Governance & Politics
August 17, 2018

Province Says They Are Going to Stop the Private Estating of Agricultural Lands

Finally — entering the final stretch of a hot, dry summer, the Province of BC’s Minister of Agriculture says she is going to do something about the flagrant misuse of council authority in the City of Richmond.

As The Richmond News reports:

Lana Popham the Minister of Agriculture is now saying it directly~she is closing the barn door  on Richmond’s agricultural land speculators this Fall. Ms. Popham states “Legally limiting house sizes on protected farmland is among 13 recommendations for “immediate legislative and regulatory change. We can expect to see changes coming forward in the fall with regards to that.”

Previously, this council green-lit the development of the best agricultural lands in Canada into exclusive private estates for the very, very rich — many off-shore owned. Of course, these particular land owners receive the unintended additional benefit of a ‘super’ land-lift, as their agriculturally zoned property becomes a McMansioned playground for the well-heeled from elsewhere.

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One of the Price Tags editors has just returned from a week in Switzerland driving across the country. There is a major difference in driving in Switzerland~speed cameras are everywhere~on local streets, at the entrances to small towns, and on every major highway. The fines for speeding are steep~drive 6 to 10 km/h over the speed limit and you are looking at a fine of 100 Swiss Francs, roughly equivalent to $135 Canadian dollars. Increase that to driving 16 to 20 km/h over the posted speed limit and you are looking at a whopping 250 Swiss Francs, in the $330 Canadian dollar range. You can take a look at the speeding fine structure and how easy it is to lose your licence by speeding here.

Between 2001 and 2006 Switzerland enforced speed limits resulted in a fatality decrease of 15%  per year, bringing road deaths down from 71 to 31. Enforced slower speeds (the maximum travel speed is 120 km/h and that is rigidly enforced) has made Swiss motorways the safest according to the European Transport Safety Council. The roads are also easier to drive on, with consistent motorist behaviour and plenty of reaction time due to the speed conformity on the motorways.

A new poll conducted by Mario Canseco shows that 70 people in British Columbia are now supportive of the use of a camera system similar to the Swiss to enforce road speed limits in this province.

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After the Fireworks displays in Vancouver there is a lot of litter left on the beaches. But what of cities that have massive and beautiful beaches within their environs and have to deal with garbage every day? Many cities have “beach grooming” budgets to keep their beaches clean and litter free for the thousands of daily users. Brendan Borrell in Hakai Magazine explores the ecology behind beach clean up on Santa Monica State Beach in California where 50,000 people a day visit along the 5.6 kilometer beach. This beach is so wide it can accommodate 30 volleyball courts in its girth. And it gathers a lot of trash too.

A few years ago staff estimated they cleared nearly 40,000 kilograms of trash off the beach after a long weekend. The City spends 3.3. million dollars a year grooming the beach, but that in itself has an ecological downside.

“When sweepers flatten the contours of the beach and strip the shoreline of the wrack—the rotting mess of kelp and seagrass that washes up—they turn a living beach into a sterile sandbox. When the beach hoppers and kelp flies vanish, so too do the shorebirds, including plovers and killdeer.”

That means that Santa Monica is educating people what a clean beach looks like, and that means there is seaweed washed up that remains on the beach. Of the 1.3 billion tons of waste produced a year, much is plastic with 5 to 13 tons tossed into oceans annually. Noted journalist Daphne Bramham has been writing about “drowning in oceans of  plastics” and the fact we have yet to stop it.

In Santa Monica urban trash from 4 million people is directed into the bay after a series of inflatable dams and filters. Because much of that waste returns to the beach, and it is measured by analysing plastics and garbage in an  area 30 meters by 30 meters on the beach. Using the sample to estimate how much is left on the beach after clean up, over 100 kilograms of trash is left behind. But how to clean up trash and still not impact the ecological cycles of the beach?

“Just as humans may develop allergies from growing up germ-free, beaches are suffering from being too clean. Swept flat each day, the beach can become a biological desert, devoid of the rare plant and animal species that make the coastlines so special. Over two tonnes of decaying kelp get deposited on a kilometer of beach each day, a valuable resource for wildlife that is robbed by city cleanup crews on a daily basis.”

Knowing that birds, isopods and invertebrates live on the seaweed “wrack” that comes up with the tide means that beach grooming practices need to change. And out of looking at beaches is a bigger call to properly manage human litter and waste, and ensure that cities holistically look at how that is handled. It is all connected. As Borell observes, on the popular Baywatch television program filmed on the  Santa Monica shoreline  no one shows “the moment when someone bends over, picks up a piece of trash on the beach, and curses humanity.” 

You can read the whole article here.

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Finally the Agricultural Land Reserve’s independent committee  has stepped in on the ongoing repurposing of the best agricultural land in Canada to privately owned gated estates, many in numbered companies and owned offshore for multi-millionaire elite.

