January 25, 2021

Why Can’t We Just Have Public Washrooms in Vancouver?

It is one of the most frustrating things about this pandemic~everything might be closed down and activities discouraged, but there are basic things you need to do. I had an appointment and stopped  at Broadway and Granville Streets to use a washroom. I went to order in the Starbucks on Granville Street and asked to use the washroom only to find that while Starbucks will make the coffee and you can drink it, there’s no washroom available due to Covid.

For many people and for children drinking liquids without access to a washroom is like writing on a blackboard without chalk. It cannot be done. There are times you just need the use of public washroom facilities. I could not find a washroom to use anywhere. I did have a gift certificate for a merchant on the street, and while I was first refused access to the store’s washroom (which was taped off and closed)  that was provided once no other alternative was known and I told them I  had a credit in the store.

This was my first time having to negotiate to use a  washroom in Vancouver. Why is that even necessary?

I  don’t think that the merchants of this city should be required to provide washroom facilities without support from the City. There is no support, other than a vague promise from the City that some mobile washroom facilities would be available for the  dire need in the downtown eastside. No timeline, no locations given.

Council’s response and ignoring the need for basic washroom facilities in business areas is  just not good enough.

While the City has ignored the need for safe sanitary portable washrooms in business areas and in downtown they appear to have accessed funding for other items.

This City Council  voted  two months ago to have an auditor general set up to scrutinize internal processes and evaluate program effectiveness at a cost of two million dollars annually. Last week City Council considered adding an ethics commissioner at an annual cost of $200,000. That job was  to develop separate Codes of Ethics for staff and for City Councillors and Committees (there already is one for both).

The previous City Manager has pointed out that there already  was an internal auditor function and hiring the two million dollar auditor general would duplicate some existing positions. You would think Council could shoehorn in the ethics commissioner into the two million dollar annual outlay for the new Auditor General and pony up some money for something of a much more immediate need: Public Washrooms. Portable ones. That could be placed for citizens use now.

Why is Council busy looking at its own processes and fine tuning themselves when there is no where for citizens to do their business in the streets?

I have written over and over again why we need public washrooms, and accessible clean washrooms in Covid times. It is not only a public health issue it is a human right.

It was  Paola Lorrigio in The Star who bluntly points out that the dearth of  public washrooms, once a barrier to the homeless, poor, racialized and disabled is now a barrier to everyone.

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Daphne Bramham on the weekend wrote in the Province that “the chaos and disorder” in the Downtown Eastside  is so  “normalized that most Vancouverites have abandoned the neighbourhood, given it up to the homeless, the addicted, the mentally ill, and the people who prey on them.”

It is a true reflection of what has occurred and it is not equitable. There should be a standard of civility afforded to everyone to have safe, clean, accessible open spaces and streets everywhere in the city and to ensure public safety to every resident. By every measure that parameter has failed and the most vulnerable are impacted.

Ms. Bramham and Derrick Penner in the Vancouver Sun have written about the JJ Bean coffee shop at 14th and Main Street. The manager has had an escalating situation with several mentally ill homeless people in a host of situations, including “an altercation involving a homophobic slur, someone using drugs while barricaded in his café’s washroom, trash strewn in the alley and human waste smeared on the café’s compostables recycling bin.”

The coffee shop manager found that there was no direct way to find assistance with the challenges, and both the police and the city pointed at each other as places that should be able to provide assistance.

There is clearly no civic blueprint  to allow businesses to function while municipal attitude is to look away from people in crisis on the street, and finger point that other levels of government should be assisting.

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Regarding Paul R. Williams: A Photographer’s View. © Janna Ireland.

MAS Context is a Chicago-based not-for-profit organization that addresses issues that affect the urban context. We do so through publications, various types of public events, and installations.

This event explores the work of pioneering Black architects in Los Angeles and Chicago through the lenses of photographers Janna Ireland and Lee Bey. Their recent books, Regarding Paul R. Williams: A Photographer’s View and Southern Exposure: The Overlooked Architecture of Chicago’s South Side, examine and document the buildings, from private homes to churches and hospitals, designed by a series of Black architects that left their mark in those cities.

