March 15, 2019

Seth Klein on Mobilizing for the Climate Emergency, and the Lessons of WWII

“There is a time coming, in our lives, when the tap of natural gas into our homes and into our city is going to be turned off. It’s not tomorrow — we have time to make adjustments.”

As follow-up to his interview with Vancouver City Councillor Christine Boyle (Episode 19) — mover of a unanimously-approved motion to declare a climate emergency — Gord wanted to speak to one of the ‘generals’ working on a solution to coming disaster. Someone with the knowledge, experience, and character to not just define the nature of the challenge we face in the coming decades, but to take on the mantle of leadership.

Whether Seth Klein is one of those generals is not yet clear, but he certainly seems to be writing the battle book.

The now-former BC Director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives —he actually founded the progressive think tank’s west coast chapter in 1996 — Klein has identified some compelling parallels between the effort made by the Canadian government and industry between 1939 and 1945 to mobilize behind the war effort, and what may be required to keep this ship we call Western civilization afloat today.

With little doubt that drastic measures are needed, Klein believes the responses of countries like Canada during the Second World War are not just instructive, but likely instructive and maybe even necessary in this time of existential crisis.

What were those responses? There were many. They were mandated, legislated. And no person, no institution, was immune.

This conversation isn’t just a sneak preview of his upcoming book — it’s a conversation about a similar challenge we faced 80 years ago, how we faced it, and whether we can do it again today.

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In 1997, as workers were stripping asbestos out of the old Woodward’s building, the Vancouver planner overseeing the project predicted it would take 10 to 20 years for Hastings Street to change. “From anything we can see, the community will be overwhelmingly low-income for that long,” Nathan Edelson told the Vancouver Sun.

Flash forward 22 years, and he was both right and wrong. True, a lot has changed on Hastings Street since the opening of the new Woodward’s Building in 2010. The central passion of legendary activist, non-profit housing developer, and city councillor Jim Green, Woodward’s has led the urban revitalization — or gentrification — of the west end of the Downtown Eastside. It sure did take a long time to change, but change it did, no matter how you label it.

Yet, one could say it’s also taken a long time for nothing much to change. Edelson can acknowledge a modicum of success, but he’s clear on one thing — there’s lots more to be done.

Because it’s all still happening. The 24-hour drug market. Unchecked addictions amongst the city’s most vulnerable populations. A lack of safe, affordable housing. It clearly gave Edelson pause recently, as he reflected on the past, present and future of inner city planning.

He does so from a different perch today, as consultant with the False Creek South Neighbourhood Association for their *RePlan project (which is focused on the 1,800 housing units on City-owned, leasehold land between the Cambie and Burrard bridges). Back in the day, Edelson and his ‘brothers and sisters’ in the city’s planning department were in the thick of it, focused on what he calls “a reasonable public purpose”: to provide temporary shelter for the poorest in our society and to, over time, replace that with self-contained, permanent social housing.

And so, despite any perceived equivocation over the outcomes of his work over the years, there’s no doubt Woodward’s was a success in providing some of that social housing. It’s just one example of the many civic projects Edelson helped usher through local community planning and consultation processes, and ultimately through the Councils of the day, for populations co-existing across the entire spectrum of need in society. Go ahead, Google him. You’ll see.

Humble almost to a fault — “some of my best ideas were his”, he says, deflecting credit to Jim Green — Edelson continues to carry the torch for housing, which is, in his opinion, job #1 for planners.

So yes, as Gord put it, he was right. Right in his beliefs and his methods, because it all had an impact. Still, Edelson thinks it’s not enough. He’s just not done focusing on those in our city who are in need, and how he can help shape what the future will bring.

Nathan Edelson is this year’s speaker at the Jim Green Memorial Lecture, tomorrow evening (March 13) at the Goldcorp Centre for the Arts at Woodwards, 149 West Hastings Street.

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This is the creation story of laneway housing in Vancouver…and, perhaps, the beginning of the end of the Bartholomew era of restrictive zoning.

The protagonist is Jake Fry, a self-proclaimed — metaphorical, mind you — child of Trudeau, who grew up in small-town Ontario and attended a one-room schoolhouse. His real education might have come half a kilometre underground; coming from a family of miners, this is where Fry learned hard skills, carpentry first and foremost among them. This ultimately led him to Toronto, and a career in construction in film and television. It also afforded him the means to travel.

So when he and his family eventually moved west, his world view was informed by an intimate knowledge of older, denser places, and an appreciation for living light. He began to work in housing construction, and then one day it all came together. As Fry tells it, he literally lay his tools down in the middle of a job. No more. Time to do something different. Something small.

“Small is Beautiful” was the name of a book by British economist E. F. Schumacher which may be unfamiliar to an entire generation of young people who, nonetheless, live out its values today. The idea that ‘small works’ informed an ethos for Fry, which fomented into a vision of a new type of housing. Small housing, a type that suggests a home can be just enough to meet your needs. Not necessarily a restrictive, one-size-fits-all checklist — ‘just enough’ could mean something different to everybody — but the idea that we might need to start building homes differently.

