Business & Economy
August 22, 2019

Vancouver’s Granville Island Again~Is it for People or Is it for Cars?

There’s new management in town for that place that attracts lots of passionate reaction, Granville Island. Owned and governed by the Federal government the island was originally in industrial use, with Ocean Concrete still continuing operations at their plant on the east side of the island.

Since the 1970’s the federally controlled island has morphed into a mix of market based businesses, artists and restaurants that employ over 3,000 people. This area was governed by the Granville Island Trust which will be dissolved in favour of the Granville Island Council. You can read Glen Korstrom’s article about the Council in this Business in Vancouver link.

The island has several challenges, the biggest being that vehicle movement and parking are the largest land use, taking over a quarter of the land area.

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It’s summer in Vancouver and time for a visit to Vancouver’s newest and much loved public space, the main branch of the Vancouver Public Library’s  rooftop garden created by landscape architect extraordinaire Cornelia Oberlander.

Even on one of the hottest days of the summer the outdoor space  is a cool oasis, with lots of corners to sit in and a cool breeze. There’s plenty of people up on the roof, but the space is big enough to accommodate students studying as well as people relaxing drinking coffee. (About that coffee~you still have to bring it in from outside the building, but it is perfectly fine in the library with a lid on it.I checked.)

There is apparently a challenge with the current landscape maintenance contractors  and they are no longer tending to the plants. Thankfully Cornelia’s palette includes lots of hardy plants and wild roses well adapted to dry conditions.

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Go back 40 years ago and there were two important events on university campuses~one was the  Fall used textbook sale; and the second was the Fall annual indoor plant sale. Everyone bought indoor plants for their rooms and apartments, and these sales were held at universities across Canada. Indoor plants were a  big “thing”.

As The Economist  writes, indoor plants which pretty much disappeared off people’s radar for decades are now back~and it is young people leading the trend towards houseplants. Even Greenhouse Mag describes the social media trend towards indoor plants, viewing the universally accessible Instagram and Pinterest as “democratizing access to high design”. That includes young people using houseplants in interiors as a fashion statement in keeping with “nature-infused design aesthetic”.

Google searches for succulents (a type of plant) have increased ten times in the last nine years. On a more practical level young people often live in apartment units without yard access, and while there is care involved for houseplants, “they are neither as demanding nor as costly as pets or children”.

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Just as there is growing interest in slow cooking with meals made from scratch, is there a return to thinking about doing other things in a more 20th century and long hand way?

Gayle Macdonald in the Globe and Mail talks about the “convenience-driven quandary” and asks: “What if we become so accustomed to computers and other AI-driven technologies doing everything for us that we forget the joy of doing things slowly, meticulously and with our own two hands?”

Take a look at the data. Online purchases have increased to 2.9 trillion dollars in 2018, from 2.4 trillion in 2017. And Canadians, who have been late to the online purchasing party have now  doubled their expenditures online from sales reported in 2016 to a  a cool 39 Billion dollars in United States funds.

That sum is more than what the current American president was going to spend on the southern border wall (that clocked in at 25 Billion dollars).  And here’s a story of what 25 Billion dollars will buy. 

Something else happens when goods and services are ordered online and delivered to your door. That is the isolating experience when you don’t have to walk or bike  or even go to a store, or have any interactions with people on the street or in shops.

As Macdonald observes ” loneliness – a close cousin of isolation – seems to be on the rise, with the U.S. Surgeon-General recently warning it’s an “epidemic” in United States and Britain appointing its first “minister of loneliness.”

While online shopping speaks to comfort and convenience, anthropologist Grant McCracken is wary of the ease of it, stating: “The industrial revolution declared war on space and time … and right through the second half of the 20th century, this war had no skeptics. Convenience was king. But in the last few decades we have seen a counter revolution. We saw the arrival of slow food, meditation, mindfulness, artisanal economies and a more measured approach to life by many people. All of which is better for humans and better for the planet.”

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Amazon has entered the prefabricated housing market in their offer of a house for 50,000 Canadian dollars or 37,000 U.S. dollars. Made in Beijing by Hebei Weizhengheng Modular House Technology company this house comes resplendent with solar panels, a kitchen and bathroom, and all wiring and plumbing in place for hook up to local systems.

