Energy & Resources
January 6, 2020

Being a Citizen in a Suffocating City

Via Kris Olds and Croakey.org this story is from Gemma Carey who lives in Canberra Australia and is an associate professor in the Centre for Social Impact at the University of South Wales.

Professor Carey writes that the smoke enveloping Canberra has shown the need “for better health warning systems, especially around hazardous air pollution, and for equity considerations to be foremost.”  

In her city “the unprecedented fires which began on New Year’s eve brought a thick ‘fog’ of smoke across the ACT (Australia Capital Territory) and parts of New South Wales. Canberra, where I live, is perhaps worst hit with particle readings of up to 1800 2.5PM. The limit for hazardous levels is 200 2.5PM in the ACT, according to the ACT Government.”

Professor  Carey wrote in December that women being  pregnant in a climate emergency meant they are stuck indoors. “At that time, dangerous particles of 2.5 micrometres or smaller (‘2.5PM’) were at 100-300 – ranging from serious to hazardous.”

The air in Canberra is ten times over the hazardous level and is the poorest air quality of any city in the world. Air with this type of particulate creates complications for people with lung and breathing issues, and can impact heart disease and cancer rates. Research shows that the longer the exposure to these particulates, the higher the incidence of disease. Couple this with research showing that pregnant women exposed to these particulates appear to have babies that are premature, weigh less, and can be miscarried.  What is not being calculated is that families in Canberra are also experiencing direct stress due to the fire disasters as well as the long term implications of particulate exposure.

Poorer areas in the city have worse air. Professor  Carey states “We have no precedent in the scientific literature for the health implications of what is currently happening in Australia.”

Clean air is costly~“Since New Year’s, nowhere indoors is safe. Shopping malls, libraries and national monuments – where many were seeking refuge – are filled with smoke. Air conditioning systems are simply not designed for this level of pollution.”

Even air purifiers which cost 500 to 800 dollars are not affordable to many people and there are none left in Canberra or its suburbs. Indoors people wear high grade pollution masks. “I take it off only to shower and eat.”

The  air particulate mask is only good for 100 hours and costs 50 dollars. Again as in the air purifiers, there is an equity issue of who can afford and access them. The masks  available at hardware stores are not designed for the particulates that are raining down on Canberra.

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There’s some new information on the proposed Senákw project in Vancouver which is on Squamish Nation land near Burrard Street and Vanier Park in Kitsilano. Earlier this year a three billion dollar project was announced at this site which hopes to build 6,000 dwelling units in eleven towers.

This massive project has been ratified by the Squamish Nation in a voting process, and it is intended to be built in an equal venture agreement with Westbank Development Corporation, the same organization  that has built Vancouver House.

As reported in the Vancouver Courier with Frank O’Brien , Peter Mitham  and  Hayley Woodin building 6,000 units in 11 towers “would require buildings of between 55 to 60 storeys, based on comparison with other residential towers proposed but not yet built in Vancouver.”

Squamish Nation Councillor Khelsilem indicated that while the percentage of rental versus strata units had not yet been decided, the project is seen as a long term economic development project. While Westbank will guarantee the loan for the development, and provide any needed equity, the Squamish Nation will be providing their lands.

Leases will run for 120 years, and build out could take ten years. It is intended that  rental units will have a 110 year lease and condos will have a 99 year lease paid up front, with the understanding that the condos turn back to rental units upon lease expiry.

The project will be built in five phases, with the first potentially commencing in 2021.

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Here is a tale of two municipalities and two councillors.

As reported by Aaron Hinks in the Peace Arch News White Rock has a Dogs on the Promenade Task Force, evaluating whether dogs should be allowed on leash on the town’s famous waterfront promenade. White Rock council has approved a six month trial period for dogs to be permitted which ends March 31, 2020.

While there has been some complaints of dogs disturbing wildlife and complaints of unleashed dogs and defecation, there has been no complaint about canine aggression or biting.

And on December 12  White Rock received a morning complaint about dog feces being left along the public walkway. The chair of the Dogs on the Promenade task force Councillor Scott Kristjanson personally went out that morning to clean up the “doggy debris”.

“I beat staff,” Kristjanson said, and offered to share photographs of him handling the business.” 

And Kristjanson noted that the temporary acceptance of dogs on the promenade had unintended consequences~seniors with small dogs that did not have access to vehicles were using the promenade to walk their dogs, and were thrilled to socialize with the community that way.

Counter this with the actions of this City Councillor in Cleveland who was upset that the pastor of the Denison Avenue United Church was going to open up the church for homeless people to stay warm and sleep during the coldest part of the winter. Councillor Dona Brady “told the pastor of Denison Avenue United Church of Christ more than a month ago that she would not allow it to offer homeless people a cot for a safe night’s sleep.”

And how did she do that? While the church’s Metanoia operation  brought 13 people in a night and offered a meal, access to bathrooms and a shower, a by-law officer showed up with a list of code violations. That officer returned the next day too. As Michael McIntyre writes in Cleveland.com that City Councillor refused to meet with the church to discuss her concerns, and did not return the journalist’s calls. Of those 13 people that were taking advantage of sleeping in the warmth of the church, some did live on the streets in the immediate neighbourhood.  Metanoia also operated in another church in downtown Cleveland providing a warming centre, a meal and sleeping facilities. That location received a fire inspection and was told that a 45 person limit was in effect, meaning dozens of homeless were turned away at night.

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Last week, the City of Vancouver hosted a free public workshop on the Granville Bridge Connector project.

Currently, there are six design options being considered, with hopes of bringing forward a preferred design to council in early 2020. In theory, feedback from public engagement and workshops will be used to inform the selection of a preferred design.

