Originally posted in Spacing Vancouver on August 1, 2011.
You don’t often hear much about Marpole. It is a family oriented neighbourhood in south Vancouver nestled between the east and west sides of the city. The community is home to a diverse residential community of young families, seniors, business professionals and newcomers to Canada. While its reputation as a quiet, serene place has attracted many residents, it has also its downside. Many long-time residents note that while Marpole is an enjoyable place to live, it is also known as ‘the forgotten community’.
Jo-Anne Pringle is aiming to change this. A Vancouver native, Jo-Anne is a relative newcomer to Marpole. She moved into the neighbourhood with her husband and two young children in 2007. Before that, they lived in a condominium near Science World. As a result, she has witnessed both the benefits and drawbacks that density can bring to a community. Jo-Anne is also familiar with the development community. She worked for two high-profile development companies in Vancouver before starting her own business in 2006. Jo-Anne isn’t your typical community activist. In fact, Jo-Anne eschews the word activist. She prefers ‘engaged community member.’ Jo-Anne believes that not only is she a part of her Marpole community, but the community is a part of her.
Like Jo-Anne, the Marpole Area Residents Association (MARA) isn’t your typical neighbourhood association. MARA was founded in June 2010 in reaction to the developments proposed at the intersection of Marine and Cambie. Jo-Anne met two other concerned residents at an open house for a rezoning application. Together they recognized that Marpole residents needed a voice in the process and formed MARA on the spot. Unlike many neighbourhood associations who take an ‘us vs them’ attitude towards development, MARA is supportive of development and density in the community. They recognize that the city is changing. Rather than try to stop it, they want a say in how it occurs.
Density Done Right
Where other neighbourhood groups would see storm clouds when developers arrive in their area, MARA sees a silver lining. Rather than looking at the coming developments as another tear in their community fabric, MARA sees a way to mend the planning mistakes of the past and begin revitalizing their community. But to realize this silver lining requires a community approach.
Where’s The Plan?
Marpole residents have good reason to worry about development in their community; especially those related to transportation infrastructure, like the recently completed Canada Line SkyTrain extension. The last time a major transportation infrastructure investment came to Marpole—the opening of the Oak Street Bridge in 1957—the neighbourhood was cut in half. This devastated the business districts in the community. While the Canada Line is a very different type of infrastructure, its impact on traffic and retail patterns will be just as dramatic. The change is especially worrisome in Marpole because it comes without a current plan. While community plans in other neighbourhoods have helped guide recent developments, proposals in Marpole remain piece-meal and fragmented. The existing community plan was last updated in 1979, making it the oldest in the city—and older than many of its residents! Even without the developments predicted for the neighbourhood, the plan is in desperate need of an update.
A Community Led Approach
MARA recognizes that there will only be one chance to get the developments at Marine and Cambie right. The final outcome will impact generations to come—just as the Oak Street Bridge continues to shape the community over 50 years after it’s completion. So when the city wouldn’t host a focus group on the proposed developments, MARA stepped up and mounted a community consultation on their own. This consultation included a focus group to explore options, three former city planners and a local architect. The focus group resulted in a brochure outlining viable alternatives to the proposed development. The group also developed a detailed community survey that was sent to 1,150 residents in both English and Chinese. To help explain their alternatives and the survey, MARA held their own community open house in early May.
Jo-Anne admits that they won’t win every battle. But by being invited to the table they will be able to influence and press for improvements. This is not only throughout the current rezoning process, but in future public hearings and later stages of the development process. She also hopes to build a strong foundation for community involvement in future development proposals. While MARA hasn’t been able to get the City to require that developers make changes in response to their proposals, Vancouver Planning Director Brent Toderian has noted that MARA’s alternatives ‘had merit.’ A more tangible success was getting the area around Cambie and Marine named ‘Marine Landing‘ by the City during the Cambie Corridor plan. Previously there was no cohesive vision for this intersection despite that fact that there were three developments on three separate corners proposed for the intersection, each impacting the other and the surrounding community. By giving the area a name, MARA has helped shape the discussion towards a cohesive development vision for the area. MARA also was able to get the architecture of a proposed building changed to be more in line with the tastes of the neighbourhood. This conciliatory approach has put MARA at odds with other neighbourhood groups and even some residents, who argue that MARA is selling out. Overall, however, Marpole residents have been supportive of the tack the Alliance is taking. “Out of the hundreds of emails and messages I’ve received, only two were opposed to our approach,” noted Jo-Anne. Because of their approach, MARA is recognizedas an honest broker between the community, the city and various developers. This bodes well for input into future developments.
While it is too early to judge the ultimate success of MARA’s approach, there are some lessons to be drawn from it:
- To City Hall: MARA recognizes that Vancouver is growing and changing, and that it is selfish to not want new neighbours. However, for change to be acceptable, a community plan is needed before developments are proposed. Such a plan provides a common reference for both the community and the developers. It allows a cooperative approach to enhancing density in and near existing neighbourhoods.
- To other community groups: Jo-Anne notes that you can’t just criticize developers and oppose proposals outright. You need to propose practical alternatives based on community inputs. Ideally this would come from a community plan, but in it’s abscence find a way to create your own through focus groups and surveys. Look at what you are willing to accept, not just in terms of a single building’s height, but the overall impact to the community including community amenities, street life and community connections.
- To everybody: Be nice! If you can’t come to the tangle with a positive attitude, then don’t come. A successful community requires working with a variety of stakeholders, whether it be community residents, city planners, developers, architects or engineers. Being standoff-ish may earn you some personal satisfaction, but it rarely leads to a better outcome for the community.
There will be a public hearing on the rezoning of one of the Marine Gateway properties (8440 Cambie Street) on Tuesday, July 19 at 6 pm at City Hall, Third Floor, Council Chamber. More information is available on the City of Vancouver website. More Information For more information on MARA and their proposals for Marine and Cambie check out the following links: