Business & Economy
December 5, 2016

Muji, Mall Space and Retailing in Vancouver


It’s no surprise that retailing in Vancouver is a treasure trove for business owners, and attracts a wide cross market of shoppers from various backgrounds and ages. As Chuck Chiang reports in The Province “Vancouver’s retail market, driven by wealthy locals, tourists taking advantage of the devalued Canadian dollar, and new immigrants, currently ranks as Canada’s top location in terms of annual sales-per-square-foot at more than $1,000. Toronto sits second at around $860.”

“Vancouver is a very young retail market and many brands have not yet opened street stores,” said Mario Negris, executive vice president of CBRE’s (Coldwell Banker Richard Ellis)  retail group in Vancouver. “We anticipate a vast number of new entrants into the downtown retail landscape. … In the mid-market, we anticipate a revitalization on streets such as Robson and Granville as larger international users solidify locations in the market.”

Although we have the consumers, many stores breaking into the Canadian market do not look first to downtown Vancouver. The reason? A lack of leasable storefronts, and wait for it-malls.  “According to recent data from the Centre for the Study of Commercial Activity at Ryerson University, Vancouver’s per-capita mall space (at 11.4 square feet for every person living in the region) falls far behind the same figure for not only Toronto (at 16.4), but also Alberta (15.2 for Calgary, 16.2 for Edmonton)”.

I would argue that with the Vancouver climate, the high modal split to active transportation and transit, that Vancouver is not your typical “mall town”. You’ve got Pacific Centre and Oakridge Mall-and a lot of great retailing storefronts in several commercial areas, that fits into the locals’ ideal of a stroll and a shop at grade on walkable streets.

With predictions that Vancouver’s retail sector will lead the way in sales in Canada,  Muji, a Japanese clothing and accessories store is looking for a downtown location. You may have visited their locations in Toronto, Japan or in Europe. They are well designed and  well-organized. While Vancouver is the home of the  Asian cuisine inspired  T & T Supermarkets that opened their first store in 1993, and has several Goldilocks Bakery locations which specialize in Filipino delicacies, we have yet to attract well-known large Asian retailers which will have instant recognition and bring more diversity to the Vancouver retailing market. Will these new brands reboot retail redevelopment in downtown Vancouver?

 

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The C40 Mayors Summit has just finished in Mexico City and incoming Chair of the C40, Mayor of Paris Anne Hildalgo has announced a remarkable policy-four world cities, all known for their sometimes questionable air quality have committed to banning  all diesel vehicles in their municipalities by 2025. Following Tokyo’s lead the mayors of Paris, Mexico City, Madrid and Athens stated that they would promote walking and biking, and incentivize the use of  other technologies in vehicles.
In Europe where gasoline is expensive, diesel can be a more cost-effective alternative for running vehicles. But with the World Health Organization attributing three million deaths a year to outdoor pollution exposure,  diesel engines have been pinpointed as a particular problem.

As the BBC notes: “Diesel engines contribute to the problem in two key ways – through the production of particulate matter (PM) and nitrogen oxides (NOx). Very fine soot PM can penetrate the lungs and can contribute to cardiovascular illness and death. Nitrogen oxides can help form ground level ozone and this can exacerbate breathing difficulties, even for people without a history of respiratory problems”.

These types of changes will mean that car makers will need to adapt to new regulations, and look for alternative ways to power vehicles. The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan is considering expanding an innovative Ultra-Low Emission Zone in London’s centre. And the Mayor of Mexico City states:: “It is no secret that in Mexico City, we grapple with the twin problems of air pollution and traffic”.

The banning of diesel vehicles and the promotion of active transportation and connected transit routes promises to rewrite what a legible city looks and feels like. Paris has already undertaken a regulatory ban on vehicles registered before 1997 from even entering the city,  and has embraced the closing of the Champs-Elysee to vehicular traffic one day a month.  Price Tags has also written about  a three kilometer section of the right bank of the Seine, once a throughway for motor cars becoming a walkers’ paradise, despite the fury of commuting traffic.