Fry founded SmallWorks, and speaking the language of EcoDensity, the sustainability strategy created under former mayor Sam Sullivan’s administration, he softly, steadily, surely began to lobby Vancouver City Hall. The objective? To change the rules restricting the building of secondary housing forms — additional density — on lots with existing primary residences.

It worked, and in 2009 laneway housing was legalized. In the decade since, Fry has developed an entire portfolio of laneway homes, co-founded non-profit Small Housing BC (with Bob Ransford of developer Century Group), and is about to release a study showing the economic and environmental advantages of small homes. There’s almost literally nothing standing in his way.

Except, maybe, politics.

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“You don’t hold referendums in small communities on a case-by-case basis—you do what you were elected to do, and make difficult decisions for the greater good.”

For anyone following politics in Metro Vancouver these days, this is become the sentiment of some in the planning profession. It’s a message about (and even directed towards, even if not in so many words) the many new, inexperienced members of council in city halls across the region proposing, and making decisions about, the very real housing and development challenges in all of our backyards.

It’s also quite possibly parting shots from the Baby Boomer professional class that, by some measures, could be implicated as much of the source of our current housing and transportation problems in the first place. But not Chuck Brook and Gordon Harris — these are the guys walking the talk.

Brook, former heritage planner in Winnipeg, and then senior development planner for the City of Vancouver during the tail-end of the Ray Spaxman era, is an ardent supporter of what’s often called “infill projects” — the re-development and, often more efficient, use of existing land in an urban environment, for greater density and mixed use. Brook himself is notorious for the relentless pursuit of greater FSR; his career is marked by consistent efforts to increase the amount of liveable floor space that can be developed on a piece of land, relative to that overall footprint. When you think of changing the scope and character of a neighbourhood to accommodate more people, this is your man.

Harris is President and CEO of SFU Community Trust, which oversees UniverCity, the award-winning sustainable community next to the Burnaby Mountain campus. It’s just one of the many projects—some global in nature, many familiar to residents of Metro Vancouver as part of daily life—for which his team has provided planning, market analysis and strategic development consulting work, as part of a similarly persistent approach to sustainable urban development.

They’ve both also contributed to their local communities in countless other ways, and they’re almost ready to move along. But not before they spend the better part of the next decade or two trying to solve the now classic problem: who’s going to be living in this place in 2030? In 2050? What will they need? How do we build that society today, in such a way that, beyond not exacerbating current problems, we might actually mitigate or (in some way) resolve some of the very, very bad problems likely coming our way?

And does incrementalism mean changing the what we develop, or the way we develop it?

In this episode, Gord gets Brook and Harris to unwrap “the pill we have to swallow”, with some pointed words for the District of North Vancouver.

**NOTE: Audio quality improves at 13mins**

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When Portlandians prepared to elect a new mayor in the months leading up to the May 2016 primary vote, few saw Sarah Iannarone coming.

As co-founder of First Stop Portland, the organization responsible for telling the city’s sustainability story, and owner of a popular brunch spot in the so-hip-it-hurts Southeast PDX neighbourhood, Iannarone was a political neophyte. She jumped into the race, and with a firm grasp of progressive environmental, social and economic values — and a compellingly forthright approach on the stump — she finished in third place, with almost 12% of the vote. She also captured a lot of the general discontent about the city’s direction, eerily similar to conversations we’ve been having in Vancouver. And because of all this, Iannarone built a following.

Today, she’s an urban policy consultant, a doctoral candidate in urban studies and planning, a volunteer for numerous committees, community groups and NGOs, a prolific tweeter, and a sought-after talking head in Portland media on a variety of topics. Like freeway expansion (she’s against it), police violence (um, also against), the gentrification vs urban revitalization debate (conflicted), and improvements for cycling (strongly for).

Gord spoke to Iannarone at the end of her recent trip to Victoria and Vancouver. The conversation reinforced the separated-at-birth feels we have for our sister city…coffee and cycling and pinot (oh my). Furthermore, she insisted that, despite the snow, the planned Mobi bike tour of downtown and False Creek must go on. She brought her rain cape, after all. Makes us wonder if Portland electoral ballots haven’t seen the last of Iannarone, Sarah.

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She’s the new Mayor of the City of North Vancouver, a former councillor and school trustee with a life of public service in her community. He’s a first-time Council member, who’s devoted countless hours in recent years to advocacy for better cycling policies and more public spaces.

And while they didn’t run on a ticket — few candidates for public office in Metro Vancouver do — Linda Buchanan and Tony Valente are singing from the same song sheet.

Among other ambitions, they want to invite more density to the 6th-densest municipality in Canada. They support car sharing and the new e-bike share program coming to the North Shore, in a city where 30% of residents already don’t own a car. And, seemingly in contrast to many of their political counterparts in the districts of North Vancouver and West Vancouver, they embrace the recommendations of INSTPP, the North Shore Transportation Planning Project led by TransLink and multiple levels of government.

