Governance & Politics
August 28, 2008

TEAM Comes to the Paradise Makers

Former city planner Ray Spaxman, when asked to discuss “Vancouverism”, had this to say in a recent Courier article:

“I see Vancouverism not as an individual building or style, but as a work by a group of people in the 1970s, [at] a moment in time when the community elected a city council whose mission it was to improve the quality of life in our city. I refer to TEAM, or The Electors Action Movement, led by Art Phillips.”

Spaxman is quite right.  And the SFU City Program will be exploring that theme in the first “Paradise Makers” session on Friday, September 5 at Harbour Centre. 

We’re bringing back politicians from City Councils past – Aldermen May Brown and Marguerite Ford, and Mayor Jack Volrich – to share their perspectives not only on the times when they were in office but the challenges facing the city and region today.

Free, reservations required. Email cstudies@sfu.ca or call 778.782.5100.

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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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It’s been the best piece of public policy in years: more tax on what we want less of; less tax on what we want more of. 

Yes, the carbon tax – on which a short-term political price must be paid, for long-term benefits.  How often do you see politicians taking that kind of risk?

Gordon Campbell’s courage in this case makes the hypocrisy of the NDP all the more appalling.  Carole Jame’s pretense (“deception” is a better word) is that taxing the major emitters won’t impact downstream users directly, i.e. the people opposed to the ‘gas tax’ – another misnomer.   Somehow, it’s implied, carbon will be reduced but the consumer won’t have to pay.

One way or the other, carbon must be priced so that it affects behaviour.  The virtue of the carbon tax is that consumers get to make decisions to avoid or reduce the tax in the first place.  

Most offensively, the  NDP ignores the redistribution of benefit to low-income people.  The tax cuts and dividends disproportionately go to lower income people, many of whom probably don’t drive. How extraordinarily rare to see a right-wing government engage in economic redistribution.

Many in the media are doing the same thing to the carbon tax – emphasizing only the tax increase, not the tax cut – that happened to the vehicle levy.  After weighing the costs and benefits, TransLink chose the option that made the most sense.  Then the media weighed in, reframed the issue (a ‘tax grab’) and amplified the critics, without fairly discussing either the options or the consequences. After the levy was killed, tax increases went on to the property tax and the benefits – more transit – were reduced – the lose-lose option. (And, to note, it was the NDP provincial government that killed it.)

If the carbon tax were delayed or rejected, we’d not only lose the momentum of carbon reduction (which would likely be reimposed inthe future in some more draconian and inefficient form), but also the benefits of tax reductions on income and the redistribution of the benefits.   

And the political message would be clear: don’t take the risk to do something sensible, long-term and principled if your opponents can discredit your message and take political advantage. 

 

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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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Here’s a nice use of technology by Dan Froidevaux, a UBC and Langara Digital Arts grad, to interview some of the candidates for mayor.  It’s for VancouverIAM – a very useful aggregator of articles, blogs and videos on this fair city.

http://www.vancouveriam.com/videos/dc148eb0ba17 – Robertson

http://www.vancouveriam.com/videos/bbd7c7fcad1b – DeGenova

http://www.vancouveriam.com/videos/31c42f97214f – Ladner 

[QUESTION: Does anyone know how to embed non-YouTube or Google videos into WordPress blogs?]

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I suppose there was a remote chance that Vancouver could have had North America’s first Paris-style bike sharing program (see Price Tags 101 for details).  But now it looks like Washington, D.C. will be the pace-setter. 

The New York Times has an article here.

Starting next month, people here will be able to rent a bicycle day and night with the swipe of a membership card.

A new public-private venture called SmartBike DC will make 120 bicycles available at 10 spots in central locations in the city…  The district has teamed up with an advertiser, Clear Channel Outdoor, to put the bikes on the streets…

In the deal, Clear Channel will have exclusive advertising rights in the city’s bus shelters. The company has reached a similar deal with San Francisco. Chicago and Portland, Ore., are also considering proposals from advertisers.

Proponents hope to see the D.C. system grow to a thousand bikes in about a year – a necessity, I’d say, since 120 bikes aren’t enough to reach critical mass. 

TransLink currently has a study underway as a result of a motion moved by Peter Ladner under the old structure.  It should go to the executive committee in a week or so, and then to the board.  The report won’t likely be posted, since these meetings are all closed.  Indeed, it’s possible we won’t even know publicly if it’s killed off at that point. 

But I’m hopeful that some progress will be made towards a full-scale system that will show this region is sincere about leadership in sustainable transportation options.