Janna Ireland will discuss the work of Paul R. Williams, the legendary Los Angeles architect who became the first Black member of the American Institute of Architects and, later, the first Black recipient of the AIA Gold Medal. Ireland’s book, Regarding Paul R. Williams: A Photographer’s View, contains over 200 photographs taken at Williams’s buildings, from modest homes for middle class families to mansions for the elite.

Lee Bey’s Southern Exposure: The Overlooked Architecture of Chicago’s South Side is the first book devoted to the South Side’s rich and unfairly ignored architectural heritage. It documents the remarkable and largely unsung architecture of the South Side, including buildings by pioneering Black architects such as Walter T. Bailey, John Moutoussamy, and Roger Margerum.


Date: Thursday, February 11, 2021

Time: Event starts at 4pm  Pacific Time
Event will take place on Zoom
You can register by clicking this link.


Regarding Paul R. Williams: A Photographer’s View (Angel City Press Press, 2020). © Janna Ireland.


Southern Exposure: The Overlooked Architecture of Chicago’s South Side (Northwestern University Press, 2019). © Lee Bey.



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Yesterday, Michael Alexander told the story of New York City’s fabulous (and fabulously expensive) new Moynihan Train Hall, and the less happy history of Penn Station, which it serves. Today: what are their lessons for Vancouver? And what are Vancouver’s public transit opportunities (and the region’s) for the coming decades? 

Like the glorious original Beaux-Arts Penn Station, historic Waterfront Station is privately owned by a large developer. And as in New York, that private developer wants to maximize its profits. In New York, the result was to bury most of Penn Station in the basement of Madison Square Garden. Here, developer Cadillac Fairview plans a private, ultramodern 26-storey office tower on a wedge of parking lot next to the station. It was quickly nicknamed The Ice Pick.

Nearly 13 million riders pass through Waterfront Station each year, about five million more than users of the next busiest Translink station. As the pandemic wanes, ridership will increase. The historic 1914 building is protected by heritage regulations, and serves as a stunning public entry and meeting hall.

The actual transit facilities are underground, or in a shabby shed attached to the building’s north side, a construction mirroring the tawdry underground Penn Station that New Yorkers and visitors have suffered since 1968.

Connections are so poorly designed that to transfer between Skytrain lines, you go up two flights, through fare gates, down two flights, and through another set of fare gates.

Translink rents this space and office space in the upper floors from the developer, Cadillac Fairview.

That’s not the way it has to be, or the way the city has said it wants it. Since 2009, the city has had preliminary plans which include a great, glassy public hall, a transit and visitor entry to Vancouver, with views of water and mountains, transportation and history, urban commerce and pleasurable public space. Something like this:

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For those who want to keep up with the latest in cycling around the world, here’s the latest from John Pucher (well-known to cycling advocates in Vancouver) and Ralph Buehler:

How to make city cycling—the most sustainable means of travel—safe, practical, and convenient for all.

After discussing the latest cycling trends and policies around the world, contributors consider such topics as health benefits; cycling facilities, including traffic-protected bike lanes; cycling incentives; the needs and preferences of women, children, and older adults; and equity and social justice.

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From Friend of PT, Michael Alexander:

Earlier this month, New York City opened its new train station. The Moynihan Train Hall, built inside an elegant and gigantic former post office building, is fabulous.

It also cost one point six billion U.S. dollars. It also serves only half the train lines of its predecessor, and it will cost another billion to restore all the service New Yorkers, commuters and visitors once enjoyed. Therein lies a cautionary tale…

In the first half of the 20th century, long trips in North America were mostly by train. Railroads were private businesses, which built stations sized to the communities they served.

The Canadian Pacific Railroad built Vancouver’s Waterfront Station in 1914, replacing an earlier station and hotel on the Burrard Inlet shore. In New York City four years earlier, the Pennsylvania Railroad had built Penn Station on the west side of Manhattan. Both were imposing structures, but Penn Station was spectacular: it was designed by the august architectural firm McKim, Mead and White, and was considered a Beaux-Arts masterpiece.

