April 11, 2007

Nibble, nibble

Ever tried to find a detailed map of the Agricultural Land Reserve for your region?  As far as I know, there’s nothing on the web that would show at a glance, for instance, the ALR lands south of the Fraser. 
That’s not the case in the Victoria area – thanks to Ray Zimmerman:

Zimmerman, best-known as an environmental activist with the Sea to Sea Greenbelt Society, has collaborated with a cartographer in producing a series of maps showing, municipality by municipality, the changes to the land reserve since it was implemented in 1974.
His intent is clear: Demonstrating how much valuable farmland has been squandered, lost forever, even as predictions show we will need more land under cultivation, not less.
“It’s really outrageous, what’s going on,” says Zimmerman, adding that he is ticked that it was left to a couple of guys working on their own to come up with maps he believes should have been produced by government.

The maps are on line here.

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Occasionally some remarks I make provoke a reaction. (Not as often as you’d think, or I’d sometimes like.) But a speech I made to the Urban Development Institute in Kelowna on March 29th seems to have done the job.
Let’s begin with the coverage in the Daily Courier. Reporter Steve MacNaul basically got it right:

Kelowna on right track


Kelowna has made some inspired decisions – and some wrong turns – as a rapid growth desirable city.  “Let’s start with the good stuff,” former City of Vancouver councillor Gordon Price said during a stop in Kelowna.


“You have the assets of natural beauty, good food, good wine and good times. The downtown waterfront redevelopment, cultural district and Bernard Avenue are all things to be proud of.”


Price, who is now director of the City Program at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, spoke at a luncheon at The Grand hotel put on by the Kelowna chapter of the Urban Development Institute.


“But Kelowna has also made some major errors,” Price said.


“The car-based planning of the past has made Highway 97 the worst example of highway strip. Westbank is not well planned. The university (UBCO) on a hill by the airport frankly looks like a business park and you have your street issues downtown (such as homelessness, drug dealing and crime.)”


Price, who is also on the board of the International Centre for Sustainable Cities, characterizes Kelowna as an adolescent city on the cusp of adulthood.


“Make good decisions and go with them,” he urged.


“What is happening in downtown Kelowna is more important right now than whatÕs happening in downtown Vancouver.”


The direction of downtown Vancouver has already been set and is very densely “more natural, more urban and more connected” than ever before, according to Price.


There’s still a lot of development yet to be done in downtown Kelowna, therefore the opportunity to do it right – or wrong – according to Price.


“Bernard Avenue is revitalizing and still has a very pedestrian people scale, which is good,” he said.


“The residential highrises are good because it keeps people downtown and creates a vibrancy. Many people are against highrises, but really height is irrelevant. A highrise done well creates density but provides green space and storefronts at its base to keep people engaged.”


Downtown Kelowna has ‘anchors’ such as Prospera Place arena for sports and concerts, the cultural district for art and plays and non-mall stores, restaurants and services, pointed out Price.


“But a better job could be done of filling in the spaces between these anchors with housing, other facilities, parks and trails,” said Price.


“People will accept growth if they see the public benefits that come along with it.”


Price told the developers present that’s why it’s important to do public consultations before launching a project to outline the public benefits such as parks or unique stores and amenities that go along with it.


“What developers are doing is really selling lifestyle with nature and all the urban amenities to both the people that will buy their homes and the existing neighbourhood,” said Price.


And then came the reaction.


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Or go to www.pricetags.ca.

I was working on another issue in the Australia series, but got distracted by all those damn cherry blossoms.  You’ll see why.

This issue is particularly parochial: images of what’s happening within a couple of kilometers of my house on the downtown peninsula.  Observations of a flaneur, in other words.

As well, another West End building – 1277 Nelson – in architect Richard Henriquez’s portfolio, with links to past issues.

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Bellevue is more racially diverse than you are. And that’s only one of several surprising revelations involving changing demographics and gentrification. 

