Business & Economy
January 15, 2020

A Livable Region Plan for the Province

 

It’s not often that a political columnist will delve into the details of urban and regional planning.  Those are weeds too thick for most readers.  

But Sun Victoria correspondent Vaughn Palmer did so today, perhaps because he got fed a report on what could be, in fact, a pretty big deal: a direction for the urban and economic planning of British Columbia. 

If taken seriously, backed up with action and able to survive changes in governments, it could be for the province what the first regional planning was the GVRD (now Metro Vancouver) in the 1970s.  That is from whence came the Livable Region Plan, or ‘Cities in a Sea of Green.’   We adopted it, stuck to it, and a half century later can the results.  It worked out pretty well.

This ‘economic framework’ is more the structure on which such a plan could be built.  It seems to be a result of departmental thinking aligned with the priorities and strategies of the government – in other words, not just an NDP political exercise to justify what they wanted to do anyway. 

Following are excepts from Palmer’s column, found here in its entirety.

 

An economic framework recently distributed by the provincial government outlines strategies to accommodate future population, trade and business growth. Key elements of the plan include developing Surrey as a “second downtown” for Metro. ECONOMIC PLAN CALLS FOR DISPERSING GROWTH

The John Horgan government has adopted an economic plan to shift growth and investment away from Vancouver and toward less congested parts of the province.   … Key elements will promote the development of Surrey as a “second downtown” for Metro Vancouver, anchoring a “growth corridor” extending into the Fraser Valley.

Part and parcel of that push will see development of an updated transportation and regional land-use plan in co-operation with local governments.

While the plan mentions few specifics, it does quote favourably from a recent B.C. Business Council paper, which called for “a new Fraser Valley innovation corridor anchored by a commuter rail system running from Chilliwack to the city of Vancouver.”

“Squamish, the Tri-Cities, Delta, Tsawwassen, Langford” (yes, Horgan’s hometown) “and others offer significant advantages for technology startups or satellite office locations …  “Kamloops, Rossland, Nelson, Canal Flats, Campbell River and many others are seeing transformational growth in the technology sector from businesses and workers purposefully seeking out the cost and lifestyle advantages of a smaller community, while staying connected to their B.C. and global customers through high-speed internet.” …

To help persuade investors to locate operations in the north, the province cites access to “B.C.’s clean affordable hydroelectric grid that can power industrial development.”  The latter pitch depends in part on successful completion of the hydroelectric dam at Site C on the Peace River. The New Democrats discounted the project as unnecessary during their opposition days, but it now dovetails conveniently with their new economic strategy. …

Also in the works is “a regional inventory of investment-ready opportunities, including transportation, energy, educational, internet connectivity, community and other infrastructure needed to support quality economic growth.”

But the inventory is no more public than the plan itself, which, as noted here Tuesday, was crafted mainly for the eyes of the public service and selected stakeholders. …

As to the rationale for all this, the plan notes that the province is scheduled to add a million people over the next 30 years. …

“B.C.’s population grew by close to a million people, with much of the population increase concentrated in the Lower Mainland.”

The region was unprepared for growth of that scale.

“Demand for housing, public services and infrastructure exceeded supply, with particularly acute impacts for housing affordability. Higher demand led to sharp increases in the cost of rental and market housing, and those with lower incomes were squeezed out — or sometimes forced out through ‘renoviction’ — of housing they could no longer afford. Families moved farther away from their work in order to find housing within their means, resulting in longer commute times and growing congestion problems.” …

The fallout from runaway and unplanned growth is one reason why the New Democrats picked up 10 seats in Metro Vancouver in the last election and the B.C.

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Another intriguing one from Maps on the Web:

Have you ever wondered what the world’s richest people studied in college? If you guessed that many of them have degrees in business or economics, you’re right. But there is actually a surprising amount of diversity in the types of degrees that today’s wealthiest individuals hold. We dug into the data in order to create these maps to show the college degrees of each country’s richest person: 
. Click through for each continent – but here’s North America (click on title of post): . . Fun fact: Canada’s richest guy, David Thompson (at $37.5 billion), is one of only two of the billionaires with a history degree.  Not sure what to conclude about him, Canada or billionaires. . Read more »

It is not often that a  Vancouver person’s  working life has a half century of documentation and film.  In 1964 Vern Frick was documented in this YouTube video which was produced for CBC and described his daily work as a postman. In the video he stops on Granville Street for his morning coffee. The original postal station D was on Broadway close to Fir Street, and you can see the Fir Street off ramp for the Granville Bridge in the video below. You also see a different Vancouver, with wooden houses, front porches, and a mailman who knows everyone on his route.