Richmond City Council is in complicit in this destruction, allowing mansions of almost 11,000 square feet to be built on Class one agricultural land, and also allowing a 3,200 square foot additional house for the “help” on larger properties. Richmond has 61 applications they are now processing as the supposedly protected Class 1 agricultural land is busily carved up for short profit developer gain, exempt from foreign buyer’s tax, and getting property tax breaks by producing a rock bottom minimal “profit” on the land.

On Wednesday, the eight-member group submitted a report to the agricultural minister with 13 recommendations for legislative and regulatory change that would better protect B.C.’s Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR). The reserve was set up in 1973 to protect the province’s best farmland from development and now represents about five percent of B.C.’s total landmass. One key recommendation was that the province establish a maximum floor size for all primary residences built on ALR properties, noting the government’s current suggestion of almost 5,400 square feet as a good starting point.

It came up all the time, people felt that it was an abuse of the ALR and increased the levels of speculation on the land,” said committee chair Vicki Huntington, a former independent MLA from Delta South. “They felt that it was detrimental to the preservation of the capacity of the land to be saved for farming, so we felt that it was one of the primary recommendations that we had to make.We’ll see if the government feels that it’s a worthwhile one.”

A Globe and Mail investigation in 2016 looked at the loopholes that has turned farmland into a residential cash cow.  The  Provincial opposition Liberals did themselves no favour by speaking out against the Agricultural Land Reserve, saying that decision-making was being taken away from farmers. That’s too little too late, as the wholesale destruction of the best farmland in Canada has morphed into a get rich quick scheme for exploiting tax loopholes for the super rich, and making multi-million dollar profit for the estate developers. It is time to respond to the wholesale destruction of farmland as if food security and the need for a farming future truly was important.

 

 

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Curbed in New York reports on Graham Hill and his 350 square foot apartment for sale in New York City for 750,000 U.S. dollars. But this is not just any small apartment~Mr. Hill is the force behind Life Edited and had previously renovated a 420 square foot apartment that actually had a room that converted into a dining room with seating for twelve people. That apartment sold for 790,000 US. dollars.

You can view how that “bigger” apartment worked in the video here.

 

That $790,000 that Hill got for his first apartment did include $365,000 of bespoke furnishings including the Murphy bed and the dining table which folded.

The current apartment on its real estate listing notes that this unit was featured in Dwell magazine and is “one of the most widely published apartments in the world, and is a prototype for living simply with functional space making the apartment feel twice as big.

While espousing the “less is more” philosophy, Hill uses his apartments to detail items that contribute to happily living small. The latest unit actually has a guest bed for when company visits. Hill also has a well viewed TED talk which you can watch below.

 

Image: Treehugger.com

 

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Melody Ma said it boldly in her tweet on Carlito Pablo’s story in The Georgia Straight about the new housing development proposed at 835-837 East Hastings Street.

 

One of Chinatown’s clan associations, the Lee’s Benevolent Association of Canada purchased the site to redevelop into a 6 storey mixed-use development which would include retail/office on the street floor,  with 39 units exclusively for non-market  seniors rental above.

The reason? “Lee’s Benevolent believes this project is a great opportunity for…aging Chinese seniors in the neighbourhood to remain close to the Chinatown community with its associated sense of community, social opportunities, shopping, groceries, produce, and other supports,” according to a letter by George Lee to the City of Vancouver.”

Many Chinese seniors want to live independently as they age, and being able to live close to places that seniors habituate as part of their community is vitally important.  But there is also an aspect of sociability and bringing cultural attention to Chinatown too, connecting seniors’ living spaces to areas of cultural importance. Carlo Pablito cites the Chinatown Senior Housing Feasibility Study produced in 2015 by the City of Vancouver and the Province.

This study indicates that “over 90 per cent of Vancouver’s Chinese seniors are first generation immigrants and most of them speak a Chinese dialect at home. They have unique needs in addition to all the critical issues faced by all Canadian seniors due to their limited language capacity and understanding of the available support systems. Recent research from UBC has concluded that in the next 15 years up to 3,300 Chinese seniors in the City of Vancouver will need subsidized housing that offers culturally and linguistically an appropriate environment.”

The Chinese Benevolent societies and family associations have traditionally viewed their purpose as ensuring that seniors can participate culturally in the community and feel connected to it. Several societies have also expanded their mandate to include seniors’ lower cost housing in society owned structures in Chinatown and adjacent Strathcona.

The Lee Benevolent Society’s proposal by architect Patrick Stewart is currently before the City of Vancouver for approval. In the words of the watchful Changing City website, the proposed building’s design ” isn’t particularly exciting, but given the location, and the budget available that’s not at all surprising. The use is the most important aspect of this building; 39 social housing units for Chinese seniors… The scale actually fits very well with a number of hundred year old apartment buildings now used as SRO (single room occupant)  hotels.”

 images: CBC.ca

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In the City Fix  three researchers from WRI Ross Centre for Sustainable Cities have been examining what cities need to do to adopt TDM (Transport Demand Management) systems. And they have come up with some compelling points.

