COVID Place making
October 29, 2020

Motordom Redux: The Reality on Our Roads

PT: We’re in a sudden, massive, global real-life experiment in how we live and move in our cities.  While there is lots of theorizing going on (we’ll now work mainly at home – except when we won’t), the reality on our roads will tell us what we’re really doing.

Here’s an ominous report from New York:

Traffic jams are a familiar sight again in (New York City). “This traffic is just ridiculous,” said one driver waiting to turn onto traffic-choked Morris Avenue in the Bronx. “We live in this neighborhood, it doesn’t make sense for it to be this way.”

Traffic engineer Sam Schwartz, better known as Gridlock Sam, said car traffic is now 85 to 95 percent of pre-pandemic levels.  Truck traffic is at 100 percent, and some days more.

The increase appears even more striking considering that only 15 percent of workers have returned to their Manhattan offices, according to Partnership for New York City.

The biggest problem, experts say, is that many New Yorkers are not yet comfortable riding buses, the subways and commuter railroads again…. “The same thing happened in other parts of the world,” MTA Chairman Pat Foye said. “Riders had a multitude of alternatives to commute into the central business districts, starting with Wuhan and other parts of both Asia and Europe. So it’s not surprising.”

While the scale and complexity of New York is substantially different from us, we do share one thing in common: growth in population and business travel has been accommodated on transit, not through an expansion of road capacity.  There just isn’t a lot of room available on the asphalt to handle even a small shift from transit to car – and, as the report notes, only a small percentage of workers have returned to CBDs and other work spaces so far.  This is not looking good, especially if transit use permanently declines.

It’s easy to forecast one political fallout: there will not be an appetite to take road space away from vehicles if it’s already saturated.  Or worse, to return space reallocated for other uses – notably patios, slow streets, bike lanes, transit priority – to ‘reduce congestion’.

We need a similar update on what’s happening in Metro Vancouver – especially where congestion is emerging, how much and how fast.  It may be more in the suburban and ex-urban parts of the region (what’s it like out there, Abbotsford?) than in the Metro Core.

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The Pandemic has brought a lot of things to the forefront, not the least of which is using technology to stay connected with the office and the rest of the world. Zoom has become the “go to” app for many to have virtual meetings. Technology has enabled us to look into the personal abodes of persons on zoom, and there’s even some clever twitter accounts such as @ratemyskyperoom that ranks those skype rooms on a ten out of ten system.

We have all enjoyed seeing Keith Baldrey,  the Legislative Bureau Chief of Global News skyrocket to a top rating by his clever use of a plant and a bookshelf that has an always changing array of books written about British Columbia.

And then there was Gordon Price’s early morning interview on Global Television about the City of Vancouver’s Climate Emergency Action Plan which included an impromptu cameo of his longtime husband Len ambling in the background. Gordon had forgotten that Zoom’s virtual background breaks up when movement is detected. Such as a husband ambling across the hall from his morning shower without his clothes.

Len is a sought after personal trainer~and there were brief glimpses of his remarkable backside which in Canada is pretty much verboten on Canadian content television. Kudos to Global Television’s Neetu Garcha who kept the conversation focussed on the upcoming Climate Emergency Plan, and not the well built body behind Gordon.

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There are a whole bunch of people that have had their rights and freedoms tremendously impacted by the Covid pandemic in Canada. Those are people with disabilities and seniors that are in assisted living and long term care homes. Activist Paul Caune has drawn attention to this issue, and shared the stories of people whose quality of life and opportunity to have even the most basic interaction with caregivers, families and friends cut off due to facility precautions over the  Covid pandemic.

Journalist Daphne Bramham has written about issues for residents in George Pearson Centre that were evident even before the Covid epidemic. There have been stories written about people not able to be with their parents when they were dying  in care homes, and people in assisted living who relied on families for their basic care who have been shut out.

No one imagined that a pandemic would force the closure of these care facilities in such a way that many residents became prisoners and confined to their facilities or to their rooms during the pandemic.

In June in British Columbia  care facilities were asked to submit plans to the Province to allow one visitor at a time per resident for one half hour behind plexiglass or outdoors. Each facility has a different management plan, and family members cannot touch or assist the resident in any way.

I have written about Ontario deciding that family, comfort and care was important to facility residents. They realized that facility operators had been inconsistent in providing clear policy on visits by caregivers (including families).  Ontario is now allowing  two designated caregivers to visit at any time including during a covid outbreak subject to “direction from the local public health unit”.

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Here’s an interesting poll from Mario Canseco with Research.Co and a reminder that when the BC speculation tax was passed, there was expectation of a big revolt against it.

