Policy & Planning
April 4, 2019

SFU City Conversations: When Facts Fail – Apr 18

Municipal Policy in the Disinformation Age

Biased, misleading, and incorrect information has long influenced public policy development to varying degrees, but in our current age of disinformation, we’re witnessing a rise in “alternative facts” and the public delegitimization of experts. The misinformed and the “wilfully ignorant” often dominate the conversation, drowning out both expert analysis and constructive community input, proving detrimental to the people these policies attempt to help.

Are we trending toward a future where facts are less essential to the formation of public policy than exaggerations, falsehoods, and outrage? How has policy formation and analysis been disrupted in the disinformation age, and what can we do about it? Should public policy formation change to reflect our new realities? What does this mean on a local level?


Thursday, April 18

12:30 – 1:30 PM

Room 320, SFU Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue, 580 W. Hastings Street 

Free Event | Registration is Required

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Philanthropy is a critically important part of Canadian life.  However, the 2018 Giving Report finds that the current model of philanthropy in Canada is unsustainable. Why is it that philanthropic donations by individuals and families have been in decline since 2006? Does rising income inequality and wealth concentration among older Canadians mean that younger generations have less to give? How can we ensure that charitable organizations remain properly funded and can continue to provide vital support?

To start the conversation, we welcome Calvin Fong, the Vancouver Foundation’s Director of Donor Services; David Love, President of the Vancouver chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals and Principal of LOVEfundraising, and Jeanette Ageson, Publisher of the online newspaper The Tyee.  Then it’s your turn to ask questions, make observations and express opinions. It’s lunchtime, so please feel free to bring your lunch.



12:30 – 1:30 PM

FREE EVENT Registration is Required

SFU Vancouver at Harbour Centre, Room 1415
515 West Hastings St.


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With 22.5 million bicycles for a population of 18 million, the Netherlands is undoubtedly the world’s top cycling nation. However, there remains an erroneous belief that – while the Dutch can provide encouragement – their methods are unrepeatable, and their results unattainable.

Can the country that has spent decades building comfortable cycling infrastructure provide a blueprint for Metro Vancouver?

To explore the issue, we’ve invited Chris and Melissa Bruntlett, founders of Modacity and authors of Building the Cycling City: The Dutch Blueprint for Urban Vitality. Joining them will be Councillor Linda Buchanan from the City of North Vancouver and Kati Tamashiro, Section Head for Active Transportation with the City of Vancouver.

Thursday, September 20
12:30 – 1:30 pm
Room 7000, SFU Vancouver at Harbour Centre

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Facebook, Google, and Twitter may be central to how we communicate with others, but these powerful tools come with an expensive, hidden cost.

The more time you spend on the platform, the more money they make. How do they keep your eyeballs glued to the screen? And how is this affecting our culture?

Next Thursday, SFU City Conversations presents Dr. Sarah Ganter, Assistant Professor of Communications at SFU and others, to explain how social media really works, and what other countries are doing about it.

Thursday, July 19
12:30 – 1:30 pm
Simon Fraser University, Harbour Centre – Room 7000

Register on Eventbrite

Please note: SFU City Conversations continues to be free, but registration via Eventbrite is now required. We have made this decision to get a better sense of the interest and expected attendance for each event. As this event is free, it is our policy to overbook the venue.

Please arrive no later than 12:15 PM. In case of a full event, your ticket may not guarantee admission, so we recommend you arrive early.

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Is B.C. the Wild West? Housing Loans, Money Laundering, Numbered Companies, and More

Private individuals, including known drug dealers, loan money to home purchasers, charging interest as high as 120 percent a year. In a single month, thirteen million dollars in $20 bills flowed through a provincially licensed casino. Companies whose names are strings of numbers, with no identifiable owners of record, buy and sell billions of dollars worth of properties. Real estate agents flip houses without the owners’ knowledge.
Is British Columbia the Wild West of illegal and irresponsible activities in Canada? Do these questionable practices exist within crown corporations and other provincial ministries? How do we stop this?
Our guides along this trail of questionable practices are Kathy Tomlinson, investigative reporter for The Globe and Mail, and Dr. Peter German, President of the International Centre for Criminal Law Reform and Criminal Justice Policy.
Thursday, March 15, 2018