In 2002, the average London driver spent half their travel time sitting in traffic, and road transport accounted for 95 percent of fine particle pollution in the city center. To combat these problems, Greater London’s first mayor, Ken Livingstone, turned to congestion charging…. Unlike in Stockholm, where prices differ during peak and off-peak hours and tolls charge drivers every time they pass a control point, London drivers face a simple, one-time charge of £11.50 ($15.90) to enter the zone, measuring 13 square miles (21 kilometers).

Since the congestion charge introduction in 2003,  pedestrian space has increased and  car usage has declined. This is due to three factors~ a “centralized institutional structure and strong political will, extensive public communication and consultation, and improved public transport and fare integration.”

With 33 boroughs in London the establishment of Transport for London by Mayor Ken Livingstone established a framework to implement congestion charging. The Mayor framed less congestion as improving “economic competitiveness and livability”.

Public outreach on congestion charges was assisted with a network of people who understood the policy and supported it, and public information was readily available.  “The team initiated an intensive program of advertisements, using TfL’s website, newspapers, public radio and television to educate the public about how it worked and what it would mean for residents and commuters. They addressed questions like, what is the congestion charging, how much is it, and how do you pay.”  They also integrated many of the suggestions from public outreach into the design and roll out of the congestion charges.

Lastly, knowing that “the more you invest in roads, the more congestion you create” Transport for London added 300 new buses on the day the congestion charges began, rolled out the “Oyster” transit cards, and made it easy to pay fares through different applications.  “The strategy was to engage both the supply and demand sides of transport simultaneously.”

Revenue from the congestion charging which is estimated to be approximately 2.5 billion in the first 15 years has been “strictly reinvested in London’s transport improvements, especially for public and non-motorized transport.”

In the first year of implementation of congestion charges private car usage fell by 30 per cent and bus usage increased by 20 per cent.  Low transit fares meant a 40 per cent increase in rush hour passengers entering the congestion charge area by bus. Cycling use increased by 230 per cent since 2000. Crashes involving cyclists decreased, and carbon emissions decreased by 20 per cent.

The benefits to the city are evident. “One estimate suggests the net economic benefits of congestion charging in London’s first year of implementation reached £50 million ($78 million in 2004). 

While services like Uber and delivery vans are new transport challenges, enhanced pedestrian areas and protected bike lanes claim space previously used by cars. London is now considering expanding the congestion charging zone city-wide and expanding electronic tolls to charge motorists on time of day and amount of mileage.

The newly released Mayor’s Transport Strategy  now strives for  an 80 per cent modal split of walkers, cyclists and transport users by 2041. In fifteen years London has demonstrated the effectiveness of congestion charges in achieving a greener, healthier city with a policy understood and embraced by its residents.

The takeaway? The need for Metro Vancouver to be strongly supported by all municipalities in congestion pricing strategies, the necessity for good public outreach, and the ramping up of better and more consistent transit service.  London has shown that their road pricing model works.

 

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From the BBC a picturesque story about the city’s unique double-decker trams, a made in Hong Kong product that still faithfully serves the local streets. Photographer Irene Flanhardt has captured the images of these trams, including a few tram oldsters that are still making the rounds.

Trams have been in use in Hong Kong for over 110 years. This system is the only one globally still operating with double-decker trams only. It is also one of only five “non-heritage” trams using double-decker seating. The others are in Great Britain, Egypt, Oranjestad, Aruba and Dubai.

Take a look at the video below prepared by BBC News.

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It is shaping up to be an interesting municipal election year with the main hot topics being polarizing, and forming camps “for” or “against”.

Here’s an example. There appears to be a grittiness that is translating to people being either “for” affordable accessible housing, or “against”. And Vancouver City Council contributes to this polarization in their recent last-minute decision to approve a 400 foot tower containing 40 storeys~but only if it contains rental housing.

Otherwise the developer can build the same amount, but in a lower building size. The height would be capped at 300 feet and does not pierce the view cones that provide mountain views from various points on Cambie Street and from Queen Elizabeth Park. The developer can also build market condo apartments with no fettering rental implications from Council by respecting the view corridor height limit.

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Here’s an interesting take on equity and diversity in  planning places . Simon Fraser University’s Duke of Data Andy Yan sent this cogent article from CityLab  on the thought and philosophy of Richard Sennett at the London School of Economics. Sennett explores the intersection between the complexity of cities and the need to accept the innate diversity of place, and has written about that in his new book Building and Dwelling: Ethics for a City.

And he’s come up with some startling conclusions.

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