Eliminating diesel engine use is a direct approach to addressing the health of the city. Will Metro Vancouver follow?

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As reported in the British Telegraph, Motordom’s last gasp is alive and well with a science reporter letting us know that removing speed bumps (called speed humps in Britain)  on the road will lessen pollution and save lives. I am not making this stuff up.

“In a report looking at how to make air cleaner, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice), said that measures which help motorists stay at a constant speed, rather than accelerating and decelerating, were preferable to humps. It follows a study earlier this year by Imperial College which found that forcing drivers to slow down and speed up again produces significant harmful emissions”

But that is not really what the NICE link says when you click on it. It says if you slow down and drive smoothly, you will reduce pollution. The Imperial College report goes on more of a tangent, stating “road humps should be removed from streets close to schools and playgrounds because they increase the amount of pollution from cars, experts have said. Scientists have found that by forcing drivers to slow down before speeding up again, road humps cause vehicles to produce a greater amount of harmful emissions” And yes, they have made the link that speed humps impact air quality where “large numbers of children gather, such as outside schools or play areas”. There is no discussion that the speed humps are placed outside schools and play areas to slow vehicles and protect children.

What of the lives saved and reduced injuries from speed hump slower speeds? We know that a child or adult being hit by a vehicle at 50 km/h has a 10 per cent of survival. That increases to a 90 per cent survival rate if the vehicular speed is reduced to 30 km/h. Speed humps or bumps reduce vehicular speeds and increase the likelihood of pedestrian survival in crashes. At the C40 Cities Summit in Mexico City incoming chair Mayor of Paris Anne Hildalgo has just announced that  the use of diesel vehicles will be prohibited  in four major C40 cities by 2025. Emissions can be reduced by the use of electric vehicles.

It is hard to believe in the 21st century that this vitriol for motordom supremacy is still being published by newspapers. There is a national movement started in Toronto to start calling crippling and deadly vehicular/pedestrian crashes “road violence”, a term that was first used in the early 20th century. Slower speeds save lives. Speed humps or bumps slow cars. Until we have better driver behaviour and streets designed for slower speeds, we need humps.

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Thanks to the quick eye of an artist and an article in a British newspaper, a large piece of public art has been shielded from view in Shanghai and is being dismantled.
Why? Because while it is art, is an exact copy of  Wendy Taylor’s Timepiece which sits close to Tower Bridge. An ardent fan of Ms. Taylor’s work saw the installation in Shanghai and sent a photo of the work to her. Trouble was that while it was certainly a copy of Ms. Taylor’s work, it also certainly had not been authorized by her.

“At first I thought someone had done a clever Photoshop and changed the background, but then I looked more closely and thought ‘oh my god no, this is a complete copy’,” Ms Taylor said.“They only difference is the angle has been changed for the time.”

This isn’t the first time a work of art by a famous public artist has appeared unauthorized in China. A very surprising replica of Anish Kapoor’s masterpiece “Cloud Gate” (which is in Chicago and installed in 2006) replicated itself in Karamay, China.

You may also remember Florentiijn Hofman’s work Rubber Duck that toured cities around the world. Apparently a set of large rubber ducks appeared in China too, except they were not Hofman’s.

While Ms. Taylor has decided that life is too short to go after the City of Shanghai for plagiarism, the  city’s other 3,500 pieces of public art will now be analyzed. A few have already been identified as potentially replicated from other sources.

