The city recently rejected 8 badly needed daycare spots right by Douglas Park, and we need your help to fight back so this doesn't happen again.
Are you looking for daycare? If you are, you know how hard it is to find in Vancouver.
Vancouver is a "childcare desert" -- one of the worst in Canada! There's an estimated shortage of at least 15,000 daycare spots.
This puts the squeeze on families who are trying to build a life in Vancouver. And a lack of childcare disproportionately harms women and makes it difficult for them to maintain their careers.
Combined with housing unaffordability, no wonder so many neighbourhoods in Vancouver are seeing big decreases in the amount of kids living in them! Families are being driven out of the city.
You'd think the city would be doing everything it could to encourage more daycare. Instead, Byzantine city by-laws make it virtually impossible to open new daycare spots.
Even worse, the city prioritizes NIMBY complaints over the needs of families.
Read on below to learn about how NIMBYs fought to kill daycare spots at Douglas Park, and why this example is just a symptom of a larger problem. There's a tl;dr at the end you can jump to.
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What Happened at Douglas Park? Why Was the Daycare Expansion Rejected?
Douglas Park is a large, centrally located public park in the growing South Cambie neighbourhood, just a short walk away from the King Ed Skytrain station. It has a community centre, playground area, and large fields. This is exactly the sort of public park that should be bustling and full of life!
There's also huge demand for childcare in the area. There's an existing daycare with 8 spots right by the park, but since they have a long waiting list they applied to the city for permission from the Director of Planning to add another 8 spots.
Unfortunately, local NIMBYs fought against it...and won.
What's a NIMBY? It stands for "Not In My Back Yard" -- people who fight change in their neighbourhoods.
At Abundant Housing Vancouver, we normally advocate for more housing, and we encounter NIMBYs all the time. They're a major part of why housing is so scarce and unaffordable in Vancouver. Our whole housing system prioritizes freezing neighbourhoods in amber, rather than allowing them to grow to welcome new neighbours. NIMBYs don't reflect Vancouver's diversity -- they're wealthier and more likely to own their home than Vancouverites generally, and have a strong incentive to get involved in local politics to shout "NO" whenever change or growth threatens them. This gives them a lot of influence with our planners and politicians.
Sadly, the housing crisis doesn't seem so pressing if you're already comfortably housed. And the daycare shortage doesn't seem so bad if you or your friends aren't desperately trying to find ways of staying in the city.
The daycare approval process is broken.
You'd think that, given the shortage in daycare spots, when someone wants to open some up the city would bend over backwards to help them out. Sadly, the opposite is true: the city raises obstacle after obstacle to make it extremely difficult for new spots to open up.
First, city bylaws are far stricter than provincial requirements, or those in other cities. For example, Vancouver bylaws require that children 0-3 years old in daycare receive 3 hours of direct sunlight each day...even though Health Canada says to “Keep babies under one year out of direct sunlight to prevent skin damage and dehydration. Never let them play or sleep in the sun.” City requirements like these aren't based on science.
But even if the province's health and safety requirements are met, and even if all of the city's bizarre rules and bylaws are complied with, the Director of Planning still has a discretion under the zoning bylaw to reject daycares.
In most of the city, daycare is a "conditional" use. This isn't about health, or safety, or licensing -- it's about land use, governed by the same rules that make rental apartments illegal on most of the city's residential land. When something is "conditional", it means the Director of Planning has a discretion to reject or approve something.
The Douglas Park daycare debacle illustrates why this system is so bad.
There's a daycare there already with 8 daycare spots. But that's not nearly enough spots for everyone in the neighbourhood who needs one -- dozens of families are on the waiting list. So the daycare operator applied to Director of Planning to add another 8 spots.
(If alarm bells are ringing in your head -- "Why should the Director of Planning need to approve 8 daycare spots, on a discretionary basis, when we have a shortage of thousands? We'll never be able to scale up to solve the crisis!" -- congratulations, that just means you haven't lost all sense of perspective!)
Shockingly, the Director of Planning rejected the application. The daycare appealed to the board of variance, and this is where it gets really bad.
