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December 20, 2006

New Look

Time for a change of format.  I was getting tired of the small print.
Let me know if you have any comments on this look – or any suggestions for a WordPress presentation style.

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Yes, there is some – even as the scale of devastation becomes more apparent from our Katrina Moment.
Park Commissioner Spencer Herbert reports:

I was able to secure a commitment from the Aquarium and the Park Board to build a return bike route from the Aquarium. It won’t be the full deal bike changes necessary in the park, but I think it’s taking us in that direction. It should start to be built in the next two years I believe.

I’ve been pushing for a proper bike network in Stanley Park since I was a City Councillor. I’d even take Commissioners on bike rides to show them how confused, inadequate and frustrating the current system was.
The one-way route around the park is scaled for distances normally done by cars. If you simply wanted to cycle from the park entrance at Georgia to the Aquarium, to get back you’d have to complete a loop several miles out of your way, or cycle against the traffic (illegally) on the seawall, or try to find a route that theoretically takes you back – but isn’t signed or marked.
The Commissioners would all commit to following up, motions would be passed, staff promised to report back – and nothing would happen.
Maybe this time.

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December 19, 2006

Architectural critic Trevor Boddy celebrates the season of good cheer with another dump on the City in this Globe and Mail piece.

This Christmas season thus sees a re-mounting of a pantomime Vancouver has seen many times before: an annual joint production by our political left and political right that repeats the same sad plotline year after year: “Let’s park the poorest in a drugs slum.”
Stage right, the mavens of Point Grey and South Vancouver love it, as they do not have to provide social housing sites along their leafy lanes, even for their own senior citizens. Stage left, supposedly progressive community organizations can consolidate their power and funding streams by concentrating poverty into one area.

He’s right, of course. Vancouver’s Left and Right have been playing that game of mutual advantage with the Downtown East Side for years, and the results have been speaking – yelling, actually – for themselves.
Boddy also suggests that the City be shamed into rolling out 19 identified sites for social and affordable housing. Once again, an illustration of how easier it is to attach blame to City Hall when the responsibility rests elsewhere. The City has been pushing for senior-government funding on some of these sites since the early 1990s, when the Feds abandoned the capital programs needed to get the projects built. But just the other day, the Province announced its support.
Perhaps everyone has run out of excuses.

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Don Potts has a quick reponse in the Sun today to Marc Jaccard’s column in the Saturday issue.
(Potts is executive director of the Joint Industry Electricity Steering Committee, which represents the major industrial users of purchased electric power in B.C. Marc Jaccard is an SFU professor in resources and author of “Sustainable Fossil Fuels.” I reference his criticism of the province’s approval of coal-fired power plants without carbon capture in this post below.)
Says Potts:

Others have voiced opposition to coal burning because of increased greenhouse-gas emissions. While an important issue worldwide, the issue needs to be dealt with on a comprehensive national/international basis and not unilaterally applied to a single technology after proponents have developed plans in good faith that comply with the terms of BC Hydro’s call for tender and the newly established provincial emission standards. To reject these facilities now … sends a costly message to those in the private sector who may want to help supply the growing need for electric power in B.C.

Translation: Don’t punish us because BC Hydro doesn’t give a damn about climate change. If you do, you won’t get more carbon-spewing plants in the future.
I am increasingly astonished at those who think we can make decisions today without having to bear the consequences of our actions. Or assume that there will not be economic implications in the future when we decide to ignore carbon pricing today.
So what should be doing? Not surprisingly, California is preparing itself.

California utilities would be prohibited from buying electricity from most coal-burning power plants in neighboring states under far-reaching regulations proposed by state energy regulators Wednesday.
The rules … would limit the amount of carbon dioxide new power plants in the state could emit. … Under the rules, the state’s investor-owned utilities would not be allowed to buy power from any source that spews more carbon dioxide than does a modern natural gas power plant. Specifically, the source could not emit more than 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide for every megawatt hour of electricity produced. That’s enough energy to light 750 homes for one hour. (Full story in the San Francisco Chronicle here.)

Is that what B.C. should tell investors: You can build your plants – but only if they’re less carbon-polluting than a natural-gas plant.
Says Marc Jaccard:

It makes sense. The regulations do not ban coal. They set a limit on CO2/Kwh to the level of a clean natural gas plant. This will force coal plant developers to move more quickly to coal plants with carbon capture and storage – which will still be cheaper than natural gas plants, nuclear and most renewables. California is once again setting the trend.

The Daily Score at Sightline praises the California initiative here, but cautions that it would be easy for power suppliers to, say, buy hydro power from the Northwest – and then let us buy the coal-originated power. In other words, we could launder the polluting power – unless we had the same requirements as California.
Jaccard doesn’t share that fear:

Forgot the bit about coal-power laundering. There are reporting procedures about electricity transfers that make it fairly easy to see if BC Hydro or anyone else is laundering dirty electricity to California. If there were nothing but small players, that would be one thing. But the transmission lines are controlled by big entities. Vigilence will be required, but since most jurisdictions are likely to follow California in emission regulations, it should be easy to prevent this kind of thing.