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Fireworks are big business in the City of Vancouver, and are the centre piece of a summer “celebration of light” where we celebrate which country can make the most impressive display and percussion. Years ago it was a tobacco company that had its name on this festival-now it is a car manufacturer.
City Council has just announced that they will be approving $50,000 for  a New Year’s Eve celebration downtown with live bands and two fireworks displays-one at 9:00 p.m. for families with kids, and one again at midnight.
Fireworks do produce light, noise and air pollution, although in the moment the light and noise are pleasurable to viewers. They  also release  chemicals and particle-laden haze. But what is the impact of fireworks on birds and animal life? Does it make a difference to make that kind of noise in the summer or the winter? And why is there so little written about the ecological impact of fireworks?
The  Audubon Society cites the case of New Year’s Eve 2010 when 5,000 red-winged blackbirds were startled from their nests in Beebe Arkansas when professional grade fireworks were set off by amateurs. They died by colliding into buildings, cars and trees. It appears that fireworks are also more problematic in the winter months when large groups of birds cluster together at night.
There are other studies that show that shorebirds leave nests and become disoriented, including a  2011 study from a New Year’s Eve in the  Netherlands that recorded thousands of birds taking flight for 45 minutes “clearly disturbed and stressed by the fireworks, with wetland areas and nature reserves being especially sensitive areas due to the large number of birds that gather there.”
The impact on whales in captivity of large percussion fireworks has also been studied and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association has set up standards for coastal areas where marine mammals and birds could be disturbed by fireworks. It can also be argued that fireworks are similar to  natural occurring thunderstorms and lightning to wildlife.
There is no doubt that fireworks and celebrations have gone hand in hand in the 20th century. Are fireworks still ecologically appropriate in the 21st century? Or are fireworks so culturally tied to our ideas of celebration that any ecological impact is not important?

 

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The Better Dwelling.com folks  describe it here:  “You get a Vancouver address, live in one of the city’s nicest neighborhoods, and use most of the city’s resources– but technically you don’t live in the City of Vancouver. We’re talking about The University Endowment Lands (UEL), an area 1/10th the size of Vancouver that consumes the majority of the city’s coastline, but is administered independently. This means that despite having a Vancouver address, homes there are exempt from the recent vacancy tax”.

The UEL is that tony leafy suburb area the transit bus wends through on its voyage from Alma Street to UBC on the west. Even though it receives City of Vancouver services under contract, it is administered by the Province not the City of Vancouver, which may also be why the taxes are also lower. As Better Dwelling states ” Annual property taxes are roughly 30% lower in UEL than in the city of Vancouver. Great for real estate investors in the UEL, since property values there are really high”.

The  properties under the governance of the Province in the UEL are largely freehold, and average property values are in the over $6,500,000 level. An annual vacancy tax at 1 per cent of that value would be in the $65,000 range. A study conducted by Andy Yan, Director of the SFU City Program suggests that 88% of houses here are foreign-owned.

Taxes in Vancouver and the UEL are supposed to be similar although the taxes in the UEL are classified as a rural tax. There is an interesting and complex history to how these taxes are managed. Some would argue that with museums, access to pathways and beaches, and extraordinary views this is indeed the place to live as well as to study. With no worry about the Vancouver vacancy tax.

 

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The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) has released its latest survey showing that Metro Vancouver’s vacancy rate for purpose-built rentals is now at 0.7 per cent  for bachelor, one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments, while the average rent is up 6.4 per cent to $1,223 as reported in The Georgia Straight and the The Metro News. For units with three or more bedrooms, the vacancy rate was 1.4 per cent. These statistics apply for buildings designed and built to be rentals, not basement suites or condos rented out by owners. The stock of purpose-built rental units increased by 922 this year.
The lowest vacancy rate of 0 per cent was on the University Endowment Lands at UBC. The highest vacancy rate in Vancouver was one-bedrooms in Kerrisdale with 2.3 per cent. Average prices for one-bedroom apartments varied from $955 in Marpole to $1,441 in English Bay.

“Strong demand for rental accommodation in Vancouver outpaced addition to supply, pushing rents higher and vacancies lower for purpose-built and condo rental apartments,” CMHC housing analyst Robyn Adamache stated.

The table below compares vacancy rates for 2015 and 2016 in Metro Vancouver and the municipalities, clearly showing how hard it is to find rental accommodation.