Delivery to your site does cost an additional $1000 U.S. dollars.

The house itself appears to be a shipping container  but is already drawing criticism from small home builders. As the founder of Tiny Home Builders observes in the Seattle P-I:

This container home’s pricing is not unreasonable for a 20-foot home.Yet although it’s touted as a “container home. This does not appear to be a true shipping container conversion, so quality and rigidity may not be as high.”

Other issues include building materials that may not be the same in North America, andt the cost of accessing  electrical services and city sewers.

With a 25 day time from order to arrival, the 20 by 40 foot house’s location  will need to be approved by local planning authorities, and if is ancillary to the main dwelling you will need to figure out the correct location on the lot. Of course you will need concrete footings to place the dwelling, and potentially a crane to move the house into place.

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Image: FT.com

Even The Economist is weighing in  on the fact that Vancouver is the special child, the one big city in North America that still does not have the common ride-hailing  services like Uber and Lyft.  There is the Kater service which uses taxi licences and is part of the local taxi association, which take a share of profits. Prices are similar to taxis, but there are a few Kater cars that are Karaoke cars. (We can’t make this stuff up.)

As The Economist observes British Columbia’s requirement of Class Four commercial licences may be deterring licensing  part time drivers for ride hailing. But the Province’s cautious approach to ride-hailing is also being lauded:

The regulators have reason to proceed cautiously. In many cities where ride-hailing has taken off, congestion has worsened and use of public transport has dropped. In San Francisco, congestion, as measured by extra time required to complete a journey, increased by 60% from 2010 to 2016, according to Greg Erhardt, a professor at the University of Kentucky. More than half of the rise was caused by the growth of ride-hailing. Population and employment growth accounted for the rest. Ride-hailing led to a 12% drop in ridership on public transport in the city. San Francisco’s experience is a “cautionary tale for Vancouver”, says Joe Castiglione, who analyses data for its transport authority.

Without providing data, the Economist article calls Vancouver “one of  North America’s most traffic-jammed cities, in part because its downtown is small.” 

The article rightly notes that ride-hailing can worsen congestion, but also observes that Vancouver is one of the few places in North America with public transit use increasing.

TransLink’s head of policy Andrew Curran states that high gas price, population and employment growth has helped boost transit use as well as car sharing, where people book vehicles that they drive themselves. Andrew notes that deferring Uber and Lyft in the province has helped transit and car share. Vancouver has 3,000 vehicles in car share, which is double the number of similar vehicles in San Francisco.

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John Davis Jr. with Pat Davis

It seems only fitting on this civic holiday which is called “British Columbia Day” in this province that we celebrate the remarkable Davis family and Pat Davis who passed away last week.  Over a period of five decades the Davis Family stewarded a group of Edwardian and Victorian  houses on Mount Pleasant’s  100 block of West Tenth Avenue just east of city hall, restoring them. At the time in the late 70’s and early 80’s renovating old houses and fitting them with rental units was not the thing to do. The Davis family fought pressure to turn their houses into a cash crop of three-story walk-ups  on their street, and proudly display a plaque indicating that their restoration work was done with no governmental assistance of any kind.

But more than maintaining a group of heritage houses that described the rhythm and feel of an earlier Vancouver,  the Davis family extended their interest and stewardship to the street. In the summer a painted bicycle leans on a tree near the sidewalk with the bicycle basket full of flowers~in season there is a wheelbarrow to delight passersby full of  blooming plants. An adirondack chair perches near the sidewalk. And every morning, one of the Davis family was out sweeping the sidewalk and ensuring that no garbage was on the boulevards or the street.

As author and artist Michael Kluckner notes the Davis Family’s stewardship profoundly altered the way city planning was managed in Mount Pleasant. As one of the oldest areas of the city with existing Victorian houses, zoning was developed to maintain the exterior form and add rental units within the form. The first laneway houses in the city, called “carriage houses” were designed for laneway access and to increase density on the lots. And when it came time for a transportation management plan, residents threw out the City engineer’s recommendations and designed their own. That plan is still being used today.

John Davis Senior passed away in the 1980’s but his wife Pat and his sons John and Geoff maintained the houses and managed the rentals. Michael Kluckner in an earlier Price Tags post described the Davis Family as being strongly in the tradition of social and community common sense.

