A good piece in The Tyee by Cynthia Yoo, reporting from the frontlines of the rental housing crunch.

… my idyllic summer evening turned quickly into a battleground scene. Dozens of flip-flopped, lululemon’ed denizens milled about the front grounds of a building in one of the most prized postal-codes in the city… These lotus-eaters’ fabled Shangri-las are Kitsilano, the West End and Commercial Drive. And to nab those coveted 1 or 2BR suites, Vancouverites often resort to bribery and bidding wars, lies and fists-full of cash.

She picks up on a comparison rarely made:

“The United States, although constantly misconstrued by the left-liberal coffee-house ‘progressives’ in Vancouver as ‘right-wing’ is in fact one of the more progressive places in terms of affordable housing programs,” according to Howard Rotberg who has written extensively about rental housing issues.
The U.S. has everything from transferable affordable housing tax credits issued to affordable housing developers who sell them to provide early stage financing, to dedicated affordable housing mutual funds. He says B.C. (and Vancouver in particular) is in fact one of the least progressive jurisdictions in North America.

And then this:

The solution, then? Ramlo, Gurstein, Durning and Rotberg are all waiting to see what happens with the City’s new EcoDensity Planning Initiative, but aren’t holding their breath. But “the one real value to EcoDensity initiative is the ‘initiative’ part,” says Ramlo. “A conversation is starting as we as a city are realizing we have to densify and work on the problems.”

Oh, but they are holding their breath. As opposition gets organized to EcoDensity – a key plank of which is increased affordability by providing a greater diversity of housing – it counts on a passive response by those who would defend it. And those on the left whose priority is affordability are often reluctant to speak out for several reasons:
(1) They believe in neighbourhood activism. And if neighbourhood activists are fighting EcoDensity, they prefer to remain unaligned.
(2) EcoDensity is a policy developed by Sam Sullivan and the NPA. If it works, the right gets the credit.
(3) EcoDensity is not perfect. It won’t do everything that’s needed, and what it may do won’t happen quickly. Trade-offs will be required. In this case, the Perfect can drive out the Good. The result: neither the Perfect, nor the Good.
Thus the problem worsens, and both the opponents of EcoDensity and the affordable housing advocates can then re-unite: City Hall (specific politicians to be named here) is doing nothing to address this emergency!

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While searching for an image on Vancouver in Google, I came across this:

It was used in the campaign to convince Seattle voters not to support a rebuild of the Alaskan Way Viaduct (pictured above, as though transported to English Bay). 
There was actually an option to run a freeway offshore in English Bay to connect with a Third Crossing.  I doubt it was taken seriously.
But the proposed right-of-way along the Burrard Inlet waterfront would have been quite sufficient to destroy Gastown and Coal Harbour:

The Great Freeway Fight will be just one of the turning points discussed by Mike Harcourt, Ken Cameron and Sean Rossiter at the launch of the “Paradise Makers,” coinciding with the launch of their book, “City Making in Paradise.”
It’s coming up on Friday, September 9 at 7 pm (Harbour Centre – 515 West Hastings Street). Reservations are required.  Email cstudies@sfu.ca or call 778-782.5100.
You can find details on the whole City Program series here.

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Or rather, “What are they thinking!?”

Cars and more cars: In China, car ownership at present is about 20 million, but is projected to be 250 million in 2020 (an 820% increase in a decade!), subject to the availability of a fuel.

‘Bigger is better:’ An overwhelming sense of the development projects is that the bigger they are the better they are. In Nanchang, building setbacks are to be over 120 m in new plans, just about twice that of the Champs Elysée.
‘What context?’ Compared to North America, the approach to development has a disconnect in terms of both sense of scale and regard for the surrounding context. The primary objective is to create a superb standalone development, regardless of its context in terms of either use or scale.
‘Seven stories is cool’ In a number of areas buildings were universally seven stories high, since that was the height one could build without elevators. Their orientation was such that there was ventilation through single-loaded units. While most people owned air- conditioners, frequently there was not enough energy available to use them! Therefore, the natural ventilation achieved with building orientation was critical.

– Philip Weinstein, a senior partner of Toronto-based firm The Planning Partnership, at a Lambda Alpha meeting in Phoenix.

Hasn’t anyone in China calculated the amount of land 250 million cars would require to drive and park, not to mention the consequences with respect to energy security, greenhouse gases, local air and noise pollution, traffic deaths and urban design? It seems they are metaphoricallly going to drive off a cliff, and the only question is how fast can they do it.

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Business interests dominate new TransLink panel
By Jeff Nagel
Black Press
Aug 22 2007
The province has taken its first step toward installing a professional unelected board of directors to run a radically reformed TransLink. A screening panel of five people that critics say is too heavily weighted in favour of business interests has now been chosen to nominate prospective TransLink directors.
The panel consists of:
•Graham Clarke, chosen by the province. He is chair of the Vancouver International Airport Authority, governor of the Vancouver Board of Trade and owner of the Clarke Group of Companies.
•Former NDP premier Mike Harcourt, nominated by TransLink directors and Metro Vancouver mayors.
•Hugh Lindsay, chosen by the BC Institute of Chartered Accountants, is president of FMG Financial Mentors Group Inc.
•Dave Park, nominated by the Vancouver Board of Trade and that organization’s chief economist.
•Bob Wilds, nominated by the Greater Vancouver Gateway Council. He is the council’s managing director and is on the board of the Business Council of B.C. and a member of the Vancouver Board of Trade.
The five panelists are to propose 15 qualified candidates, from which a group of area mayors will select nine directors who will form the new TransLink board in January.
The panel is expected to begin its work soon on orders of transportation minister Kevin Falcon even though the legislation to overhaul TransLink introduced in the spring has not yet become law.

