Housing
October 24, 2006

Kids in the city

Now Seattle, like Portland, is wondering whether it’s possible to raise children downtown.  The Post-Intelligencer explored the issue in this article: “Parents want more family-friendly downtown living.”

The 2000 Census found that just 4 percent of households in Seattle’s urban core, which includes downtown and South Lake Union, included a child, compared with 20 percent in the city as a whole and 37 percent for King County, outside of Seattle.
State statistics show that Seattle’s urban core has grown much faster than the rest of the city and county since 2000, thanks to a boom in apartment and condo construction. But, while newer numbers for families with children are not available yet, those selling downtown condos say their customers tend to be young professionals and empty nesters, rather than families with kids.

And some comments from me in an accompanying article: “Downtown living works in Vancouver, B.C. — but will it translate?”

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October 22, 2006

The gap between leaders in Europe and North America on the issue of climate change is staggering.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair warned Friday that the world will reach “catastrophic tipping points” on climate change within 15 years, unless serious action is taken to tackle global warming. In his strongest warning yet on the environment, the prime minister told fellow European Union leaders that the world faces ‘conflict and insecurity’ unless it acts now. ‘We have a window of only 10-15 years to take the steps we need to avoid crossing catastrophic tipping points,’ Blair said, in a joint letter with his Dutch counterpart, Jan Peter Balkenende.

In the U.S., the environment isn’t even on the list of significant issues to be discussed during the current mid-term campaigns.  In Canada, at least, the Conservatives were roundly thumped in most of the media for the inadquacy, if not hypocrisy, of their Clean Air Act.   Either North American leaders don’t get the urgency of the issue, or don’t care.  I’m not sure which is worse.

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From today’s Sun:

Another 7,000 kilometres of coastline in the Atlantic provinces, British Columbia and western Arctic are said to be “highly sensitive” to sea levels that scientists predict will rise between 35 centimetres and one metre by 2100.

The City of Richmond, on delta lands south of Vancouver, surrounded by dykes, is planning on a sea level rise of only 0.4 metres.  Earlier this year, a surge breached the dykes of Delta, built for a 200-year flood.  The cost of raising dykes to handle something like a metre rise could run into the hundreds of millions.  What choice do they have?
And at what point will leadership become liable for negligence when, reasonably knowing that the consequences of climate change were inevitable, they chose to do deny the science, ignore the warnings, and to do nothing?

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September 21, 2006

Back in 1989, in my second term on City Council, I vividly remember the week when James Hansen spoke before the U.S. Senate on climate change. Hansen, now Director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, could speak with authority, and he did: global warming was real, it was happening, and for the sake of the planet and civilization, it was time to respond. Here was Science speaking to Power.

Even as a novice politician, I realized that regardless of the urgency, change would come slowly: our economy was based on fossil fuels, and we measured our prosperity by increasing the rate of consumption. But given, as the saying goes, that the economy is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the environment, the public would accept the need for change if properly prepared.

City Council accepted my argument that we as a municipality should start that preparation, and established what became known as the Clouds of Change Task Force. I expected that within a decade, real change in attitude and behaviour would be evident.

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California has done it again.

The Governor and Legislature, though from opposing political parties, have agreed to a plan that aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2020. Not quite Kyoto, but nonetheless precedent-setting for the largest emitter in the U.S. and the world’s eighth-largest economy.

Even business leaders agree that the plan may actually aid the California economy. Venture-capitalist John Doerr on National Public Radio: “Entrepreneurs see significant opportunities to both do good and do well by innovating, by competing for new green technologies. All they want is for someone to set the rules, and they’ll go out and compete like crazy.”

The state will set up a cap-and-trade system. Companies that reduce emissions faster can sell their rights to others. And the caps will get tighter over time.

So once again, California leads the way – as it did when it first tackled air pollution back in 1947. (You can find that history here on the Cailfornia Air Resources Board website, along with a video that shows how bad the smog was in the ‘gas attack’ of 1943.)

In an article in the current Atlantic magazine, “Some Convenient Truths,” Gregg Easterbrook makes a critical point: “Action to prevent runaway global warming may prove cheap, practical, effective, and totally consistent with economic growth.” In fact, there’s hardly been an air-quality problem – smog, acid rain, ozone depletion – that hasn’t been solved faster and cheaper than anyone expected … once we decided to tackle it. The problem with climate change is, we haven’t decided to seriously deal with it.

Premier Campbell has as one of his Five Great Goals a commitment to “Lead the world in sustainable environmental management, with the best air and water quality, and the best fisheries management, bar none.”

But where’s the commitment to deal with greenhouse gases? The evidence accumulates that climate change will dramatically affect the province (arguably it already has, as manifested by the outbreak of mountain pine beetle). Yet the province commits itself to capital projects that will only take us in the opposite direction, whether through coal gasification or the Gateway Project. The latter, in particular, assumes our transportation system in the eastern part of the region will be wholy dominated by cars and trucks, and the land use will reflect that dependence. It is, as BEST’s Richard Campbell observed, “yesterday’s solutions at tomorrow’s prices.”

While California acts, we as a province and nation delay. The failure to set realistic goals to reduce greenhouse gases, to establish the rules, to set up the trading mechanisms, means we will be less competitive and more vulnerable.

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In a comment to “Car-less in Vancouver,” Seattle reader Patrick McGrath asks:

Are societal ills like those mentioned in the Sun articles (here and here) part of your calculus when you teach about increased density, nonmotorized transport, etc? If so, how do you address the intersection of your work with those issues?

A tough question, and one I’ve struggled with over the years, both as a writer and politician. Given the recent headlines and letters in the local papers, the subject of street disorder is one a lot of Vancouverites are struggling with today. In Alan Durning’s comments referenced in the previous post, he notes that the city’s mayor Sam Sullivan “sees the scourge of petty crime, drug dealing, and aggressive panhandling as a first-order threat to Vancouver’s urban renaissance.”
So let me add some perspective.

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Today’s New York Times:

From 2002 until this year, NASA’s mission statement, prominently featured in its budget and planning documents, read: “To understand and protect our home planet; to explore the universe and search for life; to inspire the next generation of explorers … as only NASA can.”

In early February, the statement was quietly altered, with the phrase “to understand and protect our home planet” deleted.

Pathetic, and tragic.

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