They championed street lighting for Tenth Avenue, with the street’s residents  choosing (and partially paying for) a heritage type of lighting standard. The City’s engineer at the time thought that the residents of Tenth Avenue would never pick a light standard that they would have to pay for . The City’s engineer was wrong.

Pat Davis also single handedly changed the way that street trees were trimmed by B.C. Hydro. When I was working in the planning department I received a call from B.C. Hydro indicating that trimming work on the Tenth Avenue large street trees had to be halted due an intervention from Mrs. Pat Davis. Pat was horrified that hydro crews were cutting back street trees down to their joins (called “crotch dropping”) to ensure that hydro wiring was not compromised. A spritely senior, Pat Davis had taken the car keys away from  B.C. Hydro personnel  and refused to give them back until the hydro crew agreed to leave.

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If you are not in Vancouver this summer, it is understandable if  you think the photo above is staged. It is not. Photographer and past Price Tags editor Ken Ohrn was walking along English Bay in the evening with his wife Sylvia, who is an accomplished artist. Ken handed his cell phone to a “stranger” to take this photo.

Ken was asked if he found out who the “stranger” was that took this shot which is absolutely iconic and contains all the elements of our summers. There’s English Bay, the freighters in the background, a marvellously complex sky, people on the beach, a touch of the mountains, and the pathway into Stanley Park.  And of course ice cream from one of the many local vendors in the area.

While Vancouverites will tell you that the rainy season goes from January to December, the summer does have a unique appeal  with waterfront accessibility unlike other major cities in Canada. The  beaches are public, with the City’s Greenways policy designed to link up all the shoreline for walking and biking.

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Research has shown that walking is good for your physical and mental health, and building cities and spaces that are connected and walkable provide increased opportunities for social interaction. Transportation expert Jeff Tumlin has a TEDx Talk on Sex, Neuroscience and the City pointing out how vital these links are.

NPR.com’s Paul Nicolaus explored current research on every day interaction on the street.  Elizabeth Dunn and Gillian Sandstrom from the University of British Columbia studied the impact of customers talking to staff in coffee shops, with half of the people asked to interact with staff, and half not to interact. They found that those that had limited interaction with the coffee shop staff  increased their general mood and increased happiness.

“The same researchers found that these seemingly trivial encounters with the minor characters in our lives — the random guy at the dog park or the barista at our local coffee shop — can affect feelings of happiness and human connection on a typical day.”

Studies also found that when walking brief eye contact “increased people’s sense of inclusion and belonging”,  and can trigger the neural release of the peptide hormone oxytocin, called the “cuddle chemical” in Jeff Tumlin’s TEDx talk.

No one likes feeling invisible when someone walks past. The Germans even have a term for it — wie Luft behandeln, which means “to be looked at as though air.” And while people may not necessarily want to talk to everyone they meet on the street or in the coffee shop,  psychologists have ascertained that even brief eye contact increases the sense of inclusion and belonging.

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Andy Yan, Vancouver’s Duke of Data and Director of the Simon Fraser City program asks~what do we do when the glass towers that make Vancouver’s “Vancouverism” are sustainably outed  as hungry  power hogs? What is the 21st century sustainable version of Vancouver’s glass tower style? As reported in The Guardian and as Price Tags has previously written the iconic glass towers are becoming a faux pas “because they are too difficult and expensive to cool.”

As  Simon Sturgis, an adviser to the government and the Greater London Authority, as well as chairman of the Royal Institute of British Architects sustainability group observed “If you’re using standard glass facades you need a lot of energy to cool them down, and using a lot of energy equates to a lot of carbon emissions.”

Because glass towers reflect a lot of heat into the buildings, air conditioning has been standard to cool towers. But the International Energy Agency now estimates that forty percent  of all global carbon dioxide emissions come from construction, demolishing, heating and cooling buildings. And here’s a staggering statistic~the energy for air conditioning has doubled in the last twenty years, and makes up 14 percent of all energy used.

In New York City Mayor de Blasio is demanding that glass towers now meet new energy efficient standards, which really means less use of glass and steel in towers. While other cities have not yet grasped the connection between warmer hotter climatic conditions and glazed towers, new regulations will come under play to ensure that glass towers are efficient for the lifecycle of the building.

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