He, too, assumes British Columbia will follow California. But not presumably if Mr. Potts can rely on Premier Campbell, the provincial government and B.C. Hydro to ignore climate change.
(Yesterday I asked a selection of people I met at holiday parties, some of whom are Liberal supporters: “True or False – Gordon Campbell has had nothing to say about climate change.” Without exception: True.)

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One of my favourite e-newsletters is Civic Strategies: Every few weeks, about a dozen short, well-written blurbs, albeit with an American focus, that keep me up to date on civic trends and personalities. Here’s an example: comment on a Brookings report dealing with rising suburban poverty.

Hard to believe, but more poor people live in America’s suburbs today than in cities, a new study has found. And this is just the beginning….

The sifting of poverty from the inner-city to the suburbs is proceeding faster than anyone could have imagined three decades ago. … First, middle-class and wealthy families are returning to the city…. Second, poor families are following work, and work has shifted to the suburbs. Finally, most new immigrants aren’t settling first in the city, then moving a generation or two later to the ‘burbs. … (Full article here.)

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December 18, 2006

How did the proposal for the Hotel Georgia tower go from this:

To this:

PT Reader Timothy Thomas speculates:

Sadly, I find that the fascinating “Crystal Spike” design by Bing Thom, perhaps the most remarkable design for a downtown building in the last 40 years, has been junked in favour of another rectangular box, slightly altered. Why are we going for the same old tired design yet again? Are we afraid of brilliance? Intimidated by imagination? Is asymmetrical splendour threatening?  Put the two designs side by side and weep.  For all our purported hip, cutting edge sensibility, Vancouver seems to have the aesthetic instincts of a dull octogenarian.   

And then concludes:

After a cup of coffee, a thought occurs to me: the change in design of the Hotel Georgia condo/office tower reveals not so much a lack of taste and imagination as it does a love of money. A rectangular box maximizes sellable space but an irregular form, however brilliant, does not. (How naive of me not to have fully understood this before.) Who knows how many other beautiful designs were abandoned because of greed? But I wonder if it’s short-sighted for a developer to look only at square-footage when mulling a design. Wouldn’t people pay more to live or work in a one-of-a-kind gem, rather than in something formulaic? (An instructive comparison would be the two BC Hydro buildings built a couple of generations apart) Or are you and I in the minority when it comes to a passion for distinctive civic beauty?

You can find more on the Hotel Georgia plan (and a video of the Woodward’s demo) on at Pacific Metropolis, a great local site that tracks Vancouver’s urban development. (Thanks to Paul Krueger for the link.)

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 Fine piece on Alan Durning and the Sightline Institute in the current Seattle Times magazine.  Here’s the whole article, and here’s a clip:

ENVIRONMENTALISM IN the 1960s and ’70s went from protest to legislation to regulation, and achieved astonishing successes. Then came the 1980s anti-regulatory backlash that has gradually emasculated federal environmental leadership. No one is immune from this hostility, and Durning’s think tank recently changed its name from Northwest Environment Watch to Sightline to reassure that its information is nonpolitical, that both liberals and conservatives can be green.
(Sightline) concentrates more on changing the system than on reforming the individual. The group promotes eco-friendly incentives and tax breaks, green technology and dense, urban condo living.

You can link to Sightline in the blogroll to the left, or read the Daily Score (Sightline’s blog) here.  Disclosure: I’m on the board.

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They’ll charge you the highest rents in Canada for retail space on Robson between Burrard and Bute.  Expect to put up $110 to $210 per square foot.  According to James Smerdon at Hudema Consulting, not even Yorkville ($185-200) in Toronto comes in that high. 
But it’s a bargain compared to rates on the world’s major shopping streets.  Here’s a list from Cushman and Wakefield – and these are in U.S. dollars.
The world’s most expensive streets, per square foot, for retailers:
Fifth Avenue, New York — $1,350
Causeway Bay, Hong Kong — $1,134
Champs Elysées, Paris — $805
New Bond Street, London — $673
Ginza, Tokyo — $652
Grafton Street, Dublin — $534

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Paris is celebrating the opening of the new T3 route as part of its Metro tram network.  Even the Germans are impressed.  (And since Siemen’s invented the technology which made the electric streetcar possible, this is very gracious of them.)  You can read more about it in Spiegel Online:

Now the plan is to supplement the star-shaped métro network and the meandering bus routes with a circular tram line — starting with the T3, which will cut through the city’s southwest, from Pont Gariglino to Porte d’Ivry, 7.9 kilometers (4.9 miles) long. (You can see the route here along with other cities that have caught the fever.)

The elegant green and white cars will carry almost twice as many commuters every day as local buses — some 100,000 people. (That’s the number of people the Canada Line is supposed to attract on opening.)  The strips of grass and the reduction in car traffic should improve the quality of life for residents.  (They even sacrificed a lane of traffic to give the tram its own right-of-way.)
Lots of pictures of the tram and public art here in Le Monde.  And this story from the BBC via Colleen Nystedt.

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