Governance & Politics
January 5, 2008

"Urban Melt Down"

You have to be impressed with a city councillor who can actually write a book: in this case, Clive Doucet, the author of  Urban Melt Down: Cities, Climate Change and Politics as Usual.
You can meet him for yourself next Sunday, January 13, 7 pm-9 pm, at the Coal Harbour Community Centre.  And you can help support WERA, the West End Residents Association, with a $20 ticket:

Mr. Doucet will discuss issues of relevance to Vancouver civic affairs and politics. For more info on Councilor Doucet and his book please visit his web page at: http://www.urban-meltdown.com/
We are also holding a wine and cheese as part of this event and expect it to be an enjoyable time.

No doubt.  Email brentgranby@mac.com for a ticket.

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January 4, 2008

I was researching “Paris height limits” the other day. (I’m heading for the City of Light in February – actually, to “La Defense,” the corporate centre just outside the ring road. Like most places these days, it wants to be more ‘sustainable.’ If you have observations or references about La Defense, send ’em along.)
Anyway … the first item up was, curiously, about Washington, D.C. (another low-lying city influenced in its origins by Paris) – a post by a blogger, KWest, who writes A Portable Snack.  Says KWest, unabashedly:

Yeah, I’m pro-development. 
But not just any development.
I’m pro-dense, urban, well-designed, well built development.

He was writing about his neighbourhood, Columbia Heights, in the U and 14th area, which I covered extensively in Price Tags 95:

I sent KWest a link, and, since he’s particularly interested in the nature of urban retail, he picked up on the question of how the big-box format can fit into an urban environment.  On 14th Street, a major experiment is underway:

Columbia Heights is pushing the boundaries of high-density urbanism by incorporating the big box into village-oriented retail – a Target superstore will be joining other chains in a complex opposite the Metro station. 

 

KWest responded:

There been a lot of negative things said about the big box retailers coming to Columbia Heights, but as it stands now, everyone in the neighborhood who can, drives to Virginia or Maryland to go to Target and TJ Max, so the local retailers are already competing with them.  Why not keep the tax revenue in DC and create more employment locally?

And if that echoes the debate over the Canada Tire and Wal-Mart controversy in Vancouver, then here’s his take on gentrification, with an American slant:
 

And I always find the “condos for the rich” debate silly: the rich don’t set foot in the city unless they have to; middle class two income government worker couples like my wife and I live in the condos.
In DC, there are a lot of politicians (like Marion Barry), the entrenched old-guard (who I consider the actual “conservatives” in our political atmosphere) who don’t want anything to change because it erodes their power base, who make a lot of political hay by pitting the poor against the “yuppies”, the poor against development, the poor against everything.
Which is ashame, since the tax revenue, jobs, and economic opportunity that development brings will benefit the working poor more in the long run than trying to keep it out. But I’m sure it’s the same everywhere.

Food for thought – though I’m sure people will digest it differently.  In any event, I’m adding “A Portlable Snack” to my Favourites menu. 

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This popped up in the email a few weeks ago from Dan Freeman, a transportation planner at TransLink:

I know it may come as a shock to some of you, but cool things do happen at TransLink…
We’ve been doing some playing around with Google Earth as a platform for displaying passenger load profile data for almost a year now… One of my colleagues (Graeme Brown) devised a way to display our passenger load data in kml – the programming language for Google Earth. It allowed us to create some really cool 3D load profiles. We’re pretty excited about it, and we’re also pretty sure that no one else has done this before.
Graeme recently posted an example load profile (route #3 – Main St), along with a brief explanation of how to create it …

Take a look – it’s pretty cool – and send it along to other transit/transportation nerds you know who might be interested. We’d love to hear what you & others have to say, including suggestions to improve it.

You don’t have to be a data nerd to appreciate the importance of this.  I remember, when I was a TransLink director, seeing some figures which showed that the daily ridership on just one trolley route – Fraser/Granville – was greater than the expected ridership of the proposed Evergreen light-rail line at its inauguration.   (The visual display of this quantitative data would have made that apparent at a glance.)
Of course, the real difference was that Evergreen line would cost millions in capital and require significant operating subsidies, while the trolley routes paid for themselves.


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Lorin, a PT reader, reminds us: 

Metro Vancouver is getting to the end of public meetings on the new regional growth strategy (there are a few more in January). I noticed they’ve extended the comment period from January 15 to January 31.
http://www.gvrd.bc.ca/growth/strategy-review.htm
I have seen almost no commentary or analysis in the blogosphere. But perhaps I’m not looking in the right places.
MV has set up an online forum, but so far it’s got just three members (2 are MV staff) and ONE non-staff posting.
http://www.gvrd.bc.ca/forumRGS/

The problem is two-fold, I think: there’s nothing particularly contentious in the proposed strategy.  The options are nuanced versions of past directions, and the strategy as a whole is another iteration of the vision that goes back to the Lower Mainland Regional Planning Board in the 1950s: “Cities in a sea of green.”
But hey, it’s been a vision that’s worked – at least when our decisions are consistent. 
The other reason why there may not be a lot of response is the requirement to register.  People are too used to commenting with a single click, as with this blog.
No excuse not to participate of course – and that works best at the public meetings.  But almost by definition, those who attend meetings are not typical of the citizenry in general.
And that’s why, too often, because those who care or are generally satisfied with the status quo do not speak up, the debate moves to the extremes, and it’s easy to denigrate the achievements we as a society actually make.  
I think that’s what happened to TransLink: failure to recognize what it did well, constant criticism of its failures and general contempt in the media made it easy for the provincial government to dismantle it.

