Business & Economy
August 7, 2020

Ann McAfee: Plans, Pandemic, Protests – Time For Cities to Pause & Pivot

PT: Ann McAfee was Co-Director of Planning for Vancouver from 1994 to 2006 at the time the extraordinary growth described in the post below was occurring.  This paper describes the immediate and possible future impacts of COVID-19 on planning in the Greater Vancouver area.  (Edited from the original here, with my emphasis added in bold.) It one of the best summaries of all the different forces and developments that will (or should) affect local and regional planning in the near future.

Despite the dispassionate tone of the paper, no doubt from years of writing planning documents, her summary is, if not radical, a challenge that will be profound for planners, politicians and leaders in community:

Local governments are challenged to reframe plans to respond, recover, restart, and rebuild in the context of limited funds and raised expectations. Post COVID plans need governments to understand economic distress and calls for social justice. Post COVID plans also need public understanding of fiscal limitations.

“Limited funds” and “fiscal limitations” are realities that will be imposed on us by the pandemic, and it won’t be pleasant.  Perhaps that’s why they have so far been largely undiscussed as society and governments cope with more urgent demands.   Ann is calling for planners to step up to the challenge.

 

Ann McAfee:

Three Programs Caught in COVID

Prior to COVID, three agencies launched strategic plan updates. The plans are aspirational; all seek to manage growth to address sustainability, resiliency, and equity.

In 2019, Vancouver’s City Plan and Transport 2050 invited people to share ideas. The intent was to listen to those with lived experience of the city and regional transportation system. Initial responses were not fettered by cost considerations. Subsequent steps proposed public discussion of scenario choices and tradeoffs.

In April 2019, Metro and TransLink staff compiled Regional Growth and Transportation Scenarios. Potential ‘Big Disruptors’ were seen to be climate change, shifting global economy, and new technologies. A pandemic and recession were not listed. …

 

Blurring the Distinction between Home and Work

Early indicators of increased numbers of employees working from home are mixed with two additional factors: an increase in office vacancies as employees work from home, and some businesses seeking larger workspaces to improve physical distancing. These work-from-home patterns could continue as an estimated 46% of the metro labor force are in jobs which could be performed, at least part-time, from home.

As people shop from home, the trend toward e-commerce is accelerating. Concern about future supply chains may reverse industrial job losses by encouraging manufacturing and food production to locate closer to markets.

Pressure to rezone business lands for residential and commerce could intensify. Vancouver’s experience with rezoning for these purposes is that the resulting increase in land value prices out production and service uses.

The value of ‘home’ is reflected in metro residential sales patterns and prices. May 2020 sales were 54% below the 10-year monthly sales average. By June, the market was rebounding. The June 2020 benchmark price for a detached home ($1.46 million) showed a 3.6% increase from June 2019. This likely reflects a desire to shelter-in-place in a single-family home.

 

Intensifying Local Business Trends

Prior to COVID, communities were experiencing a loss of mom and pop shops. The impact of COVID has varied in this regard. Food shops, remaining open as essential services, have increased sales. For other businesses, COVID closures are accelerating financial challenges.

To help local businesses reopen with physical distancing, cities are permitting private uses in public spaces. Examples include sidewalk patios and temporary use of parking lanes for queueing. Vancouver has approved longer term COVID responsive public space initiatives.


The desire for a region-wide response to economic recovery has increased calls from the business sector for the 21 regional municipalities to merge.

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It was Intelligent Health’s Dr. William Bird MBE  who led the way in Great Britain allowing medical doctors to prescribe walking as a way to help patients with mental and physical health.

Now British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is encouraging medical doctors to prescribe cycling for weight management, and the government will be investing in infrastructure to facilitate that.  With amassing proof that excess weight is associated with more severe illness from Covid-19, biking is seen as a low cost way to encourage fitness and exercise.  The Guardian notes that cycling used for a work commute is “linked to a 46% lower risk of heart disease compared with a non-active commute.”

As the BBC reports  there is an equity issue as well.  While “36% of the adult population is overweight and 28% obese… people living in deprived areas are more likely to be admitted to hospital with a condition related to obesity.”

One in ten British children starting primary school is obese, and that number doubles to two in five by the end of the primary school years. Comparatively 40 percent of Americans are obese, while in South Korea and Japan that number is less than 10 percent.

In Britain it is estimated that nearly 5 million of the 66 million population is thought to have diabetes which costs the national healthcare program 10 billion pounds a year (17 billion Canadian dollars). Ninety percent of this population has type 2 diabetes which has a high co-factor of obesity.

Current data shows that being obese doubles the chances of dying from Covid, meaning that in a country where healthcare is provided nationally, well-being is a federal issue.

The head of England’s National Health Service observed “The evidence is now in: obesity can double your chance of dying from coronavirus. So this pandemic is a call to arms to adopt medically proven changes in what we eat and how we exercise” .

Images: ABCNews, TheIndependent

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The North Vancouver City News Facebook group exploded on Sunday with duelling petitions, one for and one against maintaining the City’s street closures for COVID generated bike and pedestrian traffic.

