Comment: Why the changes at Clover Point make sense

A blog post by the mayor of ­Victoria.

Dave Obee’s Times Colonist column on Friday, “Clover Point redesign ‘fixes’ what wasn’t broken,” really got under my skin. So I thought I’d go down to Clover Point on Saturday afternoon, watch the world go by for a little while, and start this blog post.

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What I saw were people of all ages and abilities using the space freed up by closing half the loop to cars. There were seniors strolling. Really little kids on bikes. A couple — one in a chair, one on foot — rolling and walking down to the waters’ edge together.

And best of all, behind the table I was sitting at, a large family was having a picnic at one of the many accessible picnic tables; when I turned around and got up to leave, one of the kids was rolling freely in her motorized wheelchair in the space previously reserved for cars, with her sister chasing after her.

Where else in the city does she have such a big space to roll so freely?

There are two problems with the Clover Point redesign. One is the COVID-19 supply chain issues that are holding up delivery of some of the new furniture meant to spruce up the old road.

The second is that council compromised on staff’s original bold vision for the space, which proposed play features and place-making elements and closing the entire loop to cars. Instead, we tried to make everyone happy by reserving some spaces for people to park and the rest for people to walk, roll, and sit.

The result — at least at this interim point — does feel very much like a used-to-be parking lot with picnic tables and benches where people used to park their cars.

But what really troubles me are two bigger issues. First, Obee says that council has “no regard for those who do not meet their able bodied ideal” and that “the old and the infirm don’t fit with the city as the politicians want it to be.”

Missing from his assessment is that fact that the City of Victoria recently adopted both an Accessibility Framework and a Senior’s Action Plan. These key policy documents were created with guidance from the Accessibility Working Group and the Senior’s Task Force, respectively — people with lived experience.

Council developed these policies precisely because cities in the 20th century were built for able-bodied people.

Think about the hydro poles in the middle of sidewalks, the lack of curb cuts in appropriate places, missing sidewalks on some neighbourhood streets, not enough accessible parking spots or even policies to ensure these, few benches along greenways or key pedestrian routes for seniors to stop and rest.

The Accessibility Framework and the senior’s strategy combined are meant to make the city more accessible, and inclusive of everyone.

That’s one of the reasons why at Clover Point all the new picnic tables are accessible – people who use wheelchairs can roll right up. And it’s why we’ve reserved so many parking spots for people with accessibility challenges, at the same time as making one whole side of the point accessible and safer for a wider range of people.

Obee’s piece puts council’s Clover Point decision in a vacuum and doesn’t recognize that Victoria is one of the few mid-sized cities in the country with both an Accessibility Framework and a Senior’s strategy and that we’re working hard to address these important issues.

But what troubles me most is Obee’s assertion that, “The decision made there does reflect a troubling tendency among councillors to ignore reality when drawing their castles in the air.”

Ignoring reality.

The province is burning all around us. In one week alone during the June heat dome, 815 people in this province died suddenly. This is just under half the number of people in B.C. who have died of COVID-19 so far during the 17 months of the pandemic. In one week.

Ignoring reality.

The reality is, that in addition to overhauling cities to make them more inclusive of seniors, young kids, and people with accessibility challenges, we need to overhaul cities to address climate change. That is the reality that council has been tackling head on since 2014, controversial decision after controversial decision – from the now-very-popular bike network to the now widely-heralded plastic bag ban, and more.

Climate change means that we need to create less carbon intensive ways to live in cities. Victoria’s Climate Leadership Plan shows that we need to retrofit our homes and offices (buildings = 50 per cent of Victoria’s emissions), rethink how we deal with our waste (10 per cent of Victoria’s emissions), and how we move around cities (transportation = 40 per cent of our community’s emissions).

Obee laments that Clover Point is no longer “a perfect spot to park and admire the sunset or the weather.”

According to recent research in the United States, most building codes prioritize cars. For every car in a city, there are about eight parking spots. Parking requirements mean that our doctor’s offices, our grocery stores, our homes, our banks, etc. all must have a certain number of parking spots.

Eight parking spaces on average for each car in a city. That is a lot of asphalt, creating heat-island effects on hot days. It’s a lot of storm water runoff. It’s also a lot of wasted urban space. Which is odd, because the research also shows that, on average, cars are parked in one place for 95 per cent of the day.

Cars aren’t going anywhere in the near future. And people with accessibility challenges and others will still need to own their own cars.

But if we want our children and their grandchildren to survive and to thrive, the rest of us are going to have to learn to share. In the future, if we do it well, Modo and Evo and other car-sharing cars will line our neighbourhood streets.

Few people will own their own cars, yet everyone will have whatever kind of vehicle they need, whenever then need it.

This will mean that much of the space in our cities, like driveways and parking lots, currently reserved for cars can turn into green spaces, or housing, or gardens, or whatever else our children and their grandchildren need to thrive while tackling the changing climate.

Obee is right, Clover Point was never a parking lot in the truest sense. But it was yet another place in the city reserved exclusively for cars. The changes that council made at Clover Point are fixing what’s broken. The changes signal that we can’t live as we have for the last few decades if we’re going to have a future as a species.

Perhaps like Obee, I’m putting too narrow a focus on Clover Point.

But the point is that the asphalt space there – reserved for cars for decades – and other spaces like it in the city, have to be put to work differently in order to help us all mitigate and adapt to a changing climate.

We cannot ignore reality. We must look what’s broken – excessive carbon emissions from buildings, waste and transportation – squarely in the eye. And we must and throw all the energy we can muster into fixing it.

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