Policy & Planning
September 7, 2007

Paradise Making in the Sun

Thanks to the Vancouver Sun for running my op-ed today:

Making paradise

The ‘village on the edge of the rainforest’ didn’t become one of the world’s most livable cities by happenstance

  Gordon Price Special to the Sun
CREDIT: Ian Smith, Vancouver Sun files ANOTHER JEWEL IN THE CITY’S CROWN: The new, wider seawall along Coal Harbour in the Bayshore hotel area.

Once again Vancouver is the world’s most livable city.
And the usual responses: (1) So what else is new? (2) How can they ignore the Downtown East Side? (3) Have they seen our housing prices?
But never: “Well, that just shows what a great job our local politicians are doing.”
If our rating goes down a few notches, you can be sure the blame will be disproportionately allocated to whoever sits in the mayor’s chair.
Until then, those presently in power shouldn’t expect any credit. That doesn’t come with the job.
Still, we lotus eaters expect our leaders, minimally, to pass this paradise on to the next generation in reasonable shape. In fact, given our blessings, we expect them to improve on it — to be paradise makers.
Paradise making is not without precedent: You can trace its origins back to the 1950s, when Jim Wilson, the head of Lower Mainland Regional Planning Board, articulated a vision for our future as “cities in a sea of green” — the basis for all the regional plans that followed.
With the inheritance of the North Shore watersheds, creation of a regional park system, establishment of the agricultural land reserve, designation of the Green Zone and concentrated growth in downtown and regional town centres, connected by rapid transit, that’s pretty much what we created.

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In this article in the Sun, writer Frances Bula came up with a great angle on “City Making in Paradise”- the new book by Ken Cameron and Harcourt, with Sean Rossiter.  (More below on their appearance at the SFU City Program on Friday, September 7th at 7 pm.)

Bula not only detailed the ‘nine decisions that saved the region,’ but added a bonus five decisions that made Vancouver a success (our regional parks and water system, for instance) – and nine terrible decisions that we’d want to change in retrospect (ending social housing programs, ripping up the interurban).

Better than reading about it, though, is to hear the authors get into the gritty details – which is what will be happening tomorrow night at SFU Harbour Centre at the launch of a new series of interviews with the leaders who shaped the city and region of today:

The Paradise Makers” will tell their stories on the First Friday of every month (with a few extra evenings thrown in).

Mike Harcourt and Ken Cameron
Friday, September 7, 7pm

Bob Williams
Friday, October 5, 7 pm

Rand Iredale: Architect, Mentor, and Pioneer
Friday, October 19, 7 pm

Ray Spaxman

Friday, November 2, 7 pm

Admission to public lectures is free; reservations are required.

Email cstudies@sfu.ca or call 778-782.5100.
Venue: SFU Vancouver (at Harbour Centre), 515 West Hastings, Vancouver.

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September 5, 2007

From Dave Brook:
Thanks for your DC issue. I thought you might be interested in these guys.

PARK(ing) is an investigation into reprogramming a typical unit of private vehicular space by leasing a metered parking spot for public recreational activity. We identified a site in an area of downtown San Francisco that is underserved by public outdoor space and is in an ideal, sunny location between the hours of noon and 2 p.m. There we installed a small, temporary public park that provided nature, seating, and shade. … By our calculations, we provided an additional 24,000 square-foot-minutes of public open space that Wednesday afternoon.

They produced a fun video

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As we get feedback and follow-up to the latest Price Tags (below), we’ll be posting interesting items.  Here’s the first:

Just read through your latest Pricetags — you always do a great job with integrating visuals with your text, while providing good insights.
You might be interested in taking a look at the trip reports from my cross-county travels this Summer for the Planning Commissioners Journal. I have about 100 trip reports posted at: www.rte50.com
 My colleague Betsey Krumholz also joined me while in Washington, DC., and one of her reports was on Columbia Heights: http://www.rte50.com/2007/06/a-giant-in-the-.html — you might find her observations interesting to compare with your own — there are also several other reports we posted while we were in D.C. (you can find links to all our posts by scrolling down the left side of the page).

Best regards,

Wayne Senville
Editor, Planning Commissioners Journal

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Download the latest Price Tags here: http://pricetags.ca/pricetags/pricetags95.pdf. Or go to www.pricetags.ca.

The great challenge for this generation is the transition of our auto-dependent regions into something more livable, affordable and sustainable. The good news is that it’s already happening – and the next few Price Tags will illustrate some of what’s going on out there.

We begin in Washington, D.C. – the city and the region. Thanks to one of the world’s great Metros, Washington has great examples of changing suburban development, whether traditional streetcar subdivisions or reurbanizing centres.

In this issue: Cleveland Park and Columbia Heights.

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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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