Governance & Politics
October 6, 2020

Are you 14 to 25 years old? Applicants Needed for Global Youth and Mayors Forum, C40

 

We’re looking for a group of young people from around the world to join C40 and our global mayors in the fight against the climate crisis.

If you are: 

– Aged 14-25
– Located in a city
– Actively involved in the youth climate movement
– Supportive of inclusive and science-based climate action to limit global warming to 1.5°C
– Committed to the principles of a Global Green New Deal

Around the world, young people are demanding action on the climate crisis to secure a just, sustainable future. As the youngest generation, their lives are most at stake. Young people have put the climate emergency on the global political agenda, demanding that global leaders respond and take action in an equitable and just way. Mayors from the world’s leading cities have heard this call and agree: we must push forward with courage and ambition to change the status quo that has generated this crisis.

Now, C40 mayors are inviting young leaders from the climate movement to be a part of shaping how the vision of a Global Green New Deal can be made a reality in cities across the world.

The Global Youth and Mayors forum will bring together around 15 young people and around 10 mayors from every continent to discuss:

• How we can implement a Global Green New Deal;
• How cities can better engage and work with youth leaders on climate to push forward ambition;
• and how youth movements and mayors can work together to push forward science-based climate action and overcome opposition.

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Yesterday Vancouver’s City Manager, Sadhu Johnston resigned from the City. This is a very big thing.

The job of the City Manager is all encompassing. The position manages the city budget, manages city personnel, and reviews staff reports going to Council. The manager sets the tone in terms of city policy, direction, and interpretation. It is in many ways a thankless job with endless meetings, tight schedules, and long hours.

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Hank Robar lives in Potsdam, Upper New York State, a town with about 15,000 people. The main claim to fame for Potsdam is Potsdam sandstone  which  was widely used as a building material in the 1800’s.

Mr. Robar asked the town to rezone his property in the downtown of Potsdam in 2004 for a “Dunkin’ Donuts” location. That request was denied by the village, and Mr. Robar’s began his collection of porcelain toilets and urinals on three of the seven properties he owns in Potsdam, including of course the spurned site for the doughnut shop.

Of course the town tried to have the toilet bowls on the properties removed, claiming they were unsightly, a hazard, and not well maintained. Mr. Robar has argued that his toilet bowls are public art and free speech, and pointed out that he immediately replaces one of the toilet displays if they become cracked, and that he mows and takes care of the grass around his display.

In much the same way as Bill Heine argued for an art form when he stuck a shark on the roof of his townhouse in Oxford England Mr. Robar argued for his right for free expression and said he would take the town to trial if necessary.He then launched a lawsuit.

The story was subsequently picked up by Edward Helmore with The Guardian that provides some assistance to Mr. Robar’s art and free expression claim.”

As his attorney stated “Mr Robar’s art started as a political protest but it has expanded now into artistic expression. He still values the political protest nature of the art but it’s evolved into one of artistic expression.”


Journalist Edward Helmore points out that there’s a long history of toilets as sculpture commencing with Marcel Duchamp’s 1917 “Fountain” which was part of the avant garde movement, and even Maurizio Cattelan’s 18 karat gold toilet. Produced in 2016, this American made toilet has had critical acclaim, and was recently stolen. It still has not been found.

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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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