Housing
February 15, 2007

Look up: Eco-Density Infill?

I must have missed this: the 2006 winners of Best Practices in Affordable Housing, according to CMHC (they do so much more than insure).
You can find the list here.
Local winner:

Mole Hill Housing Project
Hotson Bakker Boniface Haden Architects/S.R. McEwan Architect
Vancouver, British Columbia

This project is a redevelopment and restoration of 27 City of Vancouver-owned houses in the heart of Vancouver’s West End which provides units of non-market housing for low-income singles, families, seniors and long-time residents of the block. The project protected and restored the home’s interior and exterior heritage features and incorporated green building techniques and energy efficient features. In addition, one new building was constructed, three daycares, community gardens and greenways, as well as the Dr. Peter Centre for persons with HIV/AIDS.

Thanks for the link from Mike Drescher, a design student at the San Francisco Institute of Architecture.  He was actually wondering what I thought of this Toronto winner as a possible example of Eco-Density infill:

 

Pre-fabricated Rooftop Addition to 25 Leonard Street
Levitt Goodman Architects Ltd. and St. Clare’s Multifaith Housing
Toronto, Ontario

More on this here.

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First up: a column by the Mayor in the National Post.

It’s time to talk about urban density

Tue 13 Feb 2007

As mayor of one of Canada’s biggest cities, Vancouver, I am frustrated with the nature of the debate on global climate change in this country.
Over the past several months, I have watched as environmental organizations, government agencies and the media provide advice on how Canadians can make small changes to our lifestyles, yet continue living in a fundamentally unsustainable fashion.
Instead of telling Canadians to simply check the air pressure in their tires to ensure better mileage, or put energy efficient light bulbs in their suburban homes, we should be talking about how better urban planning and densification of our cities can significantly reduce our impact on the environment.
Not once have I seen any prominent national news coverage on the link between increased urban density and the impact on our global ecology. It is time that we have this debate.
My concern for the environment was the primary reason I introduced the concept of Eco Density to the citizens of Vancouver in June, 2006. After several months of planning, this innovative program will be launched this month with multiple events and workshops aimed at engaging our citizens in developing new plans for future residential development, through an environmental lens.

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That’s the Gordon Campbell I know.
Over 30 initiatives were announced in yesterday’s Throne Speech to respond to global warming “aimed at reducing B.C.’s greenhouse gases by at least 33 per cent below current levels by 2020. ”  Some of the initiatives, if delivered, are extraordinary: 

Effective immediately, B.C. will become the first jurisdiction in North America, if not the world, to require 100 per cent carbon sequestration for any coal-fired electricity project.
All electricity produced in B.C. will be required to have net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2016.

As Sun columnist Vaughn Palmer observed: “When (the Premier) gets religion, he GETS religion.”

I remember him typing away on his personal Mac in the Mayor’s Office late at night, crafting policy that would, by morning, lead the city in new directions.  I confess: I wondered what happened to that Gordon Campbell. 

One thing, apparently: he saw China on a recent trip, and was appalled at the sprawling industrial complexes that have ravaged the environment and to which we are directly connected through our port.

Which leads us to the Gateway Project.  This, too, was announced in the days before climate change was taken seriously. (Apparently after the Minister of Transportation was inspired by the road infrastructure he saw, ironically, in China.)  

While electrifying port operations to reduce container-ship emissions and the creation of electrified truck stops to reduce idling are very welcome initiatives, the consequences of road expansion on land-use patterns – and that’s what’s this issue is about – could discount much of what will be achieved elsewhere. 

There is some hope in one of the initiatives directed towards housing and urban sprawl:

Changes to existing funding and transfer payments to ensure integrated regional transportation and housing planning.

It’s possible for Gateway to address both the need for a sustainable region and the need for an efficient transportation system South of the Fraser.   The Throne Speech offers some hope that Gateway might be reconsidered in this new context.

That’s what politics is about: hope.  And Gordon Campbell delivered.

 

 

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Frankly, I would have guessed this was a hoax … until I read the article.

Step forward, Jeremy Grantham — Cheney’s own investment manager. “What were we thinking?’ Grantham demands in a four-page assault on U.S. energy policy mailed last week to all his clients, including the vice president.