12:30 – 1:30 pm 
Room 2270 – Simon Fraser University at Harbour Centre
515 West Hastings Street

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There is a lot of history in Vancouver Fire Halls and retired fireman Alex Matches has documented and written about much of it. There are political stories, where firemen in the City of Vancouver in the early 1900s were not allowed to “cross the line” into neighbouring Point Grey to put out a house fire. And there were still a few amazing early stations to go through even twenty years ago.  One located on east of Main Street is now demolished~but it had a circular wooden ramp inside for the fire horses to walk up as they were  bedded down on the second floor in standing stalls. The standing stalls areas were still there, along with the cribbing marks made by bored horses teething on the wood. In its construction and its use, it was a thing of beauty, something we would have marvelled at today. It was demolished for a more late twentieth century version.
As reported in the Vancouver Courier there are “modernist” fire halls built between 1950 and 1970 that are now facing demolition in Vancouver that have   “unique features include huge, open bays and massive hose-drying towers.” As Heritage Vancouver’s Patrick Gunn observes “The architects from the ’50s on, they looked at this use and, instead of hiding it, they really celebrated it and that’s where you come up with the amazing, strong, visual forms.”
No. 5 fire hall at 3090 East 54th Ave. — one of the earliest of the modernist fire halls — was demolished in 2016. Dating back to 1952, it was designed by Townley and Matheson, the architects of city hall. It’s being replaced with a new building topped with affordable housing. The expected completion date is the end of 2018.
Gunn said while the building needed upgrading there were ways to achieve that without demolishing it. “It’s a community loss. It’s a visual point in the community similar to schools. So you eradicate that and then you have something new built, which is functional and safe, but Vancouver has lost another piece of its architectural legacy, which plaques and photos can’t replicate.”
Fire hall No. 17 at 7070 Knight Street is now going to be demolished with an energy-efficient building replacing it. Even though the modernist fire halls are on the annual endangered sites watch list as “an important part of the movement towards modernist civic architecture in Vancouver during the post-war period” they are not being conserved.
The following other fire halls are described by Heritage Vancouver as potentially endangered:
No. 2 at 199 Main St. at Powell, which was built in 1950 and renovated in 1974.
No. 7 at 1090 Haro at Thurlow, which was built in 1974.
No. 8 at 895 Hamiliton St. at Smithe, which is the reverse design of fire hall No. 7. The concrete building was built in 1973.
No. 9 at 1805 Victoria at East Second Ave., which was built in 1959 with a concrete and masonry façade.
No. 20 at 5402 Victoria Dr. at East 38th Avenue, which was built in 1962. Heritage Vancouver describes it as an “interesting single-storey structure with a window curtain.”
Fire halls that fall under the “brutalist” subset of modernist buildings include fire halls No. 7 and No. 8. “brutalist” architecture as using a lot of raw concrete and being even more massive than mid-century ones.”
Fire department historian Alex Matches book on Vancouver’s  Fire Department history and heroes is available here.
From Vancouver Archives taken in Victoria BC

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In cities where there is a shortage of housing and people are living in unorthodox dwellings, how do you carry out a census count? The New York Times reports on  the challenges of ensuring that every person is accounted for in the census, which is used as the base for planning and funding cities. Federal resources are tied to the census which is done every ten years, with the next in 2020. In New York City planning department staff have already spent fifteen months reviewing addresses, finding 439,000 that the federal Census Bureau had missed, representing 13 per cent of the housing stock. These units were in illegal basement, attic, and garages, “revealed by extra door bells and mailboxes.”
Disasters and construction need to be factored in, especially with Houston’s displacement of people with Hurricane Harvey and the thousands of new built units and addresses that will be constructed in New York City in the next two years.How much federal money is tied to the decennial census?  In San Jose California as many as 70,000 residents were not counted, resulting in $20 million dollars annually  not being allocated federally for the city.
This spring, volunteers will use a texting app the city tested in December to identify these and similar units for inclusion in the Census Bureau’s master list. The app will not be available to building code enforcement or to officials for immigration enforcement.  “A nonprofit founded by the former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, Cities of Service, is hoping to spread the tool to other cities that will be receiving their address databases from the census in the coming weeks.
People forget it is an enumeration of the population, but it’s an enumeration of the population in housing units and in group-quarters facilities,” said Joe Salvo, the director of the New York City planning department’s population division. “Essentially, everyone needs to be put down on a map. Everybody needs a recognized address.”
You can find out more how federal funding is allocated through the ten-year census count at this Brookings Institute website.


