The Livable Region
February 5, 2007

The Daily Alarm: Quotes 3 (The Deal)

Here’s the deal: those who deliver reliable quantities of hydrocarbons at an affordable price get to run things. At least, that’s the way it’s been in North America.
The connection between politics and the price of gas is pretty darn clear. But more powerful still is the nexus between the oil culture and seats of power.
In America, Bush and Cheney provide the link between Houston and Washington. Their first term began with a still-secret energy conference and a critical statement from the Vice President: “Conservation may be a sign of personal virtue but it is not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy.” [As significant in its way as Bush Sr.’s statement in 1992 that ended any serious discussion about climate-change policy in the States: “The American way of life is non-negotiable.”]
In Canada, the connection between Calgary and Ottawa is obviously the Prime Minister and a Conservative Party rooted in Alberta.
No conspiracies are being charged here. In both countries, people voted in those who they thought could maintain The Deal – and they expect them to deliver.
Two glitches: The oil culture has taken America into Iraq, undermining people’s confidence in the wisdom of their rule. And climate change has turned out to be serious, undermining the oil culture’s vision of an unconstrained future.
Climate-change positions by politicians are directly affected by their assessment of The Deal. Here’s a vivid example: two representatives of the State of Texas quoted in the Houston Chronicle on an issue close to British Columbia: a company -TXU – and their plans to build 11 coal-fired power plants.

TXU’s plan, which already is thrusting Texas into the TXU’s plan, must still clear a few regulatory hurdles. Its fate likely will be resolved during the present legislative session….
Environmentalists are concerned that the plants will not limit greenhouse gas emissions, and that plants are being rushed through the permitting process to elude gas emission caps that are likely to come within the next few years. The company and its supporters say the state needs the cheap power now.
So far the process of building the plants has met relatively little political resistance. It’s not all that difficult to understand why that’s the case in Texas, but the [January 25th] Forth Worth Star Telegram had a recent article, concerning the opinions of Texas political leaders, that was nonetheless eye-opening. Among the quotes:

“Absolutely,” Gov. Rick Perry replied when asked recently by the Star-Telegram whether there is scientific doubt that human activity causes global warming. “I am not going to put the state of Texas in a competitive economic disadvantage on some science that may or may not be correct.”


State Rep. Phil King said: “I think it’s just bad science. I think global warming is bad science.” The Weatherford Republican has responsibility for electric-utility issues in the House.

Read more »

Architect Bing Thom recommended I read this piece from the Tyee on the prospects for the Larwell Park site (just east of the Queen Elizabeth Theatre) – likely the location for an ‘iconic’ architectural statement. 

Bing’s warning:

Thom worries that civic culture is sliding into the control of a few select, giant institutions that grab a dominant share of publicity and public money. He argues that as Vancouver grows, it is in danger of mimicking other North American metropolises in adopting the same dominant assumptions of what constitutes important culture: opera, symphony, art gallery.
But Vancouver culture is unique, argues Thom. For example, it’s more informed by First Nations and Eastern Asian values than other metropolises, so we shouldn’t necessarily adopt an a eye-stopping, starchitect-designed grand projet. The federal government maxes out its grants to cultural facilities at $30-million per institution; Thom wants the pie to be carved up in as many pieces as possible.

Read more »

Good cities need good critics.  And Trevor Boddy, a regular contributor to the Globe and Mail, could be that critic if he could dampen down the self-promotion.  It gets in the way.  Sometimes his opposition seems gratuitous, taken not on the merits of the case but because it goes against received opinion.  He believes it to be his job to puncture the overinflated balloon of Vancouver self-regard.  But too often the jibes are overstated or personally targeted, and the sneers detract from the legitimate criticisms he can so cleverly craft. 
No matter, he’s always worth reading, particularly for the way he details a story with insightful anecdotes and important background. Here’s an example from Thursday’s Globe:

Seattle exerts a little peer pressure

If cities can possess personalities, then Vancouver’s greatest faults are insularity combined with an overly-fond regard for its own early accomplishments. This city is a natural but naive beauty, burnishing the notes of praise inscribed in her high school yearbook, even as she stumbles into a darker, more complex world, where good looks will need to be balanced with smarts and ambition….

