Policy & Planning
January 6, 2007

City versus Suburbs

The City versus Surburbs debate has been going as long as there’s been both – and suburbs emerged along with the first cities. 
There’s an interesting discussion on this theme happening (almost) locally.
It begins with a review in Seattle’s Stranger by Matthew Stadler.  He critiques and comments on two books: Sprawl by Robert Bruegmann, and Cities Without Cities by Thomas Sieverts. 
Start by reading Matthew’s article – Losing You Might be the Best Thing Yet: What has become of citiesHere’s a quote:

… the virtues we’ve long called urban (including, increasingly, density) now reside [in the ‘in-between’ suburbs], having fled the center long ago.
The pattern is even more pronounced in Vancouver, BC, San Francisco, and Los Angeles—larger, denser cities where the margins have become home to a globally mobile population whose patterns of settlement contradict our deepest myths about the city. No more the crowded, polyglot center surrounded by white-bread suburbs: Now the world spreads out across a patchwork landscape.

Then check out Clark Derry-Williams response – City Slickers – in the Sightline Institute’s Daily Score blog.  Here’s Clark:

Stadler lays out his thesis quite nicely here.  He’s a skilled and smooth writer, and while it would be easy to caricature his perspective as reflexively anti-city (or, really, anti-urban elite), that’s a mistake. 
He’s making a more subtle point:  the old idea that “city” and “suburb” are separate and distinct entities — either physically or culturally — no longer holds water.  He finds common intellectual ground with a German architect and planner, Thomas Sieverts (more here), who rejects the urban-suburban-exurban distinction in favor of the notion of the “in-between city,” a single entity that encompasses the entire built environment in all its permutations.
Ok, that’s fine — as far as it goes.  Obviously, the political boundaries separating “city” from “suburb” are arbitrary, and perhaps not all that helpful in understanding an ever-changing metropolis.
But the unsettling thing about Stadler’s writing is that — as far as I can tell — some of his facts are simply wrong.

Stadler and others respond.  It’s good stuff for urban policy wonks.  
Maybe we should get both of ’em up here for a little more debate.

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Sure it’s arbitrary – but the beginning of a new year offers the opportunity to plan ahead with a sense of renewal.  That’s why we do that silly resolution thing.
I resolve to keep up with the blog – if you resolve to help me by contributing ideas and images. Like this one from Rick Marzolf.

It’s the view from a private chapel on Pender Harbour – and nicely captures the interplay of nature and religion that charactizes spirituality on this part of the west coast. 
You’ll have a chance to hear a lot more about that idea from Doug Todd, the religion reporter from the Sun, who will be my guest at a Philosopher’s Cafe on April 12 at 7 pm (Harbour Centre Lookout.)  This series – examining assumptions about our way of life – is a joint project with PC and the City Program.
Since we’re all planning ahead with renewed vigour, write that one into your schedule.
And send me more pics of what’s outside your windows: to pricetags@shaw.ca

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December 20, 2006

Two Vancouverites – Michael Kluckner and Christine Allen – have relocated to Sydney.  Canadians will certainly be familiar with Michael’s books and watercolours detailing the heritage of our city.  Now they can read his and Christine’s blogs, detailing the differences between us and Aus.
Here’s a sample:

Last week, on a visit into the City, I was struck by a major difference between Sydney and Vancouver (or, indeed, Seattle or the rest of North America): people don’t walk along the street carrying coffee or even soft drink or water bottles.
 After 3 1/2 months in the South Granville area of Vancouver, I had come to the conclusion that the standard urban human/sheep walking style involved one hand extended slightly in front of the body, the fingers and thumb in cup-holder position (the other arm, bent at the elbow, positions a mobile phone near an ear, of course). In Sydney, nobody eats and drinks while they’re walking. You see a lot of people buying take-away lunches and drinks from hole-in-the-wall delis, then carrying them to nearby parks or squares, but people don’t amble down the street sipping from large cardboard coffee cups.
Yes, there are Starbucks — a few anyway in the City — but the coffee culture in Sydney, which goes back to the milk bars of generations ago, is a sit-down-and-talk-with-friends one. Nevertheless, people here are as glued to their mobiles while they’re walking as anywhere else….

Click here for Michael’s blog, and here for Christine’s.

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December 20, 2006

Time for a change of format.  I was getting tired of the small print.
Let me know if you have any comments on this look – or any suggestions for a WordPress presentation style.

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December 19, 2006

Architectural critic Trevor Boddy celebrates the season of good cheer with another dump on the City in this Globe and Mail piece.

This Christmas season thus sees a re-mounting of a pantomime Vancouver has seen many times before: an annual joint production by our political left and political right that repeats the same sad plotline year after year: “Let’s park the poorest in a drugs slum.”
Stage right, the mavens of Point Grey and South Vancouver love it, as they do not have to provide social housing sites along their leafy lanes, even for their own senior citizens. Stage left, supposedly progressive community organizations can consolidate their power and funding streams by concentrating poverty into one area.

He’s right, of course. Vancouver’s Left and Right have been playing that game of mutual advantage with the Downtown East Side for years, and the results have been speaking – yelling, actually – for themselves.
Boddy also suggests that the City be shamed into rolling out 19 identified sites for social and affordable housing. Once again, an illustration of how easier it is to attach blame to City Hall when the responsibility rests elsewhere. The City has been pushing for senior-government funding on some of these sites since the early 1990s, when the Feds abandoned the capital programs needed to get the projects built. But just the other day, the Province announced its support.
Perhaps everyone has run out of excuses.

