Vancouver’s new mayor laid out a vision of a city with “a renewed swagger” and “a buzz about it” as he delivered his first state of the city address on Tuesday.
“It is a new day in Vancouver, and that means it’s a great time to be in Vancouver and to seize opportunity, it’s a time to be bold and it’s the time to have political courage,” Ken Sim told an audience at the Hotel Vancouver, hosted by the to the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade.
Sim was sworn in as Vancouver’s 41st mayor in November, following a sweeping election win for his ABC party on a campaign platform focused on crime reduction and affordability.
In an address that ranged from touting ABC’s early legislative moves to assuring the business community of his support to pumping up the city itself, Sim dropped some broad hints about how the ABC majority would approach governing in the next four years.
But not all of Sim’s focus was policy-based. Many of his comments focused on shifting attitudes about the city, with the goal of creating a “cool vibe” like places like Austin, Texas, and creating a culture that would draw young and innovative minds to Vancouver.
He pointed to marquee events like Expo 86 and the 2010 Olympics which brought infrastructure upgrades and global attention, but also created an “electric feeling” in the city.
“It was about the energy and the spirit that permeated our city, and this is the same energy we need now as we build the future of our city,” Sim said.
Vancouver, Sim acknowledged, faces a multitude of challenges, chiefly around housing, but including public safety, homelessness, mental health and transportation.
He said his council would focus on the housing issue primarily by trying to cut permit wait times to spur new builds.
And he hinted an ABC majority would not be afraid to ruffle some feathers in approving greater density to alleviate the housing shortage.
“Vancouver does not have a shadow crisis. Vancouver does not have a view cone crisis. In Vancouver we have a housing crisis,” he said.
Burnaby and Surrey, he added, should not have the tallest or most interesting towers in the region.
That approach will face a test when the 30-year Vancouver Plan, which was approved by the previous council but requires a follow-up development plan bylaw returns to council. The plan laid out a framework to allow mixed-use and purpose-built rental in virtually all of Vancouver’s neighbourhoods, along with multiplexes and townhomes.
Council was meeting regularly with city staff, he said, to find ways to cut permit wait times and was starting to “uncover different things” they could do — though he did not offer specific examples.
Sim said he would also work to secure funding to extend the Broadway subway to UBC, a project he called “transformational” and could also unlock development opportunities on the city’s west side.
“It will connect our health-care corridor and downtown to the second-largest commuter destination in the province,” he said.
“A destination that is the biggest institutional driver of knowledge and research in our province. The UBC extension will also create additional SkyTrain and subway stations that warrant their own plans for density.”
So far, the Broadway subway has only secured funding to extend to Arbutus Street.
On the public safety file that helped ABC sweep to a majority on council, Sim pointed to recent motions enabling the hiring of 100 police officers and 100 mental health nurses, along with a recent motion approving $2.2 million to revitalize the city’s ailing Chinatown.
He said he was also working closely with Premier David Eby, who he thanked for stepping up to take provincial responsibility for addressing issues in the Downtown Eastside.
But he said he couldn’t give a firm answer on when the city could see tangible improvement.
“I can give you colour, but I can’t wave a magic wand and say by Oct. 15 of this year, everything is going to be fine,” Sim said. “We have set in motion the foundation for change.”
Along with plans to revitalize Chinatown, Sim said his administration would also put money into reinvigorating the Punjabi Market and Gastown, and was focused on re-imagining the Granville entertainment district and downtown shopping district.
He pledged to cut non-housing permit times and to scrap the city’s controversial disposable cup fee by the summer.
And he said his council would look at opportunities to pedestrianize streets and hold more car-free days, weekends, and even “car-free summers.”
“These steps are only the beginning of the transformation needed to reinvigorate our city, our city faces extremely complex challenges that we can’t always face on our own,” Sim said, pledging to operate in a “post-partisan” style.
“The hard truth is it’s going to take time and it’s going to take effort to make a lot of these goals a reality. There will be setbacks. There will be false starts, and we’re going to make mistakes.”