February 22, 2016

Item from Ian: Who speaks for those who don't speak?

A comment on James’s post Who Speaks for those who are not already here the other day led Ian to think about a related issue: who speaks for those who don’t speak?

Commenter ‘Bob’ made this statement: “I don’t have much sympathy if young people of any colour who live in my neighbourhood can’t be bothered to show up for planning and development open houses. Maybe they should put aside the craft beer for a night if they care at all for their ‘hoods. If they don’t care or can’t be bothered, well they’ll get the city they deserve.” As a young(er) person, who faces a multitude of pressures on my time (and I’m certainly more involved than most), I take issue with this sentiment – especially as it is one you hear voiced quite frequently (… I don’t mean to pick on Bob necessarily, but it’s a good point to try and unpack).

Why should people have to speak to be represented? Everyone has a right to just and fair representation whether they specifically demand it or not. Case in point: babies have rights but can’t verbalize them, neither can the infirm. Is there some magic moment at which point you lose your voice if you don’t make it heard?

Whether we intend to or not, we create ‘clubs’ which exclude people and viewpoints, and without going out of ‘our’ way to include others and their views, we are poorer for it.

On CBC radio this morning, I was hearing about a great sounding event sponsored by Google called XX-UX  … which to me even is only vaguely decipherable … but it is an event to get more women (XX) involved in the User Experience (UX) field (Wikipedia).

(There are a huge number of parallels between UX and Architecture and Planning … I shudder to think how much more brainpower is going into the design of the apps we use than the form and feel and function of the spaces we live in, and seriously wonder if I should do UX in my next life!)

Why should we care who we hear? Using Bob’s line of thinking, maybe the women are off having beer instead of being engineers? (ok, this is a cheap shot, sorry Bob) Seriously though, why is it detrimental when a large segment of the population is not represented?

From the CBC interview:

Stephen Quinn asked “What do women bring to UX design that men don’t?”

Amy Ngai, a UX Designer for AxiumZen, the company hosting the XX-UX event, replied “Its not so much what we bring that men don’t, but we are 50% of the population… and UX design requires you to look at users, it requires you to be empathetic with the people you are designing for, and if I have the experience to understand these people then I can design better for them.”

The more diversity of viewpoints you have, the better you can understand and create and design. You can’t consider a design to be as good as it could be unless you have a broad pool of ideas – this is the classic ‘the next Einstein or Mozart might be living in Africa , but unless they have opportunity, and/or we care to look, we’ll never know’ situation.

If diversity is important in design, and also in looking for Einstein 2.0, should it not also be important in designing buildings, cities, and countries? If only a small part of the population is represented in decision making, if certain areas of the city exclude large parts of the population (or simply don’t include large parts, or those who simply feel excluded, or non-included), how can we consider that society is healthy?

If we care about equity in one area of society, we must also elsewhere … There are examples of inequity almost anyplace one might look … Why are some of these given a pass as being normal, and unavoidable, and just a cost of doing business. (Comments that suggest simply that the solution to affordability is giving up on Vancouver and moving to Hedley or Hope fall in this category)

Whose voices are we missing?

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James can tell you I’ve been an advocate for a pool in False Creek for some time, and every time I have mentioned it among friends, the first remark is ‘ew!’ or ‘I don’t want to go anywhere near that water‘.

How is it possible that we as a city/province/people are comfortable with crap water? (or more specifically, Crap IN our water see here, here, here and here)

There’s plenty of ew out there, but is the solution to never touch the water again, or to consider doing something about the ew!?

I was really happy to see HCMA’s proposal that there be a floating pool in the harbour … I’d never had a chance to draw up my idea, so more than happy that someone local beat me to it. There are plenty of precedents +Pool, Thames Bath, Copenhagen bath by BIG + JDS … and everyone in Basel who floats lazily down the Rhine (which wasn’t exactly clean not that long ago)

The last time I was in Toronto, I was excited to see that there was a huge construction project going on – the Blue Flag Project (I think that was the overall project’s name … I’m struggling to remember the logo on the hoarding) which aimed/aims at making all of Toronto beaches swimmable. As someone who has judiciously swum off of Toronto Islands, and even more judiciously rowed by Ontario place, I can tell you this is a welcome change.

