Business & Economy
January 20, 2009

A Useful Word

We’re in a crumple.

William Watson coined the word in a Sun column last week:

A bubble, as we have all learned, is a run-up in prices going beyond anything that reasonable economic calculation can justify….

But here’s where I find all the bad news encouraging. If social contagion and information cascades can carry us all off to manic highs, presumably they can also drive us down to unwarranted lows…

In effect, we’re in a negative bubble. (I think of a negative bubble as “a crumple.”) We’re quickly talking ourselves into depression. We’ve gone from the subprime to the ridiculous, you might say.

Why do I find this encouraging? Because a crumple is no more reasonable or justified than the bubble was. And because it may turn around just as quickly.

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At least the Olympic Village will get built.  In Dubai and other real-estate hotspots around the world, the dominoes are falling, along with the public offerings.  Like the $100-billion Jumeirah Gardens development, with One Dubai as its centrepiece: 

More here in Der Spiegel:

The international economic crisis has caught up with the nouveau-riche high flyers in the Middle East and Asia who, until recently, had gloatingly watched the collapse of the West, where one skyscraper project after the next has been abandoned. But now the brakes are also being put on one construction project after another in Dubai, Saudi Arabia and Russia.

And here’s a sample of the fantasies that were being pedalled up until just a few weeks ago.

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December 16, 2008

I grabbed a B-Line on Saturday down to Richmond for the opening of the Big O:

The Richmond Olympic Oval will be the most significant purpose-built legacy of the 2010 Games.   It’s certainly Richmond’s pride and joy.  First impression: it has the size, scale and look of an airport terminal – kind of appropriate for the nearest Olympic location to YVR. 

Second impression: at a half-million square feet without a column, it feels even bigger on the inside.

Too big, in fact.  The space is so vast, it has no embrace.  That may be fine for the actual speed-skating competition when thousands of cheering spectators will fill the oval; not so good for day-to-day use.  Fortunately it will be cut up into multiple uses afterwards – hopefully done with finesse. 

The roof is, of course, the dominant design element – and the extensive use of wood gives it some needed warmth.  Hard to tell in some places, though, whether the effect is purposeful or simply unfinished:

The architects of the Oval were  Cannon Johnston Architecture Inc. – something not mentioned in the explanatory brochure handed out on opening day, nor, believe it or not, on the Oval’s web site under “architecture.”

They do name the artists and their works – particularly Susan Point’s Coast Salish themed water-collectors on the buttresses:

And the Water Sky Gardens – a collaborative effort between Janet Echelman, Phillips, Fareraag, Smallenberg Landscape Architecture, and the Cannon Design Team.

 

The ads for opening day advised spectators to arrive by transit, foot or bike, given the limited parking.  I took transit to Aberdeen and then cycled to the Oval, only to find they had not provided a single bike rack, at least that I could find, at either entrance.

The Oval touts its sustainability (it will be a LEED Silver building).  But I find it hard to take such sentiments seriously when an organization cannot even provide one of the cheapest and most visible indicators of its sincerity, particularly for a facility meant to promote personal health through activity. 

No doubt the racks are in the plans.  And the plans for the future of the site, the surrounding area and the connections to the Canada Line are still to be executed.  

In time the Oval will serve its purpose: to give Richmond an iconic structure that announces its arrival as a destination, not just as a place to travel through or a bedroom for Vancouver.

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A friend in L.A. sends in this inquiry:

I recently sent in my order for Olympics tickets & now must look for lodging. I was totally stunned by the greed of the major hotel chains — asking $750 -$1000/night for rooms that otherwise would be $150-$250. So, being a public sector Planner, with a salary to match, I cannot pay those exorbitant prices.

Do you have any suggestions for alternative housing options? Perhaps some local blogs or websites, where more reasonable accommodations can be researched?

I am bringing my wife & 2 kids (ages 10 & 12) & we are staying for 5 days, so we do need something comfortable, just in a more reasonable price range. There must be some flats for rent or small independent hotels or other lodging options available. Any tips or help would be greatly appreciated!

I thought hotels wouldn’t be price-gouging during the Olympics.  Guess some didn’t get the memo.

Any advice out there for my friend?

 

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Province columnist (and sometime PT contributor) Derek Moscato picks up on an idea I floated a few weeks ago:

… it’s not enough for a place to cater exclusively to hip professionals, according to (Richard) Florida (author of “The Creative Class”). Cities like Vancouver must also tap into the creativity of their trades and service workers — from plumbers to cab drivers to coffee shop baristas.

Gordon Price, director of the City Program at Simon Fraser University, took Florida’s point one step further — saying that Vancouver should also tap into the creativity of a quite different class of workers: binners.

