And so, as you drive or walk or bike through the Heights area in question, along Mill Plain Boulevard and Andresen Road and MacArthur Boulevard in central Vancouver, you are intrigued by the signs. Dozens of them along the sidewalks and medians, orange and diamond shaped and reading, “YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD IS NEXT!” while directing you to a Facebook page: “Save the Couve.”
Which leads to another discovery. Because a Facebook search for “Save the Couve” also reveals the page “Save the Couve from NIMBY”: “The Not In My Back Yard attitude is alive and well. People are believing theatrics and misinformation over facts and what the majority of the ‘people’ want in this community.”
While we can’t pretend to always know what a majority of the people in Vancouver want, the mantra that “your neighborhood is next” does seem like a bit of hyperbole and fear-mongering. Not every neighborhood has a 53-acre site aching for development in the middle of the city.
All of which highlights the enmity that is likely to result from this growing battle. Residents of neighborhoods abutting the proposed development have been vocal in their opposition. They have challenged initial presumptions about how much parking the development will require and they have challenged proposed landscaping and setback requirements for new buildings. On both counts, they won concessions.
Good for them. A city council must be responsive to the concerns of citizens, and homeowners should make their feelings known. That is how a representative government is supposed to work.
Residents also have promised to find challengers for sitting council members at election time. Again, good for them. That is how democracy works. We could argue about the fact that Vancouver has had no people of color on the city council or that for decades nearly all representatives have lived on the west side. But while those discussions are important, they are for another time.
Because for now, the issue is development of the former Tower Mall site, which city officials bought in 2017 in a fit of foresight combined with a vision for Vancouver’s vast possibilities. The area has been moribund for decades, a dead zone in what should be a dynamic location.
Full disclosure: I live two miles east of the Tower Mall location and drive past it probably five times a week. While traffic between there and Highway 14, or down Mill Plain to Interstate 5, is a concern, it is outweighed by the possibilities provided by the proposed development.
Which brings up the crux of the argument. Residents understandably like their quite, bucolic neighborhoods, equating them to the suburbs. But the fact is that the Tower Mall location is smack dab in the middle of Vancouver’s city borders; the neighborhoods are in the city, and cities evolve over time.
Ideally, they evolve with thoughtful planning that benefits all residents of the city — even if some of those residents are not happy about it.