By the mid-1940s, Penn Station served more than 100 million passengers a year, commuters and intercity. But starting a decade later, air and interstate highway travel led to dramatic rail passenger declines. Looking to improve its bottom line, in 1962 the Pennsylvania Railroad sold the station’s air rights to a private developer, to build the Madison Square Garden sports complex (MSG). In exchange, the railroad got a 25% stake in MSG, and a no-cost, smaller underground station in the MSG basement. It wasn’t… elegant:

The demolition of the McKim, Mead and White building, and its sad replacement, caused an international uproar. “One entered the city like a god. One scuttles in now like a rat,” the architectural historian Vincent Scully famously wrote in the New York Times. Public outrage catalyzed the architectural preservation movement in the U.S., new laws were passed to restrict such demolition, and landmark preservation was upheld by the courts in 1978, after the private Penn Central RR tried to demolish New York’s other great railroad treasure, Grand Central Station.

Today, Penn Station serves more than 600,000 commuter rail and Amtrak passengers on an average weekday, and arrivals and departures have doubled since the 1970s.

So why is this a caution for Vancouver? Tune in tomorrow.

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Council will soon be debating a motion from Green Party Councillor Michael Wiebe for A Community Safety and Well-being Framework.

Its aim:

…. to provide strategic direction for working together with community and key stakeholders to make the best use of available resources to enhance community safety and well-being across broad and critical priority areas, such as personal health, social development, safe public spaces, homes and amenities, crime prevention and reduction, transportation safety, climate safety and emergency management.

I remember motions like that when I was on Council (in fact, I moved some of them).  They’re so broadly worded and well-meaning that it looks, at first glance, difficult to vote against.  Hence the need to be cautious.  What, you will want to know, are the unstated implications?.

From a staff point-of-view, the reaction is likely to be ‘Oh gawd, another of those time-filling, resource-eating, mind-numbing requests that hopefully will go nowhere – unless, of course, it can be used to increase our budget.”

From senior government’s point-of-view, it might look to be an opportunity to download some responsibilities for open-ended social programs in health and welfare otherwise out of the city’s jurisdiction.  ‘You want to take on mental health in the name of crime prevention?  Please do – here’s a program or two to fund.’

From the point-of-view of community activists, it’s another opportunity to control the agenda, especially when you’re being given special mention:

The framework’s development and implementation should be reflective of the community and include multi-sectoral representation and engage people with lived experience and knowledge responding to the diverse needs of community members..

From the point-of-view of those whose responsibility it is already for community safety – like, say, the police department – they will check the motion to see if there’s any mention of those on the front line and how they will be involved.  And in this case, sure enough, not a word.

Oh wait, there is one mention of the police:

According to a Vancouver Police Department report in October 2020, crime rose in the following categories in 2020 compared to 2019:

• The number of homicides increased: 14 in 2020 vs. 9 in 2019.
• Serious assaults, which includes assault with a weapon, assault
causing bodily harm and aggravated assault, are up by 14%.
• Intimate partner violence is 4.6% higher than 2019.
• Anti-Asian hate crime incidents increased by 138%.
• Break-and-enters to businesses increased by 18%.
• Arson incidents increased by 39%.
• Assaults against police officers have gone up 47%.

Note those categories that saw the largest increases in crime rates:

  • No. 1: anti-Asian hate crime incidents – up 138%
  • No. 2: assaults again police officers – up 47%
  • No. 3: arson incidents – up 39%

One has to be cautious with these kind of stats: what was the base from which the increase occurred, and what’s the definition of ‘incident’ and ‘assault’?  Nonetheless, when there are assaults of any kind against those whose responsibility is community safety, and whose effectiveness is based on trust and respect, there’s an issue here.  But in era of ‘defund the police’, it’s not likely to result in increased resources for the safety of those whose first responsibility is the safety of us.

Or possibly I misjudge.  Perhaps in the upcoming debate, there will be a recognition of the police’s role, that councilors will state publicly their respect and support for those accountable for community safety, that they want the police officers’ input in this process, at least in equal measure with those with lived experience.

