Business & Economy
March 26, 2020

Dollar Store a Dime a Dozen, some Cities Say Not in Our Town

Finally there is starting to be a backlash to dollar stores which have pretty much usurped the vacated landscape of retail stores in commercial areas. For a while planners used to say that if there was a dollar store on a block, you knew that the area’s commercial square footage was cheap, as it was seen as one of the most marginal businesses around.

But Dollar Stores have become the new normal, providing items often at a fraction of the cost of other retail stores. In the United States the two largest dollar store operators have 30,000 locations, a 33 percent increase in a decade. Now they are coming under scrutiny for squeezing out local retail and reinforcing food deserts and accessibility to healthy and fresh food for locals.

As dollar stores sweep across America, they are facing growing scrutiny from opponents who argue that discount chains stifle local competition and limit poor communities’ access to healthy food.

Critics say that the dollar stores cluster in lower income neighbourhoods and squeeze out competition, making it challenging for local grocery stores. While dollar stores have junk food and colas, they don’t have milk and fresh vegetables and fruit.

Dollar stores always do well during economic recessions, and continue to thrive in areas where people do not have rising incomes.

Here’s the dollar store’s strategy as reported by CNN’s Nathaniel Meyersohn: “While the economy is doing very well, our core customer continues to struggle,” Dollar General chief executive Todd Vasos told analysts last year. The company’s core customers earn around $40,000 a year or below, $20,000 below the median income.
Dollar General caters mainly to low-and-middle-income customers in rural and suburban areas. Dollar Tree targets suburban, middle-income shoppers, while Family Dollar focuses on lower-income urban and rural customers.
Dollar General looks to build stores in rural areas where a big box retailer or grocery store is not within 15 or 20 miles. Around 75% of Dollar General stores are in towns with 20,000 or fewer people, and the chain has its biggest footprint in southern states. (Dollar General has more stores in Texas alone than Costco and Whole Foods do combined.)

Dollar stores can open quickly and use one quarter of the space of the traditional grocery store. They also function with minimal staffing as compared to a grocery store.

Viewed as a plus in rural areas with no access to other stores, Dollar General and Dollar tree plan to open another 24,000 locations. But there is now a  push against these retailers, with Birmingham Alabama not allowing new dollar stores to open within a mile of other dollar store locations. This is to attract and encourage grocery stores in the denser parts of the city which have food deserts

The cities of New Orleans, Cleveland and Fort Worth Texas are also examining restricting dollar stores in their boundaries.

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We are in the midst of a pandemic caused by a virus that currently has no antidote. This was a similar premise to what happened one hundred years ago with the  influenza pandemic that lasted 23 months commencing in January 1918. Also called the Spanish Flu, this was the same H1N1 influenza virus that was involved with the 2009 swine flu.

In the 1918 influenza pandemic 27 percent of the world’s population was infected, with the death toll being estimated between 17 million to 50 million, as epidemiological records were not kept at that time. Life expectancy plummeted by twelve years in 1918  as this pandemic killed a high number of young people as well as the old.

I was raised with a first hand account of the 1918 influenza pandemic from my New York City born and raised grandmother. She was the city’s July 4th baby in 1910, and was eight years old when the epidemic reached New York City.  She recalled  the death toll from the flu, the isolation, and the length of time (18 months) that  this virus took hold of her world.

While New York City’s flu death toll approached 30,000 people, the mortality rate per 1,000 was 4.7, much lower than Boston’s which was 6.5 deaths per 1,000 people and Philadelphia’s at 7.3 per 1,000 people.

What made the difference for New York City was a “robust” and organized public health infrastructure, distancing of the healthy from the infected,  a public health campaign and  disease surveillance.

Using the model of how the City approached tuberculosis control, public spaces, schools and theatres were regulated . The 1918 influenza pandemic was the first “acute” public health crisis in modern times.

New York City’s government implemented staggered business hours to lessen the bustle of people at rush hour, and set up 150 emergency “health districts and centres” to provide nursing care and case work reporting. By setting up neighbourhood health centres home care nurses could work at a more neighbourhood level to provide needed community services. Armories, gyms and a homeless shelter were converted to makeshift hospitals and a maritime quarantine established for New York City bound boats.

Public health campaigns insisted citizens cover their mouths when sneezing, and suggested distancing citizens from one another in the public realm.

