Architecture
April 13, 2018

The Economist~Chinatown Resisting Developers in "Property Battle"


Even the magazine The Economist is weighing in on the importance of Vancouver’s Chinatown as a historic and very special cultural place deeply rooted in the birth and development of this country.  One of the positive things that has happened with the impetus to build condominiums in Chinatown is the rise of  a new generation of articulate, smart and savvy young professionals that grew up in or coming to Chinatown,  understanding the essence of this place in a very rooted way.
Urbanist Melody Ma is one of those young professionals interviewed by the Economist, and talked about the Chinatown neighbourhood not really changing until after the 2010 Winter Olympics. At that time “the downtown area was forested with new condominiums” and prices have risen by close to 60 per cent in the last three years. While Chinatown was avoided by developers in the past, development applications such as the nine storey luxury apartments proposed for 105 Keefer threaten to undermine Chinatown’s cultural identity.

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Kirsten Dirksen is a television producer who has become an on-line video blogger.  Her company Faircompanies.com has a media site that looks at the aspect of less complicated, simpler living styles. As a vlogger she came to Vancouver to interview Adrian Crook who lives in the Yaletown area of downtown with five children in a two bedroom condo. Adrian likes living downtown for the health and psychological aspects of walking everywhere and notes that while “Vancouverism” includes a taller housing form in the downtown peninsula, that has not been embraced in the largely single family areas away from the downtown.
Price Tags Vancouver has chronicled  Adrian Crook’s quest to have his children using transit to school and Price Tags has also examined a program in Calgary with Bus Buddies where children are allowed to take transit to school. Adrian does have a blog about living in the downtown with his five children, and he is also running for City Council.
The  twenty minute video on YouTube features Adrian’s kids and shows the simple adaptations that have been made in the condo to maximize usable space. There’s a home office that turns into a murphy bed at night, a bunk bed that can morph into a table and desk, and a triple stacked bunk bed.  Parents everywhere will see in the video that  children’s socks still disappear -even in smaller footprint spaces.

 

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In the kind of story that reminds how much motordom dominates over pedestrian safety and comfort , The Toronto Star reports that flex-post signs near a public school  designed to slow traffic were removed . Why? Because they slowed traffic. Imagine. One week after they were installed, they were removed on the basis of one complaint. As the Toronto Star reports  “the complainant, who said he submitted an email to the mayor’s office and included dash cam footage of traffic significantly slowed down in the 40km/h school zone. The dash cam speedometer registered his truck going about 30 km/h leading up to the flex-post sign, with the speed reducing by about half as he approached it.”
The complainant’s speed was reduced to 5 kilometres per hour while he slowed to manoeuvre around the flexi sign. And that is too slow for motordom, kids’ public school area or not. Even the manager of Traffic Safety and Data Collection responded that “Our initial assessment indicated that the road had sufficient clearance around the sign, but when cars parked adjacent to the sign, we observed traffic slowing significantly or moving around the sign into oncoming traffic.” 
Of course this can also be seen as slowing traffic down enough that they can manoeuvre slowly around each other with lots of reaction time. But that is not Toronto’s take, and the signs were removed  “in the interest of public safety.”  In British Columbia  30 kilometres an hour is the speed in posted school zones. Toronto has not acquiesced to this slower, safer speed for their schools. As one local observed “The problem that I think we have in Toronto is we prioritize the convenience of people driving cars over the safety of anybody who’s not driving a car.”
The City of Toronto is having a tough time implementing  their 80 million dollar version of Vision Zero, which is supposed to  mean that all lives are valuable and no lives are lost due to road violence. The City has controversially suggested merely reducing their death rate from road violence by a percentage instead of completely eliminating deaths as their goal.  Around this Davisville school area  they are proposing installing  zebra markings and school stencils as if that is something novel. It is a soft approach that does not protect vulnerable road users or slow cars down, leaving the impact of collisions still solidly on the pedestrian. The words of the general manager of Transportation Services speaks volumes about the ambiguity of being a pedestrian in Toronto: “It’s a very complex ecosystem, the area around a school, but, from our perspective, student safety is the highest priority. After the pilot is done and we’ve assessed it, my guess is we’ll come forward with it as part of our Vision Zero toolkit.”
There’s nothing complex about slowing traffic and insisting that children and adults have the right to walk safely and comfortably to schools, shops and services. Meanwhile road violence and motordom continues in Toronto~11 pedestrians have been killed in 2018 with an expected 60 pedestrians losing their lives in Toronto by the end of the year.