Vern Frick later worked as a postal inspector and ended up in safety management with the Post Office. Although he retired over 20 years ago from the post office, he kept on with his second job which was as an usher with the PNE (Pacific National Exhibition). And what a life he experienced with that job. This  2018 article by Susan Lazarek with the Vancouver Sun describes Vern as the “longest-serving employee of the PNE, who has been on shift as a part-time usher for virtually all the shows at the annual exhibition venues since the summer of 1963, is working his last shift on Labour Day.”

He was at the Beatles concert as an usher in August 22, 1964 (which ended after twenty minutes when fans rushed the stage).

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Via Kris Olds and Croakey.org this story is from Gemma Carey who lives in Canberra Australia and is an associate professor in the Centre for Social Impact at the University of South Wales.

Professor Carey writes that the smoke enveloping Canberra has shown the need “for better health warning systems, especially around hazardous air pollution, and for equity considerations to be foremost.”  

In her city “the unprecedented fires which began on New Year’s eve brought a thick ‘fog’ of smoke across the ACT (Australia Capital Territory) and parts of New South Wales. Canberra, where I live, is perhaps worst hit with particle readings of up to 1800 2.5PM. The limit for hazardous levels is 200 2.5PM in the ACT, according to the ACT Government.”

Professor  Carey wrote in December that women being  pregnant in a climate emergency meant they are stuck indoors. “At that time, dangerous particles of 2.5 micrometres or smaller (‘2.5PM’) were at 100-300 – ranging from serious to hazardous.”

The air in Canberra is ten times over the hazardous level and is the poorest air quality of any city in the world. Air with this type of particulate creates complications for people with lung and breathing issues, and can impact heart disease and cancer rates. Research shows that the longer the exposure to these particulates, the higher the incidence of disease. Couple this with research showing that pregnant women exposed to these particulates appear to have babies that are premature, weigh less, and can be miscarried.  What is not being calculated is that families in Canberra are also experiencing direct stress due to the fire disasters as well as the long term implications of particulate exposure.

Poorer areas in the city have worse air. Professor  Carey states “We have no precedent in the scientific literature for the health implications of what is currently happening in Australia.”

Clean air is costly~“Since New Year’s, nowhere indoors is safe. Shopping malls, libraries and national monuments – where many were seeking refuge – are filled with smoke. Air conditioning systems are simply not designed for this level of pollution.”

Even air purifiers which cost 500 to 800 dollars are not affordable to many people and there are none left in Canberra or its suburbs. Indoors people wear high grade pollution masks. “I take it off only to shower and eat.”

The  air particulate mask is only good for 100 hours and costs 50 dollars. Again as in the air purifiers, there is an equity issue of who can afford and access them. The masks  available at hardware stores are not designed for the particulates that are raining down on Canberra.

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Last Fall Consumer Reports revealed that although most Americans killed in car crashes are male, data shows that it is fact women that are at a greater risk of death or serious injury in a car crash. A female driver or front row passenger with a seatbelt is 17 percent more likely to die, and 73 percent more likely to have a serious injury.

Crash researchers have known for forty years that the bodies of male and female react differently in crashes,  but automotive research still stubbornly clings to the “50th percentile male” which is understood to be a 171 pound 5 foot 9 inch dummy  first developed in the 1970’s. And that crash test dummy has not substantially changed, despite the fact that the average American man weighs 26 pounds more.

It was not until 2003 that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) used a scaled down male dummy to represent a woman. This dummy was so scaled down that it also could double as a 13 year old child. It is a 5th percentile crash dummy as even to  1970’s standards it represented only 5 percent of women.

Crash tests do not recognize that  half the drivers in the United States are now female. The 5th percentile female crash dummy rides as a passenger, not a driver. As Consumer Reports writer Keith Barry states “Because automotive design is directly influenced by the results of safety testing, any bias in the way cars are crash-tested translates into the way cars are manufactured. So if safety tests don’t prioritize female occupants, carmakers won’t necessarily make changes to better protect them.”

Automotive safety relies on regulation to do the right thing. Using crash dummies that are not smaller models of male dummies is the first step, along with recognizing that women’s  structures are different than men’s. Today’s average female is five inches shorter and 27 pounds lighter than the average male, and wear seatbelts differently and sit closer to the steering console.