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Equality, diversity and inclusion are extremely serious issues that need to be properly addressed in the planning profession. The Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) in Great Britain has started this process by firstly looking at gender in the profession, with a study that came out in time for International Women’s Day. The study included fifty women  and several men from Australia, Canada, England, Scotland, New Zealand and the United States. This is the first part of a ten year program by RTPI to make the profession more diverse and inclusive. The RTPI addresses the report by saying:

 We profoundly believe that a planning profession that is more representative of women and society at large is crucial to bringing about inclusive environments that meet the needs of everyone and we hope that this report will contribute to addressing what has become a crucial and timely question.

The news in the report published in Great Britain is not good, and many of the issues raised are also evident in planning practice in Canada.  The RTPI report states that more than fifty percent of women felt their promotion opportunities were limited, and many felt discriminated against upon returning to work from maternity leave.

In 2019, research by the organisation ‘Women in Planning’ found that only 17% of director and above roles were held by women with just 5% of senior director, senior partner or managing director roles occupied by women.”

It has always seemed odd that planning has been a fairly male dominated practice, without a whole lot of women and diversity in senior positions.  I have been a staunch supporter of  planning events and seminars that include women on the panels. I have written about several events in Vancouver where “manels” were predominant. Our cities and places are not for men only or for men of a certain culture, and we need to include people from the other female 51 per cent of the population too, as well as embracing diversity.

It was Stephen Lewis the former United Nations ambassador who famously refused to sit on all male panels, and insisted that the way to advance diversity and equity was to ensure that conference panels champion women and different voices.

Stephen Lewis also pointed out that it is the panelist’s responsibility to ensure that they are not sitting on all male panels, and if they are, to insist on diversity. That is, after all, what the nexus of city planning and engagement is all about.

In the RTPI study  women planners felt that they faced inappropriate remarks at work and that their workplace reflected male norms and behaviour. The study sets out 15 key recommendations which included pay equity for men and women, and ensuring maternity/family leave that did not mitigate career advancement.

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A few years ago I was part of a group for whom Translink (then still under the Liberal governent) presented their plan for the new Phibbs Exchange in the District of North Vancouver.  Although everyone agreed that any change to the current godforsaken, wind-swept emptiness of a bus loop was a good thing,  we also identified three significant and obvious shortcomings: no public washrooms*; no Kiss ‘n’ Ride for passenger drop-off; and no Park and Ride lot for regular commuters.

If you were to take every study of how to increase transit use it all comes down to one thing: make it easy.  Sometimes making it easy is about accepting that a commuter using transit for half of her trip is still better than having her drive all of the way downtown.  Sometimes it’s just easier or more practical to drive to a hub and switch to the bus or Skytrain.

Recently I’ve been studying French at the Alliance Française de Vancouver.  They’re located on Cambie, just north of 49th, so from the North Shore it makes a lot of sense to take the Seabus and Skytrain for classes.

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It’s a tale of two different governments. Despite the unanimous motion of the UBCM (Union of British Columbia Municipalities)  asking the Provincial government to give  municipalities the power to create neighbourhood zones of 30 km/h, the government has said no.

That means that if a municipality wants to create a 30 km/h zone as is being done in other residential areas around the world, each street will have to be signed with 30 km/h signs, a tedious and expensive process for any municipality.  The Province has put thumbs down on allowing cities to simply designate neighbourhood 30 km/h zones, a much more coherent approach, and quite frankly what every other European city is doing.

You have to remember that the engineering staff that reports to the current Provincial government is pretty much the same  as that of the previous Liberal government. Those were the folks that  brought us the bike lanes on Highway 17 (which Patrick Johnston has written about trying to ride).

That Engineering staff also produced a  whole bunch of too wide intersections for pedestrian and cyclist crossings on  Provincial highways, and generally design for vehicular traffic comfort as if it is still the 20th century. That reticence is one of the reasons pedestrians and cyclists die in this province, and why the Provincial Medical Health Officer Dr. Perry Kendall’s report on mitigating vehicular deaths is really not celebrated as the watershed document it is. In this province  there is an increase in vulnerable road user deaths, and limiting speeds are a key strategy to make roads safe for everyone.

