Is Vancouver’s public consultation process broken?

In the heat of debate over the Rize development in Mount Pleasant, residents began to question the entire public consultation process. “It is not the developers that are the enemy,” Annabel Vaughan told the council chambers on Tuesday, February 28. “The enemy is the flawed process that the City uses for rezoning large development sites.”

Standing before the developer, city council and a long list of concerned speakers, Vaughan said surrounding residents and businesses should have been more meaningfully consulted before the design process even began. “The current public process brings out the worst in everyone,” she observed. “Developers and architects design projects in isolation and then land ‘spaceships’ into neighbourhoods.”

Canadian-made video games recognized at Fan Expo

From coast to coast, Canada punches above its weight in cutting-edge video games.

“We’re the third largest superpower for developing them in the world,” explains Victor Lucas, creator and host of the television show Electric Playground. “Canada has a tenth of the population of the United States, but we’re not far off in cultural output within this sector.”

Homeless count sweeps Vancouver

For a third year in a row, Vancouver’s spring homeless count wrapped up late last night. Volunteers scoured alleyways, parks, shelters and hospitals to gather information about the city’s shifting homeless population.

“We ask where they stayed last night, what their age is, whether they’re with a spouse or child or other relative,” says Judy Graves, co-ordinator of Vancouver’s tenant-assistance program. Graves oversaw Metro Vancouver’s first homeless count in 2002. She says details like income, gender, physical disabilities and illnesses are also collected.

Red Gate petitions to rent city-owned building

Since the Red Gate artist studio was shut down in October 2011, former manager Jim Carrico has been busy looking for another affordable haven for artists.

“I’ve been riding my bike around, putting the word out,” Carrico explains, estimating that he’s researched between 20 and 30 new locations. “The main thing we’re looking for is studio space, rehearsal space, production space—a place where people can afford to make art.”

“Affordable” is not an easy thing to come by in Vancouver, says Carrico, but at 281 Industrial Avenue, the price was just right: $8,500 per month.

Residents of Asia Hotel asked to leave by summer

For two weeks of February, a notice posted in the Asia Hotel on Pender Street informed tenants they have to move out by the end of June. And while the announcement has since been taken down, pending building repairs suggest the 34 to 38 low-income, Downtown Eastside residents will still have to relocate in the coming months.

“We just found out our lease for the Asia Hotel will not be renewed,” read part of the notice, “and therefore everyone must be out of the building by the end of June this year.”

Canada’s first robocall rally unites generations and parties with comedy

If the Vikileaks debacle taught us anything about modern scandal in this country, it’s that Canadians enjoy a few laughs with our outrage. Amid the crowd marching from the Vancouver Art Gallery to Victory Square on Saturday March 3rd—a rally calling for a public inquiry into the growing robocall scandal—good-natured Canuck humour was out in full force.

AUDIO: Liquor laws relaxed for the Rio Theatre

At 9:00 a.m. on February 9th, B.C. Minister of Energy and Mines Rich Coleman announced that the province will now allow multi-use venues like the Rio to screen films outside liquor license hours.

“The change allows license holders to screen films and broadcast pay-per-view programs outside the hours outlined in their liquor license,” reads part of the press release. “License holders will still not be permitted to serve liquor during the screening of movies.”

Vancouver’s newest record label skips CD format

Vancouver has a tradition of local forward-thinking record labels, from Nettwerk to Mint to Scratch Records. But the latest imprint to launch in this city has a new, untested idea: Sizzle Teen Records will forgo the CD format and focus on vinyl and digital sales exclusively.

“If you look at the big guys in the music industry, from Warner Brothers to HMV, they’re all pretty much failing,” says label founder Richie Fudalewski. “From our experience, CDs are not worth it.”

Vancouver’s “poster mafia” dominates a bizarre racket

Sure, Vancouver’s got a cut-throat real estate industry—we’ve heard that one before. But down below all the empty towers and backroom deals lies an even more mercenary racket: the fight for postering supremacy.

Yes, all those brightly coloured rectangles populating our city’s traffic poles and construction sites are actually pawns in a decades-long battle hidden in plain sight. And the hands-down winner of Vancouver’s visual real estate war, for the last fifteen years at least, has been a group known ominously as “the poster mafia.” Seriously.

B.C.’s five looniest liquor laws

The year is 1949. British reporter Noel Monks walks into the Hotel Vancouver and orders a pint. The barman turns him away — not because he’s intoxicated or even poorly dressed — Monks was bounced for standing on two feet.

