Urbanism
April 25, 2019

Climate Emergency and Climate Emergencies

 

In 1989, in my second term on city council, I moved a motion that launched the Task Force on Atmospheric Change – thankfully renamed Clouds of Change.

The origin of that report is now 30 years old.

It was, I believe, the first report on climate change by a North American municipality.  Its main achievement was to set the City on a course that we now call sustainability.  It was the first of a dozen more plans and initiatives that led to the city we have today.

Did Clouds of Change lead to a reduction of greenhouse gases, did it in a modest way help fight climate change?  Modestly, yes.  But in those thirty years, this happened:

… from 1989 to 2019.

… more than half of the carbon exhaled into the atmosphere by the burning of fossil fuels has been emitted in just the last three decades.  Which means we have done as much damage to the fate of the planet and its ability to sustain human life and civilization since (Clouds of Change!) than in all the centuries – all the millennia – that came before.

Given that we’re on track to do that again, only worse, in the next 30 years, it makes sense to call this phase of our awareness The Climate Emergency‘ and to accelerate our progress, amp up our targets, shorten our timeframes.

Which is what this report does, and which Council started to consider last Tuesday. They began with delegations.  I was one – as well as Peter Ladner, also a former councillor.

Approve the report, I asked, since it builds on the initiatives and work that proceeded it – and we as a city are getting pretty good at meeting ambitious targets and setting an inspiring example for others.  There’s good people on your staff wanting to take this on: give them your support for the Big Moves.

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Now that Google’s Streetview has been in operation for a decade, and conveniently provides its available archive with each image, it’s possible to do what Guest suggests in the post below:

You could take a similar pic – but in reverse and with a future transition – of the former Granville 7 Theatre on Granville Steet.

i.e. bustling pic of the movie crowds in the 1990s, boarded up with chain link fence and homeless camped out for the past few years after the theatre closed, and in a few more years (hopefully) bustling again as a Cineplex Rec Room.

Here’s the result so far:

2007:

2011:

2018:

The current street scene, at least in these shots, is not as dramatic as it can be, when there are rough shelters under the canopies.  Whereas the difference in New York from the 1980s to now – in this case, the Brooklyn neighbourhood of Bushwick – is unmissable.  Almost inconceivable.

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From Orca:

Crossing the Granville Bridge recently, I was stopped by a woman who was interviewing walkers about a plan already adopted by the city to now spend at least $25 million creating an elevated greenway for walkers and bikers over that bridge. This was part of the public consultation program.

As a taxpayer, I wonder about governments that often adopt plans first with public consultation to follow.

I often use interviews as a research technique in my job so I noticed how cleverly the interview questions were designed to elicit a positive response to the project. They all centred on how wonderful the new greenway would be for the kind of people I very rarely see taking advantage of the similar and costly developments on the Burrard Bridge.

Some very important questions aren’t being asked. This project will be paid for by all the citizens of Vancouver. No one is asking them if they think that a greenway over the bridge is the best use of their tax money.

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I have been advocating for slower vehicular speeds in neighbourhoods to make communities safer, more comfortable and convenient for vulnerable road users. I also have been writing about  the impact on communities elsewhere that have adopted 30 kilometer per hour as the default speed in municipalities.

The Scottish Parliament is considering a bill to  lower speed limits to 20 miles per hour (equivalent to 30 km/h) in all cities, towns and villages. That is a reduction from the currently accepted 30 miles per hour (50 km/h). London and several counties in the United Kingdom that have adopted the slower speeds within their city limits have seen vehicular deaths decline by 20 percent, and serious  injury also substantially decline.

City of Vancouver Councillor Pete Fry has introduced a motion asking that Council support a resolution to the Union of British Columbia Municipalities to lobby the Province to amend the Motor Vehicle Act “to a default speed limit of 30 kilometers per hour for local streets with municipalities enabled to increase speed limits on local streets in a case-by-case basis by by-laws and posted signage.” Councillor Fry has also requested that staff identify an area of Vancouver to pilot a 30 km/h speed limit, report back on the strategy, and implement the slower speed in that neighbourhood area to ascertain the effectiveness of the policy.

This is not the first 30 kilometers per hour rodeo going to the Union of British Columbia Municipalities. The City of New Westminster and Councillor Patrick Johnstone headed up such a request a few years back.  What really needs to happen is for this initiative to leave the purview of the municipalities and be seriously considered by Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Claire Trevena who can give authorization for the change to the Motor Vehicle Act.

