Business & Economy
January 15, 2020

A Livable Region Plan for the Province

 

It’s not often that a political columnist will delve into the details of urban and regional planning.  Those are weeds too thick for most readers.  

But Sun Victoria correspondent Vaughn Palmer did so today, perhaps because he got fed a report on what could be, in fact, a pretty big deal: a direction for the urban and economic planning of British Columbia. 

If taken seriously, backed up with action and able to survive changes in governments, it could be for the province what the first regional planning was the GVRD (now Metro Vancouver) in the 1970s.  That is from whence came the Livable Region Plan, or ‘Cities in a Sea of Green.’   We adopted it, stuck to it, and a half century later can the results.  It worked out pretty well.

This ‘economic framework’ is more the structure on which such a plan could be built.  It seems to be a result of departmental thinking aligned with the priorities and strategies of the government – in other words, not just an NDP political exercise to justify what they wanted to do anyway. 

Following are excepts from Palmer’s column, found here in its entirety.

 

An economic framework recently distributed by the provincial government outlines strategies to accommodate future population, trade and business growth. Key elements of the plan include developing Surrey as a “second downtown” for Metro. ECONOMIC PLAN CALLS FOR DISPERSING GROWTH

The John Horgan government has adopted an economic plan to shift growth and investment away from Vancouver and toward less congested parts of the province.   … Key elements will promote the development of Surrey as a “second downtown” for Metro Vancouver, anchoring a “growth corridor” extending into the Fraser Valley.

Part and parcel of that push will see development of an updated transportation and regional land-use plan in co-operation with local governments.

While the plan mentions few specifics, it does quote favourably from a recent B.C. Business Council paper, which called for “a new Fraser Valley innovation corridor anchored by a commuter rail system running from Chilliwack to the city of Vancouver.”

“Squamish, the Tri-Cities, Delta, Tsawwassen, Langford” (yes, Horgan’s hometown) “and others offer significant advantages for technology startups or satellite office locations …  “Kamloops, Rossland, Nelson, Canal Flats, Campbell River and many others are seeing transformational growth in the technology sector from businesses and workers purposefully seeking out the cost and lifestyle advantages of a smaller community, while staying connected to their B.C. and global customers through high-speed internet.” …

To help persuade investors to locate operations in the north, the province cites access to “B.C.’s clean affordable hydroelectric grid that can power industrial development.”  The latter pitch depends in part on successful completion of the hydroelectric dam at Site C on the Peace River. The New Democrats discounted the project as unnecessary during their opposition days, but it now dovetails conveniently with their new economic strategy. …

Also in the works is “a regional inventory of investment-ready opportunities, including transportation, energy, educational, internet connectivity, community and other infrastructure needed to support quality economic growth.”

But the inventory is no more public than the plan itself, which, as noted here Tuesday, was crafted mainly for the eyes of the public service and selected stakeholders. …

As to the rationale for all this, the plan notes that the province is scheduled to add a million people over the next 30 years. …

“B.C.’s population grew by close to a million people, with much of the population increase concentrated in the Lower Mainland.”

The region was unprepared for growth of that scale.

“Demand for housing, public services and infrastructure exceeded supply, with particularly acute impacts for housing affordability. Higher demand led to sharp increases in the cost of rental and market housing, and those with lower incomes were squeezed out — or sometimes forced out through ‘renoviction’ — of housing they could no longer afford. Families moved farther away from their work in order to find housing within their means, resulting in longer commute times and growing congestion problems.” …

The fallout from runaway and unplanned growth is one reason why the New Democrats picked up 10 seats in Metro Vancouver in the last election and the B.C.

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It is not often that a  Vancouver person’s  working life has a half century of documentation and film.  In 1964 Vern Frick was documented in this YouTube video which was produced for CBC and described his daily work as a postman. In the video he stops on Granville Street for his morning coffee. The original postal station D was on Broadway close to Fir Street, and you can see the Fir Street off ramp for the Granville Bridge in the video below. You also see a different Vancouver, with wooden houses, front porches, and a mailman who knows everyone on his route.

Vern Frick later worked as a postal inspector and ended up in safety management with the Post Office. Although he retired over 20 years ago from the post office, he kept on with his second job which was as an usher with the PNE (Pacific National Exhibition). And what a life he experienced with that job. This  2018 article by Susan Lazarek with the Vancouver Sun describes Vern as the “longest-serving employee of the PNE, who has been on shift as a part-time usher for virtually all the shows at the annual exhibition venues since the summer of 1963, is working his last shift on Labour Day.”