The journalist later wrote Canada is “a tremendous, virile country… Yet you’ve apparently let yourselves be legislated into a state of adolescence when it comes to the use of alcohol.”

Monks had reason to be miffed. At the time, B.C.’s beer-serving establishments outlawed music, dancing, food of all kinds, unescorted women and standing upright with a beer. Wine or whisky weren’t on the menu, and mocking the rules by crawling from one table to the next was presumably more than frowned upon.

Banning bikes on Broadway

What began as an election campaign proposal has since snowballed into a heated online debate. In an October 24 editorial in the Georgia Straight, newly inaugurated Green Party councillor Adriane Carr first suggested “bike-free routes” on Vancouver’s main arteries like Broadway and Hastings.

“I realized in the beginning that I wasn’t specific enough,” says Carr, who is now advocating dedicated bus-only lanes on major roadways—a strategy Carr says was successful during the Olympics. “I’ve been talking to transit drivers who say it worked,” she continues. “The buses moved much more rapidly, and there were more buses on the routes.”

UBC study aims to save the world’s dying bees

It’s been blamed on everything from stress to wireless internet, but microbiologists and beekeepers around the world still have a lot to learn when it comes to the decline of honeybee populations.

Ongoing research led by Dr. Leonard Foster at the University of British Columbia will at least offer beekeepers a few new tools for breeding more resilient bees. By identifying “genetic markers” of more hygienic bees, Dr. Foster hopes to save populations from collapse through selection.

Red Gate locks up for good

After a long struggle to meet City demands, the Red Gate artist space on West Hastings Street has been shut down permanently.

Over the last four months, members of the creative hub have laboured to address safety concerns raised by the City of Vancouver. But after failing to submit a full plan for development, the group of filmmakers, painters, musicians and visual artists have been pushed out.

No hashtag? No revolution.

When the people of Egypt filled Tahrir Square, we were predictably glued to the newsroom television. A single screen that normally flickered between British football games and Nigerian soap operas suddenly became fixed on Al Jazeera updates. It was a blazing hot January, and I had just begun reporting at Malawi’s oldest newspaper, The Daily Times.

The Arab Spring made an indelible impression on people across the globe. Beginning my internship at the Times, the first questions from family and friends were about a people’s revolution happening nearly 5,000 kilometres north. They asked what the mood was like in Africa and if the uprising was spreading south. There were a few moments when I had to earnestly explain that Egypt and Malawi were very different countries.

VIFF: Launching local eco-docs

Sitting on a patio across from Mountain Equipment Co-op on Broadway, filmmaker Frank Wolf tells me about how he got into making environmental documentaries.

“I had always done remote wilderness trips around the world,” he says. “I began seeing first-hand how the environment was being degraded.”

Enabled by his day-job at MEC, Wolf has hiked, biked and paddled much of Canada’s wilderness on a shoestring budget. Beginning in 2003, Wolf added lightweight camera gear to the equation, turning his excursions into feature-length films.

VIFF: Dragons & Tigers make noise on the big screen

They’re big. They’re blazing. They’re films from across the Pacific.

With 45 features and 16 shorts, the Vancouver International Film Festival’s Dragons & Tigers series is the largest Asian film program outside Asia.

“That’s true,” confirms Shelly Kraicer, a Canadian film scholar living in Beijing who selected half of the 2011 titles. “The only bigger program looking at Asian cinema is Busan’s festival in South Korea.”

red gate 'order to vacate' stands

Red Alert

Just over a month after the New Pornographers headlined a free concert in Stanley Park celebrating Vancouver’s 125th birthday, the band’s recording studio and rehearsal space—located on the third floor of the Red Gate—has packed up permanently.

“We’re almost entirely moved out, sadly, but we’ve been there over six years,” says John Collins, bassist and multi-instrumentalist for the New Pornographers. “When Jim [Carrico] found the place we were the first people to get in there—before there was any electricity or water.”

Living with garbage

“What day is garbage day?” I asked my landlord upon arriving in Malawi.

Expecting her to mention a day of the week, or perhaps direct me towards a calendar affixed to the refrigerator, I was confused by her silence and contemplative blinking. After a few moments of discomfort, I soon learned garbage day doesn’t exist.

