COVID Place making
November 2, 2020

Free Webinar: Bird-Friendly & Biophilic City~Integrating Habitats into Urban Design & Planning


The Bird-Friendly and Biophilic City: Integrating Safe, Natural Habitats into Urban Design and Planning

Urban greening efforts often emphasize infrastructure improvements like energy efficient building systems. But an increasing number of planners and urban designers are looking to develop “biophilic” cities that incorporate natural forms into buildings and cityscapes.

Join the Maryland Department of Planning and the Smart Growth Network  as Tim Beatley, the Teresa Heinz Professor of Sustainable Communities at the University of Virginia, outlines the essential elements of a biophilic city and provide examples of cities that have successfully integrated biophilic elements–from the building to the regional level–around the world.

Beatley will also look at how these changes can make our built environment safer for birds, and how better integrating the built and natural environments can improve quality of life for people while also protecting natural habitats. 

Click on this link to register.

Date: Thursday November 12, 2020

Time: 10:00 a.m. Pacific Time





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PT: We’re in a sudden, massive, global real-life experiment in how we live and move in our cities.  While there is lots of theorizing going on (we’ll now work mainly at home – except when we won’t), the reality on our roads will tell us what we’re really doing.

Here’s an ominous report from New York:

Traffic jams are a familiar sight again in (New York City). “This traffic is just ridiculous,” said one driver waiting to turn onto traffic-choked Morris Avenue in the Bronx. “We live in this neighborhood, it doesn’t make sense for it to be this way.”

Traffic engineer Sam Schwartz, better known as Gridlock Sam, said car traffic is now 85 to 95 percent of pre-pandemic levels.  Truck traffic is at 100 percent, and some days more.

The increase appears even more striking considering that only 15 percent of workers have returned to their Manhattan offices, according to Partnership for New York City.

The biggest problem, experts say, is that many New Yorkers are not yet comfortable riding buses, the subways and commuter railroads again…. “The same thing happened in other parts of the world,” MTA Chairman Pat Foye said. “Riders had a multitude of alternatives to commute into the central business districts, starting with Wuhan and other parts of both Asia and Europe. So it’s not surprising.”

While the scale and complexity of New York is substantially different from us, we do share one thing in common: growth in population and business travel has been accommodated on transit, not through an expansion of road capacity.  There just isn’t a lot of room available on the asphalt to handle even a small shift from transit to car – and, as the report notes, only a small percentage of workers have returned to CBDs and other work spaces so far.  This is not looking good, especially if transit use permanently declines.

It’s easy to forecast one political fallout: there will not be an appetite to take road space away from vehicles if it’s already saturated.  Or worse, to return space reallocated for other uses – notably patios, slow streets, bike lanes, transit priority – to ‘reduce congestion’.

We need a similar update on what’s happening in Metro Vancouver – especially where congestion is emerging, how much and how fast.  It may be more in the suburban and ex-urban parts of the region (what’s it like out there, Abbotsford?) than in the Metro Core.

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There are a whole bunch of people that have had their rights and freedoms tremendously impacted by the Covid pandemic in Canada. Those are people with disabilities and seniors that are in assisted living and long term care homes. Activist Paul Caune has drawn attention to this issue, and shared the stories of people whose quality of life and opportunity to have even the most basic interaction with caregivers, families and friends cut off due to facility precautions over the  Covid pandemic.

Journalist Daphne Bramham has written about issues for residents in George Pearson Centre that were evident even before the Covid epidemic. There have been stories written about people not able to be with their parents when they were dying  in care homes, and people in assisted living who relied on families for their basic care who have been shut out.

No one imagined that a pandemic would force the closure of these care facilities in such a way that many residents became prisoners and confined to their facilities or to their rooms during the pandemic.

In June in British Columbia  care facilities were asked to submit plans to the Province to allow one visitor at a time per resident for one half hour behind plexiglass or outdoors. Each facility has a different management plan, and family members cannot touch or assist the resident in any way.

I have written about Ontario deciding that family, comfort and care was important to facility residents. They realized that facility operators had been inconsistent in providing clear policy on visits by caregivers (including families).  Ontario is now allowing  two designated caregivers to visit at any time including during a covid outbreak subject to “direction from the local public health unit”.