Look at the different response of the City of London that TODAY made all the roads in the central London congestion charge zone 20 mph which is roughly 30 km/h. And look at the rationale. There’s a

 long-standing policy of making 20 mph the speed limit on all London roads where people live, work and shop closer to realisation, and with it, the accompanying reduction in the road danger caused by higher speeds.

London’s TFL (Transport for London) seeks to have 140 kilometres of roads with 20 mph speed limits by 2024, which will put pressure on other roads to also accept the lower speed limits. And why?

They clearly state that there is a correlation between higher speeds and crashes, with speed a factor in nearly 40 percent of crashes where there is a fatality or serious injury. Couple that with the fact that a pedestrian has a 90 per cent chance of surviving a crash at 30 km/h but only a 10  per cent chance if crashed into at 50 km/h.

But back to the Province. What will it take to understand the importance of slower neighbourhood speeds to lower auto emissions, enhance livability, and make walking and cycling safer and more comfortable with slower neighbourhood speeds? How can the work internationally and the unanimous request of  the organization representing all municipalities be spurned?

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In the “You Just Can’t Make This Stuff Up” department, Forbes.com writer Carleton Reid reports that out of 140 countries attending the Third Global Ministerial Conference on Road Safety in Stockholm, only one country refused to sign the Stockholm Declaration on Road Safety. That country? The United States.

I have already written about the Stockholm Declaration and the nine recommendations. These have now been adopted by 140 countries  and changes the paradigm of road speed to focus on speed management by better enforcement, and by “mandating a maximum road travel speed of 30 km/h in areas where vulnerable road users and vehicles mix.”

Better still, the lower speeds will mean reduced automobile emissions and are already being enacted in the Netherlands, where speed has been rolled back on highways to 100 km/h.

There is of course precedent with the United States refusing to sign the Paris Accord on  global climate change in 2017. And there is already doom and gloom spin on what slowing traffic to 30 km/h or 20 mph in neighbourhoods will do to vehicular traffic. (Hint~absolutely nothing, vehicles can still circulate on arterial roads around the designated 30 km/h areas. ) Slower speeds in neighbourhoods  lower carbon emissions and lower the chance of serious vehicular crashes, enhance livability and mitigate noise.

But look at the numbers~annually 1.3 million people are killed in crashes. Fifty million people are badly hurt. Globally these crashes are the leading cause death for people aged five to twenty-nine years.

In the United States,  more than 7,000 cyclists and pedestrians died in 2018, the biggest increase since 1990. Between 2013 to 2017 the number of pedestrians killed by SUVs (sport utility vehicles) increased by 50 percent, while those killed by small cars increased by 30 percent. Even though the cost of crashes cost the United States economy 240 billion dollars a year, the vehicular lobby is still king.

In British Columbia it was Councillor Pete Fry with the City of Vancouver that advocated for a UBCM (Union of British Columbia Municipalities) resolution asking the Province to give municipal approval for 30 km/h  zones.  That would  allow the edges of the areas to be signed as 30 km/h, and  not have  every internal residential street signed as 30 km/h which would be costly.

To everyone’s shock, the Province refused to grant the cities the right to control the areas as 30 km/h. This proves once again that coming towards an election year more conservative inclinations are being exhibited by the Province to the detriment of the communities it serves.

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The Delta Police Department  with its motto “No Call Too Small” is famous in Metro Vancouver for their witty and direct approach to traffic management in their city. I have already written about their innovative use of social media to help manage safety and vehicular speed— with the ultimate goal of mitigating crashes — in their municipality.

The Delta Police Traffic Unit  directly asks the public via Twitter where speed enforcement is required. The results have been laudable with police officers attending the offending locations to enforce bylaws. They even monitor marked crosswalks to ensure that drivers yield to pedestrians.

The department has further adapted its unique communication/enforcement approach, by also giving the public a “heads up” about potential enforcement areas, also at its @DPDTraffic Twitter account. And that’s not all~they even advertise their “ticket events” at the entrances of the areas they are enforcing.

Surprisingly, drivers don’t appear to read these large reader boards.

The results have been real, and measurable, especially in high crash locations. Police say they have seen vehicular speeds slow almost to posted levels on Highway 17, as well as on streets in the city’s commercial areas.

As Delta Police Staff Sergeant Ryan Hall stated“Although Delta police and other forces occasionally publicize enforcement efforts, we don’t think any other police force in B.C. has committed to giving the public a heads up on a regular basis.” 

