September 4, 2007

Feedback: Travels with Wayne

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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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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