Governance & Politics
October 30, 2007

Feedback on the Feedback

I spent all day yesterday at a Stakeholder Transportation Forum – part of the public consultation process for Transport 2040, to help shape TransLink’s 30-year strategy.
And lest your  eyes glaze over and your brain turn numb when contemplating such a wonk-fest, be assured, this was one of the best such processes I’ve attended – certainly the best use of the Wosk Centre I’ve ever seen – where the feedback was immediately transcribed, refined by a ‘theme team,’ projected for all to see and vote on, and the senior staff of the agency were all present to listen.
Of course it was also a bit of a farce.  It doesn’t much matter what we think: the real 30-year plan will be devised in Victoria, by people we have never heard of, who never attend sessions like this, who are accountable to basically one man – the Minister of Transportation.
Under the proposed restructuring of TransLink, the provincial government establishes the 30-year vision for integrated transportation from Pemberton to Hope; it sets “clear goals to guide TransLink and other transportation agencies in preparing their respective plans.”
Regardless of what the citizens of the Lower Mainland may prefer, TransLink’s strategy and plans must be consistent with the provincial government’s.  If Victoria determines that the Lower Mainland is to become the loading dock of North America, then the priority will be the roads and bridges and rail lines needed to achieve that, and that’s where the money will go.
In any event, much of the discussion that filled the Wosk Centre simply isn’t relevant to the Ministry of Transportation.  It’s policy branch, for instance, is described as “responsible for planning the future of the highway system and for implementing large scale capital projects.”  No menton of land use, transit, climate change, sustainability, blah, blah.  These boys build roads.
I keep waiting to hear when stakeholder consultation will occur with the Ministry of Transportation – really, the only people who count, since they will be the ones shaping our future.  I understand they meet with the Gateway Council, with those whose vision is consistent with the Minister’s, but what about all those who spent a day at the Wosk Centre? 
Perhaps the policy-makers in Victoria will get a PowerPoint presentation and a pdf file.
   

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October 23, 2007

 The Times of London got their hands on the proposed transport plan for the 2012 Olympics:

Olympics chiefs set to ban all car travel
The team organising the London Olympics in 2012 is adopting the most aggressive anticar policy ever applied to a major event in an attempt to deliver a permanent shift in people’s travel habits. The eight million spectators will be banned from travelling by car and forced to take public transport, walk or cycle….
All spectators travelling to an event in London will receive a free all-zones travelcard. Those from outside London will be able to buy discounted, flat-rate rail tickets from any station to the capital.
In an interview with The Times, Hugh Sumner, the ODA transport director, said: “We have a very aggressive programme to make it the greenest games in modern times. We want to leave both a hard legacy in terms of infrastructure and a living legacy in the way people think about transport and about how they travel to sports and cultural events.”

Vancouver’s legacy (in addition to the Canada Line) is just the opposite: a major commitment to highway construction to ensure that you will be able to drive – at least to and through the region.
Downtown, however?  I can’t imagine that anyone will be able to use Expo Boulevard since it actually runs under B.C. Place.  And rumour has it that Robson Street will be closed off to vehicles from the stadium to Denman Street. 
But what happens afterwards?  Do we just return the streets to the cars, pretending that nothing has or will change to our happy-motoring nirvana? 
In truth, things are changing already.  The number of vehicles coming to the downtown peninsula continues to decline:

What this chart shows is that the number of vehicles entering the central business district has declined by 7 percent over the last ten years, even as the number of trips by all modes has increased by 22 percent.
That’s so counter-intuitive, given the growth on the peninsula, that people don’t really appreciate the change.  It’s also the reason why we’ve been able to remove so much lane space for the construction of new buildings and the Canada Line on Granville and Davie without gridlock catastrophe.
The downward slope in that chart is likely to continue, particularly given the change from cars to transit that will occur with the opening of the Canada Line. 
Just as Expo introduced Vancouver to the pleasures of urbanity when properly done, so will the Olympics offer another opportunity to change the use of our public spaces after the games are over.  It’s another way we can take advantage of the investment in both the celebration and the investment. In fact, if Council doesn’t plan now to reallocate road space in the post-Olympic period, it will lose a critical moment of opportunity – and the real benefit that comes with our billion-dollar subway.
Even better, it won’t be embarrassed when London shows how it should have been done.