In a 2005 census estimate, nonwhites comprised 32 percent of Bellevue’s population. Seattle is at 31 percent.

You can find the full story here in Crosscut – News of the Great Nearby.  This is the latest inititaive of David Brewster, he of Seattle Weekly and Town Hall. 

Based in Seattle, Crosscut is a guide to local and Northwest news, a place to report and discuss local news, and a platform for new tools to convey local news. The journalism of regular citizens appears alongside that of professionals. News coverage with detachment, traditionally practiced by mainstream media outlets, coexists with advocacy journalism and opinion.

You can bookmark it at www.crosscut.com or get an email link.  It’s worth it.

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Speaking of convenience stores (below), here’s another take from Lisa Margonelli’s Oil on the Brain.  (There are some books you know from the first page are going to be good reads.  This is one of them.)
A gas station owner with a convenience store can make more money selling water than gas – at least if the water has sugar in it.
Markup on gas: 7 percent, and falling.
Markup on sunglasses: 100 percent.
Markup on ice: 60 percent
Markup on candy: 43 percent.
Markup on cigarettes: 19 percent.
Best of all is what’s in the ‘vault’ – the coolers, always opposite the door, that bring in a high percentage of the store’s profits.
Impulse buys make up three-quarters of the $132 billion (US) Americans spend in convenience stores.  After driving around, looking to save a few cents, complaining loudly about the price of gas, we happily blow it on sugared water.

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David Sucher on his City Comforts blog asks an intriguing question:

 So where is the “high-end” mini-mart?
Obviously it would be in and adjacent to high(er)-end neighborhoods, of which there are plenty. So why don’t they exist? Selling better products in a more comfortable environment? GREAT take-out food, nice landscaping & lighting etc. Ya know, Vivaldi playing in the background. Why not? Seems like an open market-niche. And the marginal cost of the more comfortable retail environment is trivial. Everyone knows you pay for the convenience of a “convenience store.” So why not make the environment more attractive?

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A Price Tags reader was reading Michael Geller’s blog entry on Australia’s Gold Coast, and one of the things that jumped out at him was this:

There is a 50-per-cent cap on the number of foreigners who can buy into any new multi-family building in Australia.

“Very interesting,” he thought, “particularly given the apparently high rates of foreign/absentee ownership in our downtown core.  …. There are fears that we are becoming a “resort city” of sorts.  Could the City actually legislate a restriction on foreign ownership?  Or tax foreign investors with multiple homes differently…. and perhaps use increased revenue to fund more social housing?”
So how much foreign ownership is there?  He asked a numbers guy who works with census data (and since I haven’t asked whether he’d mind seeing his name in print, we’ll keep calling him Numbers Guy):

For the first time this census includes numbers of permanently occupied and total numbers of dwellings (by block) so it’s possible to see the ‘occupation rate’ of city blocks.  

Among the lowest is Coal Harbour, which you’d expect, and even there 60% of the dwellings are occupied by permanent residents. Concord Pacific runs at between 75% and 90% occupied by permanent residents. Some of the vacant units will of course be just that, those being sold or bought or rented, but empty on Census day. Some of the ‘absentees’ are Albertans, so until we make them leave Canada and join Texas as a confederation, we can’t really penalise them. Of course, they already pay more tax as they’re not able to get the homeowners grant (and they consume very few city services when they’re not around).

That won’t settle the issue, of course.  But it certainly reflects the difference between Canada and Australia on immigration policy (5.85 migrants per thousand population for Canada; 3.85 for Australia) and acceptance rates for asylum seekers  (36 percent for Canada; 20 percent for Australia).

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This is one of the best articles written so far on EcoDensity (and a certain planning director thinks so too).

From Vancouver Magazine … 

Playing the Real Estate Game

The single-family house is an endangered
species in this city. What’s a guy who’s always wanted a house to do?