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Last week I wrote about the international poll on walkability which found North American cities lacking. Those cities have  not thought through the importance of people being able to access schools, shops and services within a three kilometre radius of dwellings. They have also not embraced that housing people at density means having access to nearby public spaces, squares and parks and making the whole experience “lively”.

In Metro Vancouver, parks are planned like they are for 1960’s. It’s kind of intended that Moms and Dads have vehicles that can whisk kids to washrooms and restaurants. We don’t put picnic tables in all parks, and  we don’t install washrooms in many.

In a place that is attempting to house families at higher density, we also have to provide safe,comfortable and convenient access to useable, year round park spaces. And that’s not the half-century old “soccer field in the park concept.” We simply need to reboot what we think open public space is, and centre a new definition of park space as something that is accessible to everyone, and useable twelve months of the year.

Stephen Quinn’s radio interview on walkable outdoor space on CBC Radio  touched on this.

In the 21st century we are not a  city of public washrooms nor do we provide covered outdoor public spaces during inclement weather. There’s lots of talk about this being an equity issue, and it seems odd that these basic amenities are not provided.

But remember the pre Covid pandemic reality was that there were other indoor spaces available that were public, like libraries and community centres. The closure of libraries during Covid was a tremendous loss to citizens, but especially to the homeless and disenfranchised. The library was a place that everyone had access to and had equity. With the Covid closures these important places where people could rely on for washrooms, reading, and getting out of the elements were instantly erased.

The Georgia Straight’s Stanley Woodvine  is a homeless writer that keenly and cogently expresses  that there should be universal access to covered public spaces and public washrooms. There’s also a need for  electrical outlets to be conveniently located to charge cell phones and other devices. (The average cell phone uses 25 cents of electricity annually.)

Mr. Woodvine feels that covered public spaces were not created in parks to stop  homeless from congregating. I think the reason is less sophisticated ~I don’t believe that it was on the Parks Board’s radar for cost and liability reasons.

Sunset Park in the 400 block of East 51st  Avenue did have a shelter installed, but it was for Tai Chi and for picnic tables. The Covid pandemic and the increasing density of the city means that outdoor space needs to be more user-friendly nimble and  practical during inclement weather. That’s where ingenuity needs to step in.

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As it becomes clearer that we simply can’t drive our way out of congestion, some cities like Paris are planning on keeping walking and cycling as the main way to get around within busy downtown areas. I have already written about the City of London England which sees the continuation of wider sidewalks with more amenities and the placement of more protected bike lanes as Covid infrastructure that will stay.

These are not new trends, but simply the acceleration of trends that were already in place, to have cities and places that were designed for people to live in place and walk, roll or cycle to schools, shops and services in a two kilometer area.

Fiona Harvey of The Guardian writes about  health innovations . It was researchers at the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP)  that have developed a scale to assess “walkable cities”~those places that ” improve health, cut climate-heating transport emissions and build stronger local communities and economies.”

Surprise! Cities in the United States rank pretty low on those parameters as they are dominated by vehicles and vehicular infrastructure which makes an easy walk to and from a commercial area pretty impossible.

The following criteria were used: the number of people living within one hundred meters of parks, streets for walking only, and squares;  the number of people that are living within a kilometer of healthcare and education; and the average size of city blocks (smaller is better for walkers and means less detouring).

Of course those walkable places also have lower air pollution, a less obese population, “more children’s play time, fewer road deaths and better performing local businesses, as well as reduced inequality. Walkable places are safer too.

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This is a big deal:

Kevin Griffin at The Sun reports on the Parks Board approval of a $2.56 million contract to develop a master plan for the parks and streets from Stanley Park to Burrard Bridge for the next thirty years. Kenneth Chan at The Daily Hive describes the area and issues:

The design firms chosen are impressive: PFS Studio is of Vancouver – known for many years as Phillips Farevaag Smallenberg – partnered with Snøhetta, based in Oslo, well known for their architecture (like Ryerson University’s Student Learning Centre).  But unlike that Danish starchitect Bjorke Ingels, they’re also known for a better integration of building with public space.