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It may not be news to us – but the New York Times just ran a story on how expensive condos are in Vancouver:

 “When I try to explain to friends in the States how much it costs here, they don’t believe me,” Ms. Gill, 29, who is a real estate broker, said of the city’s high prices. “They say, ‘You’re lying.’”
But $840 a square foot — which is how much the couple paid for their condo — is not unusual these days.
Downtown Vancouver is the most expensive housing market in Canada, according to a survey of 21 cities worldwide released last April by Century 21. The average sales price for a condo in Vancouver was around $419,750 in 2007, up 14.6 percent from last year, according to Royal Le Page Real Estate Services. The average sales price in Toronto, Canada’s largest city, was about $241,818, up 15.7 percent from last year, and in Montreal, $201,818, up 4.6 percent.

The whole story here.

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“There’s never enough” – that’s the first rule of non-market housing.  Advocates for affordable housing in a tight market like ours have no difficulty making that case: the evidence is abundantly apparent, whether in the media or on the streets.
So it’s easy to lose perspective.  In fact, the list below (circulated by the Mayor’s office) came as a bit of a surprise to me.  I hadn’t realized there had been any completed projects this year, nor that there were that many units under construction. 
Perhaps because Councils unanimously support these initiatives (with only a couple of exceptions I can think of in 15 years on Council) and the Left is reluctant to give the Right any credit at all, gains are discounted and difficiencies magnified.
It does look as though most of the housing to come will be the maintenance of existing SROs, upgraded and secured and concentrated in the Downtown East Side and Downtown South.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to make much difference, either in politics or perception.   And in fact, I wonder if it really makes a difference to homelessness.  The truly dysfunctional rarely find a place in these government-funded projects, since they’re often too disruptive to those who wish to maintain a stable environment. 
Nonetheless, whether sufficient or not, it’s an improvement.  And that’s always worth acknowledging. 
Social Housing Projects Completed in 2007:

Project Address New Units Converted Units Grace Mansion 596 East Hastings   85 units Helping Spirit Lodge 1475 Kingsway   36 units Southview Heights 3131 East 58th 57 units   Triage on Fraser 5616 Fraser St.   30 units Jackson Ave. Hsg. Co-op 230 Jackson Ave.   23 units The Vivian 512 Powell St.   24 units Total 6 projects/255 units 57 units 198 units

Social Housing Projects Under Construction:

Kindred Place 1321 Richards St. 87 units   Beulah Gardens II 3355 East 5th 89 units   St Vincents 4875 Heather 60 units   Triage on Hastings 65 East Hastings 92 units   Icelandic Residence 2020 Harrison Dr. 77 units   Woodwards Singles 131 W. Hastings 125 units   Woodwards Families 122 W. Hastings 75 units   Passlin Hotel 768 Richards St. 46 units   Pennsylvania Hotel 412 Carrall St.   44 units Total 9 Projects/695 units 651 units 44 units

Social Housing Projects Funded and in Development:

Portland on Main 980 Main St. 80 units   Small Suite Demonstration 337 West Pender 120 units   Olympic Village, Parcel 2 151 West First Ave. 88 units   Olympic Village, Parcel 5 85 West First Ave. 99 units   Olympic Village, Parcel 9 1685 Ontario St. 69 units   Union Gospel Mission 601 East Hastings 133 beds, rooms and units   Carl Rooms 335 Princess Ave.   47 rooms Marble Arch Hotel 518 Richards St.   145 rooms Orange Hall 329/41 Gore Ave.   27 units Orwell Hotel 456 East Hastings   55 rooms Park Hotel 429/33 West Pender   56 rooms Molson/Roosevelt Hotel 166 East Hastings   45 rooms Savoy Hotel 258/60 East Hastings   28 rooms St. Helens Hotel 1161 Granville St.   98 rooms The Rice Block 404 Hawks Ave.   44 rooms Walton Hotel 261/5 East Hastings   51 rooms Lu’ma/Aboriginal Mothers 2019 Dundas St. 10 units   Trio Downtown Eastside 30 units   Circle of Eagles 1470 East Broadway   17 rooms Lu’ma/Aboriginal Families Broadway/Nanaimo 20 units   Total 20 Projects/1262 beds, rooms, units 649 units 613 rooms Grand Total 35 Projects/ 2212 beds, rooms, units 1357 units 855 rooms Read more »
October 8, 2007

I always thought it odd, when sitting on Council, that some people just didn’t like good news.
Whenever reports came in that detailed how we were making progress as a city, the reaction of some was (1) disbelief and/or skepticism, (2) “It’s a good first start …” (3) “Yeah, but what about … ” (That’s one of the main purposes of the Downtown East Side: no matter what we do, there’s always the DES.)
Most often the reports simply don’t get much coverage.
So I’ve heard about this report from a few people, but it doesn’t seem to have registered:

Vancouver has experienced significant growth since 1990, with the number of people increasing 24% and the number of jobs increasing 14%. Along with this growth, the demand for City services, the number of automobiles, and the built area have also increased substantially. Nationally, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have increased 25% and provincial emissions are up 30% since 1990.

