December 14, 2016

Kickstart: Trumpism and Urbanism

By Gord Price
I’ve been wondering how Trumpism will manifest itself when it comes to ‘urbanism’ – especially the values with which we use to plan and develop cities and urban regions. My guess: regardless of their merits and successes, there will be a rejection of contemporary urban ideas – notably mixed-use, transit-oriented communities with an emphasis on safe and beautiful public realms not dependent on the car.  More particularly, there will be a defunding of those transportation choices that move us away from Motordom, especially cycling infrastructure.  Oh yeah, especially bike lanes.
Why?  Because those are the ideas and choices of the ‘urban elites.’  It matters not whether such urban environments can benefit all parts of the community, and actually enhance affordability for those squeezed out of the 20th-century version of the American Dream.  It certainly doesn’t matter whether they help make our environments more sustainable. Those people lost; their ideas and actions must be rejected – indeed, reversed.
One of the ways, for instance, that those who deny climate change can express their confident disbelief is to double down on the production and use of carbon-based fuels, and to promote consumption of the urban forms and lifestyles that are dependent on them.  Or better yet, in the win-lose game of polarized politics, actually discourage, even prevent, those alternatives to the way of life glamorized in the extreme by those places branded with garish gold signs of the name of the President to be.

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By Gord Price
What makes me take the Evergreen Line?

There is a cluster of breweries and craft pubs within a kilometre of the Moody Centre station on the Evergreen Extension, including the Parkside – enough motivation to take the trains out to a corner of the region.
Yes, trains.  Inspiration struck on Saturday afternoon at Granville Island, and so I took a Mobi to Olympic Village station on the Canada Line, travelling to Waterfront to transfer to the Expo Line, and again at Commercial to the Millennium.  From there, an uninterrupted ride to Port Moody.
Altogether, just over an hour – short enough for a long distance, and not something I would have done without a car before the opening of Evergreen.
In a way, it felt like the line had always been there, despite the 30 years it took to get the provincial commitment.  And that’s in part because it seems very much like the Canada Line North.
You go through a long dark tunnel and come out at a geographically distinct part of the region – this time with mountains. There’s a stretch of industrial lands and automotive landscapes, with the memory of another era along the local highway.  Then the green glass skyline of contemporary Vancouver – and another ethnoburb clustered around a decades-old shopping mall at Coquitlam Centre (Koreans more than Chinese).

The stations too are indistinguishable from the Canada Line.

Everything was familiar, from Compass card to passenger interaction.  The trains were crowded on a Saturday afternoon, in part I’m sure from people like me checking it out – but mainly, I think, because Vancouverites are already conditioned and comfortable with taking transit.
There’s no doubt the Evergreen Line will be a success; it’s not even a matter of speculation.  I’d say the line will reach its 70,000 passenger count well before 2021.
We just have to provide the supply to meet demand.


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By Gord Price
… and not just Vancouver.

A building branded with the name of an American president — any president, but perhaps especially Mr. Trump — would be a tempting target for terrorists and other enemies of the United States.
Who is going to protect the buildings? Will the Trump organization hire a security firm to do the job, or will the American taxpayer be on the line for the bill? Will foreign governments offer to pay to secure the properties — a subsidy of the Trump organization that would probably violate the Emoluments Clause? – NY Times

Will Vancouver be expected to pay for that security, not to mention deal with the disruption of protests in front of the big gold ‘Trump’ sign on Georgia Street?  Well, of course.
But it will only take one significant terrorist attack at any Trump-branded hotel for the loss of business to be felt at every related franchise.
If I were Holburn, the company with the contractual obligations, I’d be more than a little anxious.

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By Gord Price
I think it’s time to cut the comment responses on Trump’s Climate Legacy – 2.  But to give those of you who care about this issue, well, there’s this from the NY Times:

Earth Isn’t Doomed Yet. The Climate Could Survive Trump Policies.

Is the battle to contain global warming now lost?
Don’t give up just yet. True, international diplomacy will become more difficult as China and India weigh their own energy policy commitments in the light of the possibility that the United States will walk away from its promises. But President Trump’s climate policy — or his lack of one — could work out in surprising ways.

Ted Nordhaus and Jessica Lovering, in a report published on Tuesday by the Breakthrough Institute, pointed out that real progress on reducing carbon in the atmosphere has been driven so far by specific domestic energy, industrial and innovation policies, “not emissions targets and timetables or international agreements intended to legally constrain national emissions.” …

As Robert Stavins of Harvard University put it, “The most important factor in terms of carbon emissions in the United States is the price of natural gas.”

And for all the hand-wringing over the future of the Clean Power Plan, its demise might not even make that much of a difference. The shift from coal to gas will continue to happen anyway. …

This is not to say that the world could survive forever an American administration that doesn’t believe in climate change and does nothing to contain it. …

“If a Trump administration lasts only four years, the process could maybe absorb that,” said Oliver Geden, head of research at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs.

The bomb is ticking, but the world still has some time.

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By Gord Price
Mayor John Tory of Toronto announced last week that he’s going to try getting road tolls on the Gardiner Expressway and the Don Valley Parkway to help pay for their maintenance and to raise revenue for the city’s ambitious and much overdue transit plan.
Guess what? It’s controversial.
CBC’s Cross Country Checkup took it on as a topic on Sunday, and I had a chance to add my contribution (the interview starts at 20:00 here).