 
 

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In March the Province of British Columbia enacted new rules for drivers of eighty years of age or more. Those drivers must have a doctor’s note submitted every two years stating they are “medically competent” and must  undertake an on-road test or road assessment if required.  This is similar to the Province of Ontario which instituted a licence renewal every two years for drivers over eighty requiring a vision test, a driving rules class, a driving history review, potentially retaking a driver’s test and detailing medical history.
Price Tags Vancouver has previously written about the fact that seniors are being targeted as prime users of autonomous vehicles, with AVs touted as a way to keep seniors mobile. Data collected from Statistics Canada in 2009 suggest that close to 28 per cent of drivers over 65 years and older are driving vehicles with some form of dementia. Statistics Canada data from 2012 shows that over the age of 70 years seniors have a higher accident rate per kilometre than any other group except for young male motorists. Seniors are also more likely to die in a vehicular crash.
A poll conducted by State Farm in March 2017 found that “55 per cent of respondents would keep driving past 80 years of age. About 29 per cent would give up their license between ages 80-84, 16 per cent would stop driving before 90 years of age, while 10 per cent would keep driving after 90.” 
The challenge is finding a balance between seniors’ mobility and road safety  in British Columbia, and ensuring that seniors can continue to be independent.  As an aging population there needs to be an increasing emphasis on the use of public transit, taxis and accessible services such as HandyDART and ride shares.
The magazine Driving.ca puts it bluntly: “If you’re 80 and over and facing this retesting every two years, how can you prepare? … do a walkaround on your car and honestly address any dings, scrapes and dents you don’t recall getting. Consider this quote from the American Automobile Association in the U.S.: ”Seniors are outliving their ability to drive safely by an average of 7 to 10 years.”
 

 

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Meanwhile South of the Fraser River where the 20th century rhetoric of motordom and industrialization reign supreme, Gateway Casinos soldiers on with a 70 million dollar casino to be plunked right beside the Delta side of the Massey Tunnel. But wait~Gateway Casinos insist this will “not be just about gambling but would provide an entertainment experience”. 
The property is owned by a company of Ron Toigo of White Spot. For motordom a new parking lot will be created with 800 parking spaces and 200,000 square feet built to accommodate gambling. The same Delta Mayor and City Council still insisting on their ten lane overbuilt Massey Bridge (with one double salary  dipping  provincial liberal MLA who also picks up a pay cheque as a Delta Councillor) still want their casino, located in a spot easily accessible by car. What a surprise. The 1960’s are alive and well in Delta.
The Delta Optimist  reports  “Gateway hopes to begin construction this fall with a grand opening in 2020. The project includes a five-storey, 116-room hotel, meeting space, eateries and a casino with 500 slots, 24 gaming tables and several e-tables. There would be room for further gaming expansion.In a statement, the company notes the community throughout the process has been very engaged and provided valuable feedback that will continue to shape the look and feel of the project.”
It is a bit odd that the language used about the casino is very similar to the language used about the one-sided process to “engage” the community about the last Provincial government’s multi billion dollar Massey Bridge. Regardless, the Delta Mayor and Council have agreed to fast track this proposal, which will provide Delta with an additional two to three million dollars annually with their casino “cut”.
As Gateway casino states this will “grow the community’s economy” by
creating new well-paying jobs in Delta while improving the entertainment and hospitality option in the community…“There is great potential in Delta and a Gateway entertainment destination, with a number of gaming and non-gaming attractions, on the Town and Country site would allow Delta to significantly advance its tourism strategy and deliver on the tourism objectives set out in the strategy.”
Imagine if a seniors’ centre or new rental housing was fast tracked with such enthusiasm or as quickly as this casino is. Despite all the bad news emerging about where casino money is actually from, the City of Delta  hopes to have this casino before Council this month. If you can’t industrialize the Fraser River , you can  still plunk casinos on it.
So last century.

