Art & Culture
July 15, 2020

“Masks On” as Banksy Personalizes London Tube Car

Banksy is a British artist who has achieved fame by leaving public statements of art in the public realm in many countries. Yesterday he released an instagram video of his latest installation on one of London’s iconic subway train cars.

Banksy dresses as a maintenance worker as he gets down to prepping the walls with stencils of rats after shooing transit riders away. It’s all an allegory of what happens when you don’t use masks in public places during Covid times, and a bit of a directed  comment on the debate over mask wearing in public that is raging on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.

The artwork “If you Don’t Mask, You Don’t Get” shows a rat that is sneezing, and another rat spraying anti-bacterial soap. Banksy even signed his name on the train door.

Sadly and I hope it’s not really true, BBC News reports that Transport for London was not amused and has already removed the art because of their strict anti-graffiti policy.

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There is some interesting thought coming from  Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) in Scotland  on best practices for post-Covid economic recovery.

They are proposing to “Walk Back Better” joining 27 organizations including Public Health Scotland, Scottish National Heritage and the University of Edinburgh in placing walking as a national priority in planning local development.

Director of RTPI Scotland Craig McLaren stated “As we look towards a post Covid-19 world, we want to see a commitment to walking and cycling embedded into how we design our towns and cities with walking environments placed at the heart of the recovery.”

What this means for Scotland is that through their National Planning Framework and the National Transport Strategy  that walking will be seen as the first precept to design and develop approaches to stimulate the recovery. Several initiatives that were installed as temporary, including wider sidewalks and  streets closed to vehicular traffic to encourage walking and cycling will remain, and reductions in vehicular speed limits will become permanent.

The initiative also is centering the recovery on the physical and mental wellbeing of citizens , advocating for walking as the base of every journey.

You can find out more about Scotland’s National Walking Strategy here.

 

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There’s an interesting podcast available on Scientific American by Jason Goldman about which kind of birds get killed by “bird strikes”~flying into buildings.

Sadly it is estimated that a billion birds a year die from flying into buildings on this continent. It is not known whether the birds perceive light behind windows as safe corridors, or whether they mistake reflections for foliage.

A graduate student looked at a previously researched data set of birds colliding into structures at forty locations in Canada, Mexico and the United States.  Some of the findings just make sense~bigger buildings with more glass surfaces kill more birds.

But what was interesting is which kind of birds were dying this way~as Jared Elmore, the head researcher stated “We found that life history predicted collisions. Migrants, insectivores and woodland-inhabiting species collided more than their counterparts.”

Mr. Elmore confirms that lights near or at buildings disorent migratory species at night, and that insect-eating birds might be attracted to the buildings because “insect prey is also attracted to lights”.

Woodland birds probably mistake the reflections of trees and bushes in windows for the real thing.

This research provides information on how to adapt buildings and lighting systems to avoid bird strikes. By understanding when birds migrate and their habits, lighting can be modified during those time periods.

Of course the next item would be the ability to predict when birds migrate, and Mr. Elmore’s next research will focus on adapting radar to assist bird migration prediction.

“I think that would maybe go a long way in terms of providing information to people, to the public, to building managers, on when they can get the most bang for their buck in terms of lights-out policies.”

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If ever there was someone in Metro Vancouver who is an unsung hero and should be receiving the Order of  Canada it is Richmond City Councillor Harold Steves, who is a farmer, ecologist, and one of the longest serving City Councillors in Canada. It’s no surprise that we’ve all followed up on why Mr. Steves has not been tapped for  the honour only to find that you cannot receive the Order of Canada while you are an elected official. That will change at the next civic election, as Mr. Steves has announced he will be retiring from Council.

Mr. Steves and his family still work the land, and his family set up the first seed company in the province. The town of Steveston was named after his forebears. He is also a founding father of the Agricultural Land Reserve which protects agricultural land in British Columbia from urbanization and land development. The Class 1 soils found in the Fraser River delta are the richest in Canada, and represent a mere half a percent of all agricultural soils.

