Friday, May 25, 2012

The video below features a range of heartfelt and critical responses to the RIZE development proposal at the southeast corner of Kingsway and Broadway.

At 5:42 we hear from Annabel Vaughn, a local architect whose expansive studio practice is steeped less in embedded entrepreneurial rhetoric than in social responsibility.

Unlike last year’s fight to stop a downtown casino, the RIZE proposal went in favour of the developer.

It took twenty years for the Broadway and Main area to flower into the social nexus we know today. However, a couple of suspicious fires and a revenue-first City Council later, all that is about to change.

What bothers me about RIZE is not just its outrageous scale (relative to the surrounding area) but the rationalization it will provide for future out-sized proposals, like the one forming over the low-rise site across the street (the Kingsgate Mall). Precedent has been set; now it's a free-for-all.

So with the end of Broadway and Main, what next?

Rather than speculate, let's look back at another traditional working-class neighbourhood, Commercial Drive, which began its social re-orientation in the early-1980s.

The development issue back then was the Il Mercato proposal at 1st and Commercial, a two story po-mo with an interior mall consisting of six shops, anchored by a credit union (VanCity). Tucked in back, in a building all its own (in the event of an attack by activist hoardes?), the only McDonald’s I know of to close for lack of business.

Why Commercial Drive (between Venables and Broadway) did not go the way of Main Street (between King Edward and Broadway) might have to do with proximity: Commerical Drive remains too far from the ever-westerning city, with Knight Street, not Main, the new east/west divide. Another could be the historically entrenched strength of Commerical Drive residents compared to the historically transitory Main Street (Mount Pleasant) population.

Whatever the case, it is worthwhile to look back on our city's development history for parallels with what is happening today. Back in the 1970s it was a fight to block a freeway; a couple years ago, a fight to block a casino. The first concerned the flow of labour (coming in from the suburbs to work -- and consume); the second, the flow of capital (which includes the laundering of dirty money). Both fights were successful. However, where the fight to block a freeway gave us a civic political party (COPE), the fight to block the casino gave us an independent city council candidate who ran unsuccessfully in the last election.

My point? I don't have one. Not yet. I have a date with that candidate on Monday.

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