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4 December 2013

I’m taking time out from writing and moving to speak at the Vancouver City Council meeting on the new Heritage Action Plan. In the last month, I’ve become involved in the Save the Hollywood Theatre Coalition, a strange consequence of writing about Vancouver city screens and a series of events that finds me active in the same kinds of things I do in Bristol: heritage, planning, cinema.

This is what I plan to say:

Thank you, Madam Chair, for allowing me to speak to Council. I support the recommendations of the Save the Hollywood Theatre Coalition to amend and implement the new Heritage Action Plan.

I was born and raised in Vancouver, although I’ve spent the last 22 years in the UK teaching & researching film, video and urban heritage. When I left this city in 1991 I left an internationally celebrated cultural hub with a heritage of artists, musicians, writers, filmmakers and performers. These were people who had occupied wonderful old buildings – cinemas, warehouses, churches, working men’s clubs – buildings that spoke of Vancouver’s industrial past. The activities and artwork that emerged out of this diversity have been key to Vancouver’s emergence as a world-class city and key to the regeneration (and often gentrification) of neighbourhoods, a regeneration that, ultimately, has driven Vancouver’s newer, property-based economy. In short, without art and culture located in heritage spaces, there would have been no growth. So, there’s an excellent economic rationale for preserving exterior and interior heritage features. But beyond economic pragmatics, the built heritage is integral to how we gather as communities. From our colonial experience we know the ongoing effects of uprooting people from place, of destroying cultural heritage. What remains in this city is part of that story, too. Places like the Hollywood Theatre occupy the shared territories of the Musqueam and Squamish and are potent physical links to the dramatic transformation of this place in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Places like the Hollywood Theatre also have personal importance. They enable me to bore my teenage son with stories of his great-grandmother and grandmother who once visited these places. This kind of deep history of cultural practice is based on sharing experience. The power of place rests in how places gather people together over time. By destroying these places, we also prevent newcomers from sharing these stories.

So, I support the recommendations of the Save the Hollywood Coalition to amend and implement the new Heritage Action Plan. We believe that these recommendations will allow the Hollywood Theatre and other places at risk across the city to be maintained for the benefit of all communities. In order to protect the interior and exterior heritage of buildings like the Hollywood Theatre, we ask that Action 1 of the Heritage Action Plan be applied to the Hollywood Theatre and all in-process Development Permit Applications. We also ask that Action 9 be a Quick Start action, to apply the incentives currently in place for the Downtown Eastside to all neighbourhoods. We also ask that the city extend the current moratorium on Development at the Hollywood Theatre to the full 120 days and that the City should provide funding options in its capital budget for purchase and/or renovation to preserve the space as an art and cultural centre.

The Save the Hollywood Coalition encourages the City to see the Hollywood Theatre as a case study in its evaluation of the Heritage Action Plan. This is a perfect opportunity for the City to take responsibility for the past, present and future in the form of its diverse and sustainable built and cultural heritage. It’s time to give back to arts, culture and heritage – to acknowledge their role in building this city.

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