The only reason we know about all this is because Dan Fumano wrote a great story about this for the Vancouver Sun. As he reports, a group of Douglas Park residents showed up at the appeal to fight against the daycare:
One man, audibly agitated, took the microphone and read a litany of “deep concerns” about the proposal under discussion, warning that “the residential nature of the area hangs in the balance.”
The neighbourhood resident, Brian Peers, continued until the bell chimed and the chairperson told him his time was up. Peers kept going: “There are several questions I have regarding the validity of this application in the face of the staunch opposition in our community. In my neighbourhood, we are vehemently opposed. This is all we seem to talk about these days.”
The tenor during parts of this meeting almost sounded as if the city was considering building a chemical plant in a residential neighbourhood or bulldozing homes to build a freeway.
What was actually so vehemently opposed by an organized neighbourhood campaign was a proposal for a daycare for eight children.
In his written comments to the board, Peers said:
“If this precedent is set, there is nothing stopping another homeowner to convert their house into a funeral home, motorcycle repair shop, corner store, gym, dry-cleaner etc. Should this application be granted, you can expect legal action against the city on behalf of the neighbourhood. … Govern yourselves accordingly and deny this application.”
Now look. NIMBYs are gonna NIMBY -- apparently, even over the sound of children playing. What's really shocking is that the city listens to them...and in this case, denied these desperately needed daycare spots.
Other objections from the neighbours included:
- Parking spots taken over by parents dropping off the kids
- The noise of children playing
- Negative effects on the neighbourhood’s “unique charm, character and vitality"
This is about daycare for YOUR kids!
The Director of Planning chose to listen to people like this, and rejected the application for these desperately needed childcare spots.
We think children are the city's future. A city that turns down safe, licensed, badly needed daycare because it can't stand the sound of children playing is deeply dysfunctional.
Sadly, it's probably too late for these 8 spots. But we can put pressure on mayor and city council to make sure this never happens again.
The Director of Planning and board of variance are the ones who rejected the Douglas Park daycare application, but they were just applying the rules and exercising the discretion given to them by council.
We need to tell mayor and council to fix the rules! Daycare should be allowed by right. So long as the relevant health, safety, and licensing requirements are met, NIMBY complaints shouldn't stop daycare!
Or, copy and paste this into the "to" field:
[email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected].
Here's our suggested email. You can just copy and paste this, but your email will have more impact if you customize it by talking about what daycare means to YOU and your family!
Subject: Vancouver Needs Daycare!
Dear Mayor and Council,
Vancouver has a severe shortage of daycare spots. So I was dismayed to read news reports that 8 badly needed spots by Douglas Park were rejected. A public park like that is a great place for child care!
But this is about more than just one daycare. Vancouver needs thousands of daycare spots. The current system will never be able to deliver them.
Council has the power to fix this:
- Daycare should be allowed by right. Any system that relies on the Director of Planning approving a few spots here and there on a case by case basis will never deliver the child care we need. The zoning schedules should be amended so daycare is an outright use, not conditional.
- Daycare is needed across the city, so it should be allowed across the city. In every neighbourhood!
- The city's decisions should be guided by objective criteria, and not influenced by which neighbours yell the loudest.
- Public parks are a public asset, and we should be allowing more people and families to enjoy them. They should be surrounded by beautiful apartments filled with families, children, and yes, daycare!
Please act quickly to make Vancouver a more welcoming city for families!
Ever wonder why Douglas Park is surrounded by houses (which go for $2-5 million)? That's because these houses can be built by right. But things like daycare or rental apartments can't!
"NIMBY" stands for "Not In My Back Yard" and they're a powerful force in Vancouver. Every time a new apartment is proposed somewhere in Vancouver, a NIMBY is ready to shout: "NO!" Now they're even opposing daycares by parks -- they don't want to hear the laughter of children playing in their neighbourhoods, apparently!
Young people leave Vancouver because of:
- Shortage of child-care options
- Ever-rising housing costs
Vancouver has a critical daycare shortage - estimated at over 15,000 spots!
Our politicians and planners have, for years, caved in to NIMBY demands. Young people and families are being pushed out.
Remember this next time you're looking for a place to live. Vancouver's rules keep young people and families out of areas like Douglas Park. But that can change if we demand it!
It's time people said YES to a better Vancouver.
How can you help? Make your voice heard and write in to the Vancouver Mayor and City Council!