DNV proposal for $7 million worth of developer funded public art failed to get rave reviews

Published: The Global Canadian (pdf)
June 9, 2018
817 words

Lawrence Argent’s “I See What You Mean,” the great blue bear that is part of the Colorado Convention Centre

An ambitious plan to fund a decade of Public Art in the District of North Vancouver faced heavy criticism when presented to Council during an April Council Workshop. The draft plan proposed an investment of $7 million between 2018 and 2031, funded primarily by property developers through their Community Amenity Contributions (CAC).

The plan presented by Public Art Coordinator Lori Phillips and Heather Turner, Director of Recreation & Culture, included $5 million for site specific works in each of the four new “town centres “– Lynn Valley, Lynn Creek, Lions Gate, and Maplewood Village – and $2 million for works placed in areas like Edgemont, Queensdale, and Deep Cove, as well as alongside trails and in parks. The increased funding would also ensure that existing and future works can be maintained.

Councillor Doug MacKay-Dunn was the first to object, explaining his opposition to spending CAC funds on art by saying, “Art is in the eye of the beholder, but good sidewalks are not.” MacKay-Dunn requested that Council review the practice, which had been part of the funding formula for more than a decade. “If that money isn’t going into community needs, real needs, that’s wasting money … it’s being obtained under false pretences.”

Jim Hanson expressed “sticker shock” at the $7 million price tag, and suggested that the money spent on “decorations” along the Mount Seymour Parkway would have been better spent on “people who are living under the causeway (to) bring them into a more civilized way of life.” Referring to the photo of artist Lawrence Argent’s “I See What You Mean,” the great blue bear that is part of the Colorado Convention Centre, Hanson said “(7 million dollars) is a lot of money for ceramic bears.”

Public Art in North Vancouver is funded in three ways: through direct civic spending from the regular annual budget; as a part of large District capital projects like pools or plazas; or by contributions to the Community Amenity Fund. The selection of art works and the management of the overall Public Art program is overseen the North Vancouver Recreation and Culture Commission, which manages over 150 works in the City and District. The District is currently home to 64 works valued at 2 million dollars, two thirds of which came from developer funded projects.

There are three kinds of Public Art projects. Civic Public Art which incorporates public art into municipal buildings, parks and infrastructure projects; Developer Public Art where developers commission site-specific works of art that are integrated into their development projects; and Community Public Art which supports small-scale public art projects proposed jointly by community groups and artists.

At present capital projects like the new Delbrook Recreation Centre designate 1% of construction costs for Public Art, to a maximum of $500,000. Major private developments like the Seylynn Village or the Lynn Valley Town Centre earmark between 5 and 10% of their CAC to fund new works. Both of these are in line with other municipalities like Burnaby and Richmond. Where the District lags behind other Lower Mainland governments is in direct “civic funding” from its annual budget. In 2017 The District spent only 57 cents per resident on Public Art compared to the City’s $2.40 or Richmond’s $1.50 per capita.

Councillor Mathew Bond, the youngest member of Council, was enthusiastic in his support for the plan. “As the District continues to grow and develop, public art is going to be much more important than it has in the past.” He believes that it is important for his children to be surrounded by art in their community, and that this is one of the ways that they build a strong connection to the place where they live. He recounted his experiences walking around cities like Toronto and Montreal, enjoying the mix of “modern art, conceptual art, or historical references to what a place was, what it is, and what it will be in the future,” describing a “vast difference to walking around the District. “

Bond believes that a more robust Public Art policy, funded through a regular, consistent tax levy, would be better in the long run.

Concerns went beyond funding, and Council had many questions about how works were chosen, and why the program relies heavily on “professional” artists. Currently an “arms length panel of experts” chooses artists and art concepts, in consultation with stakeholders like developers and architects. Several councillors challenged the accepted practice of having artists and works selected by a panel of peer experts. Councillor Robin Hicks said that he was “not sure how we select works,” and others suggested that money could be saved by hiring artists who were not “professionals who make their whole income from art,” or by finding artists who would donate works as “advertising.”

