October 22, 2006

From the opening episode of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip:
MATT
We make some budget cuts, we shoot in Vancouver.
DANNY
We’re not shooting in Vancouver. Vancouver doesn’t look like anything, it doesn’t even look like Vancouver. It looks like Boston, California.

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I live in a 1957 highrise in the West End – as mid-century modern as you can get.  And I confess to some ambivalence about the style.
 
I love the efficiency of the plan, the extensive use of glass, the clean lines.  But there’s also a certain dullness about it.  You get the idea in one glance, and there’s not much else to attract the eye.  And some aspects are awful: the paved parking lot in the back, the blank walls on the side, the way it completely blocks the views from behind.  If the City hadn’t stopped this form of site coverage, the West End would be completely walled in.
But mid-century modern is a major part of our heritage – and there’s much to recommend the best of the designs.  You can find out for yourself by linking to the Vancouver Heritage Foundation’s site – here – and downloading their “Mid-century Downtown Vancouver” brochure, complete with walking tour. 
 

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October 22, 2006

Paul Krueger, now a planner with the City of Vancouver, sent a new report from the States on the link between transportation costs and housing affordability.

You can get the whole report here

It’s mostly common-sense stuff.  But it makes the decisions of the our governments all the more mysterious.  We have money to build freeways and serve car-dependent land use, but not the resources to proceed with the Evergreen light-rail line, the Broadway extension of the Millennium line, and – worst of all, really – the Surrey Rapidbus lines.  The very people who need relief the most are being promised something that will only make their combined costs more onerous.

“This study presents, for the first time, the combined housing and transportation cost burdens of working families in 28 metropolitan areas at the neighborhood level.  … [Working families] spend about 57 percent of their incomes on the combined costs of housing and transportation, with roughly 28 percent of income going for housing and 29 percent going for transportation.

… it is imperative for cities and regions to consider housing and transportation policy together.

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October 22, 2006

The gap between leaders in Europe and North America on the issue of climate change is staggering.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair warned Friday that the world will reach “catastrophic tipping points” on climate change within 15 years, unless serious action is taken to tackle global warming. In his strongest warning yet on the environment, the prime minister told fellow European Union leaders that the world faces ‘conflict and insecurity’ unless it acts now. ‘We have a window of only 10-15 years to take the steps we need to avoid crossing catastrophic tipping points,’ Blair said, in a joint letter with his Dutch counterpart, Jan Peter Balkenende.

In the U.S., the environment isn’t even on the list of significant issues to be discussed during the current mid-term campaigns.  In Canada, at least, the Conservatives were roundly thumped in most of the media for the inadquacy, if not hypocrisy, of their Clean Air Act.   Either North American leaders don’t get the urgency of the issue, or don’t care.  I’m not sure which is worse.

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I’m back!  Great trip to LA and Minneapolis (more about the former in an upcoming Price Tags – www.pricetags.ca)  In the meantime, here’s the unedited version of my latest column in Business in Vancouver:
It’s time to end the myth of ‘suburbia.’ Not the actual suburbs, of course; they’re here to stay. But “suburbs” as a synonym for unbordered expanses of dreary low-density, single-use sprawl without a decent place to drink coffee. Where everyone lives uniform lives in single-family houses, drives to the malls in their SUVs and only goes to City Hall to fight changes in the single-family zoning bylaws.

It’s over, if it ever really existed.

The suburbs of Vancouver are embracing change on a scale that would been unheard of, if not unimaginable, a few years ago. Highrises in Abbotsford and White Rock. A university in Whalley. Town centres in Port Moody, with apartments above shops and parking below ground. Good coffee in more places than just Starbucks.

Superblocks are being divided, surface parking is disappearing, storefronts are being pulled up to the sidewalk. Transit, too, is being embraced: civic leaders want trains and streetcars and anything else that will lever urbanity. They’ve seen False Creek and said, ‘We want a piece of that too – something that gives us distinction, a heart and a boost in our tax base.’

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From Civic Strategies (worth subscribing to):

How the Wheels Came Off a Highway Proposal
When a local highway authority proposed this summer building a 120-mile toll-road “beltway” around the region, it seemed perfectly in line with reality. Tampa Bay’s highways are congested, toll roads are in vogue, so let’s lay some pavement! And on the day they announced it, authority planners thought they had a sure thing. “Every elected official and every staff member at all the agencies we have talked to have been supportive,” the authority’s planning director told the Tampa Tribune at the unveiling.But in no time the proposal started hitting walls. The first was Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio, who told the Tribune, “Mass transit is really the future of our community. There can always be another roadway that could be built, but building new roadways isn’t cost-efficient anymore.” Others weren’t even that charitable. Some elected officials lashed out at the tendency of highways to produce sprawl, particularly perimeter highways. And environmentalists noted that the proposed road ran through sensitive lands, including well fields that supply the region with its water.
The business community, too, was cool to the idea. Over the last year or so, business leaders have come to share Mayor Iorio’s belief that building more roads is a waste of money and only transit, including some kind of regional rail transit, could actually solve the region’s congestion problems. “With the growth of this area and the amount of traffic that we’re going to incur over the next 10 years, we have to find alternative ways to get people from point A to point B,” one leading developer told the St. Petersburg Times.

Complete article here.

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