Governance & Politics
June 7, 2019

Why We Need Mayors on the Metro Vancouver Board

What’s the big deal about District of North Vancouver Mayor Mike Little’s decision to step off the Metro Vancouver Board?

Perhaps nothing, except that the only other local governments not represented by their top elected officials are Lions Bay and Bowen Island, representing 5,000 of the region’s 2.5 million. (Port Moody Mayor Rob Vagramov, currently on a paid leave of absence related to a sexual assault charge and pending court date, is still listed as a Metro Vancouver Board member.)

One could say the opportunity to serve on the Metro Vancouver Board is not just an honour, but a responsibility of some significance, perhaps moreso than most municipal committees.

Metro Vancouver is a federation of 23 municipal bodies responsible for the planning and delivery of regional services like drinking water, wastewater treatment and solid waste management, and for regulating air quality, as well as plans for urban growth, including affordable housing. Its Board of Directors governs this mandate, and consists of elected officials from each local government, proportional to their size.

And thus the number of Directors appointed to the Board depends on the population of the municipality (or electoral area, or First Nation). Furthermore, directors are allowed one vote for every 20,000 people in their jurisdiction, up to a total of five votes.

That means, the more populous you are, the more directors and voting power you have on the Metro Vancouver Board.

Does it make sense that the District of North Vancouver, in the midst of broad public scrutiny into its actions (or inactions) to address development and housing pressures, has just one representative on the MV Board for its 88,000 people, and that this representative is NOT the municipality’s elected leader?

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At 7pm this evening, award-winning landscape designer and author Margie Ruddick presents the third of the Inspire Jericho Talks public lecture series, “Creating Great Neighbourhoods – Respect the Land“, hosted by Canada Lands Company, the MST Partnership, and the City of Vancouver. (Details and registration links follow.)

Ruddick is a New York-based landscape architect and author of Wild by Design, and winner of the National Design Award in 2013 for her pioneering, environmental approach to urban landscape design, “forging a design language that integrates ecology, urban planning, and culture”.

Her reputation for realizing the idea of nature in the city once actually resulted in a court fine for bringing a bit too much nature to her own backyard.

As the landscape design mind behind some of the east coast’s most treasured, natural public spaces, Ruddick is perhaps the perfect choice to talk about strategies for creating life-enhancing landscapes that combine ecological function with design, reflecting the aim of Inspire Jericho Talks — to share inspiration, spark ideas, and explore possibilities for the future of the Jericho Lands.

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Hopefully, PT readers are following my exploration of Tel Aviv’s White City on Instagram. As mentioned in the leading post above, this historic neighbourhood shares a lot of characteristics with others of its ilk:

Mid-century modernist beachfront neighbourhoods have an eclectic combo of dense housing, a mix of uses, unique businesses all kinds of restaurants, stirred together with social tolerance.  There’s often a gay village embedded within.

They were often the first suburbs of rapidly expanding cities or linear developments strung along beaches, a few blocks deep, served initially by streetcars and transit with limited parking.   Like Ipanema in Rio, like Miami Beach in Florida, like Venice in California.

They’ll have their beachfront attractions, of course, but usually a block in or leading perpendicularly from the waterfront will be a commercial street cluttered with restaurants and shops, still served by the transit that shaped them   Think Denman and Davie.

They’ve had their up and downs, starting off as attractive middle- and upper-class developments, sometimes as beachfront escapes, sometimes as single-family speculative real estate, sometimes as apartment districts and then gone into decline in the early 20th century until after World War II.   Like the West End, some were largely bulldozed and replaced with higher density rental apartments, some were simply passed by – until rediscovered in the late 20th century and then increasingly gentrified in the 21st.

What shall we call these districts?

Despite their variations, they share enough in common to have a generic name.   MiCe,Hi-Di-on-the-beach.   Okay, not that one.  But help us out.

Scot and I have been developing a list.  Here’s what we have so far:

  • White City – Tel Aviv
  • West End and Kitsilano – Vancouver 
  • Santa Monica and Venice Beach – Los Angeles
    Ipanema and Cocacabana – Rio
    Miami Beach – Florida
    Sea Point – Cape Town
    St. Kilda – Melbourne
    Potts Point and Bondi – Sydney
  • Oriental Bay – Wellington
  • Surfers Paradise – near Brisbane
    Waikiki – Hawaii

Add your own below!