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Mike Howell at the Vancouver Courier has written an an evocative column on why the City says it is  “ok”to build three over height towers (one 18 storeys above the established view corridors) and erase out the natural views of the north shore mountains from Cambie and Broadway. Price Tags Vancouver has quotations from  Mike’s article here.
Well you may or may not have heard the view will change sometime within the next 20 years—likely a lot sooner once and if council approves rezoning applications from provincial Crown corporation PavCo and private developer Concord Pacific.
The developers want to build three really tall residential towers—Concord two and PavCo one—that will partially obstruct your view of the mountains from that spot at 10th and Cambie, which is what the city refers to as a view corridor.”
“If you followed the debate around the Northeast False Creek plan, you heard that one of city staff’s recommendations was to amend the “general policy for higher buildings” to allow for the consideration of three towers at what will be the new Georgia Street and Pacific Boulevard intersection.
That’s, of course, once the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts are demolished and a new sloping grade is built to connect Georgia to Pacific. That intersection will be known as the “Georgia Gateway.”
“Green Party Councillor.Adriane Carr told me the other day that she and the rest of council received “hundreds” of emails in opposition to having tall towers at that intersection.
Carr voted against staff’s recommendation. So did NPA councillors George Affleck and Hector Bremner. What was Carr’s rationale?
It’s a real move down a slippery slope,” she said. “If you allow amendments to the higher buildings policy and the intrusion in to the view corridors once, it sets the ground for other exceptions —and there goes your view corridors.”
“Then, as the decades past, a forest of bland highrises grew up and around it, giving us the skyline we have today. Some would say that’s just the inevitable evolution of a city at work—that buildings get built, views get taken away.”
“We felt this was the best way and the place to achieve the density needed to achieve the financial objectives of the [Northeast False Creek] plan,” ( Chief Planner Gil)Kelley told council. “That is to say the cost of the infrastructure and amenities, parks and affordable housing that are being delivered as part of the plan.”He said “bunching the extra height at one point” delivers on three urban design objectives. One, he said, is it limits the incursion of the height to the least intrusive area of Northeast False Creek; second, is it creates “a more interesting skyline from that view, frankly, than a straight-line haircut would do.”
So there you go—no boring straight-line haircuts, we’re going to create magic celebratory moments in the sky and we continue to just say no to big bulky buildings.
Before I conclude, I should emphasize that council approving the plan Feb. 13 does not guarantee rezoning applications from PavCo and Concord will get the green light for increased height for the towers…But it was made clear the Northeast False Creek plan “is a guiding policy framework, but council always has to review rezoning applications with an open mind at public hearing.”
Until then, enjoy the view.
You can read Mike Howell’s full text here

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The Duke of Data Andy Yan, Director of the City Program at Simon Fraser University has been reviewing the 2016 census data looking at who is renting accommodations in Vancouver. Andy Yan found some surprises that challenge the stereotype of what has been termed as “large single family home” neighbourhoods.  Originally expecting that maybe 10 per cent of  units were rental in these areas,  Andy found that “West Point Grey with its big, expensive detached houses, is 38 per cent renter households. Kerrisdale is 36.8 per cent renters. Shaughnessy, with its stock of old and new mansions, is made up of 30 per cent renters.” 