Because one thing I did learn in office: when it comes to considering council priorities, ‘peace and order’ is the most important lived experience for most of the public most of the time.


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If you saw this headline in the Daily Hive, what would you conclude?

Might you think that Canada’s big cities have seen a drop in their populations?  Easy conclusion, but wrong. 

That is not what this Stats Canada report says, as should be evident in the headline:

Not only is population increasing in the big CMAs (Census Metropolitan Areas), though not as fast as a year earlier, but they’re still growing faster than small urban centres – the opposite of what the article in the Hive implies in sentences like this.

Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver continued to see more people moving out to other regions of their province rather than moving in.

During this one-year period, Toronto saw 50,375 people leave, while Montreal saw 24,880 people leave — a record loss for both cities.

There’s now a meme that cities like Vancouver are being deserted by Covid-fearing residents for small towns.  And there’s a modest indication of something like that happening: more people moving out to surrounding CMAs of the big three cities than those moving in from nearby.  But those are still relatively low numbers, more than offset by the international immigration that constitutes 90 percent of population growth in big CMAs.

The important story is actually the increase in ongoing urban sprawl accentuated by the shift to those smaller regions, which will also likely see marked increased in traffic congestion since their urban form is more car dependent.  Meanwhile, the big CMAs may seem some relief in the upward pressure on housing costs and traffic growth.  But that doesn’t fit the meme.


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Want to learn how cities and communities work and change over time? The CITY100 Series is a collection of practitioner-taught introductory courses in fields dedicated to shaping and building livable, sustainable and inclusive communities.

The series currently includes the following courses, with more in the works:

CITY101 Planning for Non-Planners | Feb 18, 25, Mar 4 (evenings)
CITY102 Housing Policy Fundamentals | Apr 8, 15, 22 (evenings)
CITY103 Transportation Planning and Mobility Fundamentals | May 4, 11, 18 (evenings)
CITY105 Regional Planning Fundamentals | Jun 1, 8, 15 (evenings)
CITY106 Community Data Fundamentals | May 6, 13, 20 (evenings)
Whether you’re starting your journey into these fields as an emerging or established professional, or as an engaged citizen, these classes are built with the beginner in mind.

Free info session
On February 9, join us for an online info session to learn more about the unique learning opportunity the CITY100 Series provides.

CITY100 Series Info Session
Tue, Feb 9 | 6 p.m. PST

You’ll have a chance to connect with our instructors:

Eric Aderneck, Urban Planning
Margaret Eberle, Housing Policy
Elicia Elliott, Transportation and Mobility
Christina DeMarco, Regional Planning
Craig Jones, Community Data
Sam Walker, Community Data

You can register for this free webinar here.

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It’s no secret that when election ballots were alphabetized in the City of Vancouver that they seemed to favour people who had names at the top of the alphabet. You can take a look at this list of Mayors and Councils dating back to 1887. From my unscientific examination that there appears to be a heck of a lot of Councillors with last names beginning with the letters  “A” to “D”.

In 2005, six councillors had their last names with the initials “A” to “D”. In 2008 there were four Councillors that had their last names starting with  “A” to “D” initials. The City of Vancouver Council has ten members, as well as the Mayor.

If you have a slate of councillors you want to get elected with, knowing that their last name started with a letter from the front of the alphabet has historically helped.

It made sense to randomize the ballot, but what to do with the very long slate of names, many names people voting for Councillor might be unfamiliar with?  Alex Strachan reported in a 1993 article in the Vancouver Sun  that “studies show voters choosing a slate from the list of 40 names or more may choose several selections at the top of the list before realizing they have a few choices left”. 

Sadly it appears to be human nature that people go to the bottom of the list and then work their way up~”overlooking the names in the middle”.

In 1993 the ballot was randomized, with the order of ranking on the ballot being decided by names being drawn from a ballot box. The successful mayor, Phillip Owen was number two on the ballot; his main opponent, Libby Davies was in the 11th spot.

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