April 6, 2007

EcoDensity: Playing the Real Estate Game

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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March 28, 2007

John Burke: the Al Gore of the bike trade?

Interesting take from an industry insider on why cycling is posed for a new boom. And if you’d like to know how that might impact Vancouver, join us tonight for:
Preparing for the Third Wave of Cyclists- Cycling facilities designed for the future cyclists
March 28, 7-9 pm
SFU Harbour Centre, 515 West Hastings Street, Vancouver
Admission is free: reservations are required. Email cs_hc@sfu.ca or call 604.291.5100.
Within Vancouver, cycling for transportation has grown slowly over the past 20 years to a respectable level within North America. To create a step change and cause a new wave of major cycling growth there will need to be changes in thinking towards cycling infrastructure design with trends towards the European approach. Hear more on techniques from other cities within North America and Europe which should be brought to this region to help spur that next stage of growth. Speakers include: Jack Becker, Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition; Dr. Hans Groen, Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition, and Gordon Price, The SFU City Program.
Co-sponsored by the Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition and the Simon Fraser University City Program with financial support from Translink – The Greater Vancouver Transportation Authority.

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I usually try to wait a day or so before putting up a post on a hot issue.  But this time I can’t stop myself. 
The following just came in by email:

James Weldon, North Shore News (March 26, 2007)
NORTH SHORE – Lineups to the Lions Gate Bridge will quadruple by 2021, causing tie-ups on Highway 1 and major North Shore arterial roads, according to a new report by the province.
Evening rush-hour commuters can expect traffic jams four times the current length, regularly reaching half a kilometre along Marine Drive west of Taylor Way and up Capilano Road, say the authors.

 A little background here.  Ever since I moved to Vancouver in 1978, I’ve been aware that the North Shore has always wanted a Third Crossing.  The failure of that project in 1972 was a turning point in this region’s history – and is one of the reasons we are still a livable and economically prosperous city.  But that hasn’t stopped those stuck in traffic on the roads leading to Lions Gate Bridge from dreaming.
On this side of Burrard Inlet, however, we’ve done everything we can to prevent another crossing.  Coal Harbour was designed in such a way as to eliminate the possibility of a waterfront road, we refused to entertain any more lanes through Stanley Park, we rejected the possibility of an Alberni-Georgia couplet, and we traffic calmed the West End.  Councils across the ideological spectrum agree: no more capacity for single-occupant vehicles.
On the other side of Burrard Inlet, most people have come to terms with the situation.  In fact, given the modest growth of West Vancouver and western North Vancouver, the line-ups to the bridge really haven’t changed that much over the years.  The worst traffic is on weekends; most of the time it flows pretty well, and people have organized there lives to accommodate a three-lane reality.  (That’s one of the reasons their quality of life is so high – though they rarely acknowledge it.)
But when the Province announced a widening of the Sea-to-Sky Highway (and the real-estate development that would inevitably follow up the corridor), I wondered: what will happen to the traffic on Taylor Way and Capilano Road when all those new residents (who bought homes, as advertised, because Squamish is closer to downtown Vancouver than Langley) hit the road and start commuting?

Now we know:

 Its authors looked carefully at 20 possible improvements for the intersections and thoroughfares near the north end of the span. If all of them were implemented the cost could add up to $125 million.
The authors conclude that none of them will reduce commute times.

All of these improvements, which range in price from around $3 million to about $50 million, would do nothing to speed commutes, but would at least help get lineups out of the way of local traffic.
Temporarily, that is.
“Eventually, those storage areas will be filled over the next 20 years or so,” said the authors. “The lineups to the bridge will once again extend along Marine Drive, Taylor Way and Capilano Road.”
In the end, the only solution is to get commuters out of their cars, said the authors.

What the hell?  How could the Province be spending hundreds of millions to widen Sea to Sky without taking into account the intersection of Taylor Way and Marine Drive?  How could they do that without anyone asking what will happen?
It turns out someone did.  Liberal MLA Ralph Sulton called for the report, mainly because he wanted a solution to the problem facing his constituents now – not so much to deal with the growth that will come. 

….The report is something of a wake-up call, said West Vancouver-Capilano MLA Ralph Sultan, who was a driving force behind the project. “I, in my naivete, thought there was some kind of silver bullet,” he said. “To spend a million dollars and not to be given a silver bullet is bit of a disappointment.”

I’m stunned.  What was he thinking could possibly solve the problem?  Another road down the Capilano River?  Or anywhere through the forested subdivisons of the region’s wealthiest residents?   Double decking?  Was there anywhere he could point to as a model for what to do,

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Thanks to reporter Jeff Nagel, the Surrey Leader provides some of the best regional coverage in the Lower Mainland.
Here’s his piece on the new structure for TransLink.

 “For those who thought TransLink was unaccountable, that’s nothing compared to this structure,” says Gordon Price, head of SFU’s City program.
“It insulates unelected people with astonishing power that will basically be setting the direction for the region.”

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