In summary:
It’s a gutsy move, every mayor will be watching – but they’re probably sceptical he can pull it off.
Don’t expect rational responses; this is emotional – and so it’s tough to find an option that will be seen as fair.  There are all kinds of reasons to not pursue any particular proposal, especially in the hope that technology will solve the problem in the future.
That’s one of the reasons there are so few examples of tolls on highway infrastructure that do anything more than pay for new roads or bridges.  The number of cities with congestion charges can be counted on practically one hand – and most ran into political opposition from the suburbs or exurbs that used their political representatives at the state or federal levels to fight the city’s proposal.  It happened with Mayor Bloomberg’s desired congestion charge for Manhattan, and Mayor Tory may run into the same problem with the Ontario legislature.
Anyway, the idea of tolling a road or bridge is so 20th-century.  Eventually, the charging will be done, as it is with telecommunications, through the individual user’s access to the system.  In other words, through the car and truck – and the distance, time and place they use.  Oregon and others are pioneering the technology.
But again, the problem is emotional: the loss of the ‘free way,’ the right to the road we’ve already paid for – a democratic space we all have equal access to.  But without an ongoing funding option, political leaders are left with few options: defer maintenance; allow the system to deteriorate physically and through congestion until unpalatable options become more acceptable; or privatize the system and shove the problem onto someone else.
In fact, I’m predicting the emergence of the Transportation Service Provider (TSP) – the equivalent of the telecommunications giants that provide us, for a monthly fee, with all the delightful, distracting and necessary things we get through our electronics.
Imagine a future Uber that contractually provides you with all the transportation options you need through car and bike sharing, transit of all kinds, taxi equivalents, as well as parking, maintenance, technology upgrades and, especially, the information you need to access it all.  And you will be able to pay for all those options through your monthly fee, including the taxes that will be effectively invisible.
That’s what will make the model so attractive to governments: they will be taxing a third party, not the user/voter.  (How much are the taxes on a cell phone call?  You don’t know and you don’t care.  If the cost seems to be too high, you blame your service provider.)
The prospect is actually pretty scary: these TSPs will be very powerful, and will likely be able to skew the transportation infrastructure and design to their benefit.  But if voters leave government with few other options, privatization will be irresistible if not inevitable.

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Gord Price:
An analysis of the regional economy has just about been completed by UBC profs Tom Hutton and Trevor Barnes for Metro Vancouver.  Here’s what they say in the third paragraph:
In addition to the foundational features of Metro Vancouver’s economy of Port Metro Vancouver and Vancouver International Airport (YVR), these are the cornerstones of Metro Vancouver’s economy:

  • Higher education and related advanced research activity,
  • the health and medical complex,
  • finance and business services,
  • property development 

Then there are clusters of specialized industries and labour:

  • film and video production,
  • telecommunications,
  • social media,
  • green industry technologies,
  • aerospace,
  • high-value food and beverage production 

My observation:
With the exceptions of aerospace and perhaps major telecommunications centres, literally every one of these businesses, industries and clusters can be found along the Broadway corridor from Boundary Road to UBC – including the proposed route of the next rapid-transit line. This is where the high-value jobs of the present and the future can be found.
If there was a single infrastructure project that would support and accelerate these economic generators, it would be the transit line to serve, connect and extend this corridor. That would be the project any provincial government would be be 100 percent behind if its platform was based on promoting a healthy economy and providing jobs.  That would be the first project to promote rather than, for instance, a 10-lane bridge to land below sea level, much less the extension of a highway into a hinterland with almost no job base, to serve a population less than the West End.
And yet, would anyone say that the Broadway rapid-transit line is a high priority for the provincial Liberals, a must-get-done commitment of a Government of Yes?
And the question then is: why not?

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By Gord Price

The total cost of the first phase of the plan is $2 billion, with $370 million coming from the federal government and $246 million from the province for capital costs. TransLink is contributing $1.3 billion in capital and operational funding.

So wtf was the referendum for?  Why did we waste millions and, more importantly, precious time to get where we all could have been with a little negotiation if the Premier hadn’t locked us into that pointless exercise?
Which, according to the law, we will have to do again if this is to happen unless the Province decides otherwise:

A regional funding source for the second phase has not yet been determined, but mobility pricing has been proposed and would require approval from the province.

But, instead of a commitment, the usual bullshit:

Peter Fassbender, minister responsible for TransLink, said he was pleased with the mayors’ vote.
“Because of the positive decision today, the next step is to continue to collaborate with the federal government and the region to look at what the future might hold,” he said.

What might the future might hold?  You tell us.
That is the point of an election: for political leaders to declare their intentions and commitments.
So far, the Liberal’s commitment is to require a referendum if there is to be a new revenue source for transit funding – resulting in the trashing of TransLink and the removal of transit as a funding priority, while the provincial government commits to massive roads and bridges.
Without ever having to say so.

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Gord Price:
There just won’t be any excuse like “Well, we couldn’t see what was coming.”

Nazi salutes in the Reagan Building.  My God.
But we’re already so numbed that this story from the weekend barely got heard above a presidential tweet on ‘Hamilton’.  But not a tweet on this.
On a topic directly relevant to Price Tags – how we shape our urban environments – watch for Trump’s infrastructure program, particularly where the money flows and for what purpose.  My guess: a massive extension of Motordom.

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Gord Price: Put “Trump” in a PT head and it’s sure to elicit comments.  The Trump Divide: Rural and Urban from last Thursday has generated 30 comments (so far), and got a little hot and personal in the process.
But the post was meant to draw attention to the increasingly clear division in contemporary politics between voters in rural and urban constituencies.  A subsequent New York Times piece, summarized above, explains how that bias now benefits the rural vote because of locked-in constitutional structures from the 19th century and an innate anti-urban bias in the culture.  Yeah, urban voter, the system is rigged.
True in the States, true in Canada, as this post from 2014 argued – The Uncovered Issue: Danger of a Built-in Bias against Metro Vancouver.
The question for British Columbians now: How Trumpian will our provincial election in May get?  What similarities, what differences?

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