Business & Economy
April 8, 2007

Water and oil

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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From the National Post

  Brian Hutchinson National Post

CREDIT: Steve Bosch, CanWest News Service A forest of condominium buildings in Vancouver. “View corridors” between towers are protected, giving most condo dwellers a glimpse of the sea or mountains.

Canadians are living in houses bigger than ever, even though our families are shrinking. In this, the second of a three-part series, the National Post examines the backlash against living large.
– – –
Do not feel bad for Gordon Price. A former Vancouver councillor, he lives in what he calls “the smallest home” he has ever owned. It is in a 1950sera tower that borders Stanley Park, the city’s crown jewel.
The West End apartment he shares with his partner measures approximately 1,100 square feet, which makes it about half the size of the average Canadian home. One small bathroom, no garden, limited storage and parking.
Like many people living in his densely populated neighbourhood, Mr. Price has no children. This helps free up space in his small home.
His apartment is bright and airy, with large windows that overlook the tranquil Lost Lagoon. The simple, open design fools the eye and makes the place seem much larger than it really is.
“It’s not the size that counts,” says Mr. Price with a wink. “It’s what you make of it.”
Vancouverites are used to making do with less. Most have no choice; the city is sandwiched between water and mountains, and real estate here is astronomically priced, the highest in Canada. Traditional single-family homes — even small bungalows — cannot be had for less than $500,000, making them unattainable for even moderately high-income earners.
Figures released last week indicate that detached bungalows in Vancouver sell for an average of $758,000; in Toronto, they sell for an average of $387,744.
Other Canadians may wonder how people in Vancouver could possibly cope inside such small homes; Mr. Price’s apartment is actually a generous size, by West End standards. And his neighbourhood has one of the highest population densities in North America, with about 20,000 people per square kilometre. That is more than four times the density of Montreal, one of Canada’s oldest and most congested cities.

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Vancouver’s Director of Planning – and Planetizen blogger – addresses the question: Does City Hall stifle good design?
Here’s a highlight:

Some have suggested to me that City Hall sometimes goes too far in shaping the City. That some rules, guidelines or approaches are too prescriptive, too specific, instead of being open minded to better ways to address design aspirations. I’ve listened with an open mind, and have myself observed some examples of “Cadillac” guidelines that might warrant either a re-think, or at least a “squinty-eyed view” when it comes to interpretation. We should always maintain an open-mindedness that doesn’t let a rule stand in the way of a better city-building idea (although we might find ourselves disagreeing on whether an idea is in fact better).
I must say though, I’ve seen great examples of inventiveness and open-mindedness here at City Hall, where the rule book got set aside for a better idea. More examples than in other cities I’ve worked with across Canada, where I was often the one trying to get the better idea through. Some of our best projects have been the result.

The whole post can be found here.

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