Walking & Mobility
June 10, 2016

Friday File-Dog Dropping Goes AWOL

 

BBC News reports that the fundamental public art necessary to a new civic campaign to pick up after your dog has gone missing from Torrelodones, a city just outside of Madrid.

Someone has taken the…fiberglassed dog pile. As BBC reports “staff was shocked and perplexed by the theft, and a replacement excrement was already on order because we know the campaign has been a great success”.

The Atlas Obscura also features this story, noting that until a replacement inflatable excrement is found, selfies will have to be taken with another object.

 

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After the excitement generated by the driverless car’s  flypaper technology  to deal with hitting pesky pedestrians, patented by Google, the Friday File reports a patent filing showing that the Zee.Aero company is working on an all-electric plane that can take off and land vertically-a flying car. This is another of Larry Page’s initiatives. Mr. Page is the co-founder of Google.

In this article from Bloomberg Businessweek  a new way of independent air travel free of busy  streets full of vehicles, bicyclists and pedestrians is being visioned. There have also been sightings from other pilots of a strange-looking airplane taking off from a nearby Hollister airport. Mr. Page’s two companies, Kitty Hawk and Zee.Aero are cloaked in secrecy.  However it appears that advancing technology, materials, and navigation systems means that this could be a reality.

Paul Moller a retired professor from University of California at Davis developed the M200X Skycar that flew at 50 feet above the ground. Speaking at the Palo Alto Research Centre in 2000, Moller spoke to a young Larry Page that was very interested in the technology. There has since been forays into this new technology over time, with thoughts of of parking garages, roofs and highway verges seen as access points for aerocars.

The Bloomberg article is compelling reading on the history of the inventors and  development of the aerocar, with an inkling of how far this technology has come. While there are loads of liability, navigational, and general legislation that would need to be enacted,  the technology may indeed be possible. Will this be the next disruptive technology?

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Every year as part of the Share The Road Challenge, car drivers and transit users compete in a race to the downtown in Vancouver as part of  the HUB Cycling Annual “Share the Road Challenge”.  Thirteen teams of bike, car and transit users started out at various locations in Vancouver and North Vancouver. Their mission? Arrive at the corner of Granville and Georgia Streets faster than their team mates.

For the first time in eight years of running this challenge, the bicyclists on each team were the fastest, arriving at the  downtown finish line way ahead of the vehicular and transit modes.

As reported in the the Daily Hive, the development of dedicated bike lanes and bike boxes at intersections is paying off handsomely in faster bicycle commute times. Everything has come full circle-cycling is the way to go, and as this race proves, is the quickest way  to travel to the  downtown.

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In Australia a 200 kilometer “silo art trail” follows murals painted in farming country in Victoria state. This area has been heavily impacted by drought for the past two years. The work started in the farming community of Brim with a street artist from Brisbane, Guido van Helten  painting a giant mural on an abandoned grain silo.  The artist incorporated local people and their stories in the murals. Now other street artists are being commissioned to paint murals on  silos in other towns. The intent is to create a tourist opportunity for viewing this large scale art, and providing  a much needed influx of cash into these towns.

 

A previous post on Price Tags describes the creation and opening of the “Giants” on Granville Island, painted on the Ocean Cement silos for the Vancouver  Biennale.

Daphne Bramham wrote  about the fate of Vancouver’s “Giants”  in the Vancouver Sun  last month, noting that they desperately need some restorative paint.The Giants are painted by Brazilian twins Gustavo and Otavio Pandolfo (also known as Os Gemeos). The link above also has a time lapse video showing how the two brothers painted the silos.

As part of the Vancouver Biennale, the work is supposedly temporary unless there is an outpouring of public support and funding for the art to stay. They are a fabulous attraction on Granville Island, and iconic in their simplicity and artistic execution. I really hope they are able to stay.

 

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I have found that it is not city administration, policy and budgets that create great communities, but the concepts and ideas of the communities themselves. When planners talk about a three-legged stool of place making and the importance of policy, plan and then  community engagement, I have always seen it a bit differently. I think it is important to profoundly listen to what the neighb0urhood is saying, synthesize those concepts, work together, and co-create innovative work that CAN be the foundation for policy. In every instance where I have followed those principles, enhanced walkability and extraordinary examples of placemaking resulted, and city policy has been  modified to embrace these demonstration projects as innovative models.

