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Transit and Growth – Ecodensity and Transportation

Richard and I went to the EcoDensity panel discussion on transporation at SFU Harbour Centre, and I stuck around afterwards to hang out with some transit geeks a friend in Toronto introduced me to over e-mail. I must say, I was quite dazzled – I got to overhear some amazing conversations on transit I have ever had, with people who have numbers and long-term plans and projections and models and big ideas about walkability and what it means to build cities that support our collective health, and it was all very mind-boggling to be in the presence of those whose opinions are too important to get caught up in stressing out over it.

One of the commenters after the discussion was very passionate about the neighbourhood in which I grew up near the Riley Park community centre. I have always wanted to move back there and love it dearly, having spent my formative years attending the elementary school before I moved to East Vancouver (though I also attended high school just around the bend on the other side of Cambie). I recently re-connected with a friend of mine who lived in the housing project in the area. I’ve heard houses in the area are quoted at just under a million dollars.

Content-wise, the event gave me a lot to chew on. I’m fascinated by this idea that traditional ideas of transit actually go against some of the principles of ecodensity, because you end up moving people from place to place rather than encouraging them to develop accessible and enjoyable centres of commerce develop outside downtown Vancouver. I go to Lougheed every time I go to and from home, and that place is an eyesore for me – so much parking, so far to walk just to do anything resembling what I’d want to do. I’d rather go right out of my way and go to Commercial Drive for my discretionary spending needs, rather than walk all the way from the platform to the mall at Lougheed, since the inside of the mall makes me ill once I’m there anyway. I can’t recall anything particularly distinctive about Lougheed that might actually make me want to go back. Malls strike me as incredibly utilitarian and not really extensible for creativity, or organic expression, and this is as close as I have ever gotten to articulating my dislike of them.

The most important part of the event for me, however, was the manner in which the “dialogue” was conducted. I’m in a dialogue class right now, so indulge me in a bit of unpacking. What happened at that talk was very obviously not dialogue to me. True, not everyone is fortunate enough to be able to pay $100 a credit for six or thirteen weeks devoted to talking about our feelings. Some key things really stuck out for me in the way the whole thing was set up that astounded me, demonstrating, among other things, just how long a ways I have to go in really knowing what’s happening here in Vancouver.

It all seemed terribly political. The people submitting questions and comments were there to make a point. The presenters were made to feel that they had to maintain a facade or toe some line of acceptable discussion. The presenters and respondents were not addressing each other from positions of mutual respect: instead, the presenters had just proved either how much they knew as a result of the research they did and their legitimacy as worthwhile contributors to discussion, and it all had a vague ‘battle of wits’ kind of feeling to it, like the only people that should prioritize social justice over the practical nuts and bolts of providing infrastructure for a healthy, affluent populace would be crazies or activists. In the face of such an unspoken sentiment in the air, it is difficult to feel that one can speak freely – for the first time in three weeks, since I started the course, I certainly didn’t.

The Ecodensity Community Consultation is a separate event happening this afternoon from 1 to 4 that I unfortunately cannot attend due to prior commitments to ice cream sammiches at the Trout Lake Farmer’s Market and the Floorball Challenge in West Vancouver. Events like the Ecodensity transportation evening have renewed my belief in a TransitCamp – that when you put the effort into acknowledging what others think, ask the right questions and structure a container for the flow of human energy and creativity…things might even happen. Or change.

One final note, for a future self – there are plenty of Semester in Dialogue alumni who are going into planning, and they’re all probably smarter and more effective than I can be, so, I ask myself: please only go into planning if it’s absolutely vital to the mission, kthx.

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