Journalist Ian James Young  calls it out on twitter: “has ever an issue received so much attention, and gained so little traction, as the supposed revolt-in-waiting over the BC speculation tax?”

Mr. Canseco’s poll taken in June 2020 shows that 78 percent of people in British Columbia were prepared to take the issue of foreign ownership even farther, being in support of a regulation banning  “most foreigners from purchasing real estate in Canada”.

The comparison used in the survey was the legislation in place in New Zealand that bans foreign investment by persons and corporate entities that are not vested in that country. There are some exceptions in New Zealand available for people with residency status, and Australian and Singaporean citizenship.

Mr. Canseco’s poll found support in B.C. highest among Vancouver Island residents and those aged 35 to 54 years, both at 88 percent.

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Just out from the Literary Review of Canada:

PT: Frances Bula has indispensably covered urban issues and city politics in Vancouver long enough to remember things other writers didn’t even live though much less forgot (as the review of Jesse Donaldson’s book, Land of Destiny: A History of Vancouver Real Estate, demonstrates).  So with her nuanced and in-depth perspective, she’s now able to piss off every side of the debate on housing affordability, development and who’s responsible.

Here are some excerpts – but go read the complete story here.

Donaldson limits his narrative to one overarching theme: that a select group of speculators have controlled this city forever. In Land of Destiny, only the names change through the decades — the general storyline stays the same. There is always a powerful group of marketers and speculators, and there is always a willing band of politicians to give them whatever is needed in order to reap the windfall.

Donaldson suggests that Vancouver’s dynamic real estate experience is unique. But that interpretation, a familiar one in an often unhappy city, where suspicion-filled and resentful narratives about development are an established noir tradition, leaves out so much. For one, Vancouver is not unique when it comes to land rushes. That’s pretty much the story of the western United States and Canada, as people scrambled to acquire property, in what were seen as newly opened and empty territories, and then market it to newcomers. Capitalism at its rawest.

Second, Donaldson doesn’t explain why the speculators were so successful here compared with other places. Many have failed at this capitalist game of creating demand where there was none before, losing fortunes as buyers failed to appear at their gimcrack Shangri‑Las. What was it about local dynamics that nurtured enough pressure on real estate that it became a reliable speculative vehicle right from the start?  (Details follow.)

 

Here’s the part of the review that I think is most salient:

A history of Vancouver real estate should give some kind of attention, at some point, to all buyers and owners, not just foreign investors. But too many of those buyers and owners are absent from Land of Destiny. Their absence becomes steadily more glaring as the chapters unfurl because local transactions are, in the end, the mechanism that makes speculation work.

She adds a quote from Los Angeles writer Mike Davis’s City of Quartz that is particularly relevant to Vancouver culture (and to the local Green Party in particular):

Davis details the way that homeowner groups of thirty years ago, using the language and often the support of the environmental movement, blocked development of lower-cost housing throughout Los Angeles: “Environmentalism is a congenial discourse to the extent that it is congruent with a vision of eternally rising property values in secure bastions of white privilege.”

And then, ka-pow:

Land of Density makes it sound like a mystery why all those politicians with real estate cronies get elected. But it’s not a mystery. A significant group of voters, the ones who have benefited from the way the current system works, keep electing them. They were mostly pleased with themselves and their foresight while Vancouver property values kept climbing. It’s only when things got a little out of hand this past decade — when suddenly neither children of the land rich nor double-income households could afford even the first rung of the homeownership ladder — that we saw some backlash from the existing owners.

It would have been nice to see that analysis and history in this book. The opportunity was there. There’s no shortage of archival news accounts of locals pushing back to keep the outsiders away, including the now-legendary comment by a west-side resident in one public hearing that a potential transportation corridor shouldn’t be allowed in her area because it is filled with the “crème de la crème.”*

Or this:

Donaldson employs language and framing that pins everything on the cabal of “others.” Real estate is controlled by “oligarchs.” Developers and politicians,

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There’s been some discussion that the City of Vancouver’s three public golf courses, which are classified as park land, should be morphed into housing sites. The argument has been that as the population of the City of Vancouver expands, why not use golf course sites for housing?

The City cannot easily turn land zoned for park use into housing sites and there’s the suggestion that doing so may be short sighted, as the city densifies and requires park land for a growing populus into the next century. The City does have an  established policy of providing 2.5 acres of park land for every 1,000 residents, and used DCLs on new development to garner funds for park purchase.

The original intent of DCLs, (Development Cost Levies) was to pay for social housing, infrastructure, parks and childcare facilities. As development occurred in the city, each development would pay a portion of the associated costs. Councils have also waived these DCL payments in some cases to achieve other goals such as new affordable or rental housing, meaning that the funds for other infrastructure required have been deferred.

