Business & Economy
May 7, 2018

Melody Ma, The Amazon Announcement, and Why this is Not Good for Vancouver


Melody Ma is a web developer, technologist, and active thought leader on urban issues in Vancouver.
Ma recently wrote a cogent think piece in the Vancouver Sun challenging some of the assumptions about the new 3,000 Amazon jobs that will be created when the American online retailer settles into downtown Vancouver, in the former home of the post office.
Ms. Ma notes that despite Mayor Robertson’s framing of this job influx as a big win, it may not be so. Amazon, she says, “will add more strain to the housing affordability situation, it will also strain our technology labour market, potentially negatively impacting the very sector that it is supposed to help.”

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It is very hard to believe that we still need to be reminded about the importance of food security and ensuring that our agricultural land, which in Metro Vancouver is the finest arable land in Canada, is protected for future generations.
Price Tags Vancouver has been tracking the unbelievable story of the City of Richmond Mayor and Council allowing mansions of over 10,783 square feet in size to be built on agricultural land that is over one half-acre in size. These “farms” are being bought at an agricultural land price as they are in the Agricultural Land Reserve, then redeveloped with large mansions and then quickly turn into multi-million dollar gated estates, exempt from the foreign buyer’s tax (they are on agricultural land) with a large land lift as these countrified estates demand top dollar for offshore buyers. These lands will never return to agricultural use and are now economically out of the reach of farming buyers.

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Along with  a high-speed train link to Seattle as reported in Price Tags Vancouver, there is a new “by sea option” too. After seven years of planning Harbour Air Group will work with Seattle’s Kenmore Air to fly four times a week between Coal Harbour and Lake Union in Seattle, very close to Amazon.com’s headquarters.
The big challenge for this route as reported by Glen Korstrom in Business in Vancouver has been obtaining a Canadian Border Services Agency approval for a customs desk at Coal Harbour. There already is an American customs facility at the Lake Union dock in Seattle.
The proposed flights will land passengers in Seattle under one hour. In the interim the B.C. government is also  contributing financially for a business-case  report on the feasibility of the high-speed train link, bringing these two Cascadia cities closer together along the “innovation corridor”.

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March 29, 2018

From The Guardian:
How does a city cope with extreme weather? These days, urban planning that doesn’t factor in some sort of catastrophic weather event is like trying to build something in a fictional utopia. For Kongjian Yu, one of the world’s leading landscape architects, the answer to coping with extreme weather events actually lies in the past.
Yu is the founder and dean of the school of landscape architecture at Peking University, founding director of architectural firm Turenscape, and famous for being the man who reintroduced ancient Chinese water systems to modern design. In the process he has transformed some of China’s most industrialised cities into standard bearers of green architecture.
Yu’s designs aim to build resilience in cities faced with rising sea levels, droughts, floods and so-called “once in a lifetime” storms. At 53, he is best known for his “sponge cities”, which use soft material and terraces to capture water which can then be extracted for use, rather than the usual concrete and steel materials which do not absorb water.
European methods of designing cities involve drainage pipelines which cannot cope with monsoonal rain. But the Chinese government has now adopted sponge cities as an urban planning and eco-city template. …
Yu, who is based in Beijing, explained the key benefit of sponge cities is the ability to reuse water. “The water captured by the sponge can be used for irrigation, for recharging the aquifer, for cleansing the soil and for productive use,” Yu said.
“In China, we retain storm water and reuse it. Even as individual families and houses, we collect storm water on [the] rooftop and use the balcony to irrigate the vegetable garden.”
When it comes to water, the mottos of the sponge city are: “Retain, adapt, slow down and reuse.”

“One thing I learned is to slow down the process of drainage. All the modern industrial techniques and engineering solution is to drain water away after the flood as fast of possible. So, modern tech is to speed up the drainage but ancient wisdom, which has adapted in the monsoonal season, was to slow down the drainage so the water will not be destructive anymore. By slowing the water it can nurture the habitat and biodiversity.” …
As Yu says, it’s important to “make friends with water”. “We don’t use concrete or hard engineering, we use terraces, learned from ancient peasantry wisdom. We irrigate. Then the city will be floodable and will survive during the flood. We can remove concrete and make a water protection system a living system.”

