September 22, 2020

Urbanist in the Okanagan 4 – Two Kind of Towns: Bisected or Bypassed

There are two kinds of towns in the Okanagan (and most of BC).

It depends on the provincial roads that connect them.  Some, as in Osoyoos, have a highway that divides the centre-right through its heart.

Very often the highway, like Crowsnest, is literally Main Street – a ‘stroad’ that has looked essentially the same for more than half a century: broad, muscular, low-slung and unambiguous.  Mid-century motordom, which even today, despite attempts to make them more friendly for people not in cars (which is the way most of them got there), are still car dominant.

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Items in the Inbox from Daily Scot:

Have you seen the Keefer Yard in Chinatown?   My favourite outdoor Covid bar in the city.

Price Tags: Now that pop-up patios have been approved year-round in cities like North Van and Vancouver, we can expect a lot of innovation to keep us protected, happy and safe through the winter, not to mention a host of decorative responses in the spring.  Here’s an example from Coal Harbour:


Scot: What if we use the pandemic to convert some of the enclosed parking garages on Granville Island to beer gardens with plenty of space to social distance?

The structures would have a unique industrial chicness, drawing people from all over (which Granville Island needs, particularly in the winter).  And there is an immediate anchor available with Granville Island Brewing next door.  Other Vancouver breweries could take turns catering the spaces; food trucks could be part of the scene; nibbles could be provided by the Islands many food vendors.

Check out how other cities have created urban beer gardens:

Frankford Hall, Philadelphia

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Join John Bela, Founder of Park(ing) Day to discuss the event’s creation and evolution into what we are now all experiencing with COVID.

Park(ing) Day began in 2005 as a temporary, one-day experiment in rethinking how we use streets as public space in our communities. Since then, the movement has matured and expanded into the field of tactical urbanism and participatory placemaking. Park(ing) Day has evolved and been formalized as City led Parklet programs expand across the world.

As part of a response to Covid-19, temporary use of streets and rights-of-way have exploded. What is the future of these temporary spaces? Will these short-term changes have long-term impacts on the design and planning of our streets and public spaces? Join John Bela, partner, and director at Gehl San Francisco for a presentation and discussion.
Attendees will receive Zoom Webinar Invite prior to Friday’s Webinar.

Date: Friday September 18, 2020

Time: 12 noon Pacific Time

For further information and to register please click here.

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A report from Global News reporter Nadia Stewart, with a headline that distorts the story:

The protest had three dozen people – surely worth a qualified ‘some’ when the headline starts “Vancouverites upset.”  But that quibble doesn’t matter when judged against the absence of data and other points of view (like, say, comments from passing cyclists).  Importantly, the video story was supplemented in the online print version, where reporter Simon Little provided important information:

Vancouver Park Board manager Dave Hutch says about 93 per cent of Stanley Park Drive is open to vehicles, and that about 70 per cent of parking in the park remains open.

He said after talks with the city’s disability advisory committee, the board also added 10 new handicapped parking spaces.

“We’re seeing that the park and parking is nowhere near capacity this year. The busiest day was in mid August, we had 63 per cent capacity. We would expect about 90 per cent in August,” he told Global News.

Still, impact-wise, the protesters had the visuals and screen time.  There have been demanding that Park Drive be restored to two lanes for cars and have all the parking returned – in other words, back to the standards of mid-century Motordom.  That’s what we did in the post-war decades, and the roads of Stanley Park were designed accordingly: a transportation system where cars are given most of the space, there are no separated bike lanes (cars and bikes fight it out for priority), parking is provided in excess, and the seawall has to accommodate the crowding of all active transport users.

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Let’s begin in Osoyoos, the southern-most town of the Okanagan:

The shot above was taken on August 27, 2020.

Here’s the equivalent from the lookout on Anarchist Mountain in 1977:

Beautiful BC magazine via BC Archives

Compare urban development in the two shots.  Notice how almost nothing has changed except some development on the middle right along the lakefront, a large white complex in the lower centre and what is probably an industrial strip in the upper left.

In a world where values rise when land is flat, easily serviced, near major roads and close to an urban core, how can this be?  Especially in the Okanagan, where the liaison between real-estate interests and local politicians has been, shall we say, often intimate.

The answer is the yellow line in the map below:

Water Science Series, BC Government

The line, almost block by block, is the boundary of the Agricultural Land Reserve, originally established in the early 1970s.  (To considerable opposition by many who owned the land within it.)

In an economy based on tourism and retirement, it’s extraordinary that there is anything green between the white municipal boundary and the yellow ALR.  Today, that economy of wine and fruit and tourism based on the appeal of a natural landscape was made possible by the vision of the NDP government in 1972 to establish the ALR (which paid for it in the loss of 1975) and the reluctance of successive Social Credit and Liberal governments to pay the political price to undo it.  (Not that there haven’t been nibbles of alienation – like golf courses as illustrated in the above report – but there hasn’t been huge bites of removal.)

