By Alex P. Vidal
VANCOUVER, British Columbia — I had the privilege to ask Vancouver Mayor Gregor “Greg” Robertson during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games Vancouver Host City Reception at the LiverCity Yaletown, David Lam Park on February 10, 2010 about the new emergency homeless shelter that opened in the West End on Jan. 12, 2010.
Robertson confirmed it was the sixth shelter to open under the City of Vancouver’s Homeless Emergency Action Team (HEAT) he established in winter 2008. The 24-hour shelter, located at 747 Cardero Street and operated by RainCity Housing, offers 40 beds, two meals per day, and storage space for shopping carts and pets. A bed reservation system was put up to reduce lineups and outdoor crowding.
He disclosed that “the shelter is part of the City of Vancouver’s 2010 Winter Response program, which aims to address street homelessness by closing crucial gaps between temporary and permanent housing.”
Vancouver, he said, “really need to transition people from shelters into housing.”
“That’s the whole rationale of this program. Once they’re in shelters through the winter and stabilizing, improving their health conditions and connecting to services, hopefully we have a group of people who are ready to move into housing, and we can create those options with the Province,” Robertson explained.
The problem has never been this bad, he said, explaining that “over the last couple of years, the homeless population (has become) bigger than it’s ever been, and that extends across the country.”
In the closing day of the Cities Summit 2012 at the Vancouver Convention Center February 2, Robertson gave credence to fears that Vancouver is at risk of losing its hallowed brand as “the world’s most livable city” if it doesn’t solve its growing problem of housing affordability.
Looking into how to build lasting cities, the mayor acknowledged that international surveys have repeatedly cited British Columbia’s captial city as being among the most desirable places to live, and that’s been good for the city’s economy.
The serious problem, he stressed, is that the world’s population continues an unprecedented migration to urban areas and “Vancouver really isn’t the most livable city in the world to some who live here.”
“I think if we don’t focus on affordability now we risk diminishing that status as the world’s most livable city,” Robertson added. “Right now it is not the world’s most livable city for lots of people who can’t afford to live here or to live in reasonable conditions.
“I’d say the vast majority of people who live here enjoy the best urban lifestyle in the world. We have to keep working to broaden and extend that and make sure it is not limited to those who can afford it.”
Robertson thought Vancouver is better positioned than any other North American or European city to benefit from the massive urbanization in China and India although Vancouver needs to do more.
“Vancouver is the most Asian city in the world outside of Asia. We’re blessed to have that opportunity to connect who we are with the rapid growth and development of Asian cities, so it represents a huge opportunity for Vancouver to bridge between the rise and decline of other cities and capitalize on that,” he said. “There is a legacy of Vancouver focusing on Asian connections and we need to magnify those efforts in years ahead.”
Berry Vrbanovic, president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, was a final addition to the Cities Summit roster of speakers. Vrbanovic provided a national perspective to open discussions.
The summit acknowledged that the world is urbanizing faster than ever. For the first time, half the planet’s population – over 3.5 billion people – lives in cities. Another two billion will join them by 2030. This great migration is set to define urban life for generations to come.
The Cities Summit, hosted by Vancouver, assembled international business and urban leaders to design the creative, practical solutions for a sustainable urban future.