How is this not a thing here? We’re the ‘Greenest’ city, but we have BLACK water?

From the comments in one of the articles about HCMA’s project, with my thoughts:
‘Gross’then we should clean the water.
‘Why anyone would want to swim in Coal Harbour is beyond me’ – well, there’s a nice view, thats a good start. 
‘I don’t think its a smart idea to be building this so close to the floatplane terminal’ – tell that to everyone eating at Cactus Club.

And a comment on one of the facebook posts about HCMA’s proposal stated essentially (I can’t find it specifically) ‘there’s so much gas in the water from the float plane terminal I wouldn’t want to swim there’ – they should stop spilling gas in the water then! After all, any spill that threatens the environmental quality of water, land or air must be reported.

And finally, to plug an event that is happening tonight at the MOV!

What opportunities exist to create innovative, engaging public spaces in one of Canada’s most densely populated and expensive cities? How can a highly livable city surrounded by unparalleled natural beauty be described as “no fun” or have disengaged, unhappy citizens?

Join us for a lively discussion about what’s possible for Vancouver’s public realm, one that engages the water surrounding Vancouver in new ways. At this event presented by HCMA, people will discover the informed research and creative process behind Coal Harbour Deck (on display inYour Future Home), a project that reclaims Vancouver’s water for a new type of urban space. Visitors can have a look at some other initiatives that HCMA is working on to create and enhance public social spaces, and improve Vancouver’s relationship with water. Access to the Your Future Home exhibition is included with admission to this event.

Following the presentation, Mark Busse will facilitate a discussion about how we can, collectively, create new and engaging public spaces in our city as well as a fun activity with a prize for the best audience contribution! Grab a drink from the cash bar, have a snack, dive in to the issues, and let the ideas and conversation flow!

Date: Friday, February 19
Bar open: 6:00-9:00pm
Presentation begins: 7:00pm
Tickets: Access to Your Future Home included with admission: $15 adults; $11 Students & Seniors; Free for MOV Members.

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Who are we? What is our city for? Who is our city for?

In 2014, the Vancouver City Council started the process of creating a new strategic plan for the City. From March-May 2014, the Council held four “strategy sessions” to identify high-level goals that would serve as the foundation for a strategic planning process.
The goal of the strategy sessions was to review, refine and verify the City’s vision for the community. The Council began by identifying their shared values and vision for the community, defining what excellent leadership looks like, and discussing what they would like their legacy to be. Strategy sessions also included an environmental scan, looking at the City’s purpose, inputs, outcomes, feedback loops, etc.
The strategic planning sessions were a starting point to explore answers to important questions…

  • What kind of city do we want to be?
  • What do we want for our future?
  • What are the most pressing issues and challenges our community will face in the next 5-10 years?
  • What should our priorities be?

Gordon’s last post about the TEAM letter, asking for a city plan to accompany a new city planner, led to a quick google search which uncovered the strategic plan above, sadly though, it’s from the ‘wrong’ Vancouver (Washington, not BC).
If there was one takeaway from the Urban Planning Events of 2015 session at the MOV last week, it was that there is lots of concern for Vancouver’s ‘Trees’ without much in the way of seeing its ‘Forest’.
In Vancouver (BC) the ‘Forest’ is the region, it is the Bridge to Nowhere Sunshine Coast, the highwayification up to the city’s borders, the various LNG projects, and even ‘Site C’ dam (as the city’s growth is used as part of the justification), the paving over of paradise farm land to put up more parking lots, and the effects of climate change … just as much as the ‘Forest’ is the 0.3% rental vacancy rates, the $2 million is the new $1 million, and whether Old Neighborhoods can include New Friends, the looming arrival of 100,000 … 1,000,000 people, etc.
“If you fail to plan, you plan to fail” … said my old planning prof. Lets start planning our Forest democratically, transparently, holistically, and at the same time showing acknowledgement of both the externalities inherent to our behavior, and the vested interests which might want to act counter to what is actually ‘good’.
Lets have Vancouver be more like Vancouver, because we’ve got some hard questions to answer … lets start with these ones, and go from there:

