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.

Read more »

 

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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On Tuesday night CBC radio hosted a special broadcast of their feature program, The Current with Matt Galloway. Never a program to shy away from controversy, the broadcast centered on “The Future of Vancouver’s Chinatown”. The event brought out a capacity audience of CBC afficiendos, passionate Chinatown supporters, and a cross section of people that would not look out of place at a community centre or any Vancouver civic gathering.

Matt Galloway had as panelists  Carol Lee, who is with the Vancouver Chinatown Foundation and the inspiration behind the wildly popular Chinatown BBQ, Jordan Eng from the Chinatown Business Improvement Association (BIA) and the Duke of Data and SFU Professor of City Planning Andy Yan.

All three panelists have deep roots in the Chinatown community and refreshingly they all saw the importance of this place not just for the city, but for its pivotal importance provincially and nationally. As Carol Lee poignantly noted the story of Chinatown goes back to the nation building  railroad across Canada where thousands of Asian labourers stitched the country’s rail tracks together. The “physical legacy of struggle and sacrifice” is also manifested in Chinatown which was built on a drainage swamp around 1885, the same time that the railway was completed. Andy Yan described Chinatown as “my muse and my tormentor“, in that this culturally rich place was always a neighbourhood of sanctuary and brought together many ethnic groups over time, and is important to maintain in a city built for everyone. How do you save what is integral to a community? How do you continue to provide the liveliness, the cultural activities, and social housing?

Carol Lee talked about the community handling the issues of homelessness, addiction and lack of inclusion, and the panel discussed the fact that the planning and solutions that work in Vancouver’s Chinatown can provide a pattern language for other downtown innercity neighbourhoods coping with similar issues. The BIA’s approach has been to focus upon cleanliness, graffiti and safety, with half the business association’s budget spent on security.

Several speakers active and engaged in Chinatown spoke about the importance of this place culturally and and as a destination. Despite the fact that there are other malls and places to go to that reflect Chinese culture, they are perceived as a substitute for the real thing. Architect Stanley Kwok who built the Crystal Mall in Burnaby and who has lived a half century in Vancouver questioned whether Chinatown needed to form a corporation to manage all the buildings, and whether the location was to be a museum or a living place. All speakers pointed to the importance of commerce in the area’s health, citing the importance of physical, economic and cultural revitalization.

The location of the new hospital precinct as well as the towers planned for the Northeast False Creek will provide plenty of customers for Chinatown businesses. In terms of housing, units that could accommodate older Chinese seniors and integrate with the community form and fabric was discussed.

This was a surprisingly rich and passionate discussion about Chinatown’s place as the “gateway to achieving Canadian dreams” and the importance of collaboration was stressed.

There was a puzzling reference and long dialogue  from a Vancouver City Councillor that Chinatown needed to work better with City Hall and that most of City Council were not on board in working towards Chinatown’s future.

Read more »

 

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.

Read more »

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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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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December 3, 2019

Goodman, Vancouver’s pre-eminent seller of small (and some large) apartment blocks, has raised the alert about a Council motion that emerged from the Rental Incentives Review. The gate-worthy motion instructs staff “to prepare a report for consideration for referral to public hearing” that would extend rental replacement requirements.

…. older commercial properties with three or more rental apartments will be bound by rate-of-change regulations and will have to replace those rental apartments upon redevelopment, including redevelopment to four-storey condos.

A few observations.

If you’re in the hysteria business, don’t -gate your issue.  Overuse, like inflated currency, lessens value.

Goodman maintains that this move, if enacted, would “reduce the residual land value of these commercial properties.  (This) amounts to a downzoning.”  Leaving aside whether that is technically a downzoning, the conclusion is nonetheless “that if you own a C-2 zoned site in Vancouver, your property is on its way to devaluation.”

That, however, doesn’t necessarily mean the price will drop commensurately.  It may mean that owners over time won’t get as much a return as they might have otherwise.

It may also mean that these regulations kill off re-development and new rental housing along arterials and in some commercial zones.  But it’s hard to get as excited about something that may not happen as it is to protest the loss of existing rental stock.

It’s also hard for those who have seen a spectacular rise in their asset value to receive sympathy if the rise in the worth of their property is consequently less spectacular.  Sympathy tends to go to those downstream who pay the increased rents from the spectacular rise.

It’s surprising that the rental replacement policy isn’t already in place for apartments along commercial strips.  If Burnaby had had that requirement for its rental stock south of Metrotown, Derek Corrigan might still be mayor. In the current political climate (elections have consequences), it will be hard to persuade the Vancouver council that they shouldn’t take action to protect the rental housing stock.

However, Goodman does possibly raise something gate-worthy at the end of the missive:

“The 5th bullet says to direct staff to report back on:

“The possibility of using zoning similar to the DEOD (Downtown East Side-Oppenheimer) zoning (60% social housing and 40% rental for anything above 1 FSR) to depress land prices so it will be cheaper to buy for non-market housing.”

Gee, I wonder which councillor moved that motion.  Announcing that the intent of your policy is to sterilize land values so you can pick it up cheap won’t go down well in in the business community, or in the courts.

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As reported by Sandor Gayarmati in the Delta Optimist and obvious to anyone following Delta Council, there’s been growing disagreement  between the Mayor of Delta, George Harvie, and  Delta Councillor Lois Jackson, who was Mayor of Delta from 1999 to 2018 and actually started serving on Delta Council in 1972.

The Delta council dynamics are daunting~Mr. Harvie was formerly Delta’s city manager from 2002 to 2018, and of course was hired by Mayor Jackson’s council.  When Mr. Harvie retired from his city manager job and then ran for Mayor, Ms. Jackson ran as a councillor on his campaign slate, saying she was going to act as an “elder” and also be Mr. Harvie’s guide on the side.

Municipalities unlike the Provincial and Federal governments still do not have a great deal of financial oversight, and that can be seen in the annual junkets to Ottawa and to Eastern Canada taken by Ms. Jackson, and last year by Mr. Harvie. In 2018 Lois Jackson’s contingent spent $40,000 for a few days in Ottawa and a few in Quebec, in part to plead for the Massey Bridge. Her Council also ponied up for Ms Jackson to go to Scotland to attend a bagpipe tattoo, as well as arranged remuneration for people leaving Council based upon years worked.

Former City Manager now Mayor Harvie went to Ottawa in the spring of this year  for four days at a cost of $20,000 taxpayer dollars  to deal with stuff that really could be dealt provincially and  locally by the Province or local Member of Parliament.

Harvie also hired his friend Param Grewal who ran unsuccessfully for a Delta city council position on the same slate as Mayor George Harvie. Mr. Grewal is the “Director of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs” on  a six figure salary with no public posting of the position.

Harvie and Jackson appeared to be kindred spirits, so it was a surprise when Lois Jackson was booted off the Metro Vancouver board by Mayor Harvie right before the crucial vote last week for the Massey Immersive Tunnel approval.

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