Note, these are not the people on the new board; they will choose those who will be, after being vetted by the region’s Mayors.  
The easiest question to ask of them is, of course: do you use transit.  But that’s a cheap shot. 
No, the critical question is this: name the place you’d like us to be more like.  Tell us about your vision for Vancouver and the Fraser Valley – and how you anticipate the investment we make in transportation will help achieve this vision.
Since we’re turning over city building in this paradise (to paraphrase the title of Mike Harcourt’s new book) to the Board of Trade, we need to know what their version of paradise is like.  So we won’t be surprised.

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August 27, 2007

Michael Pollan, the author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” – on my list for one of the best ten books read this year – wrote an article for the New York Times Magazine that tried to distill what nutrition science had learned these past few decades. It had one of the best leads to an essay I’ve ever read. Here are seven words that tell you what you need to know about what to eat:
“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

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August 27, 2007

A fine piece on cycling by world-traveller Michael Geller in the Sun over the weekend. Among the points he makes:

In addition to the obvious benefits of bicycles — reduced traffic congestion, fewer greenhouse gas emissions and lower transportation costs — bicycles offer another plus. In the Netherlands, you do not see as many overweight people as you do in North America.
While I have not seen any research, I am convinced there is a correlation between bicycle use and good health.
This is why I plan to ride my bicycle much more when I return to Vancouver, especially if I can be safely separated from the cars, and have a convenient place to park.

Just thought I’d highlight that personal commitment. (It’s not a requirement that someone has to cycle everywhere, all the time. At least start with the times and conditions that work.)
This just in – another indicator of progress in the region.

New Bike Routes in Coquitlam to Connect Region

Cyclists in the Tri-Cities area will have access to two new bike routes in Coquitlam this fall. The City of Coquitlam is working on two new road projects that will connect the region and make commuting easier for cyclists.
Cyclists will have access to dedicated bike lanes on Guildford Way and shared bike lanes on Foster Avenue. The Guildford Way bike lanes provides a regional connection from Port Moody to the Coquitlam Town Centre, while the Foster Avenue shared bike lane connects to a future bike route in Burnaby that is part of the regional bike system.

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August 23, 2007

Cheeying Ho of Smart Growth BC has an op-ed in today’s Vancouver Sun.  It’s a response to the  ecodenialists:

Cheryl Savchenko’s Aug. 14 column Eco-density is a thin concept raises some important concerns, but unfortunately fails to understand the key role that well-planned and well-designed density plays in creating more livable, environmentally sound neighbourhoods.

I like that point: density can result in better neighbourhoods if it’s done well.
Ecodenialists are essentially making an argument for sprawl: green is good, and more is better.  Nor can we sacrifice any of our green space to accommodate others.  Let them plough over green space somewhere else.
In theory, green space is perfectly compatible with increased density.  Go no further than False Creek, where new urban parks have replaced polluted industrial lands.  But that requires taller buildings on tighter footprints – and the highrise is anathema to the low-density neighbourhoods most fearful of Ecodensity. 
Highrises, however, are not necessary. Infill development can beautifully complement the existing fabric of our neighbourhoods, as lane housing in Mount Pleasant or rowhouses in Grandview illustrate so well. 

Ah, but then there’s loss of ‘green space.’  Gotcha.
There’s no point trying to avoid the trade-offs necessary in considering the changes that will come with Ecodensity.  The first step, though, is deciding whether they are necessary and defensible.  The case for one-planet living must be constantly made and affirmed as both do-able and desirable.  If the communities affected are partners in the process, then there’s a good chance of success.  As CityPlan has demonstrated, it can be done.
I’m waiting to see whether those who have been arguing for more decisive leadership on sustainability will step up to defend Ecodensity – particularly those on the Left who have been arguing that it is just a limp repackaging of existing policy and that even more must be done. 
However, if the proponents for the status quo, the ecodenialists, gain some traction, then clearly Ecodensity has substance.  Why else try to fight it? 
Those who claim to support sustainable development (emphasis on the latter) have to make a choice: come to Ecodensity’s defense, or passively wait to see whether Sullivan and the NPA Council will be punished for pushing forward.  That gives them the option to come out and shoot the wounded, even if it means the momentum for change will be lost.

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It’s the big news down south in Seattle: Chaos Avoided! Gridlock mysteriously doesn’t happen! How can this be!?

They’re doing some major roadwork on I-5, the freeway that runs through the heart of the city, and only a few lanes are open where traffic is normally congested during the daily commute. Naturally, a major foul-up was predicted on the first day after the closures.

Didn’t happen. Hasn’t happened.

So how come? There’s a column in the Seattle Times by Danny Westneat today that helps explain it all:

The short answer is that this is always what happens….

In 1998, British researchers studied what happened to traffic in more than 100 highway and bridge shutdowns in Europe and the U.S. They found that on average 25 percent of all car trips simply evaporated.

People still went to work. Some commuters drove, some found another way in. Some other trips were just not made.

“Drivers are not stupid,” (Oliver) Downs says. “They change schedules. They don’t take some trips, or they delay them. The net effect of all these little decisions can be dramatic.”

There’s that word again. Is it me, or does “little” keep rearing up when the subject is our big problem, transportation?

Seattle’s primary transit corridor, the downtown bus tunnel, is closed. Gridlock was predicted. We dodged that by doing a “thousand little things,” such as moving bus stops and banning cars from Third Avenue.

Now we have closed part of our largest freeway. Still no gridlock. You drivers made sure of that. You did “fifty thousand little things.”

Yet all the plans for what to do next are big. Build big rail lines. Bigger roads. Paid for by the biggest tax increase.

Maybe some answers to our traffic mess are little ….

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