Governance & Politics
July 29, 2007

How We’re Seen

By, in this instance, the Washington Post:

Vancouver’s Olympic Challenge
City Faces Pressure to Fulfill Social Pledges That Helped It Win 2010 Winter Games
 
By Doug Struck
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, July 23, 2007; A11

VANCOUVER — Rob Skish is looking forward to the 2010 Winter Olympics. A “binner” who plumbs garbage containers to fill his shopping cart with food for his stomach and cans for the recycler, Skish figures that when the Olympic crowds come to town, the pickings in the bins will be good.
“They’ll be full,” said Skish, 40. “But there will be a lot more people picking. They will come from all over the world.”
Skish’s prediction is the stuff of bad dreams for Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan.
When the Winter Olympics open in Vancouver, visitors will find one of the most alluring cities in North America, a green and vibrant port to Asia brimming with diversity, skyscrapers and West Coast cool. But if they take a wrong turn, they will enter Downtown Eastside, a 16-block area teeming with drug dealers, addicts, prostitutes and panhandlers.
The side alleys are open markets for crack cocaine and crystal methamphetamine. The streets reek of urine. Rates of AIDS and hepatitis C are at Third World levels. Those who don’t have rooms in some shabby flophouse sleep on the pavement. A U.N. report last month called the area “the trouble in paradise.”
To win the Games, Vancouver and the provincial and federal governments made some of the boldest promises of any Olympic bid. They promised to add 800 new housing units a year for four years. They promised to cut homelessness and to ensure that people living on welfare and disability checks aren’t ousted from their hotels for higher-paying guests.
The city had already seen that happen once. Thousands of low-income residents were dislocated for the 1986 world’s fair, Expo 86. Olaf Solheim, an 88-year-old former logger with a long white beard, starved to death, disoriented and confused, after being evicted from his home of more than 40 years at the Patricia Hotel in Downtown Eastside. A welfare housing block is now named after him.
“I believe the Downtown Eastside will be the legacy of this Olympics. It will be a lot different,” the mayor said in an interview at City Hall. “We want every investment we make to leave a legacy that is needed by the city.”
Full article here.

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What with the Second Beach pool closed due to the strike, I strike off for West Van.  They have a very nice pool at 21st and Marine. 
But to get there on bicycle, you have to forge your own route.  As I’ve mentioned many times before, West Vancouver sends out a very clear message to cyclists: we don’t care about you.  At least not enough to sign a path from Lions Gate through Ambleside that tells you where you should go, much less actually build a route for you.
West Vancouverites mainly move around their municipality by car and foot.  To go walking, they typically drive somewhere, particularly to the beaches and waterfront, and given their age and class, they don’t want to be confronted by errant cyclists.  And they certainly don’t want to give up space for the car to the bicycle.  Hence not even a cycling lane on Marine Drive, where there is sufficient width to do so.  If Vancouver can do it on Georgia, West Van could do it on parts of Marine.
The good news is: things are changing, according to recent reports.  But so far, nothing has.
Not to end on a sour note, I would like to draw attention to something I just discovered today – a fine piece of public art where a stream flows through Ambleside under the BC Rail tracks.

This work celebrates the return of salmon to Lawson Creek.  It’s big, it’s striking, and it contrasts nicely with its setting: over the creek and beside an electrical substation.

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I’m back – but my head is still on vacation.  So while I’m sorting several thousand digital images, I’ll post a sampling from the last several weeks – even if they don’t make much sense.  (You can add your own commentary.)

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Tom Friedman, the New York Times columnist, was one of the first in the mainstream media to really push the importance of green technology as a critical competitive factor in the world today. 

… to the extent that we make “green” standards part of everything we design and manufacture, we create “green collar” jobs that are much more difficult to outsource. I.B.M. and other tech companies are discovering a mother lode of potential new business for their high-wage engineers and programmers thanks to the fact that mayors all over the world are thinking about going green through congestion pricing systems.July 15, 2007

His example: congestin charging in New York

Probably the biggest green initiative coming down the road these days, literally, is congestion pricing — charging people for the right to drive into a downtown area. It is already proving to be the most effective short-term way to clean up polluted city air, promote energy efficiency and create more livable urban centers, while also providing mayors with unexpected new revenue.

…  To make congestion pricing work, you need technology — cameras, software and algorithms that can read auto license plates as they flash by and automatically charge the driver or check whether he or she has paid the fee to enter the city center. (The data is regularly destroyed to protect privacy.) That is what I.B.M. is providing for the city of Stockholm, which, after a successful seven-month trial in which traffic dropped more than 20 percent, will move to full congestion pricing in August.

I’d add a local angle: the cameras being used in London for their congestion charging scheme are made in Burnaby at Extreme CCTV, one of the fastest growing tech companies in the region. 

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My latest column in Business in Vancouver:

July 10-16, 2007; issue 924
Housing crises can generate solutions
Having been on city council for 15 years, I’ve been through a housing crisis or two. The housing crisis of ’89 – now that was a good one. I still remember fondly the council meeting in which we pushed through about a half-dozen different initiatives in an afternoon.
That’s the upside of a good crisis: you can do things that otherwise get put off for “further study” and more “public process.”
Sometimes there’s a good reason for putting off action: with a little more time, the crisis goes away. When dealing with a phenomenon dependent on external factors like interest rates and incomes, circumstances can quickly change.
And then you find out that the crisis was exaggerated.
But politically, so what? If people believe that no one can afford to buy a house, politicians must respond creatively. And sure enough, some creative ideas are coming forward.

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Matt Smith of the SF Weekly writes about a rather nasty ballot initiative to increase the amount of parking in San Francisco:

On its face, The Fisher Initiative would seem benign: “What’s wrong with more parking?” Fisher’s political consultant asked, rhetorically, when I spoke with him a couple of weeks ago. But this measure’s awfulness is in its details. It’s being promoted as a way to make driving around the city a more attractive transport option. But its most notable effect will be to make housing more expensive so parking can be cheaper — that’s backwards. And just as it will help drive more low- and middle-income people from San Francisco, the Fisher Initiative will make life less pleasant for people of all incomes who already live here.

What makes this story interesting is not just its content but its treatment.  You can find the traditional text-based column here.  But SF Weekly has also done an illustrated version in slideshow format for the web which is really quite extraordinary.

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