He was at the Beatles concert as an usher in August 22, 1964 (which ended after twenty minutes when fans rushed the stage).

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With thanks to Duke of Data Andy Yan for the reference, here’s a memory for those of a Certain Age that were taking transit in Vancouver in the 1980’s and 1990’s. At that time, the city seemed to be covered with ubiquitous places where you could get muffins, most near transit hubs. Muffin shops also carried coffee, not the fancy stuff of Starbuck’s creativity but the kind that came straight out of a glass carafe, and usually had the consistency of caramel.

Karon Liu in the Star wrote last spring about the muffin trend, stating that “the bar (was) set by Toronto-based muffin chain Mmmuffins (full name: Marvellous Mmmuffins). In the chain’s ’80s and early ’90s heydays, almost every Canadian mall had a location that offered a rotating menu of flavours. Everyone had their favourite: some liked the cornmeal muffin, others peach bran, while my mom loved the seldom-seen pineapple muffin…”

Marvellous Mmmuffins started in 1979, was franchised, and peaked in the 1980 to 1990 years. By 2019, what was once a bevy of stores had shrunk to only two with one of them, the Second Cup, picking up on the new trend towards espresso and specialty coffee.

It may seem a weird trend now where people are careful about ingesting carbohydrates , but in the late 1980’s Liu observes that the muffin had the three ingredients necessary for the  “yuppie” (“Young Urban Professional”) lifestyle.

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The New York Times published a wonderfully interactive perspective on “A Decade of Urban Transformation” – the changes in the American urban landscape (with enough applicability to much of urban Canada), as seen from above.

 

Vast new exurbs have been carved from farmland, and once-neglected downtowns have come to life again. The tech industry has helped remake entire city neighborhoods, and it has dotted the landscape with strange new beasts, in data centers and fulfillment hubs.

The Exurbs Boom Again

At the beginning of this decade, for a short period after the housing bust, it looked as if the exurbs were over. Housing construction and population growth there ground to a halt. Briefly, central cities and denser suburbs were growing faster than exurbia. But the exurbs eventually boomed again, a pattern we can see in rings of new development around most major metro areas in this map, especially in the Sun Belt:

For more images:

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Planning for Non-Planners: What You Need to Know About Community Planning

What you’ll learn

By the end of the course, you will be able to:

  • Describe key objectives of the Metro Vancouver Regional Growth Strategy and other region-wide initiatives
  • Explain the basic process and structure of urban plans and policies in municipalities
  • Identify the tools planners can use to influence development of communities

3 Thursday evenings: March 2, 9, 16

6:30–9:30 p.m.

SFU Harbour Centre

Instructor: Eric Aderneck, VP Planning and Development, iFortune Homes Inc.; Industrial Land-Use Planning Consultant

Register now

 

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I have been writing about Leading Pedestrian Intervals  (LPIs) and spoke on CBC Radio this month about why this innovation should be adopted everywhere.

For a nominal cost of $1,200 per intersection, crossing lights are reprogrammed to give pedestrians anywhere from a three to ten second start to cross the street before vehicular traffic is allowed to proceed through a crosswalk. There are over 2,238  of these leading pedestrian crossing intervals installed in New York City where their transportation policies prioritize the safety of walkers over vehicular movement. New York City had a 56 percent decrease in pedestrian and cyclist collisions at locations where LPIs were installed. NACTO, the National Organization of City and Transportation Officials estimates that LPIs can reduce pedestrian crashes by 60 percent.

Since 75 percent of Vancouver’s pedestrian crashes happen in intersections, and since most of the fatal pedestrian crashes involve seniors, it just makes sense to implement this simple change to stop injuries and to save lives.

There has not been much political will in the City of Vancouver to adopt Leading Pedestrian Intervals, and there are only a  handful in the city. Kudos to the City of Surrey’s Road Safety Manager Shabnem Afzal who has tirelessly led a Vision Zero Plan (no deaths on the roads) and has been behind the installation of Leading Pedestrian Intervals at over seventy Surrey intersections.

As reported by CBC’s Jesse Johnston, Leading Pedestrian Intervals  “allows pedestrians to establish their right of way in the crosswalk.”

Quoting Ms. Afzal, “”It puts pedestrians into the crosswalk far enough to make them more visible to drivers. We normally implement them around T-intersections where there may be a potential for conflict between a vehicle and a pedestrian…It is a no-brainer really that we have to try and protect those most vulnerable road users. Especially given that it’s low cost and we can implement LPIs anywhere where there’s actually a signal.

Kudos to Surrey and to Road Safety Manager Ms. Afzal for getting this done.