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Last week Jeff Speck was in Vancouver as part of the Jericho Talks series looking at the future planning of the Jericho lands site in Kitsilano. This 90 acre site has the chance to display the best ecological principles with its unique partnership of Canada Lands Corporation, the City of Vancouver and three First Nations, the Musqueam, Squamish and the Tsleil-Waututh.

Jeff is the author of Walkable City and Suburban Nation and has just released his latest book, Walkable City Rules.He truly believes that great cities result in investment in walkability, bikeability and equity, and these expenditures are necessary to create great places to live and work. Jeff started his career working with new urbanism champions Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater- Zyberk and has continued that relationship for a lifetime.

Creating good walkable and bikeable places is an equity issue as the less income people make the more likely they are to walk or bike. In an evocative discussion, Jeff Speck insists that municipal planning and engineering departments must work together  and must place the highest density at transportation “nodes” or hubs.

In the United States two-thirds of children are expected to get diabetes, and vehicular deaths are rising. Designing good walkable places means creating walks that are healthy, useful, safe, comfortable and interesting. Smaller street blocks such as in Portland Oregon create visual interest for pedestrians, and there are many quick fixes to make walking easier and more comfortable. Jeff notes that by simply removing the painted centre line on streets that cars go 7 miles per hour or 11 kilometres per hour slower, and less wide lanes (ten feet wide according to NACTO, (National Association of City Transportation Officials) slow vehicles as well.  Studies done in the 1990’s show that removing traffic signals  and replacing those with four way stop signs significantly reduce crash incidence. It is time for engineering to catch up with the 21st century concept of creating livable connected places that address physical and mental health, and allow for generations of people to interact on the street walking and biking.

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There is an interactive workshop being  held in Victoria this Thursday on the new “Residential Rental Tenure Zoning”, a new planning tool to create rental housing. The  workshop is sponsored by the Housing Research Collaborative,  a new initiative at UBC School of Community and Regional Planning. Residential Rental Tenure Zoning (RRTZ) in the Capital Region

30 May 2019, 1:00 – 4:30 pm

An interactive workshop for local and provincial government officials, non-profit organizations, property developers, landlords and interested citizens about this new zoning tool

Cross-sectoral discussion will follow the the presentation of a range of viewpoints, including preliminary findings from SCARP research on international analogues of RRTZ, a rental industry perspective, and themes from the recent Victoria Housing Summit.

Location: Arbutus and Queenswood Rooms, Cadboro Learning Commons, University of Victoria, BC

Register: bit.ly/RRTZVictoria

Admission: Free, but space is limited

PIBC credits: Eligible

Questions: rose.southard@ubc.ca

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Dirty Money 2: the Dirt on Housing Prices

The province recently released Peter German’s report on money laundering in the exotic car industry, following last year’s exposé of B.C. casinos. At the same time, it released SFU Professor Maureen Maloney’s report on how laundered cash is being used to buy Metro Vancouver real estate, inflating B.C. housing prices by at least five percent, along with recommendations for needed reforms. The B.C. government has just started a public enquiry to get more details on this corruption, but in the meantime, hear from the experts themselves.

Join Peter German and Maureen Maloney to hear how these scams operate, their impact on B.C. and Canada, and what this means for you.

 

Thursday, June 20

12:30 – 1:30 pm

SFU Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue, ICBC Concourse (Lower Level)
580 West Hasting (enter off Seymour)

Free Event | Registration is Required

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Whoever put together the City of Vancouver tweet above did a nice job, but you can see by the wording that the tweeter does not know much about Jeff Speck. We’ve been relatively quiet about  the fact that renowned urbanist, author and city planner Jeff Speck is in town assuming that all the tickets for his speaking events were gone weeks ago. But we were wrong, and here’s your opportunity to hear the author of the classic book “Walkable City” who has just released “Walkable City Rules: 101 steps to Making Better Places”. This recent book is a practical handbook for practitioners, breaking down the steps and methods to make cities that are connected, sociable and thriving.

For people in urban design and new urbanism Jeff needs no introduction. He is a thoughtful seasoned urbanist that truly believes that downtowns are the heart of any city and making them vibrant is achievable and the right thing to do. And he’s not just a speaker. Jeff has rolled up his shirt sleeves and worked across North America and elsewhere in towns and cities providing the guide map to revitalize and recharge places by reinventing how downtowns are perceived and how they are accessed.

