board All-Candidates Meeting, held at the Fletcher-Challenge Theatre, SFU Downtown. I believe it went well. For posterity, here is the written version of my opening remarks (not a transcript, as this was written beforehand, and I’m certain I didn’t relate this verbatim). My thanks to everyone who attended.

Good Evening Ladies & Gentlemen. My name is Steven Tannock.

I am a business owner and web developer. This may not seem like the most relevant experience for being a Park Board Commissioner, I know, but bear with me a moment here. Fundamentally, Web development is about communication, and that, ladies and gentlemen, is what I wish to talk to you about this evening.

How many of you here have attended a Park Board consultation meeting?

How many of you here WOULD have attended a consultation meeting, if you had heard about it?

Or still, how many of you here attended a consultation meeting, only to never receive any follow up communication, or any indication that you’d been heard at all?

The Park Board Consultation process is broken. The public has lost faith in the process, and by extension, the board itself. As I sat in on park board meetings this past year, this became starkly apparent as I listened to speakers, regardless of their stance on the issue:

“I didn’t hear about the meeting”
“I live in the neighborhood, where was my notice?”
“There was only one small sign – you call that notice?”
And so on.

As an exercise, try and find the status of any current park board project. Identify which councilors voted for, and which voted against the motion. Tell me the budget, hired vendors and the project timeline. It’s remarkably difficult. To learn about the English Bay Bistro, I needed to open 3 different web sites – and still the best information was found in the Vancouver Sun’s archives, not the Park Board’s own site.

As a stakeholder in every decision it makes affecting our parks & community centres, it is a conflict of interest for board and staff to also control how, when and where the consultation takes place. The Park Board needs an independent, arms-length Consultation office to oversee all three stages of community decision making: Notification, Consultation and perhaps, most importantly, Reporting. Only this will restore trust in the Park Board communication process.

On September 20th, please nominate me, Steven Tannock, so that I can fight to bring back the community in community consultation and decision-making.

Thank you.

Cooperative Agreement between COPE and Vision Executives

Cooperative Agreement between COPE and Vision Executives

(VANCOUVER) The COPE and Vision executives are announcing a tentative agreement for cooperation for the 2008 election. Both organizations feel that the agreement is an important step to create the kind of campaign that can return progressive government to city hall.

Members of both organizations have consistently sought a cooperative effort and the executives of both Vision Vancouver and COPE have endorsed an agreement that will see the following:

  1. COPE, Vision, and the Green Party have agreed to run less than a full slate of candidates for each level. The breakdown is as follows:
    • Mayor: Gregor Robertson
    • Council: 8 (Vision), 2 (COPE)
    • School Board: 5 (COPE), 4 (Vision)
    • Park Board: 4 (Vision), 2 (COPE), 1 (Green Party)
  2. Vision and COPE will cooperate around specific policy issues, including a strategy on homelessness.

“Vision Vancouver believes the issues in this upcoming election are too important to be ignored. With this agreement, we can work with COPE to maximize our chances to bring progressive government back to Vancouver,” said Mike Magee, co-chair of Vision Vancouver.

“It is crucial that we work together to return progressive government to city hall, park and school board, said COPE Councilor David Cadman. “We want to work with Gregor Robertson and Vision to cooperate around areas of common concern. With this agreement we can avoid splitting the progressive vote and create a better Vancouver.”

The cooperation agreement is subject to ratification by the COPE membership at their Sunday, September 14 policy conference.

I wholeheartedly endorse this agreement, and you should too, if you care about progressive policies for Vancouver.

Show your support by joining the Facebook group

Vision Spring Gala

I attended Vision’s Spring Gala, a fund raising dinner for the party at the Wall centre. The evening started off rough. This won’t be a surprise for anyone who knows me, but I don’t really own a variety of dress clothes. So 20 minutes before I was supposed to be there, Leah was helping me dress (I must say: poor lighting + color-blindness makes getting dressed quite stressful), choosing from amongst my one pair of dress pants, three ties and five dress shirts (note to self: buy more dress clothes so I’m not always wearing the same things at these events!).

But I got out of the house in good time, looking ironed, combed, clean, all the good stuff and headed down. To quell my fears of the public at large (hi public at large! You intimidate me, and yet, I’m going to be spending lots of time speaking to you, at you, and all things going as planned, for you!), I listened to a select few tunes on my ride down, and was then calm once again upon arrival at the Wall Centre (If you’ve never been to the Wall Centre, it’s a maze. I started in one building, then had to leave that one, cross a courtyard, enter another building, go down one escalator, do a 180-degree turn, and then I was at the function. Or rather, and the registration. There was yet another corner and yet another escalator to reach the function itself).

The evening went well. I think I mingled semi-successfully, although I still need to work on the “Hi, I’m Steve Tannock & I’m running for Parks Board” bit, as it wasn’t always smooth. But I mingled with those I knew and said hi to a few others. I’m proud of myself for deftly avoiding picking sides in the upcoming nomination race by lauding each candidate in turn and explaining my angst over picking between them, despite several attempts by supporters of Gregor and Raymond to get me to wear a button for them. Perhaps I should’ve worn both? But then the dinner itself was to begin and we were ushered into the large dining room, with it’s maze of tables.

I sat at Table 28, aka “Vision Supporters Table 3”, along with all sorts of nice people, which was great, and settled in, only to find, to my surprise and delight (despite Kurt’s earlier hints) that I was summoned to the front and the stage along with the other to-date-declared nominees for School Board, Parks Board, Council and Mayor to be gazed upon and clapped at. It was a really invigorating moment for me, peering out into the silhouettes of hundreds of excited supporters cheering us on. At the same time, I couldn’t help thinking “My fellow nominees are really short!” (aside: am I a nominee? A proto-nominee, given that I’m seeking nomination?) Only Gregor stands about my height of all those currently announced. Hopefully I looked good up there.

Post dinner, there was some minor speechery. First by Larry Campbell, whom I’ve always enjoyed listening to, and tonight was no different. He somehow manages to be both laid back and incredibly engaging at the same time. Then there was a presentation to Jim Green for all his work, at which point I was summoned to the stage again along with all the executive and nominees, which was nice, although a little chaotic and perhaps slightly counter-productive to the presentation. Jim gave a short speech, which I admit to have not heard entirely, as there was much jostling around up there, and then the night was more or less done.

Except! right! How could I forget!? there was an improv troupe! called…”Rock Paper Scissors” I believe, who may well have been good, but due to the poor acoustics and timing, went over like a lead balloon, more or less, which is too bad. I think post food and post speeches, people just wanted to leave.

After connecting with the other candidates briefly, as I’m sure I’ll be seeing them, if not working with them, frequently over the next few months, I headed home.