Richmond City Council as a whole has not been ecologically forward in the past and was complicit in allowing “farmer’s houses” as large as 24,000 square feet to be be built on prime agricultural land. But surprise! These large estates were exploiting a loophole.

“Farms” were  being bought at an agricultural land price as they are in the Agricultural Land Reserve and  redeveloped with large mansions. These mansions quickly turned  into multi-million dollar gated estates, exempt from the foreign buyers’ tax  with a large land lift as these countrified estates demand top dollar with offshore purchasers. Lands will never return to agricultural use and are now economically out of the reach of farming buyers. To add insult, if the farm produced some blueberries or a horse it also qualified for a much reduced farm property tax.

The City of Richmond Mayor and Council allowed mansions of over 10,783 square feet  to be built on agricultural land  over one half-acre in size. The City of Richmond has forgotten its farming past by dithering and not making the responsible decision to limit houses on farmland to 5,382 square feet, still a remarkably large size. Arable land is being squandered for future generations by short-sighted developer profit, most of it in offshore holdings. There’s even a Richmond  Farmland Owners Association but look at the nuance~they are “owners” not “farmers”,  advocating  on getting the top buck for their purchased properties with limited restrictions on the size of the residences.

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In these stressful times, we are all looking for ways to help us stay healthy, active and connected as we manage the pandemic and the long-awaited call for racial justice transformations. Author Florence Williams will share with us her research on how nature can help heal us. In The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative, Williams investigates the science behind nature’s positive effects on the brain. She will present the newest research on the powers of the natural world to improve health, promote reflection and innovation, and strengthen our relationships. Now more than ever, a walk in nature may be just what you need.

Join moderators from America Walks and Outdoors Alliance for Kids in a discussion with Florence Williams, as she presents the key findings from the book and spends time answering all of our questions. Two lucky winners will be sent copies of the book (in a random drawing of all attendees on the webinar).

Presenters: ‌

Florence Williams is a journalist, author, and podcaster. Her most recent book, The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative, was an Audible bestseller and was named a top summer read by J.P Morgan. She is a contributing editor at Outside Magazine and a freelance magazine writer. She is also the writer and host of two Gracie-Award-winning Audible Original series, Breasts Unbound and The Three-Day Effect.

Autumn Saxton-Ross, PhD, i is currently the Mid-Atlantic Regional Director and Equity, Inclusion and Diversity Lead for NatureBridge, a national residential environmental education non-profit, overseeing programs at Prince William Forest National Park in Virginia. She focuses on environmental and policy approaches to healthy eating and active living and in local parks and recreation departments promoting the natural connection between parks, recreation and health.

Date:

July 22nd, 2020

Time: at 11am – 12pm Pacific Time

Register by clicking this link.

 

 

 

 

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By Christina DeMarco and Peter Ladner

Great ideas are as much about timing as content.

Remember the first attempt to block a car lane for bikes on the Burrard Bridge? If you weren’t around for that debacle, ask Gordon Price how it went. Years later, after more careful planning and community education, the lanes are in and thrive today.

Similarly, for decades, any attempt to expand the parts of the city where basement suites were legal was met with vicious opposition. Then one day in the early 2000s, city-wide legalization of suites was passed by council without a whisper of opposition.

Now, with the city more desperate than ever for new revenue and affordable housing, the monopoly of car use on so much city land being widely questioned, and gentle infill density on the rise, Thin Streets may finally have their breakthrough moment.

Is this a good use of valuable City land? The City of Vancouver has an abundance of road and lane space in their quiet residential areas.

Look at the street in the Streetview above. The equivalent of two city lots—worth, say, $1.5 million each—is being tied up to provide the luxury of a passing lane for two cars driving on that block at the same time. How often does that happen? Three, six, a dozen times a day? A two-way street isn’t even necessary. Many Vancouver streets work quite happily and safely with one lane of traffic: oncoming cars pause at the intersection until the lane is clear.