The beauty of a blanket implementation of the residential neighbourhoods is that there will not be a huge capital cost to create signage everywhere indicating how fast you can move on which street. While arterial roads would remain at 50 km/h, the local serving streets  within Vancouver  neighbourhoods could  all be 30 km/h.

This is also City of Vancouver City Council’s opportunity to correct the term “Vision Zero”. During the Vision Party’s majority they did not want the term “Vision Zero” in Vancouver’s reports  (which refers to the Swedish approach adopted in 1997 to achieve zero road deaths) to be used for political reasons.

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Public transit consultant Jarrett Walker says the value of his work with municipalities around the world is never predicated on delivering his own recommendation. Instead, he says he “fosters conversations, leading to confident decisions”.

That might get his firm Jarrett Walker + Associates the job. But as he demonstrates during this enlightening and entertaining chat — Price Talks’ second live recording at Gord’s West End apartment —”convening people in the presence of reality” is Walker’s true skill.

What does that look like? He discloses some of his interdisciplinary secret sauce, various processes and approaches to helping North American cities re-think how to move people. And some of it sounds very much like child’s play.

Walker is well familiar with Metro Vancouver’s complex political, geographic, and fiscal environments for transportation-related capital projects — he worked and lived here a decade ago as consultant to TransLink — and has some compelling advice for the audience.

(An auspicious collection of academics, advocates, and regional and municipal government leaders, with journalist and knitter non-pareil Frances Bula keeping everyone honest. Listen closely to the questions, and play a little game of “who’s who”.)

One such nugget: get over your reluctance to fight for municipal self-determination in transit. Another one, eminently Google-able for extra colour and context: take on the ‘elite projections’ of technocrats like Elon Musk when discussing what the future of transportation should look like.

Oh, and of course a few thoughts on ride-hailing. On Uber and Lyft: “People who can afford it become completely addicted to it. And it only works as long as not many people use it. It can strangle the city.”

Enjoy.

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TransLink sums it all up in two conveniently tweet-able sentences:

Public engagement is a key component of rapid transit planning. We value your feedback and want to hear what you think about the proposed Surrey Langley SkyTrain, and rapid transit options for the 104th Avenue and King George Boulevard corridors.

They do indeed, but apart from the project team’s appearance at tomorrow’s Vaisakhi Day Parade in Surrey, opportunities to have your say in person are over.

Public engagement is only open for one more week (through April 26) via online survey.

Before taking the survey, be sure to check out the engagement boards, describing the project and the various options considered for transit over the past few years, including this handy graphic comparing the different modes and technologies considered.

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. It’s odd that Vancouver, with its ongoing crisis in affordable rental housing, doesn’t pay more attention to Seattle – fast-growing, tech-boom city that it is – where the problem has been so much new rental stock available that the fear has been too many ‘ghost apartments.’  That’s changing, according to the Seattle Times:

The Seattle area is filling up new apartments faster than any region in the country, suggesting demand for housing is starting to catch up with the record construction boom — not a great sign for tenants hoping landlords get desperate and drop rents.

The new figures offer fresh insight into the years-long, multibillion-dollar experiment being waged by developers as they build more apartments in the city of Seattle this decade than in the previous half-century combined, betting on the long-term economic health of the region. Will enough renters eventually materialize to fill them, or will the city have a skyline of empty ghost apartments? …

(Market analyst Carl) Whittaker cited the region’s strong economy and foreign immigration pull for leading the country in drawing renters, as well as the fact that the metro is building more apartments to actually house them. Only three metro areas in the country — New York, Dallas and Los Angeles — built more apartments than Seattle last year. …

For a while it looked like developers might have been too aggressive with all those new units: Vacancy rates had been rising, recently reaching their highest point since the recession. Building owners struggling to fill up tons of new units all at the same time resorted to offering concessions like a free month’s rent or thousands of dollars in gift cards. The supply-and-demand equation flipped so suddenly that Seattle rents went from soaring at the fastest rate in the country to among the slowest.

Now, generally speaking, apartments in Seattle are filling up nearly the same rate as they are opening.

As PT has noted before, the fundamentals are beginning to shift in Vancouver too: falling house prices, increased supply in some areas, more to come.  While the housing crisis continues, it’s changing, and perception lags behind.

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