Climate Change
May 23, 2019

Eric Doherty, The New Green Deal & the Missing Link

Transportation and Land Use Planner Eric Doherty in The Observer has written a thoughtful piece that drills down on the “Climate Emergency”. Earlier this month Canada endorsed the global “Green New Deal” which aims to halve greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution in eleven years.

There are two main causes of GHG in Canada~transportation and the oil & gas industries. Doherty makes a convincing argument that transportation, “the second largest source of GHG pollution in Canada, must not be ignored.”  

We must be politically prudent in having the discussion about the impact of vehicle pollution on climate change. And that will require a complete shift at the federal and provincial levels in terms of what is funded and why, and ensuring that link between GHGs and vehicle use is recognized in effective policy to mitigate climate change. We simply need to stop building roads.

The biggest driver of increased GHG pollution in transportation has been government spending on road and highway expansion in and near urban areas. Governments understand full well that expanding highways results in more traffic and climate pollution. The 2016 Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change (the federal-provincial climate agreement) already commits the federal and provincial governments to shift spending away from things that increase carbon pollution, such as urban highways and airport expansion, to low-carbon transportation including public transit, walking and cycling. However, both federal and provincial governments are largely ignoring this commitment.”

With transportation increasing GHG pollution by 43 percent between 1990 and 2017, public spending on highways increase air pollution. Commuting leads to health problems and isolation.

Doherty identifies several ways to mitigate the transportation GHG impacts.

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Whoever put together the City of Vancouver tweet above did a nice job, but you can see by the wording that the tweeter does not know much about Jeff Speck. We’ve been relatively quiet about  the fact that renowned urbanist, author and city planner Jeff Speck is in town assuming that all the tickets for his speaking events were gone weeks ago. But we were wrong, and here’s your opportunity to hear the author of the classic book “Walkable City” who has just released “Walkable City Rules: 101 steps to Making Better Places”. This recent book is a practical handbook for practitioners, breaking down the steps and methods to make cities that are connected, sociable and thriving.

For people in urban design and new urbanism Jeff needs no introduction. He is a thoughtful seasoned urbanist that truly believes that downtowns are the heart of any city and making them vibrant is achievable and the right thing to do. And he’s not just a speaker. Jeff has rolled up his shirt sleeves and worked across North America and elsewhere in towns and cities providing the guide map to revitalize and recharge places by reinventing how downtowns are perceived and how they are accessed.

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If you have been on the eastern border of France near Switzerland and Germany you may have visited Mulhouse, a former textile manufacturing town that has gone sleepy and was past its prime. But as The Guardian’s Angelique Chrisafis reports in the past decade 470 new stores and businesses have come to Mulhouse, with over 3/4 of these being independent operators.  “It is one of the only places in France with as many independents as franchises. And it is one of very few places in France where more shops are opening than closing.”

So what is the Mulhouse Magic and how did they attract new businesses? The town with a population of 110,000 made a point of attracting and promoting  independent businesses that were not part of chain stores. Like America big box retail has tried to lure the French market to more suburban locations, but a combination of factors have made Mulhouse radically different.People want to go and spend time downtown.

With a 36 million dollar euro investment plan over six years the town recreated its downtown as an “agora”, a center welcoming residents, and rebalanced its housing plan. Many high salaried citizens had moved to housing outside of the downtown core, leaving many properties vacant. By subsidizing building facade renovation and installing a tram system, bike shares, shuttle buses and easily accessible parking, Mulhouse demonstrated it was open for business.

But here is the piece that is important-the town’s public spaces and downtown environment were key in the transformation of Mulhouse into a place to locate businesses and to shop. The magic ingredients? Wide sidewalks, benches, and lots and lots of tree planting and landscaping.

 “Making the town’s public spaces attractive was just as important, with wider pavements, dozens of benches, and what officials deemed a “colossal budget” for tree planting and maintenance, gardening and green space. Local associations, community groups and residents’ committees were crucial to the efforts. A town centre manager was appointed to support independents and high-street franchises setting up.”

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From Bloomberg.com, Sweden is experimenting with a road surface that actually recharges electric cars as they drive the highway. A one mile section of road in Gotland will be rebuilt with charging panels at a cost of 12.5 million dollars. If the trial is successful, Sweden plans to build more than 1,200 miles of this recharging road in the near future. You can find out more information and view a video on this project here.

And here is a video that describes the technology and its potential application in France.

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In a densifying city that is serious about being sustainable lowering vehicular speed limits within neighbourhoods is a good way to enhance livability for local residents, decrease automobile emissions, plus lower the likelihood of serious injury or death. You would think that in a country with universal health care that lowering vehicular speeds within neighbourhoods would be the right thing to do to foster walking, cycling and interaction among residents.