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If you have been on the eastern border of France near Switzerland and Germany you may have visited Mulhouse, a former textile manufacturing town that has gone sleepy and was past its prime. But as The Guardian’s Angelique Chrisafis reports in the past decade 470 new stores and businesses have come to Mulhouse, with over 3/4 of these being independent operators.  “It is one of the only places in France with as many independents as franchises. And it is one of very few places in France where more shops are opening than closing.”

So what is the Mulhouse Magic and how did they attract new businesses? The town with a population of 110,000 made a point of attracting and promoting  independent businesses that were not part of chain stores. Like America big box retail has tried to lure the French market to more suburban locations, but a combination of factors have made Mulhouse radically different.People want to go and spend time downtown.

With a 36 million dollar euro investment plan over six years the town recreated its downtown as an “agora”, a center welcoming residents, and rebalanced its housing plan. Many high salaried citizens had moved to housing outside of the downtown core, leaving many properties vacant. By subsidizing building facade renovation and installing a tram system, bike shares, shuttle buses and easily accessible parking, Mulhouse demonstrated it was open for business.

But here is the piece that is important-the town’s public spaces and downtown environment were key in the transformation of Mulhouse into a place to locate businesses and to shop. The magic ingredients? Wide sidewalks, benches, and lots and lots of tree planting and landscaping.

 “Making the town’s public spaces attractive was just as important, with wider pavements, dozens of benches, and what officials deemed a “colossal budget” for tree planting and maintenance, gardening and green space. Local associations, community groups and residents’ committees were crucial to the efforts. A town centre manager was appointed to support independents and high-street franchises setting up.”

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[Update: Do read Geoff’s comment at the end of this post.  Powerful and provocative.]

 

SFU Vancouver – the downtown campus – is now 30 years old since SFU came down from the mountain.  It’s what President Andrew Petter says helps make SFU the engaged university.

Engagement is the particular work of the Centre for Dialogue, Public Square, City Conversations and the City Program – all of which had events happening on Thursday, and two of which featured Mary Rowe, the speaker for this year’s Warren Gill Lecture.  They certainly engaged me, with more questions than I had a chance to ask.  Here are some.

INEQUALITY AND DIVERSITY

When considering the rural-urban divide in Canada, Mary began with two points that are pretty much taken as self-evident in academia: diversity is good, inequality is bad.  Policies for healthy cities should encourage the former and reduce the latter.

But what if inequality is a measure of diversity?

Since a diverse city is one in which there are many different kinds of people and pursuits, do those differences of equality become magnified with greater diversity? In fact, is increasing inequality how we know the city is more diverse?

Let’s say public policies were effective at reducing inequality by redistributing benefits, by building the infrastructure, physical and cultural, to build a stronger middle class.  Isn’t the result a more homogenous city, perhaps less likely to generate the cultural and economic energy we associate with places like New York in the 1970s, London in the 1800s, Florence in the 1500s?  Does equality mean boring and less diverse?

 

MAKING CHOICES IN A CLIMATE EMERGENCY

At noon, at City Conversations the topic was the climate emergency, with Councillor Christine Boyle (who introduced the climate emergency motion at council and is interviewed here on PriceTalks); Atiya Jaffar, digital campaigner for 350.org;  and New Westminster Councillor Nadine Nakagawa.

I had three ‘tough questions’, with the opportunity to ask only one – itself somewhat facetious:

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In cities across the States, councils and legislatures seem ready for sweeping change – in this case, sweeping away the constraints of single-family zoning to force or incentivize cities to accommodate more density and, arguably, more affordable housing.  What seemed to begin in Minneapolis is now gaining momentum – and pushback.

There’s a report, column or opinion piece coming every week (thanks to Sightline for keeping track). Here’s a sampling.

In Washington:

Last week, Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law a wide-ranging set of housing reforms sponsored by Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon. The representative hopes the measures will address some of those key barriers to housing. The new laws will offer a financial carrot for cities to allow more density, loosen regulations to reduce the cost of constructing subsidized affordable housing, limit opportunities for legal challenges against new development, bar discriminatory bans on supportive housing for people exiting homelessness and more.

In Oregon:

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