Take a look at what the  City of Sydney Australia is doing in this article written by Megan Gorrey in the Sydney Morning Herald. Mayor Clover Moore and Sydney Council is considering two plans to pare down an 18 hole civic golf course to 9 holes and create 20 hectares of new parkland.

 

It’s no surprise that Golf New South Wales called the proposal “shameful”. But the Lord mayor argues that the land is for public use. While the golf course is in a park trust run by New South Wales state, Mayor Moore observes that the area surrounding the golf course is “becoming the densest residential area in Australia” with an expected population increase of 70,000 residents and 22,000 workers by 2031.

There are twelve golf courses, six accessible to the public within 12 kilometres of this golf course. The City Council plans to spend $50,000 on a community consultation plan for the area and for the park if the proposal is adopted, providing new park land with close proximity to the downtown.

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David Zinn lives in Ann Arbor Michigan, a town of 121,000 people west of Detroit. He is a graphic artist and he has a special talent~he imaginatively places chalk drawings around the sidewalks and public areas of his city. His imaginative revisioning of the cracks and crevices of the public realm has taken him to many cities around the world, where his art is on the street. That art is there for  a little while, under normal environmental factors.

Mr. Zinn sees  the inevitable rain and weathering of his artistic work as part of his creative process. He’s developed a set of characters that  appear  in different landscapes ,and he takes advantage of found objects and fixtures along sidewalks. His cast of characters include “Sluggo” a green monster as well as a  flying pig who is named Philomena.

There’s a series of books and even a calendar  based upon Mr. Zinn’s drawings. This year Mr. Zinn did a TEDx talk that describes his philosophy and process in creating these images. 

 

You can take a look at this short YouTube video below that describes Mr. Zinn’s work and philosophy, as well as why he believes art is good for everyone during the Covid pandemic.

Images:DavidZinn

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Arizona State University’s (ASU) School of Sustainability and Island Press are partnering on a fall speaker series featuring Island Press authors and Urban Resilience Project contributors. All events are free, hosted by ASU, and promise to inspire.

Join Shane Phillips, author of The Affordable City, for a discussion moderated by ASU urban planner and sustainability scientist Deirdre Pfeiffer.

From Los Angeles to Boston and Chicago to Miami, US cities are struggling to address the twin crises of high housing costs and household instability. Debates over the appropriate course of action have been defined by two poles: building more housing or enacting stronger tenant protections. These options are often treated as mutually exclusive, with support for one implying opposition to the other.

There is no single solution to the housing crisis—it will require a comprehensive approach backed by strong, diverse coalitions. Hear how professionals and advocates are working to improve affordability and increase community resilience through local action.

To register for this webinar please click here.

Date: Thursday October 29, 2020

Time: 1:00 to 2:00 Pacific Time

 

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For years the MTA subway map of New York has been a city icon – and much debated in the graphic world as it tried to achieve an almost-impossible set of needs: accuracy, elegancy, clarity, trying to combine a huge amount of information on what happens below ground with some utility as an above-ground navigation tool.

This new online one, suitable for the way we actually get information, seems to do the job.  So, transit nerds, set aside some time to explore.

From Curbed:

Today, the MTA is unveiling its new digital map, the first one that uses the agency’s own data streams to update in real time. It supersedes the blizzard of paper service-change announcements that are taped all over your subway station’s entrance. It’s so thoroughly up-to-the-moment that you can watch individual trains move around the system on your phone.

Pinch your fingers on the screen, and you can zoom out to see your whole line or borough, as the lines resolve into single strands. Drag your fingers apart, and you’ll zoom in to see multiple routes in each tunnel springing out, widening into parallel bands — making visible individual service changes, closures and openings, and reroutings. Click on a station, and you can find out whether the elevators and escalators are working.

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He came at a time when TransLink was maligned and demoralized, thanks to Christy Clark’s pointless and destructive referendum.  He led the organization to its greatest success, to become the best transit agency in North America.  And to improvements which continue to roll out. (If not for the pandemic, we’d still be seeing significant increases in ridership.)

I suspect he received calls from headhunters every week.  And with opportunities that became irresistible.  I will not be surprised if he becomes the next Secretary of Transportation in a Biden administration.

Here’s the interview PriceTalks did with Kevin Desmond last year – still revealing for the backstory of a public servant who will be much missed but with whom we received much benefit.

The Sky’s the Limit for Kevin Desmond, CEO of North America’s Transit Ridership Leader

Happy hiking, Kevin.

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