Every urban-design and architecture critic I read has a highly cultivated cynicism. Christopher Hume, he of the Toronto Star, is always good for an articulate scathing of TO.
But his recent column on the competition results for a new park at the foot of Jarvis Street on the lakeshore is almost optimistic:

Ah, the waterfront, the waterfront. Does one dare believe in what it could be; or does one succumb to the cynicism of the day?
The latter may be tempting, but it’s too easy. Besides, there is reason for optimism, especially when one sees the final-round proposals for the Jarvis St. Slip. Chosen through an invitational design competition, the three schemes are so good, each one should be built. That’s unlikely, of course, but one can always hope.

This is interesting for two reasons: the results of the competition really are rather good. Check ’em out – and remember them for the SFU City Program discussion on the state of Vancouver’s architecture and urban design on February 1. Details here.
Secondly, there’s a video with the story on the Star’s website:

This is, of course, the best way to ‘read’ a visual story – and something newspapers are increasingly adopting for their online versions.
Two questions: why not more competitions in Vancouver for our urban design, and why not more videos in our newspapers?

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So:

The new chair of the Translink board of directors says media will not be allowed into regular board meetings. Dale Parker says the most effective process for developing strategic plans is without the public or media present.

The arrogance is breath-taking.  And, to date, so is the passivity of the response.
Some who believed the previous incarnation of TransLink was too messy, too parochial and too political point to the YVR Board as an effective example of administration.
Here’s the difference: YVR is essentially the landlord of a single-use, self-contained facility.  They don’t plan the rest of the region, though they have an impact on it.  However, the moment they impinge on other jurisdictions (say, when proposing a new bridge), they know they have to consult and cooperate. 
TransLink is a very different animal: it effectively controls the shape of this region.  Its priorities affect our future, personally and directly.  The idea that they can do strategic planning in private, announce their conclusions and expect us all to acquiese is, at best, naive.  And at worse, an intolerable presumption of power that cannot and will not be accepted. 

However, Parker does say the public will be invited to address the board roughly four times a year.

It’s enough to make one want to join the Bus Riders Union.

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January 21, 2008

Sun writer Frances Bula has a blog – City States – where she can put pieces that don’t make it into the paper. (Which raises the question, why not? In cities that have papers which focus more on local issues and urban development, they would.)
However, in the case of her piece on Downtown South, The Sun gave it good play.

Vancouver’s new mini-Manhattan is here
I have a feature in tomorrow’s paper on a downtown neighbourhood that no one ever talks much about, even though everyone who comes to the central city drives through it. It’s just 34 blocks in total, but it will soon be home to 24,000 people.
Downtown South is fascinating because it’s a living laboratory that shows how Vancouver’s “Living First” model for a residential downtown works outside of the carefully sculpted megaprojects in Coal Harbour and False Creek North.
It’s home to more regular Vancouver folks and more young people than the new projects, but it’s also suffering from the pressure of success. Developers have gone crazy in the area, putting up towers faster than the city can nail down a little bit of space for parks or daycares.

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January 20, 2008

Wendy Waters – whose “All About Cities” blog I just added to my list – responds to a post I did for Planetizen on “A Billion Reasons to Take Cycling Seriously.”
She doesn’t quite agree with my contention that cycling has been turned needlessly into a ‘left-right’ issue:

I think it has more to do with where you work and the dress code there.   I would argue (although have no stats to back this up) that more people who vote right-of-centre politically have jobs that require they wear formal business attire most of the time.  Those who wear their left-leaning political views on their sleeves often work where the dress code is more relaxed and more compatible with cycling.

She then goes on to calculate what it would take to have proper facilities installed in an office building – showers, parking, etc. – and finds that accommodating a bike comes to the same price as parking a car.
Doubtful.  (Anyway, the City has a bylaw that requires the facilities to be built into any new commercial space above a certain size.)
In fact, you don’t need to wear spandex to cycle.  They certainly don’t in Europe.  And the whole point of the bike-sharing systems in places like Paris is to offer an alternative for the short trip (under 30 minutes) where you needn’t break out in a sweat.
As Laura Domela illustrates in her book of Dutch cyclists, Fietsen:
 

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The most encouraging comment in response to the Province’s $14-billion transit vision comes from the Mayor of Surrey, Diane Watts:

“Once we know (the transit projects) are coming, the municipalities can plan their land use and make sure the densities are supportive.”

And that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?  The destination, not the trip; what you build, not how you move; the place, not the road.  The whole point of good transporation planning is complementary land-use and development strategies.
My criticism of Gateway was the message it sent: build around the car and truck; it’s the only realistic transport you’ll get.  And when congestion occurs, we’ll build you more roads and bridges. The Province was effectively locking in another generation to car-dependent urban form – what Chris Leinberger calls ‘drivable surburban.”  (More on that in the current Price Tags.) 
The Province’s transit plan is already being sliced and diced by critics, particularly for its absence of interurban rail south of the Fraser and the lack of guaranteed funds now and in the future from other jurisdictions.  But that misses the point: the government has captured the initiative, it has connected the dots between urban form, transportation and climate change.  It has made a convincing case that we can and will build our region around transit.  If we do it right, it may well turn out the much of Gateway’s road commitments was unnecessary
Importantly, there’s a substantial commitment to expanding the bus fleet, dedicating rights-of-way and quickly bringing in Rapidbus.  The lessons of Curitiba have finally made it north.  The Province has respected the bus as the work-horse of a good transit system, surprising those who thought it would, like most senior governments, have a rail obsession.
Sure, there will be more debate to come, particularly on local impacts and financial pressures.  But more powerful will be the consensus: we have the vision, the projects are identified, we can see how local areas connect to a regional strategy. Let’s move.
For those who fear that a downturn in the economy will see commitments drop away, I suspect that will be offset by the need to respond to climate change as a society and the need for transportation choice as the cost of oil and energy bite at the personal level.  In fact, I think you’ll see more projects added to the province’s list, particularly streetcars.
As a culture, we’re good at doing livable, dense, transit-supportive development.  In fact, we’ve been building more of it than the supportive transit.  Look at development in Port Moody, White Rock, Coquitlam, construction along the Millennium Line, and plans for station-areas on the Canada Line.   Unlike most places, which build the transit first and then hope for the development, we’ve done it the other way around.  Our problem has been too much success – too many people taking not enough transit.  Finally, we’ll be running faster to catch up to the social change that’s already occurred.

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