Osoyoos may be a particularly graphic example of the juxtaposition of urban and agicultural, where vineyards come with a kilometre of the city centre.  But the same is true for much of the Okanagan (and arguably even Vancouver, hello Southlands), with one particularly egregious counter-example.  We’ll get there soon.


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This is what Keremeos BC looks like in my memory from the 60s – the uncontested Las Vegas Strip of Fruit Stands.

Except that photograph is from just last month.  Not a lot of difference in a half century.

That’s true of most of Highway 3 from Hope to Osoyoos: it’s changed hardly at all.

Which is fine, since a lot of it looks like this:


The only developments between Hope and Keremeos are at Manning Park, Princeton and Hedley.  In between, no gas stations, no parking lots, no billboards, no major interventions except a copper mine.  After half a century, the biggest changes are the width of the highway and the height of the trees.

Most of us who dwell in the Lower Mainland know there’s a big back yard out there beyond Hope.  We too, like our visitors, are still amazed by the sheer scale.  Best of all, it’s free and it’s close.

Four hours, thirteen minutes away, says Google:

(Two things to note: (1) Google Map insists on using ‘Work’ as my destination pin.  Hardly.   (2) And check out ‘Explore Keremeos’ for its attractions – motordom as tourist bait.)


Princeton is the major stop along the way, though major overstates its impact.  Except for the signs:

Most small towns in the province seem to have received money for main-street beautification programs – or they all decided about the same time to outfit their commercial streets with the same features – rather like a trend in shopping centres and malls – to keep their communities alive with some kind of core. We’ll explore them along the way.

One conclusion: small town BC is still home to independent businesses, especially those that serve coffee.

Note the sidewalk extension into the curb lane, and the patio that results.  A big-city technique especially effective on the super-wide roads that cut though these towns – the provincial highways that connect them all.

These kind of small, incremental, locally rooted changes are unexpected (really, an independent book store?) and gratifying.  The pandemic will test their resiliency.

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Some observations and commentary on these curious and conflicting times, as seen on a ride from Kits to the West End.

On Overdose Awareness Day, hundreds of shoes tied to the Burrard Bridge ballustrade:


Under the bridge, a notification, with overlaid commentary, on the Squamish Senakw project:


Under the Cambie Bridge, some rhyming, scathing observations:


In the West End’s Jim Deva Plaza, colour-coordinated opinion:


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One of the drawbacks of the use of wind turbines is the massive amount of birds killed by them each year.  It is estimated by Audubon that of this form of “green” energy is actually the most deadly. In the United States there are 49,000 wind turbines in 39 states. They are responsible for the death of 140,000 to 328,000 birds annually. Another study suggests that number is higher, and does not include the deaths of 800,000 bats annually.

In Canada there are 6,600 wind turbines that kill 54,000 birds annually. Nature Canada estimates that  in ten years as wind energy increases ten-fold, bird kills will approach 500,000 on an annual basis.

There are various techniques that have been trialled to keep birds away from the blades of the turbines including radar, GPS, bright lights, and even dressing turbines up to mimic trees. Industry has even tried to produce “smart blades” that sense when a bird is approaching.

And it’s not just about the birds, as damage from bird strikes also compromises the blades which are difficult and expensive to repair.

 But as Alex Fox in The Smithsonian and Mark Kinver with the BBC have reported a new study published in Ecology and Evolution has found that if just one of a wind turbine’s blades is painted black, the number of birds killed is greatly reduced. The study done in Norway found that turbines with one black blade killed 71.9 percent fewer birds.

At the Smøla wind farm in Norway “the researchers found that nearly 500 birds were killed by the site’s 68 turbines over a 10 year period. After finding a 2002 study suggesting a single black blade may help deter birds the team decided to try it out on four turbines beginning in 2013.”

The next year found only six birds killed by the painted turbines versus 18 killed by four unpainted turbines. How does this work?

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With parks and recreation budgets shrinking, it’s increasingly important to leverage partnerships to get important work done. Partnering with land trusts can help communities create and steward equitable green space when it’s needed most.

On this webinar, you’ll learn from three land trusts that will discuss:
• How they fund projects.
• How they partner with agencies and other organizations in their work.
• Strategies for engaging the community throughout the process – through concept, design, construction, and stewardship.

By leveraging a land trust’s special abilities and expertise in areas such as legal work, fundraising, community engagement, and real estate transactions, agencies and other partners can collaborate with land trusts to complete projects that increase access to green space and recreational opportunities, leading to healthier residents.

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The Covid pandemic has meant that many people have had to stay home,  and miss the social connections of their friends and neighbourhood.

Pratyush Dayal in The Tyee wrote this compelling article about Barry and Joan Jung who were feeling socially isolated at their home near Vancouver’s Queen Elizabeth park. They had tried to have people on their block stop  by for a Christmas party, and had tried to chat with neighbours as they walked past their front lawn.

But it was not until they started gardening vegetables in their front lawn that people started to talk to them.

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