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British Columbia A letter of advice to Vancouver’s new general manager of planning

Dear Mr. Kelley,

Welcome, and congratulations on your new job as Vancouver's general manager of planning, urban design and sustainability.

First off, I don't know if you have a place to live, but good luck with that. Depending on your family situation, you might want to Airbnb it for a while until you find something decent to rent. That should take only a few months, providing you're willing to redefine your idea of "housing."

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If you're planning on buying something, I apologize in advance for the additional 15 per cent you'll be paying in property transfer tax. You may be the city's new chief of planning – the person who will help shape the future of this place – and you may have studied at MIT and Harvard. You may earn a six-figure income, pay a load of income tax and contribute significantly to the local economy, but to the province of British Columbia, you're just another foreigner. Had you taken the job and settled in a few weeks ago, you could have saved yourself tens of thousands of dollars.

But then, you're from San Francisco, so you know what it's like not being able to afford to live in the city in which you work. In fact, I note with interest that among your responsibilities in San Francisco was creating policies and strategies to advance the preservation and development of affordable housing. As our own mayor is fond of saying, "How'd that work out for you?"

I suggest you make affordability your first order of business. I see that they've added the word "sustainability" to your title. Nice. You may think that means bike sharing and electric cars and LEED platinum buildings and community gardens and leafy greens.

I suggest that every time you hear the word "sustainable," you think instead: "Who is going to be able to afford to live in this godforsaken city any more if we don't radically change something?" Think about whether Vancouver is actually sustainable as a city, rather than a resort community for the wealthy.

I suggest you make every decision with that question in mind.

I suspect that you will, in your first weeks on the job, familiarize yourself with Vancouver's many vibrant and diverse neighbourhoods.

Make no mistake – you are now a City of Vancouver planner, and without exception, everyone will be suspicious of you and claim that you are in the pocket of big developers.

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Persuading people otherwise will be among your most significant challenges. But doing so will be difficult because, like your predecessors, council will have its mitts all over every single thing you're working on. Maintaining your independence and doing your job free from political interference is going to be an issue. Be strong, Gil.

You will attend many sweaty meetings in community centres and be subjected to much verbal abuse from a broad swath of the population.

Activists in the Downtown East Side may burn you in effigy or stage a sit-in at your work place.

Residents of Point Grey Road may ridicule you with tastefully crafted signage.

Luckily for you, the Grandview Woodland Community Plan has already been approved and the viaducts are already coming down, so that's a couple of massive headaches you've been spared.

Still, as you carry out your day-to-day work, please know that you will make exactly no one happy.

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Try not to take it personally.

I also see that city-wide transportation was another one of your projects in San Francisco. Don't fret too much about that here. Aside from narrowing local streets, stripping away parking for bike lanes and pop-up parkettes, and renovating seismically dubious bridges, there won't be much for you to do here.

TransLink governs transportation in the region, and it is routinely big-footed by the provincial government on major projects. Sure, it makes grand plans, but since it has no way to pay for them, you don't have to worry about it.

Oh, Gil, I know that all of this sounds bad.

You'll be building on what planners before you have done to this city – for better or for worse.

Some have had vision, some have taken risks, and in a few cases, those risks have paid off.

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One guy even had a building named after him.

But on those days when things are getting you down, grab a Mobi and head down to the Seawall to clear your head. Look out at the mountains and the ocean – forget about your mortgage, your property taxes, the inflated cost of living and that public hearing that now has 327 people registered to speak.

Just breathe in the salt air and think about how lucky you are to live here.

Then go get a craft beer or smoke a little reefer.

It's how we all get by.

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