Nature & Public Spaces
July 13, 2020

A Giant in our Midst~Richmond’s Harold Steves to Step Down from City Council

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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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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It was Allan Jacobs the former Director of Planning for San Francisco  who reviewed commercial streets around the world and wrote a book called “Great Streets” outlining his analysis on what made these streets extraordinary.  Allan reviewed street dimensions, the landscaping, the number of intersections, the facade articulation and many other factors. He beautifully illustrated this classic with his own scale drawings. And if you’ve ever worked with Allan Jacobs, some of the ways he measures the “kindliness” of a commercial street are just a bit unorthodox~Allan steps into traffic on a retail street and then measures how far he has to venture out from the curb before traffic stops.  He had to venture pretty far into the middle of Vancouver’s Commercial Drive before traffic stopped.

That would not be a test you would want to do on any stretch of Broadway in Vancouver which is less of a shopping street, but functions pretty well as a vehicular corridor, providing efficiency for vehicular traffic, even conveniently having parking lanes stripped at rush hour to enable even more capacity.

Frances Bula in the Globe and Mail bluntly calls Broadway, Vancouver’s main road to and from UBC and to the Broadway commercial areas “simply ugly”. 

Ms. Bula mentions that wonderful leafy area on Broadway near Trimble “that feels like the high street of a pleasant village – trees, a stretch of small local shops with canopies, a few sidewalk tables, interesting paving blocks at the intersections and drivers who suddenly slow to a meander.”

While Broadway east of Granville Street is characterized by rather monotonous building facades and minimal street treatment, that may be changing in the future as work and a city public process begins to reimagine the street now that the SkyTrain extension from Clark Drive to Arbutus will be built. Happily this work appears to still be scheduled despite the Covid Pandemic.  This also makes sense as the 99 B-Line along Broadway is classified as the busiest bus route in Canada and the United States, with a 2018 daily  ridership of nearly 56,000 passengers.

Last year the City embarked upon a Broadway Plan process for the section of street between Clark Drive and Vine Street with the intent to repurpose the street with new housing, amenities and jobs as part of the new Broadway subway.

With a new subway, there will be no reason for a wide street to accommodate bus lanes, and Broadway could morph into a well planted and landscaped streetscape of wide sidewalks, benches, leafy enclaves and public spaces. If there’s one thing a bio-medical emergency has taught us is the importance of  amply wide sidewalks, long benches, and places to sit or stand on streets that are comfortable and convenient.

Redesigning the streetscape for people living, working and shopping on Broadway can make up  for the shortage of parks  in the area and redefine the street as a place to hang out in, instead of driving through to get to somewhere else.

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Walking as a Practice: What Does It Mean to You?

There are many reasons to walk that are not related to transportation. The practice of walking can impact our health, spirituality, and culture.

In this America Walks  webinar, we will expand on how walking is ingrained in our being (whether on foot or on wheels), focus on examples of walking as a practice, and discuss how walking can break down barriers in our communities. This webinar is intended for those just starting out on the walking path as well as those interested in learning more about the topic.

Presenters:

Marionette Audifferen is a volunteer Organizer and Adventure Squad Leader with GirlTrek. GirlTrek is a groundbreaking, public health nonprofit for African American women and girls in the United States, and abroad. Nearly 800,000 have pledged to utilize walking as a “practical first step” toward living a healthier lifestyle. Marionette has led women and girls on local walks and hiking adventures.

Antonia Malchik writes about a variety of subjects but specializes in walking, public lands/environment, and science writing. Her essays and articles have been published by Aeon, The Atlantic, Orion, GOOD, High Country News, and a variety of other publications. She lives in northwest Montana, where she volunteers with local bike and pedestrian management committees and advocates for public lands, community engagement, and education. She also wrote A Walking Life, about the past and future of walking’s role in our shared humanity, published by Hachette.

Date and Time

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Metro Vancouver has updated their map of Regional and Municipal park washrooms: those available for public access (green) and those no longer accessible due to COVID-19 (red).

 

The map is very revealing of the absence of washrooms where they’re needed the most: downtown Vancouver.