While there is a new generation of dummies coming, there is still no plan to build an average female for crash tests. Called THOR (Test Device for Human Occupant Restraint) these new models are due to be used in Europe this year for testing and will collect more data than previous crash test dummies.

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The New York Times published a wonderfully interactive perspective on “A Decade of Urban Transformation” – the changes in the American urban landscape (with enough applicability to much of urban Canada), as seen from above.

 

Vast new exurbs have been carved from farmland, and once-neglected downtowns have come to life again. The tech industry has helped remake entire city neighborhoods, and it has dotted the landscape with strange new beasts, in data centers and fulfillment hubs.

The Exurbs Boom Again

At the beginning of this decade, for a short period after the housing bust, it looked as if the exurbs were over. Housing construction and population growth there ground to a halt. Briefly, central cities and denser suburbs were growing faster than exurbia. But the exurbs eventually boomed again, a pattern we can see in rings of new development around most major metro areas in this map, especially in the Sun Belt:

For more images:

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At Vancouver City Hall, December 18:

Vancouver council approved a contentious rezoning application to build a five-storey rental building at Larch and West Second Avenue in an 8-3 vote Dec. 18. after a public hearing that attracted dozens of speakers, for and against. …   The Larch street building will produce 63 rental units — 13 for moderate income households.

Some neighbouring residents, who formed Kits Neighbourhood Group, campaigned against the Larch Street project, arguing it didn’t fit neighbourhood character, the building is too high, dense and bulky, and not enough affordable units are being provided to justify the incentives being offered to the developer.

Imagine trying to approve hundreds of these ‘missing-middle’ developments one by one – or even through a mass rezoning to allow them anywhere.  Imagine a ‘Kits Neighbourhood Group’ city-wide (as Colleen Hardwick undoubtedly will).

 

Meanwhile, at Surrey City Hall, December 16:

Alison Brooks Architects has won approval for a residential-led scheme in Vancouver, Canada, featuring a series of towers, the tallest a 38-storey skyscraper …

The project for Rize Alliance Properties will create 1,126 homes on the site in the burgeoning City of Surrey (City Centre) …

It was waved through at a City of Surrey Public Hearing …

 

Do the math: 63 versus 1,126.  Do the political calculation: one project tries to nibble away at The Grand Bargain, the other reinforces its expediency.

What are the odds that the City of Vancouver will provide enough housing of any kind, incentivized or not, to make a substantial difference in the housing crisis?

 

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A big shout-out to author Jesse Donaldson:

“Land of Destiny: A History of Vancouver Real Estate” is a fun, fascinating book … that more than delivers on its title. His publisher Anvil Press will host a Vancouver launch Dec. 19 at 6 p.m at Resurrection Spirits, free to the public.

Here’s an excerpt from The Tyee: 

Larry Cudney hated architects. In fact, he hated the entire architectural profession. For a time, years earlier, while still a young intern with a local firm, he had harboured dreams of becoming one himself, until a falling-out with the company prevented him from obtaining the certification he needed. …

Working as a draftsman from his cramped office on Main Street and 33rd Avenue, he designed single-family homes (the only buildings a draftsman could legally design), and his work was known for being simple and practical …

… sometime in the mid/late-1960s, Cudney sat down and drafted the plans that would become his legacy. It came to be known as the “Vancouver Special,” and for the next 20 years, it would be the most widely-discussed — and hated — type of housing in town. …

“Those brash new houses with slightly pitched roofs and aluminum balconies (known in the trade as Vancouver Specials), which are now squeezed into lots where once a single house stood in a magnificent garden are here not just to stay, but to increase,” complained the Sun, in 1978.  …Between 1965 and 1985, an estimated 10,000 Vancouver Specials were built, and by 1980, according to a Young Canada Works survey, eleven per cent of Hastings-Sunrise, and five per cent of Marpole were made up of Vancouver Specials. And as more and more were built, the backlash only grew. …

“Right now, to buy a house in the city’s east side, you have to have $20,000 in assets and a $20,000 income,” wrote the Sun’s Mary McAlpine in 1978. “Most young people with children don’t have that sort of money. The people who do are developers who tear down the house and put up Vancouver Specials …

But in the years that followed, attitudes — including city council, and the Sun’s McMartin — began to change. For many lower-income and immigrant families, council later recognized, the Vancouver Special was their only chance for home ownership. In 1987, City Councillor Gordon Price even praised the architectural style as “a tradition of our cultural diversity,” and “worthy of heritage preservation.* …

In 2005, a renovated Vancouver Special was awarded the Lieutenant-Governor’s Award for Innovation in Architecture. …

Privately, Larry Cudney was said to have been proud of the disgust his brainchild had engendered. “Creating a completely tasteless form of housing,” stepdaughter Elizabeth Murphy later opined, “was his revenge on the architect profession with which he was in conflict.”

