Infrastructure
August 20, 2019

Consumer Convenience & How It Relates to our Cities

Just as there is growing interest in slow cooking with meals made from scratch, is there a return to thinking about doing other things in a more 20th century and long hand way?

Gayle Macdonald in the Globe and Mail talks about the “convenience-driven quandary” and asks: “What if we become so accustomed to computers and other AI-driven technologies doing everything for us that we forget the joy of doing things slowly, meticulously and with our own two hands?”

Take a look at the data. Online purchases have increased to 2.9 trillion dollars in 2018, from 2.4 trillion in 2017. And Canadians, who have been late to the online purchasing party have now  doubled their expenditures online from sales reported in 2016 to a  a cool 39 Billion dollars in United States funds.

That sum is more than what the current American president was going to spend on the southern border wall (that clocked in at 25 Billion dollars).  And here’s a story of what 25 Billion dollars will buy. 

Something else happens when goods and services are ordered online and delivered to your door. That is the isolating experience when you don’t have to walk or bike  or even go to a store, or have any interactions with people on the street or in shops.

As Macdonald observes ” loneliness – a close cousin of isolation – seems to be on the rise, with the U.S. Surgeon-General recently warning it’s an “epidemic” in United States and Britain appointing its first “minister of loneliness.”

While online shopping speaks to comfort and convenience, anthropologist Grant McCracken is wary of the ease of it, stating: “The industrial revolution declared war on space and time … and right through the second half of the 20th century, this war had no skeptics. Convenience was king. But in the last few decades we have seen a counter revolution. We saw the arrival of slow food, meditation, mindfulness, artisanal economies and a more measured approach to life by many people. All of which is better for humans and better for the planet.”

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One of the world’s most iconic vans is making a comeback…

But this time, it’s electric. Slated for production by 2022, the “electric microbus” is one of five new electric models in Volkswagen’s ID. series — a family of 100% electric vehicles, which includes a crossover, a compact, a sedan, and of course, the van.

Just like the classic VW van, there will be room for up to seven people with an adjustable interior that includes a table and movable seats. Volkswagen also intends on enabling all ID. series models with a fully autonomous feature option.

Distance, a major concern of many when it comes to purchasing an electric vehicle, is no longer an issue. The van will have an electric range of 400 to 600 km, comparable to pretty much any gas-powered vehicle. Further, Volkswagen has partnered with Electrify Canada (partnership formed by Electrify America in cooperation with Volkswagen Canada) to build ultra-fast electric vehicle charging infrastructure to give Canadians the reliability they need to confidently make the switch to electric. Planning and deployment are well underway, including network routes — you can check out the Vancouver to Calgary route here.

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City of North Vancouver Councillor Tony Valente has been involved with The Shipyards development for at least ten years as a community member, leader, and now a City Councillor.  I asked Tony to tell the story of his involvement and how The Shipyards Commons came to be.  He begins with referring to the “bloodlessly named” Lot 5 that was his motivation for engaging with local government back in 2009.

I was one of a group of neighbours in Lower Lonsdale (LoLo) who petitioned the City to get moving on the North Van central waterfront following the failure of the National Maritime Project.   The petition was, sadly, promptly filed by City Council following my delegation and presentation.

It wasn’t over, of course. The petition connected me with other neighbours, including the owner of the Cafe for Contemporary Art (Tyler Russell who has continued to spread culture across our province) – where we held our own guerrilla consultation, discussing elements of what could be on Lot 5. That turned into a non-profit society – the North Van Urban Forum – which brought together a diverse group of community members to transparently and openly engage in ideas for developing our public realm.

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They’re on their way, Vancouver is behind, it’s going to be messy, but it’s inevitable: electric scooters and, no doubt, a whole bunch of related technologies.

Thomas sends along a piece from The Economist that describes what’s happening in Europe.  (Unfortunately, the whole piece is behind a paywall, but here are the opening paragraphs):

Streets ahead

Europe is edging towards making post-car cities a reality

 Hurtling along a “cycle highway” by the River Scheldt in Antwerp recently, Charlemagne (the author) only noticed the electric scooter when it was too late. Spinning tyre met stationary scooter, British journalist separated from Belgian bike and Anglo-Saxon words were uttered. How irritating and obnoxious these twiggy little devices can seem with their silly names (“Lime”, “Poppy”, “Zero”) and their sudden invasion of the pavements of every large European city. Everywhere they seem to be in the way, abandoned precisely at those points where prams, pedestrians or speeding journalists need to pass.

And yet your columnist refuses to hold a grudge, because the rise of the electric scooter is part of a broader and welcome phenomenon: the gradual retreat of the car from the European city. Across the continent, apps and satellite-tracking have spawned bike- and scooter-rental schemes that allow city-dwellers to beat the traffic. Networks of cycle paths are growing and creeping outwards; that of Paris will by next year have grown by 50% in five years. Municipal governments are lowering speed limits, introducing car bans and car-free days, pedestrianising streets and replacing car parks with bike parks.

