Under the Affluence

kitsbeach1This week, the Vancouver Park Board decided to scrap their plan to put a new bike path through Hadden Park on Kitsilano Beach, even though it was supposedly “a done deal.” Good for them! The public input may not have been contained within the boundaries of their official public consultation, but they listened to the residents and allowed for a more democractic process. I applaud them.

Although I am a proponent of cycling and bikeways, I was not for this bike path, for reasons that I outlined in a previous post. I followed the debate with interest, reading media articles, Facebook and blog posts from both sides. For those of us who were opposed, the general feeling was that the bike path was unnecessary as we were already adequately supplied—and it was a lot of money to spend on duplicating what was already working quite well.

What really struck me about the discourse from the Yes side was how they dismissed all of us westsiders as a bunch of rich, elitist, NIMBYs. I suspect many of the folks making these comments weren’t from our neighbourhood, so they couldn’t know that many of us live on or below the poverty line and that social programs are few and far between. They probably don’t realize that many of the soldiers and families who live on the Jericho army base are barely scraping by, or that some of our seniors are malnourished or even going hungry because most of their income goes to rent. We have many students living here too, in dank basement suites and packed into rundown “character” houses. And because we have very little social housing, we have homeless people too. You just have to walk in to one of our many second hand stores to know that not all of us are affluent on the west side. Jimmy Pattison did his homework. He knows we are a patchwork quilt over here with pockets of poverty. Two of his No Frills stores are strategically placed in Kits.

I think sustainability, more than any other social movement, if I may call it that, requires inclusivity. We need all the voices—their opinions, their proposed solutions—if we really are going to achieve the sustainable community we all desire. So it’s important to hear from the cyclists and the Sunday picnic people, the dog walkers, the suntanners, the seniors, the students, and yes the rich people too, many of whom are also cyclists. We all matter and sometimes we have to make compromises. The inclusive (and sometimes frustrating and time-consuming) dialogue process helps us to set priorities.

In my mind, it’s hard to justify a 2.2 million bike path when there are underfed and underhoused people over here. We have to give equal consideration to the social side of sustainability or we’re just cladding our city with a cheap green veneer.

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