Housing
August 18, 2007

Woodward's Rising

As I learned on Council, when it comes to the issue of housing, especially in the Downtown East Side, advocates are fearful of too much success.  Some fear resources and sympathy might dry up if the problem is addressed.  So the problem is played up and the progress played down.
The danger is that we might miss some pretty amazing progress.
 

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Here’s today’s Province editorial:

One of the main problems about the current debate over Lower Mainland transportation is that it always divides itself along ideological lines and is invariably presented as an either/or proposition: Either you build more public transit or you build more roads.

But the fact is that we need both, and then some. …
As readers of Brian Lewis’s column will know, a new group has been formed to press for passenger rail service in the Fraser Valley. Founded by SFU graduate student John Buker, Rail for the Valley states on its website that our governing politicians “want to spend billions of dollars on highways, but they continue to neglect basic rail transportation needs south of the Fraser River.”
As we said, though, this is not an either/or proposition. The Fraser Valley needs an expanded Port Mann Bridge, better roads and more truck and bus routes.
And it needs passenger rail.
Above all, it requires a decently-funded, comprehensive travel system that offers people as many transportation alternatives as possible.

I hear that argument a lot – that we need a balanced transportation system – curiously used to justify the Gateway. And to imply that the critics of it are being unreasonable.
But the Port Mann/ Highway 1 widening is completely about roads. There’s nothing balanced about it. There’s nothing in the budget for rail; there are no plans for rail; there is only the suggestion that twinning the bridge will maybe, at some undetermined time in the future, make room for rail, disconnected from any transportation planning for rail.
And here’s the problem: it will catalyse auto- and truck-dependent development throughout the eastern valley before rail ever shows up, making it considerably more expensive if not futile to introduce rail afterwards.
If The Province wants to be something more than an apologist for Gateway, it should demand that Gateway be stopped until there’s a plan – and more importantly, a budget – for “a decently-funded, comprehensive travel system.”

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August 17, 2007

Walkscore, the Sightline Institute-inspired mechanism to measure the walkability of your neighbourhood, has, as they say, gone viral on the Internet.  So popular has it become in just a few weeks that even Google couldn’t handle the load at times.
David Brewster at Crosscut has a nice piece on Walkscore (mentioned earlier here).

So how do you reframe the notion of density, a word that suggests eating one’s spinach and conjures up images of a hated neighbor playing loud music at 3 a.m.? Hint: it involves your feet.
The first framing device to make more people embrace the joys of tighter living quarters is carbon footprint, scaring people out of their subdivisions with an ominous rumble of the extinction of the earth if we don’t start abandoning our cars and do more walking. The second framing notion is “walkability.” A compact, walkable neighborhood sounds sociable, old-fashioned, village-like. Not density, but desirability.

Brewster discusses some of the recent studies and nuances regarding walkability, including this observation which seems to apply to the recent spate of articles opposing Ecodensity:

Another paradox is that really charming walkable neighborhoods soon line up the pitchforks to oppose increased residential densification in any form.  

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August 15, 2007

Given the person, the place and policy, this is an extraordinary statement :

“It’s a very major matter that threatens Canadian unity,” said Lougheed, who seldom speaks out on public policy matters.

While Ottawa, Alberta and the oil industry have historically clashed, Lougheed predicted that the bubbling battle “will be 10 times greater than in the past” because the public is more engaged than ever before.
“I’ve been worried about this confrontation growing and growing,” said Lougheed. “It’s just been boiling with me over the last few weeks.”

Peter Lougheed is speaking of climate change, and the Alberta tar sands.   I went to the Calgary paper to see how his remarks were treated.  From the Calgary Herald:

Alberta ground zero for green battle

On one side is the Canadian public, deeply worried about climate change, putting pressure on the federal government for strong environmental protection legislation that will lead to reduced greenhouse gas emissions.
On the other side is the province of Alberta, which has constitutional power over its non-renewable resources, including the oilsands around Fort McMurray, which have been dubbed “Alberta’s Runaway Train” because they are the fastest-growing source of greenhouse emissions in the country.

Look, it’s a moral issue.  We can continue to make ourselves rich and secure by mining the tar sands – so long as we are prepared to ignore climate change, discount our environment, both local and global, and, to put it most bluntly, write off the planet for our short-term advantage. 
Lougheed looked into the mirror:

Now 79, the elder statesman who led the province from 1971 to 1985 remains an Alberta icon. He already sounded an alarm last summer over the oilsands, calling for a slowdown as the industry seeks sustainable solutions to cap pollution and the strain on the water supply.
Lougheed’s concern was sparked by a helicopter ride over the oilsands in June 2006.
“When you actually see the magnitude of it by helicopter, it just gets you,” he told reporters. “I was appalled by what was happening there.”