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Bike-sharing systems are gaining momentum: at least 75 cities have implemented similar systems, with many more cities in various stages of research and development. In July 2007 Paris unveiled the most ambitious system to date and now has 20,600 bicycles at 1451 docking stations – one every 300 meters.
Will it work in Vancouver? 
TransLink has started to do the research, and they’re asking for help.  If you go to this link, you’ll find a spreadsheet with every city involved in bike sharing.  If you’d like to add something, you can sign in or register with Google, get an invitation to contribute, and add comments.  (Seems a bit convoluted to me, but I suppose it helps with quality control.)
Interestingly, TransLink has hopped aboard a blog – here – devoted to bike sharing to get the word out. 

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I’m not entirely sure what came out of of Bali as far as the negotiated agreement is concerned, but I’m pretty sure it unnerved those leaders who think they can keep playing the same role, reading the same lines, and assume the curtain will never come down.

Best line out of Bali: 

If for some reason you are not willing to lead, leave it to the rest of us. Please, get out of the way.
– Kevin Conrad, Papua New Guinea

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I’m putting that quote on my “Significant Lines of 07” list, based on this news:

“The Arctic is screaming,” said Mark Serreze, senior scientist at the government’s snow and ice data center in Boulder, Colo.
Just last year, two top scientists surprised their colleagues by projecting that the Arctic sea ice was melting so rapidly that it could disappear entirely by the summer of 2040.
This week, after reviewing his own new data, NASA climate scientist Jay Zwally said: “At this rate, the Arctic Ocean could be nearly ice-free at the end of summer by 2012, much faster than previous predictions.”
So scientists in recent days have been asking themselves these questions: Was the record melt seen all over the Arctic in 2007 a blip amid relentless and steady warming? Or has everything sped up to a new climate cycle that goes beyond the worst case scenarios presented by computer models?
“The Arctic is often cited as the canary in the coal mine for climate warming,” said Zwally, who as a teenager hauled coal. “Now as a sign of climate warming, the canary has died. It is time to start getting out of the coal mines.”

Meanwhile, in Bali, apparently the Government of Canada has decided that the Arctic just isn’t worth the trouble.

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Another piece on the explosive growth in the South Lake Union neighbourhood.

“What happened is pretty much what everybody expected, but it’s occurred in five years instead of 50,” said Mike Foley, who was a neighborhood activist and sometime Vulcan critic until the company bought his property for $21 million in 2003….
Even with all the condos — and Vulcan is building 426 more of them — the mix of housing remains diverse, said Ada Healey, Vulcan’s vice president of real estate.
Developers have recently built or are building 170 apartments for low-income and moderate-income residents. An additional 133 apartments are planned for low-income seniors and mentally ill homeless adults. A 12-story, 377-unit senior-housing complex is also under construction.
One-third of South Lake Union housing is considered affordable to low- and moderate-income, according to the city. But that’s down 15 percent from a year ago.

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If you’re a reader of James Kunstler’s books and blog, you’re familiar with his argument that “the suburbs have no future.” Indeed, he predicts that even if the current subprime mess is resolved, the suburbs aren’t coming back.
Kunstler has never been very good with the timing of his predictions, but his casandra-like pronouncements seem to be matching up with reality if you go by some of the worst examples coming out of the States.  The foreclosures resulting in vacant housing are severely impacting the viability of some neighbourhoods.
Here’s an article from The Charlotte Observer – New Suburbs in Fast Decay – sent along by Portland Metro Councilor Robert Liberty.

In Peachtree Hills, police are summoned nearly 300 times a year, mostly for property crimes in the 147 homes. But the 4-year-old neighborhood, near Sunset Road, has also seen robberies, shootings and gang displays more commonly associated with violent urban areas — not new subdivisions.
   [Click map for details.]
Fourteen-year-old Devon Smith was shot dead there in July. Graffiti memorializes his name on the sidewalks and benches. Spray paint also proclaims “Bloods 4 Life” and “PT Blood.”
“All I wanted was a safe place with some backyard space for my son to run around, but that’s not what we got,” says Stacy Hall, 36, a medical claims processor and single mom, whose Peachtree home was burglarized last year. They got away with $110 in day care money. And in November, she arrived home to find a police helicopter hovering and officers chasing men through her yard.
“I was like, `Where am I? L.A. or something?’ ”
A Chicago study found that when the foreclosure rate increases 1 percentage point in a neighborhood, its violent crime rate jumps 2.3 percent.

Cleveland seems to be very hard hit as well – particularly the inner-ring suburb of Slavic Village.  Stories here and here.

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