Two recommendations: (1) a map showing washrooms in private spaces (hotels, malls, departments stores, etc). (2) More public washrooms everywhere – especially transit interchanges.

In fairness to TransLink, such washrooms are nightmares of maintenance, and very expensive propositions if they are to be supervised and continually cleaned. Perhaps time to change the law and allow for a small charge (common in Europe), payable through Compass, that would also allow free use for those eligible.

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Never say PT isn’t open to a range of points of view.  Here’s one by David* – who argues for #stanleyparkforall.  That is, keep the bikes on the seawall (crowding is only evidence of its popularity) and keep both lanes for cars (because of seniors, disabled, business, etc.).

Gotta say, it’s a well-done video.

So, what’s wrong with sharing the road with one lane for each?  David’s response: “we don’t know how it could impact traffic flow or emergency vehicle access”.  Reverse what you did, Parks Board, go back to the way it was – before March 2020 ever happened – and have a conversation.  A long conversation.

Well, David, now we will know how one lane each impacts traffic flow.  And my guess is, after seeing the results so far and by the end of summer, you’ll have to come up with another well-done video.

 

*Tell is more about yourself, and, while you’re at it, what you think those ‘improvements’ to the seawall would be to accommodate the (yes, literally) hundreds of thousands of bike trips being made on Park Drive as a result of the current configuration.

 

 

 

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Have you heard of Switzerland’s novel zero star hotels? They are not what you think they are~they actually are starry hotels, a hotel room without walls, light switches or television, outside under the night sky.

You can take a look at Selina Berner’s experience sleeping in a zero hotel which has opened in neighbouring Liechtenstein. Spoiler-it rained, they had to cover the bed in plastic, and she retreated to a shed.

This concept originally started as an art project by two brothers Frank and Patrik Riklin and partner Daniel Charbonnier in the Appenzell region of Switzerland to take away the formality of a hotel and engage visitors directly with nature. Surprisingly even the original concept comes with a well trained butler that provides concierge services and brings “room service” to the zero star hotel.

And here’s what you get~a double bed suite in a pasture is $420 Canadian dollars a night with a welcome drink, breakfast and the butler, usually the local farmer. The farmer brings guests to the “suite” and provides local news and jokes.

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*Mockup by Andrew Walsh

 

Peter Ladner knows how to help restaurants and businesses in Stanley Park thrive in these disrupted times.  He describes his idea in detail in this open letter to Nancy Stibbard, owner of the Prospect Point Café.

Dear Nancy:

You may recall our conversation a couple of weeks ago. You and your management team were surveying the financial wreckage at your Prospect Point Café; I and my fellow pensioner cycling friends were commiserating with you at the top of the Stanley Park Hill. I was recalling my son and daughter-in-law’s similar fate of owning restaurants forced to close but the bills keep coming and the future looks bleak. You looked shaken, uncertain, but with time and curiosity enough to chat with us.

You and your team’s three vehicles were parked outside, and I imagined how, for you and your team, access to your restaurant without a car would just not be possible or practical. The same at Capilano Suspension Bridge.

You said your restaurant would have no hope if the tour buses couldn’t get there, and if cars were backed up in gridlock, which you predicted. You since joined up with 13 other Stanley Park businesses and associations to persuade the Vancouver Park Board—unsuccessfully- to reopen the park to two lanes of motorized traffic.

Your organization’s spokesperson, Nigel Malkin, then told News1130: “Accessibility to Prospect Point for anyone will basically be near zero… You’d have to park across the road…” Malkin, in case you haven’t picked this up by now, has a disturbing aversion to facts and cyclists. It’s not a good look to have a spokesperson who describes the 350,000 cyclists over the first 67 days of the lockdown as “near zero”. That’s around six times the number of cars that used to drive by during the same two months last year.

He also predicted, like you, contrary to traffic engineers’ data, “It’s inevitable you end up with severe traffic issues.” I am reminded of the old quip attributed to Yogi Berra: “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”

According to a CBC report, he foresees “a bicycle lane that’s a velodrome for beyond seasoned cyclists… It’s not being inclusive, this is not something where families and children are going to be able to ride around.”

