Echoing the fiction of many of Australia's urban planners and pro-immigrationists, Queensland Labor Premier Anna Bligh characterized Vancouver as a showcase for "green development" following a recent trip to the fabled city. Growth is somehow made palatable when it is re-christened as "development", and of course, tacking the adjective "green" to it makes any development proposal seem benign. With "green development" the Growth Lobby can have its cake and develop it too. Trouble is, Vancouver's greener pastures don't stand up to scrutiny.
I went to the "De-growth" Conference in Vancouver in early May. I met with Conrad Schmidt of the "Work Less Party", and others, who had a ring side seat to the farce which was the Olympics. I was intent upon writing a summary of the conference, but as usual, was sidetracked by other issues. That Vancouver is held up as a shining beacon of sensible planning is an outrage equivalent to the International Red Cross giving a Nazi concentration camp a five star hotel rating. I'm Vancouver-born, and returned to my roots to attend the conference. My impression of the place was only re-inforced. As I commented, it is a city built on an imported slave labour caste where the slaves, too exhausted by long hours and subsistence pay, are on the one hand, celebrated by the chic left and business class alike as agents of diversity, and on the other hand, blamed for not assimilating into our society by the resentful residents who feel their competition. The truth is, the working immigrant poor, have neither the time nor the energy to do so, and it is their children who must interpret mainstream culture for them. Same old con job. My great grandparents were caught in the same vice at the turn of the century. Today 38% of Vancouverites fail to earn the $18 per hour necessary to live a decent living. And 38% of city residents are foreign born. That correlation carries a message. Most newcomers are poor, and as elsewhere in Canada, take a decade to catch up with the hindmost Canadian working poor. They cannot earn the $25,000 per year necessary to pay enough taxes to reimburse governments for the services that are provided for them. In effect, "cultural diversity" is a corporate welfare scam where Canadians pay for the services of cheap labour and employers, landlords and realtors reap the reward. Nothing new about that script. Yet it is one that travel writers and eminent tourists from Brisbane never read.
Yes, Vancouver has invested billions in monorails. But owing to open-ended growth, that transportation network has not displaced car traffic but only supplemented it. Driving about the city is an even greater nightmare now than it was when I left. And in the shadow of this grand monuments there sleeps the homeless, who can be seen by day begging for money or dashing between cars to wipe windshields. Some find shelter by the entrances of million dollar condo highrises. Vancouver is a glowing testament to the truth that growth never closes the income gap, but widens it. It may reduce unemployment, but not the unemployment rate.It may increase the GDP, but not the per capita GNP. Growth may grow the but the forces that profit from it will will ensure that its benefits are not equitably shared by buying city elections and electing pro-development politicians to the provincial legislature. Even the social democratic NDP failed to arrest the widening disparity of wealth during its eight year reign. In fact, evidence suggests that it worsened. Yet leftist politicians still remain faithfull to the credo that to meet the need for affordable housing, education and health care, they must "grow" the revenues. That can only be done in two ways. One is the traditional way of "taxing the rich". But capital is a moving target, and won't live in a tax regime that is much higher than in other jurisdictions. The second way is to pursue economic growth, which the social democratic leadership has picked up as its banner too. The two party system is in reality, a one party growthist state with two competing factions whose differences can only be calibrated in nuances. But spout the same cant about cultural diversity and sustainability and employ common buzzwords. Every initiative is "green" and all growth is "smart".
A roomate of mine in the early eighties said it best. "Those who advocate more density will get more density without any end to sprawl." Jack Marshall said that smart growth was necessary but not sufficient. It is only necessary as a growth-enabler and a means to line developer pockets. Renegade urban planner Rick Belfour made it clear at the De-growth conference. There are no "green" buildings. We already have TOO MANY buildings and houses. In our post carbon future---if we have one--- cities of Vancouver's size will not be capable of being "fed or energized". Densification does not conserve energy---quite the contrary(see attachment). More energy is needed to transport food in and waste out. Energy is needed for highrise elevators and heat (ever seen a clothes line outside the 11th floor?). So rather than pack them in, as the soft green establishment keeps arguing, we need to disperse people fast. "It is not about the number of buildings", Belfour said, "but where they are situated". They need to situated close to farmland. We need to relocalize and re-ruralize, and depopulate the megalopolis.
I wrote the following upon my return:
Watch online: http://www.thefiveringcircus.com/5ring.swf This portrait of Vancouver will disabuse you of your illusions about my hometown. It is a story that is being played out across the world----the making of cities that mimic John Kenneth Galbraith’s description of America: private affluence co-existing with public squalor. In Vancouver (and elsewhere) we now have a two-party system. The “Work Less Party” , and the incumbent “Care Less Party”.
It would be instructional for Australians to see that. I am made sick by these recurrent tales of "Vancouver, the model city". Bullshit.