First came “Take our streets back. Remove the roadway barricades in North Vancouver.”  Currently at 157 signatures.

Then came “Keep the traffic calming signs up!” Which currently has… uh… one signature.

I’ll keep you posted as the battle continues!

 

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Three years ago on the 100th anniversary of the Halifax Explosion I wrote about the 2,000 people that died when a munitions ship blew up. That explosion left 25,000 people homeless, with 20 percent of the  population killed or seriously maimed. The Vancouver Sun published an interactive map that detailed the events leading up to and after the explosion.

But there was another story too, and that was the rebuilding of the city. The explosion meant that Halifax could  rebuild the city with better constructed houses, paved roads,  and proper water pipes and discharge sewers, an effort that took many years.  The City of Boston and organizations like the Rockefeller Foundation teamed together to bring health and sanitary services to the community. This has been documented in a book edited by David Sutherland called We Harbour No Evil Design: Rehabilitation Efforts after the Halifax Explosion of 1917.

Before the blast, Halifax still had dirt roads, unreliable electricity, open sewers and a declining tax base. Despite the  funding that came to rebuild the city in a sanitary way, it  was not distributed evenly across Halifax. While the funding brought pasteurized milk, water treatment and a health centre, certain neighborhoods received sanitary sewers while one neighbourhood received none. Author Michelle Herbert Boyd observed that wealthier areas such as Richmond were  provided for while the African Canadian neighbourhood at Halifax’s North End, Africville, received scant assistance.

Africville was established in the 1840’s and included freed slaves and refugees from the War of 1812.  When new sanitation sewer was provided for all of Halifax, it was not extended to Africville. While the Richmond neighbourhood  was “being reconstructed and improved after the Explosion, the main sewer line was brought directly through Africville to empty into Bedford Basin; Africville residents were not themselves given sewer service, and to add insult to injury, they had to endure raw sewage from their Richmond neighbours running through their backyards whenever a line broke.” 

That inequity continued in the following decades.  In the 1930’s Africville residents petitioned for running water, paved roads, sewage disposal garbage removal, police coverage and electricity. That was ignored by Halifax City Council. And in the 1950’s Council placed an open-pit garbage dump 350 meters away from the western side of Africville. That cemented the city’s perception of this neighbourhood as a slum. There’s no “reference in the council minutes to any concern for the health of Africville residents, or any consultation”.

In the 1960’s when Africville was cleared for a “renewal” scheme popular at the time, few residents had land titles and the land was expropriated by the City a lot at a time over a period of five years. Promised rehousing never materialized, and residents’ belongings were moved in dump trucks instead of moving vans.

Today the segregated school which was closed in 1953 has been rebuilt as a museum and the area renamed Africville Park. The school site was made a National Historic Site in 1996 and on February 24 2010 Halifax Regional Municipality Mayor Peter Kelly offered an official apology for the community’s destruction.

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This was supposed to be a media account to attract attention to the product, which is frozen sliced meats. But with nearly 165,000 followers, @Steak_Umm champions data, common sense, and communication in a way that is needed in these Covid info times about how to move forward with municipal management.   Josh Skolnick with Bloomberg Cities  centers on a twitter account by a frozen food purveyor, @Steak_Umm.

As Skolnick posits ” As crazy as it sounds, its worldview has strong echoes of one that we at Bloomberg Philanthropies promote through What Works Cities, an initiative that elevates the importance of data-informed decision-making in city halls across the United States.

Skolnick breaks down Steak_umm’s philosophy into three areas:

Lesson One: If you hear leaders talking about anecdotes instead of hard facts, that is because that is all  they have.

Stories are “often more engaging than data”. But it is data that makes the difference for leaders to address how to move resources and to mitigate disparities.

Lesson Two: “Experts are your friends, and they need defending

There’s lots of information that is not truthful and “misinformation grows best in a fearful, uncertain climate.” In British Columbia Dr. Bonnie Henry has communicated clearly and directly about the Covid pandemic and outlined the steps that need to be taken to lessen the virus’ spread. But it’s also important to ensure that the public is listened to, and the Mayor may not always be “the right messenger to reach people”. 

I liked the approach of building a “kitchen cabinet” of “trusted community leaders who can communicate advice in a way residents will hear it.”

Lesson Three: You can be data-driven and entertaining.

Human nature means that data needs to be  “couched in understandable humanity~and even entertainment”.  Knowing the data is one thing, but the delivery is everything. In Vancouver we have the Duke of Data Andy Yan who as Director of the City Program at Simon Fraser University knows his numbers, but always has a fantastical twist on the delivery.

Andy Yan makes statistics understandable and even fun. He’s known for “Yanisms” which is his creative way of putting data and words together. The Tyee’s Christopher Cheung has written an article entitled “The Tao of Andy Yan-The greatest quotes of an urban planner who wields numbers and words to explain Vancouver’s crazy development”.

Christopher Cheung explains Andy’s data/humour approach this way:  “His quotes are Socratic, Seussian and lightly seasoned with allusions to popular culture, which, Yan says, help translate his work to a greater audience, not just “an audience of data-heads.”

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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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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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