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It is hard to believe that a former farming community like the City of Richmond, which has championed density in its downtown areas has neglected to protect its agricultural roots and  assets. The City of Richmond has Class One  farmland, the very best in Canada within its municipal boundaries. While other communities would perceive that farmland is probably the most important legacy that can be passed onto to future generations as part of local food security, the City of Richmond has dithered at reducing the square footage of mansions allowed on farmland in its jurisdiction.
Price Tags Vancouver has previously written about the fact that Richmond City Council has allowed houses of over 10,000 square feet if there is a piece of farmland over one half an acre to plop it on. Ostensibly these houses were for large farming families, but the land instead has been turning  into gated privately owned mansions owned by off shore investors, who pay no foreign buyers tax on agricultural land, and can get taxed as an agricultural property if they produce a nominal amount of farm product. You can bet that these large residences will not return to the market at any price a farmer can afford. In January Price Tags Vancouver discussed the house and land located at 11400 No. 2 road that was purchased with an assessed value of $88,000. A few years later with a mansion not yet completed on the same property, the assessed value is now $8.3 million dollars.  “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.”
It is no surprise that with yet another vote expected today at Richmond City Council that those in favour of selling agricultural land for offshore mansions are worried about anyone stopping  projected enormous development profit  being reaped by selling farmland for wealthy private estates. Indeed The Farmland Property Owners Association has just released a statement accusing a tweet from Councillor Harold Steves, one of the founders of the Agricultural Land Reserve and an outspoken protector of farmland as “dividing Richmond residents based on their ethnicity,” and asked Steves to recuse himself from an upcoming vote on farmland size. 
Steves is hoping to have housing size changed on farmland from over 10,000 square feet to 5,382 square feet, making the land not as attractive for gated mcmansioned estates.  Once again instead of seeing arable land as one of the greatest generational gifts that can be handed down for the future, the spectre of supernormal development profit and land lift means private estate developers want to  nullify the vote of one of agricultural land’s stronger voices. This is not a vote about ethnicity or indeed about development potential. This is about the right of a community to have food security now and in the future, and to recognize that agricultural land is its highest and best use. That is what the Agricultural Land Reserve was supposed to be.
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.”  Today’s vote will show whether Richmond City Council are stewards of the farmland or contributors to farmland’s demise to large gated estates for the wealthy. You can get more information and follow the discussion and vote at Richmond City Council here.

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Join UBC’s School of Community and Regional Planning students for a full day of discussion on planning issues related to this year’s theme, Encompass. Encompass is about embracing unexpected connections and taking planning in new directions. At the 10th annual UBC SCARP Symposium we gather inspiration from diverse sources, finding fresh ideas by looking within – and beyond – the traditional boundaries of planning. Come prepared to challenge assumptions, connect innovative ideas, and broaden your scope of planning.   When: Friday, March 16, 2018  from 8:00am – 7:00pm Where: The Great Hall, AMS Nest, 6133 University Boulevard, UBC Cost: General $105 | Students $45 Registration: www.symposium.scarp.ubc.ca Contact: info.scarpsymposium@gmail.com
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Urbanist, designer and artist Frank Ducote took these photos of the Vancouver pedestrian pathways along the sea wall during the weekend. These pathways are the responsibility of the City of Vancouver to be accessible and safe.  While the bikeways were cleared and lauded on social media, the walkways for pedestrians? Not so much. And surprisingly when Frank Ducote posted this photo on his facebook page, seven former City of Vancouver staffers responded about the lack of cleared, safe walkable sidewalks. Walkers are the most vulnerable users and they include the elderly, disabled and children. On a brilliant snowy Vancouver weekend, they want to get out and use the city too.
One former City staff walked along Seaforth Park and onto Burrard Bridge, noting that the “sidewalk was slippery with lots of pedestrians, cleared bike paths but with no cyclists. Crazy”. Well, perhaps not crazy to support both walking and cycling as active transportation modes. But if walking is the first mode that all users do on a day-to-day basis, why can’t the City do a better job at making these sidewalks safe, comfortable and secure? It is the City’s responsibility. If  the City can clear bikeways, can the same attention be given to sidewalks in the public realm? While the city is looking for volunteer Snow Angels in residential areas to help folks that cannot clean their own sidewalk, can the City maintain the public pathways in their jurisdiction? Is it time to have a clear pedestrian plan and direct focused  advocacy for universal  walkability issues at the municipal level?
Asking for a friend.

