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Analysis: Proposed City of Vancouver Bylaw Amendments “to Support Artist Studios in Industrial Areas”

pdf copy of Ingram’s analysis for Recommendations to City Council of Vanocuver to be discussed and probably approved on January 15, 2013: 2013-jan-12-awls-from-ingram-proposed-city-bylaw-amendments-artists-in-industrial-with-city-docs

Gordon Brent Ingram BFA PhD

side stream environmental design

January 12, 2013

TO:

AWLs the artist work live studio consultative group of Vancouver

FROM:

Gordon Brent Ingram, side stream environmental design

RE:

Comments on the January 7, 2013

Proposed City of Vancouver Bylaw Amendments

“to Support Artist Studios in Industrial Areas”

title of document:

“Proposed Amendments to the Zoning and Development By-law to Support Artist Studios in Industrial Areas – 9863″

date:

January 7, 2013 (that’s not a lot of time for public comment given that Council is voting on this on January 15, 2013)

key function of proposed amendments:

“Low-impact artist studios are currently allowed in only four industrial zoning districts. This amendment would allow low-impact artist studios in all 12 industrial zoning districts.”

recommendations to AWLs:

1. This amendment represents a modest improvement for artists in Vancouver. I recommend that colleagues in AWLs support this amendment but critically.

2. The problem is that the amendment, standing alone, favours larger operations, such as digitally based production studios, over individual artists, with modest incomes and budgets. This low-income artist group (that characterizes the majority of current tenancy in these buildings) are potentially MORE vulnerable if this amendment is approved. In particular, current tenancies are vulnerable to higher rents and displacement — if landlords can now rent to larger arts and cultural organization who can pay more (especially when desperate for space). This ‘problem’ warrants public discussion in front of Council with one mitigation measure being some kind of tenancy protection or ‘rent control with maximum annual rent increases of 3 or 5%’ for current artist tenants in industrial areas for the next five years.

3. I am most concerned that the City of Vancouver staff who developed the proposed amendment claim that there was adequate stakeholder consultation (without naming the organizations and individuals with which they claim they met). I subscribe to numerous list-serves and view numerous sites on contemporary culture in Vancouver and have never heard of any public consultations around these topics. People involved in these issues, such as AWLs, would have a strong basis to complain to Council about the process around these so-called ‘consultations’.

4. Finally, the addendum of the report tells Council about all of the good strategic work that city staff is doing (and a lot of supposed consultation) very little of which I have any evidence is actually being achieved so far.

key sections of text of proposed amendments:

“Following on direction from Council, the recommendations in this report will increase the number of industrial zones in which “work-only” artist studios are allowed, and will ease the approval process by allowing artist studios as outright uses in more industrial zones. Together, these amendments will expand opportunities for artist studios, and increase access to affordable production spaces.”

“On October 6th, 2011, Council approved the Artist Studio Regulatory Review Implementation Framework, which describes opportunities to improve the creation, preservation and operation of artist studios.”

“Although the local creative sector is vibrant, artists still struggle with Vancouver’s high cost of real estate and lack of affordable production spaces. These issues are intensified by the living wages of artists — in Canada the median annual income for an artist in 2005 was 36 percent lower than the overall Vancouver labour force.2 While there are many enticing qualities that draw artists to live and work in Vancouver, the lack of affordable studio space is a significant issue.”

“Very little data currently exists on the number of “work-only” artist studios in Vancouver. However, we do know that artists struggle with three key space-related needs: affordability, functionality and tenure.”

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CRITIQUE POINT 1

“The priority for implementation is to focus initially on “work-only” artist studios over “live-work” studios. The rationale for this recommendation is the critical need for creation/production spaces. As stated in the Council Report: “Solutions for “work-only” studio space will have the broadest impact and applicability to the largest number of artists.””

I would challenge this thinking. Most artists cannot afford to rent two spaces, one for living and one for work and therefore are forced to produce where we live. The artists who can afford two spaces, with one specifically for production, will tend to use the designated production space as much for display and show than actual production. This need for production / display space, especially with the advent of the Eastside Crawl and other venues, is really limited to a small group of more elite cultural businesses, such as digital production enterprises, that can pay relatively high rents for production spaces (often at higher square footage rents than for housing rentals).

