Business & Economy
July 7, 2020

Shipping Container becomes Temporary Parklet in City of North Vancouver

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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Want to live long and prosper? Here’s a new study from Washington State University showing that walkability has a strong correlation with the likelihood of reaching centenarian age by area.

If you live in a place that has good walking and provides the ability to walk to schools, shops and services, and  has lots of young people working, the correlation is high for a healthy long life.

In a study of close to 150,000 seniors in Washington state, researchers looked at individuals who had lived longer than 75 years up to 100 years and looked for the factors that helped them lead long and healthy lives.

And surprise! As reported in Marketwatch.com

 “Walkable and bikeable streets and clean, accessible parks are linked to increasing physical activity of the surrounding population by 30%. Walkable neighborhoods are especially important for older adults who may have decreased mobility and no longer drive, as they are likely to benefit from easier access to their community afforded by walkable neighborhoods.”

Despite suggestions that the Covid pandemic is providing a short-term shift away from public transport and city living, the study shows that streets that are walkable and cyclable along with park proximity raise physical activity levels by 30 percent. Neighbourhoods planned with good walkability are vital to older adults with mobility issues and who must often walk or take transit to complete basic shopping.

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“He is not anti-bike, he said.”

That’s NPA Park Commissioner John Coupar in today’s Sun. 

Problem is, he’s not pro-bike either.  And as a commissioner for the Board of Parks and Recreation, he’s been an effective opponent, now along with the other NPA park commissioner and the NPA board, of any change to the status quo, circa 1990, when the City (under an NPA Council) began to make this a more cycling-friendly city by building separated bikeways.  (Best example: the Seaside Bikeway).

For John, perhaps angling for another mayoral run, he’s leading a fight of his own manufacture: “the logical thing to do is to open up (Park Drive) just the way it was. If you are going to make changes in the future take your time, talk to everybody, make it public.” (Emphasis added, if ‘just the way it was’ was Stanley Park circa 1990.)

Consultation and process have served John and the Parks Board well in ensuring that no significant improvement in cycling in any of the parks has occurred since, well, 1990.  PT has documented that extensively.

For the NPA as a whole, an anti-bike-lane agenda, whether explicitly stated or dog-whistled, has not actually served them well; they haven’t won a mayoral election since 2008.  But even today, as they redrink their bathwater, the NPA board itself, not just the NPA park commissioners, has clearly decided the Park Drive closure to vehicles is the issue they want to brand themselves with.

This letter was circulated to their presumed supporters from the board president:

Dear Supporter,

We know Vancouverites are extremely proud of Stanley Park. However, access to the park for all is under attack! We are emerging from this pandemic and it is time to re-open Stanley Park for everyone.

That’s why the NPA has called for an emergency meeting on Thursday, June 18th at 6:30 pm to re-open the park in time for this Father’s Day weekend and for the first weekend of summer.

This is where we need you to come in. If you believe that Stanley Park must be reopened to vehicle traffic immediately please sign up to speak at the meeting here. The meeting is online via the Zoom video conference. We know that the Greens and COPE will have their vocal activists show up, so please consider joining us in fighting for access and inclusiveness for all in the park.

Sincerely,

David Mawhinney, President, Non-Partisan Association

I do have to admire their strategy to use the language of wokiness – ableism, ageism – to frame the fight as one on behalf of the disabled and seniors against the activists and Lycra-clad.  (Or people like me, for whom Stanley Park is our front yard.  Talk about privileged!)

It’s evident that this a political strategy – and a rather tacky one: proclaim your opponents in favour of something they are not (closure of the park to cars) and then double down on the exaggeration by not correcting the mis-statement when called on it.

Here’s Jeff Leigh, a spokesperson for HUB Cycling:

I have been talking to the media for several weeks now, telling them that I am happy to have a lane allocated for cycling in the park, and for automobiles and delivery vehicles to have a lane, and for people walking to have space to move on the seawall in these times of physical distancing. It is about space for all. Nothing selfish about it.

And their response is typically to post a headline that says something like “cyclists want vehicles banned from Stanley Park permanently” even when the article or interview that follows doesn’t call for that at all. It is tiring.

I’m sure the NPA know their motion won’t pass; it isn’t intended to.  It’s positioning, and it allows them, when staff report back with the modified reallocation (likely opening the park to cars in one lane) to proclaim victory, implying that the inevitable occurred only because of their opposition to something that wasn’t going to happen anyway.

