COVID Place making
June 11, 2020

Is the Front Porch Making a Comeback in Covid Times?

How do you have closeness to neighbours but still feel comfortably away? How can you be friendly but not so friendly, and still maintain the necessary “physical distancing”?

In many ways the porch, the  entrance way to many older homes and one of the components brought forward “providing eyes on the street” is making a comeback. The porch has been described as an essential feature in neotraditional communities like Celebration Florida that aims to bring neighbours closer together.

And it does not need to be a real porch either~I am hearing the discussion of virtual porches on webinars as web based places where people can congregate and have a chat.

As Donna Liquori describes in the New York Times  “the porch fell out of favour with the advent of air-conditioning in the 1950’s, replacing the porch which was traditionally the place where “people gathered and cooled off”.  Porches are now back to places of socialization and relaxation, and surprisingly are  being valued  more than a backyard deck for that aspect of human contact and exchange with passersby.

As Liquori states ” the privacy of the back of the house is not what I crave right now. Even just seeing other people from afar has given us a boost. We want to see our friends and neighbors. We miss them.”

The porch is also being described as a social vehicle, with the concept that people walking in the public realm feel as comfortable doing that as on their front porch.

Photographer Roger Hoover was one of the first of a series of photographers who with their businesses shuttered by the corona virus commenced photographing residents.  Neighbours are asked  to stand on their front stoops and porches for a photograph. Hoover’s work documents the isolation of families who cluster to pose for the camera, and also reinforces the importance of the porch as a welcome semi-private space, in Covid times, providing separation but still part of the street life  of the neighbourhood.

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You read that right. Every year the Province provides 1.3 billion dollars towards long term care, both to non-profit and for profit operators.

If you measure society and culture by how well the seniors are treated we’ve just received a huge “fail” on the report card. Please don’t think this will not impact you~the way seniors care works it takes decades to change, has become increasingly privatized, and what you see is likely what you or the older folks in your house will be considering in years to come.

The Covid-19 virus has made very clear the crisis that comes in warehousing seniors in large care homes~over 82 percent of Covid deaths in Canada are in long term care homes, and this is the highest proportion of pandemic deaths in a study undertaken by the International Long Term Care Policy Network.

The long term care model itself is a pre-baby boom phenomena, one that appealed to the Greatest Generation cohort (born between 1910 and 1924) and the Silent Generation Cohort (born between 1925 and 1945).

These two generations considered having food prepared and served restaurant style  in dining rooms, structured and organized activities, and personal service in room cleaning and management a decadent luxury. Today with the Baby Boom Generation (from 1946 to 1964) restaurant meals are part of everyday life, and personal services easily  attainable if needed.

Long term care is no longer a non-profit investment. In British Columbia a third of care homes are managed by the health authorities, a third by non-profits, and a third by for-profit companies.

Companies like Trenchant Capital Corporation listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange own scores of care homes. They outright state that since the industry is regulated by the Province, and in provinces like Ontario no new licences have been granted in over 20 years, that they can offer “predictable cash flows”.  Seventy percent of funding is received directly from the Province and funding increases annually.

But something happened in the rush to privatization~British Columbia Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie’s Report on Long Term Care, “A Billion Reasons to Care” outlines that not-for-profit care homes spend 24 percent more annually for each resident (about $10,000) and exceed direct care hour targets by over 80,000 hours of what they are publicly funded to deliver. For-profit care homes “failed to deliver 207,000 funded direct care hours”. There’s no government oversight for that funding to return to the Province, so that is left to the privately owned companies as profit.

For-profit care homes also pay their employees less.

As Daphne Bramham writes in the Vancouver Sun For-profit operators’ wage costs for each hour of direct care is lower across all classifications than the costs at not-for-profits and the homes run directly by health authorities.Some for-profits are paying care aides, who provide two-thirds of the care, nearly a third less than the industry standard, which works out to $6.63 an hour. Part of the difference is that for-profit operators are more likely to hire part-time rather than full-time workers, which eliminates the need to pay benefits.”

How did this happen? Twenty years ago the Province started to contract out long-term care to private operators who opted out of the Health Employers Association .

While the Seniors Advocate’s  report on Long Term Care was released in February in advance of the Covid-19 Pandemic,  it outlines some of the structural weaknesses that exacerbated the spread of the disease.

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Imagine you’re a Park Commissioner in Vancouver.  You want to make sure seniors have a voice in any decision that affects car traffic in Stanley Park.  For many, that’s their access.

But you have a choice to make: Will you at the same time encourage seniors to cycle more?  And do something to make that happen.

More like this:

This is Michael Alexander a few days before his eighth decade, on the Arbutus Greenway.  A pause, a nod to the metaphorical flowers along the way.  This is a senior blissfully engaged in the life of Vancouver, loving the city we’ve become.  You know, because of that bike stuff.

And then he gives back more.  He’s a healthy citizen in every respect.


So how as Commissioner do you do both: open parks to traffic and get more seniors on bikes?

