A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


Vancouver Urban Affairs - Air Rushing Into A Vacuum
Sunday, March 21, 2010

I am no longer accustomed to throwing in my two cents on civic issues, except around dinner tables and in canoes on distant lakes. But I am ready to join those who are concerned about the Vancouver Art Gallery's (VAG) decision to move to Larwill Park (aka, the old bus station site at Cambie and Dunsmuir).

Darlene Marzari, March 17, 2010

Darlene Marzari (seen here in picture, with from left to right, Mike Harcourt and Shirley Chan) has and intelligent take on the moving of the Vancouver Art Gallery in an op-ed essay Think City (a web magazine on Vancouver City urban affairs) here.

I sent the link to my friend Mark Budgen who replied with:

Interesting. Why is it that Think City, a coalition of so many esteemed organizations, has so little influence in what actually happens in Vancouver?

Budgen’s short statement left me bewildered and I spent most of Sunday thinking of an answer. Budgen and I talked on the phone and we echanged e-mails. In one he wrote:

I ask because they[Think City] seem to have some good ideas that are tweaks rather than fundamental thoughts as to the direction of the city for the next several decades. It wants a ward system but Sam Sullivan successfully saw that off a few years back. What about metropolitan government? Taking control of transit? More taxing powers for the city? A police force that crosses boundaries just as the crooks do?

I thought about it hard and suddenly I had a memory of walking on Beatty Street some years back and looking into the window of the restaurant that serves American Southern style barbecue. I spotted two men deep in conversation. One of them was Vancouver Sun columnist Vaugh Palmer and the other was then Editor-in-Chief John Cruickshank (below). Watching them I felt a sense of comfort. I knew that these two intelligent men were somehow discussing the state of our city and of our province. With them around I felt that things would happen for the better.

I don’t think that vision would ever repeat itself. That newspaper, like many others is in a rapid decline of importance in our city’s and province’s affairs. Cruickshank moved from Vancouver to the Chicago Sun Times, from there he went to the CBC and now he is the influential publisher of the Toronto Star. He is often heard in CBC panels on current affairs. I respect the man and I only wish he would return to our city. Of Vaughn Palmer I can only repeat what others have told me. And that is that as soon as he had his TV program his written views somehow became diluted.

There are other Vancouver Sun columnists I admire like Miro Cernetig, Ian Mulgrew and David Baines. John Mackie every once in a while writes excellent columns about the state of our city’s architecture. I would wish that garden columnist Steve Whysall would perhaps tackle city landscaping issues. Columnist Pete McMartin writes city oriented pieces every once in a while to make me think what the trio of Cernetig, Mulgrew and McMartin could do if they honed their direction into just civic affairs.

With the loss (thank God!) of our infamous stock exchange I find that David Baines’ watchdog columns on those dishonest traders would best be directed towards issues such as the one of city politicians dancing with developers. I am sure that Baines would discover stuff that would perhaps begin to help wane the outrageous influence that developers have in our city.

Many would say that the Vancouver Sun is a paper in decline and going towards a state of irrelevance. I would strongly disagree. Just the publishing of Abraham Rogatnick’s views against the moving of the Vancouver Art Gallery a couple of weeks ago on their editorial page generated many intelligent comments on subsequent days in the pages of the newspaper. I would suspect that the publishing of Rogatnick’s manifesto led Darlene Marzari to write her essay on the matter.

The Vancouver Sun still has influence but like papers in other cities and countries it has suffered the dilution of influence as people read stuff on the web.

Fifteen years ago Vancouver Magazine editor, Malcolm Parry would run a story, every couple of years, on the state of radio, TV and the city’s newspapers. These articles were articles that people read and talked about. These articles generated op-ed articles in the media. People were talking. Discussing which restaurant serves the best sushi will not create city buzz.

The same could be said about the Georgia Straight under the tutelage of Charles Campbell. The paper was more than film reviews and alternative scene rock concerts. Writers such as Ian Gill would reveal damning facts about the logging industry. Sean Rossiter wrote many informative articles on the state of our city's architecture. There were lots of investigative essays on urban and provincial affairs. At the time the paper hired and promoted freelance writers. That task is now an insurmountable one on the shoulders of its editor and other editors who must not only edit the paper but edit their own features.

My friend Mark Budgen says (as we discussed the thinning of influence of conventional media) that the only publication that covers the small affairs of our city that influence us in our daily lives is the Vancouver Courier. I am aware that this publication not only publishes a West Side edition but also another for the less monetarily advantaged section of our city. The paper tries to cover our city’s demographic. But increasingly I find that the paper is drifting towards bad-taste-irrelevance (Kudos & Kvetches) and busy-bee Allen Garr finds himself with too much honey in his pot. Budgen and I both agree that the Courier’s influence is waning.

Neither of us watch TV but we suspect that there is not one news person with the clout of yesteryear’s Jack Webster. Does Rafe Mair influence people to talk in our city streets? I doubt it.

Many would point out that our conventional media is being replaced by blogs and web-based social networks. Of this I have my doubts. Francis Bula has a very good blog here. She raises issues that are often ignored by her former paper, the Vancouver Sun. Yet…

I would venture to assert a suspicion that the people who read Francis Bula are the same people who read the Globe & Mail which certainly has been tackling the issue re the moving of the Vancouver Art Gallery with lots of gusto. These people are mostly secure in their jobs (they have jobs) and after reading the intelligent commentary they withdraw into their private lives.

There are blogs that spread stuff like wildfire in other cities. But Vancouver seems to be immune from a passion for city politics. Things happen here like air rushing into a vacuum. Nature hates a vacuum some say. It is about time we decided to fill our city with a city pride that is beyond the wearing of red jackets made in China for a store chain owned by Americans.

Or as Mark Budgen wrote:

There's no media paying attention to civic issues, no columnist, no leadership on issues outside politicians. At least, none that can make themselves heard.


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