  • What kind of city do we want to be?
  • What do we want for our future?
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I’ve enjoyed stirring things up this week, learned quite a bit in the course of the posted comments, and want to thank Gordon Price for the keys to the kingdom access to this forum to address Vancouver’s best and brightest! I’m handing over the keys to Nathan Pachal … have a great week!
I am concerned that Vancouver talks about its Green-ness, but there are legacy policies and infrastructure, and zoning, and existing built form, which all seems to get in the way of a truly green future.
I understand some of the below are being looked at, but I am also interested in what I might have missed … what issues are you dealing with which are helping or hurting the city’s green future? (transportation, building, infrastructure, social matters, garden space, etc… all fair game … I’m interested in in the whole list holistic urban green issues)
The following is a letter I wrote in response to a tweet by Andrea Reimar asking for things that people would like addressed at her Town Hall concerning the city’s Greenest City 2020 Action Plan and the City’s new commitment to 100% Renewable Energy by 2050 (I was unable to attend, so I couldn’t raise any of these the issues in person).

Hi Andrea,

My concern stems from the fact that I have been designing a house in an RS1 district, and unlike many other cities in the region which explicitly allow solar power or solar thermal power to pass beyond the zoning envelope (District of North Vancouver is a nice example, which has both envelope exclusion and some nice planning tools to determine solar viability). Vancouver did not sign the BC Solar Charter back in the 2000’s, and does not have this policy in place.

So its odd that Vancouver requires solar thermal hookups to roofs, but does not make allowance to mount the panels on those roofs. One could theoretically design a smaller house to keep things inside and ‘legal’, but with land prices, few want to not maximize their allowable FSR. Also, on an existing house, one would have to modify the house itself – a prohibitive measure to be sure. I have been told that Planning can make exceptions, but most clients I have dealt with are extremely hesitant to have to go through the time involved to do anything but the most rubber stamp permit possible – the permit processing time is already long enough without adding more, is the general feeling.

My conversations with planning itself have led me to believe that the exceptions required, while possible, would not be easily received … I don’t mind asking for exceptions if they are de-facto rubber stamps, but without a rule making things explicit, one is left at the apparent whim of the planning officer involved, and because that changes by the project, so does the possible response.

We recently had a client who, on the advice that a solar setup would complicate his house design/permit process, shied away from the inclusion of Solar + Tesla box. I have talked with several solar companies to see if anyone has any experience installing solar in Vancouver, and beside the odd civic structure, or commercial with flat roof and no envelope concerns, no-one has. Considering how much solar is being installed elsewhere (both PV and Solar Thermal), it seems odd that so little is being installed here, especially with the stated desire to be 100% renewable. There is so much catch up to do for Vancouver to equal, let alone significantly better many other cities (essentially any city in Germany, for instance) that unless there is a total reliance on hydro power for its renewable energy source, it seems hard to imagine that a solar revolution will happen here any time soon under the current rules.

One additional point about the RS1 area (which I pick because it is the majority of the city) is that it favors a N-S axis to housing, with vertical North and South facades (again, if one wants to build out to maximum FSR) .. so the law of Vancouver actually specifically makes the city a solar-inefficient place.

None of the above require significant changes in bylaw, and they have all been adopted elsewhere, some very close by. I think there would be an immediate uptick in solar if these changes were made, and I understand from one of the solar companies that I have contacted that there have been some conversations with planning about rule changes,

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I was watching an older SFU video last week on The Melbourne Experience.