They will appear relevant to their base, but only at the price of reaffirming their backward-looking commitment to a status quo that disappeared utterly when Vancouverites found that cycling was a perfect response to the pandemic: outdoors,

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How can we create a post-pandemic Vancouver that is just, equitable, decolonized, and inclusive for all?

The Vancouver City Planning Commission (VCPC), with the support of SFU Public Square invites you to join a panel of current and past Commissioners who will discuss how the pandemic is impacting their communities, and what potential policy changes and opportunities they see in creating a post-pandemic Vancouver that is just, equitable, decolonized and inclusive for all.

To achieve a safe and inclusive city for residents of all cultures, incomes, ages, abilities, genders, and perspectives, issues of equity and the history of systematic exclusion of many communities and identities need to be addressed. Tangible action that goes beyond engagement and consultation to take action on the feedback already heard from Indigenous peoples, racialized communities, youth and other equity-seeking groups is now needed.

  • Sierra Tasi Baker is the lead cultural and design consultant at Sky Spirit Consulting.
  • Veronika Bylicki is an engagement innovator, community builder and sustainability strategist. She is the Co-Founder and Co-Director of CityHive.
  • Leslie Shieh has worked as a consultant in community economic development, working alongside communities and local organizations in Canada, United States, China and Taiwan.
  • Amina Yasin works as an urban planner with a focus on accessibility and equity in planning.

7 pm via Zoom

Register here.

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You read that right. Every year the Province provides 1.3 billion dollars towards long term care, both to non-profit and for profit operators.

If you measure society and culture by how well the seniors are treated we’ve just received a huge “fail” on the report card. Please don’t think this will not impact you~the way seniors care works it takes decades to change, has become increasingly privatized, and what you see is likely what you or the older folks in your house will be considering in years to come.

The Covid-19 virus has made very clear the crisis that comes in warehousing seniors in large care homes~over 82 percent of Covid deaths in Canada are in long term care homes, and this is the highest proportion of pandemic deaths in a study undertaken by the International Long Term Care Policy Network.

The long term care model itself is a pre-baby boom phenomena, one that appealed to the Greatest Generation cohort (born between 1910 and 1924) and the Silent Generation Cohort (born between 1925 and 1945).

These two generations considered having food prepared and served restaurant style  in dining rooms, structured and organized activities, and personal service in room cleaning and management a decadent luxury. Today with the Baby Boom Generation (from 1946 to 1964) restaurant meals are part of everyday life, and personal services easily  attainable if needed.

Long term care is no longer a non-profit investment. In British Columbia a third of care homes are managed by the health authorities, a third by non-profits, and a third by for-profit companies.

Companies like Trenchant Capital Corporation listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange own scores of care homes. They outright state that since the industry is regulated by the Province, and in provinces like Ontario no new licences have been granted in over 20 years, that they can offer “predictable cash flows”.  Seventy percent of funding is received directly from the Province and funding increases annually.

But something happened in the rush to privatization~British Columbia Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie’s Report on Long Term Care, “A Billion Reasons to Care” outlines that not-for-profit care homes spend 24 percent more annually for each resident (about $10,000) and exceed direct care hour targets by over 80,000 hours of what they are publicly funded to deliver. For-profit care homes “failed to deliver 207,000 funded direct care hours”. There’s no government oversight for that funding to return to the Province, so that is left to the privately owned companies as profit.

For-profit care homes also pay their employees less.

As Daphne Bramham writes in the Vancouver Sun For-profit operators’ wage costs for each hour of direct care is lower across all classifications than the costs at not-for-profits and the homes run directly by health authorities.Some for-profits are paying care aides, who provide two-thirds of the care, nearly a third less than the industry standard, which works out to $6.63 an hour. Part of the difference is that for-profit operators are more likely to hire part-time rather than full-time workers, which eliminates the need to pay benefits.”

How did this happen? Twenty years ago the Province started to contract out long-term care to private operators who opted out of the Health Employers Association .

While the Seniors Advocate’s  report on Long Term Care was released in February in advance of the Covid-19 Pandemic,  it outlines some of the structural weaknesses that exacerbated the spread of the disease.

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Imagine you’re a Park Commissioner in Vancouver.  You want to make sure seniors have a voice in any decision that affects car traffic in Stanley Park.  For many, that’s their access.

But you have a choice to make: Will you at the same time encourage seniors to cycle more?  And do something to make that happen.