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Don Potts has a quick reponse in the Sun today to Marc Jaccard’s column in the Saturday issue.
(Potts is executive director of the Joint Industry Electricity Steering Committee, which represents the major industrial users of purchased electric power in B.C. Marc Jaccard is an SFU professor in resources and author of “Sustainable Fossil Fuels.” I reference his criticism of the province’s approval of coal-fired power plants without carbon capture in this post below.)
Says Potts:

Others have voiced opposition to coal burning because of increased greenhouse-gas emissions. While an important issue worldwide, the issue needs to be dealt with on a comprehensive national/international basis and not unilaterally applied to a single technology after proponents have developed plans in good faith that comply with the terms of BC Hydro’s call for tender and the newly established provincial emission standards. To reject these facilities now … sends a costly message to those in the private sector who may want to help supply the growing need for electric power in B.C.

Translation: Don’t punish us because BC Hydro doesn’t give a damn about climate change. If you do, you won’t get more carbon-spewing plants in the future.
I am increasingly astonished at those who think we can make decisions today without having to bear the consequences of our actions. Or assume that there will not be economic implications in the future when we decide to ignore carbon pricing today.
So what should be doing? Not surprisingly, California is preparing itself.

California utilities would be prohibited from buying electricity from most coal-burning power plants in neighboring states under far-reaching regulations proposed by state energy regulators Wednesday.
The rules … would limit the amount of carbon dioxide new power plants in the state could emit. … Under the rules, the state’s investor-owned utilities would not be allowed to buy power from any source that spews more carbon dioxide than does a modern natural gas power plant. Specifically, the source could not emit more than 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide for every megawatt hour of electricity produced. That’s enough energy to light 750 homes for one hour. (Full story in the San Francisco Chronicle here.)

Is that what B.C. should tell investors: You can build your plants – but only if they’re less carbon-polluting than a natural-gas plant.
Says Marc Jaccard:

It makes sense. The regulations do not ban coal. They set a limit on CO2/Kwh to the level of a clean natural gas plant. This will force coal plant developers to move more quickly to coal plants with carbon capture and storage – which will still be cheaper than natural gas plants, nuclear and most renewables. California is once again setting the trend.

The Daily Score at Sightline praises the California initiative here, but cautions that it would be easy for power suppliers to, say, buy hydro power from the Northwest – and then let us buy the coal-originated power. In other words, we could launder the polluting power – unless we had the same requirements as California.
Jaccard doesn’t share that fear:

Forgot the bit about coal-power laundering. There are reporting procedures about electricity transfers that make it fairly easy to see if BC Hydro or anyone else is laundering dirty electricity to California. If there were nothing but small players, that would be one thing. But the transmission lines are controlled by big entities. Vigilence will be required, but since most jurisdictions are likely to follow California in emission regulations, it should be easy to prevent this kind of thing.

He, too, assumes British Columbia will follow California. But not presumably if Mr. Potts can rely on Premier Campbell, the provincial government and B.C. Hydro to ignore climate change.
(Yesterday I asked a selection of people I met at holiday parties, some of whom are Liberal supporters: “True or False – Gordon Campbell has had nothing to say about climate change.” Without exception: True.)

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One of my favourite e-newsletters is Civic Strategies: Every few weeks, about a dozen short, well-written blurbs, albeit with an American focus, that keep me up to date on civic trends and personalities. Here’s an example: comment on a Brookings report dealing with rising suburban poverty.

Hard to believe, but more poor people live in America’s suburbs today than in cities, a new study has found. And this is just the beginning….

The sifting of poverty from the inner-city to the suburbs is proceeding faster than anyone could have imagined three decades ago. … First, middle-class and wealthy families are returning to the city…. Second, poor families are following work, and work has shifted to the suburbs. Finally, most new immigrants aren’t settling first in the city, then moving a generation or two later to the ‘burbs. … (Full article here.)

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December 18, 2006

How did the proposal for the Hotel Georgia tower go from this:

To this:

PT Reader Timothy Thomas speculates:

Sadly, I find that the fascinating “Crystal Spike” design by Bing Thom, perhaps the most remarkable design for a downtown building in the last 40 years, has been junked in favour of another rectangular box, slightly altered. Why are we going for the same old tired design yet again? Are we afraid of brilliance? Intimidated by imagination? Is asymmetrical splendour threatening?  Put the two designs side by side and weep.  For all our purported hip, cutting edge sensibility, Vancouver seems to have the aesthetic instincts of a dull octogenarian.   

And then concludes:

After a cup of coffee, a thought occurs to me: the change in design of the Hotel Georgia condo/office tower reveals not so much a lack of taste and imagination as it does a love of money. A rectangular box maximizes sellable space but an irregular form, however brilliant, does not. (How naive of me not to have fully understood this before.) Who knows how many other beautiful designs were abandoned because of greed? But I wonder if it’s short-sighted for a developer to look only at square-footage when mulling a design. Wouldn’t people pay more to live or work in a one-of-a-kind gem, rather than in something formulaic? (An instructive comparison would be the two BC Hydro buildings built a couple of generations apart) Or are you and I in the minority when it comes to a passion for distinctive civic beauty?

You can find more on the Hotel Georgia plan (and a video of the Woodward’s demo) on at Pacific Metropolis, a great local site that tracks Vancouver’s urban development. (Thanks to Paul Krueger for the link.)

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