Business & Economy
July 4, 2016

Main Street and the Hip-o-Metre

 

As reported on Global News and in the business section of the Vancouver Sun Main Street has been named by the Cushman & Wakefield real estate firm as one of the fifteen “cool” streets in North America. And please forgive them, but the firm uses a “Hip-O-Metre”. The full copy of the report is available here.
The report describes the emergence of  a new brand of consumer-the millennials who are looking for products in the mid-market price range. Cushman & Wakefield notice that millennials are not flocking to malls or the typical commercial streets, but to what they call “cool streets”. These streets are quirky and different, with retailers that actively and independently engage shoppers in unique experiences.

Noted in the Vancouver Sun,  “Main Street, with its independent shops and eateries, was assigned the “up and coming” designation on the study’s “Hip-O-Metre,” which measures an area’s development stage, livability, “retail flavour,” demographics (about 30 per cent under the age of 35), percentage of renters (56) and university graduates (77). It also assessed residential and commercial rents, the latter being $20 to $43 per square foot.

The report noted that the Mt. Pleasant area’s shift from “working class to arts district” started 20 years ago and has been “on steroids” for the past five years, especially at Main and Broadway.”

Main Street has always been an interesting and diverse street with many small locally owned businesses. That retailing has been reinforced wit an increase of small restaurants and coffee bars that have punctuated and provided great places to rest and people watch. The BIA for Mount Pleasant (Business Improvement Area) has been actively promoting the maintenance and development of smaller retail floor spaces to encourage this diversity and variety of retailing. It looks like the BIA, the shop and restaurant owners, and the residents patronizing these businesses are succeeding. Main Street is the new “It” street.

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Like London, Paris is now building fast bike lanes free of motorized vehicles, as mentioned in this article from City Lab. Last year the first part of this network opened along the Bassin de l’Arsenal, part of the Reseau express velo (REVe).  “Reve” means “dream” in French, and such a separated bike system in a city known for its traffic and complexity will be welcomed. The Mayor Anne Hidalgo has stressed the importance of an active and pollution free city in her bid for the 2024 Olympic Games. The intent is to have 45 kilometers of bike lanes free of motorized vehicles in place across Paris by 2020. Remember this is Paris-with lots of traffic, and a pretty dense urban form.
Paris has just been awarded the World Wildlife Fund’s Global Earth Hour Capital 2016 for their leadership in banning older polluting cars, extending public transportation and implementing a review process through a centralized Climate Agency to ensure goals of sustainability are met for current and future citizens.
If we were to create the same separated bicycle highways in Vancouver outside of the downtown and Seaside Greenway, what streets should they be located on, and how would they be prioritized? Would we use the existing bikeway network, remove some parking and install barriers? Would the first priority be strengthening dedicated fast bike lane connections to and from SkyTrain and Canada Line stations? Or do we look at Greenways,  that network of 140 kilometers of street that are for pedestrian and bicycle users ahead of motorized traffic as the dedicated fast bike streets of the future?

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Super City was a toy released in 1967 and consisted of plastic frames and shapes to create-well, your own city. It had very cool television commercials-here is the 1968 commercial in French on Youtube . If you were a kid and had an interest in design or engineering you wanted Super City. Unfortunately the toy was too complex for children, and the product was pulled from the market. Artist and author Douglas Coupland said that “anything made from Super City looked like a Craig Ellwood, or a Neutra or a Wallace K. Harrison“. 

And perhaps Douglas’ remarks are apropos as Tech Insider has written that the startup accelerator Y Combinator wants to create a city from scratch. These are the same people who brought the world Airbnb and Dropbox.

Y Combinator wants to design the smartest city possible using technologies that would be challenging to implement in existing cities. They are hiring researchers to review housing affordability, ponder zoning, and review current and future technologies. This is similar to the work that Google’s parent company Alphabet embarked upon in their Smart Cities competition won by Columbus Ohio. This competition was jointly sponsored by the U. S. Department of Transportation and the winner receives up to 40 million dollars to become the first city to “fully integrate innovative technologies – self-driving cars, connected vehicles, and smart sensors – into their transportation network.