… and one of the most interesting things to me was when Rob Adams mentioned that the vibrant Melbourne laneways are not an old thing, just like Granville Island, they are a thing of the 70s, which has become fundamental to the character of the city.
Vancouver has some of the world’s most expensive property values, yet nearly 50% of the ground level building frontage is forgotten, doomed at best to be avoided, dedicated only to waste and maybe graffiti. How is that a good use of space?
Last year, there was a great article about how Seattle wants to ‘Melbourne-ize’ its’ laneways Seattle’s Future Alleys Look Like Paradise 
Nord Alley (SvR Design/Olson Kundig Architects)
Yes, there are a host of logistical issues to overcome, but all have been overcome by other places, and seriously, as valuable as land is, how can there NOT be ‘gold in them thar alleys’?
My friend Patrick Chan send me a few more examples from his Asian travels (below) … I acknowledge it might not work for every alley (a parkade can’t easily have its entrance adjusted), but I have to think that many people share my girlfriend’s view of alleys – she is scared of them – do re really want people to be scared of ~50% of a city’s streetspace?

A lane from Hong Kong… In the mornings a little van (kind of a Mr Bean type van) comes to deliver stuff. During the day this lane is shut.

P.Chan A commercial streets narrower than our 20′ lanes, also from Hong Kong. Patrick added this closing thought:
I would say you can find it in lots of places, and it’s simply the “derp” mentality keeping it from arriving in Vancouver … people just believe “that’s not how we do things here.”
Well, there’s plenty of Rad Shit out there … lets do some here! (if only because, seriously, how can it not be a good idea to monetize the space) Read more »

Eric, in a comment describing a hypothetical future for Granville Island:

…”All the artists have to move to Surrey, deep Surrey.”

This is something I’ve actually spoken about, not that it be the only option yet, but that it might be a good bit of civic possible to make it attractive.
Surrey (well, bits of it) is, in effect, the modern-day ‘Chinatown’, the role of which has been described well by Doug Saunders, who I mentioned early in the week, and has popped up on PT before (seriously, watch the video Gordon mentions … also, a good analysis of Saunder’s work: Arrival cities: the need for precision)

Arrival cities: the need for precision

One of Saunder’s suggestions is that these new arrival cities receive better transit, and be opened up to creative business (who gain in cheap/free rent what they lose in a ‘hip’ neighborhood). Not unlike what CoV obviously intends with its Social Innovation Hub on Main Street in the old Police Station.
I was speaking last year with Surrey’s  City Beautification Planner (which is a fantastic job title and role), about the down-times in the Newton area, with a town center which is losing business and investment, and an area which has increasing crime and social isolation … and I couldn’t help connecting the dots.
Newton is now an ‘Arrival City’, and is increasingly vacant and crime-ridden + Artists/entrepreneurs are hurting for cheap space …
SO: ‘give’ artists/business cheap or free space and in combination to improving transit, and maybe some better education opportunities, and in so doing solve a couple urban ills in one fell swoop, solving the thing not out of mandate, or last resort, but out of investment in the future. Stand on the shoulders of Slotervaart and Bijlmermeer.

“These transitional spaces . . . are . . . where the next great economic and cultural boom will be born or the next explosion of violence will occur,” he writes. “The difference depends on our ability to notice and our willingness to engage.”

The above quote from a book review on Saunders’ book from Urban Land Magazine.

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January 10, 2016
How to gloat gracefully about your B.C. home’s new value

I just got my assessment in the mail and the value of my home has increased by 23 per cent this year. Should I gloat?

Well, that depends. Did you buy your house in 1984 for $88,000? Is it in Kitsilano? Has the value now exceeded $3-million? If so, then yes, by all means, gloat. Tell everyone around you how smart you were to have purchased the house when you did. Tell them that, even though you were a stoned and aimless hippie at the time, you “had a feeling, man.” Tell them that you can’t believe how things have worked out for you and that your house is now worth $3.1-million. Tell them how, at the time, you supplemented your seasonal income with generous unemployment-insurance benefits, and how you took winters off as part of “the UIC Ski Team” until you went to architecture school.