District Council will review the Community Amenity Fund in July. The Public Art Program will present their completed plan for approval at a later date.

Transportation: the lost DNV Committee

Published: The Global Canadian  (pdf)
June 9, 2018
750 words

DNVThe single biggest issue for many District of North Vancouver residents is traffic. Any discussion about local politics quickly turns to complaints about the two overcrowded bridges, the inevitable impact of increased population density, and the near legendary “gridlock” on Lynn Valley Road.

As we speak the District and Province are spending millions of dollars to build new traffic interchanges at the the bottom of the Cut, Translink is planning to add a new B-Line bus from Phibbs Exchange to Dundarave, and traffic patterns, bike lanes, and sidewalks are being changed around each of the new “Town Centres.” But if transportation is such a critical subject, why has the District disbanded their Transportation Consultation Committee? The one committee that allowed ordinary residents to work directly with District transportation planners?

The TCC, as it is more commonly known, is still listed on the District web site, with an on-line form that you can use to apply to join it. But even though the Committee exists on paper it hasn’t actually met since April of 2017. The result is that the District has lost the one group that allowed the public to offer advice and input into transportation planning discussions.

The TCC mandate was an important one, “to provide comment to staff on regional and municipal transportation initiatives (and) assist staff in promoting, developing and improving an environmentally friendly, energy efficient, socially equitable, safe, and low impact transportation network.” The Committee included members with special interests in cycling, walking, transit, and of course driving. Over the course of its life the TCC discussed everything from the Phibbs Exchange redesign, to the choice of pavers for sidewalks in Lynn Valley, to the use of speed bumps on Sunset Drive. A special interest of several members were efforts to get local students walking and biking to school, and finding ways to make that not just a safe choice, but the preferred one too.

Even though the TCC members were ready to provide input on the big projects, their greatest value was often in identifying problems that were obvious to the people using roads, sidewalks, and bike lanes, but missed by property developers or the planners at the District. It was the TCC that identified the dangerous cycling infrastructure around Seylynn, that questioned why the District continues to place telephone poles in the middle of sidewalks, and in their last year pointed out ways that the District’s supposedly accessible transportation network often doesn’t work at all well for people with disabilities.

During 2015 and 2016 when Queens Avenue, Capilano Road, and most of Edgemont Village were all under construction, the TCC reminded staff that months of construction delays and detours weren’t just a nuisance, they had a real impact on the people who live and work here, and were hurting local businesses in ways that planners didn’t understand.

The TCC had the potential to save developers and the District significant money if the committee’s opinions had been sought before plans were finalized. Time and again TCC members travelled newly built bike lanes and sidewalks only to find significant safety hazards that no-one had anticipated, or reported the ways that things that looked good on paper actually made travel more difficult.

At the same time that the District stopped holding meetings for this citizen based advisory group, they created the North Shore Staff Transportation Committee, a super-committee that allowed transportation staff from the District, the City, and West Vancouver to meet regularly and coordinate their many projects.

This committee is only for staff. There is no mechanism for including ordinary citizens in the planning of our transportation infrastructure – a weakness pointed out at the time by West Vancouver Councillor Mary-Ann Booth, who was quoted as saying, “We also hear from our residents a lot about problems but they also come up with some pretty good solutions. Where is that link? Where is that opportunity?”

Since then the District has also joined the Integrated North Shore Transportation Planning Project along with MLA Bowinn Ma, MP Jonathan Wilkinson, the North Shore Mayors, the Ministry of Transportation, and Translink. Once again, the public is not invited.

This week the District finally released a statement saying that their participation in high level committees “… precludes the need for the District Transportation Committee at this time.” For now it appears that decisions about transportation in the District will continue to be made by staff and politicians alone, with little or no input from the residents who will have to to live with the consequences.

Barry Rueger is past Chair of the Transportation Consultation Committee