What is curious is how the media around innovative technology integration is not addressing active transportation as the super city’s synergistic foundation.  Lets hope the researchers being hired by Y Combinator remember that every journey begins with a walk, and plan the town of tomorrow around people walking and biking too.

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The owners of residences on the north side of Vancouver’s Point Grey Road have some of the most spectacular  views of English Bay and the North Shore mountains, unfettered by public walkways between their properties and the ocean. The City of Vancouver used to have a policy to purchase land along the north side of this street, so that all Vancouverites could enjoy the magnificent views. The intent was to eventually provide access to the beach, which is public in Vancouver.  Margaret Pigott Park is one example of a north side of Point Grey Road private property that was purchased for public use.

 
 
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While the bikeway portion of the Seaside Greenway has been developed along Point Grey Road, the news for walkers has not been as positive. The city sidewalks on the north side of Point Grey Road are often squished beside the curb, with private landscaping from the large houses encroaching on the city boulevard, making the sidewalk feel even narrower. Most of this private landscaping encroachment consists of hedging and trees.
And then came the elephant. Yes, there was an elephant sculpture installed in the front yard of a house on Point Grey Road’s north side. The property owners fenced the elephant in with a handsome black wrought iron fence that encroached on city owned boulevard land right up to the sidewalk.
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In other parts of the city, this does not seem to happen. There is a public understanding that the city owns the land that is called the public boulevard, and that this strip of land extends on both sides of the sidewalk. The location of the water service in front of Vancouver properties is an indication of where the City’s land ownership ends and the private homeowner’s property begins.

Jeff Lee’s article in the Vancouver Sun describes how homeowners on the north side of Point Grey Road are upset with the city’s plans to upgrade the sidewalk as part of a 6.4 million dollar project completing the seawall walkway. This upgrade will mean the city is taking back city land usurped by private hedges and fences to make a sidewalk wide and comfortable, like the rest of the seawall walkway. There will be a 1.2 meter strip between the homeowner’s front yard and the start of the sidewalk.
The City’s plans were originally to place a seawall walk right beside the ocean, in front of the Point Grey houses. This was nixed by the residents, as well as by environmental concerns.
The Point Grey residents held a rally on Sunday protesting the installation of the sidewalk, claiming it was an example of bad fiscal spending and citing the challenges residents would have in exiting their properties in vehicles with walkers and cyclists on the city street.
But here’s the point-taking back this strip of city owned land and putting it in public use for walkers is not about today, it is about tomorrow. Anywhere else in the city I would argue we would have dealt with this landscape encroachment on a popular walking street years ago. It would have made sense to have implemented this wider sidewalk at the time of the adoption of the expansion of the Seaside Greenway. The  properties along Point Grey Road benefited from a huge real estate lift the moment this street was designated.  That was the time to negotiate the return of the public boulevard for the safety, comfort and convenience of  walkers, people pushing strollers, and wheelchair users. 
Hopefully future generations of Vancouverites can vision the Seaside Greenway as a stroll, not just a bike ride. How we deal with these issues today by following established city policy and protocol shapes the public realm, our public spaces, and our future place. There will be no more elephant in that yard.
 
 

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The Vancouver Sun has published Vancouver’s Million Dollar Map .  This series of maps was produced by Acting Director of Simon Fraser University’s  City Program Andy Yan, who wanted to understand when real estate prices for single-family homes started to skyrocket upward.
Andy found that in 2006, only 19 per cent of single-family homes in Vancouver were worth more than one million dollars. By 2016, 91 per cent of single-family homes in Vancouver were worth more than one million. And by the way, that figure includes land and improvement values and is based upon B.C. Assessment figures.
Andy Yan states “It’s a convergence of factors . There is a limited supply, low-interest rates, global capital. You also then have this both in Vancouver and outside of Vancouver, a rippling to places like Victoria and Kelowna. You have a real estate market that isn’t isolated, but that is spurring a (wider) land market.”
The map below shows the spread of million dollar residences eastward from 2010 to 2015. Those residences are in blue. It is interesting to see that residences along the commercial arterials were the last properties under one million dollars on the west side in the 2010 map. By 2015, most westside single-family properties were  worth over one million dollars.
 