In an effort to apply a lens of equity to this project, the city organized a Mobility Equity workshop, facilitated by the ever-insightful Jay Pitter.

To kick-start the workshop, Jay offered insight into what equity is, what equity can look like, and how that relates to transportation. Key takeaways:

Streets are contested spaces. Streets have been designed or re-designed for the efficient and high-speed movement of vehicles, often at the expense of people. As a result, aspects pertaining to safety, both physical and social (e.g. personal security), are often an issue.

This begs the question: to what extent has efficiency been prioritized over safety and security? To what extent do women, elderly, LGBTQ, visible minority and immigrant groups (among others) feel safe and secure on our streets? To what extent have such groups been overlooked in planning and design?

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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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In addition to my role as a new Price Tags contributor (thanks all for reading!), I have an academic and professional background in transportation, social equity, and the environment, and currently specialize in planning for transport equity, with an emphasis on walking and cycling.

Invariably tied to this are important considerations that relate to transport, such as land use and development (commercial and residential), climate change, displacement, gentrification, and (of course), the needs and wants of actual people.

Thus, when planning for transport equity, it is about more than just finding ways to engineer our way from point A to B. It is about finding ways to create safe, secure, inclusive, and environmentally sustainable places (yes! streets are places!) that improve mobility and accessibility fairly, and assist people in their ability to participate and flourish in socio-economic life.

With equity emerging as a hot topic, I often hear the question: “what is equity?”  and, depending on the context, “how can it be achieved?”. In reality, equity can be defined in many ways, and there are also many ways one can work to achieve it.

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Last week I attended the International Road Safety Symposium that was hosted by UBC’s Integrated Safety and Advanced Mobility Bureau as well as by the B.C. Centre for Disease Control. This team brought in practitioners from Australia and the Netherlands, where policy work and research mirrors or is ahead of our local policy. A mix of physicians,  police officers , engineers and consultants presented and debated current issues and trends in road safety and active transportation, providing a very thoughtful discussion on how to make streets and roads safer for all users.

Speaker Dr. Fred Wegman is an emeritus professor of traffic safety at Delft University of Technology and is the individual credited with the development of the “safe systems” approach, “based on the principle that our life and health should not be compromised by our need to travel. No level of death or serious injury is acceptable in our road transport network.”

It was Fred  that described the tremendous gains in the Netherlands where there has been a 49 percent reduction in fatalities/serious injuries with the safe systems approach. He also noted the importance of reducing speed as a basic tenet for safety, and that politically elected officials would not be reducing speed to save lives, but would be doing it for basic sustainability reasons. And tied into a greener, cleaner environment and the future, such speed reductions would be accepted nationally.

We didn’t need to wait long to hear the result of Fred’s prediction. The BBC News has just reported that  in 2020 “the daytime speed limit on Dutch roads is to be cut to 100km/h (62mph) in a bid to tackle a nitrogen oxide pollution crisis” 

This information is still confidential, but the disclosed report suggests that the current speed limit of up to 130 km/h would be allowed only in  the night hours.

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This week the municipal council of the District of North Vancouver voted to prohibit the keeping of pigeons in the District.  Or, more specifically, they voted to prohibit the keeping of pigeons by one resident.

Even that wouldn’t have particularly bothered me, except that the homeowner in question, Kulwant Dulay, happens to live next to the sole person complaining to the District about his pigeons – District council member Betty Forbes.

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How to make an editorial comment in a front-page layout …

Not sure how deliberately The Globe juxtaposed an Andrew Scheer profile with a climate-strike march to make a statement about Scheer on the Environment – but it really doesn’t matter.  Scheer did that on his own.

In Vancouver, he took that day when a hundred thousand marched on climate to announce money for highway expansion.  (Because more lanes means less pollution because that always works.)

And that’s got to be deliberate.

Though the message may be oblique, it’s clear evidence that Scheer discounts climate change whether as a political issue or as reality.  He’s basically doing a Harper 2.0 – similar to Stephen Harper’s Arctic tours when the words ‘climate change’ never passed his lips.  Harper’s message to other decision-makers: don’t take climate change too seriously. I have no intention of doing anything drastic.  You don’t have to either.”

Scheer looks to continue that strategy.  Reality might make a difference in Scheer’s indifference, but not mass marches.

Is he, then, an extinctionist?* – the ultimate pragmatist.

I doubt he’s reached the point where extinction of some kind seems so inevitable that it shapes his policy.  But I think he believes he can afford to be indifferent now.

So Andrew Scheer is an extinctionist-in-making.  Perhaps already made.

 

*What’s an extinctionist?  Here’s my definition:

Leaders and decision-makers who accept extinction – minor or major, local and global – as an acceptable outcome of climate change; and justify it in order to maximize power and benefit.

It’s not that they are so sociopathic they don’t care or will even revel in the apocalyptic.  But they are resigned to the inevitability of the threat and believe we are powerless to do anything consequential about it .  They therefore have to accept when making decisions that will hasten extinction, particularly for immediate benefit, that that’s okay.  Not desired, not expected, but possible.  An acceptable outcome to consider.

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The Vancouver City-wide Plan, which with its $16 million budget to fund three years of conversations and consultations, starts its roll-out this fall.

It aims high: “… to create an integrated strategy that includes a vision for the future city.”  It’s ambitious, addressing every big issue and every good intention that councillors were able to pack in – equity, affordability, reconciliation, climate change.  It’s strategic, proposing to integrate existing plans for infrastructure and transportation, as well as coordinating with Metro, the Province, even UBC and the Parks Board.

 

But one thing it won’t do is inform you of what can ultimately be built on your block.

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