 

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Time for a voyage back fifty years ago to another time and and another Mayor. Called “Tom Terrific” (and that was not always a  positive term) Mayor Tom Campbell is described in wikipedia as “brash, confrontational, and controversial. During his term, the City held a referendum which authorized the then-controversial development of an underground shopping mall and office towers, now known as Pacific Centre, Vancouver’s largest development… Campbell took an assertively pro-development stance, advocating a freeway that would cut through a large part of the downtown east side, the demolition of the historic Carnegie Centre, and the construction of a luxury hotel at the entrance of Stanley Park (the Bayshore Inn) and another at the north foot of Burrard in which it turned out the mayor had invested (it is now an apartment building and never became a hotel).”
Mayor Tom Campbell was mayor from 1967 to 1972 and was not too happy with the “hippie” movement of the time. Dan McLeod of the Georgia Straight newspaper was beaten by City Police, and the Mayor stopped the 1970 Festival Express rock’n’roll tour from coming to Vancouver, saying he would shut down the festival with police intervention. He was also Mayor during the August 1971 Gastown Riot which resulted in 79 people being arrested, and 38 being charged with different offences. Stan Douglas’s art piece “The Gastown Riot” located in the Woodwards Building Atrium commemorates this event.

 
In 1968 Mayor Tom Campbell spoke to a CBC reporter at the Court House Steps, now the Vancouver Art Gallery about hippies, loitering, and why they were a scourge to society. At the end of the interview, one of the “hippies” quotes Shakespeare back to the reporter.
It is an interesting look back at what was considered heinous and unacceptable behaviour. And a reminder~these hippies are Vancouver’s senior citizens today.

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From the always affable Daily Scot, Scot Bathgate sends this rather cheeky article from The Guardian where 26-year-old Elle Hunt who defines herself as “squarely a millennial” decides to account for all her purchases to see if she can save up for a down payment on a place. And she is in London England. As Ms. Hunt notes “House prices have grown faster than rents and incomes, moving far beyond what is considered affordable, especially for twentysomethings. The only people my age I know who have bought a house have done so outside London, as part of a couple, with help from their parents or all three. But you wouldn’t know that from the commentators who argue that a deposit would be within the grasp of all millennials – if only we would cut back on takeaway coffee and avocado toast.”
“But I find the argument that I could afford a house simply by going without luxuries for a few years hard to swallow… But I have decided to test my assumption that, as a single twentysomething committed to living in a major city, I will never be able to buy a house.”
Ms. Hunt uses a money-saving “expert” to record all of her spending  for a month. Realizing she needs a mortgage of around 350,000 British Pounds (which is over $612,000 Canadian dollars) the “expert” suggests she won’t be able to save up, and asks if she has a Significant Other.
Ms. Hunt records all of her  purchases and thoughts over the month and at the end, the money “expert” tells Ms. Hunt that “on the basis of my salary and my spending, Lewis believes home ownership is within my grasp – even outside a relationship. I am astonished. Scanning my spending diary, he says it would be “very possible” for me to save from £400 to as much as £700 of my disposable income each month by cutting back on coffees, lunches out, rounds at the pub and holidays. “Let’s be blunt: you do not need a money-saving expert to tell you that.”
Of course it would take four to eight years to reach a ten per cent deposit of  35,000 British pounds, and that is assuming ten per cent down and prices staying stable. “But I have to want it, the money expert continues. He has pages of evidence that I do not. “The most telling point in the whole thing, for me, was this line: ‘Brought lunch in, felt smug about it.’ If you were deliberately saving for a house, that would be habitual. It would not be smug.” Elle Hunt’s journal entries of spending and wit are available here.

 

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