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While Vancouverites has recovered from a surprising week of snow in February, people in Winnipeg are still digging out. But what is interesting is the difference in snow removal policy for sidewalks in Winnipeg as compared to Vancouver.
And guess what~Winnipeg actually has snow plows designed with the correct size of blade to shovel out walks and make pedestrians more comfortable on sidewalks. As reported on Global News   the City of Winnipeg  gives their crews a 36 hour window for priority cleaning, and that includes sidewalks, which just like roads are labelled priority one or priority two. After a blizzard this week the City of Winnipeg  will be clearing 2,900 kilometers of sidewalks stating “The sidewalks are done the same way as the streets”.
While Vancouver makes it the responsibility of residents to clean the section of sidewalk in front of their house, and makes business owners responsible for the areas in front of their store fronts, many witnessed that the  City of Vancouver did not respond equitably by  clearing their own snowy sidewalks adjacent to city parks and services.  City of Vancouver~if Winnipeg can clean up their sidewalks to make it safer for walking citizens, why can’t you? Kudos to Winnipeg for making it safer, more comfortable and convenient for pedestrians to  get around on sidewalks cleared of snow. After all, every trip begins with a walk, even in winter.

 
 
 

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From Park People.ca and Ken Greenberg  comes the video by Garrick Mason  “Something New from Something Old”  describing some unique and some familiar concepts in making great public spaces. Using conversations with urbanists in New York City and in Toronto, the film explores how low density streets can give up much space for the car, but space for humans walking and biking is still a street fight. Opportunities for more green space has come with the “glacial recedence of industrial uses that have revealed new opportunities. Eric Landau with the Brooklyn Trust describes how the area under DUMBO (Down under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) has been transformed from industrial to park space. With ten per cent of the area being developed to cover the operational and maintenance costs of the new Brooklyn Park, former five acre industrial docking piers have been transformed into park experiences, each with their own unique purpose and use.
Opening up with music that was first performed by singers on New York City’s Highline, the film discusses the importance of public/private financing, noting that redeveloping green space as amenities creates real estate value for surrounding properties.
As the film maker observes: ” I decided to ask experts, designers, and planners involved in some of the highest profile conversion projects in Toronto and New York City about the rationale behind these conversions, the challenges involved in designing under such novel constraints, and the difficult issues — like funding, accessibility, benefit sharing — that come with them. Their answers were both fascinating and encouraging, pointing to a world in which the development of cities will have more to do with gracefully evolving in place than with spreading outwards to infinity. ”
You can watch the video on Vimeo by clicking on the  blue tab on the “Sorry” link below.
 

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National Public Radio reports on what could be the next generation of work gloves. Amazon has been granted two patents for  “wristbands that could track the exact location of warehouse workers’ hands — and give workers tactile feedback to help guide them to a specific shelf.”  Similar to the vibrating wristbands telling pedestrians when a car is coming into a crosswalk as discussed in this Price Tags Vancouver post this technology uses “haptic feedback” to let workers know where the right location of an item is.
This idea, if implemented in the future, would improve the process for our fulfillment associates,” the company says. “By moving equipment to associates’ wrists, we could free up their hands from scanners and their eyes from computer screens. Using guidance signals, “The system, by monitoring precise hand movements, could identify whether the worker picks up an item from the bin instructed, or places it in the right location.It could also communicate information back to the worker.”
The inventors say the system circumvents the need for “computationally intensive and expensive” monitoring by means of computer vision, a la Amazon Go.
“And the inventors know their way around computer vision: The patent for the ultrasonic wristband was filed by Jonathan Cohn, senior technical program manager for Amazon Go. The radio-frequency wristband system was proposed by Tye Brady, chief technologist for Amazon Robotics.”