Despite these pressures, Vancouver’s 2006 GHG emissions from civic operations (corporate emissions) have fallen to 5% below 1990 levels and city-wide (community emissions) have been limited to 5% above 1990 levels.

Vancouver’s per capita emissions (4.9 tonnes/person) are down 15% compared to 1990 and are less than half of those for Toronto (9.3 t/person) and a fraction of those of other cities such as Calgary (17.5 t/person), Seattle (12.4 t/per person) and Portland (13.7t/person).

To sum up: Vancouver’s population is up 24% but Vancouver’s GHG emissions are up 5% since 1990 and appear to have stabilized (if not started to decline).

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September 19, 2007

 

According to Leif Toudal Pedersen from the Danish National Space Centre, the ice-covered area (light green in this image) is currently around 3 million sq km, which is about 1 million sq km less than the previous minimum levels recorded in 2005/6. Over the last ten years the sea ice coverage has shrunk by around 100,000 sq km per year, so a drop of 1 million sq km in just one year is an enormous change.

The strong reduction in just one year certainly raises flags that the ice (in summer) may disappear much sooner than expected and that we urgently need to understand better the processes involved.

Shouldn’t we be scared, even a bit?

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Maybe because they have already gone through the trauma of serious water constraints, Queenslanders seem to be more serious about the consequences of peak oil.  Or at least some in their government are.
Peter Berkeley, the bike guy from Brisbane who was in Vancouver a few weeks ago, reports in on news at the state level:

Our Premier Peter Beattie retired last week (it all happened very quickly)  The upshot being that there has been a complete reschuffle of the cabinet … 
A major development is that Andrew McNamara, an MP from Harvey Bay has taken up a new ministry called Sustainability, Climate Change and Innovation.  In the hands of anyone else you might say that this is just a rebadging of the old environment department but Andrew has been trying to get the issue of Peak Oil on the radar of the Government and the community for years now. 
He was sworn in on Thursday and by Saturday there was a front page article in the Courier Mail on Peak Oil.  I have attached a link for your reading pleasure. 
Report warns of petrol chaos

From: The Courier-Mail
September 15, 2007
QUEENSLAND is heading for an oil shock. And it is not a matter of if, but when.
As crude oil prices hit a record high yesterday, an as-yet unreleased Queensland Government report warns of massive social dislocation, rising food prices and infrastructure headaches because of rising oil costs.
Video: Oil reaches record prices

Syvret: End of the Oil Age near

Concidentally, there’s a good piece in the New York Times by Gregory Mankiw today on the merits of carbon taxing over cap-and-trade:

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Andrew Ramlo and David Baxter of Urban Futures were fast off the mark with an analysis of the latest census figures on families and housing, just released on September 12.  And what they chose to highlight is so counterintuitive, it’s difficult to grasp.
Despite all the cranes on the skyline and the overhyped marketing campaigns, this has been one of the slowest periods of housing growth – in both real and percentage terms – in three decades.

The 2006 data show that the 2001 to 2006 period represented the slowest growth in the region’s housing stock since the early 1970’s.  In addition, the stock of rental housing actually declined by over 10,000 units between 2001 and 2006….

The most recent Census release showed the number of occupied dwellings in the Vancouver CMA (essentially the same geography as the GVRD), has grown to 816,765 dwellings by 2006, eight percent more than the 758,385 that were occupied in 2001 (Figure 1).

While headlines bemoan what is perceived to be a white hot construction market, this actually represents the smallest percentage increase in the occupied housing stock the region recorded in the last 35 years, even below the 11 percent increase that occurred during the deep recession of the 1981 to 1986 period. It is also the second smallest absolute increase, falling just above the 1981 to 1986 low of 52,330 additional occupied dwellings.

And that’s one of the reasons so many young people are living at home.  (It’s just not kids; over 10 percent of adults between the ages of 30 and 24 were still at home.)
You can find the full report here.
Ironically, these numbers come out at a time when opposition is building to cut EcoDensity off at its knees.  Letters are being written, flyers distributed, petitions circulated and protests organized, all with the same intent: to ensure that as little new housing as possible will be built in the existing neighbourhoods of Vancouver. 
So long as the critics don’t have to take on the issue of housing supply raised by these numbers, they can probably get away without having to address the complex issues of affordability and alternatives for a new generation.

