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Freeze! It's the Gelato Police!

Vancouver's hard line against pleasurable, profitable street life.

By David Berner 22 Aug 2005 | TheTyee.ca
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This is the tale of the awning and the patio chairs.

The story reeks of high crimes and civil disobedience. Where are Roman Polanski and Jack Nicholson when you really need them?

One gelato shop runs a thousand people a day through its tiny Eastside halls. A husband and his wife and their seven children are the proprietors. Or is it nine? One day they get a brainstorm. What if we had a service window, so people could order from the street? They go to City Hall for the permit.

The costs are tripled; the window is never built.

Another gelato shop has no chairs or tables on its outdoor patio. Permanent winter. When the boy and the girl behind the counter are not scooping lemon and strawberry, they’re seriously sucking face.

This is a neighbourhood defined by its disturbing quotient. What’s in the cone, riot juice?

Endless negotiating

A famous and long established Italian coffee shop on Commercial Drive has an interior courtyard. They dream of replicating the civilized touch found in every hilltown in Umbria and Tuscany – a quiet, little interior giardinetto with a few tables and chairs, some wisteria, perhaps a little music, god forbid. They’ve been dreaming this dream for many years now. Years of “negotiating” with Vancouver City Hall. Years of frustration and meddling and soaring costs for a few chairs and tables. Clearly, they are direct descendants of Bonnie and Clyde, possibly the Corleones.

A famous coffee shop downtown is harassed regularly about his Latin music and the number of chairs and tables he may or may not have on the sidewalk. Down at the end of the street, the guy who sells flowers is constantly reminded by some mandarin or other that his pushcart is six inches over the line. Six inches! String him up. On Robson, a purveyor of T-shirts ghetto blasts unbearable noise all day long, with some mysterious impunity.

In Kitsilano, a most popular Italian Deli spent over two years and thousands of dollars to develop an upstairs dining room. Before they could open, they were told that they had too many chairs and tables outside. The chairs and tables outside have a) been there for years, and b) always been shielded from pedestrian traffic by shrubs. What’s the problem?

The problem is that City Hall, like every other level of government in Canada, is not designed for solutions, problem solving and progress. The backbone of Canadian productivity continues to be small business, mom-and-pop shops, and, as a body politic, we continue to throw beer bottles and rubber chickens in its way every chance we get.

Find the balance

One likes to think that in a civilized western democracy, there are equal roles for free enterprise and government regulation, that a balance is found between rampant consumerism and reasonable management of the common good. But how can we pretend to manage salmon and cod stocks, forests, mines and fuel deposits, when we can’t even respond with any grace to ice cream and al fresco dining?

One Vancouver City Councilor spoke up recently in a general sort of way about this very issue. He comments appeared on the back pages of the daily papers and were soon forgotten. Can anyone penetrate the arrogant bureaucracies that continue to measure simple pleasures? Can an unelected and unapproachable level of government like the GVRD possibly serve our felt needs with any barometer of decency?

Can red tape be cut if red tape is the lifeblood of half the work force?

David Berner is an actor and hosts a radio talk show on CKNW 980 AM weekends 3 to 6 p.m.  [Tyee]

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