This promises the production of a masterplan of international caliber, which given the location and opportunity, is to be expected.  Indeed, the challenge (for the Park Board in particular) is to imagine a rethinking of this city/waterfront interface beyond its aesthetic and recreational opportunities for the neighbourhood.  This is city-building, writ big and historic.

It will also be the third major transformation for this stretch of English Bay – first the summer grounds of the coastal peoples; then, from the 1890s on, houses and apartments (left) all along the beachfront, cutting off everything except the sands of English Bay.  For over most of the 20th century, the City purchased and demolished these buildings, even the Crystal Pool, until the by the 1990s there was unbroken green, sand and active-transportation asphalt from Stanley Park to False Creek.

But it was all on the other side of Beach Avenue, a busy arterial that served as the bypass for traffic around the West End – the legacy of the original West End survey in the service of motordom.  For some this will be seen as unchangable.  As the reaction to the Park Board changes this summer on Park Drive revealed, even a modest reallocation of road space diminishing ‘easy’ access for vehicles and the parking to serve them is upsetting to those who associate motordom design with their needs, special and otherwise.

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The Duke of Data Simon Fraser University’s  Andy Yan has a compelling question which he shared on twitter~”what if we treated  the statistics of pedestrian, cyclists and automobile injuries and deaths like daily Covid 19 updates?

It’s an interesting thought~Would posting those numbers on a daily basis temper driver behaviour and have all users proceed with more caution? Would there be less injuries and less fatalities?And what exactly are those numbers?

We are now entering the danger months in Metro Vancouver for pedestrians of all ages. The Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC) observes that November, December, and January are months when vehicle drivers  crash into pedestrians, with dusk being the worst time. Even more sobering 75 percent of pedestrians are being crashed into at intersections, with 57 percent of those crashes happening when the pedestrian actually was legally crossing and had the right of way.

Current data on injury is notoriously hard to get, but ICBC’s access to statistics is improving. The Coroner’s Service provides data on pedestrian deaths in British Columbia, and that includes people on roller skates or boards. Between 2010 and 2019 an average of 56 pedestrians a year died on British Columbia roads and streets. November had the highest average annual number of deaths at 7.4 per 100,000 population, followed by January with 6.9 deaths per 100,000 population.

Sadly, 28 percent of all pedestrian deaths in B.C.  happen in Vancouver and Surrey. Of those, fatalities 58 percent were male, and 59 percent were aged 50 years and older. People that were 70 years or older represented one-third of all fatalities.

That data shows the need to focus on reducing older adult pedestrian fatalities. From January to November 2019 there were no pedestrian deaths for children aged zero to nine, and two deaths of children 10  to 18 years of age. There were 29 pedestrian fatalities across the province from January to November 2019 for people aged 50 years and older.

The City of Vancouver Police Department provides data on their website on pedestrian, cyclist and vehicular and motorcycle fatalities. From 2014 to 2019, 51 pedestrians have died on Vancouver streets. In that same time period, two cyclists died, and there have been no cyclist fatalities in the last three years.

In the same last three years, 21 pedestrians died in the city.

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I have written about the City of London England being one of the first cities to embrace the concept of slower streets during the pandemic through the adoption of “red routes”. These major roads lead to the inner city and in partnership with Transport for London (TFL) the City of London developed a unified strategy to opening streets across boroughs for walking and cycling through wider sidewalks, thinner driving lanes, and road closures.

They also initiated traffic light signal changes to allow pedestrians and cyclists longer greens when crossing, knowing that walking and cycling would prevail as a way to get around during the pandemic.

Greg Ritchie writes for that many of those initiatives embraced for physical distancing will continue in the future even when the pandemic is over. In the words of Simon Fraser University’s Duke of Data Andy Yan, the pandemic has accelerated many changes that would be happening over a much longer time period.

London’s central core the “square mile” has narrow streets that make the two metre separation for physical distancing challenging.

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Kathleen Corey and Brian Gould of ‘small places’ – among the best videographers of the street we’ve ever posted (here’s a sample from last year) – have some new work, appropriate to our current times.  Here’s Kathleen’s capture of the physical changes in response to COVID-19 made on Robson Street. . The Rapid Response project in this case widened sidewalks, creating more space for people, through painted concrete barriers, modular accessible ramps, expanded parklets, and bus boarding islands. . Read more »