While Price drew a few blank stares, the former Vancouver city councillor is clearly onto something.

Full column here.

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It’s been fascinating, when watching the Olympics in Beijing, to see how dramatically the air quality can change from day to day.  Or at least the weather.  Because it is true that what we might think is smog may be a low and cloudy ceiling.

At least that’s the conclusion I came to after reviewing the day-to-day pictures of Beijing published on the web site of the Asia Society.

They asked a photographer to shoot the view out his window every day from March 2007 to today – and then correlated it with the air-quality index.

The best day so far was on August 12, five days into the Games.

The worst was on December 28, 2007:

Interesting that a clear blue day does not necessarily mean the best air quality.  Even more interesting will be to see what happens after the games, when all the cars return to the roads and the closed industrial plants start up again.

The Asia Society’s web site with a short video on Beijinjg’s air quality challenge is here.

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Yeah, it’s been bad.  Vancouver in June.

But what a loss for the World Triathlon, held this last weekend on the beaches and streets of the West End. 

I’m sure the organizers were aware of the variable nature of our climate, but they clearly weren’t prepared for the cold. 

It was a great race, especially exciting for spectators who could literally see some of the world’s best athletes mere inches away during the run.

Except, of course, there weren’t a lot of spectators.

And what a shame for both the athletes and the city.  This event could have been spectacular, given the setting, the event and the lead-in to the Olympics.  Watching the cyclists come over the hill on a closed-off Davie Street, seeing Denman filled with uniformed teams of every race, rooting for our competitors in action – just hints of what could have been  a transforming event for Vancouver.

I just hope this won’t discourage the World Triathlon from coming back.

 

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October 23, 2007

 The Times of London got their hands on the proposed transport plan for the 2012 Olympics:

Olympics chiefs set to ban all car travel
The team organising the London Olympics in 2012 is adopting the most aggressive anticar policy ever applied to a major event in an attempt to deliver a permanent shift in people’s travel habits. The eight million spectators will be banned from travelling by car and forced to take public transport, walk or cycle….
All spectators travelling to an event in London will receive a free all-zones travelcard. Those from outside London will be able to buy discounted, flat-rate rail tickets from any station to the capital.
In an interview with The Times, Hugh Sumner, the ODA transport director, said: “We have a very aggressive programme to make it the greenest games in modern times. We want to leave both a hard legacy in terms of infrastructure and a living legacy in the way people think about transport and about how they travel to sports and cultural events.”

Vancouver’s legacy (in addition to the Canada Line) is just the opposite: a major commitment to highway construction to ensure that you will be able to drive – at least to and through the region.
Downtown, however?  I can’t imagine that anyone will be able to use Expo Boulevard since it actually runs under B.C. Place.  And rumour has it that Robson Street will be closed off to vehicles from the stadium to Denman Street. 
But what happens afterwards?  Do we just return the streets to the cars, pretending that nothing has or will change to our happy-motoring nirvana? 
In truth, things are changing already.  The number of vehicles coming to the downtown peninsula continues to decline:

What this chart shows is that the number of vehicles entering the central business district has declined by 7 percent over the last ten years, even as the number of trips by all modes has increased by 22 percent.
That’s so counter-intuitive, given the growth on the peninsula, that people don’t really appreciate the change.  It’s also the reason why we’ve been able to remove so much lane space for the construction of new buildings and the Canada Line on Granville and Davie without gridlock catastrophe.
The downward slope in that chart is likely to continue, particularly given the change from cars to transit that will occur with the opening of the Canada Line. 
Just as Expo introduced Vancouver to the pleasures of urbanity when properly done, so will the Olympics offer another opportunity to change the use of our public spaces after the games are over.  It’s another way we can take advantage of the investment in both the celebration and the investment. In fact, if Council doesn’t plan now to reallocate road space in the post-Olympic period, it will lose a critical moment of opportunity – and the real benefit that comes with our billion-dollar subway.
Even better, it won’t be embarrassed when London shows how it should have been done.

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Speaking of convenience stores (below), here’s another take from Lisa Margonelli’s Oil on the Brain.  (There are some books you know from the first page are going to be good reads.  This is one of them.)
A gas station owner with a convenience store can make more money selling water than gas – at least if the water has sugar in it.
Markup on gas: 7 percent, and falling.
Markup on sunglasses: 100 percent.
Markup on ice: 60 percent
Markup on candy: 43 percent.
Markup on cigarettes: 19 percent.
Best of all is what’s in the ‘vault’ – the coolers, always opposite the door, that bring in a high percentage of the store’s profits.
Impulse buys make up three-quarters of the $132 billion (US) Americans spend in convenience stores.  After driving around, looking to save a few cents, complaining loudly about the price of gas, we happily blow it on sugared water.

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