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September 11, 2007

David Pereira was listening to Kevin Falcon on the Bill Good Show last Friday.  He tried to go online to the document the Transportation Minister referenced when talking about the ambitious plans that had been in the works for some time. 

Having discovered that the link on the Minister’s site was dead, he made a request to his office for it, and they’ve now placed it online.  You can find it here.

The document was produced in 2003/04, but since the Minister considers it relevant today, it’s worth a look.  You won’t be surprised to find an extensive list of highway projects for the whole province, including, of course, Gateway:

These documents are as important for what they omit as what they include,  As with a report from the Vancouver Economic Development Commission on Gateway, I did a quick search, wondering how many times certain words or phrases came up – such as “climate change.”

The answer: zero.

Or the impact on “agricultural lands” of expanding highways.

Zero.

On the possible impact of “peak oil.”

Zero.

“Cyclist,” “pedestrian.”

Once – in connection with maintenance on a highway underpass.

“Greenhouse gas emissions.”

Twice – in connection with RAV, the Canada Line.

As I mentioned with respect to port strategies: how can an organization charged with strategic thinking have no viewpoint on the issues which will determine the fundamental livability, viability and even the existence of parts of this region through which their  roads will run?

Remember: through the new TransLink structure, the Province – that is, the Ministry of Transportation – will be fundamentally determining the strategic direction of this region. According to Ministry’s backgrounder, the Province develops a long-term 30-year vision for the transportation system between Pemberton and Hope with which all TransLink plans must be consistent.

So at the moment we have a Premier who is aiming to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 33 per cent below current levels by 2020.  And a Ministry of Transportation who, according to Vaughan Palmer’s September 11th column, forecasts that the Port Mann/Highway 1 widening will produce less than a one-per-cent increase in carbon dioxide emissions (as well as “effectively no change” in congestion on the free bridges – Alex Fraser and Pattullo – impacted by Gateway.) 

As Stephen Rees says on his blog: “I cannot imagine anyone believing that it is possible to double the size of the region’s major traffic artery and not generate one trip!” – which is essentially what these models, these reports, these strategies – whether sincere or disingenous – require.

The document may be named “Opening Up BC” but the thinking behind it is closed.

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A good piece in The Tyee by Cynthia Yoo, reporting from the frontlines of the rental housing crunch.

… my idyllic summer evening turned quickly into a battleground scene. Dozens of flip-flopped, lululemon’ed denizens milled about the front grounds of a building in one of the most prized postal-codes in the city… These lotus-eaters’ fabled Shangri-las are Kitsilano, the West End and Commercial Drive. And to nab those coveted 1 or 2BR suites, Vancouverites often resort to bribery and bidding wars, lies and fists-full of cash.

She picks up on a comparison rarely made:

“The United States, although constantly misconstrued by the left-liberal coffee-house ‘progressives’ in Vancouver as ‘right-wing’ is in fact one of the more progressive places in terms of affordable housing programs,” according to Howard Rotberg who has written extensively about rental housing issues.
The U.S. has everything from transferable affordable housing tax credits issued to affordable housing developers who sell them to provide early stage financing, to dedicated affordable housing mutual funds. He says B.C. (and Vancouver in particular) is in fact one of the least progressive jurisdictions in North America.

And then this:

The solution, then? Ramlo, Gurstein, Durning and Rotberg are all waiting to see what happens with the City’s new EcoDensity Planning Initiative, but aren’t holding their breath. But “the one real value to EcoDensity initiative is the ‘initiative’ part,” says Ramlo. “A conversation is starting as we as a city are realizing we have to densify and work on the problems.”

Oh, but they are holding their breath. As opposition gets organized to EcoDensity – a key plank of which is increased affordability by providing a greater diversity of housing – it counts on a passive response by those who would defend it. And those on the left whose priority is affordability are often reluctant to speak out for several reasons:
(1) They believe in neighbourhood activism. And if neighbourhood activists are fighting EcoDensity, they prefer to remain unaligned.
(2) EcoDensity is a policy developed by Sam Sullivan and the NPA. If it works, the right gets the credit.
(3) EcoDensity is not perfect. It won’t do everything that’s needed, and what it may do won’t happen quickly. Trade-offs will be required. In this case, the Perfect can drive out the Good. The result: neither the Perfect, nor the Good.
Thus the problem worsens, and both the opponents of EcoDensity and the affordable housing advocates can then re-unite: City Hall (specific politicians to be named here) is doing nothing to address this emergency!

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