 

*It’s true!  I remember saying that.  Still do.  But with respect to heritage preservation, I meant only that we should designate an intact original and perhaps try to save a complete block like the one above.  Let the rest evolve or eventually be replaced by higher density ‘missing-middle’ alternatives.  

Vancouver has always been in need of some kind of Vancouver Special.  The two-storey carpenter-built single-family houses along streetcar lines in the 1890s and 1900s were the originals.  Even West End one-bedroom apartments in West End highrises in the 1960s were a form of simple, affordable, mass-produced housing.  So in a different way was the illegal basement suite.  Now it’s the modular house for the otherwise homeless.  But with the high land costs, design controls, heritage preservation, and inflexible zoning, we aren’t likely to see another version anytime soon.

 

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There’s some new information on the proposed Senákw project in Vancouver which is on Squamish Nation land near Burrard Street and Vanier Park in Kitsilano. Earlier this year a three billion dollar project was announced at this site which hopes to build 6,000 dwelling units in eleven towers.

This massive project has been ratified by the Squamish Nation in a voting process, and it is intended to be built in an equal venture agreement with Westbank Development Corporation, the same organization  that has built Vancouver House.

As reported in the Vancouver Courier with Frank O’Brien , Peter Mitham  and  Hayley Woodin building 6,000 units in 11 towers “would require buildings of between 55 to 60 storeys, based on comparison with other residential towers proposed but not yet built in Vancouver.”

Squamish Nation Councillor Khelsilem indicated that while the percentage of rental versus strata units had not yet been decided, the project is seen as a long term economic development project. While Westbank will guarantee the loan for the development, and provide any needed equity, the Squamish Nation will be providing their lands.

Leases will run for 120 years, and build out could take ten years. It is intended that  rental units will have a 110 year lease and condos will have a 99 year lease paid up front, with the understanding that the condos turn back to rental units upon lease expiry.

The project will be built in five phases, with the first potentially commencing in 2021.

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Here is a tale of two municipalities and two councillors.

As reported by Aaron Hinks in the Peace Arch News White Rock has a Dogs on the Promenade Task Force, evaluating whether dogs should be allowed on leash on the town’s famous waterfront promenade. White Rock council has approved a six month trial period for dogs to be permitted which ends March 31, 2020.

While there has been some complaints of dogs disturbing wildlife and complaints of unleashed dogs and defecation, there has been no complaint about canine aggression or biting.

And on December 12  White Rock received a morning complaint about dog feces being left along the public walkway. The chair of the Dogs on the Promenade task force Councillor Scott Kristjanson personally went out that morning to clean up the “doggy debris”.

“I beat staff,” Kristjanson said, and offered to share photographs of him handling the business.” 

And Kristjanson noted that the temporary acceptance of dogs on the promenade had unintended consequences~seniors with small dogs that did not have access to vehicles were using the promenade to walk their dogs, and were thrilled to socialize with the community that way.

Counter this with the actions of this City Councillor in Cleveland who was upset that the pastor of the Denison Avenue United Church was going to open up the church for homeless people to stay warm and sleep during the coldest part of the winter. Councillor Dona Brady “told the pastor of Denison Avenue United Church of Christ more than a month ago that she would not allow it to offer homeless people a cot for a safe night’s sleep.”

And how did she do that? While the church’s Metanoia operation  brought 13 people in a night and offered a meal, access to bathrooms and a shower, a by-law officer showed up with a list of code violations. That officer returned the next day too. As Michael McIntyre writes in Cleveland.com that City Councillor refused to meet with the church to discuss her concerns, and did not return the journalist’s calls. Of those 13 people that were taking advantage of sleeping in the warmth of the church, some did live on the streets in the immediate neighbourhood.  Metanoia also operated in another church in downtown Cleveland providing a warming centre, a meal and sleeping facilities. That location received a fire inspection and was told that a 45 person limit was in effect, meaning dozens of homeless were turned away at night.

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