More like this:

This is Michael Alexander a few days before his eighth decade, on the Arbutus Greenway.  A pause, a nod to the metaphorical flowers along the way.  This is a senior blissfully engaged in the life of Vancouver, loving the city we’ve become.  You know, because of that bike stuff.

And then he gives back more.  He’s a healthy citizen in every respect.

 

So how as Commissioner do you do both: open parks to traffic and get more seniors on bikes?

You’ll be deciding in the next few weeks.  What would you tell us?

 

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North Van City Councillor Tony Valente was apparently very pleased with his Council’s last meeting, according to his hashtag:  #bestcouncilmeetingever. Two reports, especially, drew his praise: the first  on Open Streets, the second on public drinking.

By dealing with the reports immediately, Council sped past every muni in the region. On May 25, 2020, Council had directed staff to develop “an action plan for advancing the reallocation of road space …”   Two day’s later an action plan was on their agenda – with this proposal for an Open-Street Network.

 “Open Streets” (nothing ‘closed’ here) is made up of Green Trails, Neighbourhood (or slow streets) and Destination Streets (closer to flow streets.)  For $150,000, the 12 kilometres in the system will by priorized for action:

Clearly staff were ready to go, meaning they were confident of council approval. When things happen this seamlessly and this fast, it’s a sign of well-coordinated relationship among Council and Staff.

Assuming the same efficiency, with cities across Metro laying out their own open streets and patios, by the end of the summer the region will have gone through the fastest, biggest and furthest experiment of street reallocation in its history.

And that wasn’t all.

On May 11, Council had directed staff to come back with a process to expand temporary patios into public spaces, and report back on the feasibility of “the consumption of liquor in certain public spaces for safe, informal public dining.”  Given the abuse of alcohol in the rough-and-tumble North Van of the past, this is quite an evolution. Of course “it relies on people adopting, using and managing the public place with regard to physical distancing and respectful consumption of liquor.”  A challenge when the last word overcomes the first.

So, a qualified thank you, virus, for giving us the rationale to do what we’ve only talked about before.  Now we have crises, collapses and uncertainties for justification.  Here’s the one CNV staff used:

Just as the coronavirus fallout threatens to cause economic uncertainty, it also may cause a collapse in social contact among our residents. Utilizing public places is a central part of moving forward and getting people out of their residence, which in turn will support local businesses.

In the next few weeks, in North Vancouver City and elsewhere in the region, we may see the emergence of a street culture we haven’t seen before: places of domestic conviviality for people who live nearby.  Few visitors, no tourists, just the people who live here and aren’t on vacation.

We’re going to find out who we really are.

 

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I have been writing  that cities need to be nimble during this slow reopening shops and services.  Facilitating reopening of commercial operations will mean having the appropriate space to line up to enter with appropriate physical distancing.  And in some cases with food services, expanded outdoor space during the summer will mean the difference between being able to open with an appropriate number of tables to make a business profitable.

Brendan and Amanda Ladner  reopened  their Pender location of the  SMAK healthy food emporium as a takeaway, with an innovative  curbside “glide through” counter option using city parking spaces. They hoped that there would be a way that other restauranteurs would be able to have a streamlined way of using city owned space on sidewalks and elsewhere to start up their businesses in a safe and reasonable way.

At the Council meeting on May 27th, Council agreed to develop a quick process to allow applications for temporary patios, and agreed to waive the fees. These permits are temporary to October 31 and are non renewable. This initiative is similar to the one approved by the City of Winnipeg four weeks ago as a way for restaurants to operate when Covid guidelines mean they can be only at fifty percent capacity.

Temporary patios for restaurants must be right in front of the restaurant or beside it, and may use either the sidewalk or the “back boulevard”, that public space that is between the sidewalk and the building.

The patio may also occupy parking spaces and must provide appropriate ramps for accessibility to the space.

Vancouver restaurant owners will be able to apply for the temporary patios on June 1st  and can expect a two day turnaround for approval. Typically fees collected by the city are in the $3,000 range for a temporary patio permit, but all fees will be waived this year.

You can take a look at this Council presentation that outlines some of the potential configurations for the temporary outdoor patios.

Of course accessibility and the ability of all users to access the sidewalk as well as use the temporary patio is going to be paramount, and there’s no negotiation on that.

Take a look  at this YouTube video of an  outdoor patio  in downtown Ottawa on Preston Street  that could not provide the required two meter width requirement on the sidewalk back in 2018. Instead of simply moving their fence back for compliance, the restaurant argues to take out the two street trees or leave things as they are, because “the street is inaccessible anyway”.

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