Community Voices: Responses to the West End Plan

Three months ago, Vancouver City Council approved the West End Community Plan. So has the dust settled? As the City gears up to implement the Plan, it looks like things will be as busy as ever.

The West End Community Plan sets direction on a number of fronts. From arts and culture to community well-being, heritage and housing to transportation––these are just a few examples of the Plan’s focus for helping shape the West End’s future. According to the City’s website, the Plan can’t encompass everything. But it aligns with other key planning initiatives that are also meant to address the community’s challenges and needs in the coming years.

Recently, Gordon Neighbourhood House decided to contact some West End community members to hear their responses to the Plan.

Randy Helten, a Director of the West End Neighbours group, thinks that many people will be surprised when they start to feel the effects of dramatic changes that have been set in motion in parts of the community and will wonder when and how they were decided.

“The community plan process did make considerable progress,” he said, “but it was rushed and approved by City Council prematurely, without having truly engaged enough people in the community in a discussion about the issues and options.” He added that a lot of taxpayers’ money was spent to create a sophisticated 3D model of the West End, but it was only barely used.

“West End Neighbours will continue to monitor changes as they arise,” he said. “We will do our best to involve as many residents as possible in community discussions. Our aim is to enhance and celebrate the quality of life; the distinct, diverse character; and the heritage of the West End.”

According to Stephen Regan, Executive Director of the West End Business Improvement Association, his group supported the Plan as a tool to help revitalize the commercial streets.

“Not everything we wanted landed in the Plan,” he said,  “but some key items included a clear focus on enhancing the commercial streets and championing the concept of a ‘West End Loop’.”

He added, “Linking the West End’s great commercial streets to Granville Street through strategies like decorative lighting could create the right kind of animation to support business success.”

Brent Granby, a West End community organizer, is pleased with many of the positive elements coming out of the Plan. For example, sustainable transportation measures, including traffic calming, will mean better cycling routes between English Bay and Burrard Street.

Brent sees the Plan’s proposed laneway housing as another plus. To date, it’s been challenging in the West End to secure more spacious housing that is affordable for families who need more than a 1-bedroom-sized apartment.

“Now, there is a lot of potential here with laneway housing,” he said. “This can be transformative and revitalize housing in the West End, especially for families.  I’d like to see continued support from the City.”

Another key point Brent stressed is that the Plan makes clear that rezoning is only approved in 4 areas (other areas are protected), so people will know what to expect. And with such rezoning, investments will come through community amenity contributions (CACs). As described in the Plan, CACs will be able to funnel resources back to improve and renew existing recreational, cultural and social facilities.

“The areas where rezoning will occur are around key transportation hubs, which makes sense,” Brent said. ” And with investments through CACs, this can help institutions such as the Aquatic Centre and Gordon Neighbourhood House.”

The West End Community Plan also outlines a new purpose-built facility for QMUNITY, BC’s Queer Resource Centre, within Davie Village, to better support LGBTQ community members. Dara Parker, the Centre’s Executive Director, is delighted that QMUNITY was highlighted as a priority.

“We have been actively advocating for a new facility that is accessible and large enough to meet the needs of our community programming for twenty years, ” she said. “The new facility will be an inclusive hub for everyone in the queer community, including our allies and neighbourhood supporters.”

What about you? What impact do you think the West End Community Plan will have for your neighbourhood? We’d love to hear your comments!

Written by Community Journalist/GNH Blogger Anita Miettunen 

The Clean Team’s Collaborative Community Maintenance and Beautification Efforts

Over the past few months, a variety of community stakeholders have come together to develop a coordinated neighbourhood clean-up and maintenance schedule. In May 2013, the West End Business Improvement Association (WEBIA) partnered with Gordon Neighbourhood House (GNH) to form The Clean Team. The Clean Team is composed of two crew-members who spend four hours every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday cleaning Davie, Denman, and Robson streets. The Clean Team also conducts routine litter and cigarette butt audits in the WEBIA area.

WEBIA and GNH are also working in partnership with other organizations such as the West End Cleanup (volunteer-based cleanup group), the West End-Coal Harbour Community Policing Centre, and the Downtown Community Court to ensure cleanup coverage of every area in the West End. These partner organizations help with the maintenance of alleyways, 311 reporting of illegal dumping, and graffiti removal. In addition to their regular cleanup efforts, the West End Cleanup and the West End-Coal Harbour Community Policing Centre participated in this year’s United Way and YWCA Days of Caring at Gordon Neighbourhood House along with visiting organizations such as Stantec and The University of British Columbia.