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I received an advanced copy of “Planning on the Edge” which provides a reconciliation, social justice and sustainable development lens on the complex issues surrounding Metro Vancouver regional planning.  It’s a thoughtful and well documented book with chapters contributed by many well known urban thinkers.

There’s food and a panel with UBC’s Leonora Angeles, Bill Rees, Howard Grant from the Musqueam First Nation and Simon Fraser University’s Duke of Data Andy Yan.

Host of the CBC program “B.C. Today” Michelle Eliott is the moderator.

This event is expected to reach capacity quickly. The tickets are free~please follow this link to RSVP .

When February 27th, 2020  5:30 PM   through   9:00 PM Location UBC Robson Square, 800 Robson Street
Room C300
Vancouver, BC
Canada Contact Phone: 604-822-3276
Email: sherli@mail.ubc.ca Read more »

Gord Price will be in Australia for the next month.  Follow his coverage here and on Instagram (gordonpriceyvr).

More evidence from the Sydney Morning Herald on how deeply unserious some decision-makers can be, even after declaring a climate emergency and living through a national trauma that validates the urgency.  It is the gap between lack of action and the desire for strategic change that makes this story extraordinary.

The world’s largest coal port wants to transition away from coal – but because of government policy, can’t do it.

 

The world’s largest coal port State deal blocking world’s largest coal port from fossil fuel exit

The head of the world’s largest coal port says it must transition away from the fossil fuel and diversify Newcastle’s economy before it’s too late, but controversial NSW government policy is stopping it.

As the government worked to improve its climate policy following a summer of drought and bushfires, Port of Newcastle chief executive Craig Carmody said $2 billion of private investment was waiting for the green light to develop a container terminal and move the Hunter away from coal.

However, a once-secret facet of the Baird government’s 2013-14 port privatisation deal – which would force Newcastle to compensate its competitors if it transported more than 30,000 containers a year – could keep the local economy tethered to coal for decades.

Mr Carmody said the port had about 15 years to transition away from the resource, which makes up more than 95 per cent of its exports. He added that a changing climate and struggling regional sector compounded the situation.

 

Here’s the kicker:

“It doesn’t really matter what governments in Australia want to believe, the money we need to do what we need to do have already made their decisions,” Mr Carmody told the Herald.

“There is a reason why businesses, particularly in the energy space in Australia, are saying, ‘Well, if the government won’t provide a policy direction, then we’re going to go off and do it ourselves’.”

 

 

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Gord Price will be in Australia for the next month, Instagramming and podcasting his way across the country.  Follow his coverage here and on Instagram (gordonpriceyvr), as well as PriceTalks podcast when interviews are occasionally posted.

Evidence from the Sydney Morning Herald on how deeply unserious some decision-makers can be after they approve motions and plans to respond to a housing crisis.

Slowdown in pace of housing developments unevenly spread across Sydney

Amid concerns about the scale of development, the government’s latest forecast shows 5700 fewer homes are set to be built over the next five years than was predicted two years ago. …

New dwellings at Ryde are forecast to fall by 10 per cent to 8550 over the next five years, compared with that forecast two years ago. The pullback comes after campaigning by Liberal Minister Victor Dominello against the scale of development in his electorate.

“I’m not against development – I’m against over development,” he said.

“If you start multiple villas and multiple terraces in suburbia, where are they going to park on streets? …”

The forecasts show 10 times as many homes are expected to be built at Blacktown (lower socioeconomic-economic status) over the next five years than the northern beaches (higher).

The 1950 new dwellings predicted for the northern beaches represent a 26 per cent fall on the government’s target for the area in 2017. In contrast, Liverpool in the south-west is forecast to have 12,750 dwellings built over the next five years, a 72 per cent rise on that predicted two years ago. …

Bill Randolph, the director of the University of NSW’s City Futures, said the change in forecasts for new homes likely reflected a slowdown in the apartment market, adding that it would still be a “big ask” to deliver about 41,000 dwellings annually in Sydney over the next five years.

Professor Randolph said a reduction in large industrial sites meant it would become harder to develop high-density areas in inner and middle suburbs of Sydney.

“It’s getting harder now to win the local political battle in getting urban renewal through now that we are running out of the big old industrial sites,” he said.

 

 

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