A war of words over mayor's use of one word

PUBLISHED : Monday, 02 July, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 02 July, 2007, 12:00am


When mayor Sam Sullivan announced his initiative to reduce the city's ecological footprint last year, the word rolled easily off the tongue, even if it baffled spellers. It's EcoDensity, no hyphens.

The way Mr Sullivan envisions it, EcoDensity will reduce urban sprawl by increasing the number of multiple-unit buildings in the city.

Only 11 per cent of the city's land area is used for such residences, which are apartments and townhouses, while single-family dwellings take up half of the area. Mr Sullivan is so proud of the idea that he discussed it with California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger during his recent visit.

Through public consultations, Mr Sullivan wants to begin figuring out how to lower the carbon footprint of residents by having more energy-efficient housing. That is, he would like to see more building upwards - instead of expanding the size of houses. 'Ecodensification' would not just mean stacking residences on top of each other, but putting in more amenities that would reduce car use, such as grocery stores in neighbourhoods or limiting the parking standards needed.

But there are a few clashes over the concept, especially in neighbourhoods where apartments and townhouses have not yet spread and where traditional housing, with yards and garages, dominate. Most of the city's high-density housing is in Yaletown, Coal Harbour and the neighbourhood where it all began, in the city's West End.

In recent years, high-density developments in neighbourhoods by the University of British Columbia and in Kerrisdale have led to rows about community plans. The idea of rezoning neighbourhoods has not been contemplated but will lead to more feedback from long-time residents uneasy about change.

One of the problems opposition councillors have with the mayor's idea is the lack of consultation about EcoDensity. But a bigger problem emerged last week after it was learned that the mayor had applied to trademark the word.

The mayor said because the matter had not been brought before council yet, the word EcoDensity was trademarked in his own name, even though the C$250 (HK$1,800) cheque to process the application was made out in the city's name.

This has left opposition councillors fuming.

'It is completely unacceptable that Mayor Sullivan would try to personally take credit for EcoDensity, considering the work that our staff have done in creating it over the past year,' said councillor George Chow. 'This just goes to show the lengths Mayor Sullivan will go to smother the city in his face and name.'

City staff have been developing the project, and in fact it was one of Mr Sullivan's team who came up with the word after learning that another phrase, which the mayor had wanted to use to describe the project, was already under trademark with an NGO.

'I thought: 'I hope no one else has that name and can one day force us to change the name' [and] all the literature was going to be printed,' said Mr Sullivan. 'We did a name search and found out no one owned the name and I said, just in case, let's lock it down and make sure no one can come forward years later and say they owned the word.'

The mayor said a non-profit society he was associated with before he entered politics operated for five years before learning that another organisation had trademarked the name.

The mayor said he had forgotten about the trademark application until recently. He intends to transfer ownership of the trademark to the city and said he never had any plans to profit from the word EcoDensity.

But to the mayor's critics - who say he too often makes grand plans but pays little attention to details - the fight over a little word is just another example of how his office operates without thinking about how his intentions are perceived.