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CRITIQUE POINT 2

“The proposed zoning amendments will expand opportunities for “work-only” artist studios in all industrial areas, which provide access to the most affordable work spaces in the City.”

Today, artists usually can rent portions of more run-down industrial-zoned properties today — at relatively low rents because respective buildings are rarely upgraded for cultural production (more toilets, less toxic residues, less obvious hazards). This amendment change gives landlords of industrial properties to make relatively cosmetic changes to properties and, in turn, rent spaces for two or three or even four times the rents for industrial uses. However, at least these spaces would be available. Probably the best example of an benefit of this amendment would be 1000 Parker Street where cultural production uses would be consistent with the bylaws — not that most of these uses were contrary to the industrial bylaws that currently take place.

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CRITIQUE POINT 3

“In all industrial zones, artist studios are currently allowed only as conditional approval uses. This amendment would increase the number of zones where artist studios could be approved outright.”

The status quo has not been an issue for most artists who are too often prepared to move their production spaces every few months or years. More importantly, the conditional or provisional use of a space, for cultural production purposes, has been a way for artists to rent space at low rents — the tradeoff being no secure tenancy. For the majority of artists in Vancouver, lower rents have been the preferable trade-off for insecure tenancy. So that this Proposed Amendment is really oriented to larger operations, businesses and organizations who cannot move into a space until making expensive space modifications (painting, repair, heating) that in turn would only be only worthwhile if there were a longer-term lease.

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CRITIQUE POINT 4

“Artist studios are currently permitted in buildings existing as of September 10, 1996 (i.e. the date when previous artist studio regulations were enacted). To reflect the stock of buildings constructed since then, that date would be changed to the date when this report’s zoning amendments are enacted.”

These two ‘maps’ (related to Bylaws permitting artist uses) of artist studio permitting, from September 10, 1996 and when and if this Proposed Amendment is approved are quite political and have huge implications. Attention should be given to these ‘maps’ in the coming months.

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CRITIQUE POINT 5

“Staff met with six key stakeholders from the architecture, arts and culture communities to discuss the proposed zoning amendments. These representatives have broad knowledge about designing, developing and operating artist studios.”

The statement is absolutely galling. I know of no group that was consulted about these proposed amendments even though I have been in contact with the City of Vancouver related to artist live work space issues for 18 months and have even contacted politicians and was contacted to meet with interested city officials and councillors (Ellen Woodsworth and Susan Anton). I would be willing to make this comment in public to Council about this documents.

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IMPORTANT NEWS…THE CITY OF VANCOUVER HAS MORE OF A ‘STRATEGY’ ON ARTIST WORK-ONLY AND LIVE WORK STUDIOS THAT IT’S BEEN LETTING ON TO MOST OF US

IMPLEMENTATION FRAMEWORK: Artist Studio Regulatory Review

“immediate action”

“Explore requiring all new multi-tenant studio developments to have artist-led building management body”

“Identify opportunities for studio development through rezonings underway and City-controlled spaces”

“Launch “interim” program to assist artists to address by-law issues and enforcement actions during the course of the Review”

“Explore effective ways to issue permits and licences in a timely manner”

“Require multi-tenant artist studio buildings to post City-approved uses in common areas of the property”

Personally, my sense is that none of these “immediate action” activities the City is claiming that it’s already undertaking are actually happening just as nobody I know has ever heard of City ’stakeholder consultation’ around these issues. In fact, the only public City meetings with artists that any of us can recall left most artist feeling like the City was going to make their lives and tenancies more difficult (while making it easier for landlords to raise rents while providing few additional amenities).

The report mentions the following report that is worth reviewing.

Kelly Hill (Hill Strategies Research Inc.) 2010. Mapping Artists and Cultural Workers in Canada’s Large Cities. Prepared for the City of Vancouver, the City of Calgary, the City of Toronto, the City of Ottawa and the Ville de Montréal.