June 3, 2016

Saddling Up

It’s an interesting match with a disruptive technology pairing with a 20th century retailing success. At Wal-Mart’s Annual Conference held on June 1st, it was announced that Wal-Mart Stores will test grocery delivery with Uber and Lyft drivers, starting with Uber in Phoenix and Lyft in Denver by mid June.

Customers pick groceries online, employees package the groceries, and Uber and/or Lyft drivers deliver them. The service charge for such service is in the ten-dollar range.

The intent is to take advantage of the shift as North Americans continue to spend more with on-line purchases. Howard Schultz the CEO of Starbucks was also saying to shareholders that Starbucks outlets would be rebranded as  “destinations” now that shopping mall traffic is diminishing. Now you will go to the mall to “experience” Starbucks.

This article in Toronto’s Star newspaper describes more. The City of Vancouver was at first reluctant to accept the Wal-Mart model back in the day.  Will this kind of on-line  grocery shopping and “uberlivery” or “delyft” be mainstream and part of  Metro Vancouver’s future?


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You heard it on Friday File first-the “story of how Vancouver lost its affordability-and its mind.

Produced by Visual Capitalist which normally is focused on investments, Real Estate Mania presents in eight graphic panels the social, demographic and political history of how Vancouver developed from a boom town in 1887 to a sophisticated city.

The firm states their infographic’s purpose “is to connect the dots between Vancouver’s history of speculation, demographic waves, public policy, and external pressures that have all had a hand in shaping today’s hot real estate market in the city“.

The graphic panels do include the real estate crash in the early 1900’s as well as the impact of Expo 86.

The graphics describe major events shaping and moving Vancouver real estate to higher values include the handing over of Hong Kong to China in the 1990’s, and the Canadian government’s  controversial Immigrant Investor Program. Rising assessment values are shown on aerial photos of the city, and there are lots of graphs and statistics to fuel a discussion over a coffee or two. Are we in a bubble? And if we are, when will it burst?

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Lisa Rapaport in The Globe and Mail on Thursday discusses an issue close to seniors-what happens when their car keys are taken away.  A new study suggests that losing the car keys creates social isolation for seniors. In cities and places where we are working to enhance walkability and increase cycling ridership, there is a generation of people who if they could, drove everywhere. And that generation is in trouble-Statistics Canada estimates that 25 per cent of senior citizens on the road suffer from some kind of dementia.  As more of the Baby Boomers become seniors, I am sure that there will be more stringent driver testing, and perhaps even temporary 24 hour licenses.

Researchers at Rutgers University found that driver’s “transportation mobility is often crucial for continued social participation” noting that seniors that are socially engaged have better health, lower mortality risk, and lower levels of depression and dementia. Frequent drivers were three times as likely to visit friends and family, and engage in outings, and twice as likely to attend religious services and organized group activities.

Driverless car technology is aiming at these seniors. But there will be many seniors who will be unwilling to adapt to driverless technology, or be unable to afford it. There is also a lack of studies on seniors and how they transition  from car ownership to transit and other forms of active transportation. We need this research.

The study does not identify whether the respondents were from urban or suburban environments, but does provide a wake up call for ensuring that our transit, cycle ways and our sidewalks are made for those folks aged  8 years to 100 years, not just to 80.

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Bob Rennie of Bob Rennie Realty spoke to the Urban Development Institute (UDI) on Thursday, giving his professional and well thought out opinion on what is happening in Vancouver’s housing market. Bob and his family are what Malcolm Gladwell would call “early adapters”-they have renovated and restored a fabulous building in Chinatown way before that was fashionable, and share their love of good art and design with the community in their gallery.  And Bob quite simply, loves Vancouver and has his finger on the pulse of what makes this town tick-real estate.

Bob’s annual UDI speech is the hot ticket in town. Journalist Frances Bula who attended the talk and was tweeting in real-time, noted “if you ever feel lonely, tweet out a Bob Rennie speech. It’s like going to a crowded bar, but in a cloud”. Even if folks are not there, they want to be.

You can read the article by Jeff Lee of the Vancouver Sun  here. Jeff sums up Bob’s 2016 speech in five main points.

  1. Vancouver is not affordable.  For cheap houses, 26 sold under $750,000 last year. This year, 26 homes sold for under one million.  On the west side only THREE houses sold under 1.7 million.

2. Affordable housing is in the suburbs, not Vancouver.

3. Neighbourhood Groups in Vancouver involved in the planing process are male and                 old and set in their ways, and need diversity to embrace future generations.

4.  A speculation tax aimed at buyers who flip houses would assist the entry-level part               of the market.

5. There is no market and there is no supply of houses, so even with nearly 200 billion              dollars held in properties by people over 55, they can’t give it to their kids to buy                    homes.

