Engaged Citizens and Accountable Politicians

Brent Granby, President, West End Residents Association: My dream city is one where the health and happiness of all its citizens is the priority of its policies. A tall order for certain, but one that is possible if Vancouver's elected officials made this their mission.
This is how my dream city would look like. The built environment of the city would be built around people not cars. The sidewalks would be wide and visually interesting. There would be places to sit.
The roads would be and feel safe. Safe enough that mothers would feel confident to ride their bikes with their kids to school - not just the crazy bike dude dads. A good built environment that is inviting and enjoyable to pedestrians and cyclist will promote active living.
Currently the city regulates parking space in condos for cars, but does not regulate affordability. By stipulating that every condo has one parking space, the city is increasing the cost of housing by 18 per cent. In my dream, city builders would not build for cars, but create afford living space for people.
In my dream city there would be a complete sea change in how housing is regarded. Government spending on housing would be seen as an investment into the heath and happiness of its citizen. The city would advocate for all levels of government to have a comprehensive housing policy that would provide housing for everyone.
People would be able to rent and save for home ownership. There would be social housing built every year. Supportive housing would be developed to help people with their needs and this would be integrated in the community of their choice. Co-op housing would be built to give families in the city enough room to grow.
Creating healthy and safe communities supports healthy and happy citizens. There would be community gardens near every community centre. There would be a roof top community garden on the roof of the West End Community Centre and seniors and children would trade seeds. Building community gardens is an excellent way of creating informal opportunities for cross-generational communications. The simple gesture of putting ones hands in soil will create friendships, longevity, health and safe communities

In my dream city citizens would be consulted and engaged before decisions that affect their lives would be made. Citizens' engagement is the start point for a health and happy city. The more citizens are involved in the process of resources allocation the better the quality of the outcome will be.
In my dream city there would participatory budgeting. A process where its citizens could have a constructive dialogue with city staff and elected officials, making priorities of what is important to them and their community. Citizens would be empowered to participate in the decision of what services the city could provide that would make their lives better.
In the last election the trend of lower voter turnout has continued. In 2005, the voter turnout of eligible voters was 32 percent down from 42 percent in 2002. More people in Vancouver voted for no one than those who voted for someone. This is a situation that needs drastic measures to counteract.
The fact that voters are not participating in the civic process by not participating in elections is disturbing. Why do voters not vote? Is it because they know that money buys elections? Is it because of the lack of transparency in disclosing who contributes to campaigns? Surely the first steps to increase voter turnout are to ensure voting matters. It is essential for election reform. Voters needed to know who is paying for the campaigns. But there also needs to be limits on how much money can be spent on elections. Elections should be about communicating ideas and a plan for the city and not about who can spend the most creating public relations images.
How we make this dream come true?
Democratic reform. When citizens vote politicians will listen. The Vancouver Charter needs to be changed. Spending limits need to be imposed. Fully disclosure needs to absolutely mandatory. Councilors need to be accountable to citizens who vote not to a handful of people who have no face in backrooms who donate money. It is the citizens who pay the piper and the piper should play the tunes of the citizens.

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