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Patrick Johnstone is a city councillor for the City of New Westminster as well as a cyclist, writer, and engaged citizen. He’s going to be posting items on New Westminster’s Innovation Week, and has invited everyone to attend the events for the City’s eight day events for Innovation Week. You can also go to Patrick’s website here at https://patrickjohnstone.ca . Here’s Patrick’s first post:
Starting on February 23, New Westminster is running its second annual Innovation Week, an 8-day-long series of events celebrating how innovation in technology and organization can transform a City.
New Westminster is investing in becoming a smarter city through what it calls an Intelligent City Initiative. Innovation Week is a showcase for this model, and an opportunity to bring people from around the region together to dream about the cities of a rapidly-arriving internet-empowered information-dependent future.
The opening on Friday evening demonstrates how varied the topic of “innovation” can be. A free public reception in City Hall (511 Royal Ave) will include a digital media show by local students and artists where data from the City’s award-winning Open Data Portal is translated to digital signals that are in turn worked into video and musical performances. If that’s not enough, a local craft brewery will be there to release a Limited Edition brew formulated with the help of the Mayor of New Westminster – Jonathan Cote.
There are many events over the week that should be of interest to people across the region. The theme for 2018 is Transportation, so there will be forums and dialogues on topics like regional transportation and mobility pricing. But there are also discussions about digital inclusion, a livable Cities symposium, Public Art tours and a PechaKucha evening featuring regional transportation and planning thought leaders.
The interactive events of the week include classes for youth on coding and a Hack-a-Thon where teams of programmers will compete to use the City’s Open Data Portal to create apps to solve local government problems or gamify everyday municipal operations. A Business Expo will concentrate on the Tech economy, and a pitch event and forums will bring together Angel Investors and government funding agencies interested in helping new start-ups or established businesses. Through the week, you will be given reasons to dream, and information and resources to make that dream work.
A list of the several events is available on the Innovation Week website:
https://www.newwestcity.ca/innovation-week
Innovation Week
February 23 – March 3, 2018
Various Locations in New Westminster
Open to the public, most events free (but please register first to help organizers out!)

 

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Innovation Week
FEBRUARY 23 – MARCH 3, 2018
Innovation isn’t just about technology, it’s about creativity, problem solving, collaboration, and looking at things a different way. In the City of New Westminster as we host Innovation Week from February 23 to March 3, 2018, a celebration of all things innovative in our city and the region.

Help us kick off Innovation Week as we take over City Hall and immerse visitors in a digital media performance featuring music and visuals produced in collaboration with: New Westminster Youth Services Royal City Sound, Arts Council of New Westminster, the New Media Gallery, and 4th term Computer Science students at BCIT.

Check the website at   www.newwestcity.ca/innovatenw
Events include the  Innovation Forum, Transportation Forum, Business Expo, the 2nd Annual Hack-a-thon, art exploration, networking and learning opportunities, and child and youth activities! There is something for everyone.
Follow along at @innovatenw
For more information, please contact Ruby Campbell at 604-515-3821 or innovatenw@newwestcity.ca.
Innovation Week Opening Reception

February 23, 2018 5:30 pm 8:30 pm City Hall, 511 Royal Avenue Also featuring a special, limited edition brew from Steel & Oak to commemorate Innovation Week.
Refreshments served. Cash Bar. Open to the public. Announcements at 7pm.

 

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What to do when you live in a city with a low vacancy rate and need a place to rent?
That was what Huy Do faced in Toronto when tired of living in a house with four room mates, he decided to try to obtain the perfect place at the perfect price. He set the bar high~he wanted a one bedroom apartment in Toronto near the downtown for $1,300.
He is also a real film buff and created his own movie poster, and marketed himself on Facebook, Reddit and Kijiji.“One man, one dream, one bedroom near the core of Toronto,” the poster proclaims, adding rave reviews about Do such as “never parties” and “very likeable” as well as “employed full time” and “can pay by any method.”
Unbelievably his approach worked~he is signing a lease today for a one bedroom in his price range. “While Do is happy that his effort seems to have paid off, he recognizes not every tenant has the creativity, time or Photoshop skills to mount such a search.“I don’t think what I did could be scalable, or even repeatable,” he said. “Hopefully it shines a light to kind of different story as well, that it’s just a tough market out there.”

 

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