 

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Here’s the unedited text of my most recent column in Business in Vancouver:

News item: Metro Vancouver’s transportation authority is launching a real estate division that could produce up to $1.5 billion in revenue over the next 10 years, modelled on an agency that has reshaped Hong Kong. …TransLink will purchase land along new rapid transit routes and around stations and ramp up the value of the land through denser zoning and partnerships with land developers to create high-density commercial and residential developments.

There’s an intriguing idea. I wonder why no one thought of doing this before.

Let’s take a real-life example: the extension of the Millennium Line to UBC – a high priority in the Premier’s announced $14 billion transit plan.

Excuse me as I reach for the back of an envelope.

Now let’s see. The line will likely cost way over $2 billion, particularly if it’s tunnelled, but let’s be conservative: two billion it is.

Now, how much can TransLink make out of development along the line? Development cost charges are the way the City takes in the money to pay for public benefits. In the case of Downtown South, the levy was raised to $13 in 2007 to pay for parks, child care and affordable housing. Let’s deal the city out of this and take all the money for TransLink – and raise the charge to $15.

In order to capture $500 million – a quarter of the cost of the line – at $15 a square foot, we’re looking for 33 million square feet.

Floorplates of residential highrises range around 8,000 square feet – let’s round it up to 10,000 square feet per floor. Highrises tend to go from 20 to 30 storeys. So 33 million square feet translates into 132 25-storey towers. (Development levies normally apply to only a percentage of gross floor area, but let’s keep it simple.)

Let’s allocate the towers to each of the stations – there will be about a station per kilometre if we take the Canada Line ratio – or 13 stations from Commercial Drive to UBC.

Now let’s pause and imagine the reaction of those who live within spitting distance of 10th Avenue and Sasamat, the heart of West Point Grey’s commercial village, to the announcement that ten 25-storey higrises will be placed on the surrounding blocks, without any additional money for community amenities, park space or services. Or how they’ll react at a public meeting when told, “Hey, it works in Hong Kong!”

We’re talking transformative projects in neighbourhoods that get nervous at the prospect of rowhouses. “Highrise” is a fightin’ word. And that’s assuming the community is going to be all that welcoming of rapid transit in the first place. Remember the reaction to the B-Line on Granville Street? Neighbourhoods not dissimilar to Point Grey, when faced with the introduction of longer-than-average buses, not even any change to the zoning, fought the proposal at some of the ugliest and most protracted public meetings in my time on Council

Mind you, raising money from cost charges applied after the fact may not be needed – especially if the money can be raised before the fact.  That is, TransLink secretly buys up land zoned single-family residential and hopes to make a killing when the City approves the rezoning for higher density – assuming the City has any say in the matter. (Actually, given the high land values on the west side, it will have to boost the densities much higher if it hopes to make very much at all. And the number of 33-foot lots needed?  About 2,700 Also, acquisition has to be done before there’s even talk of approving the transit extension, especially the particulars of the route, to avoid speculators getting in beforehand.  The only speculator initially will be TransLink.

Of course my fundamental premise is ridiculous: TransLink would never be able to assemble enough land in the first place – at least not without expropriation. And any elected official, at any level, supporting such a prospect would be committing political suicide.

People like, oh, Gordon Campbell, MLA for Vancouver Point Grey.

Because that’s who the community will turn to (or more likely, turn on). Not the local Mayor and Council. Most likely, they’ll be on the community’s side. Not the regional Mayor’s Council;

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So:

The new chair of the Translink board of directors says media will not be allowed into regular board meetings. Dale Parker says the most effective process for developing strategic plans is without the public or media present.

The arrogance is breath-taking.  And, to date, so is the passivity of the response.
Some who believed the previous incarnation of TransLink was too messy, too parochial and too political point to the YVR Board as an effective example of administration.
Here’s the difference: YVR is essentially the landlord of a single-use, self-contained facility.  They don’t plan the rest of the region, though they have an impact on it.  However, the moment they impinge on other jurisdictions (say, when proposing a new bridge), they know they have to consult and cooperate. 
TransLink is a very different animal: it effectively controls the shape of this region.  Its priorities affect our future, personally and directly.  The idea that they can do strategic planning in private, announce their conclusions and expect us all to acquiese is, at best, naive.  And at worse, an intolerable presumption of power that cannot and will not be accepted. 

However, Parker does say the public will be invited to address the board roughly four times a year.

It’s enough to make one want to join the Bus Riders Union.

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