When it comes to downtown housing and city-building, Seattle now provides a precious mirror to Vancouver’s strengths and weaknesses….
Constantly using Vancouver as a positive model, their success in building a near-downtown residential neighbourhood is now most evident in Belltown, which extends north along Western, 1st and 2nd Avenues from Pike….
It is useful to compare this all-new [Olympic Sculpture] park and surrounding neighbourhood with Vancouver’s own largest downtown park and housing development — Concord Pacific.
What is most surprising to Vancouverites is that the built-out blocks of Belltown now have residential densities equal-to or higher-than those of Concord Pacific, but without a single skinny condo tower in sight.
How could this be? This may come as news to our downtown developers and city planners, but there are ways to achieve medium density-downtown living other than with our relentless formula of skinny condo towers on townhouse bases. Seattle imposed a 125 foot height limit for the area, making for lower, squatter housing blocks, the first wave constructed by Vancouver-based developers unafraid of downtown risks.
These lower-but-continuous condo buildings have the benefit of strongly defining Belltown’s streets, and artfully frame the zigzag pathways and global-class collection of sculptures in the hillside park designed by New York architects Weiss and Manfredi. The clarity in built form here is completely unlike the hodge-podge along Vancouver’s remade Pacific Boulevard or Richards Street.
Those Belltown condos with a view have a terrific one, but typical of American society, many new residents have almost no view at all, and precious little natural light to boot. This all-or-nothing American strategy contrasts with the shifting views through the tall grass of Vancouver’s skinny towers, where the state mandates that we all get a slice of view, even if it is an increasingly narrow one.
Thanks to social housing requirements, Concord Pacific is more socially and ethnically diverse, but then, so is our city. I haven’t used the word “Yuppie” in years, but it sprang to my lips when walking amongst the new Belltown residents, they and their next-door neighbours — similarly affluent empty-nesters just in from a life in the suburbs.
The sharpest difference between Belltown and Concord Pacific lies in how their parks and public art are treated. Funded almost entirely by Li Ka-shing’s company in return for an ultra-generous land deal, Concord Pacific’s parkland is wrapped around housing blocks and is either blandly competent (the less-is-more David Lam Park) or aggressively inept (the concrete-strewn George Wainborn Park.) The public art sprinkled around these spaces was vetted by civic committees who similarly ensured that good taste prevailed over strong tastes.
By contrast, SAM’s Olympic Sculpture Park is concentrated into one park, and indeed, one Z-shaped concrete pathway within that park, and features a Rolodex full of the most famous names in contemporary sculpture. Fired by huge private philanthropy, the Seattle park is well on its way to global renown — just like such aggressive home-grown corporations as Boeing, Microsoft, Amazon and Starbucks. Vetted, buffed and patrolled by civil servants, the Vancouver parks and sculptures are pleasant distractions for those who live there.

I’m not sure what to conclude: Belltown’s “precious mirror” doesn’t seem to provide a particularly helpful reflection. Seattle’s medium-rise buildings are no less relentless than our towers but without views for most;

Read more »
February 2, 2007

The B.C. Ministry of Transportation is hitting the road to peddle Gateway:

Would You Like to Share Your Ideas on the Gateway Program and Effective Infrastructure with BC MoT?
BCTA (BC Trucking Association) has arranged for an exclusive meeting for BCTA members with both Gateway Program personnel and B.C. Ministry of Transportation (MoT) representatives … to:
* share their experiences and ideas in a policy discussion about supporting the movement of commercial vehicles (e.g., truck-only lanes, accident clearing) on the infrastructure that we currently have and will have in the future. Since there is recognition that we will never be able to build “enough” infrastructure, we need to figure out ways to make better use of the infrastructure that we do have.
* receive an update report on the Gateway Program, including specifics about the Brunette, Cape Horn and 176th Street interchanges, and provide feedback. The Gateway Program aims at enhancing three major transportation corridors by twinning the Port Mann Bridge and improving Highway 1, creating the North Fraser Perimeter Road and building the South Fraser Perimeter Road. Together, these and other elements of the program are projected to reduce travel time, depending on origin and destination, by up to 30 percent in the Lower Mainland. Moreover, even though the Gateway Program is centred on the Lower Mainland, it is equally important to the rest of the province as Vancouver is B.C.?s and Canada?s main gateway to the Pacific and connector to the U.S.
Your participation in this meeting is crucial since the Gateway Program, despite its tremendous potential to relieve congestion and help B.C. take advantage of trade opportunities, has received significant negative public attention. Help us show the government that there are also strong supporters who value the implementation/completion of this project.
[Emphasis mine.]