Here are some highlights of the work that these groups have been doing since May 2013:

  • Volunteer contributions. 165 volunteer hours on May 26, 2013 for the annual Keep Vancouver Spectacular Cleanup (West End edition) hosted at Gordon Neighbourhood House; three corporate Days of Caring with The Clean Team in September and October 2013 harnessing a total of 96 volunteer hours; 182 volunteer hours through the West End Cleanup from July to November 2013. A grand total of 433 volunteer hours since May 2013.
  • 3-1-1 reporting of illegal dumping. The Clean Team and its partners are working with the City of Vancouver to report illegal dumping in alleyways.
  • Routine graffiti removal. Coordinated by the West End-Coal Harbour Community Policing Centre with paint and supplies provided through the Community Paint Out program at the City of Vancouver. Over 200 tags removed, 4 large paint-out events, and 138 volunteer hours from January to September 2013.
  • Cigarette butt audit. In collaboration with a cigarette butt recycling pilot spearheaded by the City of Vancouver and Terracycle, The Clean Team conducted a weekly count of cigarette butts on the 1100 block of Davie St. from October 17 to December 12, 2013. Public support for this kind of pilot program (the first in North America) was granted significant momentum after a highly successful cigarette butt buyback initiative coordinated by the West End Cleanup at Car Free Day on June 16, 2013. The cigarette butt receptacles will remain on downtown city streets until May 2014, at which time the City of Vancouver will consider the long-term viability of this model. The Clean Team plans to conduct another 6-week audit spanning from early-March to mid-April 2014.
  • Power washing and leaf removal. During the months of November and December 2013, WEBIA coordinated leaf removal and power washing on West End commercial streets.

How you can help:

  • Support our regular volunteer base and volunteer cleanup events with vouchers for products or services offered at your business or organization.
  • Join a cleanup event or host one yourself that we can support with supplies.
  • Make your neighbours aware of the new cigarette butt receptacles on Davie Street.
  • Report illegal dumping and graffiti to the City of Vancouver’s call centre 3-1-1.

If you would like to learn more about The Clean Team and related neighbourhood cleanup activities please email

This is a special to the GNH Blog by Community Initiatives Supervisor, Samuel Mickelson, with input from our partners at the West End Business Improvement Association, the West End Cleanup, the West End Coal Harbour Community Policing Centre, and the Downtown Community Court.

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Hotel Vancouver

Food Scraps Drop Spots: Making Good Use of Good Waste

Maris Pavelson feels good at the end of his shift at Gordon Neighborhood House (GNH), staffing the Food Scraps Drop Spot on Tuesday evenings.  Not only is he helping to reduce the greenhouse gas methane that is created by food rotting in the landfill, the food scraps he collects are trucked out by local recycling company Recycling Alternative to be made into nutrient-rich compost for local gardens.

“But most of all it’s fun,” he says.  “I wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t fun.”

GNH launched their 10 am-12 noon Saturday Drop Spot in November, 2011, in partnership with Recycling Alternative, the West End Neighbourhood Food Network (WENFN), and the Vancouver Farmers Markets.  While the City of Vancouver offers curbside food scraps pick-up and composting service to single-family resident homes, until the Drop Spots were launched the majority of West Enders and others who live in condos, apartment buildings, and co-ops were left out–half of the city.  Randy Helten of WENFN estimates that the 45,000 people living in the West End alone produce around 27 million kilograms of food waste a year.

The first pilot project Drop Spot–begun in August, 2011 at the West End Farmers Market, initiated by Recycling Alternative and the Farmers Market, and funded by a $10,000 Greenest City Fund grant from the City of Vancouver– was instantly popular, as nearly 200 people dropped off their organics on a busy Saturday.

“When we were wrapping up the first pilot, people were asking us, “What are we going to do when you close the market? ” says Louise Schwarz, co-founder of Recycling Alternative.  The perfect partner to pick up the slack was Gordon Neighborhood House, a mere two blocks from the West End Market site at Nelson Park.  “GNH is a natural place for people to come to bring their food scraps,” says Samuel Mickelson, Community Initiatives Supervisor.

Even with the introduction of a $2 donation that pays for transportation, delivery of the food scraps to Enviro-smart Organics composting facility in Delta, and the disposal fee, the Saturday drop spot at GNH was a success.  So much so that a second day was proposed, and Tuesday evenings from 6-7:30 began in 2013. Together they receive up to 150 drops per week.

For Maris, life in the trash trenches includes checking for banned substances such as cat litter or Styrofoam, noting each droppers’ postal code to see how far they have travelled, offering hand sanitizer and paper towels to those soiled by their exertions, and engaging in conversations related to recycling and our local food cycle.

Currently there are six Drop Spots: the West End, Kitsilano, and Trout Lake Farmers Markets run in the summer; GNH and the Winter Farmers Market at Nat Bailey stadium take over in the winter; while the West End Community Centre operates year-round.  This schedule will continue past the Metro Vancouver ban on all organic material going to the landfill in January, 2015, as Schwarz thinks it unlikely the City and independent contractors will have organized curbside collection of food scraps for all Multi-Unit Residential Buildings by that time.

With nearly 30,000 drops to date, the Drop Spots have diverted 200,000 pounds of food scraps otherwise destined for the landfill, helping make Vancouver a greener city.

No wonder Maris Pavelson enjoys his work as a GNH Drop Spot volunteer.


Written by Linda Lawson
GNH Community Journalist/Blogger


Maris Pavelson and Chie Watanabe, two core volunteers for the Tuesday night Drop Spot.


Louise Schwarz of Recycling Alternative.