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Former Vancouver mayor Art Phillips dies

Liberal MPs Jean-Luc Pepin, left to right, Art Phillips and Herb Gray discuss strategy in preparation for the opening of Parliament in Ottawa in this 1979 file photo. Former Vancouver mayor Art Phillips passed away on Friday at the age of 82. Phillips served as the city's mayor in the 1970s and was responsible for municipal decisions that paved the way for downtown densification, including the fight against a waterfront freeway.


Former Vancouver mayor Art Phillips, who presided over a dramatic switch in the city from emphasizing towers and freeways to quality of life and sophisticated urban planning, has died at the age of 82.

Although he served only four years, from 1973 to 1976, Mr. Phillips was widely considered one of the most important mayors in the city's history, given the sweeping changes that took place under his leadership.

After nearly 40 years of city hall domination by the conservative, pro-development Non-Partisan Association, Mr. Phillips helped launch a successful new political party known as TEAM that responded to citizens' pent-up desire for political reform and greater community involvement.

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Once in office, with Mr. Phillips spearheading matters, TEAM saved the Orpheum Theatre and the entrance to Stanley Park, ended plans for waterfront and Chinatown expressways, planted trees throughout the city, launched the Property Endowment Fund, began the transformation of False Creek from industrial to residential lands, and opened up city hall to citizen participation.

"Vancouver was making all the mistakes of American cities," said Marguerite Ford, president of TEAM during Mr. Phillips's mayoralty. "Art changed the direction of the city. We wouldn't have the city we do if he hadn't been where he was, when he was."

Ray Spaxman, hired as city planner by Mr. Phillips, said he was a terrific mayor, accomplishing much in a short time. "Major, major changes took place, including comprehensive urban design guidelines. He was also very people-oriented and compassionate, [and] reached out to communities."

In a statement, Mayor Gregor Robertson said the city has lost "a visionary leader who made an indelible mark on Vancouver. During his time in office, Art fundamentally altered the political and social direction of our city."

Premier Christy Clark also praised Mr. Phillips, calling him a "transformational leader who helped make one of Canada's great cities the envy of the world."

In a statement released from London, where he serves Canadian High Commissioner, ex-premier and former Vancouver mayor Gordon Campbell called Mr. Phillips "the best mayor Vancouver ever had."

Before he entered municipal politics, himself, Mr. Campbell served as a young executive assistant to Mr. Phillips during his time in office.

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He said Mr. Phillips did not merely change the face of the city, but how people felt about it.

"The improvements in quality of life, living downtown, waterfront walks and protecting neighbourhoods are all the results of Art Phillips's leadership," Mr. Campbell said. "He was a wonderful man."

The Vancouver Park Board recently named a small downtown area adjacent to the Burrard SkyTrain station after Mr. Phillips, in recognition of his role in saving the open space – now festooned with blossoming cherry trees – from development.

A handsome man with an enviable crop of hair, Mr. Phillips was also known for his gentlemanly nature and extensive philanthropy. Earlier this year, he donated $60,000 to the city's breakfast program for hungry children – the fund's largest gift ever.

Mr. Phillips served several years as a Liberal MP after stepping down as mayor, before returning to the investment world. He had earlier become wealthy ahead of entering politics with the highly successful investment firm, Phillips, Hager and North.

He was married for many years to Carole Taylor, former television reporter, city councillor, chair of the CBC, provincial finance minister, and current chancellor of Simon Fraser University.

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