Art Phillips, whose two terms as mayor in the early 1970s set in motion Vancouver’s later emergence as a model for livable downtown density, has died.
He was 82 years old.
Phillips served as mayor from 1973 to 1976, at a time when urban reform movements were reshaping civic politics and planning in many North American cities.
In Vancouver, these reformist forces created TEAM (The Electors’ Action Movement) — and Phillips, as mayor, was its leader.
“He was a remarkable golden boy for that time,” said Gordon Price, a former city councillor.
“He was a striking guy, almost matinee-idol handsome. But with the gravitas of an investment manager.”
Phillips assumed power at city hall after making a fortune with his investment firm, Phillips, Hager and North.
In contrast to previous pro-developer regimes, the centrist TEAM led by Phillips kept real estate development under a tighter leash and made sure city planners took into account environmental and quality of life concerns — not just the wishes of developers.
Phillips and TEAM helped establish a new consensus about development that crossed all political lines — one that stressed local neighbourhood planning, public consultation and inclusive neighbourhoods with mixed income.
“It so clearly defined the movement of the city from one era to another,” said Price.
“He and TEAM set the foundations for the city that are still serving the city today.”
Under Phillips and TEAM, highrises and freeways were out, livability and local neighbourhood planning were in.
The city’s 32nd mayor was given the city’s highest honour, Freedom of the City, by Mayor Gregor Robertson in 2010.
Asked about Phillips’ time in office after the honour was announced, former mayor and premier Mike Harcourt told The Vancouver Sun: “That was when we marched to a different drummer, when we said no to a freeway and yes to a livable city.
“Art was so much the person behind all of this.”
Also at the time of the 2010 honour, another former mayor and premier, Gordon Campbell, said Phillips “changed Vancouver forever, from his fight against a waterfront freeway to his fight for neighbourhoods and saving the Orpheum Theatre.
“The things we take for granted today are the things he started. In my mind, he was the best mayor Vancouver ever had.”
Phillips and his party came to power on a wave of citizen activism, which had forced previous mayor Tom Campbell (dubbed Tom Terrific) to kill plans to build a freeway through Strathcona and Gastown, among Vancouver’s most significant cultural and architectural neighbourhoods.
Campbell came to be seen as the conservative nemesis of Vancouver’s vibrant ’60s counterculture. Phillips was seen as the anti-Campbell, more in tune with the new baby boom generation that was beginning to flex its demographic might.
TEAM’s approach was an abrupt switch from that of the long-ruling Non-Partisan Association, which had promoted the freeway and continued industrial development of False Creek.
Phillips, along with other TEAM councillors like Walter Hardwick, had a different vision for the south shore of False Creek — a neighbourhood that would become mixed income, high density but non-highrise
The redevelopment of False Creek and adjacent Granville Island were federally funded but were planned under Phillips’ TEAM.
The planning approach nurtured during Phillips’ two terms as mayor would later inspire what became known worldwide as Vancouverism — the creation of high-density neighbourhoods with plenty of community amenities around the central downtown core.
“Art and his TEAM council were responsible for the transformation of Vancouver into the livable city it is today,” said Michael Geller, a real estate consultant and media commentator.
“His council’s success in redeveloping the south shore of False Creek and Granville Island from derelict industrial areas into a model neighbourhood set the stage for the subsequent redevelopments of the north shore of False Creek and Coal Harbour.”
Phillips also created the property endowment fund, which protectively holds all of the city’s investments in lands and leases, in response to what he saw as previous councils’ wrong-headed sales of land in order to balance annual budgets.
Phillips’ star quality was cemented when he married Carole Taylor, a striking broadcast journalist from Toronto. The two met when Taylor interviewed Vancouver’s mayor for CTV’s W5. A long-distance courtship ensued, followed by marriage and two children. Taylor would become a successful politician in her own right, first as a city councillor and later as provincial finance minister.
Journalist Allan Fotheringham said Phillips and Taylor “were the city’s glamour couple. They were the city’s version of John and Jackie Kennedy or Brian and Mila Mulroney.”
Shortly after their marriage, the couple moved to a condo in the fledgling False Creek South neighbourhood, immediately giving it credibility.
“People were skeptical about whether anyone would want to live in False Creek South,” recalled Price.
“But once Art Phillips and Carole Taylor bought a townhouse in Leg in Boot Square, it became popular.”
Phillips was born Sept. 12, 1930. He attended Lord Byng secondary school in Vancouver and studied commerce at the University of B.C. The tall, athletic Phillips was a basketball star at both schools.
Shortly after graduation, Phillips married his first wife, Patti. They had two girls and three boys.
Phillips had a brilliant career as an investment manager, making millions by the time he was 40. He formed Phillips, Hager & North, a leading investment firm on the West Coast, which by 2007 managed assets of more than $66 billion.
When Phillips entered politics as a TEAM alderman on Vancouver city council in the late ’60s, it was assumed that he would eventually seek and win the top job.
In 1972, Phillips was described by a Vancouver Sun columnist this way: “He sits by the side of the Bayshore Inn pool, looking terribly rich, terribly handsome and terribly successful. Ald. Art Phillips is the man who has everything and looks it.”
Phillips won election as mayor under the TEAM banner in 1972 and 1974.
When he quit civic politics after his second term, many assumed that he would become a national political figure, perhaps federal finance minister.
Phillips did win election to Parliament in 1979 as a Liberal in Vancouver Centre, but was defeated the following year in his bid for re-election.
After his defeat, Phillips returned to his investment firm. He re-entered public life in 1985, when the Social Credit government named him critical industries commissioner.
Phillips bowed out of the job after two years and returned again to his investment firm.
He would maintain a low public profile from then on, content in his role as the husband of Taylor, who would become one of B.C.’s best-known public figures.
“He was a modest and self-effacing guy,” said former councillor Price.
“He didn’t like to do interviews and never, as far as I know, wrote about this era. “I guess he assumed that his accomplishments would speak for themselves, and I guess, to some degree, they have.”
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