You’ll be deciding in the next few weeks.  What would you tell us?


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Well it happened. The pandemic meant that there was  a use for remote controlled vehicles that could deliver groceries. But surprisingly citizens have responded with their own resilience of using online services, having grocery delivery, or preordering groceries and having them waiting curbside for pickup at the store.

Canadians have been slow to become accustomed to  online ordering, but Canada Post has been experiencing parcel deliveries of up to 1.8 million parcels a day, similar to Christmas rush levels. Consumers who have never made an online purchase make up 78 percent of customer volume with Shopify merchants, as outlined in this CBC story by Diane Buckner.

But back to those autonomous vehicles. The shuttering of the economy for the pandemic has meant  several of the factories that promised things like  a “fleet of self-driving taxis” by 2020  (General Motors) and  “one  million autonomous robotaxis” on the road by the end of  the year” (Tesla) have had to reframe those predictions.

As reports Waymo, a Google company is the company doing well with autonomous vehicles and is the development leader. it is also the only “fully driverless vehicle”  taking passengers.

I have written before how autonomous vehicles were to be the  shiny new  pennies pledging to undertake all the  pesky logistics of driving. But as reported earlier in  The the most important aspect for any vehicle on the road is the ability to recognize and avoid vulnerable road users. You know, those pedestrians, cyclists and other wheelers that are using the street without the protection of a vehicular steel shell.

And we are not there yet.  These vehicles have challenges in “so-called edge cases”. That includes weather,  and “when someone else on the road—be it a driver, cyclist or electric scooter pilot—does something unexpected, as humans often do. The halting nature of development has delivered a large dose of humility to the world’s whip-smart mobility experts, who are showing an increased willingness to form posses and work together”.

There are “islands of autonomy” where groceries are delivered by driverless pods, and where seniors can zip around a gated retirement community.

But the investment of $14 billion US dollars has still not produced a truly autonomous vehicle.

While the field of factories will narrow, the use will broaden with online “grocery to gourmet” expansion. One analyst estimated that the use of self driving vehicles for grocery delivery would cut in half conventional trucking freight costs.

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No matter how many times the NPA lose elections when they include anti-cycling dog whistling, they just can’t stop themselves.  Here’s the latest from NPA Park Commissioner Tricia Barker:

It’s not hard to figure out the underlying assumptions:

  • Seniors don’t cycle.
  • Seniors are so effectively disabled, they are reliant on (and can afford) cars.
  • Seniors need to have Stanley Park returned to its car-dominant allocation of space – “For ALL TIME!”

The implications follow:

  • The interests of cyclists and seniors are opposed.
  • NPA Commissioners will justify their anti-cycling strategy as pro-senior.
  • Cyclists and walkers who reject a return to the status-quo are anti-senior.

The NPA have been successful at least in one respect: keeping any new cycling infrastructure built to the City standard out of parks. Other than those places (like the South Shore of False Creek) where the City shares jurisdiction and will design and pay for bikeway-standard improvements, there has been no other significant upgrades within parks.  As a result, the park experience has been worsening for everyone, particularly in the case of Kits and Jericho.

Here’s a Jericho Video which illustrates the lack of adequate space for walkers, cyclists and runners, squeezed together on an unpleasant surface, without separation or signage.

In the three months into the pandemic, the Park Board has done essentially one thing for cycling: limiting vehicle traffic in Stanley Park.  They have done nothing to address crowding in parks elsewhere, leaving it up to the City (thanks to NPA Councillor Lisa Dominato’s Open Streets motion) to do the heavy lifting.

But they have moved fast to open up the parking lots, and now seem determined to get Park Drive in Stanley Park returned to wide-open car use as soon as possible, presumably so that cars and bikes can fight it out for road space. Or even worse, try to squeeze the extraordinary increase in cycling back on to the seawall, making the experience worse for everyone.

But here’s the thing: no cycling advocate that I have heard has suggested that Park Drive not accommodate those with more limited mobility.  Indeed, it’s in the remarks from HUB Cycling member Jeff Leigh:

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I’ve been posting the occasional video vignettes of city life in the time of covid – especially along the Slow Streets and the Beach Flow Way.

Video captures the cyclists and walkers intersecting among each other – appearing like dancers on an asphalt stage.  The setting is ideal: the beauty of a particularly lush spring, according to gardening friends.  A big drop in the number and noise of vehicles.  Busy roadways notched down.  All that’s needed is music.

Here’s the latest such vignette: 32 seconds set to Bach, at the corner of Beach and Davie, where the blocks on all sides are completely closed to cars.

The volume of cyclists is so high that the crosswalk demands even more attention and respect from high-speed two-wheelers and alert walkers, who want to cross the flow way wherever they want.  So they should – so long as there’s mutual respect.

The result can seem almost choreographed, right up to the birds overhead.

Here is ‘English Bay Ballet’ from the Virus Pastorale Suite*.

* Thanks to Andrew Walsh for music, production and support.

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