Looking at our future city through the “pandemic prism” has caused many of us to question the large amount of space unnecessarily dedicated to cars.

What if that “wasted” pavement could instead provide land at no cost for affordable housing, parks or other uses, simultaneously providing newfound revenues for a cash-strapped city, increasing pedestrian safety, and reducing traffic volumes, traffic speed, automobile collisions, asphalt maintenance costs, heat island effects, and rainwater runoff?

In Vancouver, dividing the typical little-used two-way 66 foot right-of-way in half produces two new 33-foot residential lots per block, and a narrower 33-foot right-of-way, with a 17-foot thin street, easily enough space for one-way travel, parking for cars, a sidewalk for pedestrians, and boulevards for street trees.

The two new lots are now available for a variety of uses such as affordable housing, park space, community gardens, and daycare centres.

A couple of years ago, the City of Vancouver made duplexes a permissible use in all RS zoning districts (single-detached housing areas).  This change allows two dwelling units plus two secondary suites/ lock-off units on a conventional building lot. Narrowing the north-south street for just one block can now create twice as many housing units by creating two lots with a 33 foot frontage. The land could be sold on a long-term lease to individual owners or the City could develop the lots themselves.

Not only that, but converting wasted asphalt into leased land for housing would immediately create a new revenue stream that has the potential of raising millions of dollars a year, forever.

 

Thin Streets is an idea that has been around since the 1990s, been the subject of city council resolutions, and otherwise in the “great planning ideas” pipeline for decades. In 2012, Ted Sebastian and Christina DeMarco (right), former City of Vancouver planners, teamed up with Charles Dobson, Professor Emeritus of Emily Carr University and submitted the idea to  the City’s  “Re-think Housing” competition to help increase the amount of affordable housing. It was one of the winning ideas.

Unfortunately, at that time, as with every time this idea has been proposed for some kind of pilot project, it has failed. The killer issue is making peace with the adjacent property owners and neighbours. Without their buy-in, political pushback has been vicious. Understandably.

Equally important as making sure a proposed block is suitable – e.g. no sewer lines would be covered up — is figuring out how to make this attractive for the neighbours.

Some possibilities:

  • The City could start by coming up with some exciting design ideas for this form of ground-oriented housing.
  • The City could buy adjacent lots and then lease them and the reclaimed asphalt to a developer or individual owners to build out affordable housing.
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Shortly after the Notre-Dame de Paris fire in 2019, according to Architectural Digest, “Prime Minister Édouard Philippe announced a competition for fresh ideas for the cathedral, and designers rushed to create original renderings and post them to Instagram. They range from the tasteful and restrained, to the borderline inscrutable, to social experiments never intended to be built.”

But how can you tell the difference, especially when some unserious interventions are justified as intended to ‘start a conversation’?  (A justification used so much these days – as though the ‘conversation’ was the purpose, not the process.)

Here are four of the seven that AD found on Instagram, all from practicing architects:

After all the conversation, the decision, announced a few days ago, was this:

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Gerry O’Neil is the well regarded horseman that has been offering horse drawn tours of Stanley Park for several decades. For $50.00 for an adult or $20.00 for a child you can take a one hour  tour around the park in a horse powered tram that can accommodate 26 people.

Of course Mr. O’Neil is also dealing with the current Covid Stanley Park provisions that have meant that only one lane of Park Drive is open for vehicular traffic, with the other lane dedicated for cyclists, separated by the traditional orange traffic cones.

While vehicular traffic in Stanley Park is supposed to go along Park Drive at  30 km/h per hour, it rarely is that slow as any park visitor can attest. And Mr. O’Neil’s carriage rides were for some reason dedicated to the vehicular lane as opposed to the  temporary cycling lane.  The average horse moves about 6 kilometers an hour at a walk, meaning that vehicular traffic stacked up behind Mr. O’Neil’s horse drawn trolley.