I first met Peter Wohlwend and his wife Midori Oba about 15 years ago, on Windsor Street in Vancouver’s east side. Windsor Street for its 40 blocks in Kensington Cedar-Cottage was a street used for prostitution and traffic short-cutting, and had its share of on-street car racing. Despite the fact the street connected  three schools and  four parks, people did not walk on the street, leaving it anonymous for the drug and prostitution trade.

Peter and Midori’s house was in the middle of the drug trade opposite Dickens Elementary School. Peter had done a bold thing-he placed a bench outside of his house next to the public sidewalk. What he found extraordinary was that it was not the drug dealers and prostitutes using the bench.  The users included the  elderly couples that now walked to the grocery store and rested on the bench on their way home, or the parents waiting for the children to come out of the school across the street. The bench was the catalyst for local neighbours to stay on the street, and view the street as a place of respite.

Peter had another idea. In front of every house along Windsor Street was a large city boulevard that Peter felt was perfect for garden planting. Such planting would provide a buffer between the curb and the sidewalk, and could be a conversational catalyst to focus the community on improving the street. By calling this initiative a “demonstration project” and mounding up  composted recycled green waste  soil above the level of the current soil, new plantings did not interfere with city services below the ground.

Neighbours along Windsor Street had massive “dig in-dig out” parties where dump trucks of composted recycled  green waste soil  moved to newly prepared boulevard gardens. Windsor Street was closed in sections for these dig in parties, where barbeques were wrangled chuckwagon style in the middle of the street for the celebratory hot dogs. Despite the fact that many of the people on Windsor Street did not speak a common language, Peter always said that “Everyone spoke the language of plants”.

Peter was right. In a short space of time over forty boulevard gardens were built on Windsor Street, and people started to walk on the street. The drug use and prostitution moved off the street as it became a place that was too public for those trades. The Windsor Street community successfully bid for a public art grant, and artist Karen Kazmer installed 20 unique aluminum banners on Windsor Street hydro poles, depicting the hands and activities of Windsor Street residents.

Peter and Midori received the Greater Vancouver  Good Neighbour Award from the Greater Vancouver Neighbourhood House Association for their temerity and vision in steering  this massive piece of work.  Peter and Midori also started up the multicultural festival that was held every spring on the Kingsway Triangle. For many of the local merchants, it was the first time they met the locals in a celebratory way. Of course this also further deepened relationships between the commercial areas and the surrounding residents.

Windsor Street has been named in the best gardened block awards from the Vancouver Garden Club. And the success of blooming boulevards in tying together Windsor Street as a contiguous, walkable street facilitated the street becoming a bikeway with further traffic calming measures.  The Blooming Boulevard guidelines are now on the City of Vancouver’s website, and gardening the city boulevard is permissible in any single family area in Vancouver.

Peter Wohlwend passed away on May 29 of this year. His funerary card contains the famous Margaret Mead quote: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful,

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Waterfront redos seem to be in vogue these days, and the article in the Vancouver Sun by Kent Spencer describes the City of White Rock’s proposal for the city’s waterfront, complete with a seaside walkway and amenities. If you know the City of White Rock which is surrounded on three sides by the City of Surrey and is situated on Semiahmoo Bay,  space between the beach and the road is-well, sparse, and replete with railroad tracks. To remedy this, the City is planning on reclaiming 6,500 square metres of land from the ocean to create a waterfront park. The cost of the reclamation is $15 million dollars, with another $15 million being proposed for a marina expansion, a memorial park, seabed dredging, marine buoys and…wait for it…$5.5 million dollars for a waterfront parkade.

The Vancouver Sun article focuses on the fact that this $30 million dollar proposal is just as much as the City’s budget of $35 million dollars.  Comment also centres on the proposed public art, the environmental impacts of a raised sea wall, and whether the local residents will have to pay through taxes for these improvements.  I was curious about the $5.5 million dollars for a waterfront parkade. This would of course house the vehicles of visitors coming from outside White Rock to enjoy the new waterfront, and stop those people from parking on streets. With a population of 20,000, White Rock has a high percentage of restaurants per capita, and the article suggests people from Metro Vancouver will come to use the new  park, park their car in the parkade, and utilise the restaurants. It would be so much more fun to be able to train to White Rock, or  take transit and  find a way to bring a bike to go along the seawall.

