Painful Truth: Drawing (and re-drawing) lines on maps

City boundaries are artificial – the question is, how do we make them work for us?

Since it’s summer, politicians of all stripes are about to flee their chambers of solemn debate for barbecue fundraisers.

As the quiet political season approaches, I like to consider how we could break up the political landscape, erasing the old lines on the map of Metro Vancouver and drawing new ones. (No, we will not be talking about amalgamating the Langleys, the most boring debate in local politics.)

Here’s a few suggestions:

• MegaCity Vancouver

I’m usually hostile to the idea of concentrating political power in one council chamber – especially because it would require a huge number of councillors and wards to adequately represent the many neighbourhoods from West Vancouver to Langley.

But there are potential advantages, including placing TransLink under one directly elected council’s control. The downside, of course, is the massive loss of local autonomy.

• Three Sorta-Mega Cities

Geography often defines our political interests in Metro Vancouver, so why not base our boundaries on that?

Picture three amalgamations – Greater Vancouver gets Vancouver, Burnaby, New West, and the Tri Cities. Greater Surrey gobbles up Delta, White Rock, Langley, and Abbotsford. The North Shore is, well, the North Shore, out to Squamish.

Problems – where do you fit Richmond? Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows? And does that simply put smaller communities like Langley and Delta permanently in the shadow of an overpowered Surrey?

• Smaller cities

I’ve suggested this for Langley before, but breaking up all of Metro into more manageable chunks isn’t necessarily a bad idea. Why not let each neighbourhood, from Kitsilano to Crescent Beach, go its own way? Who better to manage local affairs than a local council?

They might need some more chairs for the Mayors’ Council meetings if we had 40 to 60 mayors, however.

• Movable Boundaries

Is there an optimal size for local government, a good ratio between population size and government that allows people to hold their representatives to account?

If there is, why don’t we figure out what it is (I’d suggest it’s between 30,000 and 70,000) and then break up governance into units of that size across Metro?

This is the most challenging of the options, as the boundaries of some areas would move every five or 10 years.

But picture this – a three- to five-person council, all elected from within a relatively small zone. Local politics that’s actually local!

Downsides? Well, sometimes you need a council that can override NIMBYs, and that’s harder on a small scale.

Do I expect any of these to ever happen? Nope, not really. But I like to remind myself that those lines on the map – we drew them. And if it would serve us better, there’s no reason not to get out the eraser and pencil, and draw them anew.

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