Young people – like, people under 35 – seem to resent me. They say they work hard, are well-educated, earn decent incomes and yet can’t afford to buy into the Vancouver market. They say the gap between wages and home prices has been growing. What should I say to them about my assessment without making them feel bad?

Try this line: “Well, things have sure changed, man.”

It seems to me that this whole Vancouver property thing has turned out to be nothing more than a way to make rich people even richer. Am I wrong?

No, you are not wrong.

I don’t resent Stephen Quinn’s hypothetical lucky property lottery winner any more than I resent any lottery winner.

The thing of it is, I think that my generation feels like not only are they not able to afford to enter the lottery, that the lottery doesn’t exist.

We don’t really care about striking it rich and shouting ‘eureka!’ … we care about having a place to live which isn’t really any different than we might were we have had were we 20, 40, 60 years older, nothing more, maybe even a bit less, just a place.

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I ended a recent post mentioning (in passing) Alberta
Thomas Bayer comments that there is no way that at-grade light rail (as an extension of, say, a resurrected streetcar line from Main Street to Granville Island) … referencing the Edmonton LRT-Fail.

A street level LRT through high density neighborhoods is a dumb idea as it is too disruptive to car traffic and takes far too much space.

Ken Ohrn posts a link to the Edmonton LRT story:

Tristan Hopper writes in the Edmonton Journal (and elsewhere) about the on-the-ground effect of the on-the-ground transit line in Edmonton.  Bottom line:  cars have to stop to let trains pass. So, Mr. Hopper seems to say, when not foaming at the mouth in amusing fashion, elevate the trains or put them underground.

But also asks the rather sensible question:

I wonder how the rest of the world survives with at-grade rail in their cities?

Which is also an entirely valid question … as such trains do seem to work just fine in many places – which means either we are somehow unique here (in Canada/Edmonton/Vancouver) … or there is some fundamental detail which wasn’t copied well … a failure again maybe more of Design Thinking than transit substance?
And finally, to round out the post (also from Ken)

“Ya Think the US Has Lotsa Crazy? Hah, Try Alberta.


Admittedly written to amuse and bemuse, here are some deep thinkers who have publicly bashed the NDP in Alberta.  You’ll never guess at their reasoning. Never.  Not unless you go to the same Lunacy U.”


Alert readers will recall how Wildrose Party Finance Critic Derek Fildebrant explained to the Globe and Mail last fall that, as the Globe’s astonished headline writer summarized it, “NDP duped voters by implementing its promises.”

Now Mr. Fildebrandt has been joined in the pantheon of Alberta political aphorists by University of Calgary Professor Barry Cooper, another right-winger who seems to be having trouble coming to terms with last May’s unexpected turn of political events.

On Tuesday, Dr. Cooper exclaimed in his Calgary Herald column that the Alberta New Democrats “have continued to govern as if they actually won the election last spring”!

Admittedly, actually following through with your election promises has become a foreign concept, but it can’t be too surprising. Can it?

…given that up until May 5 last year conservatives of one type or another had won 21 Alberta elections in a row over 80 years without really having to work very hard, it may be possible for us to empathize just a little with Dr. Cooper’s frustration that the cowboy west isn’t being run by his kind of cowboys any more!

Still, Alberta’s Fildebrandt Syndrome sufferers really should brush up on how this democracy thing works.

Here in Alberta, it’s like this: We elect MLAs. The party with the most MLAs gets to form a government. The government gets to implement the policies it campaigned on. In about four years, there will be another election, and voters get to keep the government or change it.

Most of us understand this. It’s been almost nine months now. Surely it’s time for Alberta conservatives to get up to speed!

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