October 24, 2006

Kids in the city

Now Seattle, like Portland, is wondering whether it’s possible to raise children downtown.  The Post-Intelligencer explored the issue in this article: “Parents want more family-friendly downtown living.”

The 2000 Census found that just 4 percent of households in Seattle’s urban core, which includes downtown and South Lake Union, included a child, compared with 20 percent in the city as a whole and 37 percent for King County, outside of Seattle.
State statistics show that Seattle’s urban core has grown much faster than the rest of the city and county since 2000, thanks to a boom in apartment and condo construction. But, while newer numbers for families with children are not available yet, those selling downtown condos say their customers tend to be young professionals and empty nesters, rather than families with kids.

And some comments from me in an accompanying article: “Downtown living works in Vancouver, B.C. — but will it translate?”

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October 23, 2006

I just came across this:

There’s a rule of thumb that a building is considered attractively slender if it has an aspect ratio (which is to say, height to width) of 8:1.

Who came up with that? Is there an iconic building of precisely that ratio?
And what is the most attractive ratio of street width to building height? I seem to recall, from the Haussmann era in Paris, that the height of the streetwall was two-thirds the width of the street. Or was it the reverse?

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October 23, 2006

When I moved to Vancouver in 1978, the English Bay Seawall ended at the Aquatic Centre. The path itself was only about eight feet wide; pedestrians and cyclists shared the route – and the roller blade hadn’t even been invented. Most people circumnavigated Stanley Park and called it a day. This would not have been the typical view of the seawall along the beach:

I wonder what percentage of Vancouver is out stolling the seawall – any part of its 26 connected miles – at any one time? How do people get to the seawall, how far do they walk or cycle, how often do they use it? While no doubt it has made a great contribution to our health, both physical and emotional – even spiritual – I believe the seawall provides one other great service for Vancouver: it allows us to see ourselves. This common sharing of space, on which we pass each other with a casual intimacy, gives us a regular opportunity, citizen and visitor alike, to at least know who we are, to look each other in the eye if we wish, and to build that critical commodity called civility.

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October 22, 2006

From the opening episode of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip:
We make some budget cuts, we shoot in Vancouver.
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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