Let me add a little more negative public attention.
Gateway affirms, literally, the Highwayman’s Motto: “It won’t work, we know it won’t work, we’re going to do it anyway.”
I’m not quite sure what the quotes around ‘enough’ mean, but be assured, they don’t really believe that – as indicated by the quote below: Gateway will reduce travel times up to 30 percent.
Here’s the problem: they have no evidence, no proof, only assumptions. They assume two things in particular: a toll will discourage enough drivers to keep the highway uncongested. (That means they’re going to price people out of the use of their cars, though of course they would never say that; it’s inherent in the argument. It also means they have to raise tolls high enough and often enough to keep the disincentive working – though they don’t say that either.)
Second assumption: regional and municipal land-use planning will work (though the Minister rejects the Livable Region Plan as outdated) in order to prevent growth and induced traffic from filling up all the new asphalt. Gateway has never provided models or evidence to refute Anthony Downs’ Triple Convergence theory: once new road space is available, people switch time, mode and alternative routes to use it all up, regardless of growth.
The tragedy for those South of the Fraser is that the time and money it will take to build Gateway could have been used to give them some alternatives. The problem for the truckers is that routes built for cross-regional and long-haul movements will be filled up with suburbanites using Highway 1 as their Main Street.
And finally, Gateway has never had to explain how building car- and truck dominant transportation systems will address climate change. But then, they’ve never thought they had to.

Read more »

So it begins.  From the Calgary Sun:

EDMONTON — Alberta can’t make absolute reductions in greenhouse gas emissions during the current boom, says Environment Minister Rob Renner.
“You’re not going to get reductions in total amounts as long as the economy continues to grow and you have increased processing capacity,” he said.
“We want to ensure that anything that the federal government does doesn’t in any way target Alberta businesses and emitters.”

Translation: The Earth is a nice planet and all that, but we in Alberta can’t afford it.  We have no obligation to the future if it in any way stops us from putting out the carbon and raking in the dollars.
That has all the moral foundation of quick sand.  Or, should I say, tar sand.

Read more »
February 1, 2007

Michael Klassen – newly appointed to the Vancouver City Planning Commission – sends along a snippet from his blog (via City Comforts) that features:

These painted highrises in Moscow are actually from a blog called Russian Art & Culture News.

In Russia where is in winter sun is a very rare thing such kind of art might keep the winter depression away. For instance this fall-winter there were no visible sun in Moscow for more than 30 days. Due to this it was reported that a lot of people simply refuse to go to work because of an enormous depressive state they were in.
Maybe such urbanistic art would keep the depression away.

Not if you read the blog, says Michael, which apparently is quite a downer. Still, the pictures are cool.

Read more »

Solutions to the housing crunch in Vancouver? Ways to create more affordable housing? For everyone?

Enough with the questions.  Time for answers.  Last October, the Vancouver City Planning Commission, Smart Growth BC and the City Program brought together some of the brightest minds in the city to take that one on. And now you can see the results for yourself here:

This summary of the two-day conference highlights the remarks of public-lecture speaker Karrie Jacobs (The Perfect $100,000 House) with response from Dale McClanaghan and Lance Jakubec; distills the speech of keynote speaker Larry Beasley (New Possibilities; Old Barriers); and sums up the comments of our panel of experts Bill Buholzer, Bruce Haden, Bob Ransford and Jay Wollenberg (Overcoming Barriers to Affordable Housing Strategies).
Most importantly, the report documents (with helpful illustrations) the recommendations of the small-group discussions:

  • Small infill houses on laneways
  • Adaptive re-use and enhanced housing mixes in single-family areas
  • Intensification along major roads, new nodes and transit-oriented development
  • Thinking outside the box

This conference did more than talk about a problem; it supplied some realistic and practical solutions.
Now the challenge: translating it all into action.

Read more »