The Great Art Phillips, former Vancouver mayor, dies at 82

Dec 19 2017, 3:18 pm

To put it quite simply, he signalled the beginning of “modern Vancouver.” Confirmed reports have been coming in this evening that former Vancouver mayor Art Phillips has died at the age of 82. Taking office from 1973 to 1976 as the city’s 32nd mayor, he was one of Vancouver’s most respected and influential civic politicians.

Phillips set the stage for Vancouver’s renowned high quality of living by ensuring developers and city planners took environmental impact into account. This included advocating for parks and public spaces and stopping the construction of a city-wide freeway plan through Chinatown, Gastown and along Vancouver’s waterfronts. Under his watch, Vancouver took a different path from the freeway and suburb expansion frenzy that had been so prevalent in other Canadian and American cities.

He also had a very different vision for False Creek. While others sought to expand industry (sawmills, railyards) in the central inlet, he envisioned new high-density residential neighbourhoods. Phillips successfully transformed south False Creek from industry to residential and mixed-uses. This included spearheading the effort to turn Granville Island from a derelict industrial manufacturing zone to a major tourist destination.

Altogether, this paved the way for the post-Expo ’86 communities in North False Creek, Yaletown, Coal Harbour, the Olympic Village and elsewhere in the city. Vancouver’s model of urban development – “Vancouverism” – grew out of Phillips’ first policies and it has since become a worldwide model to follow. His work was a catalyst for Vancouver’s transformation from a sleepy, industrial town to a cosmopolitan, service-oriented city.

Phillips also created the Vancouver Property Endowment Fund (PEF), which protects all of the City of Vancouver’s long-term investments in land and leases. This includes the vacant Larwill Park site on which the Vancouver Art Gallery hopes to build a new and expanded world-class museum.

The PEF has expanded in scope since its inception as a means of supporting community building objectives, but it was created by Phillips for the intention of stopping civic politicians (such as his NPA predecessors) from selling city owned investments as a short-term means of balancing operating budgets. As of 2011, the Fund had a market value of approximately $3.5-billion.

He was also the type of politician with the foresight to save the 1927-built Orpheum Theatre from being gutted into a screen multiplex. The City of Vancouver purchased the Orpheum from Famous Players and beautifully renovated the venue back into its former glory. It has since become a mainstay of Vancouver’s arts, cultural and music scene.

Today, Vancouver and British Columbia could certainly use visionary leaders like Art Phillips. He was a rare leader and he kept the ‘big picture’ and the city’s future at the forefront of his policies.

“Vancouver has lost one of its greatest city-builders and elder statesmen in Art Phillips. A gentleman in every sense of the word, Art was concerned with improving the quality of life in Vancouver. As mayor, he was a transformational leader who helped make one of Canada’s great cities the envy of the world,” said Premier Christy Clark.

In a press release earlier this evening, Mayor Gregor Robertson also recalled fondly of Phillips: “Vancouver has lost a visionary leader and citizen who made an indelible mark on the city. He helped shape Vancouver through his vision and commitment to public service. He was a champion of livability and inclusivity… Art fundamentally changed the political and social direction of our city. He added social housing and parks, he championed the end of plans to build an expressway through the city and he helped establish the City’s Property Endowment Fund, a legacy that continues to benefit the City in many ways. His leadership and achievements will inspire the City well into the future.”

Art Phillips is survived by his wife Carole Taylor, the former B.C. Minister of Finance from 2005 to 2008 and the current Chancellor of Simon Fraser University.

Written and researched by Kenneth Chan, the Deputy Editor at Vancity Buzz. Follow Kenneth on Twitter at @kjmagine.

Image credits: CBC News


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