Titled “While America Slept, 1982-2006: A Rant on Oil Dependency, Global Warming, and a Love of Feel-Good Data,” Grantham’s philippic adds up to an extraordinary critique of U.S. energy policy over the past two decades.

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Here’s the deal: those who deliver reliable quantities of hydrocarbons at an affordable price get to run things. At least, that’s the way it’s been in North America.
The connection between politics and the price of gas is pretty darn clear. But more powerful still is the nexus between the oil culture and seats of power.
In America, Bush and Cheney provide the link between Houston and Washington. Their first term began with a still-secret energy conference and a critical statement from the Vice President: “Conservation may be a sign of personal virtue but it is not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy.” [As significant in its way as Bush Sr.’s statement in 1992 that ended any serious discussion about climate-change policy in the States: “The American way of life is non-negotiable.”]
In Canada, the connection between Calgary and Ottawa is obviously the Prime Minister and a Conservative Party rooted in Alberta.
No conspiracies are being charged here. In both countries, people voted in those who they thought could maintain The Deal – and they expect them to deliver.
Two glitches: The oil culture has taken America into Iraq, undermining people’s confidence in the wisdom of their rule. And climate change has turned out to be serious, undermining the oil culture’s vision of an unconstrained future.
Climate-change positions by politicians are directly affected by their assessment of The Deal. Here’s a vivid example: two representatives of the State of Texas quoted in the Houston Chronicle on an issue close to British Columbia: a company -TXU – and their plans to build 11 coal-fired power plants.

TXU’s plan, which already is thrusting Texas into the TXU’s plan, must still clear a few regulatory hurdles. Its fate likely will be resolved during the present legislative session….
Environmentalists are concerned that the plants will not limit greenhouse gas emissions, and that plants are being rushed through the permitting process to elude gas emission caps that are likely to come within the next few years. The company and its supporters say the state needs the cheap power now.
So far the process of building the plants has met relatively little political resistance. It’s not all that difficult to understand why that’s the case in Texas, but the [January 25th] Forth Worth Star Telegram had a recent article, concerning the opinions of Texas political leaders, that was nonetheless eye-opening. Among the quotes:

“Absolutely,” Gov. Rick Perry replied when asked recently by the Star-Telegram whether there is scientific doubt that human activity causes global warming. “I am not going to put the state of Texas in a competitive economic disadvantage on some science that may or may not be correct.”

And:

State Rep. Phil King said: “I think it’s just bad science. I think global warming is bad science.” The Weatherford Republican has responsibility for electric-utility issues in the House.

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So it begins.  From the Calgary Sun:

EDMONTON — Alberta can’t make absolute reductions in greenhouse gas emissions during the current boom, says Environment Minister Rob Renner.
“You’re not going to get reductions in total amounts as long as the economy continues to grow and you have increased processing capacity,” he said.
“We want to ensure that anything that the federal government does doesn’t in any way target Alberta businesses and emitters.”

Translation: The Earth is a nice planet and all that, but we in Alberta can’t afford it.  We have no obligation to the future if it in any way stops us from putting out the carbon and raking in the dollars.
That has all the moral foundation of quick sand.  Or, should I say, tar sand.

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Solutions to the housing crunch in Vancouver? Ways to create more affordable housing? For everyone?

Enough with the questions.  Time for answers.  Last October, the Vancouver City Planning Commission, Smart Growth BC and the City Program brought together some of the brightest minds in the city to take that one on. And now you can see the results for yourself here:

This summary of the two-day conference highlights the remarks of public-lecture speaker Karrie Jacobs (The Perfect $100,000 House) with response from Dale McClanaghan and Lance Jakubec; distills the speech of keynote speaker Larry Beasley (New Possibilities; Old Barriers); and sums up the comments of our panel of experts Bill Buholzer, Bruce Haden, Bob Ransford and Jay Wollenberg (Overcoming Barriers to Affordable Housing Strategies).
Most importantly, the report documents (with helpful illustrations) the recommendations of the small-group discussions:

  • Small infill houses on laneways
  • Adaptive re-use and enhanced housing mixes in single-family areas
  • Intensification along major roads, new nodes and transit-oriented development
  • Thinking outside the box

This conference did more than talk about a problem; it supplied some realistic and practical solutions.
Now the challenge: translating it all into action.