Source: Statistics Canada and Metro News

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In the recent  Delta Optimist, Doug Massey, son of George Massey has taken a look at the recent report by  the Corporation of Delta describing safety concerns and fire/ambulance response in the tunnel. And Mr. Massey responds “It’s all a plan in order to make it (tunnel) distasteful for the public and favourable towards a bridge. Politics by the province is behind the latest report by Delta on the George Massey Tunnel.”
As the son of George Massey who had the idea to construct the tunnel five decades ago, Doug Massey has been unwavering in responding to the continually  changing and sometimes quite diverse rationale that the Province champions in their dogged determination that the $3.5 billion dollar Massey bridge is good for us. After Delta’s safety report came out,  Transportation Minister Todd Stone commended  Delta for the report.

But Doug Massey says not so fast. “They’re playing a game of making the tunnel look bad. Of course it doesn’t have the safety features of a brand new tunnel but a lot of the accidents they’re talking about are not even in the tunnel, they’re on the approaches, and if they had proper warning signs well in advance to keep your headlights on, that would definitely help”.

Doug Massey also points out that there are immediate options to increasing first responder safety and lessening accidents in the tunnel, including restricting large trucks to certain times, and brightening the walls of the tunnel’s interior. He also notes that immersed tunnels are built around the world, with “some of these immersed tunnels (are) 37 metres down and 12 miles long, so, come on, you don’t build these things if they’re not safe. Ours is less than a mile long”.

“There’s a lot of things they could be doing to make it safer, but they’re making it more difficult. It’s just a game and they’re playing with people’s lives by doing it”. 

Despite the fact that every other municipality in Metro Vancouver has requested a rethink of this bridge’s size, location, and rationale, the Province is continuing its relentless quest forward. Its been a particularly awkward era in Delta, where cumulative impacts of  the proposed port expansion decimating vital flyway habitat, continued industrial development, the loss of agricultural land, and the building of a mega mall have erased arable farmland on the floodplain. Now the building of a massive ten lane bridge will further exacerbate the ecological fragility.

How will these decisions be regarded in fifty years?

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For those folks that like to park but don’t pay their parking fines, there is a new device to replace “The Boot” that is attached to your car tire and means you can’t move your car. “The Boot” was effective in that it immobilized the car. The challenge for parking enforcement staff was installing “The Boot”. You can imagine that kneeling on a street and being bent over the tire of a car installing “The Boot” might be upsetting to the offending motorist or bystanders.

Enter the Barnacle. As reported in City Lab,  “The concept behind the apparatus, made by New York’s Ideas That Stick, is simple: It’s a rugged plastic rectangle that attaches with incredible force to the windshield, and can’t be removed until motorists pay a fine over the phone and get a release code. Adding insult to injury, drivers are then expected to return it to a drop-off location within 24 hours”.

“If they try to move the car or pry the “Barnacle” off, a la Homer Simpson jackhammering a boot, an alarm goes off. And if they huck it into a dumpster after paying the penalty, a GPS tracker will keep it on parking enforcement’s radar.”

So far two cities, Fort Lauderdale Florida and Allentown Pennsylvania are trialing this device. No word yet on the effectiveness of the Barnacle, but it is quick and  relatively effortless to install and several can be carried around in one vehicle. Somehow it just seems easier to use active transportation and transit. And pay your parking fines.

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This term  as reported in the Indy 100 is a Japanese term that means “fatigue generated by senseless trauma”.

“Kuebiko was a Shinto deity of knowledge and agriculture, a scarecrow who couldn’t move but had complete awareness of events around him. He may be most known to the Western World through a wise scarecrow of his namesake that features in the video game The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.”

“If you feel impotent, looking on at a string of events beyond your influence, then you may relate to ‘kuebiko’.”

Kuebiko may well represent how many “globalists” feel after watching Brexit and the results of the American election. Oh and by the way, if you were British and wanted to remain in the European Economic Union, you are a “remainer”. And if you are a Canadian? You may be experiencing  Kuebiko. Here is how to pronounce it.

 

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