02/21/2012 09:13 EST | Updated 04/22/2012 05:12 EDT

Jim Green's Life: An Opera We Should All Applaud

The sad news is now out. Jim Green, a veritable force of nature on Vancouver's civic scene for decades, is battling cancer. And it's spreading.

If you know Mr. Green, you also know it's not smart to ever count out the man with the black fedora, his sartorial trademark. He's beaten cancer once before. And Green doesn't like losing -- to anyone or anything.

Still, after decades of devoting his life to Vancouver's civic scene, now is the moment for Vancouver and its citizens to give Green his public due.

No matter what your politics, regardless of whether you were on Green's side or not in past political battles, there's no denying he is the exemplar of what it means to devote oneself to a city. Green has made Vancouver a better place.

He was fearless in defending the poor who were being kicked out of rooming houses before Expo '86. He remains a tireless voice for affordable housing, to keep Vancouver accessible to all. And through the years he helped mobilize the residents of the Downtown Eastside into both a distinctive neighbourhood and a formidable political advocacy.

Green ran for mayor twice, both times losing. But he was never seen as a loser. Each time he brought heart and an important voice to the city's political stage. His passion was formidable, and that has won him respect, even from his opponents.

Those who have befriended Green over the years (and this is a legion of Vancouverites) know him for his other passion, too -- the opera.

Sit with him over a bottle of red wine in an Italian restaurant and the conversation soon meanders to that subject. He can recite librettos of the great works, he can run you through a history of the divas, and he'll often flash back to his trips to the world's great opera houses for performances that still make him misty. For all his bluster, Jim Green is a softy.

It's really no wonder Green is drawn to the opera, with its grand narratives of triumph and loss, rich and the poor, often pitted in battle. The arc of Green's life -- from Vietnam draft dodger to taxi driver, to longshoremen to city councilor, to university instructor to development consultant and fearless anti-poverty activist -- is a breathtaking opera in itself.

Hearing of his latest battle with cancer, the City of Vancouver is reportedly moving to award Green its highest honour -- the Freedom of The City award. That's a well-deserved accolade.

But why not go one step further?

Green has literally defined Vancouver's skyline. He has deeply influenced its political and cultural life and, despite his local fame, he never lost touch with life in the Downtown Eastside, the neighbourhood that is his muse.

So isn't it time to name a public place in Vancouver's inner city for Jim Green?

Perhaps Pigeon Park or Crab Park, those green spaces he fought to preserve because he knows they are crucial to a good life in the city's poorest neighborhood. Maybe Green's name should be on a street or lane way. Or the square of the new Woodward's building, the edifice Green helped make a reality and is now a catalyst for the Downtown Eastside's revitalization without forgetting its less wealthy residents.

As he will probably tell you, Jim Green's own opera won't be over until the guy in the black fedora sings.

But as he battles through this latest act in a remarkable life, I imagine it would give Green -- and his many friends -- pure pleasure to know Vancouver and its citizens have decided the name Jim Green will be etched onto Vancouver's map, and into its heart, forever.