In Blantyre, Malawi’s commercial hub, only 30 per cent of the city has access to waste collection—which, as it turns out, doesn’t include my current home. Our garbage doesn’t disappear from the curb like it would in any Canadian city; like most Malawians, we deposit all of our household waste into a metre-deep pit in our yard.

Rallying for academic freedom across Malawi

It began with a lecture.

At Chancellor College in Zomba, political science professor Dr. Blessings Chinsinga told his public policy class that Malawi’s shortages of fuel and foreign currency could ignite political uprising. To make his point, Dr. Chinsinga drew matter-of-fact comparisons to the mass protests that toppled governments in Egypt and Tunisia.

Though such discussion of current events may seem commonplace during a university politics lecture, Dr. Chinsinga’s words have since sparked an unprecedented country-wide battle over academic freedom.

From culprits to catalysts: girls’ initiation in Malawi

In their respective villages, Cecelia Muliya and Esitere Chabwera are regarded as cultural leaders.

The two have worked in girls’ initiation camps for decades, tasked with the role of introducing young girls to womanhood.

Upon reaching puberty, more than half of all Malawian girls participate in some form of initiation ceremony, ranging in length from days to an entire month. Sent away to rural camps, this traditional rite-of-passage is meant to teach girls to take care of themselves, to dress like a woman and to show respect to elders.

"Bingu okays newspaper ban law," Daily Times March 1, 2011

Media Council weighs options on Malawi’s media ban law

Media Council of Malawi (MCM) says if dialogue with government doesn’t end in a repeal of Section 46 of Malawi’s Penal Code, it will consult legal experts to see if the media ban law can be challenged on constitutional grounds.

The renewed call to repeal Section 46, which empowers the Minister of Information to ban publications deemed contrary to the public interest, was in response to a government statement by Chief Secretary Bright Msaka that said the law would only be used under “reasonable grounds.”

Street Meet

In response to police crackdowns on vending along East Hastings Street, a new weekend market allows the neighbourhood’s hucksters to legally sell their wares. Every Sunday between noon and 5 pm, Downtown Eastside vendors are now able to lay out blankets of reclaimed clothes, electronics, toys and trinkets, without fear of hefty fines . . .

Street Pets

Jill Baron knows that caring for an animal is an immense responsibility.

Since she was four years old, Baron has been a devoted owner of many cats, dogs, birds and rodents. She even volunteered at the SPCA for 11 years. But last winter, Baron became homeless. Despite cold weather and colder criticism, Baron continues to care for three rats and two cats on the streets of Vancouver.

On a Commercial Drive sidewalk—in front of a Mr. Pets franchise—Baron sits cross-legged, reading a book. In front of her, she props up a small notebook that simply reads: ‘It’s easy to ignore me, but I do need your help.’

Quiet Riots

When it comes to punk and metal shows, there are few Vancouver venues as loud and proud as the Cobalt. Attached to a notorious Single Room Occupancy hotel, the hardcore bar is praised by fans as the last haven for underground and extreme music in Vancouver.

But after nine years of punk rock patronage, the Cobalt may have to shut its doors for being a little too noisy.

Art and Anarchy

There are many reasons to hate on the Olympics. Housing promises have been abandoned, the cost of living is rising, and millions of city dollars are being wasted—all for the sake of the 2010 Games.

So, if you like art, and want yet another reason to shake a fist at that hideous tooth-shaped Olympic countdown clock, mark your calendars for Friday, March 13. The unlucky night marks the beginning of an underground anti-Olympic art show called Art and Anarchy.

Sound Advice

Despite a cold and steady drizzle, a crowd some 4,000-strong gathered at the corner of Hastings and Main streets on December 6th for an outdoor concert in support of Insite, Canada’s sole safe-injection site.

Held on the date of Insite’s fifth anniversary, the music and barbecue’s mission was to demand that Stephen Harper’s recently prorogued government keep the site operating. Vancouver rock quintet Black Mountain and Bedouin Soundclash lead singer Jay Malinowski were there to perform right on Insite’s doorstep.

Eastside crawling with culture

When Robert Pickton first made headlines, Jane Wolsak was in court, drawing a solemn expression on the now-convicted serial killer’s face.

Wolsak is a courtroom illustrator and an accomplished still life painter. This weekend, the Eastside Culture Crawl will offer a rare window into the world of working artists like Wolsak. She is just one personality among hundreds of talented artists featured in this year’s festival beginning Friday.