The intent is to make White Rock a “year-round destination”. It appears that Council has committed financing to its five-year plan.  Time to fire up that vehicle and make plans for lunch in White Rock.

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One of the most valuable things I own is a Vancouver Public Library card. It gives you access not only to books, but to media of all kind, archives, easy book retrieval, and librarians that are very helpful when you are researching. My friends in Metro Vancouver are envious of my access. One friend writing a book went to her Fraser Valley library with a list of books that were only available at the Vancouver Library. She gave the list to the librarian. That librarian  told her it would take two to three months for the books to arrive from the Vancouver Library. Why? Well,  said the Fraser Valley  librarian cheerily, it was just the way it is, and the requests were processed twice a month. That story made me even more grateful for the Vancouver Library.

A library, how it looks, how it works, and what is in it is on my shortlist of what makes a really great place and city. I really like the Openbare Bibliotheek located on Amsterdam’s waterfront, with its music and film studios where you can listen and record. I also like Seattle’s Central Public Library  which was designed in partnership with Rem Koolhaus. And I really find the Vancouver Library downtown  a great place to mingle outside, peruse books, and learn. I am also looking forward to the opening of the rooftop garden which is being designed by the building’s architect, Moshe Safdie.

Innovative place that it is, it is no surprise that the Vancouver library has launched a  free instrument lending program in partnership with Sun Life Financial. Using instruments gleaned from defunct public school programs that have been refurbished by local music store Long and McQuade, there is now no reason for anyone not to have an instrument to learn on.

The Vancouver Courier has also picked up this story, and reminds citizens that the library  is happy to receive any donated instruments from members of the public.

As Sandra Singh, head librarian stated in a Vancouver Sun article “Libraries are about knowledge, information and cultural exchange in many formats…(Libraries) have always been a catalyst for creative innovation”.  Music is included in that innovation. What a great way to have access and to learn an instrument. Such access speaks volumes of a city’s culture and reach, providing musical opportunities to anyone with a library card.

 

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Insights West surveyed people in Metro Vancouver in the months leading up to the transit plebiscite. You remember that the ballot was the  fulfillment of  the provincial government’s election promise to ask if residents would support a hike in sales tax in order to fund transit. At the time, most people said NO.

This article in the Vancouver Sun on Monday June 7  written by Mario Canesco of Insights West suggests that we have thought about it and we want to talk about transit again.

Full disclosure-the Walk Metro Vancouver Society supported the yes vote in the referendum. As a Director of the Society, I spoke to seniors groups in support of the plebiscite and released a joint policy statement with Shannon Daub of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. If the plebiscite had passed, there would have been more HandyDart services for the disabled, improved walking facilities at bus shelters, and a 20 per cent reduction in congestion-significant for emergency vehicles to access seniors in stress.

Eleven months after the failed plebiscite, Insights West notes that our attitudes have changed. Immediately post-plebiscite, 62 per cent of people stated that changing TransLink was their main concern-not looking for a Plan B, or ponying more funding from the Federal Government. That percentage has now shrunk to 49 per cent of folks that  say the main thing needed is changing TransLink. Another survey showed that 67 per cent of the current Compass card holders on TransLink are satisfied with the new card system.

But what of a bigger transportation and transit plan and paying for it?

What a difference a year makes. We have a new federal government that is talking about supporting infrastructure projects, and a provincial government that, well, has to think about being re-elected next May.

Insights West says that road pricing, eg.  bridge and road tolls are supported by 34 per cent of people if it resulted in a shorter commuting time. The big issue here is asking people to pay for what they perceive is government’s responsibility, and something they currently enjoy free.

There is also a new report from the David Suzuki Foundation and it is more direct about the transit crisis. It suggests thatsystematic underfunding of transit by the provincial government has contributed to the congestion that people face every day in densely populated areas like Metro Vancouver, while other transportation projects like roads and bridges are going ahead without delay, transit infrastructure has been put on an uneven playing field as the province continues to provide insufficient financial support.”