Bob Rennie stated that this would be the last time he would be speaking to the Urban Development Institute. He has been a tremendous thinker and doer in real estate in Vancouver, and passionate about doing the right thing. I will miss him.




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As reported by the CBC, Saskatoon Saskatchewan may be a cold place in winter, but its urban design department of City Hall is warming up the spring and summer crosswalks of the downtown area. That includes a walk across paved paradise Joni Mitchell style with guitars painted in a crosswalk, and inserting an ice cream cone design on a concrete slab pedestrian intersection.

The work is supervised by Saskatoon’s Urban Design Department and is funded by parking meter revenue. Next up? A set of dinosaur tracks leading the way.

Paint (latex works well) is a cheap and quick way to brighten up a crosswalk in any city.  I wish more municipalities were as playful, making walking fun for kids of all ages.



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The Vancouver Sun has written an article on the future of flooding in Metro Vancouver, and it is not a pretty picture.

The Fraser Basin Council has done some research and is suggesting that close to 71 per cent of the dikes in the area will fail with a major flood or climatic event from the Fraser River or from the ocean.

The study newly released last week suggests that nearly 110,000 hectares could be underwater, with transportation and food routes cut off.  Lower Mainland floods are projected to worsen over the next 85 years. These impacts can be mitigated with proactive planning and comprehensive management of dike building and restoring. The study also showed that many of the First Nations settlements in the area will be severely impacted by storm surges and/or flooding.

An earlier study had suggested that the costs of dike upgrades would be in the $9 billion dollar range. This compares to the potential flood damage being $22.9 billion dollars today, to an estimated $24.7 billion dollars in the year 2100.

The cost of increasing flood protection will be determined in the next phase, but Fraser Basin officials noted that an earlier study had pegged the cost of dike upgrades at $9 billion.

The City of Vancouver has identified 11 areas in need of flood mitigation and has been working on a flood plan for the past five years as part of its climate adaptation strategy. Those impacted lands include False Creek, Coal Harbour, Stanley Park and the Fraser River lands. It is unfortunate that several of these areas also contain a lot of housing.

New houses in the city must also be 4.6 meters above the main tide levels. I have been specifically watching the prices of houses north and south of the  3500 block of West 48th Avenue-the north side of the street and the streets to the north are above  the flood plain, the south side of the street and the streets to the south would be underwater if subject to a flood. So far realized sale prices on both sides of the flood line are consistent, and not reflective of the potential flooding problems.

Is it enough? Should the city be warning potential purchasers in impacted lands of flood concerns in these areas?  What about housing located near the Fraser River in the rest of the region?

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Price Tag editor Ken Ohrn  is one of the founders of HUB, the coalition of concerned cyclists across Metro Vancouver. We were talking about the remarkable story of cycling in Metro Vancouver, and the fact that within one decade HUB and its predecessor the Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition (VACC) have solidly put cycling on the urban agenda, and worked tirelessly for seamless, safe and separated cycling connections across the region.

The case has been made for the economic benefits of cycling and cycling lanes. Studies undertaken in Toronto and New York City commercial areas  clearly show that people traveling by walking, cycling, and transit spend more per month and visit more often than those people traveling by cars.  My TEDX talk  references studies in Toronto and New York City which clearly show that supporting active transportation augments shops and services’ bottom line.

For those people who are in cars, bike lanes are good too-the protected lanes in New York City actually allow car traffic to go faster through the city.  This report from the New York City’s Department of Transportation written in 2014 shows that bike lanes allow vehicular traffic to flow faster, and that pedestrian injuries decrease by 22 per cent on streets with bike lanes. Cycling injuries have gone down by as much as 65 per cent on previously troublesome streets.

Why do cars flow faster?  “Cars turning left now have pockets to wait in-so they’re less likely to hit a cyclist riding straight, but they also stop blocking traffic as they wait”. The result is better visibility for the motorist and the cyclist, and helps the traffic flow.

It’s worth taking a look at the NYC Department of Transportation link to see how the data is collected and interpreted. As past commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan said in her talk in Vancouver earlier this year “In God we trust, but everyone else bring data“.

New York City’s data shows us the way forward. One separated bike lane at a time.

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Everyone is so excited about the Arbutus corridor becoming part of the livable green city, with new biking, walking connections potential, a new tramway track and the removal of the old Canadian Pacific Railway ties. Years ago housing facing the Arbutus corridor was discounted because of the uncertainty of the eventual use of the corridor.

An article in The Globe and Mail compares the new Arbutus corridor to the High Line in New York City which has become an elevated green oasis, sparked regeneration of buildings in that area, and reaping  100 million dollars in extra property tax in 2010 alone.

City Hall is now in the planning stage for the next steps of this significant corridor but it begs the question-how do we correctly cost the greenway and assess the economic, social, recreational, and amenity value as a significant green spine in the west side of the city? Can we include the health benefits, and start to look at factors that are not necessarily included at as part of the equation? How do we factor in the development potential for parts of the corridor?