When can we expect the same kind of response  from the City of Vancouver?

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Surely an offense to the homeless who seek shelter in the parks or, especially, the golf courses that serve only a handful of the elite.  And they’re annuals!  Every year, another wasteful, expensive insult.*

 

*To quote Chris Keam from below: “The problem with irony is that it now has about as much power as swearing on TV. Overdone and out of gas. Sincerity is the new cool attitude to have. I thought we all knew this by now, but what do I know?”

 

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It glitters!  It spins!  It outrages!

Click here to see the Chandelier spin.  Whee!

Since it was hung under the Granville Bridge, Spinning Chandelier has appalled those who deem it an insult.  Like Melody Ma:

How did such an insensitive piece of public art come into existence? Did no one at the city of Vancouver anticipate the outrage that would follow?

… It’s like letting the McDonald’s golden arches be the emblem of a city. …

One spinning chandelier to remind us of the inequality in the city is more than enough. It’s time to review the public art process before it produces another obscene structure …

Whether it’s puritans or progressives who are condemning an artwork as obscene, watch out.  Mediocrity is waiting in the wings.

And we happen to have an ideal comparison with two works by one artist: Rodney Graham, who actually created the obscene Chandelier, chosen by the developer, and another piece you’ve probably never heard of, chosen by the kind of process that Ma favours:

It was a commission for the Olympic and Paralympic Public Art Program, and it is, if I may be harsh, one of the most mediocre works on one of the most opportune sites in the city: the entrance to Stanley Park.

The work takes its title from a series of photographs … which documented a series of ‘incorrectly’ assembled toy glider kits… And the park, of course, is a place where children and adults may very well play with glider.

It would at least be appropriate next to a children’s play space.  So how about we do a switch: put Graham’s work near a playground and replace it with the statue of Lord Stanley, arms spread wide, welcoming “people of all colours, creeds and customs” at the entrance to the park.

Except, of course, this dead white male colonialist wouldn’t pass the trauma test.  Nor does the Chandelier, according to Mitch Speed in another scathing indictment in MoMus:

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Vancouver has the highest density of artists per capita in Canada. But they’ve lost nearly 400,000 square feet of studio space in the past decade, while their median rental rates have increased more than 65 per cent. The Eastside Culture Crawl Society, alarmed at the increasing conversion of light industrial buildings to condos, produced A City Without Art?, a report that documents artists’ displacement, and calls for no net loss of existing spaces, plus more non-profit and community ownership, and other strategies.

Meanwhile, The City of Vancouver has committed to addressing our acute cultural space challenges in its Culture | Shift plan, and has recently opened 10,800-square-foot purpose-built artist production facility Howe Street Studios, with much more promised.

Can it deliver? Can it stop conversions? Will more artist space mean less city housing?

Our guides for this conversation are Eri Ishii, formerly evicted painter, and Director of Portside Studios and the 901 Artists Cooperative; Cheryl Hamilton of ie: Creative, and a third speaker to be confirmed.

 

Thursday, January 16

12:30 PM

SFU Vancouver Harbour Centre – 515 West Hastings Street

Free Event | Registration is Required

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At Vancouver City Hall, December 18:

Vancouver council approved a contentious rezoning application to build a five-storey rental building at Larch and West Second Avenue in an 8-3 vote Dec. 18. after a public hearing that attracted dozens of speakers, for and against. …   The Larch street building will produce 63 rental units — 13 for moderate income households.

Some neighbouring residents, who formed Kits Neighbourhood Group, campaigned against the Larch Street project, arguing it didn’t fit neighbourhood character, the building is too high, dense and bulky, and not enough affordable units are being provided to justify the incentives being offered to the developer.

Imagine trying to approve hundreds of these ‘missing-middle’ developments one by one – or even through a mass rezoning to allow them anywhere.  Imagine a ‘Kits Neighbourhood Group’ city-wide (as Colleen Hardwick undoubtedly will).

 

Meanwhile, at Surrey City Hall, December 16:

Alison Brooks Architects has won approval for a residential-led scheme in Vancouver, Canada, featuring a series of towers, the tallest a 38-storey skyscraper …

The project for Rize Alliance Properties will create 1,126 homes on the site in the burgeoning City of Surrey (City Centre) …

It was waved through at a City of Surrey Public Hearing …

 

Do the math: 63 versus 1,126.  Do the political calculation: one project tries to nibble away at The Grand Bargain, the other reinforces its expediency.

What are the odds that the City of Vancouver will provide enough housing of any kind, incentivized or not, to make a substantial difference in the housing crisis?

 

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