 

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A new study of Vancouver’s real estate published in the Georgia Straight has preliminary results indicating that while investment from offshore is impacting home prices in Metro Vancouver, the impact is far less than many think.
The two researchers, Simon Fraser University’s Andrey Pavlov and University of British Columbia’s Tsur Sommerville analyzed price changes in certain Vancouver neighbourhoods for three months after the July 2012 end of the federal immigrant investors program.
This program which ran from 1986 to 2014 allowed immigrants to move to Canada in exchange for a five-year loan to the federal government of $800,000. Approximately 120,000 people used this program to move to British Columbia.
The researchers found that when the program closed, property prices in the neighbourhoods studied declined by 2.5 per cent. However, the benchmark price for all residential properties in the region increased by 48.3 per cent  from 2012 to 2015

The Georgia Straight’s reporter Travis Lupick  stated in the article “Pavlov listed a number of other factors he suggested are contributing to Metro Vancouver’s hot market. He said those forces include low mortgage rates, low property taxes, burdensome development-permit processes, and infrastructure shortcomings that slow the construction of housing throughout the larger region. He also did not discount the impact of foreign money, stating that it certainly has an effect, though exactly how great remains unknown. (On June 15, the Straight reported that speculative buyers also likely have an increasingly strong hand in the Vancouver market.)

An earlier March 2016 study by the City of Vancouver found that single-family and duplex homes have a vacancy rate of just one percent, suggesting that foreigners living abroad are not buying homes and leaving them empty, as some reports have suggested.”

We are now starting to get some well researched studies on what is going on in the single-family housing market and why. The conclusions of this research work will be published in academic journals and should be available in the next few months.

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The Economist in their June 18th edition has an article describing the changing face of retailing. Price Tags has been exploring the creation of the new Tsawwassen Mills, a mega mall which will also be a “fashion experience”. The mega mall announced they were hiring 1,000 employees in Business in Vancouver, with an expected 3,000 employees to be their full staff.
But something is happening on Britain’s commercial fashion streets that may impact the new Tsawwassen Mills mega mall, and other retailing as well. The example used is the Hard Rock Cafe-Britons like eating at the cafe, but patronage of the clothing side of the business has fallen off.

The Economist describes the retail market as “soggy”. Non-food sales and clothing sales been contracting. And remember the mention of Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks making his coffee shops “experiences” that you will go to the mall for?  Here is what the The Economist surmises:

One profound change is that consumers now want to spend their money on “experiences”, such as eating out, holidays, cinema or going to the gym, rather than products such as clothes or food—hence the differing fortunes of the restaurant and retail businesses at the Hard Rock Café. Figures show a strong rise in spending on recreation and culture in the first nine months of last year, compared, for instance, with the fall in spending on food and drink. ..Online shopping is also transforming the high street. Consumers, especially the young, now expect “omnichannel” retailing, to be able to switch seamlessly between purchasing on their laptops, on their mobiles and in bricks-and-mortar stores. Retailers that are slow to develop a good online offering will struggle, or worse.

So despite disposable household income rising, leisure time is not being spent shopping but rather shopping for items for a leisure experience elsewhere.

In terms of struggling grocery stores, Britain’s online grocery market is worth $12.2 billion USD and is growing. Online retailing looks like a disruptive technology for the typical bricks and mortar commercial stores. A British lobby group, Women in Retail have recently published research showing that even though 85 per cent of all retail purchases are made or influenced by women, only 20 per cent of the executive teams and only 10 per cent of executive boards are female. To adapt to a quickly changing retail market, retail boards must represent who their product purchasers are, and be more inclusive of women decision makers.