Buchanan and Valente brought the Price Talks team to CNV library recently, a 10-year-old facility just a few steps from City Hall, boasting a new recording studio. They spoke with Gord at length about their adjustments to their new roles, their early priorities, and the opportunities to bring new housing, transportation and employment options to residents in their beautiful, diverse and growing city.

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In a rite of passage, ‘liminal’ refers to the transition point that is neither here nor there; a threshold that can result in multiple interpretations or outcomes, and thus (often) confusion. In this episode, Wes Regan, Social Planner responsible for Community Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Initiatives with the City of Vancouver, aptly uses this word to describe his work space at the downtown Woodward’s Building and, by extension, the city’s current approach to community economic development (CED).

One could say the true liminal space is the Downtown Eastside itself, a threshold between competing realities that the city has worked hard to define, and reconcile, in the almost two decades since the signing of the Vancouver Agreement. As “A Program of Strategic Actions for the Downtown Eastside“, the Vancouver Agreement was formulated to address poverty, substance abuse, homelessness, crime and injustice, all of which have afflicted the DTES for a generation.

Regan has been a part of a number of organizations and initiatives contributing to understanding that uneasy but critical dynamic — between economic development and gentrification,  top-down social programs and self-determination, and civic integration and maintaining the integrity of community culture and the collective lived experience.

From the establishment of the Portland Hotel Society in 1993, to the Woodwards Squat in ’02, to the eventual successes of social enterprises like EMBERS and Potluck Café & Catering, city staff have learned to embrace this ambiguity. It resulted, in Regan’s estimation, in a collapse of the traditional economic development hierarchy of formal, social and informal economies, into a “livelihoods continuum”. The development and implementation of the city’s Healthy City Strategy and new Community Benefits Agreement policy are just two expressions of policy innovation on the new continuum.

In this discussion with host Colin Stein, Regan talks about his almost two decades living and working in and around the DTES, and some of the practical implications of this new approach to CED.


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Today’s moving day for the Bruntletts, a foursome who have come to represent, over the past decade, Vancouver’s culture of cycling in the mainstream.

Think normal clothes, kids in cargo bikes, and families who embrace the car-free lifestyle, riding around the seawall, or along a quiet neighbourhood street— the Bruntletts have helped shape this image.

What began as writing to (and for) local media in support of transportation cycling evolved into their own media creations, through their consultancy Modacity. And by promoting and celebrating everyday, normalized cycling, and blogging, producing videos, and using social media and events to take the Vancouver cycling perspective outside our backyard, the Bruntletts also discovered the Netherlands.

So today, thanks in part to the success of their 2018 book Building the Cycling City: The Dutch Blueprint for Urban Vitality, the new life they begin is in The Netherlands itself, where bike life is truly mainstream. They’ll bring their skills, networks and message to Delft, home of the Dutch Cycling Embassy.

The Bruntlett’s move is perhaps not that different from what brought them to Vancouver in the first place. They talk about this in today’s episode, as well as how their cycling advocacy unfolded, during what can most certainly be seen as Vancouver’s first major step into mainstream bike-naissance a decade ago. We hope to see them back here before too long.

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During a Vancouver Council meeting on January 16, 2019, a motion moved by Councillor Christine Boyle to declare a global state of climate emergency was carried unanimously.

With nine “whereas” clauses — referencing the impacts of BC and California wildfires, the emergency debates at various levels of government following the UN’s recent IPCC report on global warming, the estimated future costs of climate-related disasters to Vancouver, and our current vulnerabilities — plus half a dozen amendments from Boyle’s peers, the motion ended with a series of directives, and a clear call to action.

In short, the motion called for an admission that we’re in a climate emergency. It reminded us all that, despite progress in recent years, we’ve failed to meet our previous targets. And it directed staff to formulate, within 90 days, new targets, actions and timelines to aggressively reduce carbon emissions, in-line with IPCC goals.

Boyle, one of nine first-time Council members, made time over her lunch hour recently to chat with Gord at City Hall about her motion — what inspired it, the potential implications of climate disaster on vulnerable populations in particular, and where we go from here.

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Kate Lambert (IBI), Paige Ritchie (Intracorp), and Carla Guererra (Purpose Driven Development, Planning and Strategy) are members of the Urban Land Institute, an independent, nonprofit research and education organization with almost 40,000 members worldwide, over 400 of whom are based in British Columbia. They’re also founding members of the Women’s Leadership Initiative (WLI), with a stated objective of supporting and promoting the advancement of women in all disciplines of the real estate industry.

Kate, Paige and Carla visited with Gord and the Price Talks team recently, in advance of this week’s special, sold-out lunch event with the City of Vancouver’s outgoing General Manager of Development, Buildings, and Licensing, Kaye Krishna.

In their conversation, they just barely scraped the surface of all the issues related to inclusivity, the inequity in roles for women, and how righting the imbalance matters in city building and real estate development. It’s not just about creating an equal playing field, but about building better developments, communities, and cities for everyone.

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