It’s always easier to say no and hope that things will go away. But a growing region needs  efficient transit  infrastructure and support. And that needs to be planned for now.

Bring on Plan B.

 

 

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Michael Kluckner, artist, writer, historian, and lover of all things Vancouver has written a very evocative essay on planning decisions and  planner “experts” versus non “expert” citizens.

Michael spoke on this big-ticket question at a very well attended Urbanarium Cities Debate at the Vancouver Museum. The debate video can be viewed here.  He has also written this article in the Tyee outlining the history and syntax of citizen and “planner” related city making decisions. He argued that citizens need and should be more involved in decisions left to city planners.

Michael draws a strong parallel in the worlds of  the non-planner (Jane Jacobs) and the passions of architects for crisp mega projects, from Le Corbusier’s work to Brasilia, all lines, flowing, and really not about scale or humans.

He also talked about the Davis Family, who in the Jane Jacobs tradition of social and community common sense and just smart savvy  lovingly restored the “Davis” block of Victorian houses in the 100 block of West 10th Avenue. 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 grants or assistance.

You will always find one of the Davis family sweeping a sidewalk, gardening, or engaging with neighbours on the street. They are the picture of what Jane Jacobs describes as the varied talent of good community, focused on creating the neighbourhood we all want to live in.

The Davis family quite simply embody those people who have made a social contract with their community. They  restored instead of rebuilding to maximum density. Their work is the basis for the RT-6 zoning in this area of Mount Pleasant, which Michael  also mentions in the Tyee article.

The Davis family  are also very principled-I received a call at City Hall  from BC Hydro years ago when the company attempted to crotch drop the large boulevard trees in front of the Davis houses to provide clearance for the hydro lines.  Mrs. Davis senior allegedly “halted” the work. Contrite, BC Hydro compromised  with the city to raise the hydro lines going through the boulevard trees to avoid crotch dropping the trees, and another scolding from Mrs. Davis. This created a new precedent welcomed by other communities wary of BC Hydro tree pruning. The Davis Family do the right thing instead of doing the thing right. They are as close as we can get to the embodiment of a  Vancouver “Jane Jacobs” clan.

Michael  Kluckner sees planners as being part of “changing fashions” and cites as an example how corner grocery stores have been chased out of the neighbourhoods and onto arterials (and mentions how we all want those grocery stores back.)  Planners work to codify concepts like shelter, space and streets and have their own “language” with the job of regulating and also approving development. Planners are addicted to change, as are their taskmasters.  As Michael states:

Fixing things that aren’t broken is a way of destroying the natural evoluti0n of cities. Without the check-and-balance of empowered citizens you get a situation like the 1950’s and 1960’s which is happening again. It’s called “green” now; it looked exactly the same but was called “progress” then.

Do you agree? Should citizens be given the same status as planners in making decisions about the city and its form? Read Michael’s article with his historical perspective of planning  and form your own opinion.

 

 

 

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This article in the Vancouver Sun written by Stephanie Ip  confirms what many had surmised-instead of working for a living, own a house in Vancouver and just hold onto it.

A Vancouver mathematician Jens von Bergmann  on his blog has written about Work vs. Twiddling Thumbs . Von Bergmann has compared wages earned with the equity gained by increasing Vancouver single family  property values. Using data from the National Household Survey, the City of Vancouver and the B.C. Assessment Authority, Vancouverites take home $17.8 billion in after tax income (2010).

The average single family detached house in Vancouver rose $262,000 in value  from 2015 to 2016, creating an equity lift of $24.6 billion. These numbers are not adjusted for inflation, don’t include property tax or property transfer tax, but you get the picture.

By taking the homeowners’ equity amount and dividing it with the average number of hours worked per household, the math revealed that houses on the east side earned $92.00 an hour in 2015, with houses on the west side (with Main Street as the divider) earning  $173.00 an hour. By comparison, Von  Bergman calculated that the average after tax income for regular nine-to-five work of people in Vancouver was a measly $26.00 an hour.

The data is crude, but it provides a very sobering glimpse on housing affordability.How do we ensure that those $26.00 an hour wage earners can live here too?

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