As Ben Miljure with CTV news reported Mr. ONeil is frustrated. ” As you can imagine, when you’ve got 30 0r 40 cars behind you waiting, there’s a level of stress that you’re hoping to get out of their way,”

While the one lane closure for cycling on Park Drive is temporary to alleviate overcrowding on the seawall during the pandemic, it is a surprise that the horse drawn trolleys were classified as vehicles as they have no motors. That is often the litmus test for whether a use belongs in the bike lane or not in many municipalities.

 

Take a look at Hyde Park in London where there is a generous walking lane beside a surprisingly wide bicycle lane. There the bike lane is shared with the Queen’s horses on their way to and from Buckingham Palace. Perhaps moving the horse drawn tram to the cycling lane  might be a temporary consideration during this unusual summer of short-term pandemic park modifications.

 

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We have had the City of Vancouver and other municipalities develop streamlined approval processes for businesses that want to build “pandemic patios” either on adjacent rights of way or in parking spaces.

The City of North Vancouver is going one step further in paying $20,000 to convert an existing 40 foot container bought by the City for $20 into a covered respite, a mobile “parklet” intended for central Lonsdale.

As Jane Seyd in the North Shore News writes:
“The idea is to convert the container into an outside seating area with lighting and a roof that will fit into curbside parking zones. The “parklet” will provide a public place to sit for customers of businesses that can’t expand patios into the public realm, according to staff, who hope it will be in place this month.”

The concept is to provide a place for people to sit and to eat meals bought from Lonsdale businesses. The upscaled container can be transported to different parking spaces to serve different businesses, and the City may expand the project after evaluating the effectiveness of this first installation.

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The Globe and Mail’s Marcus Gee asks: If the Romans knew that public toilets were an essential part of urban civilization, why don’t we?

If you have ventured out of your house or apartment to take transit or go anywhere in downtown Vancouver, you’ve been thinking about where you can use a public washroom and of course if that public washroom is safe to use. Of course the issue of the availability and accessibility of public washrooms are not top of mind these days and I have been writing relentlessly that everyone needs to go.

I wrote  last month about a walk on the south shore of False Creek planned because there was a council report from 2016 saying that a $400,000 accessible washroom was going to be built in Charleson Park. Sadly, for me, it’s not there. Yet. Maybe in the future. Maybe in another four years.

Mr. Gee observes that “Public washrooms have been around since the clever Romans designed a version with holes in a bench over a channel of running water. They put them in busy public places such as markets and theatres. In Victorian England, public washrooms were palatial affairs with grand entrances, stained-glass windows and marble counters. Paris had its pissoirs, simple urinals surrounded by a barrier to provide a minimum of privacy. Montreal had camilliennes. They were named after its Depression-era mayor, Camillien Houde, who joked that building them would give the city’s jobless residents “two kinds of relief.”

The truth is that when public facilities such as libraries and community centres close down there is no substitute, and the lack of public washrooms really does impede the mobility of the population. If you need people to come back and shop in commercial areas and feel comfortable spending extended amounts of time there, you need public washrooms.

Lezlie Lowe  wrote her  book No Place to Go: How Public Toilets Fail Our Private Needs in 2018.  She argues for an international push to insist on clean accessible “environmentally responsible” public toilets. Somehow in the design of the North American city quick, clean access to public washrooms was seen as something to be provided by private corporations, with municipalities not taking on civic responsibilities.

Ms . Lowe is pretty blunt about it. “Planners and committee chairs sound off about the livable, walkable, healthy, age-friendly city. But, somehow, providing a comprehensive network of public bathrooms, in the way cities create spiderwebs of bus routes, parks, and playgrounds, isn’t part of that conversation.” 

There’s been an array of things tried in the public realm including the fancy Decaux  automated toilets which may be costly and challenging to maintain, and too tech forward for many users.

I have also written about Portland’s Loo which costs $90,000 USD to install and has been very popular, designed to be functional without being too comfortable.

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