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An Op-Ed in today’s Sun: 

The 2002 B.C. Energy Plan strongly promoted fossil fuels, supporting coal-fired power plants, coal-bed methane development, and offshore oil and gas exploration. It was panned by those who pointed out that it would worsen climate change. These criticisms were ignored by the provincial government and also by most of us, the voting public, who did not truly feel the significance at that time.
The world has changed since then. Canada and the world have woken up to the reality of global warming. …
So in two weeks or less, Campbell has the opportunity to re-invent himself. He has done it before in his transformation from an opponent of the first nations treaty process to an advocate of reconciliation. Will he reinvent himself again in the crucial field of greenhouse gas emissions, and provide the leadership that British Columbians so clearly want?

The Gordon Campbell I knew would meet the challenge. 

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There is going to be a huge amount of response to the Fourth Assessment of the IPCC on Feb 2 – and lots of quotes.  In fact, it’s already started.  Here’s the best one I’ve seen today, from John Holdren, the president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science:

“We basically have three choices: mitigation, adaptation and suffering. We’re going to do some of each. The question is what the mix is going to be. The more mitigation we do, the less adaptation will be required and the less suffering there will be.”

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The most circulated article around City Hall yesterday was Gary Mason’s column in the Globe and Mail. (Here, if you’re a subscriber.)

While Mayor Sam Sullivan’s Eco-Density initiative hasn’t produced much excitement locally, it’s drawing attention elsewhere.
The program, which promotes increasing density as a means of reducing our collective impact on the planet, is the subject of a lengthy and mostly positive examination in a recent issue of Planning, a highly influential magazine put out by the American Planning Association.

Around here, not only hasn’t Eco-Density generated much excitement, it’s been generally denigrated – rather like the Mayor himself.
Even ostensibly neutral articles about Sam Sullivan often start with the assumption that he’s been a disappointment. And I can’t figure out quite why. A third of it is just the lazy cynicism of our times, opposition grousing and a hostile columnist or two. It comes with the territory. Another third of the negativity may be that, on one hand, he lacks the charisma and glad-handing bonhomie we expect of public figures – and, on the other, nervous reaction to the eccentric persona revealingly displayed in the recent biopic, Citizen Sam.
But the other third mystifies me.
People are accusing him of lacking leadership and failing to put forward policies. Or putting out too many blue-sky ideas and grandiose visions. Of not providing enough detail – or too much. Of moving too quickly – or not fast enough. It’s hard to take this too seriously, since it mainly comes from the chattering class, in which I include myself.
But what I absolutely do not get is criticism of Eco-Denisty by those who should be roundly supporting the concept and cheering from the sidelines when a politician is courageous enough to even mouth the “D” word.
The notion that this is simply retread policy already implemented by previous councils is full of bull. When the APA figures it’s news, it’s new.
And so does the Director of Planning. When Brent Toderian was taking his PowerPoint on the road to introduce himself and present his intial thinking, it didn’t take him long to make a few unequivocal statements about Eco-Density. Don’t believe what you read about Eco-Density being business as usual, I recall him saying. The Planning Department will be reporting back to council with policy that will break with the status quo. What council chooses to do with that is up to them – but they’re going to get what they asked for. And Toderian knows how unusual it is to get a Mayor to ask for it.

There is no question it’s gaining traction,” Mr. Toderian says. “The ideas of livability and sustainability have been two things that have for a long time been very subjective.
“The power of the ecological footprint is that it takes away some of that subjectivity. It gives us a way to measure and quantify things. You can now calculate your own personal footprint and I can tell you it can be shocking when you see it.”
Vancouver is experimenting with many options to eco-densify, including converting single-family houses to three-dwelling units without changing the facade of the home. Otherwise known as invisible density. The city has appealed to residents for their own ideas of how to densify intelligently.
“I don’t think there is a city better positioned to have this discussion,” Mr. Toderian says. “Vancouverites, better than most, can make the connection between their living patterns, density patterns and issues like climate change.”
Which is an issue that seems to be framing every discussion we have these days.

Sullivan was prescient. What he did, by staking his office on densification, was courageous. Whether it was foolish and naive is yet to be seen, and we’ll only know when citizens react to the policies that respond to his mandate. But anyone who is criticizing him for lack of vision, action or originality isn’t paying attention or simply doesn’t like him.

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