As the Globe and Mail article states “ a 2009 study on the economic benefits of public parks makes the distinction between direct income and direct savings for cities. Direct income comes from higher property tax as property values near parks rise, along with greater sales tax from visitors and tourists spending while using the park, noted the report by the Washington, D.C.-based Center for City Park Excellence, part of the advocacy organization The Trust For Public Land. This is in contrast to the direct savings for cities and their residents, such as parks being an alternative to other, more expensive recreation. There are also the obvious health benefits. Parks can help reduce medical costs and create greater community pride, in turn providing the kind of civic cohesion that can lower the cost of urban blight.”

The work on the Comox-Helmecken Greenway provides some guidance with the study done by the UBC Health and Community Design Lab in concert with the  Centre for Hip Health and Mobility. Findings on that greenway included a  16 per cent increase in moderate physical activity with the installation.

In the case of the Arbutus Corridor, this might be an excellent piece of consultative work that can be undertaken by an aspiring Phd candidate at the UBC School of Planning. How do we ascertain value from an economic, health and social perspective of this new green link, the Arbutus Corridor? And can we take advantage of some of the great landscape architectural minds in Vancouver to suggest and develop some innovation into this new green lung on the city’s west side?



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There has been press about the important ramifications of reducing vehicular speed in cities and places to 30 kilometers per hour (km/h)  from 50 km/h. Studies show that vulnerable road users-those folks biking or walking without the metal frame of a vehicle to protect them-can better survive car crashes at those speeds. Pedestrians and cyclists have a 10% risk of dying in a vehicle crash at 30 km/h. That risk increases to 80% being hit by a vehicle at 50 km/h.

Dr. Perry Kendall, British Columbia’s  Chief Medical Officer has released his  Annual Report entitled “Where the Rubber Meets the Road” which identifies motor vehicle collisions as a significant threat to the health of people in this province. Although the motor vehicle collision fatality rate has declined from 18.4 deaths per 100,000 population in 1996 to 6.2 deaths per 100,000 in 2012, British Columbia has a high rate of deaths, as well as a high rate of collisions causing serious injuries-444.5 major injuries per 100,000 population. That translates into 280 people being killed on roads annually, with another 79,000 seriously injured.

The human factors contributing to fatal crashes are speed (35.7%) , distraction (28.6%) and impairment (20.4%). It is troubling that for vulnerable road users, the rates of crashes and serious injuries has been increasing, from 38.7 % of crashes resulting in serious injuries  in 2007 to  45.7 % of  crashes resulting in serious injuries in 2009.

The Medical Health Officer’s report is comprehensive and points out the current challenges broken down by region. The report cites road design, distraction and speed as three major contributors that can be addressed, and recommended lowering speed limits to 30 km/h in cities. Not surprisingly, Minister of Transportation Todd Stone has put the kibosh on lower speed limits, citing that this was something  he has not heard about from local municipalities, and that such a change needed strong support. You would think when the Province is also paying for health care that they would be mindful on how to keep vulnerable road users as safe as possible with minimal investment. Slower road speeds in municipalities could prevent serious injuries and deaths to pedestrians and cyclists.




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An article published by Vancouver Sun’s Kelly Sinoski talks about what we all know-finding an affordable detached home is pretty impossible. You have a handful of options including moving to the suburbs, buying a condo, or trying to find ground-oriented town or row houses.

The Urban Land Institute which does research on population and land-use states that in the 1990’s their studies indicated that Metro Vancouver would have a housing shortage “by 2021 unless it built 21,000 units annually-with 13,400 of those being ground-oriented,and 7,700 of them apartments”.  The ULI was suggesting that for every apartment built, there needed to be 2 ground oriented  townhouses or rowhouses.

Why? Because there was a common assumption that the baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964 would be downsizing into those row houses. Trouble is those boomers didn’t move from their single family houses, which may have been a good thing because ground oriented townhouses and rowhouses were never built in a ratio of 2 for every one apartment, and there is little stock.



Census Canada for 2011 information shows that between 2006 and 2011,  Metro Vancouver added 38,340 ground oriented dwellings, and 35,870 apartment units.  This is half the amount of housing that the ULI suggested. In five decades, ground-oriented dwellings have dropped from 85 per cent in 1961 to 60 per cent in 2011. While the laneway house has been another housing form that has been adopted, I have wondered whether better economies of scale and better pricing might happen if  stacked townhouses and rowhouses were more ubiquitous.

How do we move forward for people who want to live in ground-oriented housing? With little ground-oriented townhouses and rowhouses in those west side neighbourhoods, its hard to convince those baby boomers to downsize from their single family castles to a more compact alternative. Is it too late to catch up?

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