The Globe and Mail’s Kerry Gold observes that Andy Yan has found  that  “24 per cent of all renter households are living in the so-called “single family home” areas that provide an invisible affordability often ignored by development pundits.That means that in terms of planning, we should be sensitive to how people are actually using housing types.  Zoning changes can be the ruin of an established community. It’s not enough to rezone without examining how that housing is being used, and by whom – not if the goal is to create affordable housing while keeping people within the community.”
While 53 per cent of Vancouverites rent their homes, the findings challenge what has been viewed as “single family” homes. The term “single family dwelling unit” is a hangover from the 1950’s zoning terminology and should perhaps be changed to reflect its form, not so much its function. Families today are rarely “nuclear” (another hangover from the atomic age) but may house multiple families or unrelated people.

Andy Yan’s takeaway is that the so called “single family” zoning does not adequately project who is living there, and the importance of exploring data. While purpose-built rental housing is necessary ““We need to get over our zoning and form fetishes and go back to creating communities for people. You just can’t spray density around and pray that affordability will follow. ” The CEO of Landlord BC David Hutniak observes that secondary rental suites in large houses make up to 54 per cent of the rental market. He notes that Vancouver has a “very incestuous development community” that can make good returns preselling and flipping condo developments and has had no reason to build rental housing.  “After 40 years of no purpose built rental construction, and a lot of condos, there is a prevalence of the secondary market for rental housing. Thank God we have it, but in terms of security of tenure it’s never been to the same degree as purpose-built rentals.”

There is also a fulsome discussion from writer Melody Ma who has written a compelling article on the importance of the Vancouver Special housing form and the opportunity these large freestanding houses had to shelter multi-generational and extended families. Ms. Ma  notes that these “are densely populated homes that encourages multiple generations to support each other within close quarters. It is an affordable way of living and arguably even a model way of living for the future”. Her article is well worth reading.

Source: Andy Yan


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If anyone ever doubted that farmland was being usurped and transferred into private gated estate cash cows, this story in the Richmond News outlines exactly why we need to be concerned and why we need to address this right now.
Imagine a “shell company”~that is a group of people who do not need to disclose their identities~purchasing a 26.6 acre piece of Richmond farmland. They then build a home on the property getting their development permit in early 2017 when Richmond City Council nixed the idea of limiting the size of  houses built on Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR)  properties to 7,500 square feet, allowing much larger mansions of 11,000 square feet to be built. The house and land  located at 11400 No. 2 Road  had an assessed value of $88,000. This year with the mansion not yet completed the same property has an assessed value of 8.3 million dollars. You can be sure that this property will never be returned to farm use. As Richmond Farm Watch  and Richmond resident Laura Gillanders observes  “One by one each of these farms is being taken out of production and making sure it is never farmed by a farmer who can live on that land. It goes to show these mansions are not being built for farming.” You can take a look on the Farm Watch site at the “Visuals” section documenting the before and after photos and films of these properties taken out of agricultural production and made into mansioned estates.
Two Richmond councillors, Carol Day and Harold Steves voted against the larger square foot size for these properties. Mr. Steves has stated that agricultural land in Metro Vancouver is under “the worse threat it has ever been due to speculation, since the Agricultural Land Reserve was created in 1973.”  Mr. Steves is also one of the people who was involved in the initial  set up the Agricultural Land Reserve.
“Transparency International, a non-government organization, has reported how Metro Vancouver real estate is a prime target for speculation due to Canada’s weak laws surrounding beneficial ownership via numbered companies. The home at 11400 No. 2 Road is still under construction. According to BC Assessment, once it is complete, it will be among the top-10 most-expensive properties in Richmond. BC Assessment also delisted the property from farm class.”
So while the new owners will now pay for the land as if it is non agricultural, their property lift from $88,000 to $8.3 million dollars will soften that blow. And here is one more example of how the lax response of a city council and the  lack of Provincial regulation eats away at one of the most important things we can pass onto future generations~the most arable lands in Canada for food security.
The YouTube video below shows MLA Andrew Weaver introducing a Farm Watch Richmond petition in the  Provincial Legislature asking for stricter regulation of farmland.

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