Vancouver Day Care Rejection Poses Larger Questions

What does it mean for cities and civic life when neighborhoods are viewed as products geared for individual consumption rather than ever-evolving communities?

2 minute read

September 10, 2023, 7:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Three toddlers playing in a colorful playroom / Adobe Stock

“In August, the Vancouver Sun reported that a group of Douglas Park neighbors succeeded in convincing the city to reject a zoning variance application which would have allowed the expansion of a business near their homes. They felt this expansion threatened the tranquility and quality of life of their neighborhood,” writes Daniel Herriges in Strong Towns.

The offensive business in question? A new day care for up to eight children planned for the same building as an existing day care. Herriges doesn’t find this surprising, but writes that “the ordinariness nowadays of stories like this, in which residents of a place use legal and regulatory processes to aggressively litigate seemingly small-potatoes issues, does say something about today’s cities.”

Herriges refers to home-based businesses, reminding the reader that, for most of history, they were largely the norm. But as the pitch for suburban developments began relying on ‘peace and quiet’ as a premium amenity, “We’ve undergone a major cultural shift in the age of the Suburban Experiment toward ‘privacy and exclusivity’ as a dominant expectation of what one’s home should offer, even in cities.”

Not that quiet isn’t good, Herriges adds. But “What was different in the past was that you lived much of life within your neighborhood, so you acutely felt the trade-off between the advantages and disadvantages of living in a complete community.” In other words, “a certain amount of chaos and disruption in your environment was tolerable because the benefits were obvious.”

For Herriges, the proliferation of private cars changed this equation, making it easier for people to travel long distances and thus making them more willing to sacrifice nearby amenities for larger houses and yards. Yet the neighborhood in Vancouver where the day care would be located isn’t a suburb. It’s a highly walkable, urban neighborhood. 

Herriges concludes, “I fear that the biggest obstacle to building stronger towns and neighborhoods, today, is a dominant culture that says that your neighborhood is no longer a project in community-building in which you are engaged alongside your neighbors.”

Wednesday, September 6, 2023 in Strong Towns

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