The implications of what is happening in Britain are serious for Metro Vancouver retailing. The British studies show that switching between on-line and in-store purchases is valued, and also illustrates how quickly the concept of commercial retailing is changing.  The Starbucks “experience” may be the first morphing of the traditional storefront concept.

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As we move towards the summer solstice today, there are other cities heating up the summer activities in their towns. Manhattan’s Summer Streets will prohibit car traffic on nearly seven miles of city streets from the Brooklyn Bridge to 72nd Avenue on the first three Saturdays in August from 7:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. That is a lot of streets.
Starting August 6 there will be free bike rentals, fitness classes, theatrical performances, a huge water slide and even a zip line in Foley Square.

Remember when the City of North Vancouver did their “Slide the City”event last year? The event is expected to return for two days this year, with an estimated cost in the $25-$35 range to water slide down the 1,000 foot slide on Lonsdale Avenue. Here are side by side photos of the City of North Vancouver water slide and New York City’s water slide  below.

 
Janette Sadik-Khan did remarkable work leading the Department of Transportation in New York City to reimagine public life using city streets. In another bold move, a Shared Streets program will limit traffic in a 60 block area south of the Brooklyn Bridge to the Battery from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on Saturday August 13. On that day the streets will be  open to pedestrians, cyclists and a limited amount of cars, all under the active monitoring of the New York Police Department.
Is there a place either in Kitsilano, the West End and Commercial Drive to turn one day events  into summer festivals supportive of residents and merchants?  Can we morph car free days into a summer festival celebrating active transportation, citizens and summer?
 

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A story about street spaces and paint, lots of paint, and one artist with a passion to end the road dominance of the car.
In Montreal, a local artist named Peter Gibson has been transforming the city’s summer streets and signs with his love of stencils since 2001. After three years of artistic  interventions without municipal consent, Gibson was left with 53 counts of mischief and potentially $100,000 in fines.
Peter Gibson, also known as as “Roadsworth” had a large gaggle of followers who campaigned to reduce the penalties for his illegal paint activity on city streets to a few community service hours. As one of Montreal’s city planners stated, this was the first time that citizens actually stood up and insisted that a public artist be supported and that the public art should stay. Even better, the community hours that Gibson was required to do were spent painting  murals like these.  Montrealers loved it. An urban legend was born.
 

Roadsworth divides his work into three categories-ground, wall, and street. This artist is a musician by day, and a  true street artist  by night. With Montreal winters, the salt and sand erase the work within four or five winters. But that just creates new opportunities to create art, whimsy and delight within the established parameters of the sidewalk, cross walk, and city street.
Alan Koh has created a documentary called “Roadsworth: Crossing the Line“.  Roadsworth is now in demand around the world to paint in public places, and is currently in Minneapolis as an  artist in residence with the Big Car Collective. He was also part of the 2016 Mural Festival occurring last week in Montreal.
 

 

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We have all had those moments where we know what we need to do, and just need a small push to go out of the comfort zone and just get it done. Well, some Edmontonians living and biking on Saskatchewan Drive must have had a great work party on Thursday June 17, as on Friday the City awoke to a new bike lane. And that bike lane was complete with orange pylons, bike lane stencils, and sticky tape.

Yes, it all looked official. There was just one problem-the new bike lane blocked a bus stop. You can imagine the bus driver calling at 5:50 a.m. Friday morning to city hall, wondering what was going on. And you can imagine city hall’s response.
While no one is taking responsibility for this installation,  a spokesman for Paths for People said the infrastructure in the area is not safe for people on bikes, stating “This little piece of guerilla urbanism I see as a symptom of a larger problem.”
The City has stated that rogue lines on a street are illegal and so is a rogue bike lane. A city spokesperson suggested that if a group wanted to do a bike lane, they could by applying for a permit from the city. Hmm…I didn’t know cities gave out permits for bike lanes.  I bet there will be a group or two of avid bicyclists in Edmonton at the permit counter soon.

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