In three weeks, $38 billion was invested in the tar sands by just three firms.

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We take it for granted – but we shouldn’t.
As Concord Pacific continues to develop the old Expo site, their agreement with the city requires them to complete the seawall for public use. Piece by piece, it comes together – the latest part around the point next to David Lam Park.
 

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August 14, 2007

Here’s a plug for Sam Javanrouh’s photoblog, A Daily Dose of Imagery – the best of its kind in Canada (by vote, one of the best in the world). This website gives you a great image (typically of Toronto) every day.  And I particularly like the fact that Sam gets a lot of them serendipitously while cycling around the city – like this one:

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Here’s an eclectic selection of items that I found worth reading in the last few days …
From Crosscut:
How the Northwest’s cities are coping with the homeless. 

Homelessness has ceased to be an orphaned issue for the Northwest’s major cities, as all of them have in recent years announced ambitious strategies to tackle the problem. Here’s a report card on how Vancouver, Seattle, Spokane, and Portland are doing so far.

 

Andrew Jackson sends the following from Forbes: 

The most unhealthy commutes in America.

 

From the Boston Globe:

The Downside of Diversity

A Harvard political scientist (Robert Putnam) finds that diversity hurts civic life. What happens when a liberal scholar unearths an inconvenient truth?

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August 13, 2007

“Perhaps this is something for the blog,” suggests regular contributor Timothy Thomas. 
Yes, Tim, it is.

Perhaps my favourite single view in the region, one that in a glance captures my intense love of this place is seen from Tower Beach, about a hundred meters west of the foot of Trail 3.   I used to say to visitors I’d take to the shore:   “Squint a bit. What you are seeing is miraculous. You would have seen this very same view 500 or 1000 years ago. Remember we are in a big city, with over half a million people. What other big city anywhere in the world can claim such intact beauty?”   
Not any more. For no matter how hard you squint now, it’s bit less beautiful this year and forever more,  because a gouge has been made in Nature’s elegant line. 

Look at this detail.

There’s a deep scar on the bluffs above Lighthouse Park across English Bay, marring an otherwise pristine outline of ridge and mountain.
In a future, more reasonable time, they’ll probably ask: Why did that ugly gash have to be blasted into the mountain? Whose interests did this serve? Why did the highway to Whistler have to be made a bit more convenient, at that precise point, when a road tunnel and ample train and boat connections were eminently feasible?  This mindless, permanent destruction makes abstract discussions about single-occupancy vehicles painfully real- all too concrete. This wound is the cost made visible.
Long after Kevin Falcon is dead and buried, his name and ambitions forgotten, his legacy will live on.

A cruel irony: the view from the cut through Eagleridge Bluffs, for those driving north, will likely be spectacular – looking south across English Bay, lining up with Point Grey and, no doubt, Tower Beach.

PT reader Keefer79 sends along a view of Eagleridge from the other side:

“This is at the southern end of the Sea to Sky Highway near Horseshoe Bay. The current highway is below the prominent gash at right (Eagleridge Bluffs).  The new section will continue through the fresh clearcut and merge with the path of the existing highway.”
Large image here.

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August 10, 2007

My current colmn in Business in Vancouver (unabridged):
B.C. Towns Seek New Vision

After a tour by rail and road through southern B.C., I have come to the conclusion that there are two kinds of small towns – the stripped and the constrained. And while that may be a tad simplistic, the communities of this province seem to be choosing to develop in one way or the other.

Cranbrook is a town that has been stripped. This Kootenay community of 18,000 is best known for the commercial sprawl that lines the Crowsnest Highway to its east:

I used to think no one would be able to top Kelowna for the sheer extent of malls, big boxes and fast-food joints that line Highway 97 out to the airport:

 

Not that there weren’t precedents: the Island Highway through Nanaimo and Duncan, Skaha Lake Boulevard and Main Street through Penticton, the Trans-Canada through Kamloops. Often they’re reinforced by the in-your-face advertising that is the public front of many First Native reserves.  Westbank, leading into Kelowna (soon to be our newest municipality), captures it all, from big box to billboard:

But I’d give the prize to Cranbrook. For its size, it’s the strippiest.

In this auto-obsessed world, you’d think that sprawl was the only realistic choice for growing communities. But some small towns, typically constrained by geography or land reserves, have chosen a more compact alternative. They’re building on their existing assets, particularly a still-viable downtown main street and close-in neighbourhoods, and they’re trying to avoid being stripped.

The best example is not that far from Cranbook. The Kootenay town of Nelson may have the best intact downtown in the province, better even than Victoria, and is building on that vitality.

 

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