Policy & Planning
October 21, 2006

The End of "Suburbia"

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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From Civic Strategies (worth subscribing to):

How the Wheels Came Off a Highway Proposal
When a local highway authority proposed this summer building a 120-mile toll-road “beltway” around the region, it seemed perfectly in line with reality. Tampa Bay’s highways are congested, toll roads are in vogue, so let’s lay some pavement! And on the day they announced it, authority planners thought they had a sure thing. “Every elected official and every staff member at all the agencies we have talked to have been supportive,” the authority’s planning director told the Tampa Tribune at the unveiling.But in no time the proposal started hitting walls. The first was Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio, who told the Tribune, “Mass transit is really the future of our community. There can always be another roadway that could be built, but building new roadways isn’t cost-efficient anymore.” Others weren’t even that charitable. Some elected officials lashed out at the tendency of highways to produce sprawl, particularly perimeter highways. And environmentalists noted that the proposed road ran through sensitive lands, including well fields that supply the region with its water.
The business community, too, was cool to the idea. Over the last year or so, business leaders have come to share Mayor Iorio’s belief that building more roads is a waste of money and only transit, including some kind of regional rail transit, could actually solve the region’s congestion problems. “With the growth of this area and the amount of traffic that we’re going to incur over the next 10 years, we have to find alternative ways to get people from point A to point B,” one leading developer told the St. Petersburg Times.

Complete article here.

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From today’s Sun:

Another 7,000 kilometres of coastline in the Atlantic provinces, British Columbia and western Arctic are said to be “highly sensitive” to sea levels that scientists predict will rise between 35 centimetres and one metre by 2100.

The City of Richmond, on delta lands south of Vancouver, surrounded by dykes, is planning on a sea level rise of only 0.4 metres.  Earlier this year, a surge breached the dykes of Delta, built for a 200-year flood.  The cost of raising dykes to handle something like a metre rise could run into the hundreds of millions.  What choice do they have?
And at what point will leadership become liable for negligence when, reasonably knowing that the consequences of climate change were inevitable, they chose to do deny the science, ignore the warnings, and to do nothing?

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Here’s what a road map of Richmond looks like when every kind of street is given a different colour.  Crescents are deep pink, drives are burnt orange, avenues are powder blue – you get the idea.

You can find the key – and most of the GVRD – at Radical Cartography here
Thanks to Max Richter’s Freshlist for the weird and wonderful.

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Problem: a couple of badly sited Hydro boxes in front of Elsie Roy School near the Roundhouse. 
Scot Hein, head of the Urban Design Studio at City Hall, along with his assistant Phil Scott, came up with an elegant solution.  How about a screen made up of images drawn by the students themselves, of themselves?

Other problem: no money.  But they got the buy-in from principal Isabel Grant and, better yet, School Board shop manager Walter Adolph, who fabricated the screen in house.

The Concord project is often criticized for having a relentless sterility, albeit a very well designed sterility.  Here’s a fine example of how time and personal touches take care of that. 

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What happened to car alarms?
I may be totally wrong on this – especially since we moved to a quieter part of the West End – but I don’t think I’m hearing as many car alarms going off.  Particularly at night.  I asked a few others about this, and they concurred.
Maybe it was because car owners realized the alarms were being ignored, or reset their sensitivity, or replaced them with bars on the steering wheel, or I’m going deaf.   Whatever.  But thank you, thank you.

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September 30, 2006

Woodwards, a homegrown department store, was once the anchor of the Downtown East Side.
When it closed, it took the economic vitality of the neighbourhood with it.  After years of controversy, a new plan was agreed finally to.  Details here.

But it required the demolition of additions to the original store, seen below in the right middle with the wooden supports. 

Saturday morning, September 30, 8:32 am, marked the end of the old Woodwards.

 $1.49 Day RIP.

There’s now an open space Vancouver has never seen before – and won’t for long. 

UPDATE: Yun Lam Li has just posted a video of the demolition on his website here.  It’s part of what will eventually be “The Reincarnation of W” – a project that began in July and will end with the completion of the building in 2009.   It’s already very Koyaanisqatsi – and still gives a jolt when the blasts go off.

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