 

Now that we’re stuck with the six-month bike lane trial and near zero foreign tourists, let me propose another approach: turn those fighting words into a warm embrace.

You have six months to seize an amazing opportunity that has just backed into you.

You sit atop what could be the next new tourist sensation in Metro Vancouver: the Stanley Park Hill.

Just as you learned how to milk the natural splendour of the Capilano Suspension Bridge to attract and please tourists, you could do the same here.

Think about it: this is a hill that’s a 15-minute bike ride from downtown, within 10 km of hundreds of thousands of people. It is just steep enough to be a big sweaty challenge for a lot of people, but easy enough that my five-year-old grandson goes up it with me on his clunky bike, without a rest, past the people pushing their bikes, and is bursting with pride and excitement at the top. Not to mention anticipation of the heart-thumping big downhill ahead.

People in cars don’t notice hills like this, but for cyclists, trust me, it’s a big deal.

This hill could be turned into the cycling equivalent of the Grouse Grind, only way more accessible. It fits into a very manageable 10 km cycling loop of the park. It weaves through the heart of the towering forests of Stanley Park, breaking out into the clifftop vistas of mountains, the Lion’s Gate Bridge, the entrance to our working harbour, views you know so well from your restaurant. It already has a public washroom where many people stop. (I’m including cyclists and hikers when I say people.)

So I am going to offer some gratuitous marketing advice. Now is the time to embrace the hundreds of thousands of cyclists that will be riding past your site. Welcome them, encourage them, love them. They are your new customers who just might save your business.

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I have previously written about the giant sequoia in the 2300 block of West 41st that was cut down after nearly a century of living in the middle of the Kerrisdale commercial area. Over the years development on the block was setback in order for the tree to flourish, which it did for many years.

One of the Price Tags commenters is the thoughtful urbanist Alex Botta who provides some more insight into this giant of a tree living on a commercial street. In his response, Alex details why we SHOULD be having a conversation on what is an appropriate street tree, and outlines what happens when a tree is simply too big or unwieldy for a public boulevard location. We’ve printed Alex’s comments below.

“Of course this tree was stressed. It was the wrong species for the urban environment, and was subjected to an inadequate development approach at its periphery. There was little thought given to the requirements of the root area, the primary criteria being space and depth. The best solution would have been to create a park around the tree decades ago, because it truly is a giant parkland species wholly inappropriate for tight streets.

Inappropriate tree species and maintenance practices is an ongoing problem. The legacy will be the removal of too-large trees in tight urban sites in future, especially boulevard strips. Lifting sidewalks and broken curbs and retaining walls are everywhere. There is a 1.5 metre diameter Platanus in the boulevard just outside of my house and late one Friday night its roots plugged the ancient city sewer under the road. City Engineering earned their pay that evening and unblocked the line within 10 minutes with a mean-looking root eater attachment to their roto rooter. Eighty years ago the tree was likely misidentified as a maple (similar leaves) and was planted with hundreds of maples, the occasional plane towering above all the other trees.

Urban trees should be planned early, along with the zoning. Small and medium-sized trees with special attention to the root zones are most able to adapt to imposed urban pressures and spaces. Most trees will take drought (dropping leaves early is a protective response during stress), but compounding that is the typical planting plan that does not allow for optimum and healthy soil conditions. A 1.2 m x 1.2 m continuous trench in a boulevard filled with quality growing medium, subsurface deep root vault structures, and in some cases structural soil (organic soil with uniform diameter broken rock to allow compaction and root growth in the spaces between the rocks) are the second best current practices for urban forest health. They afford a continuous underground volume of growing medium for the conjoined root masses and often have watering ports. Temporary automated irrigation is another important step tp assist in establishment. Vaulting is made from recycled plastic and can take the weight of paving and vehicles over top, making them ideal for plazas, downtown sidewalks and parking lots.

The best practice is to plant trees in parks (especially large trees) while ensuring good soil health.

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