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In response to part 1 of this series, of which focused on the challenges in planning for electric micro mobility, part 2 presents the opportunities for doing so.

As mentioned in part 1, BC’s current Motor Vehicle Act (MVA) serves as one of, if not the primary barrier to accommodating these technologies. Accordingly, reforming such act is a critical first step in creating a more welcoming, legal, environment for electric micro mobility.

Thanks to the Road Safety Law Reform Group of BC, much progress on reforming the BC MVA has already been made. Comprised of representatives from the legal, health, and advocacy community, including HUB Cycling, BC Cycling Coalition, and Trial Lawyers Association of BC (among others), the Road Safety Reform Group published a position paper titled Modernizing the BC Motor Vehicle Act, that recommends the following key reforms:

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Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of three- (arguably four-) storey frame apartment buildings were constructed in Vancouver after the Second World War.  Here’s a classic at Comox and Bute in the West End.

Though (not arguably) the blandest architectural housing ever built in this city (at least Vancouver Specials had balconies), it supplied quick accommodation to meet the post-war demand for affordable rental apartments in non-car-dependent locations. That’s how we handled housing crises in the past: lots and lots of cheap, plain housing and apartments.

So what happens to that stock when it gets old?  Here’s an example of what that same apartment block looked like last week:

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Andy Yan, Vancouver’s Duke of Data and Director of the Simon Fraser City program asks~what do we do when the glass towers that make Vancouver’s “Vancouverism” are sustainably outed  as hungry  power hogs? What is the 21st century sustainable version of Vancouver’s glass tower style? As reported in The Guardian and as Price Tags has previously written the iconic glass towers are becoming a faux pas “because they are too difficult and expensive to cool.”

As  Simon Sturgis, an adviser to the government and the Greater London Authority, as well as chairman of the Royal Institute of British Architects sustainability group observed “If you’re using standard glass facades you need a lot of energy to cool them down, and using a lot of energy equates to a lot of carbon emissions.”

Because glass towers reflect a lot of heat into the buildings, air conditioning has been standard to cool towers. But the International Energy Agency now estimates that forty percent  of all global carbon dioxide emissions come from construction, demolishing, heating and cooling buildings. And here’s a staggering statistic~the energy for air conditioning has doubled in the last twenty years, and makes up 14 percent of all energy used.

In New York City Mayor de Blasio is demanding that glass towers now meet new energy efficient standards, which really means less use of glass and steel in towers. While other cities have not yet grasped the connection between warmer hotter climatic conditions and glazed towers, new regulations will come under play to ensure that glass towers are efficient for the lifecycle of the building.

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The wave of electric micro mobility: it’s happening fast here in Canada.

From e-bikes, to e-scooters, to e-boards and segways, increasingly cities in BC and beyond are speaking out about the need to accommodate such emerging technologies, while simultaneously grappling with how to do so.

Written in 1957, BCs Provincial Motor Vehicle Act (MVA), whose initial design was to regulate motor vehicles and their drivers, has proven to be a significant barrier in the creation of a more hospitable environment for these rapidly emerging technologies and their riders.

While e-bikes are now legally able to operate on BC roads (operators must be at least 16 years of age and wearing a helmet, with electric motors capped at 500 watts) how to accommodate users who wish to use different electric technologies — such as e-scooters and e-boards — remains a big question.

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The one way to really learn about public process and what people truly think is to listen to the public when they come to speak to a Council Committee or to City Council. This is a time honoured process that when elected officials are considering a change in policy or development, they actually take the time to listen to what the public have to say before making the final Council decision. And you can tell a good City Councillor too, they are paying attention and taking notes on what people say, not texting on their cell phone.

This is different from the informal information meetings with the public, telephone calls and conversations members of the public may have with staff. Many have suggested that with the information line 311 filtering calls and with a centralized communications department organizing meetings there is less chance for the public to talk directly to city staff and to decision makers.

I also know that you really have to watch anything going to Council in July before the break. This year is no different. In a prime example of the current political taste to make politicians even more separated from the public they supposedly serve, the City of Vancouver and the TransLink Mayors’ Council want to lower the time members of the public can address them from five minutes to three minutes.

Think of that~taxpayers have 180 seconds to speak to Council about something that concerned them enough to get away from their jobs, make the trek to City Hall, sit patiently through other agenda items, and wait for their 180 seconds to speak.

I have sat through many public hearings and also listened to many members of the public speaking to Council. While five minutes may seem onerous to elected officials and their staff, my belief is that everyone has a right to speak to Council. If Council is worried about the fact that their public hearings are lengthy, it is not the public comment that needs to be changed, but the process itself.

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