But we forget that the street fabric and the way that our communities are designed and indeed funded have been for vehicular movement, and that mode of transportation has (pardon the pun) had a free ride.  Auto infrastructure has been funded by the general tax base and not by the user. Cars have gobbled up the majority of shared road space, and our 20th century mindset does not know how to slow them down.

Until now.

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In the good news/bad news department, the City of Vancouver has announced a “Request for Expression of Interest (RFEOI) “on a proposed master plan for four iconic west end parks, their beaches, and the adjacent street networks. Noting that there is an expectation of 18,000 more residents in the West End by 2040 and the fact that this area is heavily frequented by tourists, the City is looking at a refreshing rethink of this place that is so loved by locals.

That heavily used parks that are older are being considered for a facelift is great, with enhancements being proposed for Morton Park, better connections for cyclists to the seawall, better readable open space, and an emphasis on biodiversity and festival space.

The Vancouver Aquatic Centre built in 1976 is over forty years old and is due for an overhaul. It would benefit from a redesign that tied it into Sunset Park. The RFEOI also wants to explore climate change and sea rise, and  do work differently. Noting that these lands are on the unceded territory of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations, any proposal must include meaningful engagement with the Nations. This could be very exciting to have placemaking and marking from the indigenous perspective, and explore culturally and historically the use and importance of this site.

The bad news was it appeared that some City Councillors and Parks Commissioners were unaware of this city proposal and initiative, which follows city policy to improve and manage public amenities and improve active transportation connections.

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Dr. Bridget Burdett in New Zealand sent along this link to a new article in Science Direct published in  the Journal of Transportation and Health.  Researchers included Corrine Mulley, one of the editors of “Walking~Connecting Sustainable Transport with Health”.

The study looked at the qualitative experience of over three hundred individuals who relocated to suburban areas without good transit or active transportation links to work centres. Since residential development in outlying areas often arrives before public transportation infrastructure, researchers wanted to assess the health impacts of longer and changing commutes on commuters.

Using multiple regression techniques, researchers had some surprising conclusions. Longer commutes and changing the time needed to leave for commutes was found to be directly related to lower mental health levels and the perception of a decrease in wellbeing. But researchers also found that independent car use and not using public transport was associated with “increased happiness”.

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For anyone that knows the Canadian First Lady of Landscape Architecture, 98 year old  Cornelia Oberlander you know that she is a force of nature with a visionary lens that has proven to be right time and time again.

She was advocating for green roofs decades ago, pointing out their ability to lower temperatures, provide greenery and absorb rainwater. She insisted on double rows of street trees as allees fifteen feet apart around the Robson Square Courthouse when it was being built in the 1970’s. She designed the roof top garden of the downtown Vancouver Public Library which is now on everyone’s list as a “go to” public space.

And she is already advocating for the new Jericho Lands 52  acre site to be developed as a complete ecological city, similar to Stockholm Port City or King’s Cross London. 

Sabrina Furminger in the Vancouver Courier   describes the new documentary film “City Dreamers” by filmmaker Joseph Hillel that follows four urban architects: Cornelia Oberlander, Blanche Lemco van Ginkel, Phyllis Lambert and Denise Scott Brown.

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While there has been lots of finger pointing about how real estate prices in Vancouver could be so celestial that local people could not afford to purchase here, a panel has estimated that $5 billion dollars in “dirty money” went through the housing market last year.

Overall in the Province it is estimated that real estate prices increased by five percent due to this tinkering, but remember that will be more in some places (like in Metro Vancouver) than others. And surprise! As reported by Global News most of these questionable transactions  examined took place in Vancouver.

The report just  released  discusses B.C. Lawyers and B.C. Realtors  being part of the challenge. While there are rules in places for lawyers there is no need for external reporting of large amount transactions and no oversight of monies in a lawyer’s trust account.

The report also asked that only verifiable funds be used for purchasing real estate and that only verifiable funds be allowed in all transactions. It also recommended that mandatory courses be required for all real estate industry people to understand what money laundering is and how to deal with it.

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When I first saw these two mascots walking in a downtown rapid transit station I figured it must be for a chocolate dipped Dairy Queen cone and some new confection from Orange Julius. But no~these two mascots are actually representative of basic human excrement.

I was hopeful that our campaign on Price Tags to have washrooms  installed for the public at transit stations was about to be announced by these two mascots with the predictable names of “Pee and Poo”.

But no. As the CBC dryly reports Metro Vancouver  “has launched a video campaign introducing mascots Poo and Pee to drive home a message about improper flushing.The costumed mascots are part of Metro Vancouver’s annual Unflushables campaign to remind people about items that should not be flushed because they can clog city sewers and your pipes.”

I have written about the City of Victoria’s Mr. Floatie with his jaunty sailor’s cap and yellow rain boots. The creation of school teacher James Skwaro, Mr. Floatie had  a thirteen year career in Greater Victoria reminding citizens that 130 million litres of untreated sewage was being dumped daily into the Salish Sea.

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