July 3, 2007

Colour Commentary

Michael Geller, who’s on a world tour at the moment, reports in from Albania:

Gord, I came across these buildings in Albania….yes grey Albania, and thought you would be amused. Unfortunately, I had to take most of the shots through a window, since I was told I might lose my camera if I ventured into the streets. After all, they got George Bush’s watch!

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Vancouver is getting a bit of a run on the Planetizen blog these days.  The latest contribution comes from Matthew Kahn, who was up here recently to speak on a panel sponsored by the Sauder School at UBC.  
Kahn is a free-market economist, with a typically American skepticism about the role of planning.  So he asks: 

 … when urban planners look at downtown Vancouver and its greeness and high land prices — who deserves credit for its high quality of life? Did good urban planning cause this success? If you think so, what is your evidence? What is the “counter-factual” here?

I view San Francisco and Vancouver to be almost “twins” — both look pretty great to me. Did urban planning have a larger impact on one of these cities than the other? In both cities, quality of life continues to act as a magnet for the skilled and this guarantees their tax base. Given that many footloose employers chase the skilled, new firms will cluster in these high quality of life cities and growth will continue .

In both SF and Vancouver, planning has been highly interventionist – more to maintain the status quo in the former, to direct growth in the latter.  But Kahn’s questions are important: is ‘planning’ the reason for the succuss of these cities – and their failures?

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Brent Toderian has just posted his latest entry on the Planetizen blog – Part 1 on EcoDensity.
An excerpt:

The good news is that Vancouver may be the best positioned city in North America to be a continuing model for change. We have the expanding tools and building blocks to do density well and to deliver the amenities that make density work. We have a growing level of citizen awareness around the connections of our living patterns – the most significant element being compactness and mixed use – and the consequences of climate change and the end of cheap energy. And we have a new initiative – Eco-Density – coined by Mayor Sam Sullivan, endorsed unanimously by City Council and being defined, operationalized and delivered by Staff, that is further transforming the discussion and debate about the need for a greater level of high quality, “green” densification.

That’s the kind of thing that so annoys the more cynical-than-thou bloggers like Morning Brew at Beyond Robson and Condohype. They take Vancouver’s achievements for granted, are deeply suspicious of the rah-rahs, and prefer to focus on the failures, particularly the DES and unaffordability of the housing stock.
Read ’em both, I say, to get a better understanding of the city.

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Timothy Thomas sends along an NYT piece on the work of psychologist Daniel Gilbert and his recent book, Stumbling on Happiness. (He was also quoted in the Globe and Mail‘s piece on Bogota last week)  “This article was written a few years before his book was published and is in someways even more fascinating. This helps us understand the folly of bad planning- both personal and civic,” says Tim.
Here’s an excerpt:

Gilbert and his collaborator Tim Wilson call the gap between what we predict and what we ultimately experience the ”impact bias” — ”impact” meaning the errors we make in estimating both the intensity and duration of our emotions and ”bias” our tendency to err.
The phrase characterizes how we experience the dimming excitement over not just a BMW but also over any object or event that we presume will make us happy. Would a 20 percent raise or winning the lottery result in a contented life? You may predict it will, but almost surely it won’t turn out that way. And a new plasma television? You may have high hopes, but the impact bias suggests that it will almost certainly be less cool, and in a shorter time, than you imagine.
Worse, Gilbert has noted that these mistakes of expectation can lead directly to mistakes in choosing what we think will give us pleasure. He calls this ”miswanting.”

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Planetizen is the definitive compilation of articles and essays on planning.  It comes via email several times a week, with so much good content that, like the New Yorker, it’s hard to keep up with but you don’t want to miss an issue.
About a year ago, they started their own blog, and invited a gaggle of planning-types to contribute, including Brent Toderian, the City’s Director of Planning, and Todd Litman, Executive Director of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute.  And me.
It took a while, but I finally posted my first entry:

No Freeways in Vancouver? Not Quite … Read more »

Hey, Peak Oil fans, this just out:

The following documentary produced by Irish national television … predicts what Peak Oil is going to do to the country:
Some statistics from the program:
– they use more oil per capita than the US!
– Because of suburban sprawl, Dublin is on track to becoming as large as Los Angeles but with four times less population.
Of course, we all know that this can’t last.
Ironically, the program is preceded by an advertisement for a Ford Mondeo.

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Every year during Bike Month, the city opens more bike routes.  Another reason why, as the number of people living and coming to downtown increases, the number of vehicles drops.

Last week, the Dunsmuir/Melville lanes were inaugurated.  The Engineers have done a great job in slipping these lanes into a very tight street grid and linking them up with the cross routes – all part of the fast-growing city network.

Next up: the 4th Avenue bike lane, with the traditional cake-cutting at Jericho Park on June 27th after 4 pm.  And don’t forget the Pancake Breakfast at Granville Square that morning after 7:30 am.  Join in.

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