WHEN I WAS SEVEN, my family moved from a rented rancher in north Langley to a five-acre farm across the border in Blaine. Two dozen gnarled plum, pear and apple trees surrounded the four-bedroom house, and beyond the orchard was an old dairy barn. There was even a treehouse in the front yard. In summer, lounging in that elevated, 50-square-foot pad with X-Men comics, ghetto blaster and root beer, I had my first and only taste of the condo lifestyle. Price for the whole rural package, circa 1979: $55,000.

I’ve lived in cities for more than 15 years, but my real estate expectations—what home means, what a decent amount of space is, how much I ought to pay for it—are undeniably rural. When I browse the real estate listings, I remind myself that for the going rate of an entry-level, 650-square-foot condo, I could, in many parts of the country, purchase a farmstead similar to the one where I grew up. (Then I think of the 15-acre farm my parents bought two years ago in Cape Breton for $85,000, and consider, yet again, whether I ought to pull a Shipping News and head east.) This partly explains why new condos don’t appeal to me, why I live on the top floor of a drafty Craftsman deep in the east side, and why I’ve come to realize that, like most of my generation, I’m probably never going to live in a single-family home in Vancouver.


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In today’s Province, Valley columnist Brian Lewis reports on the panel discussion in Surrey yesterday, sponsored by the GVRD.

(By the way, I’m not actually a planning professor. I do teach a course as an adjunct at the School of Community and Regional Planning at UBC – but that doesn’t qualify for the ‘prof’ moniker.)

Problem isn’t fixed by doing more of what created it

  Brian Lewis The Province

Gordon Price is a Simon Fraser University professor of regional planning who also served six terms on Vancouver City Council — but I think he’s missed his calling.

The 57-year-old should have been a chef because, as a panellist yesterday in a Greater Vancouver Regional District-sponsored meeting on transportation south of the Fraser River, he displayed a talent for stirring pots.
“The Gateway proposal, as it currently stands, will fail,” he said.
“We know it will fail but we’re going to do it anyway,” he told mayors, councillors, bureaucrats and ordinary citizens who gathered for the discussion at a Surrey golf course.
When Price dropped that gem, his co-panellists — Fraser Port Authority president Allen Domaas and B.C. Trucking Association boss Paul Landry — grimaced like any golfer would when the tee shot finds water.
That’s because their organizations have a huge stake in seeing the multibillion-dollar Gateway Project completed.
Greater Vancouver’s ports and its trucking industry play a vital role in this region’s economy — and the national economy, for that matter — and completing mega-transportation projects such as the Golden Ears Bridge, the South Fraser Perimeter Road and twinning the Port Mann Bridge under the Gateway label are all seen as vital to our growing trade with Asia.
Gateway is also being billed as a solution to regional traffic congestion and as a way to make the commuting lives of those who live south of the Fraser much easier.
But Price says allowing the ports, truckers and the B.C. government’s backers on Howe Street the most input on these projects is like letting the fox design the henhouse’s security system. Nor has there been enough input from other public stakeholders.
“Never let the guys who drive the big trucks design your region, because they’ll only do what works well for them,” he warned.
And this, Price maintains, is what has happened to Gateway.
He says it’s being pushed through by the B.C. government as individual projects with little focus on the overall consequences. And many of the negative impacts will occur south of the Fraser, especially in Delta, where a major port expansion is already under way.
“I recognize that in a growing region like ours you have to make a commitment to [building] infrastructure, but simply expanding the road system, even with modest tolls, will only result in people becoming more car-dependent,” Price said.
“The new capacity will only be quickly filled up, so instead of four lanes of trucks stuck in traffic you’ll have eight lanes of trucks stuck in traffic.” He also said before we spend billions expanding the regional road system, we should improve efficiencies in the current system.
Nor have Gateway planners taken into account the consequences of climate change, the increased concerns about fossil-fuel emissions or the loss of local farmland to make way for new roads, he added.
“In the end, you don’t solve a problem by doing more of what created that